Kodiak wildflowers

When the weather is beautiful, make sure you pack your camera, as well as food and water for whatever adventure you set out on.

KODIAK — After a long winter and wet spring here on Kodiak, warm sunny weather can create a problem. Should you face up to your accumulation of outdoor chores or should you play?

You could guess by looking at our yard, but for us the choice is easy.

We play!

Last weekend, my wife and I set out for adventures without a glance into our rearview mirror. The chores would be waiting when we got home, so we didn’t have to worry about them. With more sunny days in the forecast, we could always attack the chores later, right?

Or at least that’s how our thinking went. Of course, with two days of play behind us and another planned today, our nagging chores keep slipping into the future.

We always seem to do better when fishing for kings on overcast days with a little chop on the water, so the bright sun and flat seas dictated looking for fun in other directions. For us, long days in the sun usually evolve into a mix of activities. We may head out the door with one goal in mind, but as the day progresses and new opportunities appear, we transition from one adventure to the next.

The trick is to be ready for anything that comes along. Beyond the bare essentials for outdoor fun, we keep our truck stocked with tools, toys and supplies for any opportunity that arises over the course of a day.

The essentials are easy to overlook, but important for full enjoyment of a sunny day.

Starting now and extending until the first frost of fall, we always pack insect repellent. The biting white socks flies have emerged early this year, and they can make a calm sunny day miserable if you’re not ready for them. 

We’ve given upon DEET in favor of repellents containing picaridin. In our experience it’s as effective as DEET without the weird feeling on our skin. It’s a pepper derivative and unlike DEET, doesn’t dissolve plastic and ruin coatings on expensive camera lenses and binoculars. Never heard of it? Picaridin has been in popular use in Europe and elsewhere around the world for over 20 years, but it’s only appeared in the US in the last few years.

And don’t forget the sunscreen! With Kodiak’s long days, it’s easy to spend way too much time in direct sunlight. With the pallor of winter still on your skin, you can get as fierce a sunburn on Kodiak as in the tropics.

Kodiak’s weather changes rapidly, and — even with no rain in the forecast — sudden fog can be wet and chilling. It’s always a good idea to keep light rain gear and an extra fleece jacket for each person in your vehicle. It’s also a good idea to carry waterproof boots because even with sunny weather you don’t have to wander far to encounter mud and water.

Sunny days tend to stretch, so be sure to pack plenty of snacks and water for even short adventures. The last thing I want to look at on a relaxed day outdoors is my watch, and it’s easy to miss meals and fall behind on my fluid intake. I’d be happy to have food and water rattling around in the truck whether needed or not, rather than cut a day short due to grumbling bellies.

That’s entirely enough nagging about sensible basics. What about preparing for the most fun possible?

Thankfully, that list is lots longer, extending to the limits of your diverse interests and beyond. In addition to the toys and tools you assemble for planned activities, be sure to stock your vehicle with extras.

At the top of our list of extras are binoculars and a bird book, no matter what else we plan to do. Even if the birds don’t catch your interest, the odds are pretty good for whale sightings along with sea otters, seals, sea lions and even porpoises. 

Last weekend proved to be great for birds, as most of them are feeding young right now and constantly on the move in search of food. But you have to use some common sense when birds are caring for young or sitting on nests. Many upland species nest and rear their young in the grass and brush, while seabirds nest on open gravel and in the thin screen of grasses along the shore. Gulls and other large seabirds nest on cliffs and offshore islands, but puffins and more will use the shoreline cliffs.

Anywhere you go, watch for exposed nests and especially for birds doing their “broken wing” routine to lead you away from their nests. It might be tempting to look closer for the nests and young, but they’re so well camouflaged it’s easy to do damage as you search.

Terns in particular are aggressive in protecting their nests, and you’ll have no doubt that you’re close when they start dive bombing you and even planting white streaks in your hair. They’re telling you in no uncertain terms that you need to back off — and it’s good advice.

Speaking of aggression, it’s hard to imagine any birds more protective of eggs and young than bald eagles. Sure it would be nice to have pictures of their nests, but be advised this is the realm of long lenses and safe distances. The alternative could well be a trip to the emergency room for stitches in your head!

Most everyone has a phone with a camera these days so the basics of photography can be covered in your hip pocket. But if you want closeups of wildlife, as well as wildflowers, a conventional camera with a selection of lenses will suit you a lot better.

Last weekend, my wife and I alternated between wildlife and wildflower photography while mixing in landscape photography between venues. We had a terrific day of photography using our conventional cameras in spite of our phones readily at hand. Full sized cameras are certainly heavy and bulky, but on a busy outdoor day, you’ll be glad you have yours along.

We were swept up with great wildflowers yesterday, but we were almost too late. Kodiak’s grass grows tall so fast that it can quickly conceal the best wildflower displays. If you have a special place in your heart for wildflowers with or without your camera, it would be good to get out in the next week.

This is the best year in memory for purple lupines and overlapping the riot of yellow buttercups in some places, they’re the perfect opportunity for closeups and broader views. We found that the irises are just starting to bloom, so they’ll be great photo subjects for the next couple of weeks or so. You can still find lots of wildflowers in the high country once the grasses are tall at sea level, but over the course of summer you can still expect great showings of wild roses and fireweed down low. If the profusion of lupines is any indicator, this could be one of the best summers ever for wildflower enthusiasts.

Just be sure to bring along spare batteries and memory chips, both of which saved yesterday’s photo adventures. Long days add up to extra photo ops, and it’s easy to run short of both.

The grass is still low enough to make for easy walking, so be prepared when short jaunts turn into long hikes. My wife and I started one short walk around noon, and as an afterthought tossed a few snacks into our pockets. That was a good thing, because our 5-minute walk turned into a 2-hour hike and our snacks made a great lunch among the wildflowers on a hillside overlooking the passage of gray whales in the bay below.

Even fishing plans can change quickly on nice days. Red salmon are an attraction for lots of anglers, but they’re subject to tides and spotty in their appearance. In addition to salmon tackle, we keep our truck stocked with trout gear. The shoreline around river mouths promises good Dolly Varden fishing, plus there are a dozen or so lakes on the road system stocked with rainbow trout.  Sure you can laze on the bank and wait for the reds to make their appearance, but wouldn’t it be more fun to take a break for trout while you wait?

We’re looking forward to a run of great weather over the next week or so with more to follow over the course of the summer. Outdoor chores are certainly a fact of life, but it’s too easy to let them dominate your life.

We vote for outdoor adventure and save our chores for later.

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