Northern Harrier

Today’s forecast was for wind and possibly heavy rain. Winds were strong offshore – when I checked the buoy this morning it was showing winds at 30 and waves up to 19 feet. In town things were no nearly so extreme, though it was breezy. The forecast rain never really hit town very strong either (though there were some showers).

I took a walk down to the park this morning and things were fairly quiet out on the beach. The wind was blowing strong out at the point, but there were still some shorebirds and gulls hanging out. I didn’t find anything new, however. In the forest I did attempt to make recordings of a couple of different birds – there was an interesting Townsend’s Warbler variant in the (now getting to be formerly) dark section of forest. The variant seemed more slurred, and I think two birds were making it, though they also sang the more typical variant as well. I’m not sure if I managed to capture the song (I’ve not listened to it yet). Just inside the forest near the visitor center I recorded a raven making some sounds I don’t remember hearing before (as well as others I had). The raven seemed to be playing with a stick, or maybe just pulling things from the branches (including smaller side branches).

This afternoon I got some pictures of a small flock of shorebirds in the estuary pool at Starrigavan.

On my third attempt to see the Northern Harriers that have been at the airport the past couple of days, I managed to get a couple of decent looks at the male. It’s the first male Northern Harrier I’ve seen.

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Anna’s Hummingbird Grit Station

Connor first noticed the female Anna’s Hummingbird flying under the porch about a month ago (I think), but we weren’t quite sure what it was doing. Over the past coupe of days when Rowan has been outside, she got some good looks at it, and said it seemed to be sticking its bill in the gravel. Today when she was out there she said the bird visited under the porch a few times and she was even able to get a little video of it with her camera. This evening I decided to give it a go with mine on a tripod and after a misstep or two, I was able to get a short clip of the hummingbird visiting. As best I can tell, the bird is licking up the grit. Apparently we’re not the first ones to observer female hummingbirds eating such substances:

Various species of hummingbirds, on numerous occasions, have been seen sticking their bills into such things as sand, wood ashes, and seawater. Those who witnessed these events were certain the birds were not eating insects, but were indeed ingesting the item itself. Why would the hummers do this? All of these unusual foodstuffs tend to be high in calcium and may also contain sodium and other minerals. Because the majority of birds noted were female—at least in those instances where the sex of the hummer was mentioned—it has been proposed that the reason for this activity is to replace the calcium and other minerals lost during egg production.

From What do Hummingbirds Eat? on birdwatchersdigest.com

Anna’s Hummingbirds have not been documented nesting in Alaska, but with both males and females having been continuously present for over a year now in Sitka (and I think a couple of other communities in Southeast), it seems likely they have. Perhaps this female has an active nest now, but I’m not really sure how to go about locating it, if so. If anyone finds a hummingbird nest (especially if it’s an Anna’s Hummingbird), I would be very interested to know.

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Chilly Breeze

Yesterday evening’s clearing skies carried over into this morning. Although the sun is now rising around 5:30am, there was still frost on the ground in places shaded from the sun’s direct light when I first ventured out around 8am. There was a breeze coming from what seemed to be the east or maybe east southeast (with the varied terrain, it’s sometimes hard to tell where exactly the wind comes from, I think it wraps around a bit). Regardless of direction, it felt quite chilly. On my walk around the park, I spent some time walking out to the end of the flats by the river mouth, and the wind was cold enough to make my fingers go numb despite the sun. As the day went on, clouds moved over and the latter half of the day was straight overcast.

There were hundreds of Surfbirds down near the river mouth this morning, also a good number of Black Turnstones, and a few Rock Sandpipers and Dunlin. I also saw a lone Western Sandpiper, my first of the year. I did not see the flock of Marbled Godwits that Connor reported yesterday. On my way home, I thought I heard and might have seen a Tree Swallow, but I was not confident. Connor told me he saw one fly by our house this morning, then saw another one down at the park later today. While Rowan was sitting outside she, noticed the female Anna’s Hummingbird visiting under the porch. She wondered if maybe it was picking up spider webs to build a nest.

Someone commented to me today that it seems like there’s never enough time to just sit and watch everything that’s going on. That’s a feeling that’s easy for me to have, especially this time of year. Looking back at prior years, I know that there have been other years when I didn’t get out as much as I am this year, but there have also been more recent years when i have gotten out more. This year the big impediment I’m feeling is the desire to really pare down my old photo backlog. I’m making good progress and (re)discovering some interesting stuff, but it does take away from outside time, unfortunately. I am appreciative of those others who are getting out and sharing their observations, it’s great to keep track of what’s going on, even if it’s a little more vicarious than I might prefer in some respects.

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Sun and Snow

It was a busy day for me, and I didn’t have a lot of time to spend outside. However, I did watch the weather have a little trouble figuring out what it wanted to do. It was one of those spring days where it could be sunny and seeming quite warm, and a little later it was rain and a cutting wind. This afternoon while I was teaching, I was impressed by a squall I could see through the window – it made things look like winter for a brief time with heavy clouds and blowing graupel. Fortunately it was short-lived and the sun was back out later this evening.

It was nice to see the sun actually still up in the sky around 8pm as I finished up the last of my calls for the day. Last week I remember being a little surprised (in a good way) that it was still light at 8pm after my calls, but it was too cloudy or the sun had already set, so today was the first time I saw the sun still up after calls.

I didn’t make it down to the park today, but Connor did. He told me there were at least 20 Marbled Godwits (a pretty good-sized flock for here) as well as between 5 and 10 Black Scoters, but not really any other new for the season migrants that he noticed. I got a report yesterday from someone who had observed a Townsend’s Warbler. I also spoke with someone who lives by Swan Lake about whether any Tree Swallows had shown up yet. He said there are not nearly as many chironimid flies coming off the lake as there used to be this time of year, and many birds would eat them (I’ve seen ducks scooping them up before), so perhaps that has something to do with what seems like it might be lesser numbers of swallows around the lake in recent years.

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Bioluminescent Firewood

Two unremarkable chunks of split cedar destined for a fire

But look again – something strange is going on. It’s not photoshop tricks, just a long exposure in a dark room with a bit of fill flash

I recently was offered a chance to see some glowing firewood a friend of a friend had noticed while chopping wood. I picked it up after dark, but couldn’t really see anything as I carried it home. I had been told that the freshly split would seemed to glow more strongly, so I pulled out my hatchet and cut the chunk into too pieces After bringing it inside to a dark room and letting my eyes adjust, I found that if I didn’t look directly at the wood (and so used the more light sensitive rods that are used for peripheral vision), I noticed a faint glow coming off each of the pieces.

The bioluminescence was only barely visible to me, kind of like in this photo

Long (~3 minute) exposure with no fill flash.

Bioluminescence in wood is from decomposing fungus doing its thing. I’m not sure which species it might be (though cedar is not prone to infection from very many, so that seemed kind of interesting to me). I also do not know how common it is. I’ve heard about it previously, but this is the first time I’ve had a chance to observe it. Thanks to Paul Norwood for offering me this piece, and to Laurent Deviche for noticing it and sharing it with Paul.

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Revisiting John Brown’s Beach

I went for a relatively quick walk around the park this morning. I didn’t find anything new there except a fruiting Polyporus sp (that hopefully I can get identified to species at some point). I stopped by castle hill to take pictures of a Porella (I think maybe P. cordeana, which would be a new species for me), before going over to John Brown’s Beach to show a friend the mystery plant from a few days ago. The mystery plant turns out to be the introduced St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), a species I’ve only seen once before, and that was a while back, so I don’t feel so bad for not recognizing it. While there, I also noticed some neat little new-to-me fungi, the Fluted Bird’s Nest (Cyathus striatus). Not far off the shore was a breeding plumage Horned Grebe, so that was a fun sighting. It’s the first one of those I’ve seen in fresh plumage. Unfortunately the tide was up and the waves were crashing a bit much to get out to the edge of the water where I could get better photos of it.

Weather today started out partly cloudy, then for much of today it was mostly sunny. This evening (around 7pm) heavy dark clouds were moving in from the south, and there was a pretty good wind. Tomorrow calls for wind and some possibly heavy rain. It might be a good day to look for some migrants, but I’m not sure if I will be motivated enough to brave the weather.

(more photos to come)

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