Beautiful Fall Day

Fall has come in with at least a day of nice weather. Although I didn’t get to spend much time out in the warm sun, I did appreciate that unique feeling of summer warmth and sun lingering into the fall season, despite the obviously shorter days and lower angle of light, even at midday. I know in other places this is the norm, but in Sitka we do not often get much of it as the storms roll off the Gulf of Alaska one after the other.

One aspect of this time of year that I find fascinating is tracking the minimal extent of snow (as well as looking at the exposed ice) on the high peaks of the island that support it year-round. With relatively low snow fall last winter followed by a dry spring and warm summer, it’s a recipe for lots of exposed rock and ice. I don’t know that I will manage to get up Bear Mountain to look at the most easily accessible areas of ice, but it’s tempting to try.

I’m not sure if it was an artifact of the angle of light at this time of year, or maybe just a particular sort of awareness on my part, but this evening when I was coming home after my class at UAS, the greens on Mt. Verstovia seemed especially intense. I first noticed the brighter yellowish-greens that I associate with cedars, they appeared to almost glow in contrast with the darker almost blue/gray-green spruces. As I continued to look, I saw that there were a variety of shades, all seeming more striking than I’ve typically noticed. The overall effect was to give the mountain (especially the broad lower slopes) a vibrancy that I really enjoyed.

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Fall Equinox

While on a walk at Totem Park this morning, I had the chance to sit for a little while and soak up the warmth of the sun pouring through a break in the clouds. With fall equinox marking the crossover, such moments will become ever more precious as we move through the seasons of darkness. During my pause, I noticed some erosion features on the beach from recent high water, though nothing significant enough to change the main channel (though it seems like that could happen some day in the not too distant future).

There are still many gulls around the river mouth, though in the cursory scans I made today, I didn’t notice anything unusual. There was a flock of Black Turnstones, quite a few Savannah Sparrows, a couple or more territorial Song Sparrows, and an expected pair of Pectoral Sandpipers, all out on the flats at the end of the park.

Coming around to where I had a view of the west and northwest, it was interesting to see the billowing cloud formations. The apparent rate of change of distant clouds makes it difficult to perceive the dynamic nature of their existence (time lapse photography is nice for that), but the features were striking enough at times that I could tell they had changed even after just a couple of minutes.

I ended up spending a little while at Sage Beach trying to get photos of a pair of Red Crossbills. They can routinely be found on the beach (apparently feeding) and I’m wondering if it has something to do with getting nutrients for nesting (though I would suspect that would be more important for the female, and it seems like both are down there). Given the consistency with which these crossbills are down there, I’m thinking they probably are nesting nearby.

I spotted a young Pigeon Guillemot in Crescent Harbor that I first heard about on Friday. It’s interesting that it seems to be sticking around. I got some photos of it with a food item that was clearly a large-ish shrimp, though I’m not sure if it will be possible to tell what species.

This afternoon after Tlingit class it was raining pretty hard from heavy looking clouds (aawag̱éet). The rain continued for some time (including my walk home).

(photos to come)

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Warm Strong Wind

It was impressively windy through the middle of the day. It made for an entertaining time trying to pass and catch at ultimate. I think it was as windy as I’ve ever seen while playing at Moller field. Not only was it a strong, it was surprisingly warm. When I checked the temperature earlier in the morning it was already to the forecast high of 60, and by mid-day it was up to 64 or 65. After some rain started moving through, the temperature seemed to drop to somewhat more seasonal temperatures in the upper 50s.

It was interesting to watch a flock of Greater White-fronted Geese flying low and struggling to make headway. They came directly over the field, and I thought they might veer over to Swan Lake, but it appeared they continued working their way south without stopping there.

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Mushroom Walk

This morning the kids and I joined a mushroom outing at Mosquito Cove trail led by last night’s seminar series speaker Kate Mohatt (who is one of the organizers of some forest/fungus fairs in Southcentral Alaska). It was interesting to see the diversity of species brought in by the various participants when they were all laid out on the table at the end. In hindsight, it might have been nice to get a picture of the collections laid out on the tables, but unfortunately I didn’t think of that at the time. Rowan tagged along with Kate walking along the trail and pointing out mushrooms for her. Connor went off on his own exploring the woods off the trail, coming back with a small pile of his own collections. Both said they enjoyed the outing – I think it was nice for them to have some independent interaction with other people interested in being out.

Rowan was excited to get a large artist’s conk (Ganoderma applanatum) collected by one of the participants (thanks Blain!). She spent a good chunk of her afternoon illustrating it (and it’s now drying – which will take some time).

The blue-gray mushroom was collected off of lower Gavan Trail.

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Dew Circle on Window

A couple of weeks ago on a clear morning after days of moisture, there was much dew to be found around. I was a little surprised to see this window with condensation (on the outside) leaving the clear circle in the middle. It’s a north-facing window (and wouldn’t have seen any direct sunlight that morning). It’s mysterious to me how/why this happened. I’ll try to remember to check for it on future mornings with heavy dew.

If you have some ideas on what happened, I would be happy to hear them – please leave a comment below!

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Morning Birding, Evening Talk

With the strong winds of last night, I thought it might be fruitful to go out to Starrigavan and look around for birds. We didn’t end up getting started as soon as I might have liked and only ended up having time to walk around the Estuary Life trail. Several Song Sparrows and Lincoln’s Sparrows were scattered around the estuary (throughout the sedge/grass area for the former, and mostly along the upper margin for the latter). While leading the way, Rowan noticed a deer walking away from the boardwalk at the upper end that I was able to get a glimpse of before it disappeared into the brush and forest. Connor was far enough back that he didn’t see it, but he decided to see if he could find its trail. While he was doing that, Rowan wanted to see if she could figure out why a couple of squirrels were making a racket.

There were probably 100 or more crows along Starrigavan Creek in the section down from the trail bridge. They were actively calling, sometimes flying up into the trees, and other times back down to the river banks. I first noticed them from the far side of the estuary, but didn’t realize just how many there were until they all flew off in a large flock as we were walking along Nelson logging road. It was interesting to hear the different calls (especially in terms of pitch) coming from (presumably) different crows.

Around 7pm this evening, Connor pointed out a flock of about 100 Greater White-fronted Geese flying south. They’re the first I’ve seen this fall.

This afternoon I recorded a conversation with Nancy Huntly for use on a future radio show.

This evening we went to a talk about mushrooms by Kate Mohatt, who works in the Chugach National forest.

After the talk while headed to the car I noticed a sort of cricket sounding chirp several times (sounding like it coming from different places each time). I wondered if it might have been a storm-petrel. While visiting with a couple of folks, I also heard shorebirds fly by (and not very high) – I think they may have been Dunlin, but I’m not sure. Connor said he saw a couple of sparrows fly by while he was waiting in the car for me (we were parked near a light).

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