So far, 2013 has been an unusual year for wildlife. Some of the players are missing and others are acting like it is spring in February.
Annie Shuder, Mario Benassi and Adrian Revenaugh report a noticeable lack of Steller’s jays in the upper Chilkat Valley. These jays have been reported in town and at Mud Bay, but seem to be absent from their usual winter habitat up the highway. On the other hand, Dwight Nash reports that the jays have shown up near his house much earlier than normal this year.
Ray Staska reported a flock of snow buntings. These birds are spring migrants, but usually not seen until later in the spring. He reported that some of them had reddish coloring. Those are the juvenile birds, probably born last summer and not in full adult plumage yet.
One characteristic sign of spring in Haines is the single note call of the varied thrush, usually first heard in March or April. But on Feb. 6, Laurie Dadourian heard a varied thrush call two times. This may be the earliest record of a varied thrush call. Previous records for first call range from March 1 to April 30.
Sylvia Heinz and two friends were skiing at about 1,800 feet on the Lutak side of Mount Ripinsky when they spied a very sleepy black bear ambling along. They watched it pass then followed its tracks back to its den, a small hole in the base of a large tree. Based on the tracks, that bear had just emerged from its den as the skiers watched.
Bear tracks also have been seen in the area of Small Tracts Road. If you see bears at this time of year, be very careful and give them a wide berth. They tend to be grumpy and hungry this time of year. Make sure to secure any attractants you may have, including trash cans.
Mario Benassi also reported a lack of young goshawks this year. He speculates that the deep snows of last winter made it difficult for adult goshawks to feed, so they may have been undernourished during the breeding season. Goshawks feed on grouse, rabbits and squirrels by launching an explosive attack from a perch. Deep snows offer grouse and rodents more places to hide making them harder to spot and catch.
Additionally, rabbits and ptarmigan turn white and match the snow in winter. After a tough winter, adults may not have the energy reserves to make eggs.
Several people have reported seeing flocks of magpies, white-winged crossbills and redpolls. Patricia Blank saw a downy woodpecker at her feeder along with the usual chickadees and juncos. Suzanne Newton spied two humpback whales swimming by in front of her house on Lutak Road, and a large gray wolf from her front window. Kris Reeves also saw a wolf in the Piedad area. There have also been three coyotes in the same area.
Spawning eulachon returned recently to the Chilkoot and Chilkat rivers. Native subsistence fishermen say the fish return here every year around this time, but often aren’t noticed due to ice on the rivers. The winter run of the smelt-like fish was documented by Aurel and Arthur Krause in their visit here in the 1880s. Fish and Game biologists who measured ones caught in recent weeks found the fish to be about three-fourths the size of ones harvested in May. Henry Strong of Klukwan said they tasted just fine.
If you enjoy watching birds, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology is looking for citizen scientists for two events in February, the Great Backyard Bird Count and Project Feeder Watch. If you would be willing to watch your feeder or count sightings of birds, go to www.birds.cornell.edu or follow the links at www.takshanuk.org.
Let us know what you are seeing. Go to www.takshanuk.org to enter your observations or see what others have observed, or email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 766-3542.