Sights and sounds of April

Light-colored wolf sightings in the Mendehall Valley and glacier area raise concern around possibility that animal is being fed by humans

Posted: Friday, April 23, 2010

• In Sheep Creek valley, a female hairy woodpecker prospected for a nest site. She was visiting one dead, bark-less cottonwood snag after another, occasionally drumming lightly. On each site she visited, she'd tap once or twice and then move on to the next one.

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Photos By Bob Armstrong
Photos By Bob Armstrong

• Near the beginning of the Sheep Creek trail, a line of orange flags led off to the right toward the power station. The flags mark a proposed new route for the first part of the uphill trail, which is sometimes icy, muddy and wet. The flagged route goes quite a distance along the slope before turning uphill on a more gradual rise than the present trail. A timetable for completion and other details are presently unavailable.

• Along Salmon Creek, a pair of dippers carried moss into a pile of logs and boulders where they are presumably starting to build a nest. Dippers build a hollow ball of moss, working from the bottom up, gradually raising the walls and eventually making a roof. There will be a bowl of grass and rootlets inside, as a bed for eggs and chicks. I found this pair early in April, which is a trifle early compared to most years, so now I'll be checking other known popular nest sites on other streams.

• In Sheep Creek canyon, we were perched at the edge of a small cliff, hoping to spot a dipper at one of the customary nest sites. No luck with that, but the red-stemmed blueberries were gorgeous, with afternoon sunlight shining through pink-white flowers and new green leaves. Worthy model for a stained-glass window. A bumblebee busily sampled several flowers.

• Near the Visitor Center, some of the willows had started blooming. Tiny flies, probably some kind of midge, crawled over the catkins, perhaps laying eggs and maybe getting nectar too. I could see yellow insect eggs inside many of the catkins. On a cool morning, I found a somnolent bumblebee hanging on a catkin. After an hour or so, as the sun warmed the air, she began to crawl over the catkins, ever so slowly. She had no pollen in the "baskets" on her hind legs, so she may have been looking for nectar. Queen bees overwinter, and in spring they need to gather enough energy to lay eggs for a new brood of workers.

• On the home pond, two single male mallards landed on the pond and showed signs of interest in the resident female. The female became aggressive and so did her mate. With heads lowered and bills open, they advanced on the visitors. These eventually retreated to the bank, but the resident pair pursued them even there, until the intruders finally departed. Resistance of the mallard female to intruding males is a bit different from the behavior of some song-birds, in which mated females may actually go in search of additional fathers for their eggs.

And speaking of home: One night was interrupted by a series of loud thumps and, soon after, my yard light turned on. Quickly, the cats were in hiding and I was out of bed. I peeked out the window and saw a tan wolf standing in the driveway. It then strolled toward the neighbors' house. This is presumably the same wolf that's been seen elsewhere in the Valley and Auke Bay, and perhaps the same one that approached a car near the visitor center. Home has been a "happening" place lately! (I still don't know what the thumps were!)

I'm told that this wolf was seen near the Mendenhall Visitor Center again, where it was approaching cars lined up to watch it. It seems this wolf expects to be fed, and some people have already been feeding it. This is very foolish because it trains the wolf to approach people, hence setting up a situation in which both people and wolf may suffer.

• Mary F. Willson is a retired professor of ecology.

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