April 26, 2012 | Vol.42 No. 17

Wild Things

Nature in the Chilkat Valley

By Pam Randles

Despite the record snowfall, spring has arrived on time as measured by the arrival of bird and mammal species and emergence of plants. 

Robins, varied thrushes, hummingbirds, ruby-crowned kinglets, surf scoters, kingfishers, sapsuckers and juncos have all arrived on time. Skunk cabbage, pussywillows and red-emporer tulips have all emerged on schedule.  Sooty (blue) grouse, pygmy and saw-whet owls have been hooting. Mosquitoes and bears are out. Herring are here and hooligan should arrive soon.  

Most of these animals and plants vary in their arrival, singing, and emerging dates, but there is a range of dates.  For example, since 1999, hummingbirds have arrived somewhere between March 26 and May 2. This year, they arrived April 10. Likewise, robins arrived on March 30, the middle of their March 1 to April 30 range. Varied thrushes are typically first heard between March 1 and April 30. This year it was March 28.

During the bird-banding training, held here April 15-22, banders noticed that male ruby-crowned kinglets come in to stake territories about a week before the females arrive to hear their lovely songs. Volunteers also banded robins, juncos, sparrows, chickadees and one sharp-shinned hawk. In case you thought snipe were something you sent your little brother to hunt in the dark, they really do exist. The banders caught one.  

Banders saw ravens, crows, northern harriers, Canada geese, trumpeter swans, merlins, kestrels, a red-tailed hawk, mallards, goldeneyes, hummingbirds, herons, jays and gulls. It’s a busy time of year for the migrators, and there are many more to come.  Look for olive green and yellow warblers next. Some of these species are here to breed during the summer, but others are passing through on their way farther north.

Herring and hooligan draw in many birds as well as sea mammals. A pod of orcas visited Lutak Inlet on April 18.  The orcas are on the hunt for seals and sea lions. Harbor seals and Steller sea lions are fishing on both sides of the peninsula. Humpback whale sightings should be taking place more often as May progresses.

The surf scoters started to raft up at the end of March, arriving from farther south along the North American coast. When they first arrive, they molt into breeding plumage before choosing mates and traveling further inland to nest and raise their young. They gather in large rafts.   

It is a busy time of year and there is much to see. Step outside in the early morning to hear the bird symphony. Watch the water for clusters of bird indicating balls of fish coming in; look for the sea mammals that are fishing there as well.  Soon a kaleidoscope of flowers will bloom. 

If you have questions or observations, please visit our website, www.takshanuk.org to add your observations and photos, or call the Takshanuk Watershed Council, 766-3542.