Early Winter Birds

I spent some more time today wandering around the neighborhood in hopes of turning up the Purple Finch Connor and Rowan found a couple of days ago. No luck there, but I did appreciate views of other neighborhood birds, including the starlings. I think I had noticed, but may forgotten, how interesting their plumage is this time of year. Iridescence, cream-tipped body feathers, and cinnamon edged wings feathers making for a fairly showy bird. It’s easy to just not really see them in their flocks, knowing they’re ‘invasive’ species that make a lot of (mostly not too pleasant to our ears) noise.

A stop by the airport while running errands allowed me to get pictures of an Orange-crowned Warbler that I believe was the same one as I saw yesterday. The Mountain Bluebird was also still around, but I did not see the trees sparrows.

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Eating Stories


Dwarf blueberries in the subalpine ripen in late summer and early fall

My breakfasts tend to be simple, toast and a bowl of fruit. This morning’s fruit was stewed dwarf blueberries (Vaccinium cespitosum) that had been picked last summer or early fall. The distinctive flavor that came with that first bite brought feelings of warmth and gratitude along with blurred impressions of that place and my experience there. I think I was a little surprised by this, and gave a moment or two to recollect the two picking trips I made (to the same place) this year, one with my dad, the other with my kids and brother.

It didn’t take long for my thoughts to turn towards the rest of the day, but that evening, spurred by the morning’s experiences, I thought I would share some memory food with my kids. We got out more of those same kind of blueberries and some whipped cream. Before we ate them, I asked them to share with me their memories of that trip to pick berries we made together with their uncle. It was interesting to hear their recollections, some things I remembered when they mentioned them, others that I didn’t recall at all. I was a little surprised at their enthusiasm in sharing their memories, though perhaps I shouldn’t have been (they are motivated by dessert), and I’m glad I felt inspired to do this with them. I shared some of my memory of that trip with them, and we enjoyed the berries and cream together.

As I write this later, it occurs to me that we also ate some seaweed we gathered during dinner. I hadn’t made the connection while we were eating, but during dinner we ended up talking about where the seaweed came from, as they were both on that gathering trip back in early April.

In the work I’ve done with 8-shields over the past several years, there have been various routines and/or practices that I have learned about where food and stories are wrapped together. I recall hearing about a hunter-gatherer group for whom the story of the hunt was as important culturally as the food that resulted from that hunt. Every year in the fall, I’ve heard about various ancestor honoring traditions, usually centered around food (often with the addition of a fire) and stories that go along with it.

In reflecting on today’s experiences, I feel like I’ve made a connection for myself (though whether I hold on to it remains to be seen). Although I grew up in a family where a significant portion of the food we ate was grown, caught, shot, or gathered, sometimes even with my participation, I do not recall consistently experiencing eating of that food linked with the story of that food, at least not in a way that stuck with me as a practice (though now that I’m thinking back, I do remember some stories going with food, at least on occasion).

I now find myself wondering about the power of eating stories instead of just food. I feel like there is probably something to be gained through this practice. Ingredients that are grown or gathered by ourselves or people we know, and the story of how it came to our plate. Food that has a connection with people or places we’ve known (or would like to), even if we don’t necessarily know the stories of those particular ingredients. I wonder how I can make stories a greater part of my meals. If you have thoughts/ideas, or your own experiences to share, please leave me a comment.

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Birds and a Rat

This morning after recording a conversation for next Sunday’s radio show, I went over to the airport with one of my guests for the show to see if the bluebird was still around. We were able to find the bluebird, and along the way, I also saw a couple of American Tree Sparrows in the bushes with the juncos. In addition there was a warbler, which I didn’t see well enough to be sure about, but suspect it was an Orange-crowned Warbler.

Later in the day I spent some time trying to find a Purple Finch Connor had photographed. No luck on that front, but I had fun with some very nice views of Bohemian Waxwings eating the crabapples in a tree around the corner from my house.

Connor spotted a rat at the brush pile in our yard later in the afternoon. It’s the first one I’ve seen in a long time (since I was a kid), so while I was not thrilled with it being in the yard, I was happy to be able to photograph it. It looked pretty cute/innocuous there eating sunflowers seeds spread for the birds, but they can certainly cause problems with chickens (as well as wild birds, though I don’t know how much that’s an issue for birds that don’t nest on the ground or in burrow.

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Purple Finch

This afternoon my kids were checking on a Biorka Street yard that has been hosting Bohemian Waxwings regularly when they noticed a bird that looked unusual to them. Connor was able to get a couple of shots before it flew out of sight behind a house. Rowan watched for it while Connor ran back home and got me, but despite spending the next hour or so out and about, we did not find it again.

When they got home, they looked through the bird book and came up with Purple Finch as the most likely candidate. Having never seen one, I’m unfamiliar with Purple Finch and was hesitant to come to any conclusions, especially given the rarity (and the fact that one has not been previously reported here that I know of). Connor posted his pictures to inaturalist, and had someone there agree with his id, while I passed the link to Steve Heinl who also confirmed the photos showed a Purple Finch. So it was a very nice find for Connor and Rowan, and I’m glad Connor was able to get identifiable pictures for documentation.

Although this species has shown up in a handful of other Southeast Alaskan towns, as far as I know, this is a first record for Sitka. We’ll keep an eye out for it (I know I would like to see it and get pictures) and I’ll let folks know if it shows up again.

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Brown Booby Final Update


Brown Booby at Alaska Raptor Center just before shipping out (Photo by Jen Cedarleaf))

Many folks had commented or e-mailed that they enjoyed hearing about the Brown Booby and wanted to know what happened with it, so I thought I would post one final update. Jen Cedarleaf said the bird was sent south to an International Bird Rescue rehabilitation site in Southern California back on 18 November (I think quite a bit sooner than originally anticipated).

Jen said the booby was admitted to the Alaska Raptor Center at 995 grams it left at 1430 (so it sounds like the bird was probably pretty hungry). Jen was told the booby had been released into a large aviary and, as of an early December update, lingering injuries (a limp and small wounds) were gone or close to being completely healed. They said the bird seemed quite happy, and the next step was to release her. (Though as of this posting, Jen had not heard whether the bird had yet been released).


Brown Booby rescued in Sitka at International Bird Rescue, photo by IBR volunteer Doug Carter

Thanks to Jen for sharing her photos as well as passing on the reports and photos (and getting permission for me to post the photos) from the International Bird Rescue.

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More Mountain Bluebird

As is so often the case with unusual birds, after getting pictures the first time and being excited to have them, I found myself thinking it would be nice to try to get better ones. Perhaps with better light, closer, or in a better position (ideally all three!). I did not know if the bird would stick around, and Tuesday was so dim, plus my schedule so full, that I did not even make it over to the airport to try looking for it (though I did hear of at least one person seeing it). Wednesday morning was slightly brighter, and I had more time, so Connor, Rowan, and I spent about 45 minutes at long-term parking without seeing any sign of the bird (nor did someone who had been there for about the same length of time and was leaving as we arrived). Weather was still pretty gray, so I wasn’t inspired to try again later.

Today was the last day of scheduled classes at UAS, so I was up relatively early and over to UAS. The weather was unexpectedly just partly cloudy with the sun shining through. After class I decided to spend some more time over by the airport. I waited for a little while without seeing the bluebird, and was driving along the old airport road to head home when I saw a bird perched on the fence. I didn’t have my binoculars and so took a couple of photos to see if I could tell what it was. From the photos, I was thinking it might be a robin, as it looked like it had a red breast. However, the angle of sun was such that I wasn’t positive, so I decided to check it out more closely. My extra effort was rewarded with additional views of the Mountain Bluebird. This time it seemed a little less flighty than it had been when I first saw it Monday. It behaved in what (if I understand correctly) is typical bluebird behavior, moving from high perch to perch (generally the fence), flying down to the ground or up in the air to grab at some food. I also saw it stop in a mountain ash tree and grab a berry a couple of different times.

After watching it for some time, where it mostly flew between the two fences that intersect down by the lagoon, it flew off across the runway. I was happy to have better viewing conditions to observe and photograph the bird, but the orientation of the airport fences are such that it was difficult to get photos of the bird with the sun at my back. So, after lunch, given the continuing nice weather (the forecast had been for rain, and it looked like a pile of clouds could move over soon), I decided to see if the shifting sun might offer better opportunities.

I was grateful that the bird was fairly cooperative this afternoon, even perching a couple of times where I could get a shot of it with the sun at my back. It once again followed a similar pattern, though this time I noticed it spent some time flying between the tops of 6-8 foot alders on the inside of the fence. Once again I watched it fly off across the runway. I ended up spending additional time experimenting with some new tools for trying to do focus stacking (the lichen photos are the results). I’m not sure how long I had been working on this when the bluebird returned. Along with it was a pipit, which I thought I had heard earlier, but had not seen. Although the pipit perched on the fence with the bluebird a couple of times, I lost track of it and couldn’t get photos. American Pipits are considered Very Rare in winter, though it’s possible they’re annual, but just not usually observed because of preferred habitat.

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