Winter Sun at Totem Park

Bright skies this morning lured me into taking a walk with Connor and Rowan down to Totem Park. However, by the time we were leaving, it seemed to be totally overcast and a light snow was falling. We walked down to Lincoln Street and found things to be pretty quiet, both on land and on the water. As we reached the park, the sun started to break out from behind the clouds, offering hope of a chance to accumulate a bit of sun exposure – something that has been sorely lacking in this significantly wetter than usual December.

By the time we got to the battle site part of the loop, the sun had broken out of the clouds, and it felt noticeably warm standing on the beach where I could get the full effect of the direct sun as well as the strong reflections off the water. I just stood there for a couple of minutes enjoying the warmth before Rowan informed me there were some shorebirds around the corner. Going to investigate, I discovered the wind blowing from the east – though not especially strong – was sufficient to make it feel quite chilly, despite the sun. I later retreated back to the calmer location – having the good excuse that I wanted to try and get some pictures of the redpolls I had seen adjacent to the beach there.

One of the things I’ve been keeping an eye out for is a good representative of Fomitopsis pinicola (one of two or three different species often referred to as Bear’s Bread). Despite it being very common, I have previously only taken pictures of this shelf fungus that were unusual in some way. Today I noticed one growing on a spruce trunk right at the start of the beach-side of the west loop. A little further down the path, I took a picture of the somewhat similar Heterobasidion annosum, as well. This can sometimes form a shelf, and in such cases may look quite similar to the Fomitopsis, but unlike Fomitopsis, it often grows flat, not forming a shelf at all.

Despite there being few birds around, I did see some things of interest. Species-wise, at least a couple of Common Redpolls were working the alders with a handful of Pine Siskins. Redpolls were absent last winter, and this is only the second time I’ve seen any siskins in the past several months. Also of note were at least a couple of Rock Sandpipers in with the Black Turnstones, and a probable Red-tailed Hawk first spotted by Rowan (who told me she saw the red tail – I just saw a brief glimpse of it before it disappeared behind the trees).

While attempting to photograph the siskins and redpolls, I was also treated to some activity of a small group of Barrow’s Goldeneye right near the shore, but I think I’ll post on that separately, as I would like to wrap this up.

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Walk through Totem Park

Sapsucker weather continued today, though it did begin to moderate. Temperatures reached the mid-20s, warm enough that the sun warmed ground was sufficient to start melting ice along the roads and sidewalks. Forecast is for increasing wind and cloudy conditions with temperatures still remaining chilly, but not nearly so cold as over the past few days. While out today, it seemed like the predominant wind was out of the east, though it was a bit swirly – a couple of times I was hit by small gusts coming out of the west. It also seemed as though on the water waves were coming partially out of the south.

I went on a walk around the park to get to the Post Office. I was curious about how many sapsuckers I would find. I don’t have the count handy, but I think it was at least 10 between the house and the end of the park near the river mouth, plus an additional couple later in the day that I saw in the neighborhoods around the new house. The tide was up during my walk and I noticed Mallards and Barrow’s Goldeneye were feeding quite close to the shore along the rocks at the northwest end of the little sandy cove between Merrill Rock and the bed rock out crops before Sage Rock (this was in addition to another 50 or so Mallards sleeping on gravel at Sage Beach). It’s not unusual to see Mallards close in like this, but I don’t often see Barrow’s Goldeneye feeding quite so close to shore.

Crossing the river, it appeared the ice was starting to collapse and the river was running higher. Given the still below freezing temperatures, this seemed a little odd and I didn’t think the tide was high enough to push quite that far up the river. Perhaps I should have checked out when temperatures were still down in the teens. Quite a few Varied Thrushes were foraging along the river banks, while one American Dipper was splashing about in the open water in the center of the river.

On my return from the post office, I noticed something running across the street in front of the drive to the lower park parking lot. I suspected it was a cat, but didn’t get a great look before it was out of sight behind a house. I decided to investigate more closely and found that it was a cat. It had caught a sapsucker (no doubt when it was at the base of a tree tapping – they’re not accustomed to cats as predatory threats, I suspect). I heard a squeak or two from the sapsucker and approached to investigate more closely. The cat was distracted by me, and the bird took the opportunity to roll upright and take flight, returning to the spruce trees near where it had been captured.

Read moreWalk through Totem Park

Walk through Totem Park

I took a brief walk this afternoon down by the beach then through the park to the post office. My timing turned out to be good, as the rain had stopped and I even managed to catch a break in the clouds which allowed the sun to shine briefly while I was down by the beach.

When I left the house, I noticed quite a bit of bird activity. Although I did see a couple of chickadees at the feeders, mostly what I observed was a lot of high-frequency calling going on from juncos, chickadees, kinglets, and sparrows. It almost seemed as if they were a bit frenetic – perhaps they were taking advantage of the break in the weather to forage as much as they could in the short time they had remaining before sundown. When I got to the bottom of the hill path on the short cut to Lincoln Street, a Winter Wren popped up and chirped at me. I paused to look at it, and watched it fly ahead to a clump of lady ferns, where it disappeared under the remains of last years fronds. I heard a couple more chirps from it as I walked by.

Just as I arrived down at the water, a break in the clouds to the southwest allowed the sun to break through and illuminate she shoreline from the rocks where I was standing over to the forest standing above the beach at Totem Park. The direct light did not last for long, but its warm tones highlighted the rocks and trees on the beach, as well as the white foam at the edge of the water where the pulsing waves thrown up by the brisk SW wind were breaking apart on the large boulders only partially covered by the high tide. Offsetting these warm tones were the darker blues and grays in the background, where waters reflected the heavy overcast still blocking the sun, as it had for most of the day.

Out front in front of the park I noticed 8 Barrow’s Goldeneye, diving repeatedly to forage under the waves where they were breaking over the flats. Further out were 3 Red-breasted Mergansers – a species which has seemed to be sparse along the road system this winter – though I counted over 40 of them just south of town on the Christmas Bird Count at the beginning of the month.

Indian River was running higher than normal for this time of year. It was in no danger of flooding its banks in the park, but the rains combined with melting snow brought on by warmer temperatures covered all the unvegetated gravel and cobbles in the river bed.

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