Bald Eagles are very prolific in Unalaska. After a long, soaking rain it is not unusual to see eagles on every light pole with wings outspread trying to dry out. Even two and three to a pole. During salmon season when the humans are fishing there are always eagles lined up on my mother’s roof, watching us fillet fish, and then with a flip of the head, watching for fish jumping in the bay.
It is unusual, though, to find two absolutely abandoned nests that were active only days ago. This one, I can only speculate about. This nest is located in a remote area, halfway up a cliff. The other one, located on the cliffs near the senior center, has a story. There was a witness. One of the residents of the center told my husband that the pair of eagles were not actively on the nest when another eagle, with talons extended, came and snatched the baby eaglet out of the nest. The parents took chase, the baby was dropped by the evading eagle, and the parents actually ended up trying to drown the offending eagle in the lake. Of course the baby was dead. The parent eagles sat on the grass over hanging the cliff for 2 or three days. They have now completely abandoned the nest.
Survival, even for birds of prey at the top of the food chain, is never a given.
Hiking in the Aleutians is a wonderful activity. Sometimes you can hike on old World War II gravel roads, some in fairly good shape; some beyond redemption. You can actively choose a trail that was used by the Indigenous People, the Unangax, for the past 10,000 years. If you are hiking somewhere, the landowner does suggest that you use the path most taken. In other words, don’t be making your own trail. Damage to the tundra is not encouraged. It takes decades to repair. No 4-wheeling off-road. That is strictly forbidden.
There are dangers when you hike in the Aleutians. The ones from the environment are only a danger if you don’t know what you are doing. So, do know what the weather is going to do. Are you going to make a 6 hour trek, but the forecast is for 60 mile per hour winds to start in 4 hours? Don’t do it. Has the fog rolled in during your hike? Sit down. Wait it out. People have gotten very lost trying to hike when they think they know the direction they are going. Honest. Don’t move. People have walked off cliffs. Common sense is your friend.
Old World War II remnants can cause serious injury from collapsing floors to barbed wire and Rommel stakes concealed by the grass. Although much work has been done to remediate the stakes, undiscovered ones can still be in place. Contact with animals can sometimes be unavoidable. We have squirrels and foxes as land animals. No big deal, except for the occasional ankle mishap if you don’t watch where you step and happen to step into an entrance to a den. A bit more treacherous are the wild cows and horses you may encounter on the Beaver Inlet side of the island. Scan carefully before descending into valleys. Remember, we do not have trees to climb if you are being chased by an overly curious bull. Make sure you scan the beaches for sea lions, seals, or sea otters hauled out before you descend. Harassing marine mammals is against the law. And, know that disturbing spawning salmon is not something you want to be caught doing.
The one thing you don’t have too much control over is inadvertently hiking into an area that is a nesting area for birds of prey. Keep your eyes peeled for nests in the cliffs, although some crazy birds will build nests in the grass near a bluff. Carry a walking stick, or just a stick. It just needs to be something you can hold over your head to ward off talons reaching for your scalp. Most birds of prey won’t descend lower than the highest part of you; usually the top of your head unless you are using a stick. They do not want to damage their wings. Being snatched bald headed takes on a new meaning.
And remember to always get a land-use permit from the land owner. https://www.ounalashka.com/land-use/land-use-permit/
My mother and I have noticed that time seems to be whizzing by particularly fast this year. We are already into May. Mom informed us she is not fishing this summer. That is a daunting statement coming from her, as she had taught all of us that salmon is one of the most important components of our lives. Her reason? No time. She is in the final preparations for a show at the Anchorage Museum. When she announced that she would not be fishing, we were all a little stunned. Not that she actually “fishes” anymore, but she is still the catalyst that drives the process. She is an unrelenting stickler for perfection in her subsistence practices. From catch to filleted and prepped for final process is typically never more than 15 minutes or so, depending on the number of fish hitting the net. Usually we must twist her arm to let us do the filleting. She just loves the whole process. So, we shall all step up to the plate this year to see if we have learned well and have what it takes. I have the faith. It is unfortunate that one of the best fish cutters will be self-exiled for an intense language immersion opportunity this summer. This is an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up. Our language, Unangam Tunuu, has only fluent speakers who are over the age of 70. So, while we all have our own visions this spring and summer, we know in our heart of hearts that we will fill our freezers, our drying and smoking houses, and our salt buckets to the best of our abilities. Having had the best teacher in life, we will be successful.