I feel a little silly blogging while the virus rages on, but if you’re like me, you need to be forced to escape the overabundance of depressing news and updates. Just feel free to ignore my frivolous posts if they don’t suit you!
It is hard not to talk about Alaska without boasting about its wildlife. Summer, of course, is more plentiful, especially with the grizzlies, but we have found winter to be just as awesome.
More often than sightings, it’s the stories and clues left in the snow. One of the first things we like to do after a fresh layer of snow is discover what animals passed through our property. Did a moose graze our front windows while we slept? Was the animal running or moseying slowly? Did something investigate our outhouse? This new way to experience wildlife has truly been exciting.
When we hit local trails, the tracks are endless. We follow paths forged by moose, caribou, lynx & wolves (sometimes hard to tell the footprints apart in the snow).
Wildlife spottings definitely happen, and seem to ebb and flow. When the snowpack and snowdrifts get so deep, the moose come to the roadsides more often for more beaten down paths. We’ve seen more moose than anything, and observing them for extended time periods never gets old. And often times, it’s a mama and baby, so seeing their patterns and behaviors really tells a tale. We always keep a safe distance when we’re outside and viewing them (we are truly more nervous of moose than bear).
The few times moose have come too close for comfort have been through our window when we catch them passing by our cabin! One time, we were laying in bed about to fall asleep and heard a noise outside. Looked out the window to see 2 moose in passing. Another time, we were sitting on our couch and I turned to say something to Justin and saw a moose at our window. Shortly thereafter, her calf passes. Had I not turned at that moment, we probably would have missed them! And we are certain there have been many other times we actually have missed them walking by.
During the first week of March, our human neighbors were reporting a lynx roaming our street nearly every afternoon. Try as we might, we never did see that lynx. We have seen one here crossing a road back in October, but we would love to observe a lynx for more than a quick glimpse, and of course, capture a photo. We’ve also heard wolves, and seen a herd of caribou on our road back in the fall once. I’m sure there’s much more to come the longer we hang here.
Okay wait, I lied. I said we’ve seen more moose than anything, but I forgot about our wild pet. PB, the snowshoe hare who hung out the entire winter by our outhouse. (Aptly named “PB” for Poop Bunny). At one point, there were 2 PBs. Maybe more. They all look the same. We hadn’t seen any PBs in at least a month, and I was starting to think they had been eaten by their predators after avoiding them all winter. But just on Tuesday, we woke up to PB prints, and smaller PB prints!! So I’m hoping PB was in a breeding period and baby snowshoe hares will soon make their appearance!!
Anyway, the adaptations for snowshoe hares are pretty fascinating for avoiding prey (which are mainly lynx; those 2 populations are linked). Their coat turns winter white to blend in with the snow (reddish brown to camouflage with the forest in the summer), and they have large hind feet to hop quickly (30+ MPH!) across the snow without sinking.
Can’t forget about the birds! While 150 species of birds migrate to Alaska in the summer, with its abundant food resources and nesting locations, not many stay for the winter. Even the arctic ground squirrels hibernate! The birds that keep residence in the winter include ravens, grouse & Alaska’s state bird, ptarmigan.
Corvids, such as the jet-black ravens, lose heat at a slower rate and can sustain the frigid temps; they’re internal body temperature remains at about 107 degrees. They are also incredibly smart and follow wolves to feed on their fresh kills of moose & caribou. Or they roost close to town, hanging out in the grocery store parking lot feeding on blowing garbage (quite sad to watch from a Leave No Trace standpoint). Grouse and ptarmigan also feed on the ground, but on more natural items, like birch twigs & willow buds. Sometimes they even burrow and make tunnels through the snow layer to provide shelter and warmth.
Most of the others simply cannot maintain their body temperatures or find enough food. This makes a winter walk through the boreal forests of Alaska so quiet (aside from the squeaking snow). So when the cacophony of birdsong returns, it is hard to ignore. We had a small dose of spring, and saw some magpies, juncos and chickadees return. I’m sure more to come in the next few weeks.
I think that’s all I have to say about wildlife … until we get our ideal lynx sighting, PB babies makes an appearance and bears start coming out of hibernation.