Estuary Life Trail

The day started gray overcast with the promise of winds and rain. 

Wanting to get some obersvations in before the day fell apart, my big year collaborator and I took a drive out to Starrigavan to walk the Estuary Life trail. 

The tide was out, and the swans were scattered on both the estuary side and the bay side of the road, but most were along the river in the lower part of the estuary.

I chose a couple of the more distinctive lichens, one that is pretty easy to genus (<em>Peltigera</em>), but sometimes tricky after that. The other seems to be distinctive.

Graphis scripta looks like little pen marks on white bark, though the white is actually part of the lichen (the bark is gray). Despite it’s distinctive appearance, it is easy to overlook, and I was a little surprised how common it seemed to be.

While looking at the alder trunks, Kitty and I discussed maybe take a day or two to just try and exhaustively catalog the epiphytes on alders along the trail. No doubt the biggest challenge would be putting names to everything.

Another interesting find was a small orange jelly fungus. It looked a bit different than others I’ve paid attention to, so hopefully we can get a name for it.

A cooperative Great Blue Heron standing in last years grasses at the upper part of the estuary meadow was too nice to pass up, so I took a picture of it. Despite the rain starting to fall as we finished the loop, I also felt compelled to get photos of a flock of Surf Scoters not far off the river mouth. 

By early afternoon the rain had started to fall, and the winds began to pick up. Later this evening it was quite windy, gusts were whipping through the trees, and rain pounded on the windows. This has been a fairly regular occurrence over the late fall and winter. My memory may be off, but it seems like the past couple of winters had far less of this degree of stormy weather (but I think they were the unusual years over all in that respect).

My iNaturalist Observations from Today

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Dim Day

Today was one of those where cars had their headlights on at midday. With rain and wind, it was an inspiring day to stay inside, but I wanted to get at least three observations in, plus I had a couple of errands to run, so I headed out with Connor and Rowan after lunch.

At first thinking I might look around at Pioneer Park, the falling rain was sufficient to deter me, so we sat in the car for a few minutes to see if any birds popped up. Not seeing any, we headed out to Starrigavan to check there.

The tide was coming down from a 12 foot high (had there been more of a low pressure influencing things, I would have planned to go out there to catch the high tide). I was a little surprised at how quiet it seemed – there were plenty of swans, but few ducks. Perhaps they were tucked away in the flooded estuary grass and sedge meadow. 

I did get pictures of a Bufflehead, and thought about taking pictures of swans, though they wouldn’t have been new for the year.

The photo accompanying this post gives a sense of what it was like out there. I couldn’t take the picture fast enough to avoid getting rain drops on the lens, even though I was sitting in the car.

Back at Sea Mart, a Horned Grebe and Long-tailed Duck had shown up while we were gone, so they made up the final two of my observations for the day.

This evening things seemed mostly calm at the house, though the official readings (at the airport) were showing winds in the 20s with gusts in the 30s. Periodically a squall moved through, and I heard the wind whistling and rain pounding against the windows. Tomorrow calls for more of the same.

My iNaturalist Observations from Today

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Wet Weather Returns

The weather was just the sort that inspires one to hang out in a warm dry house. 

Overnight temperatures only slightly above freezing combined with the frozen ground a bit of precipitation left streets and sidewalks coated in a treacherous glaze of ice. School was canceled, and the RIDE (public bus transportation) stopped running for a while after busses slide off the road.

Rain continued throughout the day, and I think the worst of the slick surfaces subsided, but it does not get much more bone chilling than 33 and rainy. There’s no worry about frostbite, but near-freezing wetness just saps the heat right out of you.

If not for the big year project (and my aim to get at least three new observations a day) and a report of Killer Whales moving through the channel to the east, I might not have gone outside all day.

Instead, I took Connor and Rowan out to Whale Park. They watched the waters while I looked around for things to photograph. In the time it took me to get my observations, they did not see any Killer Whales, but we did here Humpback Whales trumpeting.

A break in the clouds appeared as we were heading home, and we saw a rainbow against Gavan Hill shortly after we arrived home. 

Even the short time outside left me feeling a bit chilled, but despite that, I do enjoy the way the mountains look in this weather. Snow is typically down about halfway on the trees, and there’s a fade from light to dark slopes marking the transition from snowfall to rainfall. One of these days maybe I’ll get some pictures that capture a bit of the monochrome beauty I see here in this weather.

My iNaturalist Observations from Today

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Cooperative Creeper

After getting the report of a Virginia Rail at Swan Lake, I decided to take Connor and Rowan down there to look around. 

We had the lake mostly to ourselvesas we walked to the upper end to check out the marshy area where the bird had been released (apparently unharmed) after being captured by a cat.

Not sure where exactly to look, Connor climbed a tree in the upper marsh to watch, while I checcked out the marshy area below the bluff at the end of the Path of Hope. Having no luck there, I then made my way around the perimeter of the upper marsh.

Despite the lake ice being several inches thick, there were places in the sedge marsh that still had no ice, or very thin ice. It was somewhat treacherous walking, and all three of us got our feet wet at one point or another. Fortunately it was not deep, just muddy and wet.

Although we had no luck finding the rail (which did not surprise me), it was interesting to explore the area up there. I found a couple of places along the margins that I may visit in the future just to sit and watch.

On our way home, we detoured up to the Baranof Street Cemetary to see if anything was utilizing the mountain ash trees there. We did find a relatively cooperative creeper that worked the trunk and branches of a mountain ash before moving to the nearby spruces.

Although the skies were clear, I skipped the sunset today, though later wished I hadn’t. Several folks posted pictures of very interesting looking lenticular clouds that were in the sky around sunset. Some of them persisted into the evening. I did take one mediocre picture from my deck, but they had all disappeared by not too long after that.

My iNaturalist Observations from Today

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Virginia Rail

The following report came in to the Sitka Birds email List from Serena Wild today:
“Thought you all might be interested to know that there is a Virginia Rail at Swan Lake.
I live up at the very end of the lake and on Sunday my cat (a feral cat turned house cat, who hunts down in the swampy area) brought a Virginia Rail into the house. It was alive so I took it away from him and couldn’t find any signs of bites or any harm to the bird. I took it back down to the lake and it flew away into the bushes.”

This is the second report (first with photo) of a Virigina Rail in Sitka. The first was reported by Jen Cedarleaf and Kim Middleton at Starrigavan Estuary on 1 Jan 2006.

There are only a few other reports of this species from Southeast Alaska.

Virginia Rails are generally very good at staying out of sight, and given the location it was found (where no one would have been looking), it is entirely possible this bird has been around for a while.

With the lake frozen, access to the upper end is relatively easy, but walking around in the marshy area at the upper end of the lake is somewhat treacherous. There are many pockets where the water and/or mud is not solidly frozen.

If anyone does refind the bird, it would be great to hear about it.

Thanks to Serena Wild for the report and permission to use the photo!

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Late Afternoon Skies

Winds today were down significantly from yesterday. It did get a bit breezy in the afternoon, but there was nothing going on like had been at Silver Bay yesterday.

I went for a walk mid-day, then checked out the sunset. Photos from the walk were all associated with iNaturalist observations for the day. While I was down at Crescent Harbor, I was reminded of a prior idea to inventory everything (non-marine) that lives on the breakwater there. I don’t really know, but suspect it would be difficult to come up with 100 species, but I don’t know. The biggest challenge might be getting the various crustose lichens identified.

While I was on the breakwater, I noticed a Song Sparrow, which I’ve seen out there before. They also live out on the docks at Eliason Harbor. It occurred to me there is probably very little in the way of seeds out there, and I wondered if their diet consists primarily of food from the beach (intertidal).

The sky was perfectly clear to the horizon, but there was no green flash to speak of. It was interesting to see how much further north the sun is setting only two and a half weeks after winter solstice. I’ll try to wrong a post soon with some side-by-side photos that show the change.

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