Elementary School Bioblitz

Today was the second 4th grade bioblitz. I was one of the content experts, leading five groups of 5-7 fourth graders for 45 minutes talking about plants (and other things). As was the case last year, it was an interesting experience. There was a wide range of prior knowledge, attention span, and interest in the subject matter. My station this year was along the Forest and Muskeg Trail where it goes through the woods and starts to transition to muskeg on the boat launch side. I found there was plenty to talk about for 45 minutes. There were a few things I talked about with each group (trees, in particular), but I think every group had some things that I only showed them. (This was partly based on what the kids were finding and asking me about.)

While the weather started with broken clouds, by lunch time it was overcast, and we had some showers by the last group. At the end of the long day, the showers didn’t seem to do much for the enthusiasm of some of the kids (though my last group still had a fair amount of energy).

One thing I noticed today that I don’t remember seeing before is a sort of leaf bundle on some blueberries. I suspect it’s from an insect, but am not sure. I collected some and hope to raise them up and see what emerges.

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Busy Week

This week promises to be busy – it’s finals week, so I’m trying to get work graded and back, plus write tests – the big flurry of activity before grades are due. As a result, I did not spend too much time outside today, and tomorrow looks like it will be similarly home-bound. Wednesday, I’ll be helping with the elementary school bioblitz day out at Starrigavan. Last year the weather was sunny and warm, but it’s not looking so promising for this year.

After class this morning I spent some time looking at gulls in the channel. There were quite a few out in the middle, including some that seemed to have extra dark wing tips. I wondered if they might be California Gulls, but it was difficult to tell (for me) from that distance. They could have been Herring Gulls. I did also notice some where I could see their tail feathers which still had black on them. In the past I’ve been fooled by sub-adult gulls that look mostly adult-like (especially from a distance when they are sitting on the water), but have very dark primary tips.

A few days ago I forgot to write about seeing a Rufous Hummingbird pick at the spiderwebs in the covered deck area. I couldn’t be 100% sure, but I think it was picking little insects (and maybe spiders) out of the webs. I suppose it also could have just been gathering web for nest building.

I recently also got a report of a junco nesting in an interesting place. It’s in a fairly well-traveled area and presumably curious folks could easily disturb it. I’ll see about sharing the photos after the nesting is done, as I think it’s pretty interesting.

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Returning Rain

The pattern of dry weather with plenty of sun drew to a close today. Rain was forecast for after 4 this afternoon, but it was after 8pm before enough rain started to fall that the ground got wet.

Spring migration is definitely picking up. Now it seems like we are starting to see some early arrivals with species I more typically expect to see a week or two later than now. Even more extreme was the bird that got me out of bed. Connor told me a Cedar Waxwing was in a neighbor’s tree. I got up to look, and sure enough, one was perched up in the top. I don’t usually expect to see those until June.

I have had a fair amount of work to do, so haven’t really taken the time to get out as much as would be nice. Today I did spend a bit more time outside. Later this morning I spent some time pulling up dandelions from part of my yard where I prefer strawberries to grow. When I started getting the dandelions out, there were more strawberries than I had thought – they had just been obscured by all the dandelion leaves. While I was working, Connor spent some time talking to me and spotted a butterfly go by. It appeared to be a Margined White (Pieris marginalis), though I didn’t have a chance to inspect it more closely. We also saw a fly-by of a large, fast moving raptor. We didn’t get a great look at it, though it did appear to have a pale rump (which would be odd either a Peregrine Falcon or Northern Goshawk, which were the two species we thought were most likely – I was leaning towards Peregrine because of the intense continuous wing-beats).

This afternoon I spent some time walking around the park with a friend to see what birds were around. The shorebirds that Connor saw this morning (including Least and Western Sandpipers – first I’ve hard those reported this year) were not present. However, I did catch the song of a Brown Creeper and heard my first Townsend’s Warblers of the year. Much of the Osmorrhiza is actually past blooming already, violets seem to be ramping up (though individuals have been blooming for some time).

After the tour through the park, we went out to check out Starrigavan. It seemed fairly quiet bird-wise on the water, but we did hear more Townsend’s Warblers, saw a couple of Orange-crowned Warblers and a White-crowned Sparrow (and of course heard other species more typical for the season such as Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Varied Thrushes). I had heard a report of a Sooty Grouse hooting out in Starrigavan Valley a week or so ago, so on the off chance that it might be calling we drove out Nelson Logging road. No luck with the grouse.

Late this afternoon I ran into someone who told me about a robin who attacks a picture window in the morning and evening, but apparently no other times of day. Apparently this is the third year in a row that this has happened. My guess is that it’s being territorial, and the timing maybe is due to when the reflections are most strong in the window. This evening I decided to have a fire and burn up some of the junk wood that needs to get taken care of (which meant Connor and Rowan wanted to roast hot dogs and marshmallows, so that was dinner). While out with the fire, I noticed an American Robin acting a bit strange. It was sort of singing, but the song was not very loud, and kind of had thin drawn-out sound to it. If there hadn’t been so much traffic, I probably would have tried to record it. Connor came out and at first thought it was something else because of the posture the bird was in. He said it looked kind of intense. There was a second robin in the tree sitting a bit below. It seemed to be acting more or less normally for a robin. With the higher robin behaving strange, I wondered if maybe it was alarming. It looked like it was staring intently down. I couldn’t quite tell for sure, but it almost appeared to be looking at the other robin. I could almost imagine that the other robin was sort of in a sentinel pose, but I was sure – certainly it was not showing anything like the intensity of the upper one. Eventually the lower robin gave a tut-tut and flew off, after which the upper robin relaxed and then started singing again. My best guess now is that it was a territorial thing, though I don’t know why the one robin was (apparently) so relaxed, and the other so tense without actually chasing the (presumed) intruder.

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Pastel Sunset

With our rapidly increasing daylight, sunset wasn’t until nearly 8:30 this evening. It was one of those sunsets where much of the western half of the sky is illuminated in pastel pinks and purples. I especially like how the more closer puffy cumulus clouds contrast with the more distant stratus layer. The darker purples of the bulk of the cloud fading to almost neutral, offset by the deeper pinks and purples in the background.

Weather the last couple of days has been showery, with yesterday having much more sun between showers than today. Temperatures have been a little on the cool side (for this year, I mean – it’s probably around normal for the time of year). I’ve noticed some light snow even down a bit on the middle Sister, but it does not look like much is falling there.

The first trickle of shorebirds seems to be arriving. There was a Dunlin in the estuary at the park this afternoon. There are still quite a few gulls around, but not nearly as many has there had been, and the ones that remain seem to have a much higher proportion of immature birds.

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Channel Gulls

While scanning the channel after class this morning, I noticed a dark-mantled gull in the mix. It stayed out in the middle, so I didn’t get much of a photo. Assuming it was the same bird I had watched and photographed yesterday, I did not spend too much time with it. However, upon closer inspection of the photo, I believe this is a different bird. The most obvious difference is the little bit of dark this one has on its bill above the red gonys spot. If I am correct, this would make three different individual dark-mantled gulls, all of which seem better for Slaty-backed Gull than anything else, although none of them seem quite as dark as might be expected for a Slaty-backed Gull.

Temperatures felt cooler today, and I noticed some fresh snow down to around 2500 or so.

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Bear Mountain from Indian River Mouth

Connor refound the dark-mantled gull this morning and was able to get better photos of it. With those photos it was possible to confirm that it was a Slaty-backed Gull, rather than a Western Gull. Both are unusual for Sitka, but Slaty-backed Gulls have been nearly annually over the past few years, while Western Gulls have only shown up and been reported a handful of times. A friend and I scanned the flocks on the beach at Totem Park later this afternoon, but were not able to pick out any unusual birds from the mix. We did find a Gadwall, Black Turnstones, and heard a Northern Flicker, each of are on the Arctic Birding Challenge Checklist (which I’m participating in).

After the low clouds cleared off this morning, it was sunny and warm (up into the 50s) through the rest of the day. Light winds made it feel quite pleasant out. The day seemed more suited for late April or May.

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