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An adult female bear peers through a dense thicket of cow parsnip. During the summer months, Kodiak turns a lush, vibrant green as thick vegetation carpets the island. Kodiak bears balance their diet with a variety of plants, including grass. Photo by Lisa Hupp. With 1.9-million acres to wander and no portion more than 15 miles from the Pacific, Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge includes some of the most diverse habitat on the planet, covering the southern two-thirds of Kodiak Island, all of Ban and Uganik islands, and a section of Afognak Island. Though notorious for its famed denizen, the Kodiak brown bear, a genetically distinct subspecies of browns/grizzlies, the refuge protects more than just big bruins. Consider that among the lush fjords, valleys, wetlands, and 4,000-foot peaks, more than 1,000 pairs of nesting bald eagles claim the area as their home, along with 250 species of migrating or breeding fish,…

A northern saw-whet perches outside the nest at the author’s home in Palmer. Photo by Fredrik Norrsell. At one time people thought northern saw-whet owls were rare. They’re not. They are just tiny—only seven and a half inches tall—and nocturnal, so few people see them. However, in early March, you can often hear the rapid whet-whet-whet of a male saw-whet establishing his territory and trying to attract a mate. These loud, repetitive calls sometimes continue all night. Last spring, my husband, photographer Fredrik Norrsell, and I had the pleasure of having a family of northern saw-whet owls grow up in our backyard. Over the course of sleepless nights from April through June, we watched and photographed these little owls raising their family. On April 1, we were enjoying the sun on the porch when Fredrik noticed a sleepy head sticking out of our nesting box. A female saw-whet owl had…

One could make the argument that bears seem slothful while sleeping, but once awake, they are eating machines. Photo by Donna Dewhurst. Chances are you’ve heard of a “murder” of crows, but what about a “parliament” of owls or an “asylum” of loons? As a naturalist, I decided to research the origins of these unusual terms. What I found in many cases was unexpected, a reflection on how language often incorporates humor and the human perspective. First of all, a collective noun in the English language for a group of animals is called a “term of venery” with the original meaning related to Medieval hunting. The oldest reference is The Book of Saint Albans, an essay on hunting, published in 1486. One of my favorite names tracks back to that reference, where a group of bears is called a “sloth.” Sloth comes from the Middle English adjective “slow” and is…

Weasels, also called ermines, live one or two years. Their fur turns white in winter and brown in summer. Photo by Eric M. Beeman. In the last century, when my wife was but a wee tyke, she spied a small hole in the bank overlooking a drainage ditch. An inquisitive lass, her rampant curiosity led her to insert her arm to see what treasures lay entombed inside. A muffled chittering and a quick brush with silky fur necessitated a hasty retreat, but not before a set of sharp white teeth buried themselves into the soft flesh of her thumb. My future bride shrieked and flailed her arm to no avail, as the marauder was firmly attached. A final bash loosened its grip and our young adventurer sped off to the solace of her grandparents, curious no more. Most introductions to Alaska’s smallest furbearer are less traumatic, although perhaps as brief.…

A bull moose rubs his antlers on weather instruments in Anchorage. Photo courtesy Dan Peterson, NOAA/NWS/WSFO Anchorage It’s uncommon to see wolverines in Anchorage, but one rogue wolverine ventured into the city where it could prey on chickens and chase stray cats. Biologist Dave Battle got a call one day that the wolverine had killed someone’s rabbits and stashed them under a low deck. Every time the homeowner approached the deck, the wolverine growled. To solve the dilemma, Battle first used a garden tool to pull the rabbits out from under the deck. Then, he and a fellow biologist turned on the hose and jetted water at the animal. The wolverine sprinted out from under the deck and never returned. “Not every day that you spray a wolverine out from under a deck with a garden hose,” Battle says. Battle, who has worked as the management biologist for the Anchorage…