Snowy Day at Totem Park

I got an e-mail this morning from someone who reported seeing a dozen or so geese off the point at Totem Park this morning. She said it was dim and she didn’t have binoculars so couldn’t see them too well, but it looked like they might not have white cheeks, and might be worth checking out. I took this as motivation to get out of the house – something I might not have done otherwise.

By the time I headed out, skies were getting darker and snow was starting to fall. When I reached the park snow was falling heavily. Between the wind, snow, and moderately low tide, I couldn’t see the water at the end of the park, and I didn’t really want to wander out into the stiff breeze with blowing snow. Instead, I spent a little more time on the trail, gave some attention to the two species of alder, then walked over to the river mouth, and finally to the point, by which time the snow was starting to let up.

I walked out on the flats and was able to approach some of the 100 or more crows fairly closely. They seemed to be foraging for invertebrates and eating snow. It was fun to watch (and try to photograph) them flying up with mussels (I think) and dropping them to crack them open. I got pictures of several different individuals, but not a good full sequence for any particular time. I sorted the gallery pictures below so it’s in order, even though the pictures are from 2 or 3 different birds. One particular crow allowed me to approach quite closely as it was eating snow. I was interested in this, since Rowan had just told me a couple of days ago that she was able to see the crows eating snow at the park.

After heading back to the trail, I stopped to take pictures of 5 different alder trees. I like to try and notice differences between the species of alder (Alnus rubra and Alnus viridis) – and I think I found another one today. It seemed to work pretty well for the trees I could find at the park today, anyway.

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Snow and Clearing Skies

The clouds broke up over town this morning after snow overnight. By around noon, it was again completely overcast and the snow started shortly thereafter. Coincidentally, the kids and I headed over to SJ since someone had suggested frisbee for those college students back in town for the holiday. A couple of other people showed up, and Connor and I played catch with them for a while (Rowan joined at the end, but spent most of the time helping other kids with a snowman and doing a little sledding). I was impressed that Connor was able to keep his hands warm without gloves on – he told me they only got cold when he took a tumble as we were walking back toward home, and I had given him a long throw to chase after. It snowed pretty hard the whole time we were there, with a decent breeze blowing in from the west or northwest (it was a little hard to tell, as it didn’t seem very steady).

Around 2pm or a little after, the clouds started to break up again, and we were treated to some nice light as the sun was going down.

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Snow and Birds

Snow overnight with some scattered snow showers today left the ground covered in an inch or so of snow. Between the snow showers, the sun was actually shining for a good chunk of the day. Was nice to have another day of brightness as we approach the new year.

I did a little birding this afternoon, with the main goal to try and photograph a Lincoln’s Sparrow that has been visiting a feeder since at least late fall.

On a brief stop at Swan Lake, I was interested to see how aggressive the Trumpeter Swan was being with a couple of Mallards that were getting between it and the corn someone was tossing out. The swan would grab the mallard (male in each case) by the neck and swing it around a few times. The ducks seemed to get the idea and leave a little space around the swan. I thought it was funny to see the first year Glaucous Gull fly in and slip into the dense crowd of Mallards to try a bit of the corn. I didn’t get the impression it was much to the gull’s liking, as it didn’t make much effort to go after more.

Across the lake 24 or more Ring-necked Ducks were all gathered up in the open water near the little cove on the west side. This is the best time to observe the ducks, as when the lake is open, they tend to be scattered around and most of them are distant and hard to see very well. When the lake ices over completely they leave – and are rarely observed elsewhere. In the same opening was an American Wigeon – a bird I’ve not noticed lately.

I did get to see the Lincoln’s Sparrow. Wasn’t a great time for getting pictures of it, but did get one shot that was at least recognizable. Might try for a better photo on a future occasion when I have more time and the direction of the sun is a bit better.

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Walk around the Lake


Rowan’s mittened hand for scale next to a Trumpeter Swan track at Swan Lake

There was a chance that frisbee might be played this morning at Moller Park, so the kids and I walked up the west side of Swan Lake to check it out. I figured in the likely scenario that frisbee was not happening, we could at least get some birding in – see if there was anything of particular interest as we head in to count week for the Christmas Bird Count this Sunday. As it turned out, there were a couple people playing catch, so we joined them for a bit, before continuing on.

Rowan was surprisingly interested in birding today, while Connor was much less so. Usually it’s the other way around. Rowan had played on the playground for part of the time Connor and I were playing catch and she opted to go with me along the Path of Hope while Connor decided to play on the playground for a while. I sent her off into the lower brushy area to see if there were any sparrows or thrushes lurking about. She ended up coming up through a (very) minor unofficial trail to try and sneak up on me while I was at the overlook checking out what was on Swan Lake (and there wasn’t much I could see). She wanted to return the way she came, so I went over to the parking for the path of hope – noticing mostly juncos and a few Pine Siskins in the parking lot and at the feeder across the street (earlier Rowan heard then we saw a couple of small flocks flying over – perhaps 30+ birds in all).

Walking down the road, Connor came out to meet me, but Rowan still hadn’t found her way out of the forested area. While waiting for her, Connor and I spotted a Downy Woodpecker – a bird I’ve only seen a handful of times around here over the years. I sent Connor to find Rowan so she could see it also, while I tried to take some pictures. The photos didn’t turn out that great, but fortunately it stuck around long enough for Rowan to get a look at it.

Rowan had found a bird skeleton in the bushes along the ‘trail’ she had been on. She picked up the skull and wanted to pick up some of the other bones, but it sounded like after looking away to get a stick to use, she couldn’t find where the remainder of the skeleton was. She thought the skull might be a sparrow, but I suggested a warbler was more likely, since there were still yellow feathers associated with it. Also, the bill looked better for a warbler, though she and I didn’t talk about that at the time. She carried the skull all the way home so we could keep it. At the time she was talking about trying to figure out what it was by looking in the bird book, but by the time we got home, I think she just wanted to eat lunch, and then forgot about that project.

Rather than retrace our steps, we continued around on Cascade Street, then down Lake Street. Connor decided to head on home to start lunch warming up, while Rowan and I stopped to check out the birds on Swan Lake. I was able to count 15+ Ring-necked Ducks, as well as some scaups and mallards near the radio station. At the peninsula there was the lone Trumpeter Swan, many more Mallards and a few gulls, including the first year Glaucous Gull.

Rowan noticed all the tracks in the snow at the peninsula and said she thought the swan had been walking around a bunch. I’m not sure what made her think they were swan tracks instead of gulls and mallards, but she realized the difference when a couple people came and spread some corn out for the birds. The swan walked over to get some, and then Rowan was able to check out the tracks where she had seen the swan walking. We were both impressed with the size.

Overall it was a quiet day – a bit of wind, but not too much, bird activity seemed pretty low, and there wasn’t a lot of precipitation. What did fall was kind of a heavy wet snow, but there wasn’t enough to add any depth to the thin ground covering that we got overnight.

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Winter Sun at Totem Park

Bright skies this morning lured me into taking a walk with Connor and Rowan down to Totem Park. However, by the time we were leaving, it seemed to be totally overcast and a light snow was falling. We walked down to Lincoln Street and found things to be pretty quiet, both on land and on the water. As we reached the park, the sun started to break out from behind the clouds, offering hope of a chance to accumulate a bit of sun exposure – something that has been sorely lacking in this significantly wetter than usual December.

By the time we got to the battle site part of the loop, the sun had broken out of the clouds, and it felt noticeably warm standing on the beach where I could get the full effect of the direct sun as well as the strong reflections off the water. I just stood there for a couple of minutes enjoying the warmth before Rowan informed me there were some shorebirds around the corner. Going to investigate, I discovered the wind blowing from the east – though not especially strong – was sufficient to make it feel quite chilly, despite the sun. I later retreated back to the calmer location – having the good excuse that I wanted to try and get some pictures of the redpolls I had seen adjacent to the beach there.

One of the things I’ve been keeping an eye out for is a good representative of Fomitopsis pinicola (one of two or three different species often referred to as Bear’s Bread). Despite it being very common, I have previously only taken pictures of this shelf fungus that were unusual in some way. Today I noticed one growing on a spruce trunk right at the start of the beach-side of the west loop. A little further down the path, I took a picture of the somewhat similar Heterobasidion annosum, as well. This can sometimes form a shelf, and in such cases may look quite similar to the Fomitopsis, but unlike Fomitopsis, it often grows flat, not forming a shelf at all.

Despite there being few birds around, I did see some things of interest. Species-wise, at least a couple of Common Redpolls were working the alders with a handful of Pine Siskins. Redpolls were absent last winter, and this is only the second time I’ve seen any siskins in the past several months. Also of note were at least a couple of Rock Sandpipers in with the Black Turnstones, and a probable Red-tailed Hawk first spotted by Rowan (who told me she saw the red tail – I just saw a brief glimpse of it before it disappeared behind the trees).

While attempting to photograph the siskins and redpolls, I was also treated to some activity of a small group of Barrow’s Goldeneye right near the shore, but I think I’ll post on that separately, as I would like to wrap this up.

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