Valley Stratus

This photo was taken back in January 2010 (but finally uploaded only earlier this year) – offering a chilly blast from winters past. I am curious how/why the stratus clouds hanging in the valley form and persist. I did not notice if they were quite stable or not, and from other experience know that it can be hard to tell when clouds are moving slowly but keeping a similar pattern (for example, cumulus clouds continually billowing up over a mountain and then trailing away). Perhaps it would have been interesting to do at least a few minutes of time lapse, and maybe next time I observe a similar phenomenon I’ll have an opportunity to try that.


  • What cloud formations are you curious about?
  • How do these thin layers of clouds form?
  • What drives the extent of these valley clouds (why don’t they fill the valley)?
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Swainson’s Thrush and Ripe Elderberries

Thrushes seem to be quite fond of red elderberries (Sambucus racemosa). It does not take long for birds to strip a bush of berries, especially as in late summer with many recently independent young birds as well as perhaps the starting wave of southbound migrants make use of the food resource. Recently I saw several working on a large road side bush, including the Swainson’s Thrush seen here.

Elderberries are sometimes used by humans to make jellies (and perhaps other things), but I’ll probably just leave them for the birds.


  • What have you noticed birds eating during late summer?
  • If I gathered up elderberries and froze them to set out in the winter, would they be popular with birds in my yard?
  • Are elderberries (which often seem to come up like weeds) primarily spread by birds?
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Caramel Looper (Autographa corusca)

Although the identity is yet to be confirmed, I’m reasonably confident the moth pictured here is the Caramel Looper (Autographa corusca). In Southeast Alaska it has previously been reported from Ketchikan. This record (presuming it is correct), may be the northernmost observation of this species. According to the Pacific Northwest Moths account, the larvae of this species are probably specialists on Red Alder (Alnus rubra).

This is the first one of these I remember seeing. It appeared to be very fresh/clean (rather than worn) and so I suspect it grew up somewhere nearby (as opposed to flying in from a distant place).


  • Do you notice moths in/around places you frequent?
  • Has this species recently just moved in to the area, or is it just uncommon (or uncommonly observed), but has been around for some time?
  • What do its caterpillars look like?
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By mite standards, this one was probably pretty big. After all, I could actually see it and most species are microscopic. That said, I could only just see it, and it approached the lower limits of what I might try to document (especially in the field). As per usual for creatures of such diminutive size, I was not the one to find this particular organism. Rowan somehow spotted it and had me come over to take a look.

I do not know much about this mite. My current guess is that it’s an oribatid. Among other things, they help decompose things in the soil. This one was on rotting wood, and it seems plausible it may have been eating on that, or perhaps fungus or other things growing on the wood.

Research Questions:

  • What kind of mite is this?
  • How many different kinds of mites of this size live around here?
  • What, if any, advantage to those sparse hairs provide?

Questions for Readers:

  • Have you ever seen a mite before? What kind(s)?
  • What’s the smallest animal you’ve ever noticed out in the field?
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Sea Sac (Halosaccion glandiforme)

When I was young, there were many occasions I spent playing down on the beach between Totem Park and the Sitka Sound Science Center. Although I saw many things, there are not too many that I remember noticing and/or being aware of during my childhood. Although I wouldn’t have been able to tell you any official name for it, the sea sac (Halosaccion glandiforme) is one of those organisms I certainly had knowledge of. In some respects, it’s just another seaweed – one of many different species that grow densely in the intertidal habitats here. While not hard to find on rocky beaches, neither is it abundant and hard to avoid noticing. However, it does have a characteristic that seems especially compelling to many kids (and certainly was to me). When found during a low tide, it is usually inflated and partially or completely filled with water (as in the photo above). Each sac also has very small holes (mostly toward the upper end) that you can’t really see. When squeezed gently, the water will spray out of these tiny holes (mostly in the direction it was pointed, but sometimes there were rogues that squirted the squeezer). No doubt it’s not hard to imagine what kids tend to do with these. Perhaps this speaks a bit to the power of child passions for building connections and memories that last.

I am curious if anyone else out there remembers these from childhood for similar reasons. Are there other things that might be obscure in many respects, but caught your eye as a child that you still remember? What drew you to them?

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Fledgling Ruby-crowned Kinglet

A late June trip to the bird viewing platform at Starrigavan was good for seeing some young birds. Among them was this juvenile Ruby-crowned Kinglet. One of at least 4 or 5 begging kinglets scattered throughout the trees, I initially noticed it because of calls that sounded much too close. As I looked for the source, I was a little surprised find it calling repeatedly from a branch almost within reach where I was standing. It stayed there for longer than I would have expected, but did fly to a branch about 15-20 feet away before the time I was able to get my camera out and take this picture.

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