Tag Archives: predator

PHANTOM OF SOLOMAN GULCH

60-18-1Sneaking a peek from the thicket of salmon berry and mountain ash a brown bear checks to see if the coast is clear.  The bruin wants to get to the spawning pink salmon but is often kept away by a herd of nosy and noisy bad mannered tourists.  When the bear does arrive, rather than giving the bear plenty of room to feed,  tourists often crowd the bear hastening his departure before he has had his fill.

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Left:  Soloman Gulch

60-18-5The brown bear, hungry but shy pauses as he works up the courage to approach the salmon and the tourists. This reluctance is something I share with the big brown bear.

60-18-9 (2)As the tide moves out exposing fish killed by feeding Stellar’s sea lions,  the lanky brown bear cleans up.  The Stellar’s sea lions, are afraid of the bear and move away from shore.

61-18-4Like the brown bear, Stellar’s sea lions come to Soloman Gulch to feed on the millions of pink salmon arriving here to spawn.  Over the past twenty -five years, I have witnessed an increasing number of Sellar’s sea lions spending the first week of July near the mouth of Soloman Gulch.   This year I counted over one hundred sea lions together at a nearby resting site during low tide.

5504Pink salmon by the millions arrive at the mouth of Soloman Gulch to spawn.

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A stellar’s sea lion bites a pink salmon in half.  This is a common technique used by some of the sea lions.  I overheard some guy telling his wife that they bite them in half so they can swallow the fish in two pieces.  But what actually is happening is a bit different.  Like the bears, the lea lions soon tire of a straight diet of salmon and quickly begin to be more selective.  What they want more than anything are the eggs.  That’s why both bears and sea lions both often drop the males soon often they are caught.  When a sea lion catches an egg-laden female salmon they may bite hard  at the head end of the fish then violently jerk the fish to the side, ripping it in half and keeping the salmon head and guts along with the eggs in its mouth.  The photo above shows the sea lion had the wrong end of the salmon and was left with just a tail.  Visitors often comment on how wasteful the sea lions are but nothing really goes to wast.  Bears, gulls, bald eagles, sea otters, harbor seals get what the sea lions leave behind, not to mention all the other hungry fish and crabs and other marine scavengers.

60-18-10 (2)The brown bear grabs a small salmon and carries it back to the seclusion of Soloman Gulch.

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HAWK OWLS, HOME HUNTING

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A pair of northern hawk owls check out the view from atop a prospective nesting cavity. Hawk owls, like other owls, do not build a nest but use natural cavities and bowled out snags.  The male establishes a territory that includes potential nests sites, but it seems to be the female who makes the final choice of snags.

northern hawk owl sits hidden on its nest, Alaska

After settling on another snag, the female incubates her eggs.  Hawk owls nest early, usually in late April and will endure winter conditions.

Check out my photo story about northern hawk owls in the May 2018 issue of RANGER RICK,  Just click the link below.

NORTHERN NESTERS

 

SECRET LIFE OF A FOREST HUNTER-PART 3

DSC4708At nearly four weeks a fledged great gray owlet has jumped from its nest to the forest floor.  Free from the confines of the nest, (I too am finally freed from the solitary confinement of my photo blind)  the owlet walks and leaps to a place to perch.

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Fledged owlets move about fifty to a hundred feet every day,  picking out a slanting tree to climb.   The ground is a dangerous place for the young, flightless owls. The mobile owl family becomes more difficult to locate by the day.

 

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DSC3553Adults continue to care for their owlets.  The female (above), usually staying near the owlets, will do some hunting when an opportunity presents itself.

DSC3700The female with a young snowshoe hare delivered by her mate.

DSC3245The snowshoe hare, large prey for a great gray owl, will feed her and her owlets for a day.  The prey is cached on the ground between feedings.

DSC3803Female perches on log after caching the snowshoe hare.

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Adult female drinking.

DSC4875Regurgitated great gray owl pellets and white spruce cones on a bed of sphagnum moss below an owlets perch.

DSC5028Female delivers her owlet a freshly caught red-backed vole.  Fledged owlets swallow voles whole.

DSC4858A tough job but it must be done.

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SECRET LIFE OF A FOREST HUNTER- PART 2

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Female great gray owl holds another red-backed vole just delivered by her mate.  The well fed owlets are not hungry at the moment so the vole will be placed in the nest for later.  For nearly four weeks I had a rare and intimate view of the owls family life at the nest.

DSC7601As the female raises up from her brooding, she gives me my first look at the tiny owlets.

DSC9643The owlets hatching over a period of about a week account for their age and size difference.  Competition among the owls for food favors the older owlets.  The smallest owlet, here just a couple of days old, could not hold its own and one morning it was gone.

Watch video of male delivering a red-backed vole. (above)

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After a couple of weeks there is no longer a need for constant brooding and the female finally gets a little time to herself.  But even then she stays close and alert for danger.  One day a pair of ravens hung around the nest in an attempt to harass her from the nest long enough to steal a chick.  She held tight and her mate arrived to chase the ravens about.  Eventually the ravens left.

OWLS IN THE FAMILY

DSC4140As the female perched near the nest her mate arrives with prey and she follows him in.DSC3045

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Arriving at the nest the female takes possession of the red-backed vole from  her mate. (right)    After a brief pause at the nest the male is off again to continue hunting. (below)DSC3370-b

Visit next week for the final post in this series, SECRET LIFE OF A FOREST HUNTER-PART THREE

 

 

 

 

SECRET LIFE OF A FOREST HUNTER- PART ONE

 

DSC6522A female great gray owl spreads her wings as she gently lands on the edge of her nest to resume incubating her four eggs.   For two months this nest is the nucleus of activity for a pair of great gray owls.  Owls do not build their own nests. Instead they use a variety of ready-made and vacant nests, like this one built many years before by northern goshawks.  The great grays I had photographed three decades ago in Idaho prefered the bowled out tops of large broken pine trees for their nests.

DSC7359Eggs laid in the third week of April must be protected from the weather, as incubation begins with the first egg. The female does all the incubating and will sit on her eggs for thirty days.

DSC7473To gain access to the nesting great grays, more than fifty feet above the forest floor, I scabbed two long extensions ladders together and added an additional extension using two by fours.  I had located the nest thirteen years ago.  The three-foot wide nest was built by northern goshawks in a towering quaking aspen. Every spring I’d hike to the remote nest site to check its status. Goshawks had used the nest only once during the last thirteen years.

 

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From my self-imposed confinement in the lofty, swaying photo blind, I witnessed much more than just the daily activities of the great gray owls.  The female owl and I watched red squirrels, that rarely seen red squirrel predator, the marten, groups of migrating caribou, and a variety of bird life.  Early one morning, not long after arriving, a huffing grizzly bear sow and yearling cub who had caught my scent quickly moved off beneath the blind.  Once a curious cow moose who could hear my camera clicking finally looked up.

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DSC2049A couple of times a day the female flies off the nest to drink, cast her pellet and perhaps stretch before returning to her precious clutch of eggs.

DSC6427The male hunts for his mate and has just arrived with prey, a baby red squirrel.  The male, who hunts during the day using sight and sound, is an opportunist and preys on a variety of small birds and mammals.  Red-backed voles are by far the most important prey but shrews, small birds, and young snowshoe hares are also prey.  Adult red squirrels are usually too alert and quick to be given much attention by the hunting male.  But young squirrels, probably raided from their grass and sphagnum nests, are regularly on the menu.

SNOWSHOE HARES

 

DSC9993In early March, snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) tracks began to appear where none had been all winter long. I guess the solitary males are out and about looking for females. The snowshoe hare cycle has been on the upswing for a couple of years but the hares are still uncommon in most of the black spruce forests around our place on the northern edge of Wrangell/St. Elias National Park. High quality hare habitat, mixed forests with willow and alder thickets are the nucleus of hare populations and often the only places where hares are common during low-cycle years . These “bunny patches” are where snowshoe hares multiply and disperse.  A rising (or falling) hare population has a big impact on most predators and their prey.  With snowshoe hare populations locally low, their main predators, lynx, red fox, northern goshawks, great horned owls and even northern hawk owls are low as well.  Low numbers of predators has relieved pressure on prey species such as spruce grouse and snowshoes allowing them to recover.  Grouse populations have the ability to rebound rather quickly as we have seen them do locally.  All these cycles are driven to a large degree by the rise and fall of snowshoe hares. Continue reading

THE MARTEN

49-20-5The marten scrapes out a tough living in the northern forests.  The largely nocturnal members of the weasel family, prey on small birds and mammals.

49-37-2A tireless traveler, the marten (Martes americana) leaves an endless line of tracks through the Alaskan wilderness.  Like other members of the weasel family, martens successfully hunt quick prey like the red squirrel and snowshoe hare in deep snow. Tracks are the most common sign of the presence of martens.  Following or backtracking marten tracks will tell a story of what this tough, little predator has been up to and gives clues to their habits. Though they are seldom very common, martens are not endangered over most of their range.  But martens are so shy and secretive that little is known about their mysterious lives.   Old growth  forests with large trees and numerous standing and fallen dead trees are a martens prefered habitat, providing cover, food, shelter and cavities for their dens. Continue reading

SONG OF THE BOREAL

 

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For the past six weeks or so we have been delighted by the nocturnal trilling song of a little boreal owl.   I believe the male has claimed our little forested yard as his own.  He sings almost every night from one of the old northern flicker cavities in the black spruce stand surrounding our home.  With his little round head filling up the hole he serenades the darkness, or sometimes accompanies the glow and flicker of the aurora.

Click on the left side of the audio bar to hear the song of the boreal owl.

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The boreal owl is a nocturnal hunter of voles, shrews, flying squirrels  and small birds.

LAMBS AND RAMS

14-16-45 “Some day I’m going to be king of this mountain.”

Once again I have made the trek into the sheep hills to photograph the majestic dall sheep.  Its getting tougher, the mountains bigger, but fear if I ever quite, I’ll probably just keel over.

As I struggled up the mountainside towards the distant white dots, I paused on the edge of a deep canyon to catch my breath.  From across the canyon and out of the deep green of the spruce forest came a shrill screaming.  Sounding like the death scream of a snowshoe hare, just not quite.  I had an idea what was making that sound.  An hour later I stood among a group of ewes and lambs. Suddenly  the whole herd spooked.  They dashed to a ridge top and stared back down. Continue reading

LIFE CYCLE OF PINK SALMON

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Pink salmon show up in estuaries in early July by the millions. Pink salmon are Alaska’ most common salmon species.  They also have the shortest life cycle than other salmon species.  Pinks return to freshwater to spawn when they are two years old and immediately begin to  change from silver to green and dark gray.  And, males form hooked jaws and humped backs. Continue reading