November 22, 2012 | Volume 42, No. 47

Wild Things

It’s eagle month. November is the time when we see the greatest number of eagles visiting the Chilkat Valley. And there can be some surprising sights. A couple of tourists reported seeing two swans run two juvenile eagles off a salmon carcass. The swans then proceeded to chow down on the salmon. Believed by some to be herbivores, swans actually are omnivores, eating invertebrates (insects and crustaceans) and small vertebrates. They aren’t built to capture a salmon, but will willingly eat one an eagle catches. At more than twice the weight of eagles, swans can displace the smaller raptors.

There have been some other surprising observations recently. Mike Denker reported seeing a red-winged blackbird fly in front of his car a while back. These birds are rarely seen here, but do occasionally show up.

The Lendes had an odd creature move into their woodpile last summer. It looked like a marmot, woodchuck, or ground squirrel.  It was helping itself to their chicken feed. The Chilkat Forest Investigators set up a camera trap and identified the critter as an arctic ground squirrel.  These ground squirrels are common enough in the pass, but unusual in the lowlands.

Marlena Saupe noticed an Anna’s hummingbird at her feeder late into the season.  This isn’t the first time a late season Anna’s has been observed.  They have been seen as late as November. Anna’s are rare here, but can occur as far north as Anchorage.  Hummingbirds seem to be moving north. Fairbanks reported their first this year, a rufous hummer.

Jim Shook noticed that there seem to be an unusually high number of red-breasted nuthatches this year. Others have verified that report. These birds don’t usually winter in the North or at high elevations, unless there’s sufficient food. These birds are among several local species that are irruptive, meaning populations can see dramatic fluctuations from year to year in relation to food availability. Often their local food source is conifer cones. Waxwings, chickadees, siskins, redpolls and crossbills are examples of local irruptive species. If one of these species has a good summer, the population can increase ,which can then lead to a subsequent food shortage, causing the birds to move to another more abundant location.

You may have noticed that our rafts of mussel-feeding ducks look a little different now.  Usually in spring and fall, we see large rafts of surf scoters in near shore waters.  Then in winter, they disappear and are replaced by goldeneyes.  Recently the rafts have been mixed species – Barrow’s and common goldeneyes, and surf and white-winged scoters, along with a single long-tailed duck, some random common mergansers and the occasional harlequin duck.  Watch to see which birds stay and which go south.

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.