Tuesday, September 11, 2018

bears, moose and elk...oh my

A few weeks ago while my little sister was in town, my husband and I finally toured the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Portage.  We've seen many moose, a lynx, and a few bears since moving to Anchorage, but we hadn't come across any wandering around town after more than a week into her visit.  

Here is Snickers.  There is a second porcupine at the Center named Kit Kat.

I had read about the AWCC while we were still living in Utah and was particularly looking forward to seeing one of its resident porcupines named Snickers.  (Porcupines were a rare and especially enjoyable sighting during my years working in Yellowstone, and I've harbored a fondness for them ever since.)   We were not disappointed upon actually seeing little Snickers with his bright orange teeth.  By no means were the bears, moose, elk, deer, bison, musk oxen, lynx, caribou or birds a let down either.  

One of two bull moose lounging adjacent to the perimeter fence.  The rut had begun so we kept a safe distance.  

a close up of his antlers

a bull elk starting to lose his velvet

To be honest, seeing animals in captivity often leaves me a bit saddened.  Knowing those living at the center have been rescued and are cared for due to injury, becoming orphaned at a young age, human ignorance/stupidity (keeping a porcupette found in the forest as a pet for toddlers, for example) and other reasons made this visit considerably less depressing.  Additionally, many of the animals living at the AWCC reside in large fenced areas where they can wander and live in the most natural setting possible.  Although the enclosures are not nearly the size of their natural range or migration routes used in the wild, reconciling the difficulty in seeing animals in captivity when their inherent wildness is what draws us to such a place, I try to see the benefits gained by research, conservation and education.  The staff offer talks while feeding or caring for specific animals throughout the day.  They include why individual animals live at the center in their chat along with specific information about that particular animal's observed behaviors.  Thankfully, they also offer an opportunity to ask questions.

Oh, Hi bear.

It was a lovely day for the drive down from Anchorage to see so many beautiful animals and the surrounding landscape.  We all three had big grins on our faces as we walked and drove around the center.  My face actually hurt from smiling after viewing three bears together in one enclosure.  One of them swam and frolicked in the water while another paced along the fence line which was roughly fifteen feet away from sightseers.  It was magnificent and joyful scrutiny on our part.

When you see up close how small their eyes are, it's easy to understand why bears need to have such a strong sense of smell.  Once at a ranger talk, it was said that a grizzly bear can smell a human 24 hours after they've hiked on a trail.  Fascinating.     

My sister did eventually see two moose in town - a young bull and a cow.  That sighting was also a treat.

Tori and me being goofy toward the end of our day at the AWCC.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

A rainy week in Anchorage calls for some flowers

It is fireweed season here in Alaska, both spray painted and wild.

Back in early April, prior to our departure from the lower 48 for Alaska, our friend Steph took us to the Public Market in Seattle.  We perused the flower, produce and fish stalls plus the souvenir shops, restaurants, and bakeries.  We briefly strolled the alleyway full of chewed gum, and she introduced us to Beecher's cheese.  I found myself giggling as I recalled the scenes filmed here for Sleepless in Seattle.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. - Frank Lloyd Wright

I've been exploring new green spaces and revisiting now familiar green spaces in Anchorage, often meeting some lovely people along the way.  Lots of birdies, plenty of moose, and loads of lush greenery.  Too many mosquitoes, but that's to be expected this time of year.

In our new house we have a rather small back yard, but it's well-visited by birds.  The neighbor whose yard backs up to ours found a nest this afternoon.  He called to me through the window to let me know he wouldn't clean the gutter on his shed until the eggs hatched and the babies flew away.  I suspected that a pair of dark-eyed juncos had a nest just under a pine tree branch which is precisely where he found the nest.  

Last week I was able to watch an adult male robin encourage and feed one of his offspring that had landed in our yard and was having trouble flying higher than a few feet above the ground.  I watched and whispered encouragement for about fifteen minutes before looking online to find a local bird rescue in case the fledgling was injured.  When I went back to the window, they were gone.  I was relived and elated, to say the least.  After ten minutes I went outside just to be sure the fledgling hadn't been abandoned or simply wasn't visible from our windows.  It was nowhere to be found, and I was grateful.  There's something quite special about watching a young bird or animal learn to fly or walk.  I spent many an hour in Yellowstone watching baby bison and newborn elk calves get their feet under them for the first time.  Knowing predators could be nearby and watching, there's real joy in seeing a calf or a chick attain mobility.

This word is what I say to myself when I start stressing over how many empty packing boxes are still in our garage or where I'm going to store all of my books and magazines.  This is painted on a sort-of pedestrian bridge over the Knik River.  

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Land of the midnight sun

Tim and I moved from Utah to Alaska in early April.  We drove for three days to get to Tacoma where we spent a few days with old friends and their young son.  Time was well spent catching up and then on we went for a flight to Anchorage.  I have a very clear memory of a friend from my first summer working in Yellowstone who then went on to work and live in Alaska.  He told me once "Kelly, you would love Alaska.  As much as you love Yellowstone, you need to come here.  The whole state is like Yellowstone.  Imagine that."  With my list of places to see in the world getting longer and longer, Alaska remained on the back burner.  I hoped to see and experience it, but it wasn't even in my top ten of places to see and experience.

On Mother's Day this beautiful moose spent about three hours in the garden at the front of the cabin we were renting.  She mostly napped and eventually grazed a bit before disappearing into the brush.  I once woke up to a cow and her twin calves outside the bedroom window at this same cabin.  Large tinted windows and a mostly wild landscape allowed us to watch and photograph while safely inside. 

That changed when Tim was offered a job in Anchorage.  We both knew that living and working in a remote part of Utah on the edge of the west desert wasn't going to be our forever home.  So together we decided to move a further 3,000 miles away from our hometowns and families and my beloved Yellowstone.

I believe this is a yellowlegs we spotted in Kincaid Park

Red-necked grebe.

Breeding red-necked grebes who put on quite a courtship display.  They could be heard from well across the lagoon, and we watched them for some time along with a gentlemen who gave us some tips on other places to spot bird life in Anchorage. 

A common loon.  I've been told these lovelies are a fleeting sight for a mere few days in spring before they move on.  I was grateful to spot this lone bird on a lagoon close to downtown Anchorage.
A tree swallow at Potter Marsh.

An Arctic tern taking a brief rest on a sign informing humans what not to do along this stretch of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge.  Don't feed the birds or disturb their nests.  Gulls and terns were nesting in the mud and reeds among the shallow water.  It's hard to fathom how far terns fly annually - from their nesting grounds in/near the Arctic to Antarctica and back.  Phew.
Having come from a place with only a few hundred residents to a city of over 300,000 has been daunting and a bit overwhelming.  It seems difficult to find a spot away from the noise of traffic and airplanes here, but I'm slowly discovering that these places do exist.  It's similar to living in the Old Faithful area at the height of summer.  One learns when and where to find the quiet places, unperturbed by human presence or voices, especially when it's their link to sanity and solitude.

Part of a mural on the back of the library in Seward.
Seward again.  Gotta love a town where someone goes to the trouble of painting a public garbage can!

Aside from the massive amount of wilderness in the state as a whole, Anchorage itself has many parks, green belts, trails, and places to view nature.  It's remarkable how much land within the city limits has been kept mostly wild as respite for both humans and wildlife.  A large part of my time here so far has involved seeking them out.  I've been rewarded with many moose sightings and plenty of bird spotting.  We've also seen a lynx and scads of snowshoe hares. 

Caught sight of this little one while doing dishes.  I watched it groom for several minutes.  Much to our cat's delight, snowshoe hares zipped through the garden and around the cabin continuously throughout the day.
From outside, the tinted glass acted as a mirror.  This effect caused many a robin and dark-eyed junco to sit on the outside sill and peck at the glass or hop toward it.  We wondered if they believed they were seeing a competing male during breeding season.  Penny had a front row seat.  She often just watched but occasionally would run to the sill and bat at the glass.  It wouldn't take long for her to deduce the birdie just inches from her was unreachable.
As summer gets fully underway and the hours of sunlight continue to grow, I hope to spend many, many more hours exploring what Anchorage's green spaces have to offer.  

Paper birch trees are everywhere here, and I love the bark - the color, the texture, everything.

Things growing on an old picnic table.