On Jewel Lake

I suppose it seems counter-intuitive to have a post on a photo blog that does not actually have any photos.  But sometimes it is important to experience nature without being tied to the camera; just enjoying the wild for wildness sakes.

We live on a half-acre lot one property line away from Jewel Lake in south Anchorage.  You will know from my previous posts that we get all kinds of wild birds in our yard, along with moose, voles and bats.  (Be on the lookout this year for a “bat cam” to be added to my web site after we install our bat house.)  But even more nature is only a short walk away in Jewel Lake; or, in this particular case, only about a thirty-rod portage away.

We took our first paddle on Jewel Lake for the year this evening.  The walk over was typical for our paddles – I was portaging our 16-foot Old Town Penobscot canoe on my shoulders and Michelle was carrying the paddles. Aside from simply getting out and enjoying a beautiful spring evening, we also wanted to check on our loons.  For as many years as I can remember, there has been a pair of loons living on the lake.  Loons, like most migratory birds, mate for life and tend to nest in the same body of water each year.

As we approached the lake, it was clear that we were not the only ones who had the idea of getting out and enjoying the lake.  The swimming area was replete with small children, many others of which were running around on the shore and fishing adjacent to the swimming area.  People were throwing sticks out into the lake for their dogs to fetch, and others were simply enjoying the covered picnic area, grilling an evening meal at the beach.  Out on the water, there was another canoe, three kayaks, and two anglers in those standing tube floaty thingies.

And yet despite all of this human activity, the lake was flush with wildlife.  While we did not see our loon couple out and about, we saw plenty others.  There was a solo and couple of red-neck Grebes, a pair of pintails, a pair of greater scaups, a female mallard with about ten ducklings, and an immature bald eagle chasing what looked like a northern harrier.  While the hawk flew off, the immature came back and forth across the lake a few times, leading me to think it had taken up residence on the lake or nearby habitat.  There is a wetlands, muskeg area on the north side of the lake that is completely open and free of development – perfect habitat for all kinds of animals and a great nesting area (except for loons who always nest along the water as their legs cannot sustain them walking over any distance).

It made me think of how wonderful it is to live in a city that, for now, still respects and values its wild places and wild animals.  It reminds me a bit of when I lived in the Twin Cities, and how amazed I was every time I crossed the Highway 55 bridge over the Minnesota River, in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.  There, along the shores of the river, was a vast wetlands area that hosted a large egret population each year.  Yet, just a hundred yards away from that was the end of the runway for the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.  All that noise and combustion and still a haven for wildlife.

As I thought more about the eagle possibly taking up residence at the lake, I wondered about our loons.  Did they decide to nest elsewhere to stay away from that egg-robber?  Then I started to wonder about the health of the loons themselves.  Did one of them meet a fateful end somehwere over the winter?  Or were they just perhaps on the loon equivalent of a walkabout and would eventually return?

As soon as the weather improves, we will be back out again, this time with my camera.  Hopefully the loons will be back.  At the very least, I will keep an eye out for the mallard and her ducklings.

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