Walk through Totem Park

This entry is part 43 of 133 in the series 2011 Photojournal

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.

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Totem Park Sunset

This entry is part 39 of 133 in the series 2011 Photojournal

I spent most of today trying to sleep off a cold, but finally decided I should get out for at least a little while late this afternoon. So I used a trip to the post office as an excuse and walked there via Totem Park.

It was cloudy for much of the day, but as the sun dropped toward the horizon, it broke through. There was a pretty good east wind blowing – but I mostly noticed it out toward the southeast end of the flats – other parts of the walk were more protected.

The usual birds were out and about along the shore – including a Common Murre or two in Crescent Bay. The Bald Eagles were apparently feeling predatory or something – they don’t always spook the Mallards off the beach, but a couple of times today I noticed them responding to the flight of Bald Eagles. Also of note were 10 Canada Geese feeding along the flats in front of the Visitor Center.

On the way back from the post office I was able to catch a pretty nice sunset.

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Return of the Sun

This entry is part 30 of 133 in the series 2011 Photojournal

The forecast was for cloudy to mostly cloudy skies with a chance of snow. Instead it ended up partly cloudy with the sun only occasionally being partly obscured by a small cloud. After lunch I was thinking the kids and I would go for a walk around the park, but the sun was nicely warming … Read more

Snow Returns

After catching the free brown bag concert put on by the Jazz Festival the kids and I got caught in a little snow squall. We waited out the strongest of it at the Crescent Harbor shelter as the snow, mostly in the form of graupel, fell. The forecast had called for snow with no accumulation, but by the end of the day the snow on the ground was approaching an inch deep.

The ice at Swan Lake continues to retreat. There were three Ring-necked Ducks, quite a few Glaucous-winged Gulls, at least one Thayer’s Gull, as well as Mallards and scaups. Today’s mix of scaups was different than yesterday’s, with two male Greater Scaups hanging together while another group of 5 Lesser Scaup males dove repeatedly at the edge of the ice. After the Greater Scaups moved around the peninsula to where the Lesser Scaups were, it was interesting to be able to compare them more directly and see some differences.

I noticed a Common Ragwort (Senecio vulgaris) with flowers still present. It was under a pine tree at the town end of the Lincoln Street green belt. Presumably the cover provided by the pine kept the plant from being significantly damaged by the frost. It seems unlikely the flowers will be able to produce seed, but I guess as temperatures rise in the coming months it will be interesting to see.

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Stormy Weather

Winds picked up through the morning and by this afternoon it was blowing Southeast with strong enough gusts that the crew working on roofing the new house decided it was prudent to shift their efforts to parts of the job that didn’t have quite so much exposure. Accompanying the winds was a moderate rain that seemed heavier as it was driven by the stronger gusts.

Connor and Rowan had seen four Trumpeter Swans on Swan Lake this morning, so they wanted to stop by and check to see if they were still there. I had arrangements to test drive a pick up just up the street, so we all walked to the lake together. There were 40 or more Mallards and a few gulls resting on the ice around the open water adjacent to the peninsula. It was interesting to see the wind whipping the rain and surface water across the ice that remained over much of the lake. The south end of the lake had opened up quite a bit since I walked by on Monday, and I saw at least two Ring-necked Ducks along with a handful of scaups.

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Recording Data

Marge Ward has lived in Sitka for over 60 years and Marlys Tedin nearly as long. They have been recording their daily bird observations since 1980 using 5×7 inch note cards, with a row for each species. This time of year the number of species they observer in a given week doesn’t usually require more than two cards, though at other times they may nearly fill three. Marge often writes additional notes on the back giving additional details about some observations of particular interest, weather observations, or reports of non-bird plants and animals.

Although their records are an amazing store of information about bird occurrence in the Sitka area, it is not so easy to sort through and access in card form. Over the past year or so, I’ve started working to get their observations into a computer database by using a CyberTracker application I created for that purpose. Last winter I made some progress on getting through the historical records, but as the season changed, I became busy with other things and have done little work on the older records since then. I have kept up with current observations, however. I try to visit them most Fridays to get the most recent week’s observations put in.

My only significant time outside today was walking over to Marge and Tedin’s place. Temperatures have continued to be in the upper 30s and low 40s, and although the ground remains frozen, most of the surface snow and ice in the central part of town is gone. It had been some time since I was by Swan Lake, and I was interested to see that it remained covered in ice, though the ice had an inch or more of water on top of it. (I remember walking/skating across the ice in such conditions more than once when I was on my way home from my paper route – but I don’t think I would feel comfortable doing it these days.) Despite the lack of open water, there were 45 or more Mallards and over 10 Glaucous-winged Gulls at the peninsula.

While visiting with Marge and Tedin, I mentioned that robins had been around this past week, but they said they hadn’t seen any at their place. Apparently, in winter at least, the robins prefer other neighborhoods. We also talked about the arrival of Pine Siskins at feeders this week. There had been a individual Pine Siskin or two visiting the feeders at my house, but today there was a sizable flock feeding on the ground in the neighborhood, and making stop by our feeders. I noticed another flock foraging on a gravel driveway along Lake Street – I suspect they were going after conifer and/or alder seeds that were probably released during the last cold snap. Marge commented that the first flock of siskins she had seen at their feeders in a while was today as well.

During our visit we had commented on the abundance of Varied Thrushes this year. I mentioned seeing a couple of loose flocks while on a hike up Indian River last weekend. It was interesting because they weren’t together like a flock of starlings or finches might be, but rather moving in a much more distributed association. When Marge and Tedin dropped me off at the bottom of the hill, we saw 10 or more Varied Thrush – most of them foraging on a mossy roof, but a few more poking about on the gravel road in front of the maintenance building. When they spooked as I got out of the car, they all flew off in the same direction, but only one or two at a time.

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