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October conditions arrived in mid-September this year. When most mountain residents were looking forward to a mild Indian Summer, the weather made a sudden frigid turn. Early winter conditions have a dramatic effect on the local wildlife and plants. Small animals, like mice and voles, gain an early start on their winter life below the snow pack. They'll spend the next 5 or 6 months traveling in tunnels beneath the heavy snowpack. Coyotes may be spotted leaping high into the air before diving head first to excavate these tasty morsels.
Black and grizzly bears are preparing for their winter nap, with the black bears heading into the dens slightly earlier than the grizzlies. Elk are wrapping up the autumn rut, and the dominant bulls will have expended much of their summer supply of energy. Their exhausted state leaves them more vulnerable to predators. High overhead, golden eagles pass, unnoticed by all but the most determined observer, as they head south for the winter.
Buffaloberries are the single most critical summer food for black and grizzly bears, but the berries fall from the plant with the first hard frost. By late September, there are few berries left. Bears are now forced to look elsewhere for their final meals before denning. Both types of bear prefer to feed on berries and nuts (such as whitebark pine nuts) when available, but when these foods become scarce, grizzlies use their long claws to dig a few 'carrots'. Yellow and Northern Sweet-vetch (Hedysarum sulphurescens and H. boreale) produce nutritious tap roots that are highly sought by grizzlies in late fall and early spring, particularly when other foods are unavailable. Throughout the summer, the plants store energy to be used to fuel the next seasons growth, and this provides a nutritious autumn food source. Click here to learn more about seasonal food preferences
High Flying Eagles
Keep your eyes on the sky this month as the golden eagle migration shifts into high gear. October is the peak month for the southbound migration. This migration was discovered by Peter Sherrington and Des Allen in March of 1993. Now, after 20 migratory field seasons, researchers have witnessed 84,280 migratory birds of prey, of which 69,677 were golden eagles. The immature eagles pass through first, followed by adult birds. Hay Meadow, at the base of Mount Lorette in Kananaskis Country is the base of operations for the research, and a fabulous place to watch the eagles pass overhead. They are difficult to spot without a high powered spotting scope as they fly at very high elevation and in very small groupings. They'll are heading towards the western Great Plains in the U.S., ranging from southern Montana to northeastern Colorado. Juvenile eagles may head farther south, perhaps as far as northern Mexico.
Bullwinkle in Love
While October marks the end of the elk rut, woodland caribou (reindeer) and moose are just getting into the swing of things. The rutting season for both of these large deer begins in mid-September and runs until November. While caribou follow the example of elk and establish a large harem, moose prefer the individual approach. Bull moose create scrapes, shallow depressions formed by pawing the ground and urinating. They will also urinate on their legs to concentrate their scent. Add to this a low pitched grunt and some antler thrashing of the local shrubbery, and you have the makings of an ungulate Adonis. Mating is brief, after which the moose return to their normal solitary lifestyle.
All material copyright Ward Cameron 2002