Last Friday, Indian River was as low as I ever remember seeing it. At the estuary, it looked about like I could jump over it in one jump. Before I got down far enough to see that, I first checked out the view from the Sawmill Creek Road bridge. I was a little surprised at how much more ice there was compared to when I had last been by there on Monday. It did not seem like this week had been appreciably colder than the previous one, though looking back at the records, it seems that at the airport lows this week were a bit colder than previously. On Monday there was little or no ice in sections of flowing water, though snow and ice covered the exposed gravel of banks and bars. By Friday, all but the fastest moving water seemed to have a layer of ice. The occurrence (or not) of ice on Indian River is no new mystery for me, but it’s one I have yet to solve. Maybe during future cold snaps I can put out some ibuttons for both air and water and check the temperatures of the river and air.
Looking upriver from the Bridge in the park on Monday and Friday (click to enlarge)
View from Sawmill Creek Road Bridge on Monday and Friday (click to enlarge)
Having said all that, I’ve seen other times when the river was even more frozen than it was on Friday, but at least as far as I remember, there was still more water flowing under the ice than I saw on Friday. Later in the day I was talking to my dad and he said one winter shortly after my parents moved up here (so probably the winter if 1973-74 or 1974-75), there was essentially no surface water in the river where it flowed out. He said he was able to find some water by kicking down into the gravel, but everything on the surface was frozen. That reminded me of something else I had heard a while back from a fellow faculty member at Sheldon Jackson. He said that sometime back in the 70s Indian River froze to the gravel, and it was very hard on the fish population. My guess is that he and my dad were talking about the same event. At this point I’ve not had a chance to check weather records from those years, but I’ll be curious to see if I can find a likely stretch of weather.
As a postscript to all of this, Friday afternoon the rain started and by Sunday afternoon when the picture below was taken, almost 2 inches of rain had fallen at the airport over the previous 48 hours. That much rain combined with melting ice and snow raised the river level back up to what I might consider the high end of normal flow.
The gulls are on the move. While it’s possible that they are just moving locally, starting to gather in greater numbers along the shores road system where I can more easily observe them, I kind of suspect some of them are also coming from further south. Long-line season starts this weekend, so by next week I expect there will be many more gulls to search through in the Channel and on the tide flats at Totem Park.
I was interested to find this immature gull at Swan Lake yesterday. I’ve seen a few gulls with starfish in their mouths, but this is the first time I’ve seen one at Swan Lake. I’ve wondered if they eventually choke these down or if they just give up at some point and cough them back out. From the looks of it, it does not seem like much progress is being made, though maybe when the starfish dies it softens up a big and the gull can swallow it. I don’t really know, and would be interested to see/hear additional information about the question.
I took a moment to capture this scene yesterday from the top of the bridge because I was struck by how recently it seems like the sun was setting where it is now still a fair bit up in the sky and continuing its trek toward the west. It will be a couple of weeks yet before it sets in the west behind Mt. Edgecumbe, but already it has moved a significant way from its winter solstice position in the southwest. There it’s possible to watch it sink below the horizon, something I have done several times hoping to catch a green flash where the ocean meets the sky. For now that’s no longer possible from this vantage point, as the sun will pass behind Kruzof Island (and eventually even north of that) before dropping below the horizon until sometime next fall.
I took a walk with the kids to Totem Park this morning. My original thought was to see if I could get some video of dippers foraging, but as it turned out there I did not see any dippers. Instead I spent more time taking pictures of oystercatchers and crows out on the tide flats.
I was a little surprised at how much additional ice there was in Indian River (perhaps the reason for not seeing any dippers) compared to Monday. I don’t think temperatures have been that much colder this week, but apparently the water temperatures dropped to the point where ice could form more easily.
Out at the end of the flats the wind was blowing pretty fierce from the east or southeast, but fortunately it wasn’t too cold. It also helped that the rain didn’t start until the afternoon.
Walking downtown from the park, we spotted an immature heron sitting on a rock at the water’s edge in Crescent Harbor. It seemed very unperturbed by the attention we gave it. In my experience, that’s pretty unusual for a heron, though I guess I’ve seen a young one before that did not mind being watched from up close.
As I was walking home this evening, I was once again struck by the view to the east from the town side of O’Connell Bridge. Across the outer part of Crescent Bay, the tide flats and forested lowlands of Indian River, Bear Mountain rising behind the downward rolling slopes of Verstovia. In the further distance, the distinctive rounded tree-covered hump of Sugar Loaf Mountain, and the squared-off peak of Cross Mountain (aka Cupola Peak) rising behind it. From this angle and distance, the snow covered peaks of the highest country on Baranof Island don’t seem to stand any taller than Bear and Cross Mountains which frame them, but the snow and ice that drapes those peaks year round give some indication of the extra 1000+ feet they rise above.
As the combination of warm light and the landscape caught my eye, it occurred to me that it can be easy to take this view for granted. How many times do I walk this way and give little attention? I suspect I’m not alone in doing so. By contrast, crossing the bridge to Japonski Island, the view is dominated by Mt. Edgecumbe rising above the forested lowlands of Kruzof Island and the surrounding ocean. This eastern view is a bit less iconic and perhaps we can be forgiven for focusing more of our attention to the west. That said, sometimes I get a flush of that excitement I felt when coming back to town and seeing those familiar mountains after months away at school. This evening was one of those times, and I am grateful for the gift of seeing this familiar scene with fresh eyes.
Today may be the last day of sun for a while. The forecast shows raining coming in tomorrow, with the long term forecast showing a chance of rain for the next week or more. Hopefully it comes with cool enough temperatures to add a good bit of snow to the mountain peaks so it can feed the streams as it melts in the summer.
With the recent period of cold weather, I thought it would be interesting to take a walk up Indian River trail to check out the ice situation. As I expected, there was very little ice up to the first first bridge, the West Fork was running clear, but the Falls Fork had a fair amount of ice development. We walked up as far as the second bridge and then more or less followed the river down toward the confluence while I looked for sections that caught my eye.
I brought along a set of neutral density filters (which I had not used previously) to make it easier to get long exposures of the flowing water. I was hoping this would emphasize the difference between non-moving ice and the water flowing over, around, and through it. I took quite a few photos, some of which I like (at least so far).
I didn’t get a picture of them, but we saw several dippers along the way, including one along the mostly iced-over section of river between the second bridge and the confluence. It would have been fun to get a picture or video of the one going in and out of the water from the ice, but I was set up for the long exposures, and it would have taken too long to change out lenses and camera settings, so I was content to just watch this time.