We took the birding class over to Alice Island this morning in hopes of finding the Snowy Owl that was seen there yesterday. I went back two other times later in the day, once with Rowan and Connor, the other time by myself a little before sunset.
Weather: Clear skies prevailed last night and temperatures dropped into the upper 20s. As I am writing this, the thermometer indicates the temperature has already dropped to 23 degrees, so it’s going to be colder tonight. Winds were calm and both the sunrise and sunset were colorful today. (This time of year it’s pretty easy to observe both of them.)
Birds: There were a couple of Great Blue Herons along the Alice Island shore line. We saw several Greater Scaups, Goldeneye, and Bufflehead in the Airport Lagoon. I saw a Northern Flicker and several Song Sparrows around the island. Birds in the water off of Alice Island included Pelagic Cormorants and Buffleheads. We did find the Snowy Owl just before we left.
There was a lone bird calling rather loudly around campus today, but I couldn’t tell what it was. It did fly overhead and perch at the top of a Hemlock tree behind our house (I was down near Fraser at the time). From that distance, about all I could tell was the bird had a very red head. If I had to guess, I would have said it was a Pine Grosbeak or a Red Crossbill, it did not seem to be acting in a manner I consider typical of either species, however (of course, I’ve only seen Pine Grosbeaks a couple of times).
There was a Ring-necked Pheasant reported along Sawmill Creek Road near where the flume passes underneath the road. It was sighted a short time later behind Sweetland through the windows of the cafeteria.
On my second trip to Alice Island when we saw the Snowy Owl fly off (but didn’t get a good look at it), I noticed a loud squeaky/chirpy noise that seemed to be coming from the fish cleaning float. I couldn’t figure out what on the float could be making that noise, so I was a little puzzled. About that time, I noticed an otter swim out from underneath it. I could see that the otter was chirping, and upon seeing it I remembered the call. It did not come out far from the float before swimming back underneath it. The quality of the sound of the call changed pretty significantly when it was in the middle of the float (it’s a square shaped with a central part open to the water for fish guts to go into the water). Apparently the float acted as a kind of reverberation chamber. That was part of the reason I had not recognized the call as being biological in origin to begin with.
The snow has formed a light crust and is very powedery underneath. On another snow related note, there is a dramatic difference between the amount of snow in open areas and underneath the trees. Where I have walked through the woods, even where the trees are not that dense, there tends to be at most 3 or 4 inches of snow (some places don’t have any). In the open, the snow has got to be over a foot deep. I am guessing it has to do with the pattern of snow fall, daily temperatures, and the forest canopy. The snow did not fall all in one big storm, instead it accumulated over several days. Temperatures throughout that time were frequently at or a little above freezing. When it did clear off for brief periods of time, the trees kept the ground/air underneath them from cooling quickly due to radiation of heat. With much of snow caught in the canopy initially, what did fall to the ground was melted by the relatively warm ground. That which was in the canopy melted faster than that on the ground because of a larger surface area exposed to the warm air.
One of the large exposed rocks (bed rock?) along Westwood Trail where it approaches Sawmill Creek Road had no snow on it. There was snow on the ground around it (the rock doesn’t actually protrude above the surrounding soil signficantly). My guess was the rock had enough stored thermal energy that it was able to melt the snow. The surrounding soil probably did not conduct heat efficiently enough to warm the snow to melting.
On my last trip to Alice Island today I walked out on the rocks for a little while. The rocks were on the south end of the island and all the snow had melted off of them. I felt the dark rocks and they were warm to the touch. Even the low angle of the winter sunlight was sufficient to warm these dark rocks. With no breeze to carry the warmth away, it was quite pleasant to sit and enjoy the heat of the sun and rock.