Tracks from a snowshoe hare.
We waited all winter for this month of spring skiing. The time of year when you lose your mittens and trade your ski cap for a baseball cap. Our skis actually glide over the snow on a cushion of water, like they were design to. Skiing is such a delight.
March madness passes in a blur. It now April, and the thaw is on full force, changing the soundscape around my house. In the morning the icy crust on the snow crunches under my weight, then by afternoon, each step if followed by a swash of slush. I fall asleep to the sound of water drops sliding of the second story roof snow pack and banging on to the metal awning below.
I want to continue to ski in the sunshine, but my path is booby-trapped with by patches glacier ice in the low lands, sandpaper earth on southern exposed trails or collapsing snow depth on low use sections of the trails. Others have traded their skis for running shoes, but they have also left the forest for paved roads. My first run of the season ended in a mud bath. I slipped on the icy spot on the dirt road right into the thawed earth (ie mud). Break-up is such a painful time.
The Rites Of Spring: bearing witness to the migrants return to the north.
This weekend my husband and I joined the Arctic Audubon group on their annual
field trip to Delta. Our goal was to reach the Clearwater lake and pay homage to Trumpeter swans that had return to the north. If our timing was correct and the birds knew Saturday was our field trip day, we might see several hundreds of these elegant white birds.
Swans and geese at Creamer’s field
The group meet at the barn at the Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge early Saturday morning to carpool to Delta. The Creamer’s Field was a Fairbanks hotspot for seeing the first waterfowl of the season. The refuge staff had prep the field for birds, They had plowed the deep snow into alternating lanes of snow berms and bare earth. The area was also salted with corn to attract birds and draw them away from the only other area of snow free habitat (i.e. the airport). The air was full of goose and swan’s calls. I was surprised to see the parking was busy even at 8 am morning. And the only reason people were using this parking lot was to see the birds!!!
Our small group departed Creamer’s Field and headed south to Delta. We stopped at each vantage point along the highway to look and listen for birds. Someone spotted a Junco but no other migrants. Birding was a bit slow. We checked on two known Bald Eagle nest sites including the one across the river from Rita’s Roadhouse. Eagles were taking up there traditional nest sites. A good sign so we moved on to Clearwater lake.
Arctic Audubon Group at Clearwater Lake
Clearwater Lake was active with bird life. There were 3 to 4 thousand Canada Geese on the water, with more coming in as we watched. However, the Trumpeter Swan count was low, only a couple dozen swans. Northern Pintails were also present but estimating the numbers of these smaller birds were difficult because they were quite a distance from us. A pair of Common Merganser and one male golden-eye kept the swans company. Four large gulls, perhaps Herring Gulls were also present. A pair of eagles were patrolling the lake shore.
To find more raptor species we moved on to Saw Mill Creek. Myself, I was hoping for a sighting of Mountain Bluebirds. My husband had not seen one yet in Alaska. Years back, in hopes of building up the Blue Bird population, the Delta boy scout group had placed nest boxes on a large barn . In recent years, sightings of Bluebirds have been low, but I still held hope for seeing one. The Raptor lovers were not disappointed. We had a great show put on by Rough-legged hawks. We saw 5 hawks in the air at the same time. Northern Harriers were also spotted.
It was a beautiful spring day. The sparkling white Delta range was a stunning backdrop to the river and farm fields. Despite missing the Mountain Bluebird, it still was a prefect blue bird day.
What better way to start my first post for Marks In The Sky then to announce the arrival of first geese to Fairbanks. Canada Geese have landed at Creamer’s Field. I am going to ignore the snow flakes that fell this morning and focus on the winged harbingers of spring. Snow Buntings, another early migrant has been sighted in Interior Alaska. I saw a small flock along the Chena Hot Springs Road. Golden Eagles and Red-tailed Hawks are also on the move, according to the hawk watchers at Gunsight Mountain. Keep your eyes peeled for more marks of spring in the sky.