Sitka Nature Show #111 – Paul Norwood

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The 24th of July show featured a conversation with Paul Norwood, local naturalist and adventurer. We talked about his 1000 species project of 2015, an idea we’ve been discussing to do an All-Species Community Big Year – Sitka, and some of his hiking adventures. If you want to skip ahead, I begin introducing the conversation at about 2:20 (-56:40).

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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Sea Lion Remains

A little league all star tournament had Moller Field today, so there was no ultimate. After yesterday’s walk up to Indian River falls, I was not feeling too motivate to get out very far, so I decided to check at Pioneer Park to see if I could find any of the caddisfly larvae that were in brackish pools on the upper part of the beach.

When I got out of the car, I was a little surprised to catch a whiff of salmon spawning season. For one, it seemed pretty early, and for two, the nearest stream that hosts any numbers of salmon was a fair distance away and upwind of me. The smell did not persist, so I didn’t think much more about it and walked down the trail to the picnic site with easy access to the beach near the brackish pools. It was not quite as easy to refind the pools as I had expected, as initially I had failed to consider the vegetation (mostly sedges) growing among the rocks and partially obscuring the lower lying pools. After I realized the issue, it was easy enough to find pools to look in, but I did not notice any caddisfly larvae trundling around. It will be interesting to check again later in the year to see if they are there in the fall again.

I decided to go back to the car along the beach, and just before I was going to step up off the beach, I caught the smell of dead animal again, this time even stronger. It only took a few moments to find the source, the mostly scavenged remains of a sea lion were laid out on the rocks. I imagine it had been there awhile, as I suspect what was left would not have floated. Based on the pattern of bird droppings, I imagine ravens and eagles had been taking advantage.

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Sitka Nature Show #110 – Sue Karl (Part 2)

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The 10th of July show featured the second part of a conversation with Sue Karl of the USGS. In this part, we talked about fossils (and why they seem to be unusual around Sitka despite the marine sediment origins of so much of the rock here) as well as the volcanism of Mt. Edgecume and some of the other volcanoes in Southeast Alaska. In case you missed it, you can listen to the first part of the conversation here.

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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Golden Algae (Chromophyton rosanoffii)

Back in 2007, my brother and I noticed a mysterious golden sheen under a stump along Mosquito Cove trail. Some years later, the mystery was resolved, but until this week I had still not observed the golden sheen again.

A couple of days ago while hiking Mosquito Cove trail with my kids, I checked under the stump (as I usually do) and noticed there was a little bit of a golden sheen. It was not as extensive as the first time, but I could definitely see it.

The sheen is caused by a layer of single celled algae. It seems they are probably a species of Chromophyton, perhaps C. rosanoffii (there do not seem to be many options). The golden sheen is very directional, and apparently caused by the uniform alignment of chloroplasts with the light.

You can really see the reflector type of effect in these two comparison photos (slide the vertical bar back and forth to see the photo with and without the camera flash). It’s a little surprising to me how much the sense of microtopography changes with the changing light source – notice the moss on the right is exactly in alignment, though.

Another comparison of two aligned photos, with and without flash.

Although not as well aligned, these photos show the same patch of mud from the other side, with and without flash. There is little or no evidence (to my eyes) of the golden algae on the surface from this direction. I guess this means it would be easy to miss if you didn’t happen to look from the right location.

A google image search for Chromophyton turns up photos of shallow pools that appear golden yellow from this algae growing on the surface. I have so far not found anything like that. I am curious to know if anyone else reading this has found this golden algae (especially around Southeast Alaska) – please let me know in the comments!

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Mosquito Cove Loop

Originally I had hoped to head up Harbor Mountain and walk to the south slope meadow for a picnic lunch with Connor and Rowan. Those plans changed when we got to Harbor Mountain road and found a sign saying it was closed. (I knew there was going to be work going on to clear some of the remaining debris from last August’s landslides, but I had not really paid much attention to the days.) Instead, we ended up out at Starrigavan and hiked over to Mosquito Cove for our lunch.

I can’t remember how long it has been since I walked the full Mosquito Cove loop, but I think it’s probably been at least several months, and perhaps it has been since last fall (or longer). I’m not sure why I do not make it out there more often, I guess because I tend to prefer the Estuary Life and Forest and Muskeg trails, as they generally offer better bird viewing opportunities.

Mosquito Cove loop is a very nice trail, and it was pleasant walking over the upland section to get to the cove. With the beach in full sun, it felt quite warm sitting on the gravel eating our lunch.

There were several things that caught my attention as we walked along, the most exciting of which was seeing Chromophyton on the same mud where I last saw it in 2007. I’ll write more on that separately.

I was also interested to see copperbush growing right along the trail – I either had not noticed it previously, or perhaps more likely, I just forgot it was there. This species is more typical of subalpine habitats near treeline, and it’s a bit unusual to see it right at sea level. In this case, it’s on a shaded north-facing slope, so perhaps that makes a difference.

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I arrived home this afternoon after a brief trip to Seattle to visit family and bring my kids back from a month-long visit with their grandparents. We all had things to take care of, so did not take much advantage of the pleasant day in town. (It had been mostly cloudy on the flight in, though there were patches of broken clouds where I could see down to the water or land below. Sitting on the seaward side of the plane, I did recognize Port Alexander, but beyond that clouds obscured most of Baranof Island until we were a little south of Biorka.)

This evening while sitting upstairs working on my computer, I was a little surprised to feel the house shake. A few moments later it shook again. It seemed like more than would have happened from a large vehicle going by (and I did not near one of those anyway), so after waiting a few moments in anticipating that there might be more, I checked online and saw that there was a quake near Sitka. Originally reported to be magnitude 4 about 70 miles away, it was later revised (presumably based on additional information and/or analysis) to a magnitude 3.6, but only about 30 miles away.

It’s only the third quake I have ever felt. The first was one Sunday afternoon 25-30 years ago. I was at the dinner table with my family (and guests, I think) and it felt like someone was shaking the table with their leg, but the hanging plants were also swinging. The other more recent one was a couple of years ago – it was easily the strongest of the three, but I was asleep when it hit, and had only a vague sense of it, as I only partially woke up from the shaking.

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