I wandered around a few trails the Mendenhall Glacier after my Wood Duck Life Bird encounter at the Riverside Rotary Park. If I didn’t know, I would have thought this beautiful public land was a National Park. Instead, it’s part of the Tongass National Forest managed by the US Forest Service.
The impressive Visitor Center was still closed for the season and staff was busy getting it ready for the May 1 opening, but the trails were open with few other visitors. The rain varied from mist to light spray, to power spray, somewhat like a fancy multi-spray showerhead. Nonetheless, the birds didn’t seem to mind.
Along the Photo Point Trail, handsome Oregon Junco males sang a variation of the Slate-colored Junco trill. A WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW hopped along below. VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS swooped over a rain-spattered pond while two AMERICAN PIPITS, almost invisibly camouflaged, walked along the beach. ROBINS clucked from the shrubs. BALD EAGLES flew overhead and across Mendenhall Lake. Gulls perched on scattered icebergs.
I was too early for the ARCTIC TERNS, but was very impressed that the Forest Service closed off access to the beach where they would soon nest. What a fabulous place that will be to watch the terns raise their families!
Gorgeous Purple Saxifrages bloomed among the rocks; I felt fortunate to see this flower in bloom as it is such an early bloomer I usually miss it. The Alberta Plant Watch website notes that its blooming corresponds with calving in caribou herds. Pretty special!
VARIED THRUSHES called and ROBINS sang. HERMIT THRUSHES hopped on the ground along the Nugget Falls Trail to the gigantic waterfall; one perched on the wet cliff nearby. I was pleased to find Knight’s Plume, Cats Paw, and Stair-step Moss among others. I found a scattered group of 5 Mt Goats high up on the mountain to the right of the impressive, 13-mile long Mendenhall Glacier.
A NORTHERN HARRIER patrolled along the mountainside over the forest. RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS belted out their cheerful song at maximum volume, chasing each other through the trees.
Steep Creek Trail, named for the creek not the level loop trail, led right from the parking lot through the forest, over the creek, and to a sandy moraine next to Mendenhall Lake. A DIPPER sang from a rock mid-stream, always a joy to hear. MALLARDS swam in a little pool dammed by beavers. More Ruby-crowned Kinglets flitted through the branches, and a couple PACIFIC WRENS traded territorial notes.
A number of Porcupines cautiously climbed from limb to limb at the top of the leafless cottonwoods high overhead. They carefully selected small branches with their claws and broke them off to nibble the swelling cottonwood buds, then let the branches drop. Interesting to watch!
On Saturday, we returned for a shorter visit in sunshine, then drove across the bridge to Douglas Island. Highlights included RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS zipping past and performing their U-shaped display, RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKERS drilling horizontal rows in hemlock trees, and the mysterious, deep hooting of SOOTY GROUSE.
When this sound first sifted into my consciousness in Haines at Chilkoot Lake State Recreation Site, I wondered if it was an owl of some sort. It reminded me of someone blowing across a bottle. A bit of research narrowed it down quickly and thus I scored on another Life Bird for this trip. Once I knew the call, I heard Sooty Grouse hooting in several places though I never saw one. Early spring is a great time to hear this ventriloquist grouse.
All too soon, I had to board a plane to Anchorage, and drive back to Seward. It was quite an amazing trip!
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter on the road