Birding in the Wake of the Storm

Diminishing winds, occasional showers, with some sun between. Showers were occasionally heavy, often accompanied by gusty winds. Some thunder, lightning and hail in the more powerful showers. Temperatures were mostly in the high 40s, though it did hit 50F this morning.

Storm Notes

Yesterday’s rain total ended up being 2.71″ at the airport, not particularly close to the record for the date of 3.65″ (1958). It fell throughout the day, and Indian River never rose especially high (cresting at 23.63 ft this evening)

The buoy never topped the wind speeds (~52mph stustained and ~72mph gust), nor wave heights (41ft) it had reached last evening before I went to bed. I was impressed the wave heights remained over 30ft for about 8 hours from around 8pm to 4am.

I had not noticed the airport weather station reported a gust at 75mph between about 6-7pm yesterday. It never gusted that high again. Sustained winds peaked around 1am at 39mph out of the Southwest.

The tide surged two feet over predicted around last night’s 9pm high. Predicted high was just over 8ft while the actual high was over 10ft. (I think it’s easy to take for granted how much our normal tide fluctuations serve to buffer us from most storm surges.)

As expected, the power did go out last night, though it held out longer than I might have guessed (I am pretty sure it went out after 1am).

I did wake up several times hearing wind and heavy showers.

I heard from someone who spent time at the harbor overnight that there were plenty of storm-petrels in the harbor. I hadn’t thought of going down there in the evening to look, but maybe I’ll try that during a future fall wind event.

Observations of the Day

By the time I woke up for good this morning, it was starting to get brighter.Winds had calmed significantly. The power had been back on for over an hour.

I was motivated to get going earlier than normal by curiosity about what the storm might have blown in.

I headed out shortly after 7:30am.

My driveway looked like someone had run leaf mulcher output through a fan. Shredded leaves were spread everywhere. As it turned out, it was a light treatment of leaves compared to patches on the road where tall alders had leaves ripped off and scattered across the road. I didn’t happen to notice many trees blown down, but I suspect there were plenty that didn’t hold up.

I headed out to Starrigavan. It was quiet there, with calm winds close in, at least. I spent a few minutes watching a bear eating dead fish that were on the mudflats upland of the road.

I stopped at both pullouts near Harbor Point on my way back. Out off Harbor Point in the distance I could see storm-petrels, murres, and a shearwater or two. None were close enough for me to have good looks at.

At the other pullout between Harbor Point and the Cove, I saw a Fork-tailed Storm-petrel close to shore.

I made a side trip for a short walk around the golf course. Other than a few Savannah Sparrows, it was quiet on the ground. I did notice a flock of Snow Geese and a smaller flock of Cackling Geese flying over, however.

As I was leaving, I crossed path with KJ. She had messaged me about a large movement of Snow Geese out off Sandy Beach, but I had already left home and didn’t see it (downsides to not having a phone). It seems I missed the largest flocks by a few minutes on my way out to Starrigavan. Many hundreds of the couple thousand or more birds actually landed on the salt water off Sandy Beach for a short time before taking off again. The pictures and videos I saw from a couple of folks made it look like quite a spectacle which would have been fun to see.

Snow Geese were a recurring them throughout the day. Despite missing the largest flocks, I saw many flocks totally perhaps 1000 birds over the course of the day.

On a stop at the kelp patch turnaround I saw and photographed a storm-petrel I was confident was a Leach’s Storm-petrel (#167). This was the only species I had seen but not photographed in Alaska, so it was nice to finally get photos.

In past falls, after storms there have been many Fork-tailed Storm-petrels, but very few reports of Leach’s Storm-petrels (other than a few that became stranded on land during the night). In my time paying attention to birds here, this is the first time I’m aware of when there were numbers Leach’s Storm-petrels so easily visible from the shore.

I watched at least a couple of Leach’s Storm-petrels working the kelp areas just off the shoreline from Sea Mart to Oceanside Trailer Park. Later Rowan and I saw three near between the fuel dock and work float in the channel. (I also noticed an eagle going after a couple of them, as far as I could tell, without success.)

By later in the day they seemed to have moved further out, though we did spot some well off Harbor Point in the early afternoon.

I did notice shearwaters out off of Sea Mart on a couple of stops, but they were so far out, I’m not sure if my photos will be sufficient for ID.

I stopped by home to see if Rowan wanted to go look for the Leach’s Storm-petrels. She decided to go, and we went out to Sea Mart. After watching for a few minutes, we had seen nothing, so I decided to try the channel.

There were plenty of gulls in the channel, but I didn’t see any storm-petrels. Rowan noticed one flying further down the channel towards the bridge, but I never got a good look at it.

We moved to the work float, and got reasonable looks at 2-3 Leach’s Storm-petrels there. I also noticed a phalarope. Given the time of year is getting late for Red-necked Phalaropes, I wanted to get a closer look to confirm the id.

Next stop was ANB harbor. I realized with a wind out of the south-ish directions and the sun that way as well, there’s a good place for practicing birds-in-flight shots, at least when the birds are active in the area. As a result, I ended up taking several hundred photos over a few minutes of watching.

I didn’t forget the main intention, and we did get better looks at what turned out to be a dozen or so Red-necked Phalaropes. We never saw the storm-petrels from this side.

A trip out to Silver Bay coincided with the arrival of a shower. There were gulls out on the bay, but not too many. I may have seen a shearwater, but never got a good look before visibility diminished due to the shower. I went to the industrial park and couldn’t see much from there either. In the end, I’m not positive it wasn’t an immature Black-legged Kittiwake in poor lighting, but it sure seemed to have proportionately long wings when I first noticed it.

After waiting 15 minutes or more hoping to get a full look at Cross Mountain, I gave up and headed back to town.

We had another try at SeaMart, but no storm-petrels this time.

I would have called it good for the day, but Rowan wanted to get McDonald’s for lunch, so we stopped by and picked up Connor.

We had a nice view of a rainbow over the cold storage building as we ate our lunch.

We went out to Starrigavan again. Going up Nelson Logging Road, Connor mentioned there was a California Gull on a gravel bar. He had seen a gull with a slightly darker mantel. It’s difficult for me to distinguish that difference in shade, but sure enough, there was a California Gull. As it turned out, there were four of them (which was a little surprising to me).

The rest of my afternoon was spent taking a nap and working a first culling of the 1600+ photos I took today. After my first pass, I’m down to under 400.

My iNaturalist Observations for Today

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