Possible Blueberry Patch Die-off

Earlier this summer I had a chance to visit Blue Lake Creek valley and was interested to find an fairly extensive patch of blueberries (probably Vaccinium ovalifolium) that appeared to be pretty much dead. I did break a stem on one and found it to be a little bit green, but as there was no evidence of new growth (despite being into early summer), so I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. There were a few blueberry bushes in the area that seemed alive, and plenty of other species that looked fine. The patch was also well protected under a canopy of large conifers. These facts made it harder come up with a plausible weather/cold event that might have killed them back. Perhaps it was warm enough there in January that they broke dormancy and subsequently had trouble with the cold and dry weather of February and March. Blueberries don’t seem to have much trouble tolerating browsing, but these didn’t seem to have been subject to especially heavy browse.

Questions:

  • Are the plants dead, or will they grow out again (perhaps from the base, or maybe from the branches)?
  • Are there diseases that might have caused a die-off (or pattern of non-growth) like I observed?
  • What is the typical life span of a blueberry bush (assuming it doesn’t get overgrown by other plants)?
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Sea Cauliflower (Leathesia marina)

Sea Cauliflower (Leathesia marina) seems to be a relatively easy to identify seaweed with relatively thick flesh growing in lumpy masses. It was abundant at John Brown’s beach early this summer, though I’ve not been familiar with it long enough to have a sense of how common it is more generally in the area. The Seaweeds of Alaska book indicates it is an annual species.

Questions:

  • What process allows a spore to stick to the rocks even though waves are consistently washing over?
  • How far do spores of this algae disperse?
  • When it is growing, is each of the lumps starting from an individual starting spore, or do they spread into multiple lumps?

Sea Cauliflower on Natural History wiki

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New Breakwater

While at John Brown’s Beach during a recent low tide series, I noticed a distinct contrast between the new addition to the breakwater and that which had been there a while. I guess I am not surprised that there are differences, but it was interesting to see just how easy it was to see them.

Questions:

  • Is green algae on the new breakwater the full compliment of green algae expected at those intertidal levels, or is it a reduced (or maybe even completely different) set of early colonizers that give way others that colonize later but are ultimately more competitive?
  • What factors effect how/when different seaweeds to colonize a new area?
  • Do early colonizers in some way ‘prepare’ the substrate for later arrivals?
  • What role does the fauna play in the establishment and/or maintenance of various species of marine algae?
  • What is a typical (if there is one) successional sequence for new intertidal habitat?
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Great Blue Heron Nest

There have been herons reported nesting out at Starrigavan several times over the years. This year there is a nest in the forest bounded by the estuary, the road, and the viewing platform parking lot. It’s a little hard to get good looks at the birds (and they probably won’t be there for much longer, as the young bird is looking quite mature), but it is possible to see them from near the gate and as well as from the small hill with the sign on it along the road. Listen for the croaking coming from the trees to help figure out which direction to look.

Questions:

  • Why do herons nest in rookeries elsewhere, but don’t seem to here?
  • How long are the young birds vulnerable to predation by Bald Eagles?
  • Do adults come back to the same nesting area year after year?
  • How far do young birds disperse from their rearing area as the grow to adulthood and/or do they return to the same area they were hatched in order to nest?

22 June Photojournal Entry

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Young Surf Scoters


Young Surf Scoters between Shoals Point and St. Lazaria

Surf Scoters are a common wintering bird on the near shore waters around Sitka, but most of them head north (or maybe east?) to nest on freshwater lakes. However, young birds (those that hatched the prior summer) are not ready to breed and opt not to undertake that journey. Instead they seem to move a little further out to shores that are more exposed to the open ocean than where they tend to winter.

Questions:

  • What is the nearest (to Sitka) nesting area for Surf Scoters?
  • Baranof Island has many lakes, but there are no records of scoters nesting – what do they look for in a good nesting lake?
  • Why do Surf Scoters (and other ducks) move further out in summer – is it better habitat that’s more accessible during the relatively calm summer?
  • Do Surf Scoters return to where they hatched when its their turn to nest?
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Winter on Verstovia

As it’s just past summer solstice, it seemed an opportune time to post a picture from a few years back (that I just recently got processed and uploaded) that makes me feel a little chill just looking at it. Winter is coming!

More photos from that wintery day on Verstovia

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