Fall In to Autumn

Fall In to Autumn

Fall In to Autumn

5 minute read – 
Autumn is a season of change! It’s the bridge which helps us transition from summer towards winter. What a beautiful bridge it is, with leaves blazing colour in vibrant hues of red, orange and yellow. Fireweed has flowered and the leaves are crimson. Against this backdrop the first snows fall on the mountaintops.

Birds begin their migration back to their southern overwintering grounds, after a summer spent mating, nesting, rearing young, and eating well. Before we see the V’s flying overhead, we often hear them honking and calling to each other.

In the world of ungulates, it is the time of the rut. Antlered animals have finished growing this season’s antlers; their velvet has sloughed off and now they sport their hardened, ready-to-duel finery. We can see and hear as the males clash, challenging each other for the right to breed the females. Elk stags bugle, bull moose softly grunt – calling to interested females in the area and warning off competing males.

Watson, in the foreground, has shed the velvet on his first year’s full antler growth.

Those with horns are also clashing. This looks less like a duel and more like a train crash. Thinhorn Mountain Sheep rams, both Stone and Dall subspecies, run at each other and smash heavy horns together – the echo of this collision ricochets like a rifle shot. Muskox bulls have been rumbling since early August, chasing each other, establishing dominance and finally banging horns as they work to impress the females for breeding rights.
We begin to notice a lack of Arctic Ground Squirrel activity. We no longer hear the constant shrill warnings as nearby predators hunt; where are these industrious rodents? Hibernation comes early – females are already underground for the long winter ahead, and the last of the males aboveground continue to harvest and stockpile their midden, into early October. Predators such as Red Foxes can be seen traveling from one burrow-entrance to another…..looking for a disappearing meal of ground squirrel which used to be in abundance. Soon they’ll be gone completely, hibernating through the winter, under a thick layer of blanketing snow – but not just yet.

Autumn means hibernation is coming.  We’ve noticed a lessening of Arctic Ground Squirrel activity at Yukon Wildlife Preserve.

Humans are adding clothing layers, finding sweaters, mitts and toques in storage. We need these warm additions on the crisp, cold autumn mornings. Afternoon sunshine heats up; we turn our faces to the sun and shed those layers – it’s not winter yet! So too are the animals growing coats of winter fur, wool and hair. Mountain goats have spent all summer shedding last winter’s wool; almost immediately it’s time to grow in this winter’s layer of hair. Arctic Foxes are beginning to add some white to their brown and grey camouflage. They not only change colour with their winter fur, they also add seeming bulk. All those layers of white fluffy fur help them stay warm, maintain body core temperature and thrive in the harsh winter environment of the Far North.
Enjoying this short season is highly recommended – there’s nothing as seasonally relevant or celebratory as jumping into a pile of autumnal leaves. Cranberries are ripening, harvesting continues. Underneath the beauty of the changing season, there is a sense of urgency. Whether we are human or animal, we know winter is coming, and while it’s not here yet, time and opportunity are limited to eat, put enough weight on, or store food to survive the coming months.

Summer is over, the cycle continues. Autumn is the clear signal to prepare for what’s ahead. Fall in to Autumn; experience the sights and sounds with enjoyment, wherever you are.

Julie Kerr

Julie Kerr

Visitor Services Coordinator

Julie is a Registered Veterinary Technologist, living and working in Whitehorse since 2012. She joined the team in May 2018. She is passionate about wildlife, nature and living in a conscious manner with both. Her free time is spent outdoors observing wild animals and ecosystems; her connection to the natural world around her brings great joy – joy she loves to share with anyone interested. Honestly? Work and life blend rather seamlessly.

Explore by Category

Explore by Author

Mother’s Day Tribute

Mother’s Day Tribute

Mother’s Day Tribute

1.5 Min Video – 

Whether we are human or a furry animal, we can’t do it without our Mothers! They nurture and care for us, setting us on the path to a healthy and successful life.  Join us in this tribute to mothers everywhere, of all shapes and sizes.
Maybe you were my birth mom, maybe you’re the mom that helped me later. Anyway you slice it, you’re the best.

Thanks Mom!

Lindsay Caskenette & Julie Kerr

Lindsay Caskenette & Julie Kerr

Visitor Services Manager and Visitor Services Coordinator

Lindsay and Julie love to share the Preserve the same way they explore life – full on and full of adventure!  They have a collective love of:  Animals....Lindsay dogs, Julie foxes; Adventure.... Lindsay dog mushing, Julie extreme camping;  both take on animal personas during story telling.  Together they support the Preserve with a strong Visitor Services presence and often, they even get work done (this happens most often when the other one is out of the office).   

867-456-7400
 info@yukonwildlife.ca

Explore by Category

Explore by Author

First Baby of Spring!

First Baby of Spring!

First Baby of Spring!

1.5 Min Video – 

Spring is for babies!  Our first baby of 2020 is a Wood Bison, born Sunday, May 3.  Executive Director, Jake, was in the right place at the right time with a spotting scope and camera to share this footage of the bison calf within its first hour of life.

The calf is shaky on its legs as one of the young herd members comes to investigate.  That comes as some surprise, and causes Mom to step in to offer support.  Bison mothers are very protective, so generally, we want to view them from a distance.  We’ll update once we can get close enough to identify if the calf is a boy or girl.

Jake Paleczny

Jake Paleczny

Executive Director

Jake Paleczny is passionate about interpretation and education. He gained his interpretative expertise from a decade of work in Ontario’s provincial parks in addition to a Masters in Museum Studies from the University of Toronto. His interests also extend into the artistic realm, with a Bachelor of Music from the University of Western Ontario and extensive experience in galleries and museums.

867-456-7313
jake@yukonwildlife.ca

Explore by Category

Explore by Author

Wild Spring Adventure!

Wild Spring Adventure!

Wild Spring Adventure!

6 minute read (and/or) watch the video!

Spring is the sign of new life! It’s the circle of life intertwined and flourishing from increased sunlight.

It’s a time of birds migrating. Some, like swans, stop only a short time on their way to nesting grounds further north; some stay for the season, like the chickadee and bluebird – they build nests, attract mates and raise their families.

There’s a saying – “Spring is in the air” – that implies a renewal of spirit and perhaps a bit of friskiness in certain species, like Red Foxes, that may lead to becoming parents to this year’s young (or perhaps they already ARE parents!). Of course, some species breed in the autumn, so that as spring progresses, we will start to see babies being born – at Yukon Wildlife Preserve we are hopeful that we will see Bison, then Caribou calves in the coming weeks and months. We expect to see wild fox kits and ducklings as well.

At the Preserve, Arctic Ground Squirrels started popping their heads above ground April 7 this year, with the males the first to break their winter hibernation. Juveniles and females are soon to follow their lead. We see, sitting on the cliffs and soaring above fields, birds of prey like bald eagles, coming in to hunt this prolific prey species. Spring is a notable return of the constant cry of alarm calls of ground squirrels, as their many predators hunt them from land or sky – displaying the full Circle of Life.

New growth has begun with grasses and early flowers like crocuses, to name only two plant species. This is important nutrition to many animals after a long cold winter, and grazers like Thinhorn Mountain Sheep can be found on south facing slopes, enjoying the tender new shoots, and the ease of eating, now that the deep snow has melted.

Crocuses are one of the first signs of spring – and important nutrition to many animals after a long cold winter.  Here we see a very early crocus found by the authors on their spring adventure hike at Yukon Wildlife Preserve.   Photo by Lindsay Caskenette

Water, water, water everywhere! Swans have returned with a splash – their honking fills the air with the best kind of noise as they stop over to feed while on their long migration to their northern nesting grounds . There is a year round marsh in the moose habitat at the Preserve, but the seasonal one next door in the mule deer habitat seems to be preferred by the swans – to the seeming curiosity of one of the female mule deer.  Everyone seems to love jumping and running through puddles, no matter how big or small the puddle…..or animal…..moose, humans and muskox! After a winter of conserving energy while food is scarce and energy is focused to survival, jumping in a puddle can lead to manic runs around the yard (or habitat). It seems spring can be about fun and burning off extra energy!

Swans have a long migration in the spring – open water at Yukon Wildlife Preserve is a frequent stop over for food and rest by migratory birds.  Some, like bluebirds, stay for the season, some, like the swan, typically move on to nesting grounds further north.  Photo Lindsay Caskenette

When you need a meal, sometimes you have to “spring” into action. Lynx are natural jumpers and we took the opportunity to provide enrichment to our resident lynx females by placing their food in trees. In the wild, lynx prefer snowshoe hare and will use powerful leaps to catch their meal within only a few “springs”….we mean jumps…..

Limited smells in winter mean that spring unearths a plethora of new scents on the air. Red Fox have an excellent sense of smell, making it easy for them to follow their nose to food sources. When they’ve eaten their fill, they will cache extra food as snacks for later. They keep an eye and ear out to avoid anyone following them to their cache site – other foxes and many birds in the Corvidae Family – grey jays, magpies, and ravens are known to steal their snacks.

Whether you’re human or animal, winter coats are shedding – and that wool, hair and fur can be found on the environment – rocks, trees, and fences (and sometimes finds its way into lining the nests of birds and small mammals like ground squirrels…..)  Shedding coats leads to a period of time not known for its fashion sense….and much shagginess in animals like bison.

Winter is over and the cycle of the year continues. Spring arrives, bringing increased sunlight and changes in everyone’s behaviour and appearance – humans and animals alike. We shed layers, feel the sun on our faces, enjoy the smells and the sounds of life renewing around us. We experience a rejuvenation of our spirits. Be well and enjoy spring, wherever you are.

Lindsay Caskenette & Julie Kerr

Lindsay Caskenette & Julie Kerr

Visitor Services Manager and Visitor Services Coordinator

Lindsay and Julie love to share the Preserve the same way they explore life – full on and full of adventure!  They have a collective love of:  Animals....Lindsay dogs, Julie foxes; Adventure.... Lindsay dog mushing, Julie extreme camping;  both take on animal personas during story telling.  Together they support the Preserve with a strong Visitor Services presence and often, they even get work done (this happens most often when the other one is out of the office).   

867-456-7400
 info@yukonwildlife.ca

Explore by Category

Explore by Author

Wandering Wood Bison

Wandering Wood Bison

Wandering Wood Bison

7 minute read – “Winter Is Here” series continues with the true behemoth of the north – Wood Bison! 

At first glance, the Wood Bison (Bison bison athabascae) seems to be ill-suited to live in the far North.  Especially when we think about its Southern cousin, the Plains Bison (Bison bison bison), which historically has made its home on the rolling hills and endless grasslands of the prairies.  It seems fairly safe to assume that compared to the prairies, it is a completely different game of horns to survive the winter in the Yukon.  Extended periods of extreme cold, a short growing season – hence relatively scarce food sources, combined with unforgiving, mountainous and swampy terrain pose a different set of challenges.  Yet bison are thriving – how do they do it?  Through a series of adaptations in structure, behaviour and physiology, we will see that Wood Bison are in fact quite at home in the far North.

The Wood Bison is a giant:  the largest living land mammal in North America.  Males can weigh up to 2000 pounds, which is up to 30% larger than its Southern relative; * roughly *  the difference between a SmartCar and a VW Golf.  In colder climates it actually pays to be bigger! Larger individuals (which have a smaller surface area-to-volume ratio) are better at retaining heat. This rule of nature is known as Bergmanns Rule. A pattern, where species tend to be larger in colder climates than similar species of the same genus living in warm climates, is certainly not law – not all species of nature comply with it.  Yet, bison do, and living large in a cold climate means the more fat you can store to help you get through winter. 1[Read more about the complexity of nature pertaining to Bergmanns Rule

Two Wood Bison bulls at the Yukon Wildlife Preserve. Take note of the large shoulder hump and the massive head and broad face. 

Beyond size, additional adaptations assure the success of Wood Bison including a very thick and woolly winter coat. This extremely dense coat of durable hair is so warm, combined with that retained body heat, and incredibly thick skin, falling snow that accumulates on its coat does not melt, thus keeping them dry and warm. 

Foraging for food in the winter is a challenge – summer vegetation is buried in deep snow and is of low nutritional value. Wood Bison “dig” for food by swinging their large, heavy heads. Within that big hump on their shoulders are long spines on the vertebrae, muscles and ligaments which support large neck muscles and the head. Now you know – that big odd hump on their shoulders is not just fat – it is a vital tool for their survival.

To manage decreased food availability and quality bison cannot just simply eat more food, more often, to sustain itself. As an ancillary adaptation, and most fascinatingly, Wood Bison are able to slow their metabolism during winter as a way to conserve energy. Just like cows, grass is a bison’s staple food in the wild but it does not contain many nutrients in the winter. By slowing down their metabolism it also slows down digestion, thus the food is kept longer in the intestinal tract which allows them to draw more energy out of one feeding. Rather than putting out critical energy by digging through snow (with their giant head!) and foraging for food, they can instead conserve energy by slowing their metabolism and getting more available nutrition from one feeding. This slowed digestion is doing double duty for the bison. As they are able to squeeze every bit of nutrients from a feeding this anatomical process is also producing valuable internal body heat.

In the Yukon landscape, Bison have been roaming for millennia; first as the Steppe Bison, predecessor to the Wood Bison.  Due to a number of reasons however, they became extirpated in their Yukon homerange in the early 1900’s.  It is believed it may have been a combination of habitat loss due to climate change, disease and human predation.  In the 1980’s, the Yukon Government joined the National Wood-Bison Recovery Program and re-introduced a herd of about 170 bison.  Since then, Yukon’s wild Bison have re-adapted to life in the North – quite well too! Making best use of their terrain, they seek shelter in treed valleys when the weather gets nasty.  Interestingly, they can also be found on alpine plateaus up to 5000ft.  High altitude meadows are exposed to wind, which reduces the snow cover and allows the bison to find the underlying grass more easily. Typically good habitat for bison; however when winter weather patterns swing it can add additional challenges to these food driven behemoths. A sudden warming in the winter of 2018 caused peril for a few of these wandering bison.  2An odd case of bison death in the Yukon

Consciously or not, wood bison may make use of a weather phenomenon that sometimes occurs when temperatures drop:  the inversion layer. Under some conditions, a layer of cold dense air accumulates in the valleys and without wind, may stay there for days.  Meanwhile, on the mountain tops the air can be up to 20C degrees warmer – well worth undertaking the climb.  One could argue, with all science put aside and simply as the Kings and Queens of living large, they might like to hang out on top of their kingdom.  If this was me living out there, that’s what I would do!

These mighty large creatures might seem fairly sedentary but their numbers have grown strong and steadily since re-introduction. They have proven their adaptability to varying habitat; moving among forested stands and meadows, alongside caribou and moose, to wandering hill-side, among mountain sheep. They are a formidable ungulate, and one of the most, among the prey animals in the Yukon. Their massive size and mass consumption of greens is not to be mistaken for sluggish or unresponsive carriage. Wood Bison are intelligent animals that are quick on their feet when needed. Their ability to outrun predators such as wolves or humans is unprecedented. These monumental animals could quickly leave you in the snow-dust as they purposefully trek their northern landscape in order to thrive.

Sarah Stuecker

Sarah Stuecker

Wildlife Interpreter

As a wilderness guide, Sarah has spent many days out in the bush over the years. Sitting out there glued to the scope is just as fascinating to her as observing and following animal tracks in the depth of winter, trying to draw conclusions of what this particular critter might have been up to. Sarah is passionately sharing her stories as part of our team of wildlife interpreters. 

 

867-456-7300
 info@yukonwildlife.ca

Explore by Category

Explore by Author