November 21, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 46

Wild Things

Tod Sebens and Nicholas Szatkowski have seen large numbers of humpback whales congregating. Tod saw about 100 near Cape Fanshaw, and Nicholas saw a dozen cows and calves between Sullivan Island and William Henry Bay. This is the time of year that humpback whales swim to Hawaii. It seems most swim south to warmer climes for the winter, although some are residents, perhaps non-breeding adults. Usually cows and calves are not seen in groups. The exception is during the migration. 

There appear to be three separate populations of humpbacks in the North Pacific. One moves between California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. Another migrates between Japan and the waters west of Kodiak. A central North Pacific group migrates between Southeast Alaska, Prince William Sound and Hawaii. There is some mixing between these populations, but they are distinct. 

Winter came late. The first frost downtown was on Oct. 22, and we have had some small snowfalls, but the snow isn’t staying. So if winter is late, does that mean the bears will hibernate late? Stacie Turner reports a “huge” bear walked near her family’s Haines Highway shop about a week ago and was also near their Fair Drive home. Bears hibernate when food is not available. In some places they don’t hibernate at all. Most Alaskan bears hibernate, but exactly when depends on food supply and weather. Zoo bears don’t hibernate because they are fed. They just sleep a lot. Some Yellowstone research showed that bears preferred to hibernate during a snowstorm, presumably to hide their tracks, but some bears hibernate when there is no snow. Brittany Miller saw a sow with four cubs near Mud Bay and River roads. I have seen tracks as late as mid-December. So have they gone to ground? Maybe.

Lynette Campbell and husband George were entertained at their cabin on the upper Chilkat River two weeks ago by a “bat with personality.” It circled the cabin, swooping, dipping and dancing in front of them, coming close enough to brush their shoulders. “I’ve never thought bats were cute, but this one was adorable,” Lynette said. The bat was likely a little brown bat, or Myotis lucifugis, the most common of five bats found in Southeast. They eat insects and spiders and have been found to live as long as 20 years. Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Wildlife Diversity Program is working to learn more about bats, including migration and hibernation patterns.

Hunter Cody Taylor bagged a Sitka blacktail deer that weighed 190 pounds, dressed, while hunting on Sullivan Island Oct. 24. That’s a big animal, as the dressed weight of most large blacktails is about 150 pounds, according to Ryan Scott, wildlife biologist for Fish and Game. The island’s deer population dates to 1951-54, when eight animals were transplanted there. It appears healthy, as evidenced by a recent pellet survey, Scott said. Deer occasionally are seen in places like Mud Bay and Taiyasanka Harbor, but generally don’t last, due to relatively higher numbers of predators and deeper winter snows.

The McPhetres family and Judy Bryn noticed Eurasian collared doves that stayed late this year. These doves first showed up in Haines in 2009. This year there were young observed and the birds are staying later. These doves are an introduced species that have made their way to Haines. They were originally imported into the Bahamas in the 1970s as pets, but got loose from a pet shop.  They have been very successful in spreading across the U.S. since then.

Nicholas Szatkowski also saw a rare long eared owl in the Little Salmon area on October 29. These owls are a distinct mid-sized owl with long feathers on their heads that look like ears. 

Let us know what you are seeing. Go to www.takshanuk.org to enter your observations or see what others have observed, or email pam.randles@takshanuk.org or call 766-3542.