Totem Park Walk

The marine stratus moved in early this morning, but burned off again by around 10am. Temperatures got up in the high 50s. There was a west wind through the afternoon and into the evening, but it didn’t seem very strong here at the house and died out pretty early.

On a walk around Totem Park this morning I was struck by just how thoroughly dearheart covers the ground in some parts of the forest. In other parts I was struck by (though didn’t try to photography) the various shades of green, darker green of deerheart, the lime green of oakferns (Gymnocarpium sp) primarily, with some other green shades mixed in as well.

I noticed some clasping twistedstalk (Streptopus amplexifolius) and rosy twistedstalk (Streptopus lanceolatus) blooming today, the first of each of those I’ve seen open.

Out on the flats I saw four Marbled Godwits and a (probably Short-billed) Dowitcher. I also noticed a small gull with a sort of black head. It was far enough away I didn’t get great looks, but so enough to think it was a young Bonaparte’s Gull. The photo I got confirmed it (and a second one, which I didn’t notice at the time, as I was focused on the one with the darker head wondering if it might be the Franklin’s Gull).

I got the last of the presumed iris that someone gave me planted in the yard this afternoon. Yesterday I finished up planting all of the strawberries.

I don’t remember where I picked them up (either Starrigavan Ridge or Blue Lake Creek), but I have a pot that has quite a few Arctic Yellow Violets (Viola biflora) coming up. I think I just started with a plant or two, but they’ve spread to the hole (small) pot. At some point I will transplant them into the yard. They’re much less common around here than the (abundant) Stream Violet (Viola glabella). In other collected-plants updates, the nagoon berries I got seem to be doing okay after getting moved this past year. Leaves are coming up bigger than last year, so perhaps they like the additional soil. The Alpine Astragalus seems to have spread a bit in the pot, so I moved one of the miniplants into a container with strawberries, and will see how it does there. The oxytropis also seems to be doing fine.

There was an article in the paper today about the bear I got pictures of last week being shot. It charged a trooper who was there waiting for the ADF&G wildlife guy to get there with the tazer. They were going to try to haze it to encourage it to leave, as it had been becoming more aggressive after being repeatedly bothered by people approaching too closely. It was sad; just a young female bear, probably her mother had been shot earlier in the year along the Forest and Muskeg Trail. It made me reflect on my own experience out there with the bear. While we certainly didn’t get close in the way that it sounded like other people did later, I still wonder if we contributed to the situation even as far back as we stayed. She certainly seemed aware of us, but continued eating. I have plenty of zoom with my 400mm lens, so there was no need to get especially close. At the time Connor really wanted to approach closer, so I read him the statement from the Fish and Game person (who gave a talk we went to a couple of weeks ago) and we had a little talk about some of the issues with approaching closer, even if the bear doesn’t respond with aggression at the time.

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Verstovia Trail to the Second Viewpoint

Unlike the past three or four days, the marine stratus layer did not seem to move in over town during the night. I didn’t get an especially early start, but thought it was time to start doing some uphill travelling. I got to the Verstovia trailhead just after 10, and was a little surprised to see that I seemed to be one of the first people on the trail (there was one other guy who had arrived just before I did. I had a couple of hours before I wanted to be back to go play ultimate, and I planned to get to at least the first viewpoint. I wasn’t sure how I would feel, but thought I would like to get up to the second viewpoint to look for the interesting (in the sense of being uncommon around Sitka generally) clubmosses that grow near it, since it had been some time since I last gave them a look.

It took me almost 40 minutes to get to the first viewpoint. In the past, I’ve been able to get there in about 20 minutes at a pace that (at the time) didn’t feel strenuous. It’s only about 0.8 miles, but even at my reduced pace today I was breathing hard and had sweat dripping off my brow. I paused for a time to enjoy the view before continuing up. It’s only an additional 0.4 miles to the second viewpoint (though there are much larger steps in this section), and I figured it would take much less time going down. Along this section I stopped to record some Townsend’s Warblers that were singing. I think I even noticed one of the changing song variations to match a neighboring singer (I don’t think I got that recorded, however). Around this time I got a call that turned out to be the monthly survey from the US Census that my address (and hence, me) was selected for, so that cut short my recording session.

As I neared the last bit before the second viewpoint, I heard what I thought might have been a Red-tailed Hawk, though I never saw it. At the second viewpoint, there was a Hermit Thrush singing nearby. I set the recorder down in a place where the light breeze was less noticeable and left it going. I’m not sure (as of this writing) how the recording turned out, but hopefully it’s a decent one. It was interesting to see the marine stratus layer hanging out off-shore and partially wrapped around the slopes of Mt. Edgecumbe.

I checked out the ground cedar (Diphasiastrum complanatum) and alpine clubmoss (Diphasiastrum alpinum) and noticed several young cedar trees also growing in the same little area between rock outcrops. There was more of the ground cedar than I remember noticing before, and I’m not sure whether that was due to poor memory, poor observation previously, or an increased number of plants.

On the way down I passed several groups of people who were heading up, I guess people like to start closer to 11am or noon on a Sunday (or at least this Sunday). It took me about 26 minutes to get down.

Although I was a bit late to ultimate, there was a good turnout. There was a slight breeze blowing out of the west. I think it might have picked up later in the afternoon, since while I was working on getting the last of my strawberry order planted, it was fairly breezy out (though not nearly so much as it had been on some of the prior days of this weather pattern).

During my time outside I didn’t notice the Tree Swallows doing anything at the nestbox. It made me wonder if they had abandoned it, or if maybe they’re done building the nest and the female just isn’t quite ready to lay eggs yet. I guess time will tell.

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Totem Park and Thimbleberry Lake

The marine stratus never burned off today, perhaps holding on in part with help from the onshore breeze.

This morning I went for a walk with a visitor from Denmark around Totem Park. We saw a loan steelhead in the lower part of the pool below the road. Out on the beach were Whimbrels (my first of the year) and the Franklin’s Gull. Along the trail I noticed an interesting looking fungus growing on Devil’s Club that was quite unfamiliar to me.

This afternoon Connor and I went up to Thimbleberry Lake. He walked up the trail to check out a report of a Kingfisher nest. He found two holes and apparently climbed up to look in each of them. One was not very deep, and the other was much deeper than he could see into. He didn’t notice any evidence that either was active.

I spent most of my time near where the trail moves off from the lake shore. In my wanderings there I found a couple of small toads, perhaps some that survived the winter from last year’s bumper crop of young ones. There were warblers and juncos singing. I also heard/saw several Rufous Hummingbirds displaying. In hindsight it seemed interesting that Tree Swallows seemed to be absent. I got recordings of mystery bird calls that I think was probably a pair of Merlins. Perhaps they will nest up there. In the patch of forest between the powerline cut and the upper end of the lake, I noticed a deer bed. I noticed some syrphids that I recognized including Criorhina and an Eristalis sp.

This evening we had a fire in the yard. While I was out there I noticed juncos alarming from the large spruce over by the chicken coop. I said something to the kids and wondered if maybe there was a cat over there. Sure enough, a few moments later a gray cat came walking around the side of the coop.

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Franklin’s Gull

There was a note posted on the Sitka Birds Facebook group with pictures of a Franklin’s Gull that had been in the channel. I was able to find the gull just off the ramp at UAS and get some pictures. It stayed there fairly close to shore for 45 minutes or so, but just before I had to leave it flew across and further up the channel. This is only the second Franklin’s Gull reported from Sitka, with the first seen (and photographed) on the beach near the mouth of Indian River on 30 April 2007. This is only the third report for the Sitka road system. Prior reports include a ‘probable’ Franklin’s Gull on 29 October 1988 (M. Ward, M. Tedin), and then on 30 April 2007 an adult was photographed on the flats at Totem Park.

Thanks to J. Drake for the finding and promptly posting about this bird!

Weather today was sunny with temperatures in the lower 50s (high of 55F). The sun made it feel like it was warm, but there was a cool breeze throughout much of the day that I suspect kept the actual air temperatures moderated.

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Sunny Morning, Overcast Afternoon

Today was sunny and warm through the morning with increasing clouds in the first part of the afternoon and overcast conditions by late afternoon and into the evening. I walked down to the park this morning. There was a pretty good breeze out of the west, but the sun was warm enough for me to feel comfortable even though the wind was cool coming off the water.

The tide was out and I only walked part of the shoreline, but it seemed pretty quiet for shorebirds. I did notice a few Black Turnstones (but not the Ruddy Turnstone that had been reported on recent days) and some peeps flying in the distance. There were more than 15 Black Oystercatchers near the river mouth – it’s late enough in the season that I would expect them to be working on nesting by now. I wonder if they are nesting on islands in the inner part of the sound, and coming to the park to eat during low tides. During one of a couple of extended breaks I took just lying down and resting (I was feeling pretty tired) I noticed a Song Sparrow singing near the otter sign bench and a second from over by the river mouth bench (I think – it was coming from that direction, anyway). I don’t recall there being singing birds in this area during past years, so I’m not sure if this is a new thing this year, or if I just missed them before.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it in the blog yet, but several people have commented on the low numbers of Rufous Hummingbirds this year. We have at least one visiting our feeders here (and we’ve never had many), so I hadn’t really noticed too much, except that I’ve not seen the large numbers visiting flowers during the peak of migration this year. Apparently out at Medvejie Hatchery, the number of visiting birds is way down from normal. It will be interesting to see if things pick up as the season goes on, or if the population is down this year for some reason.

The forecast for the entire week (into next Monday) is for sunny or partly cloudy with highs in the upper 50s. This is the sort of weather that makes for pretty good pollination, so it will be interesting to see if the fruit crops are pretty good this year. Around town the cherry trees are blooming, as are some of the domestic apples. I’ve not noticed any of the native crabapples blooming yet, however.

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Late Long-tailed Duck

Weather was mixed today, with sunshine this morning and gradually increasing cloudiness through the afternoon. By this evening it was basically overcast with what may have been a high marine layer that covered the mountain tops. There was a pretty good breeze out of the west that let up into the evening.

I got a report of a small heron that was seen yesterday at Crescent Harbor. It’s not clear what the bird might have been, but sounds like it was something that would be very unusual for Sitka, and maybe for Southeast Alaska. With that providing some extra motivation, I spent a little time looking for birds this morning. There was a flock of around 25 scaups at Eagle Way Beach, and I saw a bird I didn’t recognize at first. After a few minutes I started to think maybe it was a Long-tailed Duck. They go through a pretty dramatic set of plumage changes throughout the year, so it looked very different than I am used to seeing.

This evening I was shown a Song Sparrow nest in a neighbor’s yard. Apparently there are four young birds in the nest, but I wouldn’t have guessed that while she was sitting there.

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