Starrigavan Valley

While my dad was here for a short visit, I thought it would be interesting to go up to see the Starrigavan landslide with him. Overcast skies hung over the mountain tops, but we did not experience any significant rain while out.

There were relatively minor changes to the washed out section of ATV trail since the last time I had been out there. It seemed as though some sections had become more firmly established as channels than they had previously been, but overall it was pretty similar. Upon reaching the lower end of the big log pile, I stopped to record a Fox Sparrow that was singing from a branch on one of the partially upright alders. While there, I was interested to see how many little seedlings are growing up on and around the logs. Within a handful of years, it could be quite a thicket of young alders and other vegetation.

When I caught up with everyone where the trail goes into the washed out zone, I had paused to look at a nice orange-peel fungus when I heard Connor say something about a swift flying around with the Tree Swallows. When I asked him about it, he said it looked smaller and had a different wing-beat pattern, plus it was all dark. Based on past experience (down south), he thought it was a Vaux’s Swift. Vaux’s Swifts are uncommon in Southeast Alaska generally, but there are very few reports from the Sitka area. We were able to watch it fly loops around a handful of times, and even got a few pictures as it flew overhead. Before long, the birds had mostly moved down over the trees down-valley from us, and from that point we didn’t see the swift any more.

While we were watching for the swift, a pair of Tree Swallows perched on the battered roots of one of the logs that had washed down with the slide. It was interesting to see that they (or a different two) perched in the same location again later when we were on our way back. They were quite tolerant of Rowan and I going near them to take photos.

We did walk up to the base of the landslide to look around a bit. There is still does not seem to be much growing in the churned soil, though I wouldn’t be surprised if later this year there are many more seedlings. Most obvious growth in the washout zone below the slide was in places where it looks like roots and/or tops of plants had ended up near the surface and were able to regrow. This was especially noticeable around the bases of some of the stumps that withstood the debris flow in the valley bottom.

There were many small orange nodules that I think are the same thing I noticed before in churned landslide soil. I assume they are some sort of fungus, but I do not know for sure.

I had gotten Rowan to wear her boots for this hike (which she did not prefer to do), so she very pointedly made sure she didn’t get her feet wet all the way up. On the way back she waded in the water, but told me that next time I should let her wear her shoes instead.

(pictures to come)

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Evening at Swan Lake

Yesterday was a fairly wet day, and I did not get out too much. Today started that way as well, though by early evening, the clouds had started to break up and the sun came out.

I spent some time down at Swan Lake this evening and saw two male Blue-winged Teal, the lone Trumpeter Swan, a handful of North Shovelers, and the Wood Duck were all there along with the Mallards. It was a pleasant evening, and a number of other folks were there watching the birds as well. As we visited a bit, the birds seemed to relax and eventually were pretty cooperative, coming in fairly close to the peninsula where we were standing.

One of the people I spoke to mentioned taking a trip up from Seattle on a boat and noticing the Townsend’s Warbler songs changing along the way. I’ve thought it would be interesting to document the variation in song in Southeast Alaska. I am curious if there are distinct areas that have similar singing, or if it’s a more gradual shift.

This evening I was thinking about this past winter’s weather. What struck me about it was not the above average temperatures, but rather the lack of any real cold temperatures. I looked back through the weather records and saw that December-February had no days where the high temperature was below freezing, and I counted only five days where the low was below 30F (and the lowest I found was one day that hit 27F). Even in other warm winters, we can generally count on at least one brief cold snap where temperatures drop to at least the low 20s and highs are still below freezing. I suspect this played a big role in the early development of the plants (and perhaps the lack of winter robins as well).

I heard the other day about Swainson’s Thrushes starting to sing around the time of a full moon in the spring (after the water drop calls have been heard for a while). It was posited as something to look for (based on a year or two where it seemed to happen that way in Washington). I know that Swainson’s Thrushes are often heard making their water drop calls here for at least a couple of days before anyone hears a song, but I’ve never thought to consider the phase of the moon. I did hear my first Swainson’s Thrush on Monday at the park (at least a week earlier than I would expect), and the moon is getting close to full, so it will be interesting to see if they start singing before or after the moon is full.

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Birding with Visitors

I spent much of the day birding with Bill and Eileen, birders from Australia who had a few hours in town off the cruise ship (who had contacted me some time back about going birding). I met them downtown this morning (Bill told me that they would be easy to recognize, as the only birders on the ship, no one else would have binoculars like they did – and as best I could tell, he was right). We took a leisurely walk around Totem Park before I picked up my car and took them by Swan Lake. From there we drove out the road (making a couple of stops) to Starrigavan and then I dropped them off at the Halibut Point Marine Services dock where the ship was tied up.

Weather today was mostly cloudy – there were spots of blue sky from time to time, but also periodic showers. Winds seemed calm at the park this morning, but there was a bit of a breeze blowing in this afternoon. I think in advance of the low pressure (some good wind and rain) forecast to be here tomorrow.

Although I did not see anything surprising for me, it was quite fun to share in their excitement at seeing completely new-to-them birds. It’s always good to have reminders that the birds it is so easy to take for granted here may be exotic for folks from other places (even when those places have a house/yard list of 217 species!). Highlights included American Dipper, Pelagic Cormorant, Lesser Scaup, Trumpeter Swan, Spotted Sandpiper, Common Loon, and Red-breasted Sapsucker, but in truth I enjoyed watching them burst with enthusiasm about pretty much everything we were seeing and hearing. They seemed especially impressed with the vocalizations of a couple of the ravens in the park, and I was amused at how often Bill asked me about something, only to have me tell him it was a Bald Eagle. By the fourth or fifth time, he caught himself as he was asking, realizing that it was once again a Bald Eagle. I am so used to the calls they make, I don’t know what else an eagle might sound like, but I imagine other eagles could sound quite different. (Bill and Eileen, if you happen to read this – I had fun showing around today, thank you for your friendly enthusiasm for the birds!)

Rowan told me today that she saw some ripe salmonberries. I’ve still not noticed any, but may go look for some specifically. This is by far the earliest I ever remember hearing of them being ripe.

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Summer in Spring

Although we’re still officially in spring for a while yet, today was the first day that felt more like summer. Temperatures got up into the mid-60s with clear skies. Even the sea breeze was not enough to make it feel chilly. The effect was enhanced with all the plants already fully leafed out.

I got a report of Pectoral Sandpipers at Swan Lake this morning, and since I had yet to be confident in seeing one this year (there was flyover that I think was a Pectoral Sandpiper a couple of days ago), I decided to take a break from the work I was doing and head down there. I saw 10 of them, and spent some time sitting on the lawn enjoying the sun and taking pictures as they foraged on the lawn at the peninsula. Just before I left, I saw a few downy ducklings swimming alongside their mother. Those are the first young I’ve seen this year (though I have seen other birds gathering food).

Connor was down at the park this morning and reported seeing a Lesser Yellowlegs. I seem to keep missing those, but wasn’t able to get down to the river mouth until this afternoon. On the walk down Rowan showed me a tree she had noticed that had grown around some line that someone had tied around it. The tree was doing its best to overcome the constriction, and I’m curious if it is possible for them to rejoin so the sap can run up and down and the tree can continue to grow. She also showed me a nest she noticed on her walk this morning. It appeared to be an old nest – perhaps used last year, though it was still very much intact.

At the river mouth I did not find a Lesser Yellowlegs, but there were at least 40 Pectoral Sandpipers, a flock of 15-20 dowitchers (which I think may have been mostly/all Long-billed Dowitchers), Dunlin, Western, Least, and Semipalmated Sandpipers, as well as a couple of Semipalmated Plovers.

This evening there was ultimate up at Kreuger Field. I was interested to see a few noseeums out already. Fortunately they weren’t too bad, but it seems like usually they show up later in the season.

Tree Swallows are working on a nest in one of the nest boxes Connor hung on the deck. A couple of times today they gave me a little extra attention when I was out checking on plants.

(pictures to come)

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Swamped with Spring

School stuff wrapped up last week (with final grades due), but other work and various tasks on my TODO list are still leaving me feeling a bit swamped. It’s my intention to set some better routines around keeping up with day-to-day stuff, but sometimes that feels difficult when there are all the past-due things still hanging around waiting to be addressed. On the plus side, I took advantage of some less pleasant weather and made some significant progress on at least one of those lingering projects (reorganizing one of the rooms in my house).

It remains to be seen how much I remember about the past week or so by the time I get around to processing photos and posting weblogs (again – the lack of a daily routine here lets a lot of things fall through the cracks), so at the very least I’ll make some brief notes here. After a much warmer than usual winter and early spring, we were set back a bit by some cooler temperatures and a fall-like storm. Thursday through Saturday of last week saw over 3.5 inches of rain, with over 2″ falling on Friday. It was more of the steady all-day kind of rain, so the rivers rose significantly, but did not really flood. Temperatures were in the 40s (and earlier in the week, fresh snow was down on the Sisters).

Shorebird migration has continued to be slow. There was one morning with quite a few birds down at the park (Connor said), but there was not much down there by the time I made it. One evening I did see a Merlin go after a Rock Sandpiper, then a while later saw one (perhaps the same one?) actually catch a Black Turnstone. The turnstone was quite a burden, but the Merlin winged it back from the shoreline and disappeared into the forest (with an eagle giving a momentary pursuit).

As high pressure has moved in the last couple of days coinciding with a low tide series, we’ve had -3.5 tides the last couple of mornings. I haven’t been down at the beach at the lowest level, but did make a point of getting out to where I could see the flats as it was changing before I had to get on a call for work. I was interested to see a new main channel that wraps around the end of the trailer court fill towards the informal Eagle Way boat

launch. I did walk the flats this morning before the low and saw 11 or more Semipalmated Plovers (a pretty good number for here) as well as a few Semipalmated Sandpipers and a few Whimbrel. The Whimbrel were up at mid-beach while I was out closer to the shore. I never noticed them fly off, but I did not see them again when I walked back up, and Connor didn’t find them later, so I’m not sure where they went. Also of interest to me was the various small flocks of shorebirds flying over the flats towards the Channel – I do not know where they were coming from, but I had not seen the out there on the beach as I was walking around.

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Spring Showers

Showers were on the weather menu today, some of the quite heavy. They got started last night with an especially heavy one around midnight. Most of them during the day were not too heavy, and between them the sun would often break out.

I did not spend too much outside today – having work to do (and feeling extra tired, though I’m not entirely sure why). I did notice a leaf hopper on a strawberry leaf. It’s one I’ve seen before (Idiocerus couleanus). I tried to take some pictures but am not yet sure if they turned out (if they did, they’ll appear with this post at some point). While I was trying to hold the leaf steady, it crawled up on my finger and then flew away.

It sounds like a pair of Merlins are getting ready to nest up in the vicinity of Thimbleberry Lake again this year (C.S. shared this observation – he had kept track of the last summer).

Connor said Semipalmated Plovers were down at the park this morning. Still a fairly slow year (again) for shorebirds. I’m not sure if it’s the warmer spring or lack of herring spawn along the road system.

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