This seems like a quiet time of year for wildlife viewing. Many of the summer animals have gone elsewhere or hibernated. There’s still quite a bit of activity, and it’s easier to see without leaves on the trees. Rafts of goldeneyes swim in inlets and tracks tell the stories of birds and small mammals in the snow. Can you read them?
It was a surprise to see about 500 bald eagles at the eagle preserve’s council grounds after New Year’s. By mid-December, numbers typically decline to 500 or so, and by January, even fewer. This year, ground counts showed only 855 birds in mid-November, compared to a norm of about 1,100. So it was a surprise to see as many birds in January as there were at November’s end, but maybe not that rare. Counts from the early 1990s show numbers hitting 1,400 and 1,700 in mid-December. It seems access to fish and open water may be more important to birds than our calendar.
Are you seeing magpies? Jays? If so, where? Magpies seem to be observed in town in winter more than summer. What is happening up the highway, out at Lutak, or Mud Bay? What time of year do you see magpies? Send me an email with your magpie and jay observations, firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to our website and enter your observations. We’re trying to track their seasonal movements.
Chuck Susie has observed a Harris’s sparrow at his feeder in Klukwan. This may be a record for Haines. Harris’s sparrows have not been seen here previously. These birds are listed as rare in Southeast Alaska, but times are changing. In recent years we have seen our first western tanagers and Eurasian collared doves, and mountain bluebirds and mourning doves have become more common. Harris’s is a large sparrow with a pink bill and black markings on its face and breast.
Laurie Mastrella and her family saw a large owl hunting in the daylight at the bottom of Cemetery Hill. It looked like a harrier and had a lot of white. It turned out to be a short-eared owl coursing over the grasslands looking for small mammals. They usually summer farther north and winter farther south, but we are on their migratory path. Several other folks have reported seeing these owls along the Chilkat River. Jim and Deb Stanford saw one up at 25 Mile. Ten species of owls have been reported in the valley.
Several people have seen overwintering robins. This happens every few years. It can happen when the robins had a successful summer and there are lots of surviving newborns. Their territories will expand, and they seem to be able to find food here. Of course the climate change question is: Is this happening more often? This winter, robins have been reported as far north as Anchorage at APRN reporter Steve Heimel’s feeder.
It seems like it has been a colder and less snowy winter than normal. According to the National Weather Service, we have seen below-normal temperatures and snowfall every month since October. The monthly temperature has been between 3 and 9 degrees colder, and the snowfall between 2 and 7 inches less than normal. By contrast, this time last year we had 10 feet of snow.
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.