What does January’s unusually warm weather mean for our critters? It appears to be a mixed bag.
According to Fish and Game biologist Ryan Scott, bears are likely to stay put in their dens. Later in the year they might come out early, but probably not now. Less snow makes finding food and getting around easier for moose and goats, generally. But it also depends on snow conditions. Warmer snow can mean more avalanches, which can be a danger to goats, or rain that can sap their energy.
Powdery snow is easy for moose to plow through, but snow with a crust can give an advantage to predators. Wolves can run across a hard crust while moose punch through and flounder. Scant snow makes life difficult for the small critters that live under the snow, like voles, shrews and mice, which become more vulnerable to predation.
Prey animals can find food and travel easily in shallow snow, but that means fewer winter-killed animals for scavengers like eagles, wolverines and coyotes. Warmer temperatures and open water may be good for eagles looking for fish, but a disadvantage for animals that travel on frozen streams.
What about plants? Some respond to the warmer temperatures and some to light. When snow melts away, some plants may start to bloom. If it stays warm, they may be able to continue to grow, but if it freezes again they might get nipped by the frost. Some plants tolerate some freezing; likewise with freeze-thaw cycles. Yellow cedar can tolerate a single freeze and a single thaw per year, but multiple freezes and thaws harm their roots. Multiple freeze-thaw cycles are thought to be the cause of a decline in the species in Southeast.
For tulips and crocuses, a hard freeze is necessary for the bulbs to emerge in the spring. However, if they emerge and their leaves freeze, they may die.
Al Badgley saw a Eurasian collared dove on Lutak Road last week. It’s his third sighting this winter. A pair also was seen on Barnett Drive. The doves were first sighted here in 2009 and have been seen every summer since. Last year was the first time anyone had seen juveniles. Now they’re being seen in winter.
Patricia Blank reported that she and Jim Studley are seeing fewer birds than normal at their feeders. Usually there are chickadees and juncos, but they are seeing only jays. Kathleen Menke reported that the juncos at her feeders came late this year.
It seems most of our resident eagle pairs are back at their summer nesting territories. They leave these territories during the fall salmon run on the Chilkat, but return after the run is done. This is the tough time of year for them, as there is less available food than during the rest of the year.
Judy Heinmiller saw one of our lovely winter visitors, a flock of Bohemian waxwings, flitting between her cottonwood tree and her rose bushes. They were probably foraging for rose hips or other berries such as mountain ash, low bush cranberries or bearberries.
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.