Spending five days a week hunched in front of a computer can really make you want to get outside and stretch your legs on your days off. At least that's the case with me.
Like a hungry hound to a steak, I head right to the woods on my weekends for some hiking on one of the numerous foot trails the peninsula has to offer.
I regularly take in the Seven Lakes Trail located within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. I find it to be a birder's delight, not to mention the numerous viewing opportunities for both small and large mammals, and a recent hike to this trail was no exception.
Starting at the north end of the hike, a pair of Bonaparte's gulls made their presence known by trying to intimidate me. The small, black-headed gulls were nesting in the spruce along the shoreline and on the island at the east end of the lake. They squawked and hovered nearby until they felt I was far enough away to no longer pose a threat.
The gull's vocalizations betrayed my presence to another avian species. A lesser yellowleg along the shore poked its head up to give me the once-over, then went back to its business.
Greater scaups are just one of the many species of waterfowl hikers are likely to view wilde hiking the seven Lakes Trail
Photo by Joseph Robertia
These shorebirds often wade along the shoreline in search of aquatic prey. These are easily identifiable birds due to their long bill accompanied by even longer, bright yellow legs.
Common loons are a common sight at Kelly Lake and I saw several. These curious birds came to within 10 yards of me to get a closer look, providing a great opportunity to see the birds' crimson eyes and contrasting black and white plumage.
Loons also nest on the island at the east end during this time of year. I exercised care not to disturb these very private birds in case they were sitting on their eggs.
At night, while watching the shadows dance from my campfire, I could hear the piercing call of these birds from great distances away. Their "hahahahaha" vocalizations sounded like laughter.
Signs of the resident beaver population were everywhere at Kelly Lake. Several stumps bore telltale chew marks from where the creatures felled trees, and I saw three lodges along the path.
A lesser yellowleg, a common sight on the shores of Kelly Lake, waits above shallow water in the hopes of catching some aquatic prey.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
Although I've hiked this trail several times and never seen one, I believe this area of the trail has fantastic potential for seeing some of the local predatory animals, such as wolf or lynx.
These creatures are masters of stealth and camouflage, and it is only their tracks and scat that have allowed me to bear witness to their presence at all.
The lake itself is a secluded area where I have seen moose on several occasions. Perhaps they feel this remote area is a safe harbor, because the ungulates typically show no signs of fear at this location.
The trail is almost nonexistent around this pond, but I find contending with a bit of brush a small price to pay for seeing the largest member of the deer family casually nibbling on browse with no anxiety over my presence.
The trail to this spot is dense with growth on both sides, but I enjoyed when it would periodically open up to reveal a panorama of aspens growing for acres in all directions.
I found the lake itself a soothing spot to take in the mountains across the water. The air was calm and cool, and the reflection off the water was like looking at a mirror image of the snow-capped peaks on the other side.
Following a worn-in footpath north across a small stream, I found a secluded, heavily used campsite right on the water. The campsite wasn't completely perfect though -- the mosquitoes made sure of that.
Insect horde is an understatement for the numbers of biting insects here. Without bug dope this spot is out of the question for those with even the highest of pain tolerances.
As with Kelly Lake, this is a high traffic area for beaver and I saw evidence of their work along the north shore, but what I found to be the most bountiful on this last leg of the hike was all the waterfowl and shorebird viewing opportunities.
Swans, red-necked grebes, greater scaups, Barrow's goldeneye, common mergansers, loons and surf scoters -- all were common sights on this lake.
Most of the species I have seen at one time or another, but what made it exciting was seeing so many species in one place at the same time. I saw more waterfowl in one hour than I had in the past few weeks of hiking.
The bird viewing wasn't restricted to just the water-loving species. Swallows also weaved though the air overhead, catching insects on the wing. I find witnessing the grace and precision of these aerial acrobats in flight truly spectacular.
When looking to whet my appetite for the outdoors, the Seven Lakes Trail never lets me down. It is rich in wildlife, has some pristine views and always seems to soothe my soul with its peace and quiet.
This column is the opinion of Peninsula Clarion reporter Joseph Robertia. Comments can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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