Sunday, 28 September 2008

Update from the field 5: Just some images (Haines etc.)

From our extremely luxurious-seeming hotel room (well, it certainly is comfortable, but nothing really special; it is just a huge change after spending almost five weeks in a small camper truck) in Whitehorse, the evening before we accept the journey home again, I find just enough time to upload just a few of the thousands of photos shot during this Fieldwork Period.

Our last longer stop was in Haines in South-eastern Alaska. We had spent two evenings in that remote little village last year and - by accident - found out that a few miles out of town there is another great opportunity to watch grizzlies fish for salmon. During that journey, we only saw one bear and that just before dark and so the photos were not that great. Now we wanted to really spend a few days there and see if that would give us some better opportunities. And boy, did it ever!!

The tips of this bear's ears were almost white, which made it very easy to recognise and... it looked rather cute too. Here he or she is in early morning light, trying to locate a fish to munch on.

And voila, success! It is a great spectacle to see a bear pull big fish from the water, but at times it is really tough to witness the feeding. A salmon, of course, poses no threat whatsoever to a big bear and so there is no need for the bear to kill its prey before starting to eat. And sometimes the fish stays alive awefully long... It keeps moving while its skin is stripped off, its tail is eaten, and sometimes -if it is a female fish who hasn't spawned yet- to have her eggs pushed out by a brusque push on her belly and then be left alone to suffocate on the ground. Most people witnessing all this do not seem to mind this at all, but mum and I sometimes had a hard time.

But many more animals congregate here to feast on the abundant fish. That is... the fish that ought to be abundant! Like in Hyder, the salmon run was bad this year. In Hyder it was said that only about 1% of the numbers that should be swimming upstream to spawn were counted. In Haines it appeared a little better, but not much. The reasons for this are unknown, but most guesses concern overfishing on the oceans, pollution, climate change and the like. Even a number of Native peoples that usually still depend for a part of their diet on the salmon runs have decided to not take salmon this year, or at least to take a lot less than they normally do.

This bald eagle and a legion of gulls of different species wait for fish to strand and die, or for scraps left by bears.

A bald eagle calling.

And a gull (sorry, I do not have my bird fieldguide with me to save weight, so no exact ID...) scavenging on the salmon that perish after having used all their last energy to spawn. Even though the salmon run was low this year, the number of dead fish on the shores is amazing and saddening in a way, even though of course you have to realise that these fish have succeeded in what they came to do here: to take care of the next generation.

During the week or so that we visited the Chilkoot River at least twice a day, usually for at least 4 hours a time, we ran into this nice fellow. Jon Jacobs became our regular breakfast and dinner partner for a while and the hours spent along the river photographing bears and (flying) eagles were very pleasant and a lot of fun! Thanks a lot for your company Jon!

And while we are looking at people, here is mum showing off her newfound brave self, being only two or three dozen meters away from a bear eating a salmon. Mum admitted to having had her hand on her bear spray on a number of occassions when bears came rather close, but took the can out only twice. Thanks for your company as well mum!

And then back to the real main characters of Haines: the salmon. Without them, there would not be this rich and important food source for bears, eagles, gulls, seals (regularly seen at the last part of the Chilkoot River) and many many other species, including plants which also absorb the minerals the decomposed fish add to the soil. Thank you fish, and I hope that the current trend in your numbers will not continue, or we (all other species aggregating to profit from your deaths) will lead a much poorer life very soon...

That, for now, leaves Haines behind. Many more images will certainly follow, but for this update it will have to do. We travelled up to Haines Junction again, along the Chilkat River, which is really very beautiful at many points...

... And arrived in Whitehorse day before yesterday, cleaned the camper truck to bring it back to the rental company (Fraserway RV (thanks for the service, guys!!)) and then prepared for two more very boring days in town. But... it wasn't meant to be that way!

Just after handing in the camper truck, we were enjoying a coffee in Tim Horton's when suddenly in walks this guy that looks a bit like Balkenende, the Dutch prime minister. I am not a big fan of our leader and in that first split second of seeing this man walk into the establishment, I take an instant dislike to him (which of course is a bad thing to do at any rate!)... only to suddenly realise why else he looks so familiar: we met about one and a half years earlier at an environmental education conference in Kananaskis Country (near Canmore, Alberta, Canada) and had a great time talking together there! At the end of the conference, he sang a few songs for the attendees and I really liked that too. And so here he was, entirely unexpected. I walked up to him while slowly his name - Peter Puffin - came back to me, and he almost dropped his bagel seeing me! It turned out that he was in town to do a little concert for kids and their parents, along with another man - Remy Rodden, a Whitehorse local - I met at that conference. Of course mum and I decided to go and I even made pictures of the whole happening. It was great fun and all the more special because it came entirely out of the blue!

After the concert, Remy and his wife invited us to their place to have dinner there along with some other guests and we had an absolutely great night; much nicer than the anticipated bagel with cheese while lying on the bed in our hotel room. Thank all of you present there as well and I hope to have a chance to meet you again one day soon!

Here is Peter (in green) and Remy (in yellow) after their performance. I hope to soon give you some more information on these two. Their songs try to raise awareness of environmental issues and are great fun to listen to.

That is it for now! Tomorrow we get up at 0430 am to catch the bus to the airport and then have a looooong journey with about 11 hours of waiting altogether between flights, before arriving home... The next updates will be from the big city (huge compared to anything we have seen here) in our tiny little overpopulated country again.

Thanks for keeping an eye on this blog and please don't stop!

All the best,

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