Disappearing Grebes

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Wed 22 Oct 2014 05:43
At anchor Hogg Bay
Weather: calm, sunny, and cool

After a night of rain, this morning dawned sunny and clear. It turned into what Tim's daughter calls a “too blue” day; the sky is blue, the sea is blue, the glaciers are blue, and even the mountains are blue, though of course here in the confines of Hogg Bay the trees and hilly slopes are too close to be coloured by the haze of water vapour in the air. Along the bay's steep shoreline pines stood tall and green, at its head a large stream ran, and the bay's waters, glass smooth, reflected the blue sky and the traces of thin high white clouds above.

After breakfast I had intended to wash my hair but on trying the heads pump I found that the leather washer had dried out from lack of use while Sylph was out of the water on the hard. I tried to coax the pump into life by priming it with water and some olive oil, but could get no suction at all. Clearly the washer was shrivelled up like an old prune and needed to be replaced. So this became the first order of the day. Fortunately I had some leather from an old pair of boat shoes that I had recently discarded, and this was ideal for making a new washer. By the time the pump was fixed the clear sunny day was just too good to spend any more time sitting on board so, with no one else around to criticise my personal hygiene, I postponed my wash until after a short shore expedition.

First I rowed along the shoreline following the noise of some running water. The sound came from a small stream running down the steep hillside on the southern side of the bay. In fact the shoreline was too steep, and the trees and bushes were growing too thickly, to make a landing practical anywhere apart from where the bay shoaled at its head. I made for there and tied the dinghy up to a fallen tree which lay across the large stream that had clearly created the shoal area at the head of the bay and water shallow enough to make anchoring a small vessel much more practical. I had packed my camera and some pepper spray in case there were any bears about, but I am happy to say that the only thing I found to photograph was Sylph laying quietly at anchor, and the mountain stream.

The vegetation either side of the stream was too thick to venture beyond its banks, so I walked alongside it as far as I could, frequently wading across its rapid shallows to follow the path of least resistance. I had hoped to make it as far as a sunlit valley that I could see shining green beyond the deep notched valley that the stream flowed through, but I would have needed a machete and stouter hiking attire than I was dressed in to make it beyond a large heavy tree that had fallen across the stream, perhaps only half a mile up it. So I contented myself with the short walk and retraced my steps back to the dinghy.

Rowing back to Sylph I made short detour to a small cove immediately to the south of the stream where some birds were swimming and beating the water with their wings. They looked like grebes but were too far away to tell so I rowed and drifted a little closer to see if I could make a more confident identification. As I was drifting there was a sudden disturbance out in the slightly deeper water, a splash, and where there was once a solitary bird now there were only ripples. It was so sudden that I wasn't sure whether I was imagining things, and wondered what the predator might have been. I knew there was at least one sea otter about but I am pretty sure that they only eat shell fish. A seal seemed more likely. I waited for a bit to see if something might surface nearby. I rowed closer to where the disturbance had been to see if there were any feathers or other evidence of the drama but there was nothing, only the calm dark water. I briefly contemplated the harsh necessities of life, then left the grebes (assuming that is in fact what they were), now perched on a fallen tree trunk well away from the water's edge, to their brief grief, and returned to Sylph.

Back on board I was treated to a display from a pair of sea otters who had decided to combine their evening meal of mussels (I could clearly hear them cracking the shells on their chests as they lay floating on their backs) while investigating the strange thing that lay floating in the middle of their aquatic feasting hall, ie Sylph. I broke out the camera and tripod and hopefully I have managed to capture some photos and a little bit of video footage of them eating and swimming around us.

And now I have had my wash, enjoyed a nice large plate of vegetable stir fry for dinner, and am looking forward to a relaxing evening and an early night. Tomorrow we will remain at anchor and, if the weather is suitable, will move inside Prince William Sound on Thursday.

All is well.