Sunday, December 1, 2013 Tiny wildlife, big surprise!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:34 am, sunset 3:58 pm for a total daylight of 6 hours and 23 minutes. Tomorrow will be 3 minutes and 11 seconds shorter.

Sunny, clear skies, temps from 18 to 21ยบ with a strong NNE wind from 19-25 mph with gusts maxing out at 43 mph.

Fourth of July Beach
At first, I thought it was just another wind-blown brown alder leaf skittering along the frozen beach. Then I realized the wind blew from a different direction and this little one must be self-propelled. I hurried over to see a tiny brown animal dash underneath a collapsed ice sheet. A vole? Here at the edge of the tide, far from any vegetation or shelter?

I waited patiently and after several long minutes, the little brown ball with a light belly reappeared and bounced along on its short pink legs, a long tail trailing behind. I got a better glimpse of the long pointy nose and minute ears and realized it was a shrew! Such a busy little creature, poking and probing through the tide wrack and beach debris for calories.

I moved about 20-30' back so my observant young dog would not bother it. Keeping her occupied with a well-placed stick to fetch, I kept watching the busy shrew. Suddenly, it made a beeline for me! I watched in astonishment as the tiny mammal bounced along, tail streaming behind. I stopped it with my boot, then lifted up the toe. It shot underneath and sat there, calmly looking around, as if it came to say hello and have a cup of tea. I just couldn't believe it! How did it perceive me, standing directly into the sun and downwind? Why would it risk such a long dash in the open to an unknown destination?

I stealthily got out my point and shoot camera and tried to get a few photos without accidentally crushing it. It was truly round like a ball with tiny black eyes. Long whiskers arced from each side of its pointy pink nose. Its pink bare legs and feet must get terribly cold in this wintry weather.

Knowing I could not keep this secret from my dog for very long, I carefully took a giant step away, and threw the dog's stick far from the now exposed marvel. Immediately, the little shrew obligingly bounced back to the relative safety of the ice shelf and resumed foraging. What an incredible, unexpected connection between a totally wild animal and a human! 

Upon returning home, I did a little research. Of the 10 known shrew species in Alaska, this is likely either the Common/Masked Shrew or the Dusky Shrew. It is really hard to determine the species without doing skull and teeth analyses, but those two species seem to be in our range and habitat. They do not hibernate, and must spend most of its short life foraging for food. The Dusky Shrew lives 16-18 months, weighs 4.4 to 10.2 grams (a penny weighs 3 grams), and is 95-139 mm long.

Shrews resemble mice, but are not rodents. They are insectivores with sharp teeth that eventually wear down. They eat insects, spiders, invertebrates, and some also eat fish, seeds, and plants. They must eat almost constantly, day and night, year round, due to their high metabolism, up to 3x its weight in food a day. What an amazing animal!


One never knows what to expect on the Nature Show! The program airs 24/7, no subscription necessary, and is full of mystery, surprise, beauty, and inspiration. See you outside!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

No comments:

Post a Comment