Fall Migration (Turned up to 11)

Occasional showers with even more occasional breaks of sun. Weather was coming out of the south/southeast (from over the mountains), which seemed a little different.

I was up late last night working with the Heart Lake collections and then didn’t fall asleep very fast. I did hear some birds when checking moths, but that’s not unusual.

A report of a Gray Catbird at sunset last night had me entertaining thoughts of getting up early to look, but given the late night, I wasn’t seriously thinking I would.

I happened to wake up as it was just starting to get light. I heard several birds calling outside, which was unexpected. I didn’t know it at the time, but this turned out to portend one of the most remarkable days for birds I have yet experienced (the only one that might match it was Halloween 2018).

Given the calling birds and the catbird report, I was less inclined to go right back to sleep. I checked and saw a note posted by Paul Norwood (working night shift) about hundreds of birds at the SEARHC ER entrance at 4am.

My curiosity about the calling birds got the best of me, and I got up to look. I could see silhouettes in the dim light, but it was too dark for me to be sure what I was seeing. I did hear Varied Thrush, warblers, and sparrows, however.

Since I was up, I headed out to look for the Gray Catbird. I was able to get poor looks in very dim light, but my photos were identifiable (#153 year, AK#232).

It disappeared into some shrubs, and although I spent another hour or two watching with others who also showed up to look, I didn’t see it again on this visit.

There were plenty of birds around, and given Paul’s early morning report, I decided to check Old airport road.

There I saw many, many hundreds of sparrows and some warblers. Mostly they were Golden-crowned Sparrows, but also some Savannah Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, and the more resident Song Sparrows and lingering Lincoln’s Sparrows. It was pretty much impossible to count. As I walked along, many more than I would have expected would fly up from where they had been concealed in the vegetation.

I had a brief look at probable Peregrine Falcon do a flyby over the road.

I got a message catbird was refound, but stopped by home first to get started on a call, offload photos from the memory card, and get some additional charge into my phone.

When I figured out I would be able to do much of the call away from my computer, I headed back out to try for better looks at the catbird.

Unfortunately, I realized when I arrived that I had forgotten my camera. Fortunately, nothing in Sitka is too far away, so it was a relatively short trip to get it.

Rowan had initially declined to go look for the catbird, but when I told her how easy the location was, she decided to go along.

When I arrived KJ showed me a photo of some distant birds asked about them. I couldn’t really tell from photo on camera. However, later I saw them. It was a large (for here) flock of Vaux’s Swifts (#154), as best I could tell 40-50 of them flying around a fairly broad area.

We ultimately saw the Gray Catbird working berry bushes in large ditch (or small ravine) area. There was nice viewing from a covered walkway across ditch. It mostly stayed down in the bushes, but occasionally it popped up and we were able to observe it eating blueberries.

I drove by old airport road with Rowan just to see all the birds. We didn’t get out, but I did take pictures of flushing birds when plane came in. I was once again surprised at just how many birds came out of even a small patch of shrubs. It was clown car-esque.

In one photo I counted over 70 birds at once flying up in response to an plane going by. This was only part of the total number birds that I could see over the few seconds they were flushing, and only small patch of the overall area where the birds were present in high numbers.

I headed home to clear my camera’s card and take a nap before heading out again in the afternoon.

I went over to the cross trail to look for a blue chanterelle that had been observed. They’re around every year, I imagine. However, they don’t seem abundant, and I rarely happen to find one on my own.

There were plenty of Golden-crowned Sparrows here as well, but nothing like the numbers by the airport. I tried pishing along Yaw Drive (by where the pavement ends), and ended up catching a brief glimpse at a raptor flying over. I didn’t get a good look, but it seemed like Sharp-shinned Hawk or a Merlin.

From there I went back to old airport road. I ended up running into KJ who had seen a couple of different falcons (species uncertain). While watched and chatted, there were at least two Peregrine Falcons that flew by and later two Osprey (#155).

I noticed an abundant fruiting of some sort of mushroom (probably a Gymnopilus sp) in a woodchip pile near where the catbird was found.

By the end of the day, between the catbird, sparrows, raptors, and more I ended up with over 1200 photos. It will take some time to work through them (one of the downsides to high frame rates of modern cameras).

My iNaturalist Observations for Today

4 thoughts on “Fall Migration (Turned up to 11)”

  1. Do you remember our bird study in my classroom for n the second grade? Since Sitka lacked a bird collection to study, I saved birds that met their demise in various ways in my freezer st home. I borrowed all of the Peterson books at the town libraries and passed out my collection!

  2. I love this update even more now that I am so far away from Sitka! It makes me miss those mountain, and even the squally grey days after weeks of burning sun here in Georgia haha

  3. Thanks for the comment, Anonymous. I’m not entirely sure who this is, but I’m guessing Mrs. Davis – if so, I missed the bird study, as I didn’t start in your class until 3rd grade. My brother might remember doing it, though. Funny enough, I wasn’t so interested in this sort of thing at that age. It didn’t start becoming more compelling to me until I was in college (and then, mostly by way of nature photography)

  4. Thanks Grace – I hope your travels are going well! I’m sure you’ll see some amazing stuff while you’re away. I’m not sure how it will be for you, but for me there was nothing quite like flying back and coming in for the Sitka landing after time away. Cloudy or clear, I was always looking intently out the window watching for the familiar bays and peaks. On clear days, that was well before landing, but on cloudy days of course it was sometimes only moments before touch down.

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