Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Snow Buntings Gone For The Winter!

Even with the warmer than normal October weather, the last of our local snow buntings departed on time.  The last snow buntings have been departing around 10-13th of October for several years now, and the last five were seen on the afternoon of the 9th this year.


              Snow Bunting in bright fall plumage. 


My last banded Snow Bunting just before leaving for the winter.

That left the two Dark-eyed Junco’s (Slate-colored sub-species) coming into the feeder.  They showed up in early October hungry and spent lots of time at the feeder bulking up to continue their migration south.  The juncos departed two days after the snow buntings, having built up their reserves to feel ready to continue on. 


Dark-eyed Junco (sub-species  Slate-colored Junco) 

It was fun watching the juvenile snow buntings learn to land in the first snow that fell in late September.  At first they weren’t sure about landing in the white stuff.  They would hover and slowly letting their feet sink into the snow, acting like they thought they were going to get stuck, like happens when they misjudged earlier in the summer when they landed in water.  After a few days they were just plopping right down and letting their body stop them from sinking more, like a big snowshoe.  Once landed they could move about on the snow without sinking in, as they moved about in the yard feeding on the grass seed heads that were sticking above the snow.


    Snow Bunting napping during October snow squall.



Male Snow Bunting in bright spring plumage, showing contrast from when they arrive and then depart in the fall.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fish and Foxes

It has been a warm freeze up season and the river ice took several days to become thick enough to safely walk on and set a fish net.  We used to fish commercially in the fall, sending fish to some of the local North Slope villages as well as several dog mushers and a fish processer in the Fairbanks area.  Our family ran the commercial operation for 56 years, but now it has been scaled down to one or two nets for a few fish for the family and pets.

PickingNet1_6628                Picking the net in the early morning light.




Our winter catch is made up of  Arctic Cisco, Least Cisco, and Hump-back Whitefish.  Most run about a pound while some of the larger ones will go two and half pounds. All are white meat and very tasty.




Cisco's and Whitefish at net hole.

It didn’t take the Arctic Foxes long to smell fresh fish on the wind and within 20 minutes of picking my net yesterday the first fox showed up. 

Arcticfox-Net_6638                     Arctic Fox checking out the net!

Before I finished I had two at the net site and they keep me entertained with their antics.  They were a little shy at first and didn’t want to get to close, but they also didn’t want the other fox near the fish. 

ArcticFox1_5776    Arctic Fox heading for the fish pile with reflection in the ice.

They would chase the other fox away and then dash back to the fish pile looking to grab a fish for themselves.  They managed to get several fish each before I finished for the day and  hauled my catch home.  They each ate one fish right away then started carting fish off to bury for later.

   ArcticFox-fish_5787                                              Got One!!

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Arctic Smoke Signals by James W. Helmericks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.