October 18, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 42

Wild Things

By Pam Randles

Noble Anderson saw four sea otters swimming in Portage Cove. Usually we see river otters in our waters foraging for starry flounder and blue mussels. Sea otters tend to prefer outer coastal waters, especially submerged reefs off rocky beaches where they live in kelp forests foraging for urchins, shellfish, octopus and fish. Some researchers think sea otters are able to identify and avoid clams that contain the PSP toxin, keeping them out of the inner waters of Southeast Alaska.

Sally McGuire noticed two juvenile sharp-shinned hawks chasing Northwest crows in front of her house along Chilkoot River. The small hawks were relentless in pursuing the slightly larger crows and were able to knock the crows out of the sky.

In recent weeks, newly fledged birds chatter away and bulk up for migration or winter. It is easy to tell the young ones in the corvid family – jays, crows and ravens. As nestlings, they have bright red mouths telling parents exactly where to put the food. It takes a year or so for the red color to fade. If you see a jay, crow or raven with a red mouth, it’s a juvenile.

Cranberry hunters are out. What makes berries plentiful and big? Mild weather in May and June, followed by rain in late summer makes for the biggest berries. Insects pollinate early and do a better job if weather makes it easy. Unfortunately for local berry pickers, May and June were colder than normal, according to the National Weather Service. June and July were slightly rainier, but August was relatively dry. Due to microclimate variations, there may be pockets of good picking.

Mary Bryant noticed white fireweed growing near Tower Road’s water tower. White fireweed is a rare variety of fireweed that is sought after by gardeners and photographers. It occurs naturally, but rarely. Some sources say the seeds are sterile, so the plant propagates by underground stems known as rhizomes.

Most Alaskans know fireweed blooms from the bottom to the top, on a schedule in synch with summer. The plant may have a strategy for this progression. When blossoms first emerge, they have only male stamens, with purple-green pollen grains.  As they mature, the female pistil emerges to receive the pollen. Bees, the plant’s primary pollinator, start at the bottom and fly upward, seeking nectar and gathering pollen. Then they move on to the next plant, starting again at the bottom. So at the top of one plant, the pollinator is picking up pollen from the newest blossoms, then taking it to the pistil at the bottom of the next plant. This progression promotes cross-pollination.

Dark bald eagle juveniles fledged and left their nests in mid-September. They were born during the first week of June and were almost ready to graduate in August.  That first flight can be a bit difficult for the young eaglets. Some get it textbook perfect on the first try, but others are a bit wobbly, or don’t get that first landing quite right.  Parents urge the youngsters to take the plunge and may go so far as to put food in a neighboring tree. 

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