Summers, even cold ones, are an active time for animals in the northern hemisphere. It is the time most of them reproduce. For some mammals, it’s the only time they’re active.
Eagles laid their eggs later than usual this year, and as of June 17, were still sitting on eggs. In recent years, they seemed to lay their eggs in the first week of May, and all within a day or two of each other. Gestation is 32 days, so they should be hatching soon.
Large rafts of 800 or more surf scoters and white-winged scoters have been in Lutak Inlet. They arrived in Lynn Canal early and seem to be staying late. They should be dispersing to nest soon, to return in August with their young to stage and fly south to their wintering grounds.
Sub-adult bears have been quite visible. In 2009, there were at least 10 cubs born on the Chilkoot side alone. They have now “graduated” and are trying to find their place. These bears have been habituated to people and aren’t as wary as they should be. They’re looking areas to feed without trouble from bigger, older bears or people. They look long-legged and shaggy right now, as they are still thin from hibernation. They shed their winter coats this time of year and will grow new fur before fall. Shedding starts from their feet up and from the back toward the front.
Right now they’re eating vegetation, awaiting the influx of pink salmon due in about a month. They’ll eat roots, insects, intertidal clams, fungi or other small animals, in addition to vegetation. There is variation in the diet depending on what is available.
One creature we often over look is bats. While some bats pass through in summer, only one species hibernates in Southeast, myotis lucifugus, or Little Brown Bat. They breed in late fall or winter and young are born in June or July. After a month in the roost or hanging on mom’s stomach, they fledge. They’ve been known to live up to 20 years.
Bats consume large quantities of flying insects, as many as 1,000 per bat, per night. Some people build bat boxes to attract them for their insect-control skills.
Another small mammal whose young are achieving independence now is the red squirrel. Squirrels gather prodigious amounts of cones – a cache may be 15-18 feet in diameter and three feet deep. They also eat seeds, berries, buds and fungi, stashing mushrooms in tree branches for storage.
They may also eat insects and birds’ eggs. In the Yukon Territory, scientists found squirrels are adapting to climate change by having young earlier. The ideal time for a squirrel to have young is immediately after snow is gone
Young born early mature early and can claim territories before other squirrels. For ones born too early, there’s no food or warmth, so timing is everything. Over the 14 years of the Yukon study, scientists found that squirrels gave birth 18 days earlier on average than their forbears. This was the first known genetic response to climate change recorded in mammals.
Squirrels will help their pups find territories in crowded areas. Females will give up their territory to their pup and find another for themselves. They know who their relatives are, and sister squirrels will have sleepovers on cold nights. Squirrels have also been observed to adopt their sister’s pups if the sister dies.
If you have questions or observations, visit www.takshanuk.org and add your observations and photos, or call the Takshanuk Watershed Council, 766-3542.