Bioluminescent Firewood

Two unremarkable chunks of split cedar destined for a fire

But look again – something strange is going on. It’s not photoshop tricks, just a long exposure in a dark room with a bit of fill flash

I recently was offered a chance to see some glowing firewood a friend of a friend had noticed while chopping wood. I picked it up after dark, but couldn’t really see anything as I carried it home. I had been told that the freshly split would seemed to glow more strongly, so I pulled out my hatchet and cut the chunk into too pieces After bringing it inside to a dark room and letting my eyes adjust, I found that if I didn’t look directly at the wood (and so used the more light sensitive rods that are used for peripheral vision), I noticed a faint glow coming off each of the pieces.

The bioluminescence was only barely visible to me, kind of like in this photo

Long (~3 minute) exposure with no fill flash.

Bioluminescence in wood is from decomposing fungus doing its thing. I’m not sure which species it might be (though cedar is not prone to infection from very many, so that seemed kind of interesting to me). I also do not know how common it is. I’ve heard about it previously, but this is the first time I’ve had a chance to observe it. Thanks to Paul Norwood for offering me this piece, and to Laurent Deviche for noticing it and sharing it with Paul.

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Revisiting John Brown’s Beach

I went for a relatively quick walk around the park this morning. I didn’t find anything new there except a fruiting Polyporus sp (that hopefully I can get identified to species at some point). I stopped by castle hill to take pictures of a Porella (I think maybe P. cordeana, which would be a new species for me), before going over to John Brown’s Beach to show a friend the mystery plant from a few days ago. The mystery plant turns out to be the introduced St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), a species I’ve only seen once before, and that was a while back, so I don’t feel so bad for not recognizing it. While there, I also noticed some neat little new-to-me fungi, the Fluted Bird’s Nest (Cyathus striatus). Not far off the shore was a breeding plumage Horned Grebe, so that was a fun sighting. It’s the first one of those I’ve seen in fresh plumage. Unfortunately the tide was up and the waves were crashing a bit much to get out to the edge of the water where I could get better photos of it.

Weather today started out partly cloudy, then for much of today it was mostly sunny. This evening (around 7pm) heavy dark clouds were moving in from the south, and there was a pretty good wind. Tomorrow calls for wind and some possibly heavy rain. It might be a good day to look for some migrants, but I’m not sure if I will be motivated enough to brave the weather.

(more photos to come)

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Leucistic Eurasian Collared-Dove

Earlier this week I got an e-mail from Liz McKenzie with some attached photos of a very white dove that had started visiting her feeding station with a Eurasian Collared-Dove. At first I thought it was a leucistic Eurasian Collared-Dove, with a majority of its feathers and exposed bodyparts lacking much pigment. However, coincidentally, earlier that same day there had been a report of a Ringed Turtle-Dove from out the road. After my initial thoughts on the nearly white dove I had seen, I started checking into what a Ringed Turtle-Dove might looked like. What I found made me reconsider – as it seems they are very similar to Eurasian Collared-Doves, though they tend to be paler. A Ringed Turtle-Dove would be an escaped or released bird, but even if only had been released, Sitka is not so big that it was implausible for the reported turtle-dove (from out the road) to have flown in to appear at Liz’s deck rail feeding station.

Further reading revealed that the turtle-doves are smaller than collared-doves, and one photo of Liz’s clearly showed that the pale dove was not smaller than the Eurasian Collared-Dove. I also noticed the bill was pink, but pictures on-line of turtle-doves showed dark bills. This suggested to me that the bird wasn’t just pale, but there was an abnormal lack of pigment. In the end, it seemed safe to conclude this interesting bird is a leucistic Eurasian Collared-Dove.

Wikipedia has a page on leucism that explains a bit more about what it is, but in a nutshell, it’s a partial lack of pigment. It’s something I’ve noticed in a few different birds over the years, so I’m not surprised when I see it, but it’s certainly not common.

Thanks to Liz for sharing her photos and giving me permission to include them in this post!

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Spring Thunder


My first Black-legged Kittiwake of the year

I took a brief walk around Totem Park. On my way there I enjoyed hearing some rolling thunder, a couple of times I even saw a flash from the lightning that preceded it. Overall the day was mostly all cloudy with showers periodically adding punctuation. I didn’t notice any other lightning or thunder after the 3 or 4 I heard this morning.

Where the seawalk goes along Sage Beach (where the boardwalk starts on the way to the park) I noticed calls that sounded sort of like junco alarms (which can be kind of subtle). There were two birds trading chips, and it didn’t take me long to find one. It was a Song Sparrow. I recorded it for a while, as it wasn’t a call I had associated with Song Sparrows previously. Perhaps I’ll write up a separate post with the recordings.

During my time at the park I enjoyed a brief conversation with a visiting birder-type from Delta Junction. He was in town for a wedding and was getting a last bit of birding in before catching the ferry back north.

The tide was up and there were several hundred Surfbirds on the beach from the visitor center to the first little high point. There were also a few Black Turnstones and at least one Rock Sandpiper. I didn’t find any other migrating shorebirds, however.

Of course the big story of the day was the Palm Warbler Connor found this morning. A first record for Sitka, and one of only a very small number of spring records for the state.

This evening as I sat outside on the steps, I happened to look up and notice hundreds of birds (gulls, I’m pretty sure) soaring to the south. It took a moment before my brain made sense of what I was seeing, and I realized there were at least a couple of different circles of gulls. Now I’m kind of wishing I had grabbed my camera sooner, because as I watched, I saw them drifting closer to where I was, then peal off of a circle and form up into another one not far away. In the end, I came to believe these birds were giving form to swirling updrafts associated with a squall that was moving over. It was pretty amazing to watch while it lasted, almost visual poetry perhaps, but it did not last long.

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Palm Warbler – First Record for Sitka

I was walking around the park this morning while my son Connor was taking care of their pet lizard at his mom’s. He called to tell me he had seen a strange warbler while over by her place and was able to get some photos of it. He described it as having a yellow throat, chestnut cap, and yellow under tail. By the time I got home a few minutes he and his sister had looked through the bird book and decided it was a Palm Wabler. I took a look at his photos and agreed that it was definitely not a typical bird for Sitka. We hopped in the car and went back to Price Street (where he had found it). I called a couple of people to let them know there was a good bird for Sitka while Connor and Rowan went to look for it. Before I was off the phone, Connor was running back to let me know Rowan had found it. We spent about an hour following it around the neighborhoods along Price and Smith Streets. It would fly between trees and brushy areas, not really seeming to hang in anyone place for very long.

This is a first record (as far as I can tell) for Sitka. In the region, it seems this species is found mostly in the fall (considered Very Rare), though there are prior spring records. Given how early it is for warblers and the mild winter, I’m wondering if this one wintered somewhere in the area/region and has started moving now that it’s on to spring.

Connor’s i-naturalist observation of the Palm Warbler with his photos.

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John Brown’s Beach and Rising Wind

I rose this morning and was somewhat surprised to see blue skies, though unlike yesterday when I ventured out, it was not a soft and subtle transition from blue to gray overcast. Instead, there were intense looking clouds over the Pyramids with showers clearly evident. The blue sky didn’t last long, the wind picked up, and by later this afternoon there were some pretty good rain showers.

I took a short walk with a friend to John Brown’s Beach. I tried to get some photos of a Red-necked Grebe in breeding plumage, but it was a bit far out. I also noticed some plant remains that I didn’t recognize. There were quite a few of them in a meadowy area, and I was a little surprised that they looked so unfamiliar. New plants appeared to be growing up, and I’m guessing they are the same as the remains, so I’ll have to make an effort to get out there later in the year and figure out what they are.

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