School, Hat-trick on Burbot, Level 4 Aurora : A Great Day to Be in Alaska

Ahoy Readers! It is 3:47 AM in AK, and I have been sitting out all night enjoying a level 4 Aurora. That is how my day ended, but it began with class until 11 and then burbot fishing from 12- 1:30 – followed by burbot cleaning, because I got three today! The largest was a true ‘trophy’ of the burbot world and was 31 inches long. Tonight the burbot turned into a stirfry with onions, carrots, green pepper and tomato. Quite tasty!

Three burbot day! The largest is 31 inches, and the smallest... quite small! Unfortunately there is no catch and release when fishing overnight lines.
Three burbot day! The largest is 31 inches, and the smallest… quite small! Unfortunately there is no catch and release when fishing overnight lines.
A bruiser burbot! 31 inches!
A bruiser burbot! 31 inches!

After dinner I was looking forward to a night of the Aurora. I was sorely disappointed when unexpected clouds began to roll in at 3:00 PM. I need to have a discussion with the weatherman around here because they consistently blow the cloud cover forecast. However, by about 10 the clouds were cleared off to the north, which gave me hope to see the aurora. I headed to Murphy Dome, my favorite borealis perch, and when I got there it had already started! The aurora tonight was had an added twist of some cloud cover. I was a bit disappointed by that at first, but soon realized it had its benefits! A green ‘lightening’ storm was happening over head. The thin clouds were lit up much like the clouds of a thunderstorm. The effect was really quite stunning. I think that the timelapse video below captures that!

But, what is a timelapse? I use it a lot, and thought I would give a quick tutorial for those unacquainted! It is one of my favorite techniques to shoot, because it allows me to be hands-off with the camera and enjoy whats around me. The camera does a majority of the work! To understand a timelapse you have to first understand a movie. Movies are traditionally shot at about 24fps (I believe that’s correct, but let me know if I am not). That means every second 24 frames are shot and displayed. A timelapse, rather than shoot in ‘real time’ (ie: 24 fps), takes shots over an extended period of time and then combines them together at 24 fps. So, for example : tonight I was shooting 20 second exposures (22mm, f/2.8, 800 ISO) and taking one shot every 25 seconds. A little bit of simple math of 24 (frames)x25(seconds between each shot) gives us 600 seconds for every second of compiled video. In essence, that means for every second of video you are seeing 10 minutes of ‘real life’. That makes time pass pretty quickly!

I had a new, added benefit tonight. I am shooting my new Tokina 11-16. This is the first time I have mounted it to my OmD Em5, and wanted to give a little review for any Micro Four Thirds users. The lens shoots almost perfectly on the MFT system. One thing I noticed was some distortion on the edges. Definitely keep your shots in the center of the lens. This contradicts what I read about the lens being clean from edge to edge. Even adapted this lense shoots very fast and is a markable step up from my 12-50 EZ kit lens which I have traditionally used due to its viewing area. And, on the topic of viewing area, I didn’t seem to lose any of the 108 degree specified by the manufacture. I am shooting a Nikon Tokina, and was a bit worried I would lose some of the width due to adapting it up, but that didn’t happen. The only beef I have with the adapter is that it didn’t open the aperture all the way to 2.8. Rather, I had to wedge a piece of cardboard into the aperture expander to keep it open. I can adjust my aperature setting digitally with the MFT system, so it doesn’t really bother me that much. I basically want to shoot it wide open anyway. Overall though, I couldn’t be more happy with the lens for this Aurora shooting!

So, without further ado here is the Aurora from tonight. There is a good Aurora forecast coming up. If you are in Alaska, keep you eyes to the sky. I know I will be!

Burbot Fishing : Burbot Tacos

I know my friends and family in Minnesota have been getting slammed by blizzards, wind and cold weather. But, here is Alaska, it here it quite the opposite! Our 30 + degree temperatures have caused travel havoc and even led to classes being cancelled on Friday – all because of the warm weather!

This weekend I turned over a new leaf in my Alaska adventures by digging some holes in the ice and setting some overnight lines, “trot lines”, on the Tanana River. On the river, Burbot (eel pout, slimers, Lota lota, etc. ) are pretty common. They can be captured by leaving baited lines out over night. To be legal you need to hold a current fishing license, have a hook with a gap LARGER than 3/4 of an inch between the shank and tip, leave your name on the sets, and don’t set more hooks than fish you can have in your daily bag limit. I wanted to do quite a ‘production’, so here’s a quick video of different timelapse and shots from the two days. Hopefully it captures how much fun it is to get outside and do this great winter activity!

I went out with a group of friends and we had a blast putting the lines in. Part of the challenge was having a 6 inch hand auger, we quickly upgraded to the chain-saw. With upwards of 3 feet of ice, it was quite a bit of work no matter which way you did it! At the end of the day we were happy to celebrate the sun, pack up our gear, and head for home.

The Burbot Boyz and The Burbot Girl
The Burbot Boyz and The Burbot Girl

The lines are left out over night and then checked the next day. The fish were not jumping through the hole, but here is my first one through the ice in AK! It was a pretty big one, and I have heard fish this size may be 20 years old!

Success, my first burbot through the ice in Alaska!
Success, my first burbot through the ice in Alaska!

From the river this fish was converted straight into a fabulous meal of burbot tacos. The fish was pan seared in cayenne, salt, paprika, cumin, and chilli powder. For toppings we had fresh guac, cheese, onions, black beans, sour cream and the roasted poblano peppers. One fish was enough to feed 5 hungry burbot fishers.

Burbot tacos with Roasted Poblanos and Jalapenos, Guacamole, Black Beans, Cheese and Onions. WOW! They were incredible!
Burbot tacos with Roasted Poblanos and Jalapenos, Guacamole, Black Beans, Cheese and Onions. WOW! They were incredible!

If you want to know more about Burbot fishing in AK, just Google it. The Department of Fish and Game has a great informational website on it. You can learn all about strong lines, strong poles and locations to fish. http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=anglereducation.burbot

The Boreal Travel Plaza : A Cold Day at Sax Zim Bog

Ahoy Readers!

Yesterday Kassie and I made it to Sax Zim Bog (http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/sax_zim_bog_iba.html) to go look for some of the boreal bird species that move in for the winter. In the region there are northern hawk owls, great grey owls, boreal chicadees and black-backed woodpeckers – of course there are many, many more!. Our goal was to beat the cold snap we are having in Minnesota right now – in fact due to the cold Governor Dayton called off school for Monday on Friday! That hasn’t been done since 1997. Although with windchill values exceeding 60 below for Sunday and Monday night I think it’s warranted. Amazing that I can experience the same intense cold in Alaska and Minnesota.

Cold temps in Perham this week!!
Cold temps in Perham this week!!

Sax Zim bog is located just south of Buhl, Minnesota on the ‘Iron Range’ (http://goo.gl/7mBiuM). I actually spent quite a bit of time up there as a kid, my dad is from the Hibbing region, and attended high school at Buhl.Here is the description of the area from the DNR website : ” Level to gently rolling topography are characteristic of this region. The largest landform is a lake plain. Soils include extensive areas of peat over both fine-textured and sandy lacustrine deposits. This site includes sledge meadows, lowland brush and hayfields. There are stemless lady’s slippers and other species of bog vegetation including sundew, pitcher plant, leatherleaf and bog birch.This well known wintering area for Great gray owls, Northern hawk owls, and Rough-legged hawks is an ideal habitat for more than 240 species of migrant and breeding birds.”. The opportunities are indeed great there! For more information on the area and the opportunities there visit : http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/sax_zim_bog_iba.html http://sax-zimbog.com/ http://sax-zimbog.com/birding-festival/ http://www.saxzim.org/

Birding at Sax Zim Bog. Image credit goes to : http://www.askthebirds.org/2012/07/sandhill-cranes-at-sax-zim-bog.html
Birding at Sax Zim Bog. Image credit goes to : http://www.askthebirds.org/2012/07/sandhill-cranes-at-sax-zim-bog.html

One of the northern migrants in Sax Zim are the northern shrikes. These birds are classified as song birds, but are carnivores. The eat insects and small rodents. They are known as ‘butcher birds’ because to cache food they impale their prey on sticks, thorns, or even barbed wire! The northern shrike below was stooping over the field hunting an unknown prey. I was able to capture the bird as he stooped into the blustery winds as and perching on a nearby branch.

Northern Shrike stooping in the blustery winds at Sax Zim Bog
Northern Shrike stooping in the blustery winds at Sax Zim Bog
Northern Shrike at Sax Zim Bog
Northern Shrike at Sax Zim Bog

Even with the condition of blustery wind we had some great opportunities to see some cool birds. Boreal chickadess are a migrant here we found a couple at the feeders there. Gray jays and a red-breasted nuthatch were also found at the feeders.

Boreal Chickadee at the feeders in Sax Zim Bog
Boreal Chickadee at the feeders in Sax Zim Bog
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Gray Jay at Sax Zim Bog
Red-breasted nuthatch at Sax Zim Bog
Red-breasted nuthatch at Sax Zim Bog

As we were driving along the roads looking for owls Kass spotted a ruffed grouse sitting in the trees. She thought it was an owl right away, and so did I!!

Ruffed grouse at Sax Zim Bog
Ruffed grouse at Sax Zim Bog

At the end of the day we never did see any owls. The windy and cold conditions kept the owls hunkered down. However, I didn’t want to leave you without some pictures of them! Part of the reason we went up there was Erik Bruhnke, who runs Naturally Avian. Naturally Avian is his bird tour, education, and photography business and I absolutely encourage you to check out his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/NaturallyAvian). If you enjoy birds and just feeling happy subscribe to his page, his posts and photography are both incredible. By visiting the page you’ll be able to see a lot of the birds that we ‘dipped’ (did not see) on. His pictures of boreal, great grey, and northern hawk owls are honestly second to none and are award winning. By visiting the Sax Zim bog website you can see great photography of the owl species and the boreal migrants.