Gulls on the Ramp

A slightly less hectic day, I did have a meeting over at UAS for a project I’ve been working on. Since I now have a working bicycle again, I thought it would be good to take it rather than drive (which I’ve probably been doing more of then is optimal for my levels of physical activity). The sun came out through a break in the clouds, but dark mass of clouds were over the sound and I thought I might have to deal with some rain on the way home. As it turned out, I don’t think there was more than a few drops of rain throughout the day.

There are still quite a few gulls in the Channel, so I took a few minutes to scan them for anything that looked unusual to me. I didn’t find anything, but did grab a couple of pictures of gulls that were loafing on the ramp. A couple I’m pretty confident are Thayer’s Gulls, but the one shown at the top of this post I’m less sure about. I think it’s a Herring Gull because of the relatively larger size, very dark primaries, and relatively larger bill. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out I’m incorrect however. If anyone larophiles out there see this, please leave me a comment with your thoughts!

This evening at ultimate (formerly “ultimate frisbee” – though apparently the ‘frisbee’ part has been dropped, as it’s a trademark of the Wham-O corporation; the wikipedia page for ‘frisbee’ redirects to ‘flying disc’) I noticed a few decent-sized insects flying about. One in particular appeared to be a moth. Given the bulk, I’m suspecting it was a noctuid of some sort, but it seems quite late in the year (not that it’s been especially cold yet).

I noticed this evening that I’m up over 2000 posts on the blog. Due to my practice of backdating photojournals, if/when I catch up with my backlog of photos, there were certainly be many more than that showing up prior to this date, but in terms of actually getting things posted, it seems like a bit of a milestone.

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Cassin’s Auklet

On yesterday’s trip to Ataku Island, a highlight for me was seeing my first Cassin’s Auklets. We were out off Long Island and headed to the outside of Cape Burnof when I first noticed the gray bird on the water that I thought looked a bit different. We were able to turn around and check it out closer. It started doing an interesting behavior that I initially thought might be an escape move. It would dip just barely under the water and swim along not far below the surface. I could see the track of disturbed water as it moved and then it would pop up only briefly and continue along in the same fashion. After several minutes of this, I decided maybe it was actually some sort of feeding behavior, as a second auklet was also doing something similar. In the images below, note the one where an auklet has its wings spread a bit and the water is splashing to the side. At the bottom of that picture you can see the disturbance of a second auklet just below the surface.

I did not end up getting much in the way of good photos of these birds near Cape Burunof, and in the end I thought they were probably Cassin’s Auklets, but wasn’t sure I had a photograph that would be good enough to document it conclusively. Later on, as we were off of Redoubt Bay, I noticed a couple of other birds take off that I thought might have been Cassin’s Auklets, but there was little point in stopping. Shortly after there was one sitting on the water that we were able to slow down and check out. This one was more cooperative for photographs than the first had been, so I was able to get some better shots to document it.

More generally, I’m not sure how often Cassin’s Auklets can be found on Sitka Sound. I’ve heard they are common offshore, and they are regularly reported from lower Chatham Strait and Frederick Sound east of Baranof Island. It seems a little strange that they are (apparently) not regularly seen in the sound, but it’s my first time noticing them, and I’ve only heard a handful of other reports from over the years.

Thanks to the captain of the Fucus for the boat trip and to my other travelling companions for their patience with my desire to get some photos of these elusive (for me, anyway) birds.

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Chestnut-backed Chickadee in Pine

Today was quite full, with nearly non-stop activities of various types from 8am until almost 10pm. While on a call late this morning, I noticed several chickadees foraging in the large shore pine tree (Pinus contorta) outside my house. Although I didn’t get a picture of it, I was interested to see a chickadee working on one of the cones, and as best I could tell, it was getting seeds out of it. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising, but I don’t know if I’ve noticed it before – I usually see them looking around for and gleaning insects off the needles or out of the epiphytes.

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Dropping Snow and Sun

When I checked the forecast this morning, it called for rain showers, mostly before noon. However, when I looked around outside, it seemed pretty nice. On my way to a walk around Totem Park, I noticed the snow levels had dropped to around 3000 feet. It’s the first time I remember noticing snow on the Arrowhead peak of Mt. Verstovia. From the park I could see there was also fresh snow on the top of Mt. Edgecumbe. One of the forecast showers was happening falling over by Kruzof Island, as I could see a partial rainbow over there. The day remained sunny in town (at least where I was), though I wouldn’t not be surprised if there were showers falling in the general area, as I noticed a couple of others around the
mountains as I went to check out the sunset.

I did not expect to be able to check on the location of the setting sun again so soon, but weather and schedule cooperated to let me compare direction just two days apart. In those two days, the sun hadn’t moved too much further south, but it was noticeable. Another thing that was interesting about this sunset (that I will probably put together a separate post about) was the appearance of what I think may have been a bit of a green and/or blue flash.

It’s always a little bit difficult to decide which and how many of the rapid fire shots I take during the last moments of a sunset. In the end, I should probably just set up a tripod with a timer and do a time lapse sequence, as that better captures it in some ways anyway.

On an unrelated note, I heard a nuthatch at the park this morning. It’s my first of the fall (and maybe first of the year, I can’t remember if I observed one this spring).

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Trip to Ataku

I was invited to tag along on a boat trip to Ataku Island, location of a WWII era lookout bunker and home to some cranberries our boat captain had noticed on a trip earlier this year. Located near Biorka Island some miles south of town, I had been down that far in a boat in a few times, but never actually on any of the islands in the area, so it seemed like a nice opportunity.

Along the way, the seas were impressively calm (for October), with only a small swell rolling in from the Gulf of Alaska. The forecast for the day was occasional showers, and they seemed to come in the form of bands of precipitation moving through. Fortunately we left the dock as one band was reaching Sitka, and passed through another band shortly before reaching our destination (which the showers had just moved beyond), so it was a fairly dry time with a reasonable amount of sun. From the boat we saw many whales spouting (mostly in the distance). A nice rainbow made an appearance, and we also got to have some good looks at a new-for-me bird, the Cassin’s Auklet (I’ll post more about that separately).

It took a little over an hour to make the run down to where we were headed, a narrow gap between Ataku and Tava Islands. It appeared to me like they would actually be connected at a low tide (which it was not at the time we were there) by a white sand beach (I did not look closely enough to see whether it was white because of shell origins, or from the source rock). The rock in the area is not the graywacke that dominates the geology along the road system. I am not completely sure, but I think it was a sort of granite. In any case, it was lighter in color, and definitely had different weathering patterns than graywacke.

Relatively small in size, Ataku Island is impressively steep in places. I suspect this is due in part to the underlying geology, but the highest knobs were probably over 150 feet in elevation (though I don’t really know how much higher). Mostly it was forested, with a couple of small more or less untreed areas, and on the southern outer slopes it was a very open forest with fairly stunted trees.

[more details to come: Porella (no pictures), interesting microhabitats (open areas partly deer maintained? different forest types), some cranberries, set of steep-sided knolls. WWII remains, including observation bunker. Various mushrooms.]

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Sunset from O’Connell Bridge

It was a sunny and reasonably warm day, and though I was tempted to take Rowan out for a hike somewhere, we ended up staying home and taking care of some tasks that have been waiting. A little over a week after I started (and over three years since I purchased it), I finally finished putting together the shelter logic shed so I can store some things in a relatively dry place not on my porch. I also showed Rowan how to fix a bicycle flat, since we both had one (hers from a couple of days earlier, mine from a couple of months).

With Connor not here regularly putting food out, the birds have stopped coming around in the numbers they had been. I put out a fair amount of seed today, so perhaps that will attract them again in the coming days.

This evening I needed to go down to the radio station, and the timing was convenient to check out the sunset. I was curious to see where on the horizon it was, as we’re about 1/3 of the way between fall equinox and winter solstice. From the top of O’Connell bridge, it appeared the sun was setting just north of Vitskari Island. Fall weather being what it is, I suspect the next time I am able to see where the sun sets, it will be south of Vitskari.

Looking the other direction, the highest peaks (above 4500 feet) seem to have had snow persisting, and the crevasses on the ice cap around Peak 5390 are starting to soften. Perhaps this year I’ll catch when they cover up.

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