Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Do we need boots? I asked the guide. He nodded. Ok. I shrugged, so it was going to be a little soggy hike. It was only a mile. I was thinking positive thoughts; after having spent a whole exhausted day hiking in the soggy, muddy, Alaska wilderness last week; I knew what was coming, but, hoped for the best. (This should be a warning… all Alaskan have knee-high rubber boots called Xtra Tuf for a reason—even the little kids have them.)

I hopped out of the van and pulled on my Neos. I strode confidently after the guide. We were after Great Gray Owls, a target bird for me. There was a stand of aspen trees and an old nest site—maybe there were some owls around this year. We were no more than around the bend in the path before it got wet, squishy even.

Hmmmmmm. Not good. I slogged along. Maybe I should mention that I am short. Lifting my leg over each hummock of grass and hoping for solid footing and sinking mid-calf in water was disheartening. What am I talking about…it was hard work. Lift, step, squish, lift, step, sink, lift step, yank. There was moss, and reindeer lichen, and other sorts of water loving plants; beautiful, but when you step on the grass/moss/stuff you sink. As you pull your foot up, the vegetable matter tries to keep your boot.

Grumble. Grumble. Grumble. This had better be worth. We hiked for 20 miles—OK it was only 3 miles in all but it felt like 100. After several turns and the shedding of multiple layers, we arrived at the stand of trees. Whew. We crept into the stand. (Well, maybe not crept. There were 5 of us and we were cracking branches when we stepped and splashing in the water. Any respectable owl would have fled.) We stood in the grove of trees and listened and watched for about an hour. Nothing. There was a single white (maybe gray) feather attached to the tree where the nest was/had been. We heard lots of birds. We saw Wilson’s Warbler, Pine Grosbeaks, Boreal Chickadees. No owls. But that is what birding is sometimes.

We slogged back the way we had come. I fell behind. I was tired. I was disgusted. I am more of a distance hiker, not a sprinter. The others were younger, spryer, and I admit it, more fit. I was just putting one foot before the other, like a mule at Bryce canyon.

While there were neither Great Grays nor Hawk Owls on this Owls of the North trip; we did see Saw-whets, and Boreals. As a bonus, we also saw a Short-ear, and a Great Horned. So of the 4 targets for the trip, we missed 2 but gained 2 others.

Overall, the Owls of the North weekend with Wilderness Birding Adventures was terrific. Aaron, our guide is an incredible birder, knows where the birds are and is nice guy. I would totally bird with him again. I got 7 new lifers. If you are thinking of going on a birding trip to Alaska, hook up with them. But, I hear Nome is the place to go for birds of Alaska. You might have me on the trip. If so, hope there is less hiking in the muck.

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