End of Noctilucent Cloud Season

I saw on SpaceWeather.com (a site I check daily) that this year’s northern hemisphere noctilucent cloud season is over. There was a somewhat hard to follow, but still interesting, animation of this season’s noctilucent clouds from a satellite view. Centered over the north pole, the extent of the cloud imagery (though not the underlying map) is cutoff a bit in the direction of Sitka on 15-16 July, the night I took these photos.

Although well within the range of latitudes where noctilucent clouds can be seen, this is only the second time I’ve seen them. The clouds are not always present and that, combined with the late setting (and early rising sun) making the possible viewing time later (or earlier) than I tend to be out as well as our frequent cloud cover, makes it a bit more difficult to catch them. (I did notice someone had posted pictures on Facebook earlier this summer after spending some late evening time up on Harbor Mountain and there were noctilucent clouds in the sky then. The time I went up, clouds conspired to keep the skies concealed.)

If you’re interested in knowing more about them, wikipedia has an interesting article on noctilucent clouds.

Questions:

  • Have you ever seen noctilucent clouds? Where and when? (please leave comments, especially if you’ve seen them in Southeast Alaska)
  • How often are noctilucent clouds potentially visible (that is, they are in the sky) from Sitka?
  • Do they ever go across the sky here like some of the pictures from elsewhere show? (I’ve so far only seen them relatively low in the northwest)
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Harbor Mountain and the Channel

Today’s outing(s) included a trip up Harbor Mountain to replace the soil ibutton. Along the way down I noticed an odd vein that seemed much more crumbly than the surrounding rock. A closer look revealed (apparently harder) rounded rocks embedded in the crumbling rock with obvious signs of layering. I took some (mediocre – I might try to get better on a future trip) photos and will post more about it later. Lots of birds flying across and along the road on the way up (and down) but it was hard to tell what they all were with the short looks afforded by their rapid movement and the fog/clouds reducing visibility.

Back down at sea level a stop by the channel revealed lots of gulls plus several Red-necked Phalaropes right along shore. The light wasn’t great, but it was fun to get close (within 10 feet or less) and try to take pictures all the same.

(pictures to come)

no images were found

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Yellow Pond-lily (Nuphar polysepala) Rhizome

This summer an apparently long-awaited dredging of Swan Lake occurred. I had originally thought they would go all around the lake, but in the end it seems they only went from a little to the uplake side of the peninsula down to the outflow. I didn’t really pay much attention to the process beyond noticing the excavators on floating platforms. However, it was hard to miss some of the the pond-lily rhizomes floating at the surface. (My understanding is a significant target of the dredging process was knocking back the yellow pond-lily (Nuphar polysepala) by pulling out the rhizomes.) I had been wanting to go take pictures of one, but never quite got around to it and felt like there was plenty of time.

This past week the equipment was gone and I thought I might have missed my chance. Fortunately, there was a nice example floating right by the peninsula. It was a little more of a struggle than I expected to pull it out (it was heavy), but I managed to do so and took some additional pictures on the ground. It’s a little difficult to get a sense of scale just from the rhizome and background, so I included a regular ball point pen in one of the photos. (It’s kind of funny that, as Rowan said when I showed her the pictures, “the pen looks really small.”)

Questions:

  • How old would a rhizome this size be?
  • How big do the rhizomes get for pond-lilies in muskeg puddles?
  • Will there be noticeably fewer pond-lilies around the edge of the lake next year?
  • What other effects will the removal of the pond-lilies and lake bottom have?

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Old Journals and Song Sparrow

I haven’t seen it yet, but Connor told me he saw the white and blue banded Song Sparrow back in our yard today. The last I saw it this year was on 11 April. Last year it was not seen between 10 April and 5 September.

I spent some time today adding entries from June 1998. These were journal entries I actually wrote originally by hand and then later posted them to my website in a somewhat blog-like fashion. I thought it would be nice to just have all of those sorts of journal entries in one place, so I’ll probably do the same with the rest of my journals up to the time I switched over to this site and weblog format entirely in 2007.

There have been several things that I’ve found interesting about reading through the old journals. For the most part, those first ones were pretty brief. That’s due in part to the fact that I was writing them by hand, something that’s hard for me to do too much of. Also, I have reasonably clear memories of the outings, despite the fact they took place 16+ years ago.

That time period was when I think I really took significant steps down the path towards my obsession with the natural history of this area. Prior to that I did some hiking, but mostly just to get out (and up) because I enjoyed the country. I do remember trying to take some pictures of flowers while hiking with a point and shoot the year or two prior, but they didn’t turn out well, and I didn’t spend much time with them. However, in 1998 purchased my first SLR (my first digital camera was the next year), and I was more successful getting pictures of flowers, and trying to take pictures of birds. At that time I recognized and/or knew names of very few things, and it was fairly common for me to notice things that were ‘new-to-me’ despite probably having walked by them many times before.

Comparing that time and my memories of those wanders and hikes with now, I think I was more energetic and/or less easily distracted by all the things there are to find. I think I did not tend to get out as often, but when I did go, I tended to go further with much fewer stops. I think it might be worth trying to mix back in some of these longer outings. As I near 40, it’s easy to feel less ambitious about distance and elevation gain since it takes more effort to maintain the conditioning that makes such trips much more enjoyable, so probably the key is to make a regular practice of it.

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Documenting Plants

Today was the first day of class at the middle school where I have been helping out with the Tlingit language class the past couple of years. It added to an already full Thursday. After class I did take some time to walk over to the Path of Hope and see if any birds were around. It was fairly quiet bird-wise. Today’s photos are of plants I’ve been meaning to document for some time. These included broad-leaf dock (Rumex obtusifolius) from disturbed areas around the new ball field at Moller Park, and a yellow pond-lily (Nuphar polysepala) rhizome from the dredging work at Swan Lake.

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Red Alder (Alnus rubra) Red Roots

While walking through Totem Park recently, I noticed something red that seemed to be growing on or at the base of red alders (Alnus rubra) near the estuary. In places, it was unclear whether they were coming out of the ground, but I did find a couple where it was clear that they were growing out of the alder tree itself. There was some branching, but many were unbranched, and the surface was very smooth to the point of being slippery (though I don’t think it was slimy).

As best I could tell, they are roots, though I don’t know why they would be sending roots out into the air (and why they would be so red). At this point my best guess is the moss growing on the tree trunk blocks enough light and holds enough moisture that the tree responds as if it were buried at that point, and so sends out roots. It doesn’t take long for the roots to get outside the moss covering, so I’m not sure why they would keep growing, but I think they do die off over the winter.


Questions:

  • Does anyone have other ideas for what’s prompting these growths?
  • Why are they red?
  • What mechanisms drive root development (that is, how does a tree ‘know’ where to grow roots)?
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