When I first set up the Beaver Cam, I was expecting some photos right away, but the Beav had other ideas. It didn’t come by the cam until I was out of town fishing. It does have an extensive area from which to fell his lumber, so I didn’t get too concerned.
That Pesky Rabbit; or Curatores Gignentia in Latin
The first week the Beaver Cam was up, I had 442 pictures of this rabbit. I’ve been asked, “How can you be sure it’s the same rabbit?” Because I waded through 442 pictures of the goofy thing hoping for a picture of the beaver.
The Bunny Hop
The funny thing about rabbits, is that they tend to twitch this way, and then twitch that way for endless hours of viewing entertainment. They may hop a foot or two, but then they go back to twitching. There were a lot of pictures where the only noticeable difference between shots was the placement of one ear or the other.
The rabbit returns to twitching
The second week the cam was up, when I was out of town chasing cohos, the beaver did stop by for a couple of dozen shots. I was grateful, although they were interspersed between 502 pictures of my favorite rabbit. When I finally took the cam down due to concern it may be carried off with a tree, I had close to 1000 pictures of Bugs, and 40 of the beaver.
This spring I heard the unmistakable sound of a beaver tail slap in The Pond. I looked around, but could not trace the slap to an actual tail. I had never seen a beaver out here, but after years of water travel, I know that sound.
A few weeks later, I noticed two canoe paddles had vanished from under the canoe, which was alongside The Pond. I put two missing canoe paddles together with a tail slap, and went exploring.
The beaver dragging a sapling
It didn’t take me long to find the lodge. Sure enough, the two canoe paddles were stuck in the mud. It took some effort, but I managed to retrieve the paddles from the muck, but I could have just left them alone. They were heavily weathered now, and split at the laminate of the blades. Still, I didn’t want to encourage bad behavior, so I carried the paddles back with me.
With a wave of the tail
The electric company had just been through in the early spring, clearcutting their right of way. This was a bonanza for the beaver, who hauled the easy pickings down to the water all summer.
Eventually, I knew it would turn to more upright trees, so I set up a trail cam along one beaver route. To say the beaver has been busy would be an understatement. It is active at all times of the day and night. Every day, the furry engineer has taken down 3-4 trees that I can trace. It really is amazing how the beaver can transform the land in such a short period of time. I imagine only man, and maybe the elephant does more to alter its habitat.
I have assumed there is more than a solo beaver, but had never seen more than one out on the water at any given time.
Until Labor Day.
Some friends were over for a BBQ, and we took a hike over the beaver’s domain. For the first time, I saw two beavers swimming in The Pond. By spring, I expect there will be a few more.
We were down at the docks early one morning, anxious to get out on the water to chase some cohos.
While we waited, a sea otter was putting on a show.
The sea otter with some herring
The otter would dive, then come up with 3-4 herring. It would eat one, while keeping the rest sitting on its chest. Only the best part of the bait fish was eaten, and the rest quickly discarded. No doubt, there was no shortage of food for the otter in the harbor.
The sea otter eating some mussels
For the second course, the sea otter turned to some sort of mussel. The sound of the sea otter crunching away on the shell was clearly audible. In fact, I took one video, where the crunching sound seemed to echo across the harbor. The otter would eat for a bit, then spin effortlessly in the water, dumping the broken shells off its chest, then go back to eating, only to repeat the entire process.
I could have spent a much longer time watching the sea otter, but there were salmon to catch, and the Captain was ready to head out.
But not before he came over to join us, and take a quick picture of the sea otter. “It’s my daughter’s favorite animal,” he said, before herding us toward his boat.
Dead chum salmon found on the Koyukuk River; Photo credit: ADF&G
Salmon carcasses have been found in large numbers from Norton Sound, all the way up the Yukon River drainage.
Reports of children being able to catch chums with their hands in the Yukon are also coming in. The salmon appear to be completely disorientated.
On one bank of the Koyukuk, over 100 dead chum salmon were counted.
Fish & Game officials, as well as residents along the rivers report that when cut open, the salmon still have eggs or sperm inside. That means that they have not spawned yet.
Dead pink salmon along the Shaktoolik River; Photo credit: Sophia Katchatag, Community coordinator for Shaktoolik
The best guess right now is that the high water temperatures have stressed the salmon out before they can reach their spawning grounds. The waters of Norton Sound, the Koyukuk River and the Shaktoolik River are all well above average. The water temperatures for the Yukon River have been at the highest level ever recorded this summer.
I had seen where a critter had broken through some screening on a porch out at the lake cabin, and promptly jumped down the steps to go check it out. When I looked up, I caught sight of a fox running down the boardwalk towards me.
It was black. And red. A beautiful mix. I came to a halt to admire the fox’s coloring. The fox froze too. Then I said, “You have to be the most beautiful fox I’ve seen today.” I swear, it blushed, but it was only one side of its face. The red side. It was like looking at a springer spaniel, but with large swaths of both colors, equally mixed across the body. And with a pointy nose, ears, and a great bushy tail that was tipped in white.
We watched each other for a moment, when a red squirrel, who apparently could not stand the tension, chattered noisily at the fox’s right. The fox instinctively pounced at the sound, but the squirrel was already off and running under the boardwalk. The fox then pounced to its left, where the squirrel had run, only to suddenly come up short, remembering that I was standing in front of it.
In what looked like a moment of pure exasperation, the fox pounced forward, and then ran right down the boardwalk, straight at me. I back peddled up one step, but then stood my ground. I could not out maneuver it anyway.
At the steps, the fox hopped off the boardwalk, and looked up at me. It really was an absolutely stunning animal. We stood looking at each other, mere feet apart. I had brought two film cameras, and I had the cell phone, but all three were sitting inside the cabin. I knew I should have waited a day before I thought about work.
I slowly edged my way up to the landing and reached the door; the fox had its eyes on me the entire time. As soon as I opened the door, the fox thought better of our proximity, and trotted off into the woods. It did not run off; it trotted. Totally composed, with its head held high, and its tail straight out behind it in defiance.
Photo above:A red and black fox from Unalaska, who claims to have never left the island, nor visited the lake cabin.
The smaller of the two skulls came from a gray whale. Gray whales typically show up in Alaskan waters during April. May and June are the best months for sightings. After that, these whales make their way up to summer in the cool waters of the Bering & Chukchi Seas. Their migration in the Pacific Ocean can be as much as 7000 miles one way. They start their journey south again in mid-October, reaching Baja California in December and January.
A breaching gray whale
Male gray whales reach 45 feet in length on average, with females growing a bit larger. Weight runs between 30-40 tons for both sexes. Unlike humpbacks, they have no dorsal fin. Lifespan is estimated to be 50-60 years. Of the three original populations of gray whales, the eastern Pacific stock that spends part of the year in Alaska waters, is the largest. The northern Atlantic population is extinct, and the Korean, or western Pacific population is now severely depleted.
Bowhead whale skull
The larger of the two skulls is from a bowhead whale. The bowhead is Alaska’s official state marine mammal. Unlike the gray whale and humpbacks, bowheads spend their entire year in arctic and sub-arctic waters. Their great arching head can break through sea ice to create breathing holes, and their blubber can reach 20 inches thick, accounting for half their weight. Bowheads are extremely vocal mammals, which in addition to communication, seems to aid in navigating the ice filled waters of the Arctic. The bowhead may have the longest lifespan of any mammal on the planet at an estimated 200 years.
Bowheads run 45-59 feet in length, and weigh 75-100 tonnes as adults. Their population is still listed as threatened, with a world-wide population of 8000-10000. The Alaska population is doing the best, with the population tripling in the past 30 years.
Humpback whale tail
In all, Alaska has at least 14 species of whales that spend some, if not all of the year in its waters. The museum expects to put a full humpback skeleton on display soon. This particular humpback whale washed ashore near Anchorage, where a team from the museum collected the skeleton, then transported it over land to Fairbanks. The skull alone, weighed 807 pounds.
Alaska once had dinosaurs. A pachyrhinosaurus skull like this one, was found along the Colville River on Alaska’s North Slope. The pachyrhinosaurus roamed northwestern North America between 71 million and 67 million years ago. Distantly related to the triceratops, the pachyrhinosaurus was a large, if unaggressive beast. Reaching 20 feet in length and around 4 tons in weight. They lived in herds, were herbivores, and seemed to migrate long distances.
A rendering of a pachyrhinosaurus
In Greek, pachyrhinosaurus means “reptile with a thick nose”. Like the triceratops, the pachyrhinosaurus had a thick, boney neck frill. Unlike the triceratops, the pachyrhinosaurus did not grow horns, but had a large knobby growth protrude from it’s nose.
Thanks to the Encyclopaedia Britannica for the pachyrhinosaurus rendering; and the Alaska Department of Fish & Game for the whale photos. And a special thanks to Ancient Greece for the name pachyrhinosaurus, which in a perverse way, I enjoyed typing over and over, because the word seemed to freak out my computer.
Wednesday, 27 February, is International Polar Bear Day.
Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) close-up. Hudson Bay, Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
There are 25,000 estimated polar bears world-wide. On average, a male polar bear weighs 1500 lbs, and can stand close to 10 feet tall on its hind legs. The largest known came from Alaska, and stood 12 feet, and weighed 2210 lbs. Females are quite a bit smaller, weighing on average 500 lbs, and only standing 8 feet tall.
Polar bears are closely related to brown bears. The two populations likely became isolated around the time of the last ice age, around 150,000 years ago. The two species can interbreed, but have adapted to very different habitats. Neither species would last long in the other’s habitat. For example, the polar bear is so adapted to the Arctic climate, that they can not take temperatures above 50F for very long.
Only female polar bears who are pregnant hibernate. Male bears are active year round.
Polar bears can, but rarely, live past 25 years in the wild. Although, in captivity, they have reached 43 years.
Russia outlawed the hunting of polar bears in 1956, the United States began protecting them in 1972. Regulation in Greenland started in 1994. Currently, Canada allows the hunting of up to 500 polar bears annually.