In 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 scrapes out a tough living in the northern forests. The largely nocturnal members of the weasel family, prey on small birds and mammals.
A 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 →
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.
The boreal owl is a nocturnal hunter of voles, shrews, flying squirrels and small birds.
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 →
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 →
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 →
A 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 →
Stellar’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.
As they are rocked to sleep, the constant clanging of the bell must be something of a lullaby.
Technically, spring has arrived in the Alaskan Interior, but winter is rather reluctant to let go. So for the past three years I have left home in the first week of April to see if spring is having any better luck taking hold along the coast-about a hundred miles away as the raven flies. I am not disappointed. Spring is in full swing. But the weather along the coast is, as usual wet and windy. So once again I settle into a familiar routine, hanging out in a sheltered bay where sea otters congregate during unsettled weather and indulging in the very enjoyable task of observing and photographing the gentle and photogenic sea otters. Continue reading →
Overflow ice floods Rufus Creek as Aurora Borealis dance.
Rufus Creek flows through our ten acres of black spruce forest on its way North to the Slana River. The northern boreal forest is a patchwork of dynamic land forms and plant communities, niches that a few hardy species of wildlife can exploit. Diversity of life here is low but the species and settings are spectacular. Continue reading →