Category Archives: wildlife

Tales written in the fresh snow

I came home from work, and by the looks of the tracks in the fresh snow, there had been quite the party going on when I was gone.

At first, I was looking for the weasel’s tracks, which I found right away, but I was surprised to see grouse tracks practically right on top of the weasel’s. Upon further inspection, I found a whole covey’s worth of grouse tracks all around the yard.

The rabbit tracks were also plentiful, although that was not a surprise, since I have been flushing them all summer long.

I followed the story written in the snow as best I could. The new Siberian peas that had been planted two years ago, seemed to be of interest to the grouse, and I took note that the weasel enjoys visiting the Rover Hut. He probably has been entering the hut for some time, but his secret was not revealed until the recent snowfall. It made me wonder if weasels can catch red squirrels. We have an abundance of those damn, pine rats. I had a roll of insulation in the Rover Hut for a customer, and within 24 hours the red squirrels had attacked the roll, and little tufts of the stuff were all over the hut. We also are high on the rabbit cycle.

A little over a year ago, the neighbor’s cat died suddenly. It was an outdoor cat, and roved the entire area. I didn’t mind the cat, and it very kindly left me gifts in my work shed if I left the door open at night, but I’m kind of glad it is gone. She was a killing machine, and left a trail littered with small carcasses. Underneath the neighbor’s house is a ghastly killing field. This summer, I noticed far more birds hanging around than was usual, and I expect the weasel moved in to fill the vacancy.

The neighbor does have a new cat, but it’s terrified of the outdoors, and can not be coaxed out the door, which secretly thrills me, and less secretly amuses me. I told the neighbor to just embrace the new cattitude, and enjoy the fact that this pet is entirely different from the last one. I left out the part that I’m starting to prefer the weasel, if only for a change of pace.

After reading the snow, I went on my late afternoon walk, and flushed three ruffed grouse just down the trail from my place. The sound of those beating wings, and the sight of those zig-zagging brown rockets is a great way to forget one spent any time at work at all.


The World’s Smallest Carnivore

As I loaded the truck this morning for today’s job, I caught a flash of white out of the corner of my eye. I stood still, watching and waiting. Sure enough, a hyper, yet timid weasel showed itself from my wood pile. It made a rush at me, stopped halfway to size me up, then ran back to the stacked firewood. I kept watching, and the weasel became bolder, venturing out further and further from the wood pile. Eventually, I was ignored completely, and the weasel went about its morning activities, hopping onto a railroad tie, and then slipping down into the marsh.

I assume it’s a least weasel, and not the short tailed variety, due to its small size. It’s coat has already changed to all white, with the exception of it’s black-tipped tail. At approximately six inches long, the weasel is a little bundle of energy. I’ve never had a weasel in my wood shed, and I always felt like I was missing one of the most important aspects of burning wood for heat. I’ve had friends with a resident weasel, and Dick Proenneke famously wrote about his, which he named Milo, in his wonderful journal: “One Man’s Wilderness”. Of course, with a home territory of several acres, the weasel may have just been visiting the wood pile. Still, I’m hoping it takes up residence, even if that multi room condo will be decreasing in size as we progress through the winter months.

Weasels can be ferocious predators, and will take on animals much larger than themselves. With their high metabolic rate, weasels need to consume roughly 40% of their body weight daily.


End the month with a bear hug…


Photo credit: alaska.org


South Bound

The past few weeks, we have had an influx of visitors, as the sandhill crane population increased exponentially. A few stragglers still remain, but most have headed further south on their annual autumn migration. I will miss their prehistoric trumpet from the marsh as they winter Outside.


The Passenger Pigeon


Martha

Martha, the world’s last passenger pigeon, died on this day in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo. Martha was believed to be 29 at the time of her death. The last known nest with an egg was found in 1895 near Minneapolis. They were both collected.

The passenger pigeon bred around the Great Lakes of North America; their range was vast: from the Atlantic coast to the Rocky Mountains and from southern Canada to Mississippi. They numbered between 3-5 billion at their peak. Migrating in huge flocks, constantly searching for food, the passenger pigeon could fly at speeds of up to 62 mph. Flocks of passenger pigeons were often described as being a mile wide and 300 miles long, darkening the sky for hours, and even days as they passed overhead.

“The air was literally filled with Pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse; the dung fell in spots, not unlike melting flakes of snow, and the continued buzz of wings had a tendency to lull my senses to repose… I cannot describe to you the extreme beauty of their aerial evolutions, when a hawk chanced to press upon the rear of the flock. At once, like a torrent, and with a noise like thunder, they rushed into a compact mass, pressing upon each other towards the center. In these almost solid masses, they darted forward in undulating and angular lines, descended and swept close over the earth with inconceivable velocity, mounted perpendicularly so as to resemble a vast column, and, when high, were seen wheeling and twisting within their continued lines, which then resembled the coils of a gigantic serpent… Before sunset I reached Louisville, distant from Hardensburgh fifty-five miles. The Pigeons were still passing in undiminished numbers and continued to do so for three days in succession.”
— John James Audubon in 1813

100 years later, the passenger pigeon would be extinct.


Wild Alaska Live

A review:

PBS has a new three part series that started Sunday evening, called “Wild Alaska Live”. The premise of the show, is that producers have several “live” cameras distributed around Alaska, which they then broadcast. The show is a partnership between PBS and the producers of BBC Earth. Living in Alaska, I expect that none of it was actually broadcast live, but maybe it was somewhere.

The first episode centers around the salmon run, and camera footage comes from Tongass, Katmai and Kenai Fjords. I’m not sure who the Kratt boys are, but I assume that they do a kid’s show on PBS. They can be difficult to take, as they constantly wave their arms and talk to the camera like they are talking to a seven year old. Whenever they came into view, I wanted to grab their arms and duct tape their hands behind their backs. Early in the show, the Kratts were standing on a map of Alaska, trying to point out the locations of the cameras, and I found myself shouting directions at the TV, since they obviously had no idea where the Chilkat River was in the state.

Sigh…

From what I’ve seen in the first episode, the pre-recorded bits were the best, and the most informative. The show is worth watching for those parts alone. The footage is quite good, and simply seeing the incredible number of salmon in the streams will amaze viewers who are not familiar with our salmon runs. As for the Kratts, Alaskans will just have to suffer through, and hope that some young viewers get excited about Wild Alaska because of their antics.

The second episode airs on Wednesday.

WAL logo credit: PBS


Welcome to Yakutat

While en route to the Yakutat Lodge, two people in a car were charged by an agitated bear. A warning to anyone contemplating picking up a hitchhiker.