Spring Thunder


My first Black-legged Kittiwake of the year

I took a brief walk around Totem Park. On my way there I enjoyed hearing some rolling thunder, a couple of times I even saw a flash from the lightning that preceded it. Overall the day was mostly all cloudy with showers periodically adding punctuation. I didn’t notice any other lightning or thunder after the 3 or 4 I heard this morning.

Where the seawalk goes along Sage Beach (where the boardwalk starts on the way to the park) I noticed calls that sounded sort of like junco alarms (which can be kind of subtle). There were two birds trading chips, and it didn’t take me long to find one. It was a Song Sparrow. I recorded it for a while, as it wasn’t a call I had associated with Song Sparrows previously. Perhaps I’ll write up a separate post with the recordings.

During my time at the park I enjoyed a brief conversation with a visiting birder-type from Delta Junction. He was in town for a wedding and was getting a last bit of birding in before catching the ferry back north.

The tide was up and there were several hundred Surfbirds on the beach from the visitor center to the first little high point. There were also a few Black Turnstones and at least one Rock Sandpiper. I didn’t find any other migrating shorebirds, however.

Of course the big story of the day was the Palm Warbler Connor found this morning. A first record for Sitka, and one of only a very small number of spring records for the state.

This evening as I sat outside on the steps, I happened to look up and notice hundreds of birds (gulls, I’m pretty sure) soaring to the south. It took a moment before my brain made sense of what I was seeing, and I realized there were at least a couple of different circles of gulls. Now I’m kind of wishing I had grabbed my camera sooner, because as I watched, I saw them drifting closer to where I was, then peal off of a circle and form up into another one not far away. In the end, I came to believe these birds were giving form to swirling updrafts associated with a squall that was moving over. It was pretty amazing to watch while it lasted, almost visual poetry perhaps, but it did not last long.

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Palm Warbler – First Record for Sitka

I was walking around the park this morning while my son Connor was taking care of their pet lizard at his mom’s. He called to tell me he had seen a strange warbler while over by her place and was able to get some photos of it. He described it as having a yellow throat, chestnut cap, and yellow under tail. By the time I got home a few minutes he and his sister had looked through the bird book and decided it was a Palm Wabler. I took a look at his photos and agreed that it was definitely not a typical bird for Sitka. We hopped in the car and went back to Price Street (where he had found it). I called a couple of people to let them know there was a good bird for Sitka while Connor and Rowan went to look for it. Before I was off the phone, Connor was running back to let me know Rowan had found it. We spent about an hour following it around the neighborhoods along Price and Smith Streets. It would fly between trees and brushy areas, not really seeming to hang in anyone place for very long.

This is a first record (as far as I can tell) for Sitka. In the region, it seems this species is found mostly in the fall (considered Very Rare), though there are prior spring records. Given how early it is for warblers and the mild winter, I’m wondering if this one wintered somewhere in the area/region and has started moving now that it’s on to spring.

Connor’s i-naturalist observation of the Palm Warbler with his photos.

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John Brown’s Beach and Rising Wind

I rose this morning and was somewhat surprised to see blue skies, though unlike yesterday when I ventured out, it was not a soft and subtle transition from blue to gray overcast. Instead, there were intense looking clouds over the Pyramids with showers clearly evident. The blue sky didn’t last long, the wind picked up, and by later this afternoon there were some pretty good rain showers.

I took a short walk with a friend to John Brown’s Beach. I tried to get some photos of a Red-necked Grebe in breeding plumage, but it was a bit far out. I also noticed some plant remains that I didn’t recognize. There were quite a few of them in a meadowy area, and I was a little surprised that they looked so unfamiliar. New plants appeared to be growing up, and I’m guessing they are the same as the remains, so I’ll have to make an effort to get out there later in the year and figure out what they are.

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Frosty Morning, Colorful Sunset

Last night when I went out for a little bit late, I noticed the stars were shining brightly (I think I notice Mars, as well). At the time it wasn’t really frosty, but I wondered if it might end up becoming so. This morning when I set out to take care of filing my taxes just after 8am, there was a good bit of frost on many things. I was especially struck by the frost edging of many leaves (especially the dandelions).

It turned out the tax office didn’t open until 9am, so I walked over to the bridge and took some pictures of the softly lit, snow-covered mountains. It was one of the few times this winter I’ve seen Mt. Edgecumbe well covered in a blanket of snow.

It appeared a layer of overcast was moving in from the south, and as the morning went on, that’s what seemed to happen. This afternoon I noticed an interesting cap of clouds on Mt. Edgecumbe with a trailing line of cumulus clouds. Unfortunately by the time I had a chance to try fo a picture, it had broken up and was less compelling to me).

I stopped by the Turnaround and found a lone Marbled Godwit. It’s the earliest (by one day) that I’ve seen one here. More typical is the last week of April. I wonder if it’s the one that stayed so late last fall. Perhaps it didn’t actually go very far south and is already headed north again.

Tonight’s sunset was quite colorful. My house is situated in a good place to see that the sunset has a lot of color, but it’s not the best place for nice sunset photos (unless you’re a fan of utility poles/lines, houses, and roads as foreground objects). I could see through the trees a very nice alpenglow on the Pyramids when I went out to look. Over the the next 20 minutes or so off to the WNW the clouds shifted from a peach color into deeper and deeper pinks and reds.

(more photos to come)

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Sunday Snow

Snow squalls were the order of the day. It was warm enough that there was little accumulation, and most of what did stick melted off between showers. Late this afternoon a nice patch of blue sky opened up, letting the bright sun illuminate the snow-covered mountains (at least those that weren’t shrouded in the tattered clouds of active showers).

I took a brief walk to Totem Park to check out the many gulls and some ducks. I did see one immature Glaucous Gull, but nothing more unusual than that. I did not have a lot of time to spend, so it was just a cursory scan. I did notice herring eggs piling up in front of the visitor center. That may bode well for shorebirds at the park this year.

There seemed to be a lot more robins around today, and at least a couple of the ones around the neighborhood here were actively singing like they meant it (instead of the tentative songs I’ve mostly heard previously this year).

(more photos to come)

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April Cool

Temperatures remained cool today. Snow level on the trees was down at the bottom of the mountain slopes this morning and did not actually lift much through the day. Heavy clouds made much of the day feel dim and dreary. Showers routinely had snow mixed in, and some were mostly sleet/hail, though I never heard any thunder, nor saw any lightning (a chance of thunderstorms was in the forecast). In the early evening there was finally a break and things brightened up a bit.

Shorebirds seem to be on the move a bit. I didn’t visit the park, but Connor and Rowan reported a good-sized mixed flocks of Black Turnstones, Surfbirds, and Rock Sandpipers (no Dunlin today, though Connor saw some within the last couple of days). I’ve not heard any reports of other shorebirds yet, but I expect the early arrivals will start showing up within the next week or so two.

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