So a few weeks ago you might recall me saying that things were bound to get busier at Squirrel Camp and that our days of reading and relaxing in front of the fire after four hours of trapping were limited. Well, that day has arrived. As the weather warms the squirrels are up and active by 7am which means that we are out trapping no later than 8:30 and beginning to stir from our beds around 6:30am in order to get everything prepped for the day. With the arrival of spring comes lots of baby squirrels as well. This week we had upwards of 15 nests to process, which means that after 5 hours of trapping in the morning we head back out on grid in the afternoon to climb trees and find squirrel pups. And by climbing “trees” I mean skinny, spindly spruce that you bear hug up most of the way out of fear that the branches might snap. Then somehow you have to release one arm to poke your hand around a squirrel nest (hoping there is no mama squirrel there to bite you), grab the babies, stuff them in a sack and shimmy your way back down the tree. Then you have to repeat this process all over again to return the pups to the nest. By the second round I’m usually shaking like a leaf. This week we’ve also been out every afternoon taking a pick-ax to the frozen ground in order to try to find a squirrel that has nested underground. So far she and her pups continue to elude us. And if all of the aforementioned strategies fail to work then we go out at 10 pm to try to get a “night loc” on the squirrel, meaning that we use telemetry to try to track her to the nest where she is likely spending the night with her pups. Lisa and I went out this past Monday and found the squirrel we were looking for in a mating chase (a good sign that she lost her first litter of pups) and so had three or four squirrels running at top speed through the trees and almost falling on our heads in the middle of the night. So yes, the busy season has arrived.
But with it we have also seen the arrival of spring. This week was the first that I found myself comfortably sleeping partly out of my sleeping bag and failed to notice the loss of my hat in the middle of the night. The driveway and paths around the cookshack are rapidly turning to mud as the snow deliquesces, meaning that all of our clothes are accumulating a thick layer of dirt. And with a week between showers and laundry that makes for some very dirty squirrel campers. This week I also noticed the first few spider webs on grid and the first lethargic insects wending their way across the melting snow. On Wednesday we caught three arctic ground squirrels (Spermophilus parryii) in our traps, so it looks like the long winter hibernation is over. And just as an aside, we also heard wolves howling early in the morning this week. Not necessarily a sign of spring, but an eerily beautiful sound to hear just as the sun is coming up.
So as we move full steam ahead into the busiest time of year I thought I would take a look at the relaxing days gone by and provide you with a bit of a photo essay of our trip to Haines, Alaska two weeks ago.
April 4, 2014
Our day of departure dawned bright and clear and we left camp at 8 am to get an early start and make the most of the good weather. The drive along the Haines Highway is a beautiful one. The highway climbs into the mountains and then drops back down to the coast. The pristine white snowcapped peaks were a lovely change from the brownish sludge that our snow is turning to at camp. Here are photos from the highway summit:
Our first view of the mountains in Alaska.
Followed shortly by our first bald eagle siting! (There were many more to come. I saw more bald eagles in two days than most people see in their entire life! Haines is part of the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.)
We stopped for lunch at a small state park and ate right on the coast. It was early in Haines so the sun was still burning away the morning clouds.
We then headed over to Chilkat State Park and hiked out to Battery Point. The trail wends through beautiful temperate rainforest before emerging on the beach with a lovely view of the mountains.
That night we stayed in a quaint little cabin within walking distance of the Chilkat State Park. The next morning dawned cloudy and snowed big fat flakes so our view of the mountains was impeded but we still saw lots of bald eagles!
Before we left Haines we hiked a bit of the Chilkoot River into Chilkoot State Park.