I drove the Aurora Well Service crew pick-up from the Veco Camp in Beluga on a cold winter day to observe whatever wildlife I could find. A short distance from the camp I spotted a spruce hen feeding on gravel on the edge of the road. The bird optioned to use its legs to scurry off the road to safety rather then to expose its underbody to the cold weather by opening its tightly folded wings and flying.
A short distance down the road I spotted a paper bee nest bobbing in the trees unprotected from the wind and cold now that the leaves had all fallen. The whole forest in fact looked bare, cold and dark in the winter air. It seemed hard to imagine that just a few months ago the whole area was green, lush and thick with vegetation. Now it was almost uninhabited except for a few small creatures struggling to survive the Alaskan winter.
A red squirrel darted across the road in front of me obviously heading for one of his winter food caches. Further down the road I saw a cow moose feeding on browse and a distressful look on its face which I translated to mean; why couldn’t God have choose us to be the one animal to hibernate? Perhaps it was also thinking now if only those wolves would also hibernate each winter too. But for a large animal like a moose cold weather means spending a whole lot more time feeding then they do in the warm summer months. Deep snow also causes them to burn up more calories and therefore they are required to feed more just to survive.
I drove on and observed a few snowshoe rabbit tracks zigzagging across the road. A lone fox track also indicated that Mr. Fox was also looking for a wintertime meal. I looked desperately for bear tracks too but could not locate any after the first week of November. With the ground frozen and the salmon gone I’m sure the bears gave up the search for food and went to bed. Just a few days before the end of October I found several bear tracks but now they too were gone till spring.
While at work George Rauscher told me he spotted some type of mouse by a large birch tree near the edge of our pad and watched it disappear in a hole at the base of the tree. He also pointed out a little crevice in the tree that was layered full of cranberries about three feet off the ground. I found it to be a very fascinating discovery, as I was unaware that even small rodents like mice store up food in the winter. George originally asked what kind of animals would store up berries under the bark or in a hole in a tree? I replied a Grizzly bear! George rolled his eyes and replied, “I should have knew better then to ask you!” He then took me to the tree and showed me the berry cache. This was just another example of another creature trying to survive the cold Alaska winters.
Several eagles were spotted as they too are desperately searching for food in all types of terrain. These birds were spotted in heavy wooded areas as well as near the rivers or the shores of Cook Inlet. An owl landed near our rig one night during a snowstorm and stayed there till the storm let up. He or she may have become temporally grounded during the storm but left as soon as the snow stopped.
Even though winter is here, there still is a lot of things we can do outdoors to help fight off cabin fever. Most all of our smaller lakes have enough ice on them to safely fish on them now. If you want to try ice fishing this winter but don’t have the equipment needed to survive a day out on the ice give me a call and tag along with my son, Travis, and me.
If you’re out stomping the brush and someone ask you what you are doing, do not tell them you are looking for berries stashed in a crevice by a mouse especially if they are wearing some type of medical staff looking white coat! Sometimes it might be wise to keep these outdoor adventures to us especially in the wintertime. If you are unable to think of a good explanation for walking around looking at birch trees in the woods this winter it might be safer just to tell them you’re ice fishing then to mention anything about berries or mice. See you next week!
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