Cordova Chronicles: That buzzing sound you hear isn’t giant mosquitoes

Out of respect for solitude, please leave your drones at home

A new $6,000 Red Raven drone, produced by Red Digital Cinema, weighs 3.5 pounds and has an 8.8 MP image sensor. Imagine a Dutch Harbor eagle attacking this baby. Photo from Red Digital Cinema

By now, most of us have some familiarity with drones. Why, a small four-bladed model could be seen and heard buzzing above the start of the Fourth of July Kelp Box Races, providing a unique view of the Main Street celebration.

As drones improve, become less expensive and proliferate, count on these devices becoming more and more common. And potentially intrusive.

Just ask an angry eagle out at Dutch Harbor. Bald eagles are everywhere at that massive fishing port, taking advantage of a plentiful supply of fish waste products. More than a few Unalaskans have been attacked by the large predators, and signs are posted warning individuals not to venture near their nesting areas.

Bald eagles in attack mode at Fleming Spit, 1.6 miles from Cordova. Maybe the French military will soon be over on a recruiting mission.
Photo by Mark Hoover/For The Cordova Times

Last month, an eagle attacked and downed a drone that was making a video about the remote areas an internet firm there serves. The drone was flying over Captain’s Bay when the $6,000 device experienced death from above.

I wonder if anyone has been brave enough to fly a drone near the local fish cleaning station at Fleming Spit. Eagles congregate there to feast on remains of halibut and salmon, and one day over 30 were counted perched in nearby evergreens, their white heads standing out clearly against the dark background.

I do know that drones are now appearing over popular hiking trailing, including the Mt. Eyak ski hill and the reservoir trail up toward Mt. Eccles. Three weeks ago I was enjoying a pleasant jaunt up Eyak, and heard a strange buzzing sound. The operator must have been curious about who I was, as it stopped to hover, and I could actually see its camera lens turned in my direction.

Without a doubt, I am getting more crotchety in my golden years, yet certainly don’t consider Mt. Eyak my private terrain, although I have been hiking it since 1951. But consider why people hike. Isn’t it to gain some solitude, listen to the sounds of the outdoors, see the splendor of our neck of the woods, and enjoy the pleasures of healthy exercise?

The drone was about 50 feet overhead, and I picked up a rock, but then remember a recent torn rotator cuff. The old arm isn’t what it used to be when playing right field for the Camp Humphries U.S. Army fast-pitch softball team back in Korea. So instead, I opted for the universal sign of disdain. The drone quickly departed.

I mentioned the incident to a fellow basketball official who also likes to hike as a way to get away from the stress of his job at LFS during the summer fishing frenzy. Guess what? He had been up beyond the spillway at the Mt. Eccles reservoir, and had stretched out in the sun with a good book in hand and liquid relaxant chilling in the nearly water. He, too, experienced the strange buzzing sound of a large drone, and resorted to the sort of verbal abuse we occasionally hear from fans in the stands to express their displeasure.

Evidently drones can hear as well as see. It quickly departed.

News of drones seems to be showing up everywhere. A man was detained for flying a drone over the White House, and police have asked for permission to shoot them down.

Drones have been used to fly contraband into prisons. Drones have become a key weapon in our military arsenal. How long will it be until terrorists figure out a way to use them in retaliation?

More at home, it is against the law to hunt for moose the same day planes are used to spot them. A common local strategy is to fly the day before hunting and mark their location by GPS. For road hunters that don’t have airplanes, would flying a drone from the road to spot a moose be legal? Sure would be easier than climbing a roadside tree, an oft-employed strategy for those of us that don’t own a Super Cub.

Well, don’t try it. Turns out recently adopted state regulations prohibit such use of drones.

Meanwhile, back to the Unalaska drone-hunting eagle. Hey, good for him. Guess what? The French military are already on it – they are training eagles to attack drones. Maybe they’ll recruit candidates at Fleming Spit or Dutch Harbor, and lend-lease us a few as part of our NATO agreement. Envision several of our feathered National Emblem perched 24/7 atop of the White House palisades.

Heck, such a program also might help the Dusky Goose population out on the nearby Copper River Delta. US Forest Service studies revealed that eagles are the biggest predator of these geese, and all you have to do is see frantic goslings scurrying to protective cover under the wings of a Mother Goose while being dive-bombed from above to realize how correct this information is.

A recent NASA study has discovered that people find the noise of drones more annoying than that of ground vehicles, even when the sounds are the same volume. Amazon, which is considering using drones to deliver orders to your doorstep, might ponder that one.

As far as drones and hikers, how about a more simple solution? Courtesy.

If you see a vehicle parked at the head of trail, assume it is someone out looking for a nice pleasant commune with nature, and leave your drone in the car.

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Dick Shellhorn, author, reporter, ref and grandpa, can be reached at shorn@gci.net. Shellhorn was born and raised in Cordova, Alaska, and has lived there his entire life. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 40 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016.