Alaska is one of two states that I have not visited. Tennessee, known as the “Volunteer State,” is the other. Many years ago, I was scheduled to speak there, but airport connections failed me. However, Gov. Buford Ellington, a guest that evening, mailed me a certificate that declared I was an “Honorary Volunteer.”
One of our long-time Exeter readers wrote on May 23, in part: “My son has lived in Anchorage, Alaska for 30 years. I have been up for a visit many times. Consequently, I often look at the on-line edition of the Alaska Daily News. Yesterday's paper had an article about birds. I thought you might be interested.”
Indeed I was. The three-page article was headlined: “Anchorage bird population booms as migrating species arrive.” Mike Dunham, the author, wrote in part: “A lot of visitors are flying into Anchorage right now. But they won't be buying any T-shirts or postcards.
“May brings tens of thousands of birds to town — geese, cranes, swans, sandpipers and herons, to name a few of the commonly spotted species. Exactly how many is hard to say ... it is possible to see 90 to 100 species in a 24-hour period, especially if you include Cook Inlet and a side trip to Seward. And there are certainly more than 100 species passing through Alaska in the spring.
“The spring migration is much more compressed than the out migration in the fall. 'Birds have a really tight window up here to breed in,' said Nils Warwick, director of Audubon Alaska. Their nesting has to be tightly coordinated with the peak insect hatch. If they miss that, it can have big consequences for the young. In contrast birds can stagger their departure in autumn. The unsuccessful breeders may head out as early as July, followed by the successful breeders and juveniles. It is not unheard of that birds could still be leaving the state as late as November.
“'The arrival of migrating wildfowl makes Anchorage a wonderful situation for people who want to come to see some unique species and still be in the city,' said Tamara Zeller, with Fish and Wildlife.”
Our Exeter reader's letter continued: “The other evening after supper I went out and sat on the back step ... the tree frogs were providing a wonderful concert. My wife joined me and we soon observed a creature in a small maple tree about 40 feet away. We did not know what it was at first but later we recognized it as a porcupine feeding on maple leaves. We watched a bit until it slid down the tree.”
Although porcupines are members of the Rodentia family, which includes mice, squirrels, and beavers, I have never felt the same sentimental regard for these animals as I have for beavers. I'm sure that became so after pulling porcupine quills from the mouths of several dogs we owned over many decades. I was not surprised to read the porcupine our readers saw was eating maple leaves as much of this animal's diet is made up of herbaceous food. David F. Costello, author of “The World Of The Porcupine,” wrote: “Porcupines do not gnaw bark every time they climb a tree. In fact, many 'roost' trees, where they sleep during the daytime, are never touched for food purposes.” These animals are noted for their desire for salt. Many camp owners found that out after discovering “chewed” tools and camp furniture that previously had been handled by sweaty hands.
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Another Exeter reader, in a letter dated May 24, wrote in part: “Your May 10th column mentioned squirrels. We feed peanuts in the shell to a huge group of gray squirrels. They come to a bird feeder. If I don't put the peanuts out the night before, they come to the fence outside our living room window and look in. They seem to be asking where the peanuts are. When I fill the feeder, squirrels come popping up over the garage roof from all directions.
“We discovered we had a flying squirrel living under our refrigerator in March. First he was in a closet in our kitchen. Our youngest son moved some boxes and this animal leaped out on my husband's shoulder, then down on the floor, ran to the cellar door and squeezed under it. We have a Griffin's Cockatoo named Roscoe who tosses seeds all over the floor. The squirrel, named 'Rocky,' comes out to check the food supply and climbed up in Rosco's seed tray in his cage to grab a seed. He then jumped down and ran back under the fridge. He was not afraid of us. I went into the living room to tell my husband. He tripped over a hassock and fell on the floor. I guess that scared everyone including Rocky the squirrel. We didn't see Rocky for a week so we figured he had moved on when the weather warmed up. We had raccoons come to the feeder two years ago and discovered they liked french fries. I should write a book about all our creatures.”
Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey 03446.