What does it mean to have a “long day” of fly fishing? The old adage says : a bad day of fishing is better than a good day in the office. Agreed. However, by the end of our sunny, late April day at the Magalloway River of northern Maine, my friend Kevin Shea and I were doubting that any of the trophy 22″ brook trout we were seeking could ever be caught in a river renowned for them. The brookies were not intrigued by our fly fishing techniques of finessing nymphs or stripping streamers, and drift after drift our lines stayed slack. After hours of the torturous work of standing in the water to fish (sensing the irony?), I turned my eyes to a soft spot on the bank and took a seat. The sun shown overhead, and in my memory not a cloud could be seen in the sky. At least that explained the poor fishing – they never bite on the nice days! The Magalloway River flowed in front of me, and several fisherman were down the bank from me about 25 yards still dredging the rocky bottom with their #18 beadheads.
It was the movement that caught my eye. A bird had flown near my left shoulder and disappeared. Turning my full attention to the area I watched a black-capped chickadee emerge from the end of a rotten alder log and fly off with a face full of sawdust. As it flew off, another of the gregarious birds quickly flew in to take the first’s place in the hollowed log, and seconds later reappeared with a mouthful of sawdust. The bird flew to the nearest branch and pulled apart the sawdust, apparently looking for some type insect or larvae. In its place a train of birds flew into the hollow log and then back out creating a constant stream of entertainment for a curious human.
The fearlessness of chickadees makes them a favorite bird of children and adults alike and is part of the reason chickadees are one of the best-known birds of North American feeders. [As a side note, these tiny birds are able to survive brutal winter (e.g. -40 F in Fairbanks, AK) temperatures by dropping their body temperature as much as 12-15 degrees below their average body temp every night, conserving as much as 25% or their body energy!] However, even though I had seen their antics many times at a bird feeder, this was the first time I had seen them so voraciously ripping apart wild fodder. It was addicting to watch the organized flow of black-caps eagerly looking towards their next meal!
Their consistent pattern of entering the log, and emerging a few seconds later gave me enough time to snag my camera and take some shots. The shots I captured sealed the moment in time and memory of these great birds for me, which is what I offer you today!
So, the old adage is right. However, arguably based on my day, a bad day of fishing is worse than a good bout of bird watching! The images, antics, and thoughts of these birds have stuck with me for the last 18 months. There’s always something to watch in nature, even if the fishing isn’t good!
For those of you who haven’t read through one of my ‘photographic reflections’ before they are entries from pictures I took before the blog started, but have a story. This one took place in 2013, I hope you enjoyed! I will leave you with this short clip of the Chickadees using the alder-log bonanza
It’s the great debate. As an Alaskan, winter resident, are you a skier? or do you don the snowshoes? I think the questions really waters down to : how much do you like getting off trails? Because, although I realize cross country skis CAN BE USED for off-road style outdoor adventure, I see that happening on a very limited basis. Anybody want to chime in here? I snowshoe because if you want to explore the woods during the winter you need mobility, and besides, I fall less on snowshoes :D.
Living in Fairbanks has proved to be a far different winter than my experiences of three years in Maine and my childhood (22 years a child) in Minnesota. One of the primary differences in the winter here in the interior is the wind! I have never seen anything like it, and my friends from Minnesota won’t believe this – we do not have wind. Blizzards, the bane of Minnesotan school systems, are unheard of here. In fact, school systems in Fairbanks do not close when the mercury dip to -40, they close when the weather warms up resulting in icy conditions! Snow that accumulates on railings and fence posts is likely to be in the same pile when the spring thaw begins. The stillness of the wind creates an interesting climactic condition in Fairbanks known as the ‘temperature inversion’. During the winter, the winds are an important mixer of air and because that mixing does not happen here, strong differentials are set as you climb elevation; in short, cold air is trapped in the valleys of the Interior region. This has a couple of ramifications, the first is as a home-owner you would rather have your house high on a hillside, because in extreme cases it could mean an extra 50 degrees of warmth! (http://www.alaskareport.com/science10059.htm). Secondly, below the inversion the development of ‘ice fog’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_fog) is a pest for home-owners and can build up on your house and car. I have watched this ice fog man mornings while studying from the Margaret Murie building on top of campus- a good example picture is shown in the Wikipedia article I’ve listed. The ice fog creates havoc for humans and incredible beauty in the wilderness. The white spruce, willow, dogwood and shrub birch become encases in ice crystals and look like long-forgotten freezer burned hotdogs. As you walk through the areas of hoar frost it is not hard to imagine scuba-diving through a snow-reef; the trees the coral and the snow the sand.
I’ve had a great time snowshoeing some of the lower and higher elevation areas of the Fairbanks. I’ve been focusing on Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest and the Murphy Dome region. Some of the days have been cold and require some extra face protection, but the views and sights have been exquisite. Although I did not see any wildlife, during my last trip to Murphy Dome I followed a fresh set of moose tracks, and found scat so fresh that I made sure to keep a watchful eye for any watching eyes; I was sure I was going to walk up on a moose. Snowshoe hair tracks were abundant as were red fox, mouse, and ptarmigan.
The series of images below represent the two different winter types of Alaska. The first three are all from Bonanza Creek. You’ll see that the wind doesn’t blow here too often, and tree-corals abound! The the sunlight illuminates them it is snowshoe stopping, many pauses were taken to observe the beauty of this classic,winter, wonderland!
This second set of images shows life in the ice fog area. The trees here are heavily laden with icy and snow and are bent and stopped. A stark contrast to the lightly laden branches of the bottom lands! The low-lying sun cast long shadows around all the trees. This time of year the sunrises at 10:20 AM and sets at 3:00 PM. The short days are illuminated by a sun that slides along the horizon, rather than going overhead and the cold sets fast once the sun is no longer keeping it at bay.
I wanted to leave you all with a short timelapse video of the sunset on Murphy Dome. This timelapse is comprised of 530 shots over an 1.25 hours time and is played at 30 frames per second. Some of you read in my post about my problems with my camera in the cold shooting the Aurora. I wanted to shoot this timelapse in good light conditions at similar temps (-10 degrees F) and see how my camera reacted. It did pretty well, and makes me think that some of my issues with the Aurora shoot were due to the High ISO and a stressed sensor. Lots more to learn!
My goal of this timelapse video was to capture the changing shadows on the hillside and the sunset. Enjoy!
I am incorporating a bit different aspect to my blog and will be periodically be taking some of the photos from the ‘past’ (before the creation of this blog) and writing about them; you will know if it’s one of these photos because I will start each entry with “Photographic Reflection”. These photos are not just unstructured, random selections, but are moments in time which hold tremendous significance for me. There are stories behind the photos which cannot be portrayed just from 1000 words worth of pixels (using the old adage) and I’m hoping to take them into a third dimension. If I’ve done my job these entries will serve as an insight into my senses and perception of the moment the image was captured, and will securely place these moments in my oral/narrative past.
October 30, 2013 marked the 1 year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, which was the second hurricane I experienced during my three years of living in Maine. It differed a lot from Hurricane Irene which rolled through in 2010. Hurricane Sandy brought sustained 50 mile-per-hour winds to the Northeast coast and winds gusting to 64 miles-per-hours pushed up towering waves which broke upon the granite coast of Maine. During my visits to Dire Point, Pine Point and Cape Elizabeth leading up to the storm the waves continued to grow larger and the evening grew darker. By the time night had fallen the weather buoys outside of the Portland Harbor were reading wave heights of 18 feet or more. It was interesting staying in the house that night. As the winds howled outside the house felt close but comfortable. Each buffet on the window brought a sense of security – false or not – because every time a tree resisted the urge to let Sandy tip it over the more confident you felt it would continue to prevail in the next onslaught. I went to sleep that night knowing the next morning would not be like one I had ever seen.
When I woke up an hour before sunrise I cracked open the shades and took a short evaluation of the trees outside my window. Aside from the smaller limbs down and a covering of leaves on the ground our yard trees seemed to be in pretty good shape. I got out of bed and grabbed my camera; it was my intention to head out and document the wanton destruction of Mother Nature’s daughter, Sandy. As I drove along Black Point Road towards Two Lights State Park I could not really perceive anything wrong with the world. Power lines were not tangled, there were few injured trees, flood surge was not present and all houses were intact. To emphasize this feeling of assurance that we had gone through the worst of it mostly unscathed, overhead the sky broke and turned yellow, lit by a low-lying sun just cresting the horizon. Somehow out of the suppression of the clouds there was a sunrise. I almost stopped the truck there, but quickly realized the sooner I made it to Two Lights the better. So onward I went, not seeing a single person on the streets and still seeing no damage.
When I reached the coast an ocean breeze was still pushing at about 15 miles per hour. The tide was going out at the time and the rolling waves from last nights chaos were crashing in long periods on the coast, still towering from 6 to 9 feet. Although the waves were incredible to behold, it was the sunrise, spread in front of me, which was the most powerful. On both sides of the sun the dark clouds of Sandy were still present, however, right then I was experiencing the true calm after the storm. The waves broke on the rocks in millions of diamonds illuminated by the warm, yellow light of the sun. The spray produced was pushed by the wind into your face and it smelled of new ocean. I truly attest that the water smelled different than any other day and the tremendous mixing of the waters the night before had somehow changed the waters and how they reacted with the nose.
I sat and watched the sunrise for a long time. The speed that Sandy still moved created a dynamically shifting set of lighting and angles in which to watch the landscape. I moved closer and closer to the water edge until every wave that crashed in front of me sent a soaking spray over me and my camera; I realized quickly how important it was to cover my camera. As I crouched in the rocks the frothy waters would boil over my feet and recede again before being renewed by each new wave. After a short period I moved away from my post at the waters edge and perched 15 feet above the water. In another 10 minutes Sandy had regained control of her domain and again the sky was gray and flat. The waves still crashed, but as they broke in the flat light you would never they had been diamonds just moments before.
The sunrise after Hurricane Sandy may stand out as the most incredible sunrise I will ever experience. This moment I feel was reserved for me alone. I was alone when the sunrise started and was unperturbed by any human as the sun wrestled with the Storm. I only saw one other person on the coast that day, and as far as I know the pictures you see here are the only proof of the beauty of that morning.
Below is a short video of several sequences of timelapse from the morning. I couldn’t dedicate my camera to taking more than short bursts of images because the spray was constantly getting on the lens. Not to mention I needed to aim it in other directions to capture as much as possible! So, if you watch the video below keep that in mind. It’s very short and the waves never look as big actually were.
Thanks for reading everyone! I hope you enjoyed the look into the past as much as I enjoyed writing about this. I hope to continue these reflection pieces from time to time.
Since my last entry I have departed from Maine and driven to Minnesota with my dear mother. She was willing to tolerate me (and I her? 🙂 ) on the 1800 mile journey between those two states. After reaching home I spent a few days there before leaving on a sabbatical/vacation/adventure for the west with my Girlfriend, Kassie Pesch. This trip has a few purposes including seeing the west, birding, being a naturalist and visiting my brother in Idaho for a few weeks. I am struggling on the best way to display some of the many images taken on this trip. Group them by location? by activity type? by species? By genera? After a lot of consideration I have decided to display them chronologically or by species groups. I’ve also done my best to show my pictures which I feel demonstrate the region where they were taken.
NOTE: it’s kinda long blog entry, but I hope you’ll take the time to read through it all. Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think or what you might like to see for next time!
NOTE 2: I’m not much of a proof-reader when it comes to non-critical things as a blog entry. SO, please ignore and work around any errors. THANKS! 😀
TEDDY ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK
Teddy Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) is located in the western side of North Dakota. It can be seen here (MAP LINK). The land is divided into 2 ‘units’. The north and the south.
Spotted Towhee are one of the common birds found throughout the praire lands of North Dakota. Here a spotted towhee is sitting above the painted canyons.
And, speaking of the Painted Canyons here they are! These are extenstion of the Badlands of South Dakota, to which many are familiar. If anyone every drones on how flat and boring North Dakota is… it’s probaby because they have not been far enough west! These painted canyons are beautiful in any light, but when a sunset or sunrise pours over them the lights up in reds, browns, grays and and greens that twist together into one of the most memorable scenes you can have. These lands are aptly named by the ox-cart travelers. They cannot be farmed or easily traversed.
Here they are, the mosaic and color of the Painted Canyons! These clay balls become like grease when wet. They colors meld together into the painted landscapes that surround you on all sides as you hike through them.
This bird is unidentified, however, I just throught it was amazing how big of a meal he was able to find in the wilderness of the prairie. Dinner is served!
This American Crow may be one of the most common birds that people remember. They are known for the intelligence and social behavior. This one obviously knew that I was not a threat, and allowed me to approach him quite closely!
Here are just a couple of the flowers that you’ll find in the prairie and painted canyon lands of North Dakota. The pink flower on the left is a rock rose and the flower on the right is prairie smoke. It certainly is well named. I can see both the red-fire of it’s flower and the smoke of the seeds poking from it!
Bison are the ICONIC mammal of the plains of ND, WY and SD. These mammals once numbered in herds that numbered in the millions, but were hunted to near extinction by pioneers and settlers throughout the course of the history in the early west. These days there are stable populations of these great animals throughout the plains. However, one thing that is hard to convey in a picture is just how enormous they are! Here, on the left, I’m hoping that the picnic table gives scale to this large bull who was scratching his beard on it. The bull on the left may have been even bigger! He had littler concern for us as we passed by.
Here are another famous mammal of the canyon lands. The residents of Prairie Dog Town! These rodents are known for colonizing large areas and often spend their days chewing grass. The advantage of being in such a large colony is that many eyes see coyotes, raptors and humans much better than few! The young prairie dogs shown on the left were about half grown. They were always the first do disappear when the warning “CHURRIPS!” were sound across the Town.
And, since we are on the mammals of Theodore Roosevelt Nation Park here is one the most sought after, mystical and famous. The ‘wild’ horses of the plains. These horses are not truly native, but are feral horses who range throughout the plains eating grasses and raising young. The thought of them being feral doesn’t take away from their beauty! They are often seen at sunset or in the dusky hour grazing in roadside areas. On the left they are shown on a distant ridge-top silhouetted against the waning sunset. On the right a group of horses are harboring two foals as they graze along.
There are naturally many birds that are throughout the painted canyons and TRNP. On this trip we did have some that we absolutely wanted to see, and here are a few of them! On the left a red-headed woodpecker browses through its favored cottonwoods. Unfortunately it was an overcast day when this photo was taken, because he’s such a beautiful bird! In the middle a lazule bunting sounds out to all the single females around him, hoping to find a mate. And on the right an orchard oriole sits up in the evening sun. One other oriole not pictured here, but was a ‘lifer’ (one that I had never seen) was the bullock’s oriole. Maybe next time I’m in TNRP I’ll get the opportunity to take pictures of them!
The sunrise of over TNRP in the morning was truly a treat, and was a great way to start the end of our stay at TNRP. The fog, sunlight, cottonwoods and canyons were a delightful combination!
Although tent caterpillars are never a welcome site, you cannot really deny their uniqueness and beauty. Based on the number of tents and emerging worms that were seen I think that it will be a bad year for the trees, but a good year for the birds! I predict it will be a prolific year. My grandmother, Phyllis, once told a story of these caterpillars being so thick when growing up in northern MN that the trains were unable to stop due to the slickness of the tracks! Here the tent worms are shown dappled in the sunlight.
MISSOURI NATIONAL GRASSLANDS
The Little Missouri National Grasslands (LMNG) are vast, and beautiful. They house many birds and animals. If you have have the opportunity to watch a thunderstorm roll over these plains, be sure you take it and enjoy it! It is powerful to watch the distant rain and thunder arc between sky and land. Our tour of the LMNG brought out many of the classic grassland birds. Here are just a few!
This marbled godwit was actually a bit pesky! It was so intent on protecting its nest it stood in front of the car and tried to shoo us away. You do not always think about the shorebirds of the Great Plains, but they are there, and plentiful to boot! Another interesting example is included below.
This is a Wilson’s Phalrope. One of the most interesting things about this bird is that the femals are colorful and the males are drab! In this species the male actually determines which of the females he thinks is the most fit and beautiful! They are a pint sized bird and I believe they are smaller than a robin. Here these two females are shown wading and foraging.
There are many, many types of blackbirds in the prairie! Here, a yellow-headed black bird looks on while perched on a cattail and a bobo-link trills perched on top of this fencepost. Fence posts are actually a great place to observe many of the grassland birds as it offers them a vantage point for predators and a high visibility location for likely mates to see them. Below are a few more of the examples birds that like to sit high on the posts.
This horned larked (left) was sitting on his vantage point. I’m not sure if he was just enjoying the sun or watching for predators. However, the savannah sparrow (right) had a purpose for his high post! Sing and show off for the ladies. This sparrow sat on top of his post and quivered his wings sporadically and held poses before signing to anyone would listen. When we departed 5 minutes later he was still intent on wooing a mate!
Below is another of iconic birds of the grasslands. The eastern meadowlark is known for its beatiful voice and striking yellow breast. They will often sit as high as possible, but are often very skiddish to approaching humans.
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK
After leaving grasslands of the Little Missouri we were off to Montana and Glacier National Park (GNP) which can be seen at this link here: MAP LINK . Montana is known as the big sky country, and rightfully so! Our trip to Glacier was filled with grand views and grasslands. We skirted to the south of GNP and then came into the west side of the park, where I had never been before. About 8 years ago I had the opportunity to do some backpacking in the east side. One of the great parts of the west side, as I found out, is that many of the roads are maintained as gravel for cultural reasons. The terrains and means of getting to it are rugged. We stayed 2 nights at the Bowman Lake Campground, located on the south end of Bowman Lake (MAP LINK) . I will put in a shameless plug for this area now and say if you get a chance to visit it, please do!!
However, before we made it up to Bowman Lake we had a few other things in Mind. Here, a river rages into the north end of McDonald lake, one of the biggest lakes in West Glacier. Our hike to this spot yielded a varied thrush, a lifer for me! We also had a special duck on the brain when visiting this area. Did we get him?? You bet! See below!
Harlequin ducks are one of the most unique ducks I can think of. They remind me of clowns. Harlies breed in the river areas of mountains and feed on invertabrates. On the left two males are shown looking for larvae and crayfish. I thought it was simply lucky and incredible to catch this male with his head in the water while looking straight at me. Look at those eye spots he has!! The female in the middle is drab compared to the males, but a very cool duck. On the left a male takes a rest on the rocks in the middle of the river. There was a significant event in GNP in regards to these ducks this year. Biologists now know that they get OLD! In short, a banded duck was found that is a minimum of 17 years old. For the full story you can visit here: STORY OF 17 Y/O HARLIE DUCK
You have never seen night until you experience it in an area with no lights except the stars! The number of stars in the sky is truly unbelievable. Here, three different starscapes were captured. On the left the starts were captured looking straight up through the ponderosa pines. In the middle the stars are captured looking to the north over Bowman Lake. And in the image on the right an 8 minute exposure shows the celestial movements that never cease!
The next morning we headed out the the Numa Lookout Fire Tower. The climb to the tower moved up 3000 feet and ended at 6900′. The trail was well graded throughout and I would recommend it to anyone! The view from the top was beautiful, see for yourself! Here, the panorama of the mountain top show as well as a Glacier Lily set to a mountainous landscape in the rear.
We also found several birds to look at throughout the day. Some of the highlights included ruffous humingbird ( not pictured), pine siskins (left), WESTERN TANAGER, McGillvary’s Warbler, Dark Eyed Junco (oregon phase) and townsend’s solitaire. Of course, of all of these birds the tanager is the visually most stunning! I’m a bit disappointed that the light was so dingy when we saw them, but I think you’ll get the point!
Our way up and down was also graced with may types of flowers. One of the most dainty and beautiful is the fairy slipper, which is pictured below. Can you imagine a fairy wearing it??!
Up and down the trail there were also many stalks of bear grass. It looked as though thousands of of tee-balls were stacked throughout the woodlands waiting for a couple of teams of players.
Were also found a wild form of clematis , Western virgin’s bower. Clasping-leaf Twisted-stalk which reminded me of soloman’s seal and the Glacier Lilies, which I’ve featured again.
Our next morning yielded a foggy, moody morning over the mountains which had been layered in stars just two nights earlier. Again, I can’t emphasize just how breathtaking EVERY moment was here!
And finally, a few of the pictures of the instigation and reason for this trip, family! The reunion of my brother, sister-in-law and nephew is sweet indeed! Here we are on our hike up a portion of Mt. Mickinnick
On our trip up the mountain we came across quite an array of flowers! One of the most unique to me was the Coral root, shown here.
And, here, in no particular order, are some of the others! I do know their names, but for now, perhaps just the visual will do?
So, that’s the first week of my 3 week trip to the west! Please check back in for parts 2 and 3 of this blog which will include conquering the daunting Scotchman’s peak, trips to Kootenaie NWR and to the Redwoods or California! I will leave you with this one last photo of an osprey feasting on a Kokanee salmon in the Kootenai NWR. COOL!
This half pint porcupine was just too funny. I was birding with Robby Lambert and heard a rustlin in the woods. This guy came trundling out and panicked when he saw me. So, he climbed the first thing that he could. An 8 foot pine tree! He got about half-way up before realizing that it was time to switch from “RUN!!” to “BLEND IN!”. I can just imagine this little guy thinking “I Am a Pine Tree… I am a pine treee…. I am a pine treeee”. So cute and so funny!!
In fact. I even wrote a short ballad about him:
Deep in his thoughts
Porky trundled along
As a human next to him
Listened for a bird song
When their eyes quickly met
Neither would or could forget
And one scrambled up a tree
As the other slang his OM-D
But alas! This tree is too short!
Thought Porky, I have no retort!
The human thought differently, this tree is just right!
Now, only if I had a bit better light
So they stood eye to eye
And then it was done
For the porky had transformed into a pine tree
And the human had had his fun