Sunday, November 8, 2009

Birds that Flock Together, Stay Together

So, why am I writing about birds? Because to me birds represent the ultimate form of freedom. The freedom that comes from within your deepest core. Birds give me a feeling, not only of beauty and grace, yet of invoking that true freedom that comes from deep down. Often times I imagine myself soaring high in the clouds, above the mundane levels of everyday life. I resonate with many of these qualities. I even migrate as birds do. Over the the last several years, after working at a Rehabilitation Center for injured Birds of Prey in Alaska, I have felt more deeply connected with their essence. A few weeks ago while walking in Westsound on Orcas Island, a mated pair of Bald Eagles flew over my head. I never tire of seeing these magnificent creatures in the the wild. For many Indigenous peoples, Eagles represent the highest religious symbol you can attain. They help us to rise above the mundane levels of life. Think about it, many people keep bird feeders in their yards, so they can learn and watch them. For me, observing Birds in the wild inspires me to let my spirit just run free. I have had many experiences with birds, both wild and captive. The bird of course that is my spirit animal is the Raven. Ravens are incredible, they are survivors as myself, they live in almost every type of ecosystem known. In the winter when many birds migrate south for food, Ravens Stick around.. I love their sense of humor and vocalizations. So today spend some time watching a bird and try to gain a sense of that inner freedom that we all crave so deeply.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sunsets and Sunrise

There is something about Sunsets that inspires people. The array of color hues, and the serene feeling that glows within you. Sunsets inspire photographers like no other scenery, and paintings alike. How does your body feel when you watch a sunset? Recently I toured the Olympic Coast and National Park. The Sunsets were glorious and I could of sat there for hours just staring at the colors. This little short post is to share some of the moments I have been blessed with lately. Remarkable Sunsets, incredible sunrises, quiet moments of contemplation, deep thought and reflection. Sunsets and sunrises give us uplift and joy. So enjoy these photos and my insight.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Seasons Come and Seasons Go

I can hardly believe it is mid fall, and the leaves are falling and soon winter will be here again. I had a glorious summer working at Mt. Rainier, despite a few little pitfalls, all in all it was well worth it. Once I stepped outside and hiked up the mountain I was in my element. Work was only a part of it, and now having worked for several seasonal concessions, I pretty much know how it goes. Nothing in life is perfect, and you learn to go with the flow. In any case, our season ended last Monday, and our closing season party consisted of Pizza, Cookies and a screening of the Shining. How appropriate for working in an Historic National Park Lodge to show a spooky movie with Jack Nicholson about living in a haunted hotel. Anyway, it has passed and now it hardly even seems as though I was there.

I will briefly catch you up and try to keep this short. The last couple of weeks of work I took some of my best hikes. The first was to Comet Falls and Van Trump Park. Comet Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in the park and one of the steepest hikes in a short distance. The waterfall is 200 feet of crashing white water, and you gain 1500 feet of elevation in 1.5 miles. Most of the way is climbing on rocks and the moisture from the waterfall can make the trail slippery. I reached the waterfall and found a huge rock to perch myself on for awhile. The view was amazing and easily I could of sat there all day. I decided last minute to continue past the falls to Van Trump Park. In the height of summer the Park is covered in wildflowers and you have a great view of the mountain. I found a cool spot as it was actually quite a warm day, and enjoyed conversation with a few woman from a hiking club in Seattle who were up for a few days. My decision to hike on a portion of the Wonderland Trail all the way back to Longmire made for a long yet enjoyable day. This made my hike close to 10 miles and I was ready to sit once I arrived in Longmire and waited for the employee shuttle back up to Paradise. The following week I took a hike one morning to Paradise Glacier, one of the hikes on the mountain I had not done yet. The weather was due to change rapidly and they were expected the snow level to be at 4800 by later that night. The day was gorgeous, yet crisp and windy. This turned out to be one of my favorite hikes of the summer. The scenery was raw and barren, and fall colors illuminated the mountainside. I felt very much at one with the wildness of the area and spent time sitting by a small Glacial Tarn. This was a good conclusion to my summer working at Mt. Rainier.

After closing on Monday, My friend and roommate from the season embarked on a road and camping trip to Olympic National Park. Olympic was amazing and I loved the diversity of the park. Olympic encompasses thousands of acres of coastline and mountains, and offers a wide variety of activities for visitors. One thing we noticed was that you drive in and out of the park. In between the coast and the mountain section there are acres and acres of clear cut. Washington is known as one of the logging states and it saddened me to see all this clear cut. Thankfully the coastal wilderness of the park was eventually saved from this, yet still it was a sad scene. Human consciousness needs to get away from using so much paper and products that trees give us and find more alternatives. I believe we are on our way, and recycling is happening, yet hot enough. Some of the forests with ancient groves of trees also have a conscious, and we do not need to take so much. Anyway, the park was great. The first night we camped on Lake Quinault. It was breathtaking and we enjoyed a late afternoon hike along the lake to the Quinault Rain forest. The sunset on the lake that night was breathtaking and I thoroughly enjoyed the little village of Lake Quinault.

The following day we headed towards the coast, and the village known as Kahaloch. There are several beaches in this area and we chose to visit Ruby Beach, with its Sea Stacks and dramatic scenery. Our goal was to make it to the Hoh Rainforest's by early afternoon for some nature hikes and then to our next night camping spot in Mora at Rialto Beach. The Olympic Coastline is so rugged and I loved the scenery there. The ride to the Hoh was long, yet well worth it. The Visitor Center was closed, yet there were many others taking advantage of the amazing weather we had. We took about a one mile nature hike through the rainforest's which was great, and at the end were greeted by some Bull Elk grazing in the meadow near the parking lot. I was thoroughly impressed by the racks on these guys, and made sure to pay attention to the signs that several visitors had been recently charged by the Elk from getting too close. All in all it was fabulous.

We arrived in the late afternoon at Mora. This was our camping spot for the next two nights, and I was grateful to honker down for more than one night. Despite a bit of a chill, we still had the weather on our side.

The next morning we took a hike along the road down to Rialto Beach. Rialto Beach is the site of the beginning of the 26 mile long Northern Coastal Wilderness trail to Ozette and Neah Bay. This trek is to be taken with caution and generally follows the low tide. Our morning 2 mile hike was when the high tide was starting to come back in, so great attention was needed to pay attention to that. I loved it here, and stopped many times to perch myself on driftwood and just stare out at the sea. Rialto is right next to the Guillleute Indian Village of La Push. Recently this area has become rather famous due to the popularity of the the Twilight Movie and the books. Forks is the small town where much of the movie took place. After our hike that day we went into the village and splurged on a dinner at the River's Edge Restaurant That was a treat and I enjoyed my fish and chips. Salmon has been the livelihood of many of the Northwest Tribes, so I felt good about eating here.

The next day we headed to our last night of camping in the Sol Duc Hot Springs area and found a nice camping spot near the river. That evening we treated ourselves to a soak in the Sol Duc Hot Springs pool at the lodge after a hike to Sol Duc Falls. What a treat soaking in the warm mineral waters. This was a wonderful closure to our road trip and soon we would be parting ways. The following morning we headed towards Lake Crescent to check out the lodge and the lake. We both concluded that Olympic was one of our favorite parks, and would love to come back next summer to work so we could explore the area more in depth.

The day of departure was somewhat bittersweet to a fun summer and the last road trip for the year. My friend KO dropped me off in Port Angeles where I would ferry back towards the San Juan Islands briefly the next day. We had a delicious lunch at an Asian Bistro and it was pretty yummy.

It never seizes to amaze me the way time just flies by and before you know it, a new season is upon us. This winter I will once again be doggie and house sitting on Orcas Island and hope to have plenty of opportunity to write and explore my creative pursuits. Look forward to more coming soon from the desk of Raven Sky.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Gallie-Laggin at Naches Peak

The Day began in Misty fog. As we cruised along Stevens Canyon Road in route to Naches Peak. With hopes of clearing, we were excited once we passed Ohanapacosh and saw the golden huges of the Sun shining.

Arriving at our destination, Naches Peak is a loop that begins on the Pacific Crest trail outside of the Parks boundaries. It loops around a Craggy Peak gradually ascending through meadows and past Alpine Lakes. The slow ascent follows a ridge, which still contains wildflowers and grants you views and vistas all around. the first mile or so is on the Pacific Crest Trail and eventually leads you towards a side trail to Dewey Lake. We took our sweet time and enjoyed the Gallie lagging along the way. Despite our hopes of a quiet monday hike, Crowds of humans still were around us. such is the life of one of the more popular hikes in the park. In any case, it was awesome and one of my faves so far.

Our First spur took us to a quiet Pond of turquoise teal. We gallie-lagged, my phrase for chillin out. I waded like a Heron in the shallows of the brisk coolness of the lake for awhile, only to find a sunny spot atop a rock. After awhile we continued along the Crest of the Cascades, pausing to view the spectacular green essence of Dewey Lake below us. Soon, the Big Guy came into view (Mount Rainier) glistening Snowy white on the Sunrise side of the park. We gallie-lagged atop rocks for a quiet lunch of Peanut Butter and Jelly before we ventured off into the woods once again. As we trekked along, picking Huckleberries, gathering quite the pile in our hands.. Yum... Similar to Blueberries, yet lighter and much sweeter in taste. Few animals along this popular route, except little Blue Fairy Butterflies and my Sister flying overhead, with her Shiny Black Wings soaring above.

The Day was a quiet reflection of Beauty, Sunshine and Nature in all her glorious wonder.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

On The Wings of Raven

On the Wings of Raven

Adventures in Mt. Rainier National Park"

The Ascent was gradual as we climbed the rocky slopes. Looking down made me a bit dizzy, so I focused on the trail ahead. At last we felt we had arrived at our destination, we have been waiting for this for over a month now. The snows have melted away and Mother Earth has given birth to new growth. Broadleaf Lupine and Magenta Paintbrush illuminate the mountainsides, shades of purple, pink and yellow glow under the cobalt blue skies. We arrived at Frozen Lake, with icy blue colors around her shore, we looked up high and the Big Guy smiled down upon us. When I say the Big Guy I am referring to Mt. Rainier, The sleeping giant whose immense girth cradles us as we walk the trail. We are hiking on the Sourdough Ridge Trail on the Sunrise side of the park. This is the South Western edge of Mt. Rainier National Park where 1,000 foot drops ascend down to Glacial Lakes and fields of Wildflowers color the slopes and meadows. When we arrive at Frozen Lake we stop to take in the views around us. Everyone got excited when a Bear was spotted on the slopes of Burroughs Mountain. Plotting along the hillside the Cinnamon colored Black Bear is well known as he is in his older years of life. Soon he fades beyond the ridge and disappears. Here the trail spurs off into four different directions. The trail to Burroughs mountain in the south, The Wonderland Trail which encircles the park heads off in the west where you can continue to Mystic Lake… an optional trail through some snow fields takes you back to Sunrise Village and then to the North the Trail to Mt. Fremont Lookout. We opted for the trail to Mt. Fremont as it reminded us of one of our favorite hakes in Glacier National Park, the Ptarmigan Tunnel. A Narrow Ridge climbs to 7, 104 feet which is comprised mostly of shale and rock. Often the trail seems to disappear as you are walking on the shale. As we ascend we stop to look at the view around us. We are walking on the edge of the world, up to the top of Mt. Fremont where there is a lookout tower. Without notice, suddenly we are swarmed by hundreds of Mosquitoes, buzzing about and attempting to drain our juices. We spray ourselves vigorously with repellent to ward off the pesky beasts that persist to no end. For no reason they are here, except for the possibility of draining us of our precious blood. The air is dry; there is no water to be found anywhere, and not even a spot of shade. Despite the attack we continue to the top, and it was well worth it. Our stay at the top is brief to the increased numbers of those blood thirsty insects, long enough to photograph the views around us and look out at the world. The descent down is quick, and we make another brief stop at Frozen Lake to relax for a bit and admire the aqua blue icy colors of the lake. Along the route back we gaze around us, admiring periwinkle shades of spreading Phlox, the deep blue of the Alpine Lupine, and the sun glow hues of Shrubby Cinquefoil. By far there is no where else that I have been where the Wildflower diversity even matches this. Glorious colors of rosy pinks, yellows and purple are scattered in great abundance across the mountainside. We return to Sunrise village to have some chow before heading back to our campsite at White River. We we arrived back at our campsite, I took time to reflect on the day and feel gratitude for all that nature shares with us.

Day Two:

I awoke early to the bright sunlight shining through my tent. We feasted on breakfast then packed up to set out for another day of exploring. First stop was to be Tipsoo Lake off of Chinook Pass. This small alpine lake is set below Naches peak and surrounded by wildflowers. A short .5 mile hike takes you around the lake to admire the clear reflections of the Big Guy gazes into the glassy water. Again, the meadows are covered in wildflowers making this another gorgeous spot. The lake is an easy stroll, and a nice way to begin the day. More great photographs to be taken and gorgeous sunshine once again. Now it is onward to Ohanapacosh , a beautiful area surrounded by Old Growth Forests and Aqua Blue waterfalls. First stop is the trailhead to Silver Falls. The hike is a casual one, a mile and half to a beautiful waterfall cascading down through aquamarine waters. For awhile we sat by the rocks and just took into the beauty. I sat close to the edge and put my feet in the water which was very refreshing. Apparently awhile back some kayakers decide to go for a plunge ride over the falls, only to be met by Rangers at the end and provided with a pretty hefty fine. So much for foolish people, they pay the price in the end. After the refreshing hike, we continued on to our picnic site. Located amongst the Old Growth Forests of Cedar, Hemlock and firs, we feasted on yummies including some Corn on the Cob. The temperatures were soaring that day and it felt good to just hang out in the shade. After our picnic we began our ride pack to Paradise with a few pit stops along the way. Most of the towns in this Valley are pretty pitiful little places with no character what so ever. We had hoped to find a cool spot to go swimming in the River, yet could not find a pull out that was decent. Nevertheless the day was glorious as the entire trip. From Wildflowers to Rocky Ledges, and cascading rivers it was a breath of fresh air.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wandering the Wonderland

Wandering The Wonderland

The Wonderland Trail is a 93 mile trail that encircles the entire portion of Mount Rainier National Park. For those in tip top shape the entire trail takes about 9 days to hike. For others whose pace is a bit slower you can take around two weeks. Yesterday, I hiked a whopping 4.5 mile portion of the trail from Narada Falls to Longmire Historic District. I began the hike from the top of Narada falls, a pounding and thrashing waterfall that comes crashing down from the misty mountain top. Perfect for a hot summer day, to stand at the base of the falls and allow the cool mist from the falls to make you feel completely refreshed... After around .2 miles I came to the intersection with the Wonderland Trail that continues on to Historic Longmire. The trail continues to descend somewhat steeply and I encountered a lot of wash out areas where there are uneven parts of the trail. Despite that, the trail is gorgeous through the Old Growth Forest and I had it all to myself. After around ½ mile I noticed a very small baby Fawn near the trail. The little fawn saw me and was frozen as I imagined the mother was foraging below. She was probably under a week old and so adorable. I decided to hide behind a tree so I wouldn't frighten her more and stayed behind the tree for a bit. When I peered out she was gone, so Mom must have come to get her. The sun was glowing through now and again, which made the light in the forest so beautiful and the color apple green. After another ½ mile I finally came to the first river crossing. At first I was a bit intimidated by the bridge to cross the river. Part of it had been washed away and you had to climb up a precarious looking stump to even get on the bridge… since I was hiking by myself I wasn't all to sure whether I wanted to even cross it, however, soon a couple approached and I always believe in safety with numbers. Amazingly it wasn't too bad; I climbed up pretty easily and made it across rather swiftly. The Paradise River continues to flow down another 2.5 miles nod I a good place to perch myself on the rocks for awhile. It was so beautiful and peaceful and for me it is very healing and rejuvenating to be by the water. I sat there for awhile and then I decided to move on.

The trail then continues through the forest , and I then made two more small stream crossings and both bridges were new so that was a breeze. There were still a few patches of snow along the way, however, most of the snow that low has melted away .At the 2 mile mark I came upon another waterfall, affectionately known as Madcap falls. Even though it was a smaller size than Narada it still had an incredible amount of power and the sound of the pounding water was healing to me. There was an overview point and at that point I encountered more hikers. The most I had seen so far. After another couple of hundred yards I came to Carter falls, the final waterfall on the trail. Carter was much higher than Madcap and was breathtaking. I absolutely adore waterfalls, the refreshing mists that shower you are so calming, and definitely allow my mind to drift away. I was starting to see more and more hikers at this point, since the Cougar Rock campground is less than a mile away. Not to worry, soon I would be in my place of solitude once again. After Carter falls you hike down a pretty flat trail and soon come to the junction with the Nisqually River. This River is one of the largest Rivers in the park and has experienced a great deal of damage from storms over the past few years. There are wash outs everywhere and debris floating throughout the river. Since the Nisqually Glacier dumps into this river, is full of Glacial Silt and the color is a grayish brown, and thundering at speeds of light. As I approached the continuing trail, it began to turn into sand and I started to notice people who were attempting to cross the river in spots that they really shouldn't of. Along the way I ran into a really awesome Backcountry Ranger named Kelly. We had a really nice conversation about her job and the area so that was great. After that I crossed the final bridge of the trail , which if you looked down was rather scary. The roaring rapids of the river below were awesome, yet you do not want to fall off that bridge. Again, there were many hikers as the campground is so close. After crossing the river, I climbed up towards the main road and soon it reconnected with the trail that continues another mile and a half to Longmire. Once again I was in solitude and did not see a soul. The trail at this point follows the Nisqually River so there were views the entire way. As I began to approach Longmire I heard sirens coming and soon I saw a couple of ambulances. I was curious if one of those silly people attempting to cross the River at unsafe points had fallen in. Later I found out a woman had fallen on the same trail and broken her ankle. No one knew exactly how, yet it took the crews three hours to get her out. The trail in many sections was only one way, so apparently she was in a precarious area and it was quite a challenge getting her out. I say always been cautious when you are hiking and be aware of where you are walking. As I continued to follow the Nisqually I felt very peaceful. Not a soul in site which is what I wanted. Soon I saw rooftops coming into my view and I knew I was near the Historic Longmire district. So, I hiked a mere five miles of the Wonderland trail, only 89 more to go.

Oh! I forgot to mention that along the way I met this amazing woman. She was carrying quite the load so I thought she was going long distance. As it turned out she was on a conditioning hike. She was 67 years old, and she had a goal of hiking the entire Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trail before she turned 70. So far this year she has hiked over 700 miles. I was in awe of this woman. Determination and spirit keeps pushing her. I really admire people like that and it was very inspiring.

So all in all it was a wonderful day, with beautiful waterfalls, old growth forests, wildlife and interesting people along the way.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Tails of the Marmot

Tails of the Marmot

Marmots, cute and fuzzy they are. Here at Rainier these cute and adorable animals are now out in abundance at least until the end of summer. You might even get lucky and find them posing for you on their favorite rock, standing tall and proud for the photographer. These fuzzy and curious members of the family Rodentia are one of the favorite local residents. They are both comical and bold and seem to not be too afraid of that strange creature driving by in their cars staring at them. They must think that we are pretty odd; stopping to take photos of them while they are munching on their favorite flowers or roots. Marmots are the second largest members of the Rodent family, only Beavers are larger. They are furry with big bushy tails and remind me of miniature Bears. They are so cute and precious, A few nights ago, I was taking a night time stroll on the valley road, if it wasn't paved it would be considered a hike. It loops around to reconnect with the main road, and the scenery along the way is breathtaking. With the wildflowers blooming everywhere it is a gorgeous site. Snow melting away, with green fields of Yellow Glacier Lilies popping out, and the Bright pink of Cliff Penstemon gracing the rocky hillsides. Avalanche lilies and Paintbrush are striking shades of orange, magenta and glistening white, and the sapphire blue skies with still snowcapped peaks make it a phographers dream. Yet, the most adorable character of all, The Horary Marmot makes a stroll along the Loop road a blessing for all. Families of Foxes are beginning to romp about, and my friend the Raven is continuing taking to flight over the mountaintops.

Other curious creatures are the notorius Campground Robber, the Gray Jay who seems to always be close by in hopes of someone's dropped potato chip to appear. Stellar Jays cackling away also in hopes of that stray piece of yummy delight. Please do not feed the Wildlife signs are posted throughout, yet some visitors just do not get it. The results of habituating wildlife are costly for both parties. So at last summer seems to be making an appearance in the high elevations of Alpine Wonder with life out and about everywhere you look.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Into the Fog

Inches and Inches of fluffy fog encircled us, everywhere. You would never know that a 14,000 some odd foot Mountain lived there. As we drove up the winding and curvy roads, all you could see was thick white puff, the old Growth forests below were barely visible. This was my introduction to arriving at my temporary summer home at Paradise on Mt. Rainier. Was there a Mountain here, or was she a myth of some sorts. Needless to say I was disappointed at not having her welcome me here. I started work the second day, and once again thick dusts of foggy clouds all the way to the ground... was I ever going to meet her Majesty, the Mountain? Well, finally the third day I awoke and to my delight there she was, in all her glory, tall and pearly white, deep glaciers with crevasses so deep who would dare attempt to ascend her pearly ladders of crusty and 8 foot high snow drifts... in any case, I was thrilled that she came out to meet me... and why on earth was she named after some dude named Peter Rainier from Vancouver's expedition of the 1700's I will never know... because after all, she is stubborn and a queen of a Mountain.

June 22, 2009

Happy Summer Solstice... one inch of new snow on the ground, that means 81 inches to melt... so much for summer.. Ha Ha!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Icelandic Ponies On Orcas Island

Islands In Springtime

Bliss and Joy and Orcas Island

Another gorgeous day of Island Bliss. I am going to make this short, as my entries have been pretty long so far. Today was another amazing day of sunshine, and perfect weather. I enjoyed a delightful brunch of Huevos Rancheros at Artworks Cafe which is a shortr one mile walk from where I am House sitting. The food was yummy, yet I could definitely do without a crowded cafe. Oh yeah, I forgot it is a holiday weekend, so everyone and their brother is here. The cafe, although quaint and filled with local island artwork, is small, so when it is crowded it can feel somewhat claustrophobic. In any case it was enjoyable and I feel blessed to say I live here. I came back and with book in hand, took a catnap in the Hammock, watching all the little birds at the feeder.

I just now returned from a walk up the road visiting a neighbor, and her two wonderful Icelandic Ponies, Gandhi and Jupiter. I helped her brush them, and was in Horsey love for awhile. Icelandic Ponies are so endearing and have the sweetest faces. They were both molting their winter coats, so they looked so shiny. I love the bangs on Icelandic Ponies, it makes them look even more sweet. Anyway, twas another incredible day of Island bliss.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

All About those Brainy Birds, A bit of Raven Talk

gilly Gal at Raptor Center

I guess it's about time I actually walked my talk, Raven Talk that is. There is actually a story about how I got my name, and in case you are wondering it was from a very special indeed Brainy Bird.

My fascination and or obsession with those Brainy Birds began around 15 years ago. I had just signed up to volunteer at a local Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in San Rafael, California. For years I wanted to work with Wild Animals, and I was thrilled when I found out that there was a Wildlife Center not too far from the city that had a great Volunteer Program. In order to volunteer you had to take the basic Wildlife Rehabilitation course over a weekend and once you passed it you were assigned to a specific area of the Center. I chose the clinic since I could be exposed to a variety of animals and learn a variety of new skills. On my first day of work my supervisor was not there, so I asked the Intern on duty what I should do? She said, well, you can clean Edgar and Lenore's enclosure as well as feed them. Edgar and Lenore were the resident Ravens who were actually flighted birds, yet they had been raised by a human so they were imprinted on humans. Ravens are at the top of the Bird intelligence chart, so when people try to raise them, they become quite dependent on this and therefore cannot be released successfully back into the wild. She also warned me that Edgar had an eye for pecking peoples heads, so she suggested I should wear a hat. Well, not taking any chances I took her advice and found a hat and promptly put it on. I gathered my cleaning bucket and rags, as well as preparing their daily diet of chicks, and some yummy fruit to feast on. The job consisted of collecting their table scraps and various carcasses that could be lying about, and hosing down the enclosure. So, I happily set out to do my new job. I must admit I was a bit nervous as Edgar and Lenore were quite large and impressive and I wasn't used to being in such close contact with these gorgeous shiny Black Flighted friends. When I first went in, Lenore flew up to a high perch and pretty much ignored my presence, Edgar on the other hand decided that it would be fun to follow me around, and chased my feet and try to peck at my feet... so much for the hat, what I needed were foot guards. I realized he was merely checking me out, and after a little talking to he settled down. I guess after I was done, and placed their new luncheon plate down, that they figured I was okay. This day marked my new obsession with the largest Songbirds we have known as Ravens. Ravens are a member of the family of Corvids which are part of the Passerine group of birds, otherwise known as perching birds. This family also includes their close relatives, Crows, jays and Magpies, Clark's Nutcrackers, Rooks and the lesser known Treepies who are mostly in Asia and Africa. Ravens being the largest of this family and I must say quite the colorful characters. Ravens have over 40 different types of calls which are primarily used to communicate with their mates and other Ravens. Ravens mate for life and they are usually seen in pairs or by themselves. They are very private Nester's, and usually nest in more remote mountain areas, as opposed to Crows who live in large family roosts, and are more urban. That is not to say a Raven will not take advantage of an opportunity and pay visits to your local McDonald's for a tasty bag of leftover french fries. After that first day at the center, I wanted to work more with Lenore and Edgar as I found them quite entertaining and fascinating in a very Bird like way. After that fateful day I was forever in amore with these incredible birds.

Since that fateful day I have stayed true to my heart and to this day I am still in love with these birds. I have had them follow me on hikes, talk to me from high perches and I must say I have greatly improved my raven talk and can talk back to them now. Four years ago, I moved to Alaska to work in Denali National park. I had heard that everything in Alaska was bigger, and when I arrived this theory proved itself true. Once, I was on my lunch break, and I saw a huge bird soaring in the sky. At first I thought it was a huge Raptor, perhaps a Golden Eagle or a large hawk, the bird continued to soar and then all of the sudden began a slow descent down close to the area where our garbage cans were, not to my surprise at all, it was a huge Raven, probably around 27 inches long and I was amazed. So yes, this theory proved most definitely true. Later that summer I was about to embark on a hike and a Raven was perched on a sign. As I began my hike four of these Ravens followed me the entire way there and back as well.. you see Raven is steeped in folkloric myth throughout times, and many cultures believe Raven is a messenger, and I wondered what type of message these Ravens were sending me. I have studied various Indigenous cultures over the years and love the relationship between animal and human and the lessons they teach us. In the Cultures of the Pacific Northwest peoples, Raven is a Trickster and also a Creator. For many Raven has created the animals, he has stolen the Sun and the Moon, and is a symbol of transformation. Some of the Northern cultures, such as the Inuit, believe that Raven began actually as a white bird, and through his ability to shape shift and change he turned into a black bird. In this translation I see the part of us that is both the darkness and the lightness. The darkness which is often sad and or negative, and the light being that of joy and happiness. Raven has the ability to help transform the consciousness from the Darkness to the light. I later found out what Ravens message was to me. I realized after four months in Denali that I wanted to stay in Alaska, so I applied for a job at Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka located in the Southeastern part of the state. My volunteer work in Wildlife Rehabilitation, plus experience in a Veterinary Hospital and several other related volunteer jobs surely helped me get this job. When I arrive at the Center, I found out that they had a resident Raven who had no left wing, she had been shot and lost most of her wing from the Humerus down. Gilly Gal as we affectionately called her had once had a partner, however he had died, so now mostly through boredom she was starting to display boredom behaviors, so I was elected or I should say self appointed as her primary keeper. This entailed spending extra time with her every day, devising various food games and other forms of enrichment work so she would not be so bored. Well, this experience totally benefited both of us, as I learned so much from her, and in turn helped her have a better life at the center. Ravens and Crows really do adore shiny objects, so at the local thrift store I found various toys of the shiny variety that I could use to hide food in and place throughout her enclosure. Hiding food was always fun, and it gave her the opportunity to work for her food and not expect only handouts. I would hide things under branches, in corners, in holes in the trees and she always seemed to have a good time of it. During the fall Blackberry season, I would pick the Branches and hang them all over her enclosure and in no time they were gone. One of her favorite snacks were meal worms.. sounds so yummy hey? So, I came up with this idea of taking empty toilet paper rolls, and wrapping the meal worms in paper towels, and then stuffing them in the roll. I would hang them on various branches and she really had a blast. First, she would pull out the paper towel, rip it apart and literally suck down the worms, after that she proceeded to tear up the towels and throw them everywhere which was always fun to watch. On one occasion I decided to ad an extra treat and wrapped a mouse separately, we only gave the Corvids mice once a week, since we needed the mice for the smaller raptors that were either residents or Rehabilitating. In any case, the mouse was wrapped up separately at the opposite end of the Toilet paper roll, she realized that there was yet another tasty treat left for her dining pleasure, so she pulled it out, unwrapped it very carefully, and I could see how excited she was.. then she totally caught me off guard, she jumped off her perch and walked over to her water pan with the mouse in her foot, then she carefully washed the mouse off before devouring it.. I was amazed that I was witnessing her clean her food. Ravens and Crows are known to use tools, so this to me was priceless. So you see, they really are Brainy Birds.

Last fall I was awarded a scholarship for a Course at North Cascades Institute on Diablo Lake in North Cascades National Park. The class was taught by Professor John Marzluff who wrote the book In The Company of Ravens and Crows, The class was Corvid Ecology and other Corvid Brainy Birds. It was a wonderful weekend and we spent it on various field trips throughout the park looking at Gray Jays, Yellow Billed Magpies, Stellar Blue Jays, Clark's Nutcrackers and of course my fave, the Raven. The Lake on which the Institute is located has a mating pair of Ravens, so we spent a great deal of time setting up food booby traps in hopes of capturing them. Well as I mentioned these are very intelligent birds, and the Ravens were suspicious of our food traps, so no such luck. In a way I was glad, as I did not want to catch them, yet Biologists do this as part of their studies. Apparently they have been monitoring the pair for several years, so this was part of the study. I learned so much from John, and I was so grateful for having won the scholarship. He showed us an intelligent chart that ranked various species, and ravens were way on top, just a tad notch below a parrot. They have huge brains, and as I mentioned both Ravens and Crows have the ability to use tools. Another study was done several years ago with New Calendonian
Crows on this ability and I will attach the link to the website with the Video on Betty The Crow which is a must see.

Throughout history Ravens have been steeped in Mythological legend. During the Middle Ages in Europe, Ravens and Crows were considered a bad omen, yet not such the case with the Native peoples of this country. For the Native peoples of the Plains Tribes, Raven is considered a messenger and since the Bird is Black, Raven represents going into the Darkness of the Void. This is a place in your mind, that when you allow yourself to go to that dark place and have the answers come to you, thus transforming your consciousness. In the Northwest Raven is a Religious Symbol and represents both the Creator and Trickster. Raven has stolen the Sun, the moon, and also has created all the Animals. Raven is depicted in all types of art and particularly the Totem Poles of Southeastern Alaska and Canada. The Tlingits of the Southeast also have a symbol called the Lovebirds, which shows both a Raven and an Eagle. The Tlingits have clans, and cannot marry within their own clan, yet a Raven can marry an Eagle. Raven is also revered in the Celtic Culture and there is an Ancient Goddess associated with Raven known as the Morrigan. She was a triple Goddess and a Warrior as well. Raven represented transformation with the Ancient Celtics as well. So Raven is steeped in Folklore, even the British have folklore, and tradition says that when Raven leaves the tower of London, the Tower will come down. She even helped Noah carry the flood waters during Biblical times. No other Avian creature in history has so many legends, and you can understand why when you spend time with these amazing winged Spirits. watch this video on Betty the Crow

A Birds Eye View

What a Glorious day it is. After finishing a morning shift at the Salmon Hatchery , I came back to where I am currently Pet and House sitting. With the sun shining brightly and only a few clouds in the sky, it has truly been a day of perfection. I made myself some lunch, then opted to lay outside in the Hammock and watch the birds at the feeder. With guide book in hand I was in awe with the eclectic diversity of little birds at the feeder today. Mind you, my songbird knowledge is pretty minimal, however over the course of the last few years I have learned a great deal more, and with the trusty turn of the Bird guide book page, I am learning more. Brightly colored feathers fluttering about and anxious little beaks gathering all the seeds they could. My favorite of the day was the Black Headed Grosbeak, what a pretty little guy. I also enjoyed the Goldfinches who are Washington's State Bird. Of course their was Mister Gregarious, The Stellar Blue Jay, whom completely takes over the feeder and everyone else leaves. Bird feeders are such a great way to learn about birds, and you can watch them from a safe distance without scaring them away. I really do feel grateful and blessed to be able to have the great advantage of living in a place where I can enjoy this, and live in harmony with the nature around me.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Afternoon with the J's

I suppose you are wondering what I mean by J's? Stellar Blue Jays? Gray Jays? or the J family down the street? Well none of that is correct...

Today was a glorious afternoon spending time with J-pod, one of the Resident Orca pods here in the San Juan's.

We left Deer Harbor at 1:00pm
with seven Passengers, I was the Naturalist on duty today. Last night I received a phone call from Tom at Deer Harbor Charters he needed a Naturalist today, so after going to work at the Salmon Hatchery this morning, I headed out to Deer Harbor, of course that was after clipping over 1500 Baby Salmon Fry's, This would be my first day out this season, and I was really looking forward to seeing our Residents for the first time this year. After a long absence of 44 days, J-Pod along with some members of K-pod returned last week. Everyone who is involved in the Whale Watch Industry here gets very excited this time of year for the residents to return. J-pod being the most resident of the three pods, sticking around for a great part of the year. This is only my fifth time out total in the two years I have lived here, so for me it was particularly thrilling.

The Day started out very slow. We were in close touch with the other operators, and as of noon, there had only been one reported siting near Discovery Island. Yet we kept our hopes up high, and in the long run our faith and trust paid off. The trip started out with several sightings of Harbor Seals, a few Bald Eagles and then some Harbor Porpoise. We were heading towards Canada, via Spieden Island to view some of the very unusual Wildlife They have on Spieden. Back in the 1960's, Speiden Island was purchased by two brothers for a reputed 10,000 with the intention of starting a Game Safari Resort. This was quite odd, considering we are in the Middle of an Inland sea in Washington. They imported several types of exotic ungulates from such places as Denmark, Japan and Africa. Fallow Deer, A type of Mountain Sheep called Mouflans from Corsica and a little Deer from Japan. People would come and stay on the Island to hunt the animals.. which I think is totally strange. The idea never did prosper and was eventually sold. After leaving Spieden we were still continuing Northwest I believe towards Turn Point and closer to Canada. Finally we began receiving some new reports that the Orcas had been heard on one of the Hydrophones, one of which turned out to be false. Yet, Tom preserved and never gave up hope and finally around 4:00 some of J-pod was sighted. Excitement definitely came over me as I really wanted to see the Whales before I leave for two months to work at Mount Rainier in June. The whales were very spread out, which has been more common lately with the lack of available food prey, nevertheless a welcome site. First we spotted J-30 also known as Riptide. He was born in 1995, so he is still quite the young male, Males have a more impressive Dorsal fin that grows with age, and can get up to 6 foot high. Ruffles J-1 appeared and he has a very distinguishable Dorsal fin at 6 foot with the potato chip design on it. We also saw one of the new calves J-45 belonging to J-14, Samish. The Babies are so cute with their Yellow/orange coloring still. When they are infants they have more of a jaundice coloring to them. She was traveling very close to her Mom. There was some fun behavior and I saw a breach or two . When they feed they go down to around 150 feet where the Salmon are, so you have to be patient to wait for them to come up to the surface again. Once they fed, they were in traveling mode again, so we spent around 1/2 hour with them, which was great! Even with the water a bit choppy it was well worth the patience we endured to see them today.

Photos are from Center for Whale Research site
Whale Museum site
and google royalty


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dancing with the Frye, or more like standing with the Frye

Today was my second day at the Glenwood Springs Salmon Hatchery. We are Tagging and clipping Baby Chinook as part of the Salmon Recovery Plan in the San Juans. I never would of thought that this would be one of the hardest jobs I have ever done. Admittedly, I had no idea what to expect, and yesterday my sheer exhaustion tested me to my limits.

We are clipping and tagging the 8 month old Baby Chinook and I am one of the clippers, which means standing in one place and clipping the Adipose Fins of the young Salmon. Although tedious and monotonous, I know in my heart that I am doing a good thing to help restore the extremely depleted Salmon Population here in Washington. Chinook, also known as King Salmon, are the most endangered of the Salmon Stocks here. Long Live the Kings is a non-profit that has been involved in helping with the recovery plan. I really hope in a a few years that these young salmon grow healthy and strong in order to feed the Endangered Orca population. The resident pods that spend a good part of the year in the San Juans, eat 98.5 % Chinook. They do not touch Coho or Sockeye, and they need around 300 pounds in order to sustain and be healthy. So, I really hope our efforts pay off, and these fish will help support a future healthy Orca population to rebound.

As mentioned the work is hard, and yesterday my body was so sore. I tried a stool, yet that didn't prove much better. I found that in the early hours I did better and actually gained speed today, however by the afternoon I was beat and slowing down. The goal is to tag 100,000 fish, then the Fish and Wildlife Fish Biologist can go back to Olympia, and we will only have to clip. Tagging is much harder, since you have to hold the fish by its tail, and carefully place its head under the little section to tag it. They put an anaesthetiser in the water, so the fish do not feel what you are doing to them. Anyway, this experience is all new to me, and I hope my body holds out. I am a walker, not a stander. This is a very dedicated project and I sincerely hope that all of our hard work pays off.

check out more on the Glenwood Springs Hatchery

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Indian Island, Sea Stars and little Porcelain Crabs and all the little Tide Creatures

Well, I have said this before, it looks as though spring has finally sprung. Spring excites me in more ways than one. It not only marks the time of deciduous trees coming out of their long slumber, and birds actively feeding at feeders, it also marks the time of new beginnings. April for me has always been a time when I let the old fizzle away, which in turn brings new and exciting opportunities. I simply relish in all the glory and rebirth of this time of year. Over the course of winter, I have allowed myself to retreat to my cave, and find time to reflect on the past, and focus on the new. It is a time of quieting the mind and chatter, and allowing whatever creativity is to harvest, and simply surrender it does just what it needs to do. It seems after many months of stillness and low activity that all sorts of new opportunities knock at your door and I begin to get excited about all the possibilities. For the past two years I have been blessed with living in an Island Community that is surrounded by beauty, everywhere you look. Evergreens that reach up to the sky, little brown bunnies playing in the grass, and graceful Deer that graze everywhere you turn. communities also have their challenges. Even with all the beauty everywhere, Living in an Island community can still have it's pitfalls.

Being involved in various projects and volunteer work is always very rewarding for me and I enjoy being able to help the environment in my own way. Here on Orcas I became involved with Washington State Universities Beachwatcher Program. Offered as an extension course they provide you with 100 hours of comprehensive Conservation Education taught at University Level and then upon graduating you contribute 100 hours of volunteer commitment to pay back. The San Juan Islands offer multiple opportunities involving stewardship, and other ways of contributing. This year along with BLM and Kwiath (a Salish Indian term for Sense of Place) The organization is also known as Center for Historical Ecology of the Salish Sea, which is involved with several research projects throughout the San Juan Islands. Russel Barsh who heads the programs is amazing, and this summer we are monitoring Indian Island a small intertidal Island facing the town of Eastsound. The island is easily accessible at Low tides and in the high season visitors walk out to the Island which has a footpath from town. With regards to the fragile intertidal life that inhabits the Island, We are doing a long term project which will be looking at the impact of an urban town and its effects on the island environmentally. Today we set up buoys, and markers in the eelgrass habitat to determine types of sediment and any changes in the eelgrass throughout the summer. Also, large boxes which will catch sediment and intertidal creatures which we will examine to see how they are effected by any tidal changes and so forth. Later in the summer there will also be water testing to see the level of various toxins in the water. When walking out there, I feel rather invasive in regards to walking on such fragile life. Today, there was an abundant amount of Sea Stars, Ochre Stars, which are brightly colored oranges to purples and even some smaller Blood stars with their crimson shade of red. Sea Cucumbers and small Porcelain crabs also inhabit the Island. At low tide everything becomes so visible, so walking out there I am very aware of where I am walking. The Island is also perfect habitat for nesting Black Oystercatchers, although when I did my monitor walk I did not locate a nest. They are very sensitive Birds and do their best I am sure to nest far from the people and the Canada Geese. All in all I hope for this project to be very worthwhile and reveal the impact that we are or are not creating on this ecosystem. I encourage everyone in their communities to get involved in similar projects. Not only does it give you a sense of giving back, it is also a wonderful learning experience. I learn better hands on, as opposed to book study, so this for me was very worthwhile. Eelgrass is important for the Marine Ecosystem for many reasons. Not only does it provide a home for the many creatures that live within it, it is also an Important nutrient for various sealife as well. The eelgrass communities of the Pacific Northwest are a concern for Conservationists as their numbers are declining. The effects of Urban developement, and people building private docks can effect them greatly. This is one of the reasons are group is looking at the overall health of the Eelgrass communities and can come up with some positive ways we can help it.

Overall I feel as a concerned environmentalist that anyway I can contribute that will help is a good thing. We can all make a diffference simply by changing our own personal habits. Those habits can be small things, such as elevating plastic, using stainless steel for our water bottles and coffee mugs, pick up debris when you walk on the beach, use less power and water. Change some of your eating habits and switch to Organic. All these things can get into the system by runoffs and our own personal usage. Cleaning products that we use which are toxic to the environment and not only effects us, yet also all the life in the ocean. Simple household things such as Baking Soda, Vinegar are easy alternatives to the products that we use.

So for yourself and the health of our oceans and planet, make a simple change today.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Angels of Cook Inlet

I call them the Mysteries of the Sea.. Sea Canaries, because of their Chirping voices, Yet their official name is Beluga Whale... Russian for White Whale. These gracious animals are whales of the far north. In Canada, the Arctic Variety inhabit rivers near Montreal Canada and their population is more stable than their smaller cousin, the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale who inhabit the Coastal Inlet waters outside of Anchorage, Alaska.. Once hunted by Native Peoples for their meat as well as their oil, Sustenance hunting was halted. At one time their population numbered in the thousands, today they are just slightly over 300. Back in 2007, NOAA issued a petition to get votes to place the imperiled Cook Inlet Beluga on the Endangered List. They received over 150,000 votes which was enough to have them placed on the list. Unfortunately the state overturned the vote, and the Belugas lost. Several months ago after intense effort and a lawsuit issued by several Environmental groups, The Belugas finally won what they rightfully deserved, and placed on the ESA. Then back in January Governor Sarah Palin, threaten to counter sue. Her idea to do oil and gas exploration in the Cook Inlet... Following no advice of the sound science and studies by experts, once again she attempted to side with the special interest groups and attempt to do great harm to an Endangered Species. I found this beautiful video which is breathtaking of these amazing beings. I hope and pray that humans step away from their arrogance in attempting to completely destroy this planet and begin to have some real sense.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Orcas Widllife

Springtime for me is when everything comes into bloom. Deciduous trees come out of their winter's nap, Flowers start to bloom, Eagles Nesting and the other wonderful sounds of Nature coming alive. I love listening to all the amazing sounds in nature, and when you allow yourself to quiet your mind and slow down, it is amazing at what you can hear. For the last week on the Island spring has been an illusion. It plays spring one day, and then the next day it is winter again. Yet, the last couple of days; I am finally starting to believe that spring is here. The reason I know, is because I am sneezing more. I think it is the pine spores beginning to open that are making me sneeze. Yet I really do not mind, since I love spring in all its glory. For a small Island in the Pacific Northwest, I am amazed at the diversity of wildlife on the Island. I feel very blessed to come home, and hear Bald Eagles cackling away, and the honking of Canada Geese on their way home. Even noisy Stellar Jays make me smile. I have a new favorite shorebird, the Black Oyster catchers. These stylish clowns are very sensitive and like to nest on rocky shores and Islands without Trees. In the middle of Fisherman's Bay in Eastsound is a small Island that is affectionately called Indian Island. Named in honor of the Salish People who are the original inhabitants of the area. These birds are very sensitive, and because this island is so easily accessible by low tide, it is a concern that their nesting will be interrupted. This summer myself and other San Juan County Beachwatchers are going to be part of a study monitoring the Island. I hope to educate others so that they learn to respect the wildlife out there. I have yet to see my first Hummingbird of the spring, yet I have heard rumors that they are buzzing about. Pretty soon the Swallows will return, and I adore watching them, fluttering about catching bugs and hopefully devouring every mosquito they can get their little beaks on. Some of the other wonderful Flighted friends I have seen lately are, Pileated Woodpeckers, a passing Migrating Rough Legged Hawk and quite a few Stellar Jays as well. I never tire of seeing Majestic Bald Eagles collecting their nest material and their love stories in the air. For me it is really an honor to be able to be so close to the diversity we have. This is why I want to do everything to protect our environment, so many generations to come, we can all still enjoy this abundance. We also have abundant Deer on the Island, and since they have no predators, they are starting to display patterns that show they are breeding themselves out. There are many Deer on this Island that have White patches all over them and are starting to look almost like fawns with spots spreading. I have heard this could be from inbreeding. In any case, I always love seeing their gentle and sweet eyes that are so endearing. Another favorite of mine are the River Otters. The River Otters here are Marine foraging river otters who spend a great deal of time in the sea. At first when I saw them, I mistook them for Sea Otters, which are slowly making a comeback to these inland waters, yet by no means common. I have often seen River Otters playing down by some of the beaches which is a joy to watch.. A few times I have mistaken their smaller cousins, the minks for one of them. Yet Minks are smaller and a deeper shade of brown. The Islands most favorite resident of course is the Orcas, or to some still Killer Whales. The name is to me a misnomer as back before they really knew about them, they were believed to be vicious killers for their predation on Marine Mammals. However over the course of the last 30 years, having been studied more, they have discovered that these highly intelligent creatures have very intricate family structures, and the term Killer Whale does not entirely fit them. In fact they are not even whales. They are the largest member of the Dolphin family. Biologists have now classified Orcas into three different sub cultures so to say. Residents, who live in large family groups and stay close together, primarily stay in the same areas most of the year. They are fish eaters, and their preferred dietary choice is Chinook Salmon. Unfortunately the Chinook stalks are endangered, and the food supply for the Orcas is very threatened. They have to travel further now for food, and this is causing them to use up to much energy to travel so far for food. Many of the studies are revealing that their thyroid hormone levels are severely compromised, and they are living off the fat which means essentially they are starving. Also too, their levels of PCB's and PBDE's are very high, which again compromising their immune systems. Males are more susceptible to this since they do not have anyway of releasing these toxins as the females who release by giving birth and passing it on to the newborn calves through their milk. Obviously this is not good either, as the Calves thus have a very high mortality rate, especially firstborns. Transient Orcas, the second type are Marine Mammal Eaters. They live in smaller pods, and their behavior is more unpredictable. They can change direciton at any time, and leave the general area. Another noteable difference is in size. Transients are larger, and have curved Dorsal fins, where as Residents are smaller and have straighter dorsal fins. The third type is the Offshores which are believed to be fish eaters as well, anything from Shark to even Octopus. They also travel in larger groups and live in the open ocean. Little is known about them, due to the fact they live further out at sea. The waters of the Salish Sea are also home to a Healthy population of harbor Seals, somewhere in the numbers of 6,000, also Harbor Porpoise which is less common, and they are very shy and Leary of boats, and then the Dalls Porpoise who resemble small Orcas with their striking Black and White Patterns. Dalls are really fun to watch. They love to Bow ride and sometimes will follow boats for hours. They are the fastest Cetacean on the planet, traveling at speeds up to 35mph. The Islands are a haven for many types of Seabirds, from Cormorants to Pigeon Guillemots with their bright red boots , Grebes, Rhino Aucklets, Murres and other wonderful members or the Alcid family of Birds, the closest thing we have to penguins. For me it is a true gift when you get to live in a place of incredible nature and beauty, and learn to share the magic of mother earth with all her children.