Boreal Ponds

By Michael Quinton
Grebe life is a family affair, adults share with nest building, incubation, defense, transporting and feeding young.
It's been more than seventy years, since an Alaskan trapper built this cache on stilts of spruce. And it's easy to see, even now, why the trapper had located here, in the solitude of spruce woods near a system of boreal ponds. Formed as permafrost thaws, boreal ponds provide unique wetland habitats. Like strings of jewels along river valleys throughout interior Alaska, boreal ponds increase
the diversity of life
A beaver hauls mud onto its lodge on the bank of an Alaskan boreal pond.
And, not only beaver and muskrat and those rare fur bearing predators that the trapper sought. Each spring a vibrant assortment of migrant water birds arrive to breed. Even the world's most traveled bird, arctic terns, abandon paradise in the South Pacific to nest on boreal ponds where the summer is just long enough to raise a new generation.
Above: Just hours old, arctic tern chick begs to be fed.

Left: A bufflehead returns to her ducklings in the abandoned nesting cavity of a northern flicker. She drew them out finally, with urgent calls as she swam back and forth in the pond. In turn, they climbed to the entrance, spread their tiny wings and leaped.
As I wander about the trapper's old haunts, my thoughts linger in the past.
I wondered about the natural spectacles he witnessed. But his thoughts were of beaver, marten, and otter. Of darkness, wind and ice. Of caribou, and new road construction , the Alaska Highway. One thing is certain, my long forgotten trapper was living in a changing world. His wilderness, a last sanctuary for his breed, was about to lose its isolation, forever.

And a warming climate was shaping land and life.
Above: A quick snow test will determine if a lynx track is fresh enough to follow. If you can lift up the track in its bed of dry, loose snow, then it has had time to set up and is too old. As I pursue this elusive predator, I begin to sense something less tangible, a powerful presence, a spirit, the phantom of the northern boreal forest.
An exposed lens of permafrost rapidly thaws, collapsing the ground out from under a stand of black spruce.
Right: One by one, black spruce topple, converting a bog into an expanding network of boreal ponds. Just below the surface lay their skeletons.

Above:Frozen seven months per year, boreal ponds provide moose their most succulent forage for the other five.

Right: No creature of these northern bogs have consumed more of my time and body, than the mosquito. By now, I must have logged a couple years swattin skeeters.

Above:A cluster of fertilized wood frog eggs is glued to grass in shallow water. By late summer, inch long juvenile frogs will abandon pond and surge into the surrounding forest.

Right: The shallow, muck bottomed boreal ponds thaw early and male wood frogs, fresh out of hibernation, congregate. They keep up a commotion of frog songs, (sounds like talkative ducks) and egg laden females lured from the forest are seized.

A shy, red necked grebe eases onto its floating nest. I lounge a couple hundred yards away, lazily swat mosquitoes and trigger the camouflaged camera by remote control.