People who live in Alaskan cities wait patiently for the weekend to enjoy our great outdoors and its abundant wildlife. However, don’t overlook the wild lives that cities require.
I recently had the opportunity to spend four hours passing through a skyscraper in the inner city of Fairbanks. I was impatiently waiting to be called as a witness in a court hearing that never happened.
The lobby where I waited was glass, from floor to ceiling, with a great view of the soon-to-be-demolished Polaris building. The pigeons, technically rock pigeons, came and went at intervals. Three birds approached the ceiling when suddenly one of the birds began to roll towards the ground.
Overhead, a kestrel appeared, unsuccessfully chasing the dove to the ground. The drama repeated itself several times over the next few hours as she watched and waited. The highlight came when a young peregrine falcon made a full tilt at over 100 mph in a flock of half a dozen pigeons. The dive didn’t produce any dinner, but it was impressive nonetheless. No pigeons reappeared after the hawk incident.
The falcon reminded me of my old friend Vern Seifert, who came to Alaska from New York City, where he fell in love with falcons as a teenager. New York has one of the largest nesting populations of peregrine falcons in the country.
Realistically, how many wild animals does one see in the forest? I spent a fair amount of time, eight weeks, walking and glazing on the Denali Highway this fall. Rare was the day I saw more than a couple of moose, rarer still was a caribou day. A couple of foxes, a few ptarmigan, a few ducks, and several dozen trumpeter swans cover most of my wildlife sightings.
My recent trip to Fairbanks yielded a group of spruce chickens within a mile of Delta Junction, a decent flock of white-fronted geese about downtown, and a couple hundred sandhill cranes as I passed the outskirts of town.
Later, a coyote crossed Eielson Air Force Base and a cow with a moose calf faced the highway between North Pole and Fairbanks.
Anchorage is the place to see moose for visitors to the Lower 48. If tourists want moose without buildings, head to Delta Junction. Bull elk are easy to find once the brief hunting season has passed. Bison abound, though almost always behind a fence, it’s impossible to tell if the fence is keeping them in or out of the fields.
The odds of spotting a bear are better in Anchorage than anywhere else on the highway system. Coyotes and foxes frequent the outskirts of Anchorage and Fairbanks.
It wasn’t always like this. I grew up with a little trap near Anchorage. Over the years I’ve caught a coyote and a couple of mink, both near Potter Marsh. The growing human population has taught coyotes, in particular, that humans mean food.
As irritating as it may be, if it happens to you, watching a crow steal a box of cornflakes from the bed of a truck is about as entertaining as it gets. I’ll admit to cursing the big black birds when they rip open bags of dog food in the back of my truck.
One has to marvel at the tough pigeons that somehow make their living in grocery store parking lots.
[From 2021: Anchorage Costco customers say ravens are stealing their groceries in the parking lot]
Humans are the most wasteful predators in the world. No wonder scavengers prowl our edges.
A red fox grabs a pesky squirrel from a trap set on the edge of my front porch. I once picked up a bobcat hit by a car at the intersection of the Alaska Highway and the Whitehorse slip road. A grizzly is hit by a car between Anchorage at the Eagle River. In fact, the most dangerous place in Alaska for moose and bear attacks is Anchorage.
We did not move into the habitat of these animals, they moved into ours. I grew up on a farm south of Anchorage. I never saw a bear or bear track; and most of my free time was spent in the woods. Coyotes, foxes and minks weren’t there either. today they are. These animals came for us, for the food we left behind.
The peregrine and the gyrfalcon come for the city pigeons. The goshawks come for our chickens. The geese come for the early greens that cities encourage. Moose live in the city because of the abundant new browsing and the lack of predators. Don’t wait for the weekend, friends, take a walk around your city. He says the saying: “build it and they will come”. We built it and here they are.