It started snowing this morning at 7:20. Our forecast for the arrowhead is for heavy snow, high winds and gale warnings for the Big Lake... a Nor'easter to be sure.
Mary made a great breakfast of bacon, eggs and hash browns. After breakfast I topped off the redpoll feeder with crushed sunflower seeds and filled the suet feeder. When I closed the patio door, a large bird cruised over the house. I thought for a moment that it was Sammy our Herring Gull that stops by each day for his snack. The bird circled the house and when I looked out our east window I saw that it was a Bald Eagle. He landed in a dead birch next to another immature Bald Eagle and about twenty ravens. I knew immediately there was a deer kill in the area.
Our east window looks out over the wildflower garden that is still knee deep snow; apparently, about to get deeper. At the far edge of the garden, almost into the white cedars, was a long red swath of blood. It was at least forty yards long reaching part way down the ridge into the moose maple. I could now see a large flock of the Ravens sitting on a deer carcass. I told Mary that I needed to go and check to see if it was one of the four local deer that we feed.
This was the second deer kill by wolves I have seen in the last ten days, which is pretty much on schedule. Each winter, especially in the months of February and March, I find a deer carcass about every seven days. This one was still warm and barely consumed, mostly by the crows and ravens. It is always a relief to find that the victim was not one of my deer. I decided to drag the deer back through the garden, so we could watch the ravens and crows. The deer was not that large, probably 120-130 pounds; but it was tough going through the crusted snow. I left it under a spruce tree, so the impending snow storm would not completely inundate the carcass.
The snow became heavier and the crows and ravens began flying to the deer carcass. We counted sixteen ravens at one time, plus many crows that have arrived in the last couple of weeks. It is interesting to watch the "pecking order" of the ravens. They squawk, posture and at times wrestle each other for turns at the deer buffet. During this noisy period, a beautiful mature Bald Eagle flew in and landed on the carcass. I got to observe first hand that the crows back off from the ravens and the ravens from the eagles. Although there was no confrontation amongst the three species, the eagle went about his dining in peace but not quiet. The crows sat off to one side and the ravens hopped around the carcass, stealing whatever small tidbits they could find. The eagle sat on the carcass and ripped off chunks of meat and intestines, the power of their beak is quite impressive.
The snow kept getting heavier and the northeast wind was blowing 20-30 miles an hour. I was trying to take photos through the window, but with the heavy snow hitting the window it was next to impossible. I was sitting with a perfect wildlife photo op and the weather was screwing it up. I decided to take off the screen and open the window six inches, just wide enough to fit my telephoto lens. The other problem was the strong wind and horizontal snowfall, which was getting worse each hour.
I managed to get some photos of the eagle and ravens, but it was difficult to shoot in blizzard conditions. I took a break and at 1:00, I called in our snow totals to the National Weather Service in Duluth. I have been a snow spotter for them for the last two years, so each snowfall gets reported until the bitter end. So with six more inches recorded, we now sit at 91 inches of snow for the season... with more to come.
A hour and half after measuring the snow depth, Mary told me to get the camera ready because two wolves were coming up the ridge from the south valley. I went to the east window and opened it again and set my camera in position to take their photos. The culprits were returning to the scene of the crime. One of the wolves was smaller and had a bit of the mange. The second wolf was a beautiful animal, I had seen both of them before, but never together. The big one was in our cedars one afternoon and I was fortunate to get some decent photos of him. Now the weather was so rotten, I figured the whole photo episode would be a wash.
The big wolf bit into the rear leg of the deer carcass and pulled it ten yards like it was a rag doll. I knew the power of the wolf after seeing the aftermath of various deer kills, but seeing it first hand is a whole other thing. I shot many photos while the small wolf ate, the large wolf was uneasy in the setting close to our buildings. He watched while the smaller wolf ate, sometimes walking in a loop and returning to quickly eat. They stayed about five minutes and left in the same direction, south into the valley below our ridge.
The ravens continued eating until nightfall and the eagle returned one more time. The two immature eagles that first landed in the morning, never came back. I told Mary, it will be interesting to see if the carcass gets moved during the night, or if the wolves return in the morning. We discussed the fact that few places exist where you can observe such a wondrous cycle of life out your bedroom window.
I am far from a wolf expert, but two things about them I know... First, in our forest the wolf goes to lengths to avoid man and second, he has no other enemy.
"Wolves are not our brothers; they are not our subordinates, either. They are another nation, caught up just like us in the complex web of time and life." ~ Henry Beston