Adam Welz's Weblog

Ninilchik, Alaska, 10 May 2008

Posted in ALL BLOG POSTS, birds & birding, photography by adamwelz on June 11, 2008

Hi All

one of the problems of being interested in a lot of things is that the time to take them is, of course, far shorter than the time it takes to record and process them and that in turn is even shorter than the time it takes to shape those records of them into some sort of communicable form. The curse of being any kind of researcher/communicator person is that you’re researching you’re not communicating, and vice versa. So lots of funnish stuff gets stuck in harddrives and notebooks and basements and boxes and never gets out. Also, sometimes, you’ve been off the bicycle a bit long, like me with photography, and what you’re producing isn’t really up there where it could be, so you don’t want to let it out.

But editing and figuring out what to let go of often take way longer than it should, so perhaps it’s better just not to prioritise too carefully, not worry too much about the images and words measuring up, just take a random look into the pile of rough stuff and pull something, wriggling or flaccid, from the depths. This is, after all, a recreational blog, an extended e-postcard, not a professional undertaking.

The idea for the 10th of May was to go try see some shorebirds in Homer, but the tide was out and we failed pretty much completely in that endeavour (I only got a coupla lifers, none shorebirds, and some close shots of Bald Eagle, published on this blog a few days ago).

This sign along the road does not refer to cameras. Photos of signs are one big step below photos of lone trees.

Ninilchik, Alaska, is a really small town on the Kenai Peninsula. It’s really small even by Alaskan standards. I spent a short interlude there while driving from Soldotna to Homer with Jim Dahl. Ninilchik revolves around fishing and religion I guess, because there is a small harbour and also a small church. The locals seem not to be too crazy about tourism, which is a relief as every other small place in AK seems to have gone that way with the slowdown in the oil and logging industries in the past fifteen years or so.

Often, people in small towns in amazing natural settings seem to see no need to build anything beautiful. It’s as if the wilderness has completely overwhelmed them to the point at which they no longer see it, they spend all their time trying to downplay the Great Featurelessness that quietly envelopes them, obsessing about their own small island of dislocated infrastructure, and have absolutely no idea that a passerby might think that what they’ve screwed up the seamless atmosphere of somewhere remarkable. But maybe the whole Dereliqued aesthetic has something going for it, especially if you dump a lost boat in the scene.

The Russians owned Alaska until not very long ago. In 1867 the US bought it from the Russian Empire for 2 cents an acre, just over 7 million dollars for the lot. Ninilchik still has a tiny Russian Orthodox church on a hillside overlooking the town. You go up a track, past someone’s neat dog graveyard with signs telling outsiders that the church is not here it’s to the left.

Pass some moose-chewed bushes…

and you’re right in a human graveyard with a white picket fence and Orthodox crosses at strange angles (the ground freezing and thawing tends to move them off the vertical). I’m not sure whose buried here, some have Russian names, some not, some no names at all. But there was a friendly native woman out tending to some graves, placing plastic flowers on a couple. The grass just half stood, uncombed and uncut, around most of the crosses. At one corner a black synthetic POW-MIA flag waved which did not seem incongruous, despite being anachronistic relative to the rest of the scene, because they shamelessly appear all over this country to remind us of what, the misdeeds of past administrations? The fact that people get lost without trace in war? Some sort of statement of identity more like but one that I’ve yet to approach.

Ninilchik has something like a harbour – a small rivermouth with a crude seawall reinforced with bits of discarded railway machinery, objects that should probably be in a transport museum. The harbour infrastructure is neglected, but good enough for a couple of small fishing boats. You can only get in and out at high tide. On the beach are peculiar boulder-sized lumps of something like lignite, and a motley multi-species mob of shorebirds and gulls. And me (Jim Dahl’s photo).

Here are a pair of fast-swimming, gunshy Common Merganser in the harbour (male on left, female on right). I find it odd that anyone would seriously want to eat these guys. Piscivorous mammals and birds generally taste awful. I have a particular liking for the mergansers, strange fish-eating ducks with vicious looking bills, quite unlike other members of the family Anatidae. I’m still looking for Hooded Merganser, but have seen all the others around here and in Europe.

And here, two male Harlequin Duck, equally jumpy, hanging out together, acting like a pair with no females in sight. One of my ‘globally’ favourite ducks, with the wonderful scientific name of Histrionicus histrionicus.

Gotta sleep. Checking out urban hawks in NYC tomorrow.

Luv y’awl.