Two views of the Klondike Gold Rush NHP ornament, and artist Eve Griffin (right) visits the White House with her mother. Photos courtesy Eve Griffin.

Skagway artist, ornament welcomed at White House

Skagway’s Eve Griffin was one of 347 artists selected nationwide to create an ornament honoring the National Park Service for the 2007 White House Christmas tree. On Nov. 28, Griffin and her mother attended a dinner reception at the White House as a guest of First Lady Laura Bush. where she viewed the tree and met some of the other artists.
In a tradition begun by Jacqueline Kennedy in 1961, each year the First Lady chooses a theme for holiday decorating at the White House. In keeping with President Bush’s newly announced National Parks Centennial Initiative, Mrs. Bush chose “Holiday in the National Parks” as the 2007 theme. She asked the superintendent of each of the 391 units of the NPS system to select an artist to represent each area. The 18 foot-tall tree stands in the Blue Room.
The ornament consists of a 6-inch diameter, gold ball sent by Mrs. Bush to each artist with instructions that it be decorated with “the most recognizable feature that best represents your park.”
Griffin chose to execute her ornament in Victorian style in keeping with the Klondike gold rush era and present a culturally balanced view. Her design features several painted vignettes rendered as historic photographs showing Chilkoot Pass, a stampeder, the Seattle waterfront, and a Raven design. The Chilkoot is identified by its Tlingit name (A Shakee) and the stampeder by Chinook trading jargon (cheechako). A formline design in contemporary Haida style forms the backdrop for the Raven vignette. A soaring raven is featured on the bottom on a gold leafed field.
“Much of the credit for the design and execution of the ornament goes to Sally Stevens,” Griffin remarked. “She made many of the final decisions in regard to design and color and I was really dependent on her judgement. It was very much a joint creation.” Lance Twitchell inspired the design for the Raven vignette, she added.
The ornament becomes a part of the permanent White House collection administered by the National Archives.
Griffin is a painter and sculptor who works in western and Northwest Coast traditions. She has painted for Tlingit master carvers Wayne Price and John Hagen of Alaska Indian Arts in Haines, but now concentrates on producing her own original works. She has worked seasonally for KGNHP for over 10 years, first on the Lead Field Archaeologist and more recently as a Painting Worker.

A song sparrow, one of just two counted in Skagway for the CBC. AC

Birds prey on Chrismas count

By ANDREW CREMATA
Counting birds may sound as interesting as counting sheep. For the 108th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count on December 15, birders all over North America gathered to participate in tallying different species of birds and the quantity of each within their region.
The purpose of the count is to maintain yearly data on the overall numbers of various birds to discern the overall health of individual species. By holding the count during the same time every year, the data gathered remains consistent over time and can signal when a particular species is threatened or endangered.
Unseasonably good weather greeted Skagway participants at 8 a.m. when the count began. A heavy snow dissipated just before the first light of day, and as the sun made its brief appearance in the late morning, beams of light found their way into the valley.
Before the holidays, many around Skagway were spotting large flocks of small birds undulating in the sky or feeding on mountain ash berries in various front lawns. The birds are referred to as bohemian waxwings and record numbers were counted in Skagway.
Counting the massive flocks might seem difficult or even impossible, but birders employ a variety of techniques to assess the final numbers. One went as far as photographing a flock with his digital camera and then counting the individual birds from his computer monitor.
I began my day at the Sweet Tooth Cafe, the official headquarters for the start. As the last few snowflakes fell, I headed out with my partner Nola Lamken to our assigned route. Because birds like to fly, it’s important to try and minimize the possibility of individuals or flocks being counted twice. By assigning routes to different groups who are all counting at the same time, the chances of count numbers overlapping is diminished.
Nola and I were assigned to the waterfront on a path extending from the Railroad Dock to Smuggler’s Cove and everywhere in between. We decided to begin at the dock and walk all the way out to the end in the hopes of seeing something unique. It didn’t take long.
Just a few steps out on the dock, we noticed what appeared to be some strange multi-legged bird flailing upon the still water. Worse, it was heading in our direction. As I am not very good at actually identifying birds, I was struggling to put the image into some kind of mental reference.
The strange creature approached within 25-yards, giving us a much improved view. A river otter was holding a massive dungeness crab in its jaws, holding it out of the water as he swam. The crab was grasping at air with its claws as the otter made its way to the rocky shoreline, climbed up the embankment, and prepared for his feast.
I was surprised to see such a large dungy coming from local waters, and I must admit to a high degree of otter envy. I took a look through the binoculars to get a better look. Suddenly, the otter scampered off behind a rock outcropping leaving the crab mysteriously snipping skyward. A bald eagle appeared into the field of view and snatched the crab in a flash. We watched as he flew away with his prize, landed at the top of the breakwater, and began to dine.
Our count was at one.
I’ve participated in a handful of local Christmas Bird Counts and “exciting” is not a word I have ever used to describe the event. Every year someone is lucky to have some unique, thrilling experience and shares the story at the end of the day with the rest of the participants. With the otter experience under our belts, I figured we would at least have something interesting to say at the banquet later in the evening.
As we walked along the dock, sea lions and seals bobbed up their heads for curious glances. We were having intermittent success counting birds, with Nola bearing the brunt of the work due mostly to my ineptitude at identifying them. Upon reaching the end of the dock, we struggled in an attempt to count a large flock of waxwings high up the mountainside.
We caught glimpses of the flock at a distance of 500 feet, but it was impossible to get any idea of the overall number. The birds suddenly bolted down the mountainside in a flurry of feathers and high-pitched cries. From my vantage point on the metal-grate walking platform at the end of the dock, the flock flew just beneath the walkway mere feet away.
Giving chase was a small raptor with a squared tail. The hawk darted in and out of the flock on the attack, the proximity so close I could hear air being forced around its beating wings. It reminded me of a salmon taking shots at a tightly knit bait-ball of herring.
The whole thing happened so fast it was impossible to tell exactly when one particularly unlucky waxwing met its demise, but as feathers floated down to the surface of the water, the hawk flew to within a few feet from Nola and went to work on his meal. Nola identified the raptor as a sharp-shinned hawk, the squared tail a dead giveaway.
After the thrill of the early morning adventures, the rest of the day was a breeze. Later that night, everyone who participated gathered at the Skagway Tribal Center to share a fine meal and good company. Many had stories to share and some unusual sightings were made throughout the day including a goshawk, three long tailed ducks, and two hairy woodpeckers.
Overall there were 2,447 bohemian waxwings counted, which came as no surprise to anyone who had seen them during the previous few weeks. Overall count numbers can be found on the Audubon Society’s website, and a link to the Skagway bird count chart at www.skagwaynews.com.
Skagway organizer Elaine Furbish was thrilled with the turnout for this year’s count, and the high numbers of birds recorded. Anyone interested in birding can meet with the local bird club at one of their regular meetings, and participate in next year’s count.