Saturday, March 31, 2007

Osprey Back

The osprey have returned for the nesting season. Their high pitched call is most distinctive as the mated pairs scout out the 'home territory' they are reclaiming after a South American winter sojourn. In one case we observed a third osprey following the pair - perhaps last year’s offspring. The yearling is likely to find his or her own way before nesting begins in earnest.

We noted osprey last in mid-September. These eagle-sized birds (sometimes mistaken for bald eagles) fish for a living, and will have no other food. Their high-speed dives are easily the most spectacular activity among the wildlife we observe here. They hunt from stream-side perches and by hovering kestrel-like over the river. A guesstimate for their success ratio is about one out of three dives. Sometimes they grasp a large salmon and need to slowly spiral up to gain enough elevation to fly off to their home.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Mount Talbert In The Snow

The spate of cold weather in January finally brought snowfall for the first time in three years. At our house about four inches fell, enough for me to get out the old Asnes Trends with the crack which I've saved for just such times. An odd combination of high camber racing and metal edged backcountry goodness, they carved christys well, cutting down to the underlying grass only in the turns.

Visiting natural areas in the snow gives you the opportunity to see things that otherwise are always missed. Animal tracks rarely show up in the thick duff of Pacific Coast forests. With fresh snow even a novice tracker will find tracks of several animals, even small ones otherwise never seen.

At Mount Talbert, only two inches were on the ground, not enough for optimum tracking as the larger animals - deer and coyote - will break though the snow, leaving indistinct tracks. A little searching along a track will bring up obvious ones despite this. Smaller animals leave very clear traces in these conditions.

The first track I noticed was rabbit. Following along the track was easy. Soon I found another set of tracks that joined alongside the rabbits - coyote! This fellows interest in the rabbit is strictly gustatory. A second coyote soon joined the track, and the two met, greeting each other, leaving a jumble of tracks - while the rabbit went into a brushpile to hide. No easy meal for the coyotes this time!

Rabbit tracks are round-toed, with the back foot usually leaving a long mark alongside a toes-only front print.

Following other tracks, it became obvious that various animals will use the same path. A open route is open for all. One unidentified large rodent was seemingly accompanied by a deer - but no doubt they were there at different times. The deer passed around fallen trees while the rodent went under.

Following the many deer tracks backwards, I soon found several beds, including these two where they laid during the snowstorm, keeping the ground bare in a curled-up deer pattern. Some of the leaves which was the cushion were shaken off when the deer awoke and lay on top of the fresh white snow. A second, smaller bed was a few yards off, and the animal had evidently slept with one leg stuck out. A third bed was found which was used the night after the snow had fallen.

Raccoons left clear tracks under these conditions. The front and back tracks are placed along side one another with the back print larger. Like us, raccoons are omnivores, eating meat, fruit, and eggs, and prefer to wash their food well. They are urbanizing well, needing only a small area of cover.

Some squirrel species have a Latin name that means "seed loving", and this describes their feeding habits well. Both ground and tree dwelling types exist, and ours are tree types locally. They spend some time foraging on the ground and so left tracks during this snow event. The elongated toes are adapted for grasping and climbing. In summer they busy themselves cutting conifer cones, dropping them to the ground and then hunting them up on the ground. Many are stored for winter; they will also gorge on the seeds, leaving the dismembered cone scales in sometimes large piles. These are usually near the base of a large fir, their escape route in case of danger.

Squirrel feeding at Mount Talbert