Mt. Verstovia Trail to Indian River Valley

For the second year in a row (last year’s entry), I participated in the Christmas Bird Count by hiking up Mt. Verstovia trail and cutting down into Indian River Valley. Like last year, I was hoping to see some birds up high that do not normally show up in town. Unlike last year, the weather was much nicer, and I actually saw quite a few birds on the way up.

I left home just after 8am and as the sun began to rise, I was treated to a pretty amazing sunrise as I walked past Arrowhead Trailer Court on my way to the trailhead. I could not pass up the chance to stop and take some pictures, so I took a short detour down to the mouth of Indian River and took some more photos of the sunrise looking over Jamestown Bay. As the color began to fade, I continued on to the start of Mt. Verstovia trail.

Late Fall of this year there was a period of at least a few days (and maybe as long as a week) where the Sitka area was completely innudated with Varied Thrush. Their numbers had decreased significantly since that time, but I still obersved many of them along the trail on the way up. Most of the time I was alerted to their presence by their ‘chup’ calls. For some of them that is all I was able to observe as they remained hidden from sight in the thick underbrush. In addition to the Varied Thrushes, I also saw Golden-crowned Kinglets, Winter Wrens, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Chestnut-backed Chickadees by the time I reached the second view point. Last year I had not seen much of anything by the time I reached this location.

As I was going up the switchbacks, I thought I heard a slight tapping sound. Sound is often the first clue I have about a bird’s presence, and tapping sounds often come from woodpeckers. This time was no different, as I was able to spot a lethargic Red-breasted Sapsucker fairly close to the trail. It was much less active than I have typically seen. I am guessing that was a strategy for conserving energy on the short, cool winter days.

With the weather nice for hiking, I opted to continue on the trail all the way up to Picnic Rock (Peak 2550), rather than cut off trail along the ridge as I had last year. My effort was rewarded when I was able to observe White-winged Crossbills feeding in the conifers at the tree line. This was the first time I had seen these birds. I tried to get a little closer for better pictures, but the terrain was not conducive to doing so.

After a short lunch break on top, I headed down the ridge toward Indian River Valley. I would periodically hear birds, but I could not tell what they were from the calls, and I was not able to see them. I stayed mostly on the ridge as I went down, then cut back to get into the bowl between Peak 2550 and the Main Peak of Verstovia. The bottom of the bowl was a flat meadow with a stream winding through it. With the Main Peak of Verstovia towering over it, the meadow was very scenic, even in this season of brown. I can only imagine what it is like in mid-Summer when the wildflowers are in bloom.

I followed a gulley down from the North side of the meadow. My intention was to hit the ridge that goes down into Indian River Valley just up-valley from a large muskeg near the second bridge. I made my way down the the fairly steep hillside tending mostly down and slightly to the right (up-valley). I periodically saw flags, but did not work too hard to follow them. I saw many squirrels a Winter Wren or two, and at one point even startled up a deer. When I reached the sloped bench that is between the 800 and 1000 foot level, I tried to go mostly up-valley rather than down. I continued to notice the flags as I passed through a couple of clearings and at the edge of the second clearing, I decided to try following the flags.

I made the decision to follow the flags based on the premise that whomever had placed them probably had a decent way to get down (and quite possibly used the same ridge that I had planned to). I should note that the reason I wanted to go to the ridge is that below the bench, the hillside tends to be very steep, with many places having cliffs. I preferred to avoid the need to pick my way around and down cliffs, so I wanted to hit the ridge.

As I followed the flags, they seemed to be going down too soon to make it over to the ridge, but I continued in my simpleminded faith that they must lead to a good way down. As the slope got steeper and steeper and I continued following the flags, I finally found myself at the top of a 20 foot cliff. I searched in vain for the next flag, but as far as I could tell, the flags just ended at the top of the cliff. Lesson learned– “When bushwhacking in the backcountry, beware of following flags. The person who placed the flags was probably more lost than you are.”

Fortunately there was a way to skirt around the cliff without causing too much nervousness, so I did not find it necessary to backtrack up the hill (as by this point, I was feeling somewhat fatigued). During this portion of the trip I heard some bird calls that I did not remember having heard before. I did not recognize them, and due to the terrain I was not able to get closer for a chance to see what birds they might be.

Subsequent to the getting down the cliff, the trip back was largely uneventful. I made it to the muskeg where I had intended to and was able hike back along the trail into town. Unlike last year, I did not see all that many birds along Indian River Trail. I did see a couple of dippers and some mergansers, but that’s about it.

Picture Showing the Route:

Photos Taken

Cross Mountain at Sunrise

Sunrise behind Jamestown Bay

High Peaks of Baranof Island

Jamestown Bay Sunrises

Jamestown Bay Sunrise

Second Viewpoint on Verstovia Trail

Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)

Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)

White-winged Crossbill (Loxia leucoptera)

Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)

White-winged Crossbill (Loxia leucoptera)

Lucky Chance

Mountain Hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana)

Peak 2890

Peak 2890

Mt. Verstovia Peak



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