Hiking Dangers.

CampQungaayux 262Hiking in the Aleutians is a wonderful activity.  Sometimes you can hike on old World War II gravel roads, some in fairly good shape; some beyond redemption.  You can actively choose a trail that was used by the Indigenous People, the Unangax, for the past 10,000 years.  If you are hiking somewhere, the landowner does suggest that you use the path most taken.  In other words, don’t be making your own trail.  Damage to the tundra is not encouraged.  It takes decades to repair.  No 4-wheeling off-road.  That is strictly forbidden.

There are dangers when you hike in the Aleutians.  The ones from the environment are only a danger if you don’t know what you are doing.  So, do know what the weather is going to do.  Are you going to make a 6 hour trek, but the forecast is for 60 mile per hour winds to start in 4 hours?  Don’t do it.  Has the fog rolled in during your hike?  Sit down.  Wait it out.  People have gotten very lost trying to hike when they think they know the direction they are going.  Honest.  Don’t move.  People have walked off cliffs.  Common sense is your friend.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOld World War II remnants can cause serious injury from collapsing floors to barbed wire and Rommel stakes concealed by the grass.  Although much work has been done to remediate the stakes, undiscovered ones can still be in place.  Contact with animals can sometimes be unavoidable.  We have squirrels and foxes as land animals.  No big deal, except for the occasional ankle mishap if you don’t watch where you step and happen to step into an entrance to a den.  A bit more treacherous are the wild cows and horses you may encounter on the Beaver Inlet side of the island.  Scan carefully before descending into valleys.  Remember, we do not have trees to climb if you are being chased by an overly curious bull.  Make sure you scan the beaches for sea lions, seals, or sea otters hauled out before you descend.   Harassing marine mammals is against the law.  And, know that disturbing spawning salmon is not something you want to be caught doing.

Eagle nestThe one thing you don’t have too much control over is inadvertently hiking into an area that is a nesting area for birds of prey.  Keep your eyes peeled for nests in the cliffs, although some crazy birds will build nests in the grass near a bluff.  Carry a walking stick, or just a stick.  It just needs to be something you can hold over your head to ward off talons reaching for your scalp.  Most birds of prey won’t descend lower than the highest part of you; usually the top of your head unless you are using a stick.  They do not want to damage their wings.  Being snatched bald headed takes on a new meaning.

And remember to always get a land-use permit from the land owner. https://www.ounalashka.com/land-use/land-use-permit/

Climate Change 2

Seal2This little fellow, probably recently weaned, beginning to shed his baby coat, is resting on the banks of a fresh water river.  This is not near the mouth of the river.  Over the past two summers we have seen this type of activity occuring; sea mammals coming into fresh water when they never have before.  At least not in the memory of our oldest citizens of 80-90 years.  There have been three young seals frequenting the river over the past couple of days.  Several weeks ago, my husband witnessed 40 sea otters on a sand bar in the river, plus numerous ones farther upstream feeding.  And last year, we witnessed score of monstrous sea lions coming up the river after salmon.  Never.  Ever.  And it is March and the indigenous plants are breaking ground.

P.S.  I forgot to mention that this is a ringed seal.  There are at least two others frequenting the river.  An earlier one spotted was sick and was eventually captured and sent to a care facility.  One other was found dead.  They are an ice associated seal normally found further north.  According to biologists due to the unfortunate lack of sea ice this winter, they are finding other places to haul out and rest.  Because of warming temperatures, they are far out of ther normal territory.  These three seem to be healthy.

Do Not Feed the Eagles



Someone was feeding eagles yesterday.  I don’t know if it was my idiotic  neighbor who thinks it is his god given right to feed wildlife, or if it was accidental feeding from an offload of a fishing boat.  Or if someone cleaned out their freezer.  But someone was feeding the eagles yesterday.  This led to at least 3 hours of thumps on the roof, fights and squabbles over both food and advantageous perching, and eagles whizzing down the street at about head height.  And I’m not talking three or four eagles.  I am talking about seventy-five.  Very irritating…and dangerous.

On the spur of the moment

My friend Zoya, who is a crazed walker and runner, called just as I was getting ready to take my husband some lunch at work.  The wind was muffling her voice so I knew she was outside.  She says “I am out at Priest Rock (I know she means Little Priest Rock) and there are so many seals sitting on the rocks, about 12 of them.  I’ve never seen so many together and they are so big.”  I verify that they are seals and not sea lions.  “Oh no, they are seals and they are so fat.  You should come take some pictures.”  (And you have to read this with an Armenian accent, by the way.)

By the time I got out there after going all the way over to airport to drop off lunch, they had decreased in numbers to about 9.  But they were so roly poly fat.  And all different colors.  Just basking away the afternoon in the winter sun;  sharing space with Emperor geese who were grazing in the near shore waters.

There are actually 8 harbor seals, but one is kind of on the other side of the rock.

There are actually 8 harbor seals, but one is kind of on the other side of the rock.

There is nothing better than being able to drive out Summer Bay road in January.  Typically we are unable to drive it past November due to snow and avalanches.

This fatty had a rock all to himself.

This fatty had a rock all to himself.

And there is nothing better than living in a place where a spur of the moment phone call from a friend equals basking harbor seals…

I love how they relax!

I love how they relax!

…and feasting fowl.

I'm assuming these guys were grazing on mussels.

I’m assuming these guys were grazing on mussels.

Thanks, Zoya!

Bald Eagles…learning to live with them

The bald eagle is Alaska’s largest resident bird of prey.  It can have a wing span of up to 7 ½ feet and weighs in between 8 and 14 pounds.  Females are typically larger than male eagles.  In the early part of the 1900’s, some Alaskan residents thought that bald eagles were competing with humans for salmon.  A bounty was put on eagles from 1917 to 1953.  A payment between $.50 and $2.00 was given for every pair of bald eagle talons that were turned in to the Alaska territorial government.  Records show that the territorial government paid for 128,000 pairs of bald eagle talons during these years.  Although the bald eagle population was never at peril in Alaska, precipitous declines were seen in both the reproduction and populations of bald eagles in the lower 48 states.  After the banning of the pesticide DDT in 1972, populations began to slowly recover and it is no longer considered endangered or threatened.

In Unalaska we have no shortage of bald eagles.  In fact, they are so common that we did not even pay any attention to them until tourists started gracing our shores.  It became apparent that our ‘common’ was their delight.  Tourists are adamant about getting their pictures of bald eagles.  You’ll see tourists  standing in the middle of the road taking a shot.  They come into your yard with their cameras at the ready.  They scramble up steep, rocky slopes to get  better composition in their shot.  When I think about the eagle pictures I have taken over the last 30 years, I can pretty much say that I have taken probably 10 to 15 pictures of eagles that were not accidental pictures.  By accidental, I mean that I took a picture and an eagle happened to accidentally end up in it because they are just all over the place.

But there seems to be no getting around the fact that we have a plethora of eagles.  With our growing population we have also had eagle incidents where we have had eagle attacks on the heads of humans who have inadvertently wandered too close to eagle nests.  Unfortunately this “wandering” is simply walking down the sidewalk that happens to be next to a cliff where an eagle has built its’ nest.  So we teach our children to give eagles a wide berth, though it can be difficult at times when they just come walking across your lawn.

fishing in june 003a

Don’t ask me what he wants.

It’s a little difficult to ignore them when your mother inadvertently dumps the guts from cleaning fish within 50 feet of where you are tending the fish net.

My husband, a reformed commercial fisherman, calls them vultures.

My husband, a reformed commercial fisherman, calls them vultures.

They line the roof when you are out basking in the Aleutian sunshine.

Okay.  I'll admit they are probably eyeballing the fish.

Okay. I’ll admit they are probably eyeballing the fish.

They sit on the school roof and play in the playground.  Sorry kids, no recess today.

Look really close and try to count them all.  Hint:  there are some on the ground.

Look really close and try to count them all. Hint: there are some on the ground.

They are on every light pole.  You learn to give the area around the poles a wide berth.  And you certainly make note of which way the eagle is positioned so as not to be given a poop bath.

Look at those talons extended for the landing.

Look at those talons extended for the landing.

They don’t care if the pole is already taken.  They will share.

A juvenile and adult bald eagle.

A juvenile and adult bald eagle.

Even if it gets crowded.

Three to a pole, though not uncommon, is stretching the limit for space.

Three to a pole, though not uncommon, is stretching the limit for space.

They are in the grass…

This eagle was possibly stunned.  When I returned later, he was gone.

This eagle was possibly stunned. When I returned later, he was gone.

They perch on rocks…

I always wonder how they survive the winter.

I always wonder how they survive the winter.

They find a perch on all types of industrial equipment.

Don't leave your equipment idle for too long.  Someone might build a nest.

Don’t leave your equipment idle for too long. Someone might build a nest.

So having lived all but 22 years of my life among eagles, nothing should surprise me.  Boy was I wrong about that.  I went to the landfill today.  It is always heavily populated by eagles and ravens.  No big deal.  I backed up to the facility, got out and got one heavy bag of garbage out of my car and one very light bag of garbage.  I had the heavy one in my left hand, and the light one in my right hand.   When I was within about 3 feet of the residential dumpster, I saw a blur of motion that turned out to be an eagle, with claws extended, coming straight for my face.  I whipped that light garbage bag up in the nick of time and smacked that eagle away from me.  If it had been the heavy bag in that hand, I never would have gotten it up in time.  And if I did, I probably would have done some damage to the eagle.  As it was, no feathers were lost, and just the landfill employee and I had heart attacks.  I can’t believe how lucky I was.  And I actually am having a hard time believing that my reaction time, my reflexes, and my total ninja-ness were so incredible.  I saved myself.  I’m my own hero today.


The Qawalangin Tribe of Unalaska hosts a traditional culture camp in Unalaska.    Camp Qungaayux^ is designed to bring Unangan Elders, Mentors, and Western science biologists together with the younger generation in order to teach both Traditional Knowledge practices and Western Science principles which encourages cultural and environmental awareness.  

So in 2003, I talked Caleb into helping his brother teach the kids how to construct model kayaks. 


In 2004, I talked Caleb into working with his brother Mike, in teaching the kids how to construct a full-size iqyax^, or skinboat.  His brother couldn’t make it so Caleb ended up teaching by himself. 


In 2005, Caleb taught the kids how to cover a full size iqyax^ by actually covering the one built the year before. 



In 2006, Caleb, with HIS mentor Lee Post, taught the kids how to articulate a Baird’s beaked whale. 


In 2007, 2008, and 2009 Caleb taught the kids how to construct traditional drums. 


2007 was actually the last year I coordinated camp, so I don’t think that the Tribe knows what a jewel they have with Caleb.  The secret to Caleb is that he had never taught a class before 2003.  He had never made a model kayak.  He had never constructed a full size kayak.  He had never covered a skinboat.  He had never thought of articulating, let alone articulated, a whale.  He had never constructed a drum.  The secret to Caleb is presenting him with a problem and giving him the time to explore it and solve it.

So when the Tribe asked Caleb to teach at Camp again this year, and they asked him to do drums again, I said, “Drums?  Again?”  And Caleb’s other cohort who first suggested the whale articulation, Reid Brewer, reminded Caleb that they had the sealion bones from two years ago…… 


….and the deal was sealed.  So, I am going to try to follow Caleb along in this project.  Not by being intrusive and all in his face with the camera and questions, but by using the photos he takes himself, and listening to him when he comes home lamenting his woes.  Hmmmmmm, I see he forgot the camera today.

Unalaska at its finest.

We have been enjoying our beautiful February weather over the past week or so.  Mom and Dad say that they have always done a lot of boating in February because the weather always offers up a couple of weeks of beautiful, flat calm days with brilliant sunshine. 

This past week has also shown another finest of Unalaska, besides its February weather. It has been an action-packed showcase of the generousity of Unalaskans, from the Channel 8 auction (with their awesome and hilarious soap opera, Dutch Harbor 99692 ), to the Ballyhoo Lions bowling, spilling over to the Museum of the Aleutian’s Chocolate Extravaganza, and ending up on Sunday with the Preschool Ice Cream Social.  Where else but Unalaska, could you wear yourself out donating money to great public ideas in action?  And having fun doing it? 

A couple of my indispensable chocolate making tools.

I also wrapped up my segment for the Unangan Program at the elementary school.  My last week with the cutest little first graders you will ever see, was a breeze after my previous week with almost 30 second graders!  Not that the second graders weren’t cute…..there were just soooooooooooo many of them.  Keeps you on your toes when you are working with hot oil. 

Awesome journal-ing.

Suzi Golodoff now has five weeks with the students, teaching about our Aleutian feathered friends, and, last but not least – in fact, most importantly – Laresa Syverson will give 5 weeks of her afternoons in the pursuit of passing on Unangam tunuu (the Aleut language) to a generation younger than her!

Can you find the grey-crowned rosy finch?