May 23, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 20

Wild Things

The first wave of summer visitors arrived, and not only on cruise ships or in RVs. Dottie the whale was spotted and

photographed in Lutak Inlet by Ron Horn on May 7. Dottie is notable for the propeller scars on its flanks and white

markings on its dorsal fin. The day before, the Takshanuk Watershed Council migration survey recorded more than 50,000 birds moving north, including many species of ducks, geese, cranes, gulls, eagles, sandpipers and a load of songbirds, like bluebirds, warblers, sparrows and kinglets. There has been a traffic jam along the Chilkat River flyway, with birds here awaiting warmer weather up north.

Mike Denker saw marbled godwits, long-billed dowitchers, black-bellied plovers and dunlins moving along the shores of the Chilkat River in search of food. Each of the sandpiper species has its own way of hunting its food. Longer beaks and legs mean they can wade in deeper water and probe deeper in the mud for food. Mike also noticed the first violet-green swallows return for the summer. Marlena Saupe and Mary Asper were watching bunches of rufous hummingbirds at their feeders when a warbler joined them, shoving the little hummers out of the way. Beth MacCready photographed an orange-crowned warbler at her hummingbird feeder. Myrtle warblers have

been observed stealing sap from sapsucker holes in trees. Birds are often more resourceful than we might imagine.

As the songbirds begin to showup in large flocks, so do the songbird predators like merlins and peregrine falcons. Several people have seen northern harriers following the flocks of redpolls and siskins. They have a distinct hunting style and are easily spotted flying low over grassy areas and beaches. This year there have been several

reports of pale harriers. Look for the telltale white rump patch.

Several large flocks of uncommon gray crowned rosy finches were spotted along the Chilkat flyway. A few of them visited the Flegels’ feeders. Eve Grogan saw her first pine grosbeak at her feeder. Walter Betz was surprised by a large great grey owl staring in his window. Sally Andersen saw some rare and brightly colored horned larks.

It gets noisy this time of year with sooty grouse (also known as blue grouse) strutting around their leks, making a low whumping sound to entice females. The various woodpeckers drum away at tree trunks to stake out territories and make nests. Each species has its own drum pattern. We have four species that regularly nest here: downy, hairy, and American three-toed woodpeckers and red-breasted sapsuckers. Of those, only the sapsucker migrates.

The hooligan and herring arrived to spawn right on time in the first week of May. These fish attract copious numbers of predators. Literally tens of thousands of gulls arrive to wheel and squeal alongside dozens of eagles and Steller sea lions. At the same time and in the same places, thousands of waterfowl arrive to fly north to breed. On

May 6, about 30,000 gulls, 10,000 ducks and 7,000 surf scoters were recorded in Chilkat and Lutak Inlets.

And it’s not just birds and fish that are telling us it is spring. Bear tracks have been spotted in several places. Skunk cabbage is emerging. The pussy willows are out and being visited by warblers and hummers. Watch for the myrtle warblers in the willows, darting about and leaping into the air after flying insects. Dan

Schultz and Stacie Evans spotted a sea otter in Chilkat Inlet.

It is a wonderfully busy time of year and we are lucky to be able to see it all. Some early morning, walk along Mud Bay Road or the golf course or the lower Chilkoot River to hear and see the spectacle of spring migration. Let us know what you are seeing. Go to www.takshanuk.org to enter your observations or to see what others have observed, or email pam.randles@takshanuk.org or call 766-3542.