Herring Cove to Bear Mountain Waterfall

This entry is part 28 of 133 in the series 2011 Photojournal

I’m trying to get out with the kids on at least a short hike once or twice a week. On at least one trip a week I would like to make sure we go up a significant hill. Hopefully starting this way will make it easier to get the kids (and myself) out on more lengthy or strenuous hikes without as much resistance. To this end, for the second Saturday in a row, we hiked up the trail from Herring Cove. While we hiked all the way around Beaver Lake last time, this time we only went up to the Bear Mountain waterfall view point. Like last week, I had done a bunch of squats the day before, however this time my legs did not feel particularly fatigued as we walked up the steeper portion of the hill.

Overnight the temperatures dropped sufficiently for precipitation to be mixed with snow. By the time we were driving out the road, we were seeing mostly snow, though it was still mixed with a bit of rain. As we hiked up the trail, we were seeing pure snow with increasing intensity. Near the waterfall viewpoint a half inch or more had accumulated in openings, with more falling steadily. As this was about 400 feet elevation, I half expected it to be mixed with rain again as we went back down, but by the time we returned, it was snowing at sea level.

The weather forecast described indicated this snow occurred as colder air from the north was pulled to the south over the Gulf of Alaska and then east as it wrapped around a low pressure center. I don’t think it is often the case that Sitka gets snow while Juneau is still seeing rain and temperatures several degrees warmer, but such was the case today.

Throughout the rest of the day, there were periodic snow and hail/graupel showers – sometimes even fairly intense. I also noticed a break or two in the clouds which allowed the sun to brighten things up for a bit.

Over the last two days a couple different people mentioned how frantically it seemed like the juncos and other sparrows were feeding. Marge suggested they might be sensing the coming snow – a behavior she has noticed before. It certainly seems like being able to gorge prior to a food-obscuring snow storm would have some survival advantage for our small winter residents.

The trail was pretty quiet on the way up – though I did hear a Pacific Wren or two. On the way back down, there was a loose flock of 20 or more Varied Thrush (it’s always hard to count these – as they are difficult to see when not moving, and they tend to be dispersed over a fair area).

Read more

Rainy Day Birds

This entry is part 27 of 133 in the series 2011 Photojournal

Rainfall was continuous today, though the intensity varied from moderate to heavy. All told, over an inch of it was recorded at the airport recording station. No doubt more fell in some of the wetter areas of town. Temperatures dropped slightly, falling into the upper 30s after spending the past several days in the 40s. … Read more

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.

Read more

Slush and Ice

This entry is part 11 of 133 in the series 2011 Photojournal

My primary impression of winters in Sitka is not so much shaped by cold temperatures or the amount of snow that falls, but rather what happens in the days after it snows. When a high pressure from the Yukon pushes over Southeast Alaska, we can get a period of days to even a couple weeks … Read more

Kill Site

While taking a shortcut through the park yesterday, Connor and I happened upon four piles of Varied Thrush feathers like the one seen here. I could not decide how many kills the feather piles represented, but I’m pretty sure it was more than one and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was less than four. … Read more