Tag Archives: Spruce Grouse

Subsistence and Fall in Alaska

Hello Readers!

This weekend was my first weekend to get out and enjoy the beautiful fall weather of Alaska. It had been a pretty rainy, dreary week. But at 11AM on Saturday morn the sun broke through the clouds and has been shining ever since! I headed up to Murphy Dome (http://goo.gl/X9dL3k) for some grouse and ptarmigan hunting. I was blown away by the mixture of spruce and fiery birch that were EVERYWHERE. Up here we have the ‘alaskan paper birch’, which is very similar to the white paper birch of the mid-west.

The sun cut through the yellow canopy of these birch. These yellow birch stands are breathtaking and made it hard to drive while constantly looking over your shoulder!
Here are the yellow birches and interspersed spruce trees as I headed up Spinach Creek Road. They provide incredible fall colors!
A view of the landscape from Ester Dome. The birches and spruce are incredible. Plus... no clouds!
A view of the landscape from Ester Dome. The birches and spruce are incredible. Plus… no clouds!

One of the unusual things about this fall in Fairbanks has been the amount of rain we received. Of course, I can’t say ‘unusual’ from my experience here, rather just based on what others have said. Because of the amount of rain that we received the fall fungi have been very common! I love how their dark reds, browns and yellows offset the golden carpet of birch leaves around them. I think they are very beautiful, however, don’t eat these ones! I’m not sure of the exact species, I think it could be amanita muscaria, but I know others in this family will kill you. It’s been described to me as such : “yup, you’ll trip balls, then you’ll die”. So, please, re-frame from any licks or bites. Interested in a bit more information about these shrooms? Check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amanita_muscaria

This mushroom is bursting through the fall foilage, boosted by the rain we’ve had in the last 2 weeks. Gotta love the colors!
This mushroom hasn’t unfurled its cap yet. However, I bet within 24 hours of this picture it will have. Mushrooms were very common in the birch forests.
On more pretty mushroom coming through the golden blanket!

Once I got past the fall colors (and it truly is more of a physical barrier than a metaphorical one!) I headed up to Ester Dome region and started to walk around looking for grouse and ptarmigan. As I headed up a powerline cut I was immediately astounded by the volume of blueberries and low bush cranberries. They were EVERYwhere. I had never seen blueberries like that in my life. During my walk I foraged until my stomach told me “no more!”; I imagine I was at the 1/2 gallon point of blueberries and cranberries in my stomach.  However, my blueberry findings only got better. After a time I started to walk down this steep draw to a river bed. The trickling stream I found at the bottom was filled with blueberry plants that were almost waist high and could have been bowing to the ground by the numbers of blueberries on them.  I knew that I had to do some picking here soon ( that’s called foreshadowing… 🙂 )  and would be back. However, with no grouse in sight I headed back up the draw and found out that walking up moss covered hill sides is absolutely grueling! The best analogy I can think of is walking on a thermopedic mattress that’s 8 inches deep and doesn’t have a box spring to stop you at the bottom. Its like quick sand. The moss and lichen absorbed each step, much like I was wearing moon boots. Coupled with a 15 – 20 % grade and a 3/4 mile straight-up ascent I was beat when hit the ridge again. However, I was rewarded soon after with 2 spruce grouse, my first ever!

Kill confirmed! My first two wild game animals in AK, and my first 2 spruce grouse!

After this I met up with a guy named Ross and we headed up to the top of Murphy Dome looking for Ptarmigan. Murphy dome was the highest point for miles around, and the view were truly incredible. We never did see any ptarmigan, but the hike and the day were incredible!

Murphy Dome Pan 1
Panoramic view from the top of Murphy Dome, Ross included. The mountains in the distance don’t show up well here, but trust me, they were pretty amazing!
When the hunting is slow sometimes you start feeling a bit frisky. So, I did a little posing on top of this rock at Murphy Dome. If we didn’t get birds we got stylish instead!

The next day I went back for the blueberries. In a nutshell I was able to pick about 18 pints of blueberries in 1.75 hours! I have never, never,never seen wild blueberry picking like it was in this place. The berries were ready to fall off the bushes, so all you had to do was get your box under and shake the branches. The disadvantage of this technique was the sticks and leaves that fell into the box as well, however, by placing the blueberries in water when I got home they separated out perfectly as the blueberries sank and the sticks/leaves floated! I am looking forward to going back for more berries as this patch.  Of course one of the challenges of this location is carrying 20lbs of blueberries in a box up thermopedic mattress hill. Challenge accepted!

Blueberries Galore! This is an example of an average bush in this place (spot x for secrecy 😉 but come to AK and I’ll show you). I have never seen anything like it!
A nice little closeup of one of the blueberry bushes.
The final haul! About 18 pints in just under 2 hours! That’s almost a winters supply or a lot of pies!!
The final haul of blueberries spread out on the stable at the Sustainable Village.

I’m truly looking forward to blueberry pie when winter sets in! I’m also thinking of doing some bartering for some moose or caribou. Also, I just thought I’d throw out there that if you ever get a chance to ‘spruce’ up your stir-fry. Try spruce grouse stirfry! Pretty tasty. Pictured here are broccoli, carrots, tomato, green pepper, and mushroom stirfry with spruce grouse 🙂

My ‘spruced’ up stir-fry ! 🙂

So readers, that’s a little bit about fall here in AK over the weekend! We have consistent frost at this time, and the ground is frozen in many of the low places. Currently it is dark at about 8:30 and light about 7:30, however we are losing an average of 7 minutes of light PER DAY, so ~50 minutes per week. It will not be long before our days are short and cold. Winter will be setting in soon! I hope to keep you  updated as I continue to explore and learn about my region and AK in general!