Birding and Bird Language

Juvenile Marbled Murrelet

Back in January got an e-mail from Jim N., who was planning to visit Sitka on a cruise ship in August and wanted to do some birding. Other than some very regular routines, I hardly know my schedule beyond the length of time a pen’s ink will remain visible on the back of my hand, so I suggested he e-mail me later in the summer, though I anticipated I would be able to help out. The day of his visit was today, and though I couldn’t spend the whole time with him, I was able to get out for much of the time he was in town.

The weather was like something out of Southern California (where Jim is from), though probably more like a winter day down there, it was one of the warmest days this summer. We started by walking the sea walk and then down to Totem Park. Highlights included Red Crossbills down low in the Mountain Ash trees along Crescent Harbor, and a pair of Song Sparrows acting territorial along the trail where it passes by Sage Rock. As we approached the area, I heard the Song Sparrow singing and thought it might be a young bird practicing, but then I noticed at least one additional bird singing in a way that sounded like they were doing some dueling. I was a little surprised at that, and even more so when they chased each other around culminating in a fairly intense scuffle on the boardwalk. I wasn’t able to get my camera out before they were done, but it was interesting to see. I didn’t give it too much thought at the time, but now I wonder if perhaps the wintering birds are starting to return and stake out their winter territory.

I didn’t spend too much time at the park, as I needed to get back home in time for today’s call. While I was there, I saw a few shorebirds, bunches of gulls, and some other small forest song birds.

Today’s call question was about awareness of bird language and how that awareness practice helps us connect with nature, others, and ourselves. There was a very interesting share this morning that reminded how paying attention to the birds can give us insight into the energy we bring to the world, and that awareness can help us move more carefully and effectively, not just in nature, but also as we interact with each other. Even further, we can start to recognize when others are moving without such awareness, in part by recognizing in ourselves similar reactions that we might have seen in the birds as they reacted to us. The conversation went on from there, offering some interesting and helpful things to think about and work on.

Jim and I met up again for a trip out to Starrigavan. We were able to walk the Estuary Life and Forest and Muskeg Trails as a big loop. It was fairly quiet out there this afternoon, but we did get decent looks at chickadees, a juvenile heron (maybe one from the nest?), juvenile sapsucker and Lincoln’s Sparrow.

In the time that remained after Starrigavan before he needed to catch the last tender out to the cruise ship, we took a trip over the bridge and checked out the channel. There was the usual assortment of (mostly Glaucous-winged) gulls, but the surprise of the day was a juvenile Marbled Murrelet resting further up the channel. I don’t remember if I’ve ever seen one (that I knew of at the time) before. For the few minutes we watched it, it never dove. I’m not sure if parents feed their young on the water – but I was kind of thinking they didn’t. I guess I have some more research to do.

In the end it was a nice day to get out and do some birding. Thanks to Jim for his interest and enthusiasm. It’s always fun to go out with someone who has fresh eyes for the birds that are so common here that they can become easy to take a little bit for granted.

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Last Snow on the Pyramids

A tiny patch of snow is all that remains on the Pyramids on 11 June of this year

I was interested to see the photo below show up on one of today’s “on this date in” links. In contrast to this year when the snow was off by mid-June, back in 2009 there was still a pretty good-sized patch of snow on the Pyramids in mid-August.

I looked through my pictures for others showing when the snow went off the Pyramids, and the only one I could find was from 2012, when the last tiny bit of snow was melting around the end of the first week of September.

If I’m remembering correctly, I think both 2008 and 2012 were years that had more (and more persistent) mountain snow than usual, but I think this year was probably unusually early.


  • Does anyone else have pictures showing summer snow patches on the Pyramids from other years?
  • What is the range of dates for the last snow on the Pyramids?
  • Are the years I’ve captured indicative of the extremes?
  • How does the current melt-off date compare to the little ice age?
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Indian River High Water

Another 2+ inches of rain fall yesterday, raising water levels again. After learning about the Indian River stream gauge page, I tracked it throughout the day to help decide when I would go check out the water levels at Indian River. I ended up heading down there a bit after 4pm, and it was clear from what I saw the water levels had dropped a few inches already. As you can see from the plot below, the gauge had the crest at just over 25ft around 3pm, with a small drop over the next hour, and relatively rapid decrease after that. I’m not sure what the measurement actually refers to, but it’s certainly not the water depth. Poking around on-line, it appears that gauges are set to have 0 be a (potentially arbitrary) known elevation. My guess in this case is that it’s the 0ft tide elevation.

Indian River Water Level Plot
Current observations of Indian River gauge.

While the water levels were definitely much higher than normal, they still were not unusually high. I’m pretty sure they were higher last week (though unfortunately the data on the page only goes back a couple of days, and I’ve so far not found a data archive). The historical crests (I think this gauge may have been installed last summer) are given as 26.32 ft (last November) and 25.78 ft (in January). In any case, the highest I’ve seen the river was probably at least 3 feet higher than this crest, and there have been several times I’ve seen it over a foot higher than this. Over this coming fall and winter, it will be interesting to get a better feel for what the various measured heights look like on the river.

You can see the depression where the water had been earlier in the day by the ring of spruce needles surrounding the nearly bare soil.


  • What is the highest Indian River has flooded in the past 100 years?
  • How correlated is the river height with amount of rain at the airport?
  • Is historical data from this (and prior) stream gauges available somewhere?
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Sand Trails on Rock – My Thoughts

Original post where the mystery is offered. If you’ve not read it already, check it out and then come back here.

Given the uniformity of the trail, my best guess at this time is a gastropod of some sort. Perhaps the periwinkles or limpets that are common at this upper level of the beach. I can’t figure out how they would leave a trail of sand, however. It was not a windy day, so there’s no way I can think of the wind would have blown on a moist trail. The other alternative that comes to mind requires a fair supply of sand sticking to our limpet or snail and being deposited in a fairly uniform fashion as it moved along its several inch path. It’s not clear to me how (or why) the creature would be packing such a supply.

The timing of the track is also a bit of a mystery, though solving it might provide a clue to the ‘how’ question. My first thought was the sand must have been deposited after the water dropped below this section of beach. It seemed obvious enough that a sand trail like this would not survive immersion. However, if I question this assumption, perhaps there is a way for sand to adhere despite being submerged. If the creature laying the trail produced an actual slime trail that held together for a time even when underwater, the sand lifted into the water column by gentle wave action (it was a calm day) could stick to the slime trail. Once exposed to air by the falling tide, the slime could dry and leave a dry sand trail with no obvious means of creation. This possibility actually seems more likely to me, though I still don’t know what created the trails. Some measurements of the gastropods on that part of the beach could narrow down my options a bit.

Posted in invertebrates, Mystery, tracks and sign | Leave a comment

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcons are not often reported from along the road system (where they are mainly seen during migration), but in some years they have been known to nest along the sea cliffs of the outer sound. St. Lazaria has at times been a host for such nesting falcons, and on a trip there in late May, we got to see one checking out a potential nest site. I don’t think there ended up being a nest on St. Lazaria this year, but we were treated to a nice overhead flyby and some flight acrobatics as it gave chasing to a passing eagle.

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Notes from the Day

I didn’t get any photos today, but wanted to make note of a couple of things for future reference.

A mixed flock of warblers (and probably chickadees) moved through the yard this afternoon. I didn’t get a chance to look too closely, but I saw at least one (male) Wilson’s Warbler, another very yellow (either Yellow or Wilson’s) warbler, and Connor noted Orange-crowned and Townsend’s Warblers.

I did go for a walk around Totem Park this first half of the afternoon. One thing I noticed is just how large the purple sweet-cicely (Osmorhiza purpurea) has grown. Now that it’s starting to die back, with leaves yellowing and ends of the stems getting black, it stands out more against the rest of the vegetation. I usually pay it most attention in the spring when it is blooming. At that time it is relatively small, though looks fairly well developed. I think I had noticed at some level that it got a little bigger (taller, especially) after blooming, but I just had not really noticed how much bigger it ultimately gets.

After some rain showers this morning, the weather late this afternoon and into evening turned partly cloudy. It was nice to see some sun during this summer of rain, though I didn’t have time to go out and spend much time in it.

On today’s calls the topic was using “storyteller’s mind.” The idea is to bring to mind as much of the full sensory experience as possible when telling a story (even if you don’t explicitly speak of it). I first heard about this idea a few years ago, and over the intervening time have tried to do it a little bit, though not consistently (and with limited, though suggestive, success). Today one person shared something that was particularly interesting to me – that there was a time in telling a story that time seemed to fold over and the ‘past’ that was being spoken actually felt like it was happening in (maybe sort of overlain on) the present moment of the telling. I don’t know how often or easily that happens for folks, but I think it would be an interesting way to experience and/or practice telling a story.

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