I awoke this morning to clear skies and a refreshingly cool 49.5° F air temp along with calm winds; how could I not pull on some clothes, step into my sandals, grab a couple of leads (just in case) and head out the door with ‘the kidz’ ranging ahead of me? We took a 40 minute walk reveling in the gorgeous morning; as usual for this area it was completely silent except for some local birds including a couple of Chickadees I feed who followed us for a ways complaining because the window feeder was almost empty. I, of course, remedied that upon our return. After 26 consecutive days of report-able precipitation seeing both the sun and drying conditions has been wonderful. As we walked I had my Canon PowerShot SX-260 camera with me and I recorded a bit of our fun:
Although its only the end of March there is no longer any doubt we are seeing break up (that’s Alaskan for ‘spring’); even the pessimists who always warn ‘be careful what you wish for…’ have been forced to admit our winter that wasn’t is now history. Sure, this is Alaska and we could see feet of snow and minus double-digit temps in April but given the weather conditions across previous five months I’d bet my retirement break up is here. Of the past 27 days in March 19 of them (70%) have seen high temps above freezing and 9 of those 19 days have been above 40 F. Recently we’ve seen an unusual run of clear, sunny days which now numbers eleven consecutive days with clear skies again this morning. The snow pack is now really ice and its down to 11.0 inches in-depth; along rivers, streams and in lakes channels of open water appear every day only to lightly refreeze at night when the temps plunge into the single digits thanks to clear night skies. In the afternoon I can comfortable walk the dogs outside for an hour wearing just sweat pants, tennis shoes, a long-sleeved shirt and a fleece vest – no need for boots, heavy socks, gloves or a hat…
With this abnormally warm weather and early break up the boreal forest is once more springing to life and it seems to be in a huge hurry to get on with break up. There are a myriad of tracks in the snow; in my ‘back forty’ I found both fox and wolverine tracks but by far and away the most numerous – and obvious – are moose sign. They are everywhere and not just in terms of their tracks and droppings but also by their ‘work’ and in person. The following image was taken at the base of my driveway entrance onto East Barge Drive and shows the results of a couple of moose digging for plants beneath the snow:
Such excavations dot the immediate area and are common beneath the thin canopy of the boreal forest. It’s almost as if the moose sense the pending melting of the snow and are in a hurry to get at the fauna that’s been sheltered by the snow pack since mid-November. I knew Talkeetna was known for its abundance of moose and even last fall I saw far more moose than any other mammals while out and about but these past few weeks even I’ve been impressed at their numbers and their willingness to be visible. Indeed, they just do not seem to be concerned about humans until the distance closes to maybe 10 to 30 feet; each moose has its own personal space requirements and they do vary quite a bit based upon personality, previous experiences with humans, availability of food and similar. Across the past week I’ve become so used to their presence I no longer rush to grab my camera and get images; if they are close by and if I have nothing else to do I might try to get a picture but I mean after all…its ‘just a moose’.
There’s a part of me that feels sadness that I could become so jaded so rapidly to the presence of these huge mammals but when one sees them daily – often multiple times a day – they tend to become less ‘exotic’. Sighting a grizzly in my back yard would provoke a rush to grab all my photographic gear and get set up inside to capture images but while moose would have generated this same response last fall now this is no longer the case. However, it’s not that I don’t still find it amazing that I have numerous Alces alces wandering around my property; it’s just that they are no longer the rarely viewed phenomena they were last fall. Of course I still revere these mighty herbivores and treat them with the same respect I would any large wild animal; not to do so would be stupid and dangerous. But the moose have now become a more ‘typical’ fixture of my Alaskan lifestyle and hence not the rare encounters they were previously. When I do have the chance to view one up close, as when I’m in my car or in the house, I remain amazed by their size and their appearance – what we humans refer to as ‘ungainly’ – yet I’ve also seen them moving enough to know that ‘ungainly’ is a complete misnomer! They move with a fluid grace when they have the need and they can truly move quickly when the need arises. After watching them for many months now I have come to appreciate just how wonderfully they are ‘engineered’ to handle their own south central Alaskan lifestyles. Those long legs keep them well above the deep snow while that long proboscis is perfectly designed for punching through snow to reach the fauna beneath the snow pack or to ferret out willow branches amid the tangle of plants that form the forest floor. They must have good noses as they can pick out the location of food beneath feet of snow and their eyesight must be good as well because they certainly seems to notice we humans often before we see them.
As the break up proceeds I expect I’ll see more and more moose in this immediate area and it just feels so ‘right’ that we humans can share this majestic land with such large mammals but still exist mainly at peace. There is no doubt a mutual respect between us and this is good as many lower 48er’s would be shocked to learn that far more humans are killed by moose than any other animal in Alaska. Hypothermia remains the number one killer of we humans but the moose do a pretty good job of enforcing Darwin’s observations; if we are dumb enough to crowd a moose let alone bother a cow with a calf then we will most likely not be around to further pollute the gene pool and that’s as it should be…
Although in the grand scheme this winter has been a huge disappointment with it being largely absent during January – the warmest January on record for this area – and present in terms of temps but sans snow in February at least March has brought a change in these conditions. Our snow event across March 4th and 5th deposited 15.4″ of new snow here at Mile 7.1 just east of the Spur and we’ve seen below zero morning temps across the past three days with afternoon highs rising into the middle twenties thanks to the clear skies and rapidly increasing sunlight. Yesterday I walked the dogs in the middle afternoon prior to my evening newscast and found the conditions to be perfect! The sky was that deep cobalt blue which I still associate with Canadian High Pressure in the lower 48 but has no such linkage up here; indeed, the pressure was falling rapidly across Friday afternoon and is all the way down to 29.20″ Hg (988.83 Mb) as I write this at 09:52 AKST on a clear Saturday morning. There was a slight northerly breeze which was unusual but produced a beautiful sound passing through the snow covered pine trees and the air temp was around 25 F. When in the sun I could really feel its warm and immediately recognized the implication that within just a few more weeks it will be strong enough to begin melting snow on clear afternoons even though the air temps remain below freezing.
The dogs were loving every minute of the walk with Qanuk racing well out in front of me only to turn and charge right back at me running full tilt only to turn away at the last second. I saw a multitude of moose tracks and even some scat on the freshly cleared roads but the moose themselves remained out of sight. Even Anana had a puppy-like spring in her step and she regularly tried to keep up with Qanuk but while she’s still the alpha dog when it comes to running Qanuk can literally run circles around her. All in all it was a glorious day for a walk in rural Talkeetna and this time of year is rapidly becoming a real favorite of mine. Sadly its unlikely I’ll get to experience -30 F this winter or see that 36 inches plus of snow pack but there’s always next year!
Qanuk and Anana on Riven Street with the Alaska Range in the distance
Anana looking north up Riven Street