Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Trail Camera Photos: Marten Edition

Sometimes it seems like all of the photos we capture are bears and birds. But we do get a handful of other animals, too. Like marten! These members of the weasel family are omnivorous, and consume both plants and animals. They prey on squirrels, rodents, and small birds, and are excellent climbers. They're also attracted to carrion, and have made several appearances on our trail cameras. What marten can resist a free dead salmon?

Marten are closely related (and strongly resemble) another routine visitor to our trail cameras, mink. Marten are a little smaller, have more triangular faces and pointed ears, and seem to have ridiculously long legs:

In a lot of our marten photographs, the animals are looking directly at the camera. They're pretty curious! A lot of our photos are blurry, too, because they dart around so quickly. But here are a couple other marten photos that came out nicely, even if they aren't in color:

Hooray for mustelids!

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Kickstarter Rewards: T-Shirt Designs! VOTE!

It's election season! Voting time is coming up, and we figured that, with everyone in the mindset for voting anyway, why not throw one more decision your way? Don't worry-- we won't hound you with campaign ads or political propaganda. This vote should be a fun one!

We're in the process of producing and distributing our backer rewards for our recent Kickstarter project. Those of you who contributed to the project will remember a list of rewards offered for donations at various funding tiers. Those contributors who kindly donated $50 or more to our project will receive a t-shirt, designed by us! Yiwei and I have been tossing around different design ideas for a few weeks, and we've finally come up with three designs we think you'll like.

The problem? We just can't pick which of the three designs we think our Kickstarter backers will like the most. So we're putting it up to a vote here on the blog! You don't have to be a Kickstarter backer to help us choose a design.

To participate, find the poll in the upper right-hand corner of the blog, just under the header. Select the design you like best and then click the button that says "vote." You can only vote once, but you can change your selection at any time before voting ends. Voting will run from now until Wednesday, November 7th at 5:00 PM Pacific, so make sure to choose a design before the poll closes.

On to the designs!

The first is a realistic-style drawing of an eagle swiping a salmon from a brown bear:

The second design is a humorous take on the name "Haines" in an homage to Hanes underwear brand:

The third design is inspired by the traditional artwork of the local Tlingit Indians:

We'll be adding text to the winning design to reflect the Alaska Predator Research Project. The color of the t-shirts will depend on pricing and availability, but for now we're showing everything on a light grey background. The text, placement, colors, etc. may change depending on how we refine the final design, the printing company, and overall production costs. We are going to try to print the final design in color, but we might not be able to. We'll keep you updated as things progress. In the interim, choose your favorite design and cast your vote! If you'd like to suggest modifications to a design after you've voted (e.g., I like the second design, but I wish the underwear was white, I think design no. 3 would look great on the back of the t-shirt, etc.), please feel free to email us at ecologyalaska [at] gmail dot com, or post your suggestions in the comments section!

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

More Trail Camera Photos!

This latest series of trail camera photos comes to you courtesy of the Herman Creek Chum salmon run. Coho and Chum are pretty much the only salmon running this time of year. Coho are a little harder to come by, so anything that's eating salmon is probably going to be eating Chum.

Like these bears:

Or these. How many bears do you see in this photo?

Did you count four? There are the two obvious ones, then part of a third on the right edge of the frame, and part of a sneaky fourth behind the branches along the left edge of the frame.

Here is a less sneaky adult eagle:

and some mergansers and a raven at that same site:

We had a couple coyotes in this set. Here's one of them:

Eagle party! More eagles have been arriving every day. There is a citizen science group in Haines that does weekly eagle counts. Last weekend the tally was 775. It won't be too much longer before there are thousands.

Take a look at this handsome youngster:

We also have some ravens fighting over scraps.

Another photo of a wolf!

And our first moose photo! Well, sort of, anyway.

This last one is tricky. Along the bottom part of the frame in the middle, there is another "first" camera sighting. A rodent! It's impossible to identify the species, or get much beyond "rodent-like small animal." But there it is! Maybe not quite as grand as the brown bears, wolves, and eagles, but I think it's fun to see them just the same.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Trivia Question of the Week

With plenty of eagles here already and more on the way, this week's question is appropriately eagle-themed.

What is the grip strength of an adult bald eagle?

Hint #1: The tendons in bird's legs have tiny ridges on them that interlock with the tendon sheaths when flexed, holding the talons closed without any additional effort on the part of the bird. Ever wonder why birds don't fall off branches while they're sleeping? It's because the tendons in their feet are locked in place.

Hint #2: The largest species of eagle in the world, the Harpy Eagle, has enough grip strength to crush the bones of large mammals.

Hint #3: Bald eagles may not be able to crush large mammal bones, but they can definitely do some damage to a human wrist.

Hint #4: Their grip strength allows them to pull salmon equal to their own weight from the water.

Hint #5: An eagle's grip strength is more than 10 times that of a human hand.


If you guessed 400 pounds per square inch (psi), then you are a true ornithology nerd champion and know far more about bald eagles than is healthy anyone else. The grip strength of the average adult human, by comparison, is only about 20 psi.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Trail Camera Photos: Bear Edition

Hey everyone! Over the past few weeks I've been working hard at sifting through our collection of trail camera photos and tagging them all-- adding digital labels to identify what was recorded in the image. Most weeks we download anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand photographs off our cameras, so sometimes it takes a while to get through them. We have nearly 15,000 photographs already from this field season, with about five weeks remaining to collect data.

Each photo must be properly tagged with information about the date and location the photo was taken, along with whatever critter(s) may have shown up, in order for us to be able to analyze the data later on. It can be a tedious and time-consuming process, but it's nice to have a searchable database of images. Once tagged, I can easily go back and locate every single photo we have of a marten, a canid, a crow, etc.

So instead of sharing photos from a specific location, this week I decided to share photos of a specific subgroup of subjects: brown bears! We have so many images of bears that it was hard to decide which to share. This is just a sampling of some of the bear pictures we've taken the past couple months:

This was a nice closeup we got at one of our first trapping locations, at the end of August. This is the same place we saw the bear cub and the wolf I posted earlier. This camera had great placement-- just about every photo we got off it was crisp, clear, and in focus.

Here's another earlier image. This is one of two female brown bears that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game monitors-- see her radio collar?

This image is more recent, from a set of cameras we have on a run of Chum salmon up Herman Creek.


Another more recent image taken at the same location. This is one of the better nighttime images we have of a brown bear.

Although this one isn't bad, either. But I just realized the clock somehow got reset on this camera, and the time stamp isn't right. Dangit! :\

This bear doesn't look particularly happy to have its photo taken.

Neither does this one. And it has backup!

This bear, however, is pretty fluffy. Not nearly as intimidating.

So many bears!

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Trivia Question of the Week

This week's question is pretty easy:

What is the largest state in the Union?

Hint #1: It's not Texas

Hint #2: I don't think you need four more hints.

Hint #3: Fine, for the sake of posterity, it's in the north.

Hint #4: The state motto is "North to the Future"

Hint #5: You really didn't need five hints.


Yes, it's Alaska. More or less a dead giveaway for this week, but Alaska is so big I'd thought I'd share some fun facts. Alaska's land area is nearly 600,000 square miles-- larger than Texas, California, and Montana (the next three largest states) combined. The distance from the southernmost point of southeast Alaska to the westernmost point in the Aleutian Islands in southwest Alaska is equivalent to the distance between Charleston, South Carolina and San Diego, California-- the width of the entire country! The coastline of Alaska is longer than that of the entire coastline of the contiguous United States.

The US may share a border with both Mexico and Canada, but it's also pretty close to Russia, thanks to Alaska. The distance between Little Diomede Island (US) and Big Diomede Island (the easternmost point of Russia) in the Bering Strait is just 2.4 miles.

Everything may be bigger in Texas, but it turns out that Texas just really isn't all that big. :)

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Monday, October 8, 2012


With fall settling in and snow on its way, it's time to start preparing for winter. Haines is one of the few towns in Southeast Alaska connected to the interior by the road system. The town is located along the Haines Highway, which travels inland to Haines Junction in the Yukon and links up with the Alcan Highway. Most places in Southeast Alaska are accessible only by ferry or plane. But a road system does little good in winter months when heavy snowfall and ice make crossing mountain passes difficult and dangerous.

Ferries and ships are the most reliable means of transportation during winter months, but these vessels can be hindered by icy waters and bad weather. Groceries and other goods are transported to Haines only once weekly, by barge. If you want to survive in Haines during the winter, you need to make sure you have plenty of firewood and a good supply of food stocked up for the long, dark months ahead.

People in Haines are fortunate to have access to some of the best wild foods available anywhere. Their salmon runs are plentiful. Many subsistence hunters are lucky enough to harvest moose in the fall, or are given part of a moose by friends or relatives (a single moose can yield more than 800 pounds of meat). Wild berries and roots are collected throughout summer and fall, and although the growing season is short and soils are acidic, red potatoes, chard, beets, mixed greens, zucchini, and carrots grow reasonably well in gardens here. It's impractical to rely on the ferry to bring in your groceries every week. Your best bet? Stock up on food when it's available, and can everything you have for winter.

This year, I learned about canning... what else? Salmon!

The canning process is extensive. It all starts with catching the fish. This is a 5 foot long gill net that belongs to our friend Mike, a subsistence fisherman in Haines. Each year Mike fishes along the Chilkat from late spring through early fall, catching and processing Sockeye, Coho, King, and Chum salmon. Salmon swimming upriver to spawn rest in eddies along the banks, and, on their way out of the eddies, become entangled in gill nets like these.

When a fish becomes stuck, the net is removed and the fish is instantly killed. Subsistence fishers must also immediately cut off the dorsal fin of the fish-- this marks it as a subsistence catch so that it cannot be sold to market.

Once the fish is killed, it's time to fillet. Here is Taal at work filleting a fresh-caught salmon:

Salmon fillets can be cooked and eaten immediately, but when salmon are running strong and many fish are caught each day, it's time think about preserving the catch. Fillets can be vacuumed sealed and frozen, or immediately canned. They can also be smoked! Smoking fish is a bit of a luxury, for those who have the time and the energy to build and maintain a smokehouse. Smoked fish has the best flavor of any type of prepared salmon, but smoking can take several days. Smoke levels need to be constantly monitored, and there is always the threat of bears coming by and raiding your entire catch.

The first step in smoking is building a fire. Time to chop some wood!

The Tlingit Indians that live in Klukwan, the native village here, typically use black cottonwood in their smokehouses, while others, including Mike, use alder. The salmon fillets are brined in saltwater and then placed or hung in the smokehouse for anywhere from one to three days, depending on the intensity and temperature of the smoke and the desired outcome. Here's the smokehouse on day two of a three-day smoke.

Smoked salmon can be eaten as-is, but won't last long before going bad. (Salmon jerky can also be made this way, and has a longer shelf life, as it is dried almost completely.) In order to preserve the fish to use for winter months, the smoked fish must be canned.

Canning salmon is just about like canning anything else. Glass jars, in pint or half-pint size, are thoroughly cleaned and sterilized in boiling water. If you're really keen on putting in the effort to make your jars nice, you can remove the skin from the fillets. I took the time to do this, and Mike usually does, too, as he cans fish for a lot of other people. Also, the dogs get to eat the skins. :D

Most folks leave the skin on, because it's a lot less time-consuming. The skin almost falls off of canned salmon, and a lot of people, especially the Tlingits, eat it along with everything else-- it has a high nutritional value. Removing it before canning comes down primarily to aesthetics.

Smoked fillets are cut into "fingers" and arranged nicely in the jars (if you're anal-retentive like me) or stuffed in haphazardly (if you're like... most other people here, I guess). At this point you can add in flavoring if you wish. Some people use olive oil or soy sauce, others get fancy and use fruit juices, brown sugar, or spice mixes. We used olive oil.

In the jar they go! The photo below shows me canning fresh-pack salmon-- fish that hasn't been smoked but is canned immediately after filleting. A bit of salt is added to these jars to help preserve the fish. Smoked salmon has better flavor, and can be used in salads, sandwiches, rice or pasta, or eaten straight from the jar. Fresh-pack fish is used more like raw salmon, in salmon patties or chowder, or like tuna fish in sandwiches and dips.

Once the salmon is in the jars, sterilized lids are added, and the jars go into the pressure cooker. A steady pressure is maintained for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours. Everyone learns the canning process a little bit differently, and so every person who cans fish here has a slightly different brining/smoking/canning/seasoning/cooking method. Mike cooks his smoked fish for an hour and fresh-pack for an hour and a half.

Monitoring the pressure cooker:

Once the pressure cooker finishes its work, we remove the jars and let them cool for an hour or more. We also listen for the sweet sound of jars sealing, the little "plock" of the seal on the lids securing. If the lids don't seal, the fish must be eaten within a few days. Here Mike and I stand next to our first batch out of the pressure cooker. Everything sealed!

Once the jars cool completely, we wash them off and label the lids with the type of fish (sockeye, coho, etc.), preparation (smoked or fresh-pack) and the date. Then completed cans of salmon go into cases for distribution or winter storage. It takes a couple months for the flavors of canned salmon to develop fully, and a properly prepared, sealed, and stored can will last for years.

Mike fishes all spring and summer, so he proxies for several people with subsistence permits who don't otherwise have the time to fish for themselves. This means Mike is often fishing and canning for anywhere from two to seven people at a time. He doesn't deal in money. The people he fishes and cans for trade him canned vegetables, equipment, moose, crab, shrimp, and halibut. He is also very generous with his own subsistence catch, donating cans, or sometimes cases, of fish to friends and neighbors that can't fish, or fresh-caught fish to curious tourists that happen upon his fishing camp.

Typically, Mike likes to set aside five or six cases of fish (anywhere from 60 to 72 pints of salmon) to last him through the winter, subsidized by moose, vacuum packed frozen fillets, canned vegetables, rice and pasta, and the occasional grocery store run. Salmon may only run part of the year, but this way, folks in Haines can eat salmon year-round!

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

Chilkat State Park

With the weather marching ever onward toward winter, most days here are cloudy and cool. It rains a lot more now, too. Although this summer in Haines has seen more than the typical amount of precipitation, even those rainy days don't quite compare to the rain during autumn. It is still pretty here, even without sunshine, but I miss that handful of bright, beautiful days from my first couple weeks here.

Case in point: the beginning of August, when Rigby and I were just starting to explore the area, we had a week of gorgeous sunny days and warm weather. That was when we did the Ripinsky hike, but we took the opportunity to explore Chilkat State Park, too. I didn't have the chance to go through and post those photos, but I've been yearning for some sunshine so I decided to remind myself what it was like!

Chilkat State Park covers nearly 10,000 acres, situated on the tip of the Chilkat Peninsula southeast of Haines. There are only three hiking trails in the park. The Battery Point trail, the easiest of the three, covers two miles along the north side of the park, and is frequented by cruise ship tourists. The Mount Riley trail is a little tougher, climbing nearly 2,000 vertical feet along three or four miles, depending on the direction of the approach, to a stunning viewpoint overlooking the Chilkat Inlet. The jewel of Chilkat State Park, however, is the Seduction Point trail, a seven mile hike that winds its way along the coast to the tip of the Peninsula, offering some gorgeous views of Haines' glaciers, Rainbow Glacier and Davidson Glacier, along the way.

Rigby and I haven't made it up to Mount Riley yet, but we've hiked the Battery Point and Seduction Point trails.

Here Rigby and I are on the trail toward Battery Point, our backs to the northeast, looking up the Chilkoot Inlet.

Here is the view from Battery Point. There are remnants of an old lighthouse here, but I don't know anything about the history of the area.

This is a view of the Battery Point Trail on the way back to the trailhead. Pretty, isn't it?

Not too long after we hiked the Battery Point trail, Rigby and I headed out to the other side of Chilkat State Park to the Seduction Point trail. We both enjoyed this trail a lot more than we had Battery Point. It was longer and there were fewer people using it. Plus, we had some great views of the glaciers. Here is Rainbow Glacier:

And this panoramic image shows the Chilkat Inlet on the far left, then Davidson Glacier, Rainbow Glacier, and a view up towards Letnikov Cove on the right. The water is so pretty in this area-- very blue.

Ah, those were the halcyon days, back when the sun shone and the rain was intermittent! :D

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