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....

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