September 22, 2011 |

Wild Things

It’s fall. Leaves are beginning to turn. Nights are getting colder. Conventional wisdom says we won’t get snow until Halloween. The fireweed says we will get it sooner. Want to place a bet?

Eaglets born in June have now fledged. See them along sandbars, foraging easy pickings of spawned-out pink salmon. The youngest have dark chocolate plumage. Age will bring increasing numbers of white feathers until they molt into the classic white head and tail of maturity.

Many birds are molting. They tend to look a bit scruffy. Ducks have an interesting molt pattern. In the springtime, drakes have brightly colored breeding plumage that attracts the ladies, and also predators. This time of year they molt into a more cryptic "eclipse" plumage that can make them hard to tell from females or juveniles.

Ducks mate in spring, then separate. Females raise young and males move to not attract predators to the nest. This time of year, they reunite to fly south. Along Lutak Inlet, surf scoters gather in rafts before flying south to waters off the West Coast.

Above-average rain means mushrooms are everywhere. Harvesters reported plenty of delicious boletes. The same weather and timing bring slime molds together. Molds come in many colors. One common type looks like scrambled eggs on the forest floor. These single-celled organisms seem to be made out of something like shaving cream and hunt for bacteria in the soil.

  When conditions are right, they send a chemical signal into the soil and gather in thousands on the surface to reproduce. For a few days, you may see a small serving of "scrambled eggs" on an old log. It travels an inch a day for several days, then it appears to dry up and disappear. It gathers in a mass, dissolves its cell walls, and exchanges DNA to form gametes that become spores. Spores are projected into the air, and the cycle starts again.

Have you seen the Chilkoot bear with four cubs? Numbers of cubs are directly related to how much weight a sow puts on during pregnancy. Bears mate in May and June, but eggs don’t implant. In this way, it’s possible for a bear to be "a little bit pregnant." She feeds all summer then goes to den, when eggs implant. The number depends on how much extra weight she has put on. With only enough pounds to get through winter, there will be no cubs. A sow with four cubs was able to gain a huge amount.    

At the end of September, the pink salmon run will dwindle on the Chilkoot. Eagles there will begin to move to the Chilkat as late runs of coho and chum start up there. As salmon runs dissipate on coastal streams to the south, eagles there will fly north to the Chilkat. Outside eagles visit Chilkoot first, then McClellan Flats, the Klehini River and finally the world-famous "council grounds" at the Tsirku River fan.

Sept. 23 marks the autumnal equinox, so until next spring, nights will be longer than days.

Call Pam Randles at the Takshanuk Watershed Council, 766-3542, with your questions or observations.