July 7, 2008

Tangle Lakes - Bob & Joy Celebrate July 4th With Us!

No sooner than we had planned to return to the Denali Highway, we were in contact with the Loudon's again. With birding & kayaking in mind, we agreed to meet up with them at the Tangle Lakes Campground for a week of fun & to celebrate the 4th.

Arriving before the holiday crowds, we luckily grabbed two nice spots near the lake's edge,
Bob & I decided to put up the ham radio antenna pole and as tribute to our independence we got out the same flag that Kim & I flew on the 4th in Duluth last year!

Although we had arrived a few days early, that didn't stop us from breaking out a few Alaskan Ales and celebrating. Joy was especially cute in her Independence Day headgear! (Ooops, I guess I'll really catch it for putting this pix in here...)

It wasn't too long after we arrived that we were joined at the site by some of those common shorebirds....

It was a treat to see all of the family activity in the area. I must say that the Alaskan's are very quiet & courteous, and really seem to enjoy the camping. We saw severasl groups along the highway that had set up camp for the weekend, taking advantage of Alaska's "open" camping policy along the many pullouts on the Denali.

One of the prime reasons for staying in this area were reports of Smith Larkspur sightings, a very rare bird indeed, and usually here in their breeding grounds in very small numbers. Numerous notes in local logs, and reports in a couple of books that Kim & Joy had picked up on birding in Alaska spoke of sightings being most probable between Mile 12.9 & 13.1 To our surprise, some birders or tour groups had appropriately marked them for us.

To elaborate on the many disappointing times we drove past these signs and hiked along this stretch of road that week would bore you to death. The fact that I finally just photographed the signs (never having seen "the bird") gives one a clue as to how desperate we were at week's end.

One of those "searching days" we made a hike along a ridge that reportedly the Smith's had been seen on in previous years. The trail stated on and old gravel pit road. As we crested the first rise Bob took this great telephoto shot compressing the far snowcapped mountains into the scene.
We saw plenty of Savannah Sparrows and Wimbrells, Bob just snapping away!

Nearing the top of one of the hills, we spot the Golden Plover, which is a new bird for us all. As I line up to get that perfect shot, Bob documents my efforts, along with a tack sharp image of the Plover. You should note that he managed to fulfil Joy's request of making sure to include flowers in the photo!

Although the area was void of the highly prized Longspur, we did enjoy a host of colorful wildflowers,

and spent a good bit of time getting more pictures of those birds & animals that did cooperate.

BUT, at the end of the day, and end of the week, no Smith's!!!

There were still other enjoyable activities besides the birding. The Lake offered some great paddling, so off we went with Bob & Joy leading the way in their matching Necky Manatou kayaks that were acquired last year in Stowe VT (yes, on the trip with us!).
Kim paddled ahead while I stopped at every good looking opportunity to wet a line. The fishing was a bit slow, but a few other things on the Lake were quite fast....can you believe it?? out here in the silent wilderness a couple of guys are out makin' a bunch of racket. Oh well, I guess one expects to see a little of that on the weekend of the 4th even here in Alaska.

Later in the day, the fishing paid off with this 22" Lake Trout, which we baked Louisiana style that evening for supper (Delicious!!), and fed a few others with the carcass. Bob captured the feeding that followed in this remarkable series.....

Our second to last day was spent wandering further eastward on the highway, to an area that demonstrated the dynamic terrain & topography that Alaska is noted for. We all fell in love with this stunning overview of the Paxson valley featuring endless rows of glacier laden mountains in the background.
In the same area Bob took a few more great photos of the local wildlife....

What a fabulous week we had! And your probably wondering about that Smith's Larkspur? Well, leave it to Sam to go out early on our last morning, trudge true the tundra, and find "the bird". In fact, also found another sought after "lifer", the Lapland Longspur. By the time I had located them, Bob & Joy had shown up....good thing, because I had left my camera gear behind. Bob saved the day with these two great shots of the elusive sets of feathers.

I guess all good things must come to an end, and so this terrific week at Tangles Lakes was over. Along with the end of the stay came the end of the sunny weather. As Kim & I prepared to leave that afternoon, storms loomed over the Lower Lake.
The ensueing rain made the driving pretty messy, and proved that these Alaskan roads can deteriorate quickly. It was getting late, and we had a flat shortly after this picture was taken. We stopped at the first pullout and quickly dropped into deep slumber listening to the patter of heavy rain on the trailer's roof.