August 16, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 33

Wild Things

Tom Ganner, Don Chase and Jedediah Blum-Evits have noticed black-billed magpies along Haines Highway at 10 Mile and 22 Mile. Are they moving back into town for the winter or just hanging out? Magpie migrations are poorly understood in the Chilkat Valley, but they have been moving up north of the Alaska Range for the first time. 

Carol Duis saw otters at a Lutak beach and wondered if they were river or sea otters. River otters in our area frequent both rivers and the ocean beaches. On the beach they look for starry flounder and other delicacies. Sea otters don’t come in this far from the open ocean, which is much saltier than our glacier-fed fjords.

Scott Carey and Heidi Robichaud watched a moose eat a huge amount of skunk cabbage and ferns in their front yard.  Apparently moose have quite a taste for these plants and can consume large amounts.

People spotting brown eagles asked if they are juvenile bald eagles or golden eagles. Golden eagles have golden brown feathers on the back of their heads and necks, and feathered legs. Goldens tend to be in the mountains, hunting mammals and birds from the air. Immature bald eagles are brown with irregular, white mottling that increases until they molt into the classic white head and tail with a dark brown body. Bald eagles are fish eaters and hang around water bodies. 

Another common question is the differences between crows and ravens. We have northwestern crows, which are smaller than ravens by quite a bit (16 inches long with a 34-inch wingspan and a weight of about 13 ounces).  Common ravens average 24 inches long, with a wingspan of 53 inches and weight about 2.6 pounds.

Raven voices are much lower in pitch than crows, and ravens have a larger vocabulary of sounds. Sometimes when you spot a lone black bird, though, it can be hard to tell. In that case, look for the shape of the tail in flight. The raven has longer feathers in the middle of its tail than on the sides, giving the tail a wedge shape. Crow tail feathers are all of similar length, so the tail has a flatter, more semicircular shape. 

Mary Asper used to hate finding chickweed in her garden, but has changed her attitude. She has discovered that chickweed is tasty and makes wonderful smoothies.  Weeding has become foraging. 

Canadian botanists have taken offense at Alaskans calling invasive thistles Canada thistles. They claim America had the thistle first, not Canada. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has now changed the common name to creeping thistle to avoid the blame game. 

Speaking of invasives, Dwight Nash and Jan Hotze were dismayed to find orange hawkweed has invaded the property of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church.  Hawkweed propagates by making hundreds of tiny seeds, by sending out stolons and from tiny root fragments. It also crowds out native plants, stealing moisture and nutrients. It can hybridize with native hawkweeds. Mowing promotes reproduction. It is invasive so there are no biological controls and it’s very difficult to eradicate. Small infestations can be pulled. Some have had success by digging up the plants, stolons and roots along with several inches of soil, placing this in plastic bags and letting it rot before taking it to the dump. Treatment with selective herbicides can be effective, especially when applied in the rosette stage before the plants flower. Try mowing to stimulate production of rosettes, then spray. 

Some are predicting what kind of blueberry year it will be. We will soon find out. Edible mushrooms are also beginning to appear. Harvest time is upon us.

Look for young eaglets to begin flight practice for fledging in September. With the pink salmon in, bears will start to fatten up and lose their leggy look in favor of a spherical look. Biologist Randy Bachman says it is an even-numbered year, so the pink salmon numbers will be a bit lower than odd-numbered years. Pinks have a two-year life cycle, so eggs hatched in even-numbered years will return in even-numbered years.

If you have questions or observations, please call Pam Randles at the Takshanuk Watershed Council, 766-3542, or visit our website, and add your observations and photos.