Date: June 4, 2013
Tonight’s Location: Homer, AK
Weather: mostly cloudy, drizzle
Temperature: start 46º
Wildlife count: Porcupine, Pine squirrel
Year List: 244
Birds: Varied Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Orange-crowned Warbler, Hermit Thrush, Wilson’s Snipe, American Robin, Gray Jay, Magpie, Trumpeter Swan, Tree Swallow, Sandhill Crane, American Wigeon, Pacific Loon, Common Loon
We began the day up on the bluff at the Wynn Nature Center. We knew that the trails would be muddy, so we wore our rubber boots, and since the forecast was for rain, we wore rain suits. Turned out we needed both the entire morning. The subject was birding, and birding in Alaska forests is mostly by ear – a topic in which we need a LOT of help! We have been practicing a few bird songs, and today we learned several more. It will just take practice. Then we hiked, no slogged the trails, looking for birds. We found quite a few, and particularly learned about the snipe. (No not a snipe hunt!) We had only seen the snipe in Texas, mostly on the shore of lakes as a shorebird. Today, we watched them fly high into the sky in their mating ritual, and then swoop down, making a high pitched winnying call. What an amazing exhibition and they were simply seen and not heard in Texas.
We had a short break in the Nature Center cabin with hot chocolate and coffee to warm up and the next instructor, Ed, explained Spruce Bark Beetle infestations to us, after which we went back out on the trail to find evidence. On the way, we saw several bear tracks, a porcupine in a tree, and the confirmation of Spruce Bark beetle. What has been learned over time is that trees which are killed make way for smaller trees, which had been hidden under the canopy to grow into huge trees and begin new forests. He showed us one spruce, and by counting rings, established that it had sprouted around 1792. It grew for 100 years under a towering canopy of other huge spruce trees, and its trunk was only about 4” in diameter after 100 years. Around 1890-1900, however, there was a beetle infestation, and the big trees were decimated. From the tree rings, it is quite obvious that this tree virtually exploded into sunlight, water and a complete sufficiency of nutrients – the diameter of the tree expanded to well over 3’. At another infestation in 1994, this tree was cut down. So, just like fire and other natural events, the beetle infestation allowed for a new forest to grow. It just doesn’t look very pretty to us as humans, who miss the trees that used to be there.
We ate a quick lunch on the steps of the Pratt Museum, as the sun had arrived, and we had our first after-lunch speaker begin there. Rick talked about seabirds, and we went inside the Pratt to their Gull Island webcam to watch the birds as Rick shared. Next, we went outdoors to several of the birding hotspots and stood in the rain watching birds – yep, it had started raining again, and rained the rest of the afternoon.
Dinner was sautéed fresh Halibut from Dave at IOVC. I prepared it with blood/red orange infused olive oil, sesame seed & dill. We paired it with rice/broccoli/peas/peppers/parsley & slivered almonds and a little butter. John made a great tartar sauce to compliment the fish. What a treat! Dessert was rice pudding, made with the rest of the rice. We relaxed and read for the evening.