Alaska, Nome – mammals

Please consider all images as copyrighted – thank you. Contact me for use… DEClapp

Like most places that Fran and I frequent, Nome has wildlife. Nome was sought out as a destination primarily for its birding, but high on our list was the chance to see, Musk Oxen. I had been to Nome previously and had not seen these large shaggy beasts, but we had our fingers crossed this time. They have been in the Nome area for less than 55 years. They were transported from Arctic Canada and eastern Greenland starting in the 1930s. The first lines were placed in Fairbanks and then out on Nunivak Island. They thrived and since have provided transplant animals for much of western and northern Alaska. About 300 were released on the Seward Peninsula and there are now about 3500 in this part of the state.

The first afternoon we had several almost in town, they were near the asphalt roads which means pretty close to downtown Nome. They soon became our new favorite mammal. They are pretty big, as big as a cow but so shaggy that you really can’t see how long their legs are. When they walk or run you can’t see the legs which means that they look like giant brown mops cruising across the land as if on some sort of anti-gravity floating thingamajig. DSC_1744.JPGIn tundra areas the Musk Oxen were eating the leaves of the small willows that dominated the wetter spots. They were shedding profusely and many of the shrubby willow were sporting Musk Oxen hair that they had combed from passing animals. The fur is, even this outer layer of winter hair, very soft. The belly fur is called qiviut and is the finest animal fiber that there is – beating out alpaca, mohair (from an Angora goat), and cashmere (wool from a goat). The fur is eight times warmer than wool and doesn’t shrink or felt (mat). I don’t know how it compares to spider silk or silkworm cocoon silk.DSC_1788.JPGAs you can see from the images they were rather placid. When we left our hotel, one morning at about 4:30 a.m., there was a young fellow chatting up the night desk guy. We stopped to talk before heading out to get specifics on the lay of the land and this young man offered us that old bit of sage north country advice, “don’t pet the bovines”. We didn’t; but they were languid enough to pose when they were sleeping or lying about chewing their cud. On their feet they were quite a bit more shy and moved away from us whenever we approached.Version 2Though the temps were quite warm, hot actually, we rarely had any number of mosquitoes. But if you look closely at the image above there are lots of insects around the head of the Musk Ox. We had intense and dynamic hatches of Chironomids (midges) drifting along the road near Safety Lagoon and occasionally a few mossies, but bugs were not a feature during our visit.DSC_2070

DSC_2091I had one image of a baby Musk Ox taken through the windshield as the mother herded it rapidly out of the track heading up to Anvil Mountain. It wasn’t great picture, as a matter of fact it is pretty lousy and I deleted it. I wish I had it now simply to show how small and cute the youngsters are. We saw several females with young ones. The groups were often of mixed sexes and mixed age. We ended seeing 30-40 Musk Oxen each day and in some places 20-30 in one group.

We saw Moose in many places; most commonly down by Denali and out on the Kenai. But up near Nome we came on this female with a youngster of the year. She was more intent on chasing away last years youngster than in taking care of the smaller one. She chased the yearling over and over; splashing through the water, and creating quite a stir and lots of mist and an occasional rainbow. However they never got into good light and all the images are backlit and stark. Better Moose images will follow for other locations.
DSC_2611All I’m showing of Seward Peninsula Caribou is this set of shed antlers that I came across way out on the Kougarok Road way off the road in the rolling tundra hills. There will be other images of Caribou in the page about Denali – along with the better Moose and a Wolf as well.

Caribou are widespread in Alaska and the range extends all across Canada to the Atlantic Ocean. There are many sub-species (populations, groups) within this range. In Europe and Russia they are called Reindeer but our forms are all called Caribou. In Alaska there have been attempts to import domesticated reindeer from Siberia and northern Scandinavia. As a matter of fact there are a couple places near Nome where Reindeer are being raised. The image below is of a Reindeer that slipped out of its fenced enclosure.

Reindeer are really European or Siberian Caribou, and, after being imported, are being raised in a few places near Nome.
Red Foxes are here as well. They are widespread and live on ground squirrels, lemmings, birds eggs, birds, insects, and various bit of vegetation. The Arctic Fox is in the Nome area as well – though we never saw one. Arctic Foxes tend to eat lots of mammals (lemmings and voles) but will raid bird nesting colonies in the early summer.
The Arctic Ground Squirrel is the largest of our North American ground squirrels. They hibernate, the males are larger than the females and their weight varies greatly throughout the year. They are mostly vegetarian but will eat eggs and carrion when they find it. They hibernate for about 7-8 months and allow their internal body temperature to drop below freezing. Every two to three weeks they will wake up, shiver, and allow their body to reheat. They probably metabolize fats at these points and then drop off into a deep torpor for the next three weeks or so. Males start hibernation after the females and reenter the outside world before the females.


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