Very few birch still have unshed leaves during the long Alaskan winter and most are just too high for the hares to reach. But this winter extra heavy snows, more than three feet deep in places, brought a limited amount of these prefered leaves within reach of the hares.
Alder is on a snowshoes “short list” of favorite winter foods. Of course leaves and small branches are prefered.
This snowshoe hare feeds on the bark of alpine birch. Hares often dig deep into the snow to reach the small twigs of blueberry. And, the large number of willow species found in these northern boreal forests are another important winter food.
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 →
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 →
This post is in support of the recent story that appeared in the February 2016 issue of Country Magazine. The story is about our families life in Alaska. The following photographs are some that did not make the final layout in the magazine. Several Country Magazine readers have requested to see more photos. This is for you. Continue reading →