Mountaintop Snow

It was a bit frosty this morning as I got ready to head down to the radio station to record a conversation with last night’s speaker. I’m not sure when I will use it for a show, but I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to visit, since he was in town. By the time we were done, temperatures had warmed up sufficiently, that there was little, if any, frost even in the shade. I wanted to get a picture documented the snow level (down to around 2400 feet, one of the few times it’s been that low this year), but didn’t end up having anything catch my eye, so just grabbed the shot of the Arrowhead Peak of Verstovia from my house late this afternoon.

This afternoon I spent some time enjoying the sun below the bridge – I had contemplated trying out my kayak for the first time in a few years, and the water was looking quite nice, but a sore neck/back was enough of a discouragement, that I decided to remain land-bound. I took a walk along the old airport road and around Alice Island with a friend before heading back home.

It was a little before 4pm when I settled down for my sit spot time. When I had walked downtown shortly after noon, I noticed it seemed pretty quiet around my house (unlike the past couple of days), and it was Etolin street before I really noticed much in the way of small song bird activity. While I was sitting, there was the same sort of quiet. Unlike the past couple of days I heard little or no activity from the east side of the house, and what birds were in the south yard (where I could see) stayed back under the branches of the spruce and in the salmonberry thicket. I heard a little bit of singing from a junco some distance to the west, but it was definitely much quieter around my house than I had come to expect over the past week or so that I’ve been sitting. It seems plausible (perhaps even likely) that this has something to do with the Sharp-shinned Hawk that Connor saw yesterday. After sitting for 20 minutes, I went back inside, and while I was upstairs I did finally notice some juncos moving through my yard towards the northeast, as they regularly do shortly before sunset during the winter.

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Landslide Talk


Soil and ash exposed and subsequently eroded at the Starrigavan landslide. Notice the part with more coarse rock that has some roots coming out in the center of the photo. It’s likely this is a soil pipe (see below).

This evening I attended a talk by Dennis Landwehr, a soils scientist with the forest service who has studied landslides in Southeast Alaska for many years. It was an interesting talk with a lot of information, and I learned some things I hadn’t known about before. One thing I thought was interesting (that I also happen to have a picture showing) is a soil pipe. These are places where water moves through the soil more easily, but if/when they collapse/break, the subsequent slowdown of water transport can lead to over-saturated soils and subsequent landslides.

I spent some time sitting today. No hummingbird visit while I was out (though I did see the female visit the upstairs feeder several times). The juncos were quite active, and I did noticed at least a couple of chickadees. I listened for areas of activity and quiet, but the layout of the area where I sit (house at my back) and the significant traffic noise made it a challenge. It did seem like the birds were quiet in my zone as I first settled in (not surprising), but became more active after a while. I could hear activity on the east side of the house throughout my sit, and it seemed like there was activity in the bushes along the fence for most of the time. Unlike some other days, I didn’t hear much in the mid-distance.

Connor spotted a Sharp-shinned Hawk that flew over the house this afternoon.

Temperatures were noticeably cooler today. Still well above freezing at sea level, but there was a chill in the air that had been absent recently. Snow level (based on where trees were noticeably covered) had dropped to about 2500 feet, or maybe a bit lower. Many of the peaks remained shrouded in clouds, so it was hard to tell just where the snow got down to. There were some pretty heavy showers during the day at times, though the clouds started breaking up later this afternoon. By late this evening it was mostly clear.

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Yard Birds

Temperatures were a bit lower than the past couple of days, though still warm for the season in the upper 40s. Around the central part of town, the rain held off until late this evening (though there were some sprinkles). I did drive out the road this afternoon, and it was raining out towards Starrigavan.

My main outside time today was doing a couple of sits (5 minutes, followed by 10 minutes a while later). Since I hadn’t really observed sentinel behavior very well previously, I decided to keep that as my objective for today.

Shortly after I settled in for the longer sit on a bucket by the base of some stairs, I was startled slightly by the sudden and close buzz of a female Anna’s Hummingbird hovering just a couple of feet in front of me. She backed off and then I watched as she ducked under the stairs. I could see her through the gaps in the stairs, and it appeared she picked at something a couple of times before flying out. She did this two times before flying away. I don’t know what she was going for, but am guessing it was some sort of small insect to eat. Connor later told me he had seen this happening yesterday as well.

The juncos were more active in the yard today. I tried to watch for sentinel behavior, but wasn’t always sure if that’s what I was seeing. Sentinel behavior is when a bird flies up to a perch to keep an eye out for something that might be a potential threat. I noticed juncos appearing to do this fairly often, but I think it was probably part of the (loose) flock baseline behavior as they would just perch there for a short time (on the top of the brush pile, for example) before dropping down to feed, and all the while there would be other birds continuing to feed as normal. At one point I did sneeze, which startled the juncos feeding nearby. The nearer ones disappeared into the brush pile, while ones slightly farther away flew up to a perch and watched. In this case, it seemed like maybe they stayed there a little longer than they had been in the behavior I was taking to be kind of a flock-baseline. After a short time, they either flew away or went back to feeding, and the others came out of the brush pile and resumed feeding.

Another thing that I am curious about is that it often seems like the juncos will fly up to a perch and look around before flying away. They don’t always do it, but when they do, it seems like the higher they go, the farther they will tend to fly. This might just have something to do with getting over the house, but I wonder if maybe they also want to check out (visually) where they’re thinking about going, and so fly up to take a look first.

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Oak Leaves

I don’t remember ever seeing an oak tree growing around Sitka, but last fall I started noticing oak leaves blowing around the neighborhood. At first I was not sure whether my impression was correct, but I confirmed it with someone who knows about such things, and now I’m curious where the oak tree is. As the winter has worn on, I periodically notice the leaves laying where the wind has blown them, and today I decided to take a picture of some that had ended up at the edge of my yard. Perhaps when the leaves are out later in the year, I’ll walk through the neighborhood in search of the oak.

Warm temperatures continued today, though not quite as warm as yesterday. The ridge effecting pretty much the entire west coast pushed up into our area, perhaps a bit further than expected – I don’t really know. It was interesting to see the fairly clear skies to the south (it seems like more often, it’s clouds in the south or southeast, with clear skies in the north). It took longer to reach 50 today, I think maybe it didn’t happen until after the sun set, and this evening it was still in the 50s, even though I could see stars out. It’s been an interesting winter, for sure.

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Bryophytes and Birds

Today was the last day of the Great Backyard Bird Count, and I spent some time today doing a little birding. This morning I kept track of what I was seeing while on a walk through Totem Park, then this afternoon I spent some time ranging a bit further along the road system specifically looking for birds. Overall, I didn’t make too much effort this weekend, but I’m sort of curious how many species I ended up recording anyway. I think I might have made it close to 40, but haven’t compiled the data yet to be sure.

On my way to the park this morning I took a side trip to Indian River in case the Wood Duck was around. I did not find it, but I did notice a nice arrangement of three different species of bryophytes growing in adjacent patches on the flume pipe. I recognized two of the species, and had a pretty good idea about the third, but wanted to get it confirmed (and will do so before uploading those photos).

The tide was high during the walk through park, but I was happy to see the Spotted Sandpiper down at the end of the park along the beach. It’s been reported by multiple people since the last time I saw it (back in November). Spotted Sandpipers are only considered accidental in winter in Southeast Alaska, so this is kind of an exceptional occurrence.

Weather-wise temperatures started were over 50 by mid-morning and slowly climbed to a peak of 56 (that I noticed). Around here, that’s more like a cool summer day than what you might expect mid-winter. It was interesting to notice some variation, both gusts of warm wind (it was fairly breezy today) and pockets of cooler – in particular, it seemed distinctly cooler at Starrigavan. Plants, both domestic and wild, are really starting to have the buds break and even look like they’re getting ready to open up.

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Raven Radio Show #73 – Richard Nelson

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The 15 February show featured a conversation with Richard Nelson. We spoke about several things including conservation advocacy and the value and power of native languages and the perspective they provide.

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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