Golden Algae (Chromophyton rosanoffii)

Back in 2007, my brother and I noticed a mysterious golden sheen under a stump along Mosquito Cove trail. Some years later, the mystery was resolved, but until this week I had still not observed the golden sheen again.

A couple of days ago while hiking Mosquito Cove trail with my kids, I checked under the stump (as I usually do) and noticed there was a little bit of a golden sheen. It was not as extensive as the first time, but I could definitely see it.

The sheen is caused by a layer of single celled algae. It seems they are probably a species of Chromophyton, perhaps C. rosanoffii (there do not seem to be many options). The golden sheen is very directional, and apparently caused by the uniform alignment of chloroplasts with the light.

You can really see the reflector type of effect in these two comparison photos (slide the vertical bar back and forth to see the photo with and without the camera flash). It’s a little surprising to me how much the sense of microtopography changes with the changing light source – notice the moss on the right is exactly in alignment, though.

Another comparison of two aligned photos, with and without flash.

Although not as well aligned, these photos show the same patch of mud from the other side, with and without flash. There is little or no evidence (to my eyes) of the golden algae on the surface from this direction. I guess this means it would be easy to miss if you didn’t happen to look from the right location.

A google image search for Chromophyton turns up photos of shallow pools that appear golden yellow from this algae growing on the surface. I have so far not found anything like that. I am curious to know if anyone else reading this has found this golden algae (especially around Southeast Alaska) – please let me know in the comments!

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Mosquito Cove Loop

Originally I had hoped to head up Harbor Mountain and walk to the south slope meadow for a picnic lunch with Connor and Rowan. Those plans changed when we got to Harbor Mountain road and found a sign saying it was closed. (I knew there was going to be work going on to clear some of the remaining debris from last August’s landslides, but I had not really paid much attention to the days.) Instead, we ended up out at Starrigavan and hiked over to Mosquito Cove for our lunch.

I can’t remember how long it has been since I walked the full Mosquito Cove loop, but I think it’s probably been at least several months, and perhaps it has been since last fall (or longer). I’m not sure why I do not make it out there more often, I guess because I tend to prefer the Estuary Life and Forest and Muskeg trails, as they generally offer better bird viewing opportunities.

Mosquito Cove loop is a very nice trail, and it was pleasant walking over the upland section to get to the cove. With the beach in full sun, it felt quite warm sitting on the gravel eating our lunch.

There were several things that caught my attention as we walked along, the most exciting of which was seeing Chromophyton on the same mud where I last saw it in 2007. I’ll write more on that separately.

I was also interested to see copperbush growing right along the trail – I either had not noticed it previously, or perhaps more likely, I just forgot it was there. This species is more typical of subalpine habitats near treeline, and it’s a bit unusual to see it right at sea level. In this case, it’s on a shaded north-facing slope, so perhaps that makes a difference.

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I arrived home this afternoon after a brief trip to Seattle to visit family and bring my kids back from a month-long visit with their grandparents. We all had things to take care of, so did not take much advantage of the pleasant day in town. (It had been mostly cloudy on the flight in, though there were patches of broken clouds where I could see down to the water or land below. Sitting on the seaward side of the plane, I did recognize Port Alexander, but beyond that clouds obscured most of Baranof Island until we were a little south of Biorka.)

This evening while sitting upstairs working on my computer, I was a little surprised to feel the house shake. A few moments later it shook again. It seemed like more than would have happened from a large vehicle going by (and I did not near one of those anyway), so after waiting a few moments in anticipating that there might be more, I checked online and saw that there was a quake near Sitka. Originally reported to be magnitude 4 about 70 miles away, it was later revised (presumably based on additional information and/or analysis) to a magnitude 3.6, but only about 30 miles away.

It’s only the third quake I have ever felt. The first was one Sunday afternoon 25-30 years ago. I was at the dinner table with my family (and guests, I think) and it felt like someone was shaking the table with their leg, but the hanging plants were also swinging. The other more recent one was a couple of years ago – it was easily the strongest of the three, but I was asleep when it hit, and had only a vague sense of it, as I only partially woke up from the shaking.

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Sitka Nature Show #109 – Sue Karl (Part 1)

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The 26th of June show featured the first part of a conversation with Sue Karl of the USGS. She was in town to give a talk on the geology of Baranof Island as part of the Natural History Seminar series. She began her study of the geology of Baranof Island doing graduate work in the 1970s and is the lead author of a geologic map of Baranof Island published by the USGS last year. In this part of the conversation we spoke mostly about the geological history of Baranof Island, including some theories on how and where the rocks that make up the island may have formed and what processes brought the to their current position.

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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Red-necked Stint in Taylor Bay

While up in Elfin Cove this past week, my field partners (Kent and Kitty) and I had a chance to get out with Steve and Debbie from Elfin Cove to visit Taylor Bay (across Cross Sound from Elfin Cove). We made kind of a big loop walking around the beach dunes and a large estuary meadow, and on the way back I ended up lagging a bit behind taking pictures of tracks and things. We had been seeing quite a few Semipalmated Plovers and Least Sandpipers (both of which seem to nest in the bay), but I noticed one sandpiper that seemed a bit different than the others when several took flight. It ended up flying over by a Semipalmated Plover, where I was able to get a better look at it.

At first I thought it might be a Sanderling, as that was the only small sandpiper I have experience with that shows quite so much red. However, it did look quite right for Sanderlings that I had seen (and it seems like they’re usually down near the water’s edge), so I began to wonder if it could be a Red-necked Stint. I have never seen a Red-necked Stint and, although I know I’ve seen pictures, it was not a species I was overly concerned about seeing, as there are only three prior reports that I am aware of (from Glacier Bay and Juneau). Given the rarity of a Red-necked Stint, and the general difficulty small shorebirds can present, I did my usual thing and took pictures so I could ask more questions later.

The bird seemed fairly cooperative, so after getting a few photos, I walked over to where everyone was waiting for me and mentioned I had seen an odd (to me) looking shorebird. It might be a Sanderling, but it might be something pretty unusual like a Red-necked Stint. They decided it was worth walking back to look (as Kitty put it, it would have been pretty annoying to have just assumed it was a Sanderling and then found out later it was a rare bird), and we were able to find it again, with everyone getting very good looks at it.

Upon getting back to Elfin Cove we reviewed the birds, and saw Sanderlings should be closer in size to a Semipalmated Plover, while this bird seemed distinctively smaller. Based on the illustrations, this bird seemed a better fit for Red-necked Stint as well.

Given the remoteness of the location, I did not figure anyone would be wanting to rush out to see the bird (even if we were correct about it being the stint), so I waited until getting back to Sitka where I could more easily share the photo and get confirmation of the id. In his email confirming our id, Steve Heinl said to note the unspotted head and neck.

Thanks to Steve and Debbie Hemenway for sharing stories and showing us around their part of the world, and thanks to Steve Heinl for confirming the identification.

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Sitka Nature Show #108 – Allison Nelson

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The 12th of June show featured a conversation with Allison Nelson, who recently had a paper published about breeding areas of Hermit Thrushes that winter in the San Francisco Bay area. Her research, and the discovery that some of the thrushes wintering there were nesting in Southeast Alaska was the inspiration for a vacation which included a stop in Sitka. We talked about her work with Hermit Thrushes, including the research on migration, as well as some of her experiences getting to know the breeding birds during her work. If you would like to jump right to the conversation, I introduce it at 3:05 (-55:57).

Allison was kind enough to share a picture of one of the Hermit Thrushes in the study with its geolocator.

Hermit Thrush with Geolocator (photo contributed by Allison Nelson)

Hermit Thrush with Geolocator (photo contributed by Allison Nelson)

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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