Wild Things


July 7, 2011

The fish are running, the birds are singing, and it isn’t raining. Between April and June of this year we have only had 3 inches of rainfall. Last year during that time, we had 21 inches.

Birds move large distances to find suitable habitat, and thus are sensitive indicators of habitat and climate change. Audubon recently published a report based on the Christmas Count (a survey of bird numbers in December all over the nation) that showed some major movements of bird wintering grounds. The report found that large numbers of birds are moving significant distances north.

The purple finch has moved 433 miles north into the Yukon. Birds seen in Haines have moved as well: Marbled murrelets 362 miles north, pine siskins 288 miles north, and black bellied plovers 114 miles north. 

Additionally, we have seen increasing numbers of summer birds coming here including mountain bluebirds, western tanagers, eurasian collared doves and caspian terns. Interestingly, caspian terns are endangered in their home near the Caspian Sea, but are increasing in America.

On the other hand, rufous hummingbirds have declined 60 percent in the last four decades, and northern pintails have declined 71 percent. The issue for the pintails is loss of breeding habitat due to increasing farmland. Our hummingbirds usually arrive in April and hit our feeders hard. Then they seem to disappear during nesting time, only to reappear about now to fatten up for their migration south in late July and August.

Now is the time when we see many young animals. The mountain goat nannies are traveling with their young in nursery herds, while the males tend to be loners.  Eaglets are getting large enough to be seen in the nests. They will continue to grow through August.  Then they will actually be larger than their parents because they have "training feathers," extra large flight feathers to help them stay in the air while they are learning.

This summer there have been many reports of large numbers of red-backed voles, red squirrels and shrews, as well as butterflies. Several people have reported crows with leg bands and a crow with a dart in its breast. If you see crows with bands or with deformed beaks, please report them to: http://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/landbirds/beak_deformity/observerreport.html.The sockeye salmon have started running. Soon the pinks, chum and silvers will head up our rivers. These fish are such a fundamental part of our economics and ecosystem.  Obviously commercial, subsistence and sport fishermen, and fish processors depend on the salmon. So does tourism, as our visitors come to see the eagles, bears and other animals that feed on salmon. Even the forest depends on the salmon. Research has shown trees near salmon streams grow faster and larger due to the marine source nitrogen that the salmon bring back from the ocean. We truly live in a salmon forest.

Fish and Game monitors salmon escapement, which is the number of salmon that escape fishermen and are thus able to spawn. These fish are counted at weirs and fish wheels.  If we hope to continue fishing into the future, we must make sure enough salmon get past us to spawn. On average, 60,000 sockeye salmon escape to spawn in Chilkoot Lake and 78,000 in Chilkat Lake.

As the pink salmon begin to run, we will be able to see bears more often, especially on the lower Chilkoot River. Until they climb to hibernate, they will be eating large numbers of fish to assure they will survive hibernation. The survival of bears and cubs depends on the fish, and it is important that people allow them to eat undisturbed and stay at a distance. You can tell if you are too close by watching the bear’s body language; are they moving away from you? Are they turning sideways or huffing? Are they walking stiff-legged or are their ears back? Our Chilkoot bears are tolerant of people to a point. It is important for them and us not to go beyond that point. If you have questions about bears, call Parks Specialist Shannon Donahue.

If you have questions or observations, please call Pam Randles at the Takshanuk Watershed Council, 766-3542.


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