June 3, 2012 Yakutat Aleutian Tern Festival Part 5

Sunday late morning: Bird Banding near the high school

Right after the Cannon Beach field trip, I managed to catch the tail end of the bird banding demonstration. USFS Gwen Baluss, assisted by USFS Melissa Cady, expertly caught, banded, weighed, measured, sexed, checked brood patch and fat thickness, recorded data, and released songbirds. 

It is simply amazing to see birds, especially warblers like the YELLOW WARBLER, so close. Gwen pointed out the "windows" in the female Yellow Warbler tail feathers. Female warblers are so much harder to find, as they don't sing, and to identify, as they are not fancy like the males. 

Aquatic Insects, Ocean Cape, Ankau River
Gorgeous sunny afternoon!

Bob Armstrong graciously consented to combine an aquatic insect mini-field trip with the birding trip to Ocean Cape and Ankau. He was especially interested in finding an insect he had not yet seen, the moth fly. We stopped at a promising beaver dam along the way to search. The beavers had blocked up a small stream, creating a rich wetland with a pond above the dam. Downstream, the stream meandered through a wide sedge meadow.

Whipping out his insect net, Bob swatted and scooped over the adjacent vegetation. Full of anticipation, he peered into the white net, deeper and farther. To everyone's amazement, he pulled out…ta-dah! a shiny penny! Insect research can certainly be lucrative!

Then he scooped some silty water into a white tray and, with the help of young eyes, we found a stonefly larva, mosquito wrigglers, and several unknowns. Bob sucked a few specimens into his collecting jar with a turkey baster for further study. We examined a large fresh-water clam with blackfly larvae attached that rested on top of the beaver dam, a highly oxygenated spot. I was impressed how tiny the larvae are; a magnifying glass is really helpful. Bob also shared his greatly enlarged larvae photos printed on a waterproof, tear-proof paper appropriated called Tough Paper. The color reproductions were excellent. We explored another little pool full of 3-spine sticklebacks and many larvae then headed to Ocean Cape.

More on Bob's new book, Aquatic Insects in Alaska, at http://www.adn.com/2012/06/08/2497679/aquatic-world-of-alaska-insects.html.

A brief stop at Ocean Cape provided a spectacular panoramic view of the Mount St. Elias Range stretching across the horizon at Ocean Cape. We were so lucky to have such glorious weather! Far below, a pair of RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS paddled along.

Next, we drove a short ways to the wide sandy beach of the Ankau River. Bob was very interested to find a rare (or overlooked), unusual fern called the Yakutat Moonwort or Giant Moonwort. We walked slowly and carefully, watching for moonworts and tern nests. Several broken Aleutian Tern eggshells were found; the adults discard them far from the nest to discourage predation. Both ARCTIC and ALEUTIAN TERNS flew overhead, checking us out. An ALEUTIAN TERN drove away a too-curious RAVEN. Many more were seen in the distance by the shore. We wisely decided not to go any closer as this is a very critical time and a very sensitive habitat.

On the way back, once again young eyes discovered the mysterious moonwort, and with the "search image" more were found, growing right out of the sand. The fertile frond was still young and unfolding. The paired leaflets looked like stacked half-moons. According to the Tongass National Forest website http://www.fs.fed.us/r10/tongass/districts/yakutat/area_info/moonwort.shtm, the recently discovered moonwort, Botrychium yaaxudakeit, was named by Yakutat Elders:

Yaaxudakeit, honors Yaa Xu da Keit’. He was the leader of an ancient clan living at the base of the mountain now known as Mt. St. Elias, and purchased Yakutat for the Copper River people. Yaa Xu da Keit’was from the Raven moiety and the Kwaashkikwaan (Humpback Salmon) clan.

The last activity was a very interesting presentation by the Sitka-based Alaska Raptor Center featuring a live Barred Owl and Harlan's Hawk. The birds were very cooperative and patient throughout the talk. Once again, it was amazing to see these raptors up close.
The festival wrapped up by mid-afternoon. I spent the remaining time wandering around the road by the airport enjoying the warblers and scenery. An enormous WWII hangar not far from the terminal houses airplanes and also the Situk Fly Shop. The owner, Bob Miller, has posted information on the hangar and his plans for a WWII museum there, plus great photos and observations on his blog at http://situkriver.wordpress.com/
I walked back to the airport terminal where many BANK SWALLOWS swooped around, their nests stashed close by in the buildings' eaves. Watching and photographing birds is a great way to pass the time waiting for a flight.
Soon the jet pulled up and unloaded the next batch of lucky people to visit Yakutat, including fly fishermen. I know their experience will be totally different from mine, and I wouldn't trade for anything!
I had to leave a lot out, so please visit http://yakutatternfestival.org/ for more information or start making plans to attend next year.
Many thanks to the USFS staff, volunteers, field trip guides, presenters, and community members for creating such a fantastic festival and for inviting us to your beautiful home in Yakutat.

Happy Birding!      Carol Griswold    Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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