Indian River Valley

I needed to replace an ibutton that had malfunctioned, and it seemed time to collected the trail cam for the season, so Connor, Rowan, and I took a trip up Indian River valley. The forecast was for heavy rain to start, but fortunately it held off, and we just got sprinkled on a little bit as we were getting back. With a fair amount of muskeg walking to do, I was hopeful that the clear nights earlier in the week had resulted in an icy layer that would support my weight. What I had forgotten about was the snow that came before the clear conditions. That insulating layer had kept the muskeg from freezing, and the snow was much less resistant to the warming temperatures of the past couple of days.

A few brief notes from the trip:

For the most part it was noticeably cooler in the forest compared to in the open. We did walk through a couple of pockets where warmer air had mixed down, though.

My entry into the muskeg provided some comedy for Connor and Rowan. We had come to the edge of the muskeg between the two routes we normally use (though I’ve used this one before as well) and in an effort to avoid the extra soft stuff that I would sink into, I decided to hop off a small fallen tree into a firmer place. I even had Connor double check about the firmness, but of course even firm muskeg is still pretty spongy, and with 200+ pounds landing, it gave way a bit. That wouldn’t have been so bad, but I landed back on my heels a bit, so it was my heels that went in pretty deep. With them stuck, I couldn’t rock forward on my feet to shift balance over my feet and ended up taking a seat that resulted in a wet backside.

One thing that was interesting for us to observe in the muskeg snow were two sets of human tracks. Superficially, they looked pretty similar in age, but when I asked Connor about it, he noticed that one set was pretty firm, and the other soft. He concluded (correctly, I think) that the soft ones must have been from today, and the firm ones had been made on an earlier day. Presumably the snow was soft/wet when they were made as well, but cooler temperatures overnight allowed the compacted wet snow to freeze.

There were many sets of deer tracks, but we didn’t spend much time trying to understand them. Connor noticed a relatively fresh buck rub. When I asked him how he knew it was fresh, he pointed out debris from the rub was on the surface of the snow.

About midway up the long muskeg we saw an otter slide trail going across the muskeg (see photo above). I always wonder about the otter tracks I see well away from the ocean. Are they just transient here? Perhaps playing around and going for a bit of a swim up river and then a cross country hike (maybe to play in the snow)? If they do stick around, what are they finding for food (there were still a handful of coho in the river down lower, so perhaps that’s what they’re getting)?

The trail cam was turned sideways. Looking at the videos, it’s not clear what might have done it. The last video facing the way we placed it was on 6 November, the next video briefly shows a deer on 9 November with the cam facing sideways. It’s possible someone walked up from behind it and turned it. In earlier videos there were bears that sniffed at it and such, but it seems like if a bear had moved it, it would have done so from the front and then have been caught on camera. There were two or three times folks walked by the camera where it was set this time, and in each case it was noticed. I was not super comfortable with the placement because it was right on a fairly obvious trail, and will probably try to figure out a better place to put it next year.

We looped back through the West Valley and I let Rowan choose the route. She was not happy about taking what she considered the long way, and wanted to go back as directly as possible, so we ended up following game trails much closer to the muskeg than I’ve usually gone. I had my doubts about the route and was kind of expecting to have to thrash through some brush or dead fall, but it turned out to be pretty reasonable. There are some interesting stream channels through the forest that I would like to return to investigate further when temperatures are higher and there’s more light.

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Raven Radio Show #93 – Bill Foster

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The 15 November show featured a conversation with Bill Foster. We talked about some of his travels around the state and an upcoming talk about birding in Alaska.

If you have questions or observations you want to share, please feel free to leave a comment here or on the page I’ve set up for that purpose.

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Delayed Storm

Late last week I finally got my primary computer back from being repaired and had a chance to start going through photos that I had accumulated in the 1+ month it was out of service. In the come weeks I’m intending to get many of them posted, but I suspect it will end up being a slow process. Still, it’s nice to be able to start working on getting back into a routine of processing photos and publishing posts again.

The forecast coming into today sounded a little grim, so it was a pleasant surprise to wake up and find partly cloudy skies. There was still hail and/or graupel left over from some overnight showers. We actually had a fair bit of lightning (for here) during the evening yesterday, I saw several flashes through the window to the ESE (maybe over Eastern Channel?), although I only heard thunder a couple of times, so I don’t think the strikes were especially close. There were periodic rain (sometimes with hail) showers, though mostly it seemed like they didn’t move over town too much. The showers, broken clouds, and low-angle sun made for some nice light. As I am writing this, the wind and rain have picked up, but I’m grateful for the reprieve.

I spent part of this afternoon looking for birds. I was hoping I might happen to catch sight of the Band-tailed Pigeon Connor has now seen twice. We had a little conversation after he neglected to let me know it was around on Sunday (only telling me about it Monday when he came over from his mom’s). He posted a picture on inaturalist.org. His two sightings this fall (possibly of the same bird) are the only records from Sitka. Band-tailed Pigeons nest in the southern part of the region on the mainland and inner islands, but are unusual elsewhere in Southeast Alaska. I had no luck finding this bird, but did see the Hooded Merganser that has been on Swan Lake recently as well as a Red-necked Grebe. Connor had mentioned seeing it there in recent days. It’s the first I remember seeing on the lake, though they’re not hard to find on salt water this time of year.

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Raven Radio Show #92 – Ryan Carpenter

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The 1 November show featured a conversation with Ryan Carpenter. We spoke about his work as an education specialist at Sitka National Historical Park as well as some of the birding he’s been able to do over the last year.

If you have questions or observations you want to share, please feel free to leave a comment here or on the page I’ve set up for that purpose.

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Northern Waterthrush in Sitka

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Rowan came in from her morning walk a bit earlier than I expected. She told me she had run back from by Sage Beach where she had seen a bird she did not recognize. Rowan’s not quite as excited about birds as Connor is, but even though she doesn’t always remember names, she is still pretty good at recognizing the usual birds around here, so I was curious about what she might have seen. I had a bit of work to finish up, so she grabbed her camera and headed back without me. When I got down to the sea walk between the science center and the park, I found her with her camera out looking intently in the bushes beside the trail.

The bird had still been there when she returned but had flown off. While we tried to find it again, she told me about it. She had first noticed it when she heard a chirp that caught her attention. She was able to see it in the bushes on the upland side of the trail. She described it as mostly brown with pale stripes above and below its eye. Before she could say much more, she caught sight of movement on the beach side of the trail and darted off in that direction. I saw quick movement through the bushes, but nothing that would have let me know there was anything other than one of the several Song Sparrows that winters in the bushes along the shoreline. Rowan was sure however, and a few moments later I did see a different looking bird pop up on top of a log before disappearing again.

I stayed on the trail and watched for it below. I got a brief but good look at it on the rocks below me. It did look unfamiliar to me. I was reminded of a pipit, though I was sure it wasn’t an American Pipit. I’m not sure about other species of pipits, but I tend to think of them as birds of open areas, and this bird was showing a strong preference for dense thickets. It bobbed it’s tail a bit, and gave a sharp call note as it flew off and disappeared. That was the last I saw of it for a little while.

After a few minutes of looking, I took a break to check a bird book and became convinced that what I had seen was a Northern Waterthrush. Before long, other folks showed up to look for the bird as well, but none of us were able to find it. After no success with the waterthrush, everyone other than Rowan and I headed off to go back to work (or get some lunch). I went to find Rowan (who had gone down towards). I found her down off the sidewalk with her camera out concentrating on the bushes in front of her. She had refound the bird by park entrance and was trying to get photos of it. Unfortunately, it flew across the street into a dense thicket of trees and shrubs, so she wasn’t successful in getting a picture (which frustrated her a bit), but at least we now knew where it was.

Over the next little while she and I both were able to watch it and were joined a couple of the other folks who were still in the area and came back to look as well. I was able to get a couple of pictures to document it (the first documented for Sitka – the only prior report I know of is from spring 2007 when one was seen but photographed along Indian River). I went back later this afternoon when the light was better in hopes of getting a better shot. I did find it again in the same area and was able to get another identifiable photo, though not really of the quality I might hope for. I heard that it was still in the area around 5pm this evening, so it seems this bird wasn’t inclined to wander very far (unlike some other vagrants that have shown up and promptly disappeared, never to be refound). I may look again tomorrow to see if it’s still around.

This evening I did a little further research, and it seems this bird is probably the latest record for Alaska. Last year a Northern Waterthrush was seen in Ketchikan on 21 October. That bird was reported to be the latest for the state by a couple of weeks. I was also interested to see that record was Ketchikan’s first for the species. Although considered Uncommon in Southeast Alaska, these birds are primarily found on the northern mainland, as best I can tell.

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Raven Radio Show #91 – Ashley Bolwerk

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The 18 October show featured a conversation with Ashley Bolwerk. Ashley recently took over as the aquarium manager at the Sitka Sound Science Center, and previously had worked as an education specialist there.

If you have questions or observations you want to share, please feel free to leave a comment here or on the page I’ve set up for that purpose.

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