The weekend of the ski picnic was sunny and warm, and lots of people were up the river ice fishing. A kind local teacher took me to several different sites. It was a pleasure to see a grayling again; they're very rare in Southeast (just a couple of remote lakes where they were planted), and they are so lovely: iridescent purples, greens, and blues, and that extravagant dorsal fin like a furled sail.
On the ski picnic, I collected some branches of white spruce (Picea glauca) and felt-leaf willow (Salix alaxensis) that had been cut during the festivities. The willows in particular were interesting. The tips of many of the branches were as densely-furred as hares' feet, making them shine and sparkle as if frost-covered. Within a day of my bringing this branch in and putting it in water, the catkins were swelling dramatically, shoving the protective scales off at the tips–a process that's listed as one diagnostic characteristic of this species.
Second page from Unalakleet sketches. I hadn't expected to see small birds at all–just ravens. But the town was fluttering with what the locals called "snowbirds." After some observation and research, I concluded that most of them were McKay's buntings (Plectrophenax hyperboreus), with a few possible snow buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis).
One of my sources said that they rely pretty heavily on the beach rye grass (Elymus) for winter food. I scouted around and discovered lots of small-bird tracks around the clumps of grass seed stalks, and very few seeds to be had.
I just returned from a two-week artist-in-residence visit to Unalakleet, in western Alaska on the shore of Norton Sound. It was a wonderful experience–and in addition to getting to work with wonderful students and teachers, I had the opportunity to observe and sketch a fascinating corner of the world. I'll be posting sketch pages from the visit over the next few days.
The first page was done from memory on my first day, when I was whisked off to visit some ice fishers on the river.
A walk along the road yesterday–partly cloudy day, sun and shadow alternating, temps in the 40s. Although things are melting fast, the ground is still frozen in many spots, and there's some snow left. Ice remains in many of the ditches. Still, a few caddisflies were drifting dreamily across the highway, their pale hindwings flickering.
I followed one until it touched down beside a puddle, then crept up on it, thinking I might be able to capture it gently and take it home to draw. Stealth, as it turned out, was unnecessary. I was able to reach out and scoop up the immobile insect from the puddle edge; it didn't move a bit. I carried it back to the car in my hand, my fingers cramping as I tried simultaneously to avoid crushing it and keep from providing it with escape opportunities.
Once at the car, I couldn't find a container, of course, so I transferred the obliging insect into a blown-up and tied-off plastic bag for the drive home and a drawing session.
What a lovely little beastie! By the lavish maxillary palps, she's female. Based on her early emergence and the pattern of her wings, I'm figuring she's a limnephilid, genus Psychoglypha ("carved mind?" "mind writing?"), known to flyfishers as a "snow sedge." I wound up quite smitten by her, and was pleased to be able to release her unharmed.