Jade Necklace (Urospora wormskioldii)

On our first low-tiding visit to the beach last year, Rowan brought me this little string of translucent green beads she had found. I had never seen anything like it and wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I figured it must be an algae of some sort, and looking through my copy of A Field Guide to the Seaweeds of Alaska, I saw an evocative name in Jade Necklace (Urospora wormskioldii). The name certainly seemed apt for what Rowan found, although the photo in the book didn’t show a single strand (which was all I had seen), so I wasn’t sure.

I passed on the photos and was able to get confirmation that this was Jade Necklace, a species that’s apparently not very common (or perhaps just doesn’t last long enough in its most visible form), and is infrequently found. I hope to find it again sometime, and am glad Rowan’s sharp eyes allowed me to see and photograph this one.

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Like the Night Sky

I don’t want to say too much about this photo, because I thought it might be fun to see if anyone can guess where it came from. I will say that I did alter the contrast dramatically, but the patterns were as I found them. Please feel free to guess in the comments!

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Starrigavan at Flood Tide

Connor, Rowan, and I took a brief trip out to Starrigavan today to see the high tide. With a predicted high of 12.2 and observed levels this morning that were pushing over half a foot above predicted, I thought there was a good chance we would find the water higher than it had been through all of last year. When we got there, I was a little surprised to see just how high the water was. At first I had only planned to get out and look around a little bit, but with 20 minutes or so to go before the actual high, and water covering much of Nelson Logging Road, I thought it would be worth braving the rain to walk around the boardwalk.

As we came walked toward the upper end of the estuary, the water was up to the base of the boardwalk, even covering part of it on the spur trail to the campground. Not much further along, the actual walking surface of the board walk was under an inch or so of water, the first time I’ve ever seen that. At the short spur nearest the bridge over Starrigavan Creek, a couple of Song Sparrows were waiting out the tide in the branches of the salmonberry bushes that were tall enough to be above the water. Their preferred habitat of the estuary grasses and sedges were all quite flooded.

We decided to wade Nelson Logging road instead of back tracking on the boardwalk. I think it was over a foot deep in parts, though Connor said he never went over his boots (except for a time when he stepped aside for a passing vehicle and ended up in a deeper part where a roadside ditch was). I just rolled my pants up and took my shoes off, the water was chilly, but tolerable. The couple of vehicles that drove through while were there pushed up quite a lot of water. I wouldn’t think it was very good for them, but it’s probably pretty fresh water. One of the drivers told me that it appeared the road was washing out a bit further up.

Given the 12.7 height of last year’s highest and how much of the road it covered, I’m guessing the water levels at the road were well over 13 feet and perhaps even pushing 14 feet (tide level-wise). However, the preliminary observation was right at 12.999 feet for today’s high. My guess is the heavy rains of yesterday and resulting high flow in Starrigavan Creek backed up a bit in the estuary and caused water levels behind the relatively narrow outflow to be even higher than the tide would have been on its own.

One other interesting thing we noticed was a Common Murre not far out in Starrigavan Bay.

[pictures to come]

no images were found

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Biofilm(?) on Cut end of Log

When trees fall across maintained trails, it doesn’t usually take long for someone to come along and cut through them to clear the trail. I think I started noticing the stuff accumulating at the downhill ends of these maybe 20 years ago. (I hadn’t thought about it in a long time, but I think my earliest memories of noticing this were from along Indian River trail not far from the falls – and those were probably trips I made in the early or mid-90s.) My first thoughts (back then) were that it was sap leftover from the tree, that was just running out. I think (trying to dredge up pretty old memories here), that I might have started to have my doubts at some point because it didn’t really smell like sap, but I didn’t really give it too much thought.

At some point in more recent years, I learned about biofilms and decided that is probably what I was seeing on these logs. However, I’m still not entirely sure.

The picture above shows a striking distribution of the obvious biofilm. It seems fairly limited to the outer part of the log. I think maybe this part of the log (when it was still a tree) was the sap would have been moving up and down. Perhaps the structure through which that movement occurred is still intact enough to facilitate the flow of water, which in turn carries nutrients that feed the organisms in the biofilm. In contrast, maybe the heartwood does not so easily allow water to move through, and so there is not such an obvious growth of material there.

Several questions come to mind related to this (assuming it is a biofilm):

  • If this is a biofilm accumulation, does it differ dramatically from tree to tree? How about from species (of tree) to species?
  • How long does it take to get going, and how long will it persist?
  • Does it form (in a less obvious way) on broken logs (that don’t have the relatively smooth end?
  • What sort of organisms make up the biofilm?
  • Is the distribution of growth related to where sap moved through the tree?
  • What is coming out of the tree that is feeding this film?
Posted in ecology, Mystery | 2 Comments

Gulls and a Sea Star

On a trip to Magic Island last February, I noticed a young gull working on a small sunstar (Pycnopodia helianthoides).

It didn’t seem too excited about it, but picked at the legs, and then didn’t seem too excited about eating them.

At one point an adult gull came over and checked out what was going on. At first I thought maybe the adult would take the food from the juvenile. (Gulls often seem competitive about food, but maybe that’s just some sorts of food, as I have to admit I’ve never actually seen them fight over sea stars.)

I was a little surprised to see the juvenile begging from the adult shortly after it wandered over. (Notice sea star leg ignored on the beach behind them.) I tend to think of gulls as being pretty much completely on their own by their first winter, but maybe that is not entirely the case. I wonder whether the adult was this one’s parent, or the juvenile was not picky about the adult, and just wanted something better to eat than a sea star leg.

The sea star ended up a few legs short, but it should be able to grow those back, I think.

I set it right side up where it wasn’t being constantly tossed by the waves coming in, and it seemed to slowly start moving out into deeper water.

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Indian River Song Sparrow

Song Sparrows are not an uncommon bird around Sitka. Although they are present throughout the year, it’s not clear how many (if any) individuals are actually present year-round. It seems like pretty much any area along the road system with a sufficient amount of brushy vegetation will host at least one Song Sparrow. They are also common along the water where there is brush or other sorts of acceptable cover (this includes breakwaters and harbor floats).

While easy to find in these sorts of places, I’ve never really observed them elsewhere, even where there is the sort of dense brush that they seem to favor in town. That being the case, I was a little surprised on a late November outing along Indian River trail when Connor said he had seen a Song Sparrow up ahead (we were probably close to a mile up the trail). I questioned him about it, and he was pretty confident, so I said lets try and find it to document. Fortunately between him, Rowan, and me, we were able to refind it and each managed to get some photos as it moved through the thickets and along the river bank. I’m not sure how frequently Song Sparrows utilize this sort of habitat, but it would be easy to overlook them, especially in the winter when they tend to be quiet and hang low.

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