Tag Archives: wilderness

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

NESTING FLICKERS

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A female northern flicker approaches the nesting cavity.

Life at the nest of northern flickers is at a frantic level.  Most of the long, Alaskan summer days keeps the adults working at a breathless pace.  The pair at this nest take turns guarding the nest from the resident red squirrel or trespassing northern flickers and taking forays out into the black spruce forest to hunt for their main food, wood ants and their larva.  When the female arrives back at the nest cavity with food for the young, the male departs.

To listen to the audio clip, click on left side of the bar. Volume at right.   Adult male northern flicker responds to his mate appearing near the nest.  Then listen as female enters nesting cavity to feed chicks. Continue reading

RUFFED RHYTHM

28A ruffed grouse male moves slowly through thick cover as it feeds on buds, last years berries and new leaves.

Interior Alaska is definitely spruce grouse country.  But along creeks and river bottoms, in old burns, in fact almost anywhere where several species of trees grow in thickets, narrow veins of ruffed grouse habitat can be found.  Along the Slana River not far from where it enters the still modest Copper River,  aspen, poplar, birch, white and black spruce, alder and a jumble of willow species form thickets where the cryptic ruffed grouse lives.  Rose and high bush cranberry in the understory provide year round food for the few grouse that survive there. Continue reading

BEASTS OF THE BUOY

61-16-7Stellar’s sea lions rest on a buoy marking the most remote edge of the Copper River Delta.

Stellar’s sea lions love to hang out on buoys.  Safe from rare but ever-present packs of killer whales, the same sea lions that are so timid and quick to disappear when approached by our boat, feel no desire to leave the buoy.

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61-16-6As they are rocked to sleep, the constant clanging of the bell must be something of a lullaby.