Sitka Nature Show #125 – Nick Pyenson

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The 19 February show featured a conversation with Nick Pyenson, curator fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian. We talked about his work with whales, both ancient and more recent, as well as other interesting finds and some of the possible interpretations and implications of this work. Check out the Pyenson Lab weblog to see photos of some of the things we discussed. Nick was in town as part of the SSSC SIRF program.

If you have questions or observations you want to share, please feel free to leave a comment here or on the page I’ve set up for that purpose.

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Sitka Nature Show #124 – Andy Szabo

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The February 5th show featured a conversation with Andy Szabo, director of the Alaska Whale Foundation. We spoke primarily the Center for Coastal Conservation – a scientific field station located in Baranof Warm Springs, some of the monitoring projects that have already been started, and the ongoing work to continue its development as a station to do long term ecological monitoring for eastern Baranof, Chatham Strait, and Fredrick Sound

If you have questions or observations you want to share, please feel free to leave a comment here or on the page I’ve set up for that purpose.

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Sunny Day, Bird Observations

Sun was once again the order of the day, though today the winds started to pick up a bit more than they had. The forecast is for an arctic outflow event heading into the weekend, and this seemed like a precursor.

I helped a friend move a shelving unit out to her island house (and got a more intimate experience with the sharp waves the wind was pulling up). Out over the island, the wind was more steady, and I was interested to see several eagles soaring nearly in place on the breeze.

As we returned to the harbor, there was a Marbled Murrelet right at the mouth of Crescent Harbor. It was quite cooperative, though with both of us wanting to take pictures, the limited space afforded by the breakwaters and shoreline made it more difficult. What would have been my best winter Marbled Murrelet picture was not to be when I discovered the camera had focused on the water just behind the bird. This is not an infrequent occurrence, but it still leaves me with that minor frustration about what could have been.

I had intended to get all my species for the day during this outing, but ended up having a phone call for work start just after getting back to shore, so I went home instead. 

By the time the call was done, I had limited daylight and time, and decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood to pick up a junco or one of the wintering birds I have not yet photographed. A walk down to Etolin Street revealed reasonably cooperative White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrow, as well as junco. So today was one of the few so far this year where all my observations have been birds. 

My iNaturalist Observations for Today

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Sitka Big Year, One Month In

With one month down in the Sitka Big Year Project, I find my personal list well ahead of my 2012 pace. That year I had only 60 species, with all but four of them birds. In 2012, I was not photographing everything I counted, nor did I observe (for the list) winter plants. So it’s unsurprising that I have many fewer birds so far this year (it’s a lot easier to observe them generally than photograph them), but many more plants and lichens. So far I have 99 species (identified to species) with quite a few more observations that are not identified fully to species. Bryophytes and lichens were a big miss back in 2012 (I had far fewer species than I could have – including missing many common and relatively easy to identify things).

More generally I’m excited that with minimal advertising so far we’ve managed to have 13 people contribute over 500 observations of over 200 species (again, identified to species – with many additional observations of things not yet identified to that level). It’s been a lot of fun to see the observations come in from folks.

For the first day of the second month, I tried to keep up with the pattern of at least three new species. Today I took advantage of a little time this morning before my day filled up with calls to check out the channel in the morning sunlight. It was calm, and I was able to pick up Barrow’s Goldeneye, and both species of scaup.

My iNaturalist Observations for Today

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Lincoln Street Shore

With a little bit of snow and ice on the ground, prospects were limited for upland observations. However, Rowan had noticed a strange sounding insect earlier in the day down near the Science Center. Although she had picked it off the sidewalk and put it in the grass, I had a little hope she might be able to refind it.

She and I walked down after lunch, and spent a little time looking. Based on her description, I was able to determine it was most likely a Scaphinotus  ground beetle larva. We did not end up finding it, and she continued into the park, while I went down to the shoreline rocks.

With the sun out and minimal wind, it was pleasant along the shoreline. There are many lichens and bryophytes that inhabit the splash zone and just above it, so I spent some time looking and photographing.

By the time Rowan was returning from around the park, I had made it only a very short distance down the shoreline. After talking to me briefly, she continued home. I ended up spending the better part of another hour in that small area before heading home myself.

When I was nearing home, I was struck by the fresh snow on Verstovia. Through my binoculars, I could see tracks in the snow below Picnic Rock, and was thinking that it would be nice to spend some time up there. Not that I would expect to see many species this time of year, but it’s there is stunning scenery to be seen. Of course it helps to be in decent condition (as it’s a strenuous hike), and when I can spend nearly 2 hours travelling only a few meters, that doesn’t lend itself to increases in strength and conditioning.

My iNaturalist Observations for Today

(more photos to come)

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Upper Cross Trail and down the Ravine

The Gavan Hill ibuttons were due for collection, so I decided to make my way up to them for today’s outing.

Overnight, snow had fallen. While there was no significant accumulation in town, the trees on the mountains were covered.

I took a meandering pace to get there, stop regularly to look at, photograph, and in some cases collect mostly lichens. 

Even at this leisurely pace I found myself overheating a bit on uphill sections. 

After taking care of the ibuttons, I walked along the upper cross trail, thinking I would hike down the ravine/wash that had been scoured out during the high water event that triggered several landslides around town a couple of years ago. 

The first times I went up there after the washout occurred, I thought it was associated with the ravine under the first of the high bridges on the upper cross trail. However, this time when considering where to walk down, I was not so sure.

The Gavan Hill trail crosses the wash runout zone a bit below where the narrow ravine that channeled it ends. After that, there is a stream the trail crosses, so I thought I probably needed to cross it again on the upper cross trail before getting to the wash. When I didn’t cross a stream, I decided to check further and walked to the second of the high bridges (this one is collapsed). It was pretty clear this ravine had not been washed out.

I went back to the first and started down being uncertain whether it was the wash out or the stream. 

As you can probably tell from the picture of the bridge, it is a fairly narrow and deep ravine. There were places where logs had fallen in, some before the flood, others appeared to be after. At one point there was a very large and apparently old stump that I think had been the base of a large tree which had grown in the ravine. It was still well anchored, but had clearly been hammered on by the force of water propelled rocks and and other debris.

I was a little surprised at how loose a lot of the rock still was – I would have guessed that by now things would have been more settled. I don’t mean cascades or rocks were tumbling down, but rather that individual rock, even of pretty good size, were prone to moving when I stepped on them. It didn’t seem like anything particularly dangerous, but I decided pretty quickly to prefer the exposed bedrock for foot placement. 

It took a while to make my way through the ravine, occasionally climbing over or under logs, but mostly just walking. There was a final pinch point below which the ravine opened up and during the flood, the water must of spread out and lost a lot of its focused energy. This was where the main trail crosses, so I rejoined it and headed back.

After exploring this way, I am curious about the stream just up the trail – perhaps next time I will wander up from there and see where it comes from. My suspicion right now is that it’s fed by the (usually dry) wash that is crossed at the very start of the upper cross trail. It’s just that the water is running underground there.

Doing this more wandering-style outing reminded me that I used to do a lot more of that. In recent years I’ve tended to stick to trails and/or confine my wandering to places like the park or the lower part of Indian River. I do enjoy this sort of wander, so perhaps it’s time to start doing that again.

Bird-wise, it was pretty quiet for the whole outing. I thought I heard a woodpecker tapping a couple of times, but was never able to see it to confirm. There were ravens calling throughout (not always close) and at one point I heard a few kinglets in the trees around me. Near Swan Lake there was a Song Sparrow tuning up his song, and a handful of wigeons mixed in with the Mallards who have decided there’s enough open water for them now at the lake.

Weather was light snow showers with sunny breaks between. Although the snow showers were light, the clouds that brought them were thick, and even though it was only just after 1pm when I was nearing home, it felt like twilight – at least until that snow shower passed and it brightened up again a bit later.

My iNaturalist Observations for Today

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