Little stories on the trail

a suspicious raven, a grumpy mother, and a stroll on the alluvial plain

Out on the wetlands in late September, I spotted a raven carrying a fish up into the conifers at the edge of the meadows. After eating part of the fish, the raven picked up the bedraggled remains and flew out to a mossy stump, where it cached its prey in a crevice. Then it hopped up to the top of the stump and looked carefully around in all directions for several minutes. It saw another raven, perched a hundred yards away, and me with my binoculars, and forthwith decided to move its catch far, far away. Sharing was not an option.

In mid October, the coho were getting ready to spawn in Steep Creek. One of the bear-watchers favorite bears, a cinnamon female called Nicky for the nick in her left ear, appeared with her chubby black cub. An expert fisher-bear, she caught a coho almost immediately and retired to the brush on the bank to eat it. Little cub wanted some too, and complained repeatedly, but mama was not about to share; she growled and moved the carcass away from every approach her offspring made. When she finally finished and the two bears wandered on upstream, a watching magpie came down to look for scraps.

Nicky with a cub. Photo by Jos Bakker

About thirty minute later, upstream near the little waterfall, Nicky caught a second fish and carried it about forty yards away to eat it, calmly avoiding a cluster of people on the trail. Cubbie apparently managed to grab a chunk and eat all of it at some distance from mama. Nicky finished her catch, leaving only the dorsal fin. Then the little family moved on up the hill, leaving some very please bear-watchers behind.

The next day, she came through again, caught at least two coho, and added some northern ground cone to the meal. This time, she shared a little of the fish with the cub.

A little exploratory walk along Eagle River yielded several small mysteries. Invertebrates had left a variety of tracks in the mud. Worms, snails, slugs??—hard to know. But one long, thread-thin track ended at a tiny white spot less than a millimeter wide. My companion whipped out a hand lens to inspect the spot more closely and—oh my—it had a head end and it squirmed! This little maggot had travelled more than a foot, headed for who knows where. We released it to continue its trek.

Bears had been digging in many places, but the digs were several weeks old, so the tops of the dug-up plants had rotted beyond recognition. The remains of some of the dug-up roots had made new green shoots in preparation for next year, but slugs had eaten out many of them, leaving dry, brown bud sheaths behind. We were interested to find that the bear digs had exposed some inch-thick rhizomes (underground stems) that we traced back to lupine plants. This was the first we knew that lupines could spread in this way.

Strawberry plants are not common out there. But one, living dangerously at the edge of the overflow zone, had made an impressive runner, with the starts of about seven new plantlets at intervals. If they all survive the floods, there will be quite a family here.

On the bank of a slough, we noticed a few old bones poking out of the moss and mud. Looking more carefully, we eventually found several vertebrae, some ribs, and three leg bones. But whose?? A little forensic work made it likely that the bones had belonged to a long-dead bear.

Some other cool stuff: A flicker on the edge of a beach flew up into the nearby spruces; this seldom-seen woodpecker was probably on its way south. Some sedges with small, black spheres on the seed-head; they collapsed into dust at a touch and were probably the sporing bodies of a fungus. A Russula mushroom, whose broken, hollow stem revealed three dark, slender millipedes; what were they doing in there?

Every time we go out to find something of interest, we find at least two or three things! What fun.