Connor refound the dark-mantled gull this morning and was able to get better photos of it. With those photos it was possible to confirm that it was a Slaty-backed Gull, rather than a Western Gull. Both are unusual for Sitka, but Slaty-backed Gulls have been nearly annually over the past few years, while Western Gulls have only shown up and been reported a handful of times. A friend and I scanned the flocks on the beach at Totem Park later this afternoon, but were not able to pick out any unusual birds from the mix. We did find a Gadwall, Black Turnstones, and heard a Northern Flicker, each of are on the Arctic Birding Challenge Checklist (which I’m participating in).
After the low clouds cleared off this morning, it was sunny and warm (up into the 50s) through the rest of the day. Light winds made it feel quite pleasant out. The day seemed more suited for late April or May.
It was fortunate that the winds were mild enough this morning that the annual Food Web fundraising cruise was still a go. Drizzle and cool breezes were not enough to put a damper on the excitement of the folks who went along and were able to witness a small group of Humpback Whales bubblenet feeding between Point Brown and the Magoun Islands. This is the first time have ever seen this behavior. Even this time I didn’t get a great look, as I always seemed to be looking the other direction, turning only when I heard the excitement from other passengers and just catching the whales as they started to sink back into the water.
I was along on the cruise to talk about birds. I did my fair share of talking, but there was not that much bird activity. Long-lining started recently, and there were a few gulls in the channel (it had been very quiet earlier in the week), but not so many that they had pushed out the Long-tailed Ducks. We also saw some murres and other birds scattered about in various places, and of course many gulls in the distance where herring had spawned (although there were no good looks of them to be had).
Yesterday it was quite nice out. I did not have a lot of time to get out and about, but my kids and I went back out to Halibut Point Rec to see if the large flock of birds was still there. We were a little surprised to see only two White-winged Scoters after there had been hundreds of birds there the day before. I’m not sure what attracted them in the first place, nor why they moved on so quickly.
There seemed to be more spawn-like look along the shores between Sandy Beach and Halibut Point Rec today, however it was a little strange that there were no birds there. Normally when there is good herring spawning going on, there are quite a few birds around (especially for the early-season spawn). I’m not sure if this means it was something of a false spawn, or what.
Today started overcast, and by this afternoon rain began to fall. It was never heavy rain, but it did wet the ground. Connor was able to go out on a cruise with some high school students and folks he worked with last year at Herring Camp to do some data collection. It sounded like he enjoyed the trip. My day was spent working on going through ‘treasure’ salvaged from the old house (finally), and catching up on stuff for work. Tomorrow is the WhaleFest foodweb cruise fundraiser, so it should be fun to get out on that.
Herring season continues, though the activity has primarily been away from town. I heard there would be an opening this afternoon which might be at least partly visible from town. As it turned out, the opening was only barely visible and was not considered a success. While driving out to check and see what we could see, I did notice a small patch of herring spawn near the high water island that is a bit south of Halibut Point.
On the way back in to town we stopped at the north end of Halibut Point Recreation area after noticing a sizable number of birds on the water. I estimated there were over 200 Surf Scoters, 75 Harlequin Ducks, and about 30 each of Common Goldeneyes, Barrow’s Goldeneyes, and Greater Scaups. There were also a handful of other birds including Common Merganser, Bufflehead, and White-winged Scoter. There did not appear to be any spawn in the area, so I am not sure what was attracting the ducks.
The ducks came pretty close to shore, but were quite wary. When we walked along the road (which is actually up from the beach quite a bit), they swam away and some even flew to get out further. Connor and Rowan sat along the embankment and watched the ducks return while I went further down and found a place I could watch without being so easily seen. Unfortunately, the branches that served to conceal me also made it difficult to get a good view of the birds. I did get a short video of bird diving, but as soon as they came back up, they all flushed off. I wasn’t moving or making noise at the time (trying to hold the camera steady). Perhaps one caught sight of me after surfacing and spooked, thereby prompting the rest of them to take flight as well.
The weather turned out better than forecast. It was a little breeze and overcast this morning (I saw on the radar there was some pretty good rain south of here), but the forecast rain never really showed up in town. By this afternoon, the clouds had started to break up and it ended up being partly sunny.
Spring-like conditions continued today, though it was not as sunny as yesterday. Overcast skies this morning did break up enough to let the sun shine through. I enjoyed the warmth of the sun on my skin while out checking on plants growing in containers.
This morning on my way home from class, I took a few minutes to stop by Swan Lake. The Wood Duck is still around and though it seems to be travelling to Indian River estuary with Mallards in the evenings, it was on the peninsula. It seems to have adapted to the human traffic at the lake (though when I’ve seen it at the park, it has seemed more wary). As a result, I was able to get about as close to it as the rest of the Mallards that frequent the lake.. I took several pictures and a poor video (a tripod would have helped). It seems to be feeling the spring season, as I’ve noticed it displaying, acting aggressive towards drake Mallards, and sidling up to at least one of the female Mallards. I’m not sure if his fancy good looks are appealing to her, but he keeps trying.
Snow was down to nearly 2000 ft on the mountains this morning. Given the chill in the air, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I noticed it had dropped even lower later in the day. I don’t think there’s much danger of seeing any real accumulation of snow at sea level in the next few days, but today’s weather did seem to be a return to more seasonable temperatures, at least.
I spent much of the day inside. The daffodils pictured are growing in a pot near where I do a fair amount of my work, so it’s nice to have the bright colors and flowery smell. I did take a few minutes late this afternoon to get pictures of one of the many mustard plants growing in the yard. I’m actually kind of impressed at how thickly they have grown in some places. The moss is one that grows commonly in lawns here. Some folks try to thatch it out of the grass each spring, and last year I got a bunch from a couple of different people to spread around my yard. It seems to be doing pretty well (and requires much less care than grass).