Green Flash

I have been trying for several years to capture the optical phenomenon known as the “green flash.” Although theoretically possible to see during any sunrise or sunset, the terrain around Sitka limits near sea level viewing possibilities from the downtown area to roughly mid October through February. As I’ve tried for so long and never actually captured a green flash, it had kind of receded from my thoughts, this past Monday as I photographed the sunsets. Instead, I was curious to see how far south the location of the sunset had moved in the couple of days since I had previously photographed a sunset. On that prior occasion, there were clouds on the horizon, and I had no expectation of catching a green flash.

It’s always a little challenging to avoid looking at the sun too much when trying to catch the last of the sun’s direct light. It drops fairly quickly, so I don’t want to miss it, but it remains surprisingly bright, even when less than half of it is visible. (I should probably just set up a tripod with a remote timer that takes shots every second or so.) On this occasion I was up on top of O’Connell Bridge, and the sun was going down between the approximately 5 miles distant Vitskari Island. As the sun was starting to disappear completely, I noticed it seemed like the light might be getting green, though it was hard to tell since I still didn’t want to look directly through my camera. I started firing off even more shots hoping to catch any green flash, if that’s what I was seeing.

When I got home and was able to go through the photos, it did appear that the light was turning towards green. The sun was still bright enough to be over-exposed, which washed out a bit of the effect. It was also interesting to see the light moving toward blue and maybe even violet as the sun finally disappeared completely. I was able to crop 4 representative shots to show the change over the last few moments of the sunset. For the best effect, click on “show slideshow”. The photos will change automatically (though only every few seconds), but you can prompt a change by clicking on the photo.

Posted in photo, Sunrise/Sunset | Leave a comment

Brown Booby Brought In

Jen C. of the Alaska Raptor Center here in Sitka sent in a couple of photos to the Sitka Birds e-mail list this morning along with the following note:

Just wanted to send out a note to let everyone know that
we picked up a brown booby last night. Yes, you read it
right...a brown booby. It landed on a fishing boat off 
of Kruzof and just decided to stay there. They called at 
around 9 last night to have us come pick it up. 

It's doing alright, but has a wound on its back and was
cold and is very thin. Not surprising, since it is WAY 
out of its normal range of Mexico! 

Since it is in rehab, we are not allowed to have anyone 
view the bird, but I attached a couple of photos. Amazingly 
cool bird! I have never seen one before! 

Given the (as far as I know) unprecedented nature of this record, I asked for permission to share the photos more widely.

I wonder if this is related in part to the warm ‘blob’ of water in the Gulf of Alaska. I noticed this morning that temperatures at the Cape Edgecumbe buoy are still 54F – I haven’t tracked that enough to know if that is unusual for this time of year, however. Regardless, it’s an exciting occurrence and thanks to Jen for sharing it!

Update My brother pointed me to this blog post about Hurricane Ana’s remnants hitting the the Pacific Northwest and wondered if that might have something to do with the bird showing up here.

Posted in birds | 4 Comments

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.

Posted in birds, daily, photojournal | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in birds | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in birds | Leave a comment

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).

Posted in photojournal, Sunrise/Sunset | 1 Comment