LeConte’s Sparrow

My sunset alarm (set to go off ten minutes before sunset in Sitka each day) had just gone off when I heard my phone vibrate, indicating a text message.

It was showing up as an image from Connor – unusual, as he has never texted me a photo before. It was accompanied by a text saying simply, ‘end of the park‘.

It was a surprisingly orange sparrow of some sort, and I responded by asking him what he thought it was. I quickly followed up letting him know I was on my way.

In a race with the quickly fading light, I grabbed my camera and coat, got into the car and headed down to Totem Park. I got Connor on the phone and confirmed that he was still out between the battle site bench and the river mouth.

I ran much of the way along the trail through the dark forest and came out to the beach at the battle site bench.

Connor was standing out on the flats and kept watch while I walked along the flat drift-log strewn area being overtaken by vegetation (though recently trimmed, and so now quite open).

As I approached not far from where he had last seen it land, an unexpectedly small bird took off, flying low up and over the beach grass than further down the shore between the beach grass and piles of seaweed pushed up by the previous high tide series. I lost sight of it behind the beach grass as it followed the gentle curve of the shore, but Connor saw it flying and also where it had disappeared in the beach grass, telling me he was pretty sure it was the bird he had seen before.

The light had been marginal when I arrived, and was fading more as I continued my walk. Despite going somewhat near where Connor had seen it go into the vegetation, we didn’t see it fly again.

I went down to talk with Connor and see the pictures on his camera. The picture accompanying this post is one I took of the LCD on his camera showing one of the better photos he got.

He told me that he had flushed it while walking along, and it hadn’t flown far. He pished a bit and it popped out enough for him to get the photos before flying further down the beach. At that point he texted me and waited out on the tide flats to watch, not wanting to fly further away. He was confident he had seen it in the bird book previously, but didn’t remember the name off the top of his head.

I knew this was an unusual bird, and it was going to be awhile before I was going to have a chance to look in the bird book, so I texted the photo to Brad B. and Steve H., both of whom replied suggested it was a LeConte’s Sparrow. (After Connor had a chance to look when he got home, he texted me and he had also come to the same conclusion.)

LeConte’s Sparrow has never before been reported from Alaska, and reading up on them, Connor did well to see this bird at all, let alone get a picture of it. They are one of the smallest North American sparrows and apparently notoriously reluctant to flush. When they do flush, it’s only after a fairly close approach and they fly low for short distances. Instead of flying, the usually will run along the ground underneath the vegetation.

Hopefully the bird will stick around, and maybe even provide some better looks.

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Chasing Warblers

Connor saw a warbler yesterday evening along Jarvis Street that he thought was different and could be a Blackpoll Warbler. Unfortunately, he didn’t get very good photos, as his camera was focusing on the background instead of the bird.

I went out to look for it, but by the time I arrived, they the loose flock of birds had apparently moved through the alders over towards the raptor center. I found Connor over there, and did hear some warblers chirping in the trees. Connor had not been able to find the different looking warbler again, but did tell me there were some Yellow-rumped Warblers, and they had started to move back towards Jarvis Street.

We walked down behind the public services compound scanning the alders, and Connor showed me where he had originally seen the bird. During this time the fading light was dimmed further by a heavy cloud and a solid rain shower coming over.

This morning I got up to take a look around Jarvis Street a little before 8. There were broken clouds, and the sun was still behind the mountains. I poked around in the trees off Jarvis Street behind the city shops area and did get a brief look at some birds, including one I think was an Orange-crowned Warbler, before they moved off.

I went over to Raptor Center drive and found Yellow-rumped Warblers there in the area they had been yesterday evening. They didn’t stay in one place for long, but also did not seem to move far.

While there, I noticed an unexpected call and was able to track it down to a Downy Woodpecker high up in an alder tree.

I went back out a couple of times later in day, and was able to consistently find Yellow-rumped Warblers, but the only other warbler I saw there was a Townsend’s Warbler in the afternoon.

My iNaturalist Observations for Today

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Sandy Beach After the Rain

Substantial rain fell for the first time this month, but the clouds parted late this afternoon.

I had spent most of the day at home, but needed to go to the grocery store, so I took a couple of side trips. First I checked on the shaggy manes and they didn’t seem too much different than Wednesday, so I didn’t take any pictures of them today.

I made a brief stop at Eagle Way and took a picture of the bay before heading to Sandy Beach where the sun was dropping low and shining through the broken clouds to make some nice light.

I was interested to see how much sand had eroded from the higher than normal runoff earlier in the day. I imagine the tides will redistribute the sand before long.

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Shaggy Mane

The mostly cloudy forecast turned into an overcast reality, with rain starting this afternoon. In some ways it’s a bit of a relief, as it will make it easier to focus on getting some inside work done rather than trying to take advantage of every warm, sunny moment, when it seems like each could be the last for months.

Connor mentioned he had seen a strange looking mushroom yesterday coming back from his paper route. When I saw the photos, it looked to me like a shaggy mane (Coprinus comatus). This is a species I had seen lots of pictures of, but never seen around Sitka. He said that some had already been kicked over, but there were a couple of intact clumps that he saw. I decided to take a quick trip out there between calls today, and was able to get photos. They’re really not much up out of the ground, and I would like to get pictures of them after they’ve had a chance to develop a bit more. I’m not really expecting much, but hopefully they’ll avoid getting kicked over for a couple of days (I’ll probably try to check, just in case it works out).

There was a talk this evening on marine hydrogeology. The speaker is a SiRF with the Sitka Sound Science Center, and I may try to record a conversation with her for a future radio show.

My iNaturalist Observations for Today

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Verstovia Trail on a Fall Day

I was a little surprised this morning to see that despite some blue sky, the sun wasn’t up over the mountains when I took the trash out at 7:30 (which I guess gives a hint at how often I’ve been up that early recently).

Winds were calmer today (at least where I was). The forecast was for mostly cloudy, and this morning it looked like that might be the case, but skies cleared as the day went on, and it was mostly sunny when Rowan and I headed out to go up Verstovia Trail for a bit.

I made it up to the first viewpoint in a little over 21 minutes (Rowan took about 23 minutes, slowed down a bit by feeling hungry) – which I felt pretty good about considering how off I’ve been feeling for much of the past couple of weeks. It was never respiratory, it was just that my head felt like I do when I’m really lacking sleep (even though I wasn’t) – kind of groggy with some pressure that doesn’t rise to the level of headache. It’s been a bit of a bummer, as I didn’t feel up to taking as much advantage of the sunny weather as I might have liked.

Forecast for tomorrow is mostly cloudy, and then rain returning on Friday. Hard to say whether this will mark the transition into more typical fall conditions, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

On Facebook the National Weather Service posted an infographic that showed Sitka airport weather station had the 4th driest water year (October 1st-September 30th) on record, at 61.5″ (vs. an average of 86.8″). The all-time low was recorded in 1950-51 with 53.24″.

Connor saw a banded junco in the yard today that was banded here in 2013. I can’t remember if we saw any 2012 banded birds last year, but if not, this may be the longest return time for the Sitka Winter Bird Banding Project. He’s also continuing his efforts to remove the rats that are taking advantage of the bird feeder (we don’t know how many are around, but he got one a couple of days ago, and later in the afternoon there was one there again – it, or another one, was back again today).

Also notable in the yard was a singing White-crowned Sparrow. I don’t remember hearing one of those sing this time of year before, but perhaps it was inspired by the sunny weather.

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Sitka Nature Show #168 – Richard Carstensen (encore)


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The September 30th show featured a conversation with Richard Carstensen originally recorded in spring 2014, and aired in June 2014.

If you have questions or observations you want to share, please feel free to leave a comment here or on the page I’ve set up for that purpose.

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