Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Otter and the Gull

This past Fall we spent some time out on the spit looking for otters. We spotted this one in the fishing lagoon which does not have salmon (or fishermen) in it this late in the year. The otter was diving for clams and coming up with a clam in one hand and a big rock in the other. He would lay on his back and beat the clam shell on the rock to break it open. For some reason the otter keeps rolling over but he never seems to lose the rock or the clam. This use of a tool seems like some pretty intelligent behavior and we wonder if the otter learned it from its mother or if it is innately wired into their little brains.

We've seen this before in Monterey and written about it in an earlier post but this time was somewhat different in that a sea gull was following the otter around and eating little pieces of clam which the otter drops into the water.

So, which animal is smarter? The otter or the gull....

Friday, October 2, 2009

Our Talking Dog

We're back in Homer after spending most of the summer "up North". Took care of some maintenance projects at our Healy home on the Stampede Road and then did a long paddle trip on the Koyukuk River. While in Healy we had our last sleddog, Nike, staying with us. He is quite a little character and had a lot of stories to tell about his winter trips with the other dogs. When Nike was born we noticed he had a white "swatch" or checkmark on his otherwise black shoulder. He also has a huge overbite which gives him a long nose and short jaw. When we took him to the dentist she suggested braces but we thought he would just get dry fish caught in the wires so decided to have his lower canines shortened and capped. We've been working on Nike's verbal skills which are now up to the level of the typical human teen-ager....

While boating on several rivers we saw 2 sets of black bear moms with 3 cubs each. They teach their kids to swim at a really young age and it was pretty cool to watch these kids swimming across the wide and swift Tanana River.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The three robin chicks born under the eaves of our house have gotten big in a hurry. Both their parents have been delivering big mouth fulls of bugs all day long. We had a little scare the other day when a goshawk landed nearby and eyed the nest for awhile. Linda could hear a very high pitched shreek from the adult robins which is their alarm call. When we looked out the window it appeared that the chicks were gone and we thought the hawk had gotten them. I even felt in the nest and was sure they were gone. The adults had quieted down and were no longer coming to the nest. But an hour later they were back up with their necks stretched high waiting for more bugs! Apparently the alarm call warned the chicks to hunker down and stay still in the bottom of the nest and I couldn't even feel them.

A few days later the chicks were up and standing on the edge of the nest. The adults walked around on the ground beneath them making lots of noise as if to encourage them to start hunting down their own dinner.

Finally one of the chicks flapped his wings and jumped! He landed about 30 feet away next to our wood shed and the adults flew right over to him with chirps of congratulations. The other two stayed in the nest for several more hours, probably happy to have a little more space but it seemed that the adults were no longer bringing bugs to the nest. So they screwed up their courage and dove out into the world.

We watched the chicks playing in the bushes and testing their wings with short flights into the branches. Later that evening a horrendous thunder storm blew in so we expect they are taking shelter under a spruce tree and enjoying their new life...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Robins nesting...

We're still staying in Healy at our home on Stampede Road. There are lots of robins around the area and two of them are nesting right out side our front window up under the eaves. They are a little shy of us if we are outside but not so scared if we photograph them from the window. The male brings big beak fulls of bugs and berries and shoves them right down the chicks throat. It's really interesting to watch...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Flicker surprise...

We are staying at our house in Healy for the month of May. Doing some maintenance on the house and on our cabins around the subdivision. It is a nice time of year here on the edge of Denali National Park because the snow is melted away and the trees are beginning to green up.

It is also the time when many birds return to the Interior so we are listening and watching for geese and cranes to fly over on their way furthur north. We have a cabin up on a lake near here where we are seeing pintails, widgeons, golden eye and scoters resting and feeding in the shallow water which rims the lake ice right now. All of these ducks will move on once the lakes and swamps thaw out to the west of here but for now we have a nice assortment. Later we will just see grebes nesting in the rushes.

We often take the canoe out on the lake in the summer and sometimes will see grebes with their chicks up on their backs as they paddle around the lake. Once we noticed two grebes feeding on the edge of the lake and as we paddled closer the adults skittered off along the surface of the water. They were far enough away that we didn't notice the chicks which had fallen off the mother's back until we drifted a bit closer and Linda was able to hear them chattering. We have often noticed that our presence can have a big effect on wildlife interaction. While paddling on the Yukon we frightened a female merganser out into the open and a pair of falcons began diving on the chicks. So we were concerned that these grebe chicks make it back to the protection of their mother. But before we could back paddle away the chicks noticed us and swam straight to the canoe!

Linda has a way about her that somehow just seems to attract animals and sure enough these very small chicks swam right toward her in the front of the canoe. She gently put one hand on the surface of the water and the chick climbed right on just like it would on her mother's back. Linda slowly lifted her hand from the water and brought the chirping chick right up to her face for a closer look while the other chick circled near the canoe. A hundred feet away the adult grebe's warily watched us.

Linda has raised a lot of orphaned animals including birds but in this case we knew we had to somehow let these chicks get back to their parents. She placed her hand back in the water and left the chick floating on the surface. We paddled back away from the chicks hoping they would rejoin their folks but of course they first tried to follow us! After some hard paddling we drew away from the chicks and we could see that their parents were moving in to reclaim their brood. Grebes are diving birds and we have often seen them "flying" underwater. We always wonder if one of them is the little chick that Linda briefly held in her hand.

This year we find that two robins are building a nest on the eaves right out our front window so we will be able to monitor their activities. And last evening a less common bird appeared right on a window ledge as we sat at the dinner table and began hammering on the window just like a woodpecker! It was a flicker. A large bird with red head and yellow rump, he probably saw a small insect that was stuck dead on the inside of the window and was perplexed at why he couldn't get to him. Because of the lighting he apparently couldn't see us and stayed on the ledge not three feet from us for several minutes. I slipped out the new digital camera and snapped this picture as he sat in a nearby birch tree.... These little visits from birds and other animals keep life interesting in the Alaskan bush. We're hoping to see some moose calves around the house soon....

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sea Lion off Spit

These California sea lions were napping in the warm surface water in Monterey Bay.

We've been seeing a Stellar's sea lion off the end of the Spit over the past month. He first popped up while we were paddling in our kayaks about a quarter mile out. These thousand pound mammals are curious and can stay underwater for long periods of time so they can really surprise you by appearing right next to you with no notice. They have a large head which looks a lot like a bear.

Since that first sighting we have seen what we think is the same sea lion catching large fish right off the shore. Groups of sea gulls circle and dive on him to get little pieces of fish as the sea lion quickly chews them up.

This shot caught the sea lion catching his breath between dives...he bobbed up and down for a few minutes and would exhale loudly when he came up and then grab another breath.

We were able to get pretty close to a sea otter in California and film him eating clams off his belly. In this clip he shows us how he opens clams by beating them on a rock...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Winter Wildlife Viewing

Homer has a very large moose population which can become more apparent in the winter after the leaves have fallen. The colder weather causes the moose and other local wildlife to change their behavior somewhat. Many of the birds migrate to warmer climes but others stay through the winter and even become more visible. Probably the most often viewed winter wildlife around Homer are the bald eagles which hangout on the end of the Spit where they are fed daily by "the Eagle Lady", 85 year old Jean Keene. Jean lives on the Spit and has been feeding eagles since the early 1970's. Naturally, this practice became controversial as other people began feeding eagles, too. So the city of Homer ruled that feeding the birds is a "no-no"- except for Jean who is "grandmothered" into the practice until 2010. The daily feedings between Dec. 20 and April 1, are a real opportunity for photographers who come from all over the world to hang out of their car windows to capture these scavengers on digicards.

Jean feeds fish scraps from the processing plant to the eagles which seem to calmly wait for their turn at the trough. Normally these birds would be searching out other prey such as these mallard ducks which remain in the Bay area all winter. When strong northeast winds blow down the bay these ducks gather in Mud Bay to shelter from the storm. They sit so still on the ice that they appear to be frozen in place.

Mud Bay is also a favorite wintering area for many of the 1,800 sea otters that inhabit the Bay. They float on their backs with their heads and back feet poking out of the water and often use their furry bellies as a table while they eat clams from the muddy bottom. Sometimes sea gulls bob around the otters hoping to steal a morsel of clam right off their tummies!

Other marine mammals are also visiting the Bay right now that we don't see so much in the summer. Humpback whales pass by from northern waters on their way to Hawaii and Baja. These 40 foot leviathans spend some time feeding nearby and occassionally we see their spouting exhalations from our living room windows. Persons in small motorized craft really have to watch for the whales.

The newest creature that has caught our attention are Stellar sea lions. This Fall two of them have been feeding and lounging off the end of the Spit while we were paddling out toward the "green can" navagational buoy. These 1,000 pound seal-like creatures don't look like much until they raise their heads high out of the water to inspect us. The other day two of then were floating just 200 feet off the spit in front of the Glacier Boardwalk. At first they looked like a new boulder projecting above the water line. But then they lifted their noses for a breath and let out a loud spraying exhalation. Their heads are very similar to the largest grizzly bears we've ever seen and it is reported that they can be aggressive if you invade their territory too closely. They are also quite curious and several times have suddenly appeared very close- 30 feet- to our boats. They raised their heads well out of the water to get a good look at us and then followed at a distance as we paddled. One was apparently surprised to find us nearby and let out a loud hissing growl. When they are inspecting us we try to hold still and hope they don't decide to try and climb up on the back of our kayak like some smaller seals are known to do.

See his little head just to the left of Linda's boat. They look a lot bigger when they haul themselves out of the water to rest on the beach....