(Bert) I have some loose ends I want to unravel and they lie along the Salmon Glacier Road. One is the lure of the rosy-finches Mike and Kay found and since the species would be a life bird for Bill and Ginny, they take their Jeep also. Shari comes along too, because she wants to follow another loose end: exploring the end of the road. A light drizzle still weeps on the hemlocks and wets the windshield, but not enough to prevent me from checking out the lonely duckling I couldnít identify three days ago. It is still hard to photograph the tiny feather ball because it keeps its distance and constantly dives for food. The dim lighting is too poor for good photo resolution, so I resort to video and that gives me a better tool for later evaluating the arrangement of white spots on black feathers. When we reach the apex and should be in view of Salmon Glacier, all we see is fog, but that not being our goal anyway, we keep driving down the other side of the mountain, eventually reaching the dead end that stopped us previously. This time we turn onto the gravel side road Mike and Kay took.
When I see the solidly covered fields of Mountain Avens, I know Iíve reached the right place as I remember seeing this on Mikeís photos. The avens have coalesced into seed pods that look like orange goose heads with elongated yellow bills. Curiously, the thousands of heads all face the same direction. Was it the prevailing wind that froze these hardened flags into this direction? Or was it the western setting sun that was the last day the avens bloomed? Crossing the road in front of us I spot a hen Willow Ptarmigan. I stop, gently open the car door and retrieve my spotting scope. The hen stays in place on the road edge and one by one a platoon of half-grown chicks exit the dense Mountain Avens flower forest and scurry across the road. Iíve got my camera on the scope eyepiece and photograph the events. After so many chicks have crossed the road that we have lost count of the number, the hen creeps slowly across. Then I notice the cockís head poking above the avens, a solid rusty red head and shoulders in a sea of twisted yellow and orange seed pods. Stealthily, the head of the family advances to the road and then across. Comparing my photos to Mikeís, we must have come upon the ptarmigan family in the exact same place. Bill and I find many other birds in the mountain basin, including a brightly plumaged Semipalmated Plover trying to decoy us from her fledgling, but see no sign of rosy-finches.
Heading back, I examine every snow bank for life. About two miles into the return trip I see a few birds picking in the snow and bringing my binoculars to my eyes I immediately know Iíve found what I seek. Getting out of the cars, we align spotting scopes and see a dozen or so immature Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches feeding on the icy surface. I try photographing them, yet face the same problem Mike had: dark objects on bright snow under a gray overcast sky at a distance of 150 ft. exceeds the capability of the cameraís ability to focus sharply. Nonetheless, when I return to R-Tent-III and manipulate the photos in PhotoShop, I can retrieve some of the coloring. Even then, the immature birds show little of the bright colors of adults and most field guides do not adequately depict this plumage. I do recognize that these immature birds are the same I saw for a few seconds three days ago in the rain when my carload was waiting, but I had reluctantly dismissed as ill-plumaged Oregon Juncos. I tackle the case of the mystery duckling I photographed earlier. I cannot find a textbook drawing anywhere that matches. I suspect this could be a Bufflehead even though the black-and-white head pattern doesnít match and the extra white spots on the back arenít on adults, so I go back to my computerized archives of my bird photos and there find a family of chicks and adults that matches. The lonely duckling is indeed a Bufflehead. So, loose ends tied, weíve found the rosy-finches, Iíve identified the duckling, and weíve explored the end of the road. Time to head home!
(Shari) It is some days since the end of the caravan and I miss it terribly. We are in Alexandria, MN, to get some repair work on our Internet satellite. I think of the participants daily and wish we could all live on the same block. Not only did Alaska become a part of my heart but also so did the people. Bert has probably marked the exact number of birds, mammals, etc. that we saw but I know he missed mentioning some things. For example we had 17 socials, 5 potlucks, a 4th of July party, 3 birthday and/or anniversary dessert cakes, 3 dinners at camp, 4 entertaining shows, 2 continental breakfasts, 1 wine and cheese party, countless dinners in restaurants, a few game nights, and many many campfires. If I remember correctly we only had two rainy days where the sun did not shine at all and the rain never did stop us from enjoying an activity. In the 70 days we moved 32 times staying in 28 different campground locations. Everyone agrees that they wished they could have stayed longer in many of the places. In a nutshell we had 70 days of one big long party. Is it no wonder that I miss Alaska, the activities and most importantly the people?
Appendix A Table of Contents