Sitka Nature Show #122 – Kitty LaBounty

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The January 8th show featured a conversation with Kitty LaBounty. We spoke about recent weather and other observations, the Sitka Big Year project we are collaborating on, and upcoming seminars in the Natural History Seminar series.

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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Wind and Water in Silver Bay (part 1)

I was pretty excited to watch the wind and water interact in Silver Bay, so I wanted to get a couple of videos I shot posted sooner rather than later.

I’ll write more and post it with the pictures and any additional videos I decide to put up.

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Blustery and Brisk

The outflow event began today, with blustery winds and chilly temperatures. Fortunately the brunt of the wind does not hit my house, but I did notice there were some strong gusts occasionally. I am not sure what the reason for this is, but I suspect that this location is mostly in a wind shadow from the mountains, so the stronger winds are up higher, with only occasional gusts dropping down from the turbulent flow.

I drove out the road as far as SeaMart today and could see white caps to the north. I imagine they were even stronger blowing out of Katlian Bay. 

It was mostly overcast, but where there were breaks in the stratus layer, it was apparent that strong winds were blowing at higher elevations, with the clouds showing a very sculpted look. Over Crecent Bay there was one cloud in particular that had an interesting swoop which made me wonder if there was some sort of wave in the atmosphere from the wind coming over the mountains.

Today’s intriguing ice formation was a thin layer of ice with various large crystal formations as well as other patterns. This ice was at the upper part of the beach where I suspect it formed during this morning’s high tide. 

Speaking of ice, I remembered today that I forgot to mention in yesterday’s post the tinkling of hoar frost crystals in those frosty hollows. Perhaps triggered by a light breeze or just enough sun to melt the base, I could occasionally hear the sound of the crystals falling. It was exquisite.

I searched a bit for Bohemian Waxwings without any luck today. A very late Hermit Thrush was unexpected. After it flew across in front of me on Jeff Davis street, I stopped to take some pictures. I don’t think there are many records of them this late into the winter.

At the park I was curious about the behavior of the ducks. These included the Wood Duck, Gadwalls, a Green-winged Teal, and American Wigeons, plus a couple of the Mallards. All of them were swimming along with their beak at or just below the surface of the river. They were in the estuary, but the tide was out, so it was all fresh water. I had the impression they were eating, but I’m not sure what it might have been. 

My iNaturalist Observations from Today

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Afternoon Walk and Sunset over Sitka Sound

Continuing the pattern of recent days, I ventured out after lunch to see what I could find. Today’s hoped for species were Bohemian Waxwings and a White-throated Sparrow. 

I decided to walk up the Baranof Street connector to the Cross Trail to the Phearson Street trailhead, check out the neighborhoods there, and then head downtown to catch the sunset. 

It was quiet, but quite scenic along the Baranof Street connector. I heard few, if any, birds, but was taken by the patterns of frost, both small and large. Even during this mid-winter time, there is enough heat in the sun to melt the frost wherever there is direct light. However, there are plenty of places with persistent shade, including some larger hollows, where everything was covered in a coat of long crystals of hoar frost. 

The crystals themselves were also quite striking to me. Though I have taken quite a few pictures, I still don’t feel like I have managed to really capture their cold, delicate beauty. It’s something I really appreciate about this time of year in these conditions.

Upon reaching Phearson Street, I started hearing more birds as I walked along the neighborhood streets. When I made it to the house where Karen J. has reported seeing a White-throated Sparrow lately, I saw quite a few juncos and chickadees flying around. At first I did not see the White-throated Sparrow, but as I was just about to leave, I heard the different sounding chip that I recognized as likely being from the White-throated Sparrow. I was able to get a decent look at it and grab a photo. Thanks to Karen for reporting it.

Walking back towards town, I noticed other juncos feeding in yards along the way. I imagine they’re a little more active in town this year than in the past couple, as we’re seeing more wintry conditions. The forecast is for this cooler weather to persist well into next week. So far it has been calm and not especially cold, but that could change over the next couple of days.

In addition to the sparrow, I also recorded observations in iNaturalist of a lichen and Labrador Tea. It occurred to me that an interesting side project to help keep this early season more interesting (especially for plants) would be to try and document all the ever/wintergreen plants that we have around here. When I mentioned this to Kitty (who is also participating in the big year project), she suggested expanding the idea to include the deciduous shrubs as well. I liked the sound of that, and then thought why not include all the plants observable in winter, including the evergreen and deciduous shrubs, wintergreen herbs, and also the decaying remains of last year’s plants that persist into winter.

My iNaturalist Observations for today (3 new species)

Big Year Project Progress: 37 observations, 31 species, 4 observers

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The Estuary Life Trail out at Starrigavan can be treacherously slippery during cold weather, but the relatively high humidity and lack of direct sunlight (the valley bottom and most of the estuary is in the shade of Harbor Mountain this time of year) make ideal conditions for delicate frost formations to develop.

During my time outside this afternoon, I made a quick trip to Totem Park to photograph the Wood Duck, then out to Starrigavan to check for hair ice (which is apparently indicative of a particular species of fungus decomposing the wood – Exidiopsis effusa). I was able to find some there, where I had seen it previously.

I spent more of my time there looking at and photographing the hoarfrost formations that covered pretty much every surface.

Although today’s forecast called for mostly sunny skies after patchy fog in the morning, the clouds (which were more of a mid-level marine layer with a base around 1500 feet, I think) only broke up back by the Sisters, as far as I could see. Over town and the water, it was overcast.

Although temperatures in town were right around freezing, so not really any cooler than on previous days, the lack of direct sunlight made it seem cooler, and perhaps a bit dreary.

Winds were quite calm (the buoy was down under 3 feet), but that is forecast to change by the end of the week. We have an Arctic outflow event to look forward to. This usually means strong cold winds with clear skies.

My iNaturalist Observations for today

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Airport Observations

Today gave me reason to consider the baseline level of effort I want to give to the big year project. With work calls and other work tasks to take care of, I didn’t have as much time outside, and with winter’s short days, that did not leave a lot of daylight for observations. I considered how hard to work at finding things to photograph for observations.

It is still early in the year, so there are plenty of easy ‘new’ things to photograph for the year, and with only a little effort, I could have easily come up with a dozen or more plants. However, it also felt like if I did that, I would be ‘using up’ the easy observations, so at some point during the year, I would not be able to find anything I had not already observed. 

Of course, there’s no reason not to observe things multiple times, and I do plan to do that, but I also feel like it would be nice to have a new year observation on as many different days as I can (though no doubt by December, that will be exceptionally difficult, unless I intentionally leave myself some things that are relatively easy to observe in the winter). 

It will be a work in progress as the year goes on, but for now I’ve resolved to try and make at least three observations a day, ideally with at least one of them new for the year. 

While I was on my calls, I did notice a small flock of Bohemian Waxwings fly by, and I realized they are among the bird species I should target for right now. There is no guarantee they will show up again later in the year, so righ now I’ve added them along with White-throated Sparrow and Wood Duck. 

Today I did not really chase birds, however. I did spend some time around the airport. It was a half-hearted attempt to see the Short-eared Owl or previously reported Northern Shrike. 

It was during this time I considered what observations to go for, and ultimately I picked up three, all new for the year (see link below). 

I was curious about the clam I found on the shore of the lagoon. I am guessing (but not certain) it came from the lagoon. It just reminded me of my curiousity about the life in the lagoon – a place I only realized continued to have sea life within the last couple of years (it does not have any open water connection with the ocean – though there is at least some water moving through). 

Before heading home, I watched for the green flash from the bridge. I was hoping for a repeat of yesterday’s, but a thick bank of clouds out in the distance kept me from seeing the sun as it dropped below the horizon. I suspect if the clouds hadn’t been there, it would have been another good green flash. As it was, there was a less flashy, but still distinct and colorful green flash as the sun dropped behind the clouds.

My iNaturalist Observations from Today

As of this writing, there are 24 observations of 23 species by 4 observers for the Big Year project – I’m looking forward to seeing each of those numbers climb as the year goes on. You can bookmark the following link if you want to check the progress throughout the year.

Sitka Big Year Project Observations

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