By Sarah Schrock
Perhaps you have seen the river steaming in the morning over these past few weeks? The cold temperatures we’ve been experiencing create two types of ice in the river — anchor ice and surface ice. The situation is building anxiety along the Twisp River as town officials and riverfront residents are a bit uneasy with expected increases in temperatures, creating the threat of ice jams and overland flooding of low-lying areas.
Anchor ice develops on the bottom of a stream or river where there is rapidly moving water. The moving water super-cools the rocky bottom, creating a colder-than-freezing substrate for ice crystals, called frazil (isn’t that a great Scrabble word?) to adhere. According to Nature-trak.com, the frazil is a sticky crystalline structure of ice and easily attaches to rocks and other frazil, creating large masses of ice. When anchor ice breaks off the bottom it will float, as ice is more buoyant than water, creating mobile blocks of ice that can jam up the flow of water.
Surface ice can also form on the river’s surface in slower areas of flow and along the banks, creating sheets that can eventually stretch bank-to-bank. The combination of anchor ice and surface ice makes interesting habitat challenges for all kinds of animals along the river.
A beaver-felled tree near the Poorman Creek Bridge along the Twisp River has wildlife biologist Kent Woodruff puzzled. With no beaver lodge in sight and such extreme build-up of ice along and across the river, it leaves few points of access to the water where a beaver could enter or exit a den. In the absence of a dam, beavers will burrow into a bank for denning. Kent can’t quite figure out where the beaver’s den could be or how the beaver would access it with extreme ice buildup.
Nearby wetlands across Poorman Creek Road might be home to a lodge, but Kent thinks overland travel across the road would leave the animal too vulnerable and it’s unlikely the critter would travel downstream to fall a tree this time of year. It’s a wildlife mystery.
Equally as mysterious, the winter bird count on Dec. 30 produced a curious sighting of a tagged golden eagle. Jennifer Molesworth reported the sighting along Beaver Creek of an adult male that seems to have relocated from its original home of Florence, Montana, where it was first captured and tagged in 2012. Curious, because apparently golden eagles typically stay put in their own winter territory and this bird was hundreds of miles afield.
In other rare and interesting bird news, a screech owl mistakenly identified as a pygmy owl was causing trouble in local chicken coop. The nuisance bird was delivered to Kent at the Cinnamon Twisp Bakery last week where he immediately recognized the feathered fowl as a screech owl, which are quite rare in these parts.
Finally, in a completely unrelated note, a local tradition to temper the winter blues is growing in the Twin Lakes neighborhood. For the third year in a row, Michael Humling, his wife Gina Pastore and a smattering of friends and family have nearly completed the epic igloo.
In 2014, Humling, assisted by online tutorials of Inuit igloos, began building an authentic 8-foot diameter igloo capable of comfortably seating 14 people. Last year, he perfected his craft by constructing a 12-foot diameter structure easily fitting 20 people and a few dogs.
Helpers are recruited for volunteer labor in exchange for a frosty beverage as they meticulously carve out the trapezoidal blocks from compacted snow piles that Humling piles and packs with a snow blower and snowshoes for weeks leading up to the construction process. Using a plumb line, snow saw and buckets of slush, the blocks are sawed to perfect alignment with the center point and then mortared with slush. The ritual of the igloo coincides with Humling’s January birthday when music, candles, lights and all kinds of jubilee bring friends out to celebrate winter before the January Chinooks melt our spirits.