Trip to Ataku

I was invited to tag along on a boat trip to Ataku Island, location of a WWII era lookout bunker and home to some cranberries our boat captain had noticed on a trip earlier this year. Located near Biorka Island some miles south of town, I had been down that far in a boat in a few times, but never actually on any of the islands in the area, so it seemed like a nice opportunity.

Along the way, the seas were impressively calm (for October), with only a small swell rolling in from the Gulf of Alaska. The forecast for the day was occasional showers, and they seemed to come in the form of bands of precipitation moving through. Fortunately we left the dock as one band was reaching Sitka, and passed through another band shortly before reaching our destination (which the showers had just moved beyond), so it was a fairly dry time with a reasonable amount of sun. From the boat we saw many whales spouting (mostly in the distance). A nice rainbow made an appearance, and we also got to have some good looks at a new-for-me bird, the Cassin’s Auklet (I’ll post more about that separately).

It took a little over an hour to make the run down to where we were headed, a narrow gap between Ataku and Tava Islands. It appeared to me like they would actually be connected at a low tide (which it was not at the time we were there) by a white sand beach (I did not look closely enough to see whether it was white because of shell origins, or from the source rock). The rock in the area is not the graywacke that dominates the geology along the road system. I am not completely sure, but I think it was a sort of granite. In any case, it was lighter in color, and definitely had different weathering patterns than graywacke.

Relatively small in size, Ataku Island is impressively steep in places. I suspect this is due in part to the underlying geology, but the highest knobs were probably over 150 feet in elevation (though I don’t really know how much higher). Mostly it was forested, with a couple of small more or less untreed areas, and on the southern outer slopes it was a very open forest with fairly stunted trees.

[more details to come: Porella (no pictures), interesting microhabitats (open areas partly deer maintained? different forest types), some cranberries, set of steep-sided knolls. WWII remains, including observation bunker. Various mushrooms.]

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Sunset from O’Connell Bridge

It was a sunny and reasonably warm day, and though I was tempted to take Rowan out for a hike somewhere, we ended up staying home and taking care of some tasks that have been waiting. A little over a week after I started (and over three years since I purchased it), I finally finished putting together the shelter logic shed so I can store some things in a relatively dry place not on my porch. I also showed Rowan how to fix a bicycle flat, since we both had one (hers from a couple of days earlier, mine from a couple of months).

With Connor not here regularly putting food out, the birds have stopped coming around in the numbers they had been. I put out a fair amount of seed today, so perhaps that will attract them again in the coming days.

This evening I needed to go down to the radio station, and the timing was convenient to check out the sunset. I was curious to see where on the horizon it was, as we’re about 1/3 of the way between fall equinox and winter solstice. From the top of O’Connell bridge, it appeared the sun was setting just north of Vitskari Island. Fall weather being what it is, I suspect the next time I am able to see where the sun sets, it will be south of Vitskari.

Looking the other direction, the highest peaks (above 4500 feet) seem to have had snow persisting, and the crevasses on the ice cap around Peak 5390 are starting to soften. Perhaps this year I’ll catch when they cover up.

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Crabapples and Crows

A few days ago I noticed some grows perched in a crabapple (Malus fusca) loaded with fruit. They seemed fairly unconcerned with me, so I was able to watch and photograph as they pulled off the small fruits to eat. The native pacific crabapple fruits are small -about the size of the end of my finger. Like apples we’re generally familiar with, they are hard as they develop. However, at some point the flesh of the fruit liquefies inside the still tough skin and they become quite soft. I enjoy picking these soft fruits, as it is easy to suck out the tart juicy insides and then spit out the skin and seeds. (I don’t mind eating the skins if they haven’t turned dark and leathery with scabby looking spots, I suppose they probably wouldn’t hurt me, but I still spit them out.)

Fruit that haven’t softened up yet are usually difficult to detach from their stem, and not as enjoyable (for me) to eat. Watching the crows, it appears they have a similar taste in crabapples. In particular, in the first two images below, you can see a crow working on pulling off a still hard crabapple. In the third image, you see the apple dropping down, stem still attached. I’m not sure if this was intentional (though I suspect it was), and if so, what prompted the drop. At first I thought maybe it just didn’t want to eat a hard fruit, but then it occurred to me that the hardness of the fruit would be readily apparent from at least the first time it grabbed it with its beak (and generally it’s possible to tell just by looking). If it did decide it didn’t want a hard fruit, why bother working at getting it picked? Now I’m wondering if maybe it did not want to eat the stem along with the fruit, so once it saw the stem was still there, it let go.

Questions:

  • What other animals eat crabapples?
  • What other fruits to crows eat?
  • What prompts the crabapple insides to liquefy? (maybe frost, but seems like they will do so even without)
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Indian River Walk

Rowan and I went for a walk along Indian River this morning. She was motivated to look around by a third-hand report I got a few days ago of someone seeing newts in the little streams by the second bridge. As far as I recall there are not any little streams especially close to what I all the second bridge, and I figured if they were up that far, it’s likely they’re lower than that as well. We started up the trail and went as far as the big pine muskeg stream before Rowan decided it was time to wander off the trail and look around.

We found an old campsite (I think it was near one of the places my brother stayed some years back) with plastic that had been abandoned for some time (my guess is at least a couple of years). I suggested Rowan lift it up as it seemed a plausible place for newts to hide ….

[more to come - 'eggs', earthworm, epiphytic Pleuroziopsis, rerouted stream channel near 'the nets', silver salmon, Rowan's desire to find two 'interesting' things to photograph, VATH]

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Solar Eclipse

For a while it appeared that we would not see much during today’s partial solar eclipse. However, about halfway through the event around the maximum extent of the moon’s coverage of the sun, the clouds started breaking up and I was able to grab some photos. Of course even when partially blocked, the sun is still very bright, so in order to keep the sun from blowing things out to the point where it was not possible to see the eclipse, the surrounding sky was had to be drastically under exposed, leading to these low key images that almost look like they were taken at night rather than near midday. In some of the photos, a corona is visible due to the light refracted through small water droplets making up the clouds.

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Rusty Blackbird

Yesterday I received a call from Stan about a different looking bird that had visited his driveway on Lakeview Drive late that morning (before being chased off by Steller’s Jays) as well as around the same time the day before. He thought it might be a Rusty Blackbird, but wasn’t absolutely sure. Rusty Blackbirds are less than annually reported in Sitka (though I suspect small numbers move through in most years without being reported), and I had only seen them twice before. I walked around Lakeview Drive on my way to the middle school, and heard a Steller’s Jay but did not see the Rusty Blackbird.

On my way back from the middle school I once again walked around the loop and did not see the blackbird before I saw Stan. While we were visiting (talking about the birds of the neighborhood as well as a squirrel that he’s trying to keep out of his attic and crawlspace), the blackbird showed up just where he had seen it before.

I was able to get some photos of the Rusty Blackbird as it worked its way down along the side of the road. It stayed mostly on the pavement or in the gravel while I watched, and in a couple of pictures it’s possible to see it has something in its mouth. My best guess at this time is that it was finding seeds, probably from of the abundant crop of spruce cones that have started seeds.

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