With the dumping of snow, and especially the layer of freezing rain in-between, moose have had some challenges getting around. Like many of us, they will gravitate towards the route with the least resistance, which puts them on our trails, driveways and outhouse paths.
A moose cow and calf were hanging out before the snow storm, and they have been regulars since. My shoveled paths have become their trails, and the trees in the yard have received a decent trimming.
Things became a bit cozier when the temps dropped into the -35F range a week or so ago. I was laying in bed one morning after the alarm went off, debating the advantage of employment, when I heard a creaking coming from right outside the front door. Looking out the window, I could see a moose standing on the front walk. Actually, I could not see the whole moose, as it was larger than my window frame, but going out to warm up the truck would take some extra precaution.
When I came home that night, I could see the bed the moose made just off my walkway, underneath a large spruce tree. No doubt, it was warmer being up against the cabin like it was. I didn’t mind the sleeping arrangements as much as the several piles of moose droppings, and it was the first time I had ever used ice melt on my walk to break up moose urine.
The next morning, the same thing happened, and I heard the moose get up outside the cabin after the alarm went off.
With the recent rise in temperature, the moose have been sleeping elsewhere, but they still stop by almost daily to trim a few trees.
Over the past several decades, scientists out of Homer & Seward, Alaska have tracked a pod of killer whales that they have dubbed The Chugach Transients. In 1989, this particular pod swam through the Exxon Valdez oil spill. That year, the pod had 22 members. The following year, nine members had died.
Today, only seven remain, including a 46 year old male known as Egagutak. Individual whales can be identified by photographs, which is what happened with Egagutak this summer, when a tour group sent his photo to the North Gulf Oceanic Society. Individual pods of whales are also identified acoustically, because a pod’s call is unique.
The Chugach Transients have not had a calf in the thirty plus years since the oil spill. The exact reason is not known, but most killer whale pods in Alaska waters are doing well, but the two that swam through the oil spill are not.
At 46 years of age, Egagutak is nearing the end of his lifespan. Killer whale males typically live 45-50 years. The pod also seems to be nearing its end. With no calves being born, this particular pod of killer whale and their unique song will go extinct.
The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council was tasked with spending the money from the civil settlement after the oil spill. They have funded the research into the study of the Chugach Transients until this year, when they decided that the council would no longer support the research.
Sources: North Gulf Oceanic Society, University of Alaska Southeast, Alaska Public Media
A rare bird for Alaska, turkey vultures have been seen in several locations around the state this year. The above photo was taken in Chalkyitsik, which is in the northeast part of the state in the Yukon Flats north of the Yukon River. Turkey vultures have also been documented in Noatak, which is in the northwest part of Alaska, as well as in Juneau.
Their normal range is limited to southern Canada, but these migratory raptors are built for long distance travel. They have been known to travel over 200 miles in a day by just riding the thermals and barely flapping their wings.
There is some evidence that the turkey vulture is expanding its range northward, but hundreds of birds of varying species that are not common to Alaska show up sporadically. Many go unnoticed. For the turkey vulture, it is a tad difficult to travel incognito.
A little bit of controversy this year for Fat Bear Week. Otis beat out Walker for the fattest bear of Brooks Falls. This may have been a bit of a popularity contest in 2021, with Team Otis coming out in droves to vote for the fan favorite. With that said, it is hard to dismiss the amount of weight that Otis put on in just a few short months. It was a lot of poundage, especially considering that Otis showed up at the river later than usual this summer, and that he is now missing two canine teeth, and many of his teeth are worn down.
Congrats to the now 4-Time Champ, and best wishes in the off season.
Otis is no newcomer to Fat Bear Week. A three time winner of the championship, Otis was the inaugural winner back in 2014. He also took the title in 2016 & 2017. First identified at Brooks Falls in 2001, he is one of the older bears in Katmai. A patient fisher, Otis rarely chases salmon, and has one of the higher catch rates at Brooks Falls. One of Katmai’s all-time fan favorites, the aging bruin once again appears in the finals.
Walker first showed up at Brooks Falls in 2009 as a two year old. Once known as a tolerant, playful bear, Walker has become a lot less tolerant as he has aged. As he has grown into a larger, dominate male, Walker has realized he can throw his weight around to gain prime fishing spots. Estimated to have weighed in at 1000 pounds last autumn, Walker looks to be even bigger in 2021.
Voting for the title round takes place today. Polls close at 5pm ADT.
We have some big names going belly to belly right out of the gate for Fat Bear Week. Holly & Grazer face off, and Popeye takes on Walker on Day One. Day Two has 402, and perennial fan favorite Otis going up against each other.
Bear 503, 747 “Wide Body”, Chunk and 132 all get first round byes.
Bear 132 is a spring cub. 132 is one of two surviving cubs from a litter of three. It put on a lot of weight, and a lot of hair. In the September photo, 132 weighs an estimated sixty pounds.
Bear 128 is a yearling, and the daughter of fan favorite Grazer. Grazer is a bold salmon catcher, and 128 is following that lead. By the end of this summer, 128 was catching her own leaping salmon. Park staff have not seen a yearling regularly catch salmon from the lip of Brooks Falls. A future Fat Bear Champion in the making?