Tag Archives: Spring

2016 Alaskan Calendar is Now for Sale!

Hello Everyone,

I am very, very, very  excited to write inform you of the release of my 2016 calendar! The content features some of the best imagery on this website, plus a few things that have never seen the “light of day”. The calendar is entitled “Seasonal Moods of Alaska” with imagery for each month captured in that month. The calendar is 100% designed by me including feature images, transparent images, windows, and text tying the imagery to the season. A huge thanks to my family and fiance for helping to proof the calendar! I believe the final product is a work of art mingled with science.

If you want to see it, clicking on the cover image or link link will bring you to the sales site that I created.  Otherwise, keep reading for some more information 🙂

2016 Seasons and Moods of Alaska Cover

https://ianajohnson.com/customproducts/

The calendar is printed on 9.5×13 paper and spiral bound leaving ample of room to write in your schedule. Of course it has a hole for hanging if that is all you want to do with it! With imagery from throughout Alaska, the calendar is a great memento of your trip to Alaska, for a friend who has been here, or to bring inspiration for your future trip here!

This calendar is being printed by my local shop in Perham, Minnesota. Your consideration and support also helping the local economy in Perham.

2016 Calendar Final 9halfx138
Each month has a premier image. This image from Mendenhall glacier showcases the high resolution imagery within the calendar.
2016 Calendar Final 9halfx1323
Every month has a transparent image behind the grid, and small windows with images from that month. Writing in the lower right panel ties together fuses the imagery and writing together.

The calendar will be available for pre-order through October 15th. At that time I will begin shipping orders. You can help me out a huge amount by spreading the word about this calendar or through a purchase! Thanks you so much in advance for your support in this project!

Colorful Seasons in Alaska

There is nothing more beautiful than a wildflower, but what about them makes them so beautiful? Surely the details in them are often astounding. Long stamens, unique petals, or colorful flowers may dazzle the eyes. Alternatively, the beauty of a wildflower may be linked to its overall surrounding. We often find them perched in rocky crags, in front of mountain vistas, at the edge of our favorite pond, or along our favorite hiking trail. Each wildflower represents a detailed, wild beauty, and that beauty grows as you consider the ecosystem and ecology that surround them.

Wildflowers excel at telling us the progression of summer. In Alaska, one of the first wildflowers of spring, pasque flowers, spring up in large purple and yellow blossoms welcoming the queen bumble bees which have just woken up from a long winter. Similarly, the early blooms of purple mountain saxifrage provide a critical nectar resource for queen bees. However, the timing, or phenology, of wildflowers in Alaska is changing with a warming climate. Changing flower timing can effect insects populations, and in turn birds by growing at different times than they have for milleniums. An example that we (I believe) have all noticed is a quickly melting snowpack. As snowpack melts earlier it has repercussions on when a flower starts to grow and bloom by moving it earlier, and buds may freeze in the still cold temperatures (Inouye 2008). This changes the plant’s fitness and also the flowers available to pollinators.  Although the genes of plants may have enough flexibility accommodate some of the effects of climate change, they may need to evolve to ultimately survive (Anderson, Jill T., et al. 2012).

This summer I’ve turned my lens to all of the wildflower blooms I can. I am actually pretty astounded by the number of species I have photographed and learned! When photographing them I both put them in their surroundings, and captured the fine details of their beauty. Some of these images are availble for purchase through my Fine Art America gallery. I hope you enjoy this extensive collection of the colorful seasons of Alaska! Photos are featured in the month that I captured them, rather than when they first start blooming.

June

July

August

 

If you’ve made it this far then I want to let you know that these images are available in a single page as well with some images that are not featured in this post:

https://ianajohnson.com/wildflowers-of-alaska/

Identification Sources:

If you are looking for Alaskan wildflower identification I cannot say enough about the utility of these two sites:

http://www.turtlepuddle.org/alaskan/wild/flowers-1.html

http://www.alaskawildflowers.us/

USDA Plant Database http://plants.usda.gov/java/

Literature

Inouye, David W. “Effects of climate change on phenology, frost damage, and floral abundance of montane wildflowers.” Ecology 89.2 (2008): 353-362.

Anderson, Jill T., et al. “Phenotypic plasticity and adaptive evolution contribute to advancing flowering phenology in response to climate change.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences 279.1743 (2012): 3843-3852.

A Wood Frog, Blog

Visually and sonically the pond was alive. Golden light of a pre-evening sun poured over the pond, and where the light fell on the far bank the sound of spring in Alaska, a loud wood frog (Rana sylvatica) chorus, echoed in the birches. Wood frogs are the only species of amphibian found in Interior Alaska, because let’s face it : there are not many species that can withstand -40 degree temperatures! In the winter, wood frogs burrow into the soil under leaves or woody debris and concentrate glucose in their blood as anti-freeze. However, the glucose only provides some relief. In the cold months with little sun, their heart stops beating, eyes freeze, blood freezes, and brain activity stops. By almost any definition the frogs would be declared dead, but when spring temperatures arrive the frogs thaw out from the inside-out (instead of the outside-in, scientists have no idea how), resume life, and jump into local ponds for reproduction. It was that yearly event that I stood in the middle of with my camera.

I waded into the ~55 degree water, and through the old vegetation of the pond. Crossing the 60 foot wide pond to where the frogs called, resulted in water mid-way up my thighs and soaked my pants. I draped a camouflage cloth over me and waited like a giant, brown heron (or maybe the swamp monster) for the frogs to start singing. When they did it started as a single croak which seemed to say “all clear”. Within no time the life of breeding wood frogs unfolded all around me. Only a few feet away, each frog that called swelled up pockets of skin along their cheeks and side, and sent a rippling well of water out from its body. I think that communication occurs both by sound and by the small waves of water, although that is just an observation. Many of the male frogs chased females while rapidly swelling their air sacs, calling, and sprinting towards females. Often their approaches seemed to be rejected. I watched as many males swam up rapidly to a female and attempt to mount, but were thwarted by an elusive mate. Often in denser vegetation, groups of frogs boiled in the water as a constant struggle to maintain a female ensued. As I watched the frogs many mosquitoes fed on their exposed heads. After seeing that, I hypothesize that frogs are an important early food source for mosquitoes. I stood for 90 minutes while my legs turned into cold stumps, and finally decided that I couldn’t take the cold water much longer. However, my 90 minutes in the water was worth it! The short video below captures just some of this behavior. Be sure to watch them call in slow motion. Enjoy!

Frogs in the spring have long been a part of my life. Growing up, my open window in the warming days would let their songs in. In the Midwest, higher frog species diversity adds a wider range of tenors and bass to the chorus. The small, 200 foot diameter “frog pond” just inside the woodline is a consistent producer of leopard frogs (bass), spring peepers (tenors), wood frogs, tree frogs (several species), and likely others. The frog pond was an important stomping ground for my brother and my nature education. Although I never got to observe the frogs very often because they were pretty elusive, we often collected eggs and tadpoles for rearing. So, finally after all these years, the opportunity to see these frogs in Alaska up close was a real treat!

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A quick selfie of frog photography.

Want to learn more? Check out this video highlighting some ongoing University of Alaska Fairbanks research!

Happy Dogs, Happy Days, Happy Trails!

Well folks, this post is officially #100 on this blog. A huge thank-you to all who have supported me and followed in my growth as a writer and photographer! It’s amazing to go back to old posts and reflect on how this site has changed. Some things have not changed much; it is still my mission and joy to bring you photography of wildlife, landscapes, and adventure, and couple some science along with it! Have a favorite moment on this blog from the last 100 posts? I would love if you left it in the comments below! Don’t worry – this site won’t be going away anytime soon 🙂

Early this afternoon I was being pulled by six eager sled dogs. Trails had been degraded and made icy by the recent 50 degree temperatures, and the sled which normally has some drag in snow, slid like it was on Teflon behind the twenty-four turning legs. The excited dogs would have fun as fast as I allowed. Of course my preservation of self made sure to reign in their energy; dumping a sled on these crystallized trails hurts more than on the snow! My sleeves were rolled back and my ungloved hands gripped onto the handle of the sled. The passing breeze did not even feel cold in the 55 degree temps. Leaning around turns and dodging spruce trees, I made my way along the fire break of Old Murphy Dome. Not a cloud was in the sky as we passed impressive vistas stretching to the north.  In the distance, the snow of the White Mountains was starkly white against the tree covered hills of the lower foothills.

I passed by Jeff, who had stopped his team in front of me. He wanted me to practice passing another team, and commands of “Gee”, “Alright”, and “On-by” ensured that the leaders knew to keep moving past the other team of stopped dogs. We practiced the procedure a couple more times. Over the winter Jeff has done a great job getting me comfortable with the sled, and teams. It was important to practice passing for our upcoming trip to the White Mountains. More dog-sledding adventures will be reported I return from Crowberry Cabin!

We made several stops along the way to help cool the dogs down. The warm spring temperatures are a dramatic change to the -30 degree temperatures only three weeks ago! Each time the dogs would dive into the snow banks, and push their faces into it. Their panting faces were obviously smiling. It was a beautiful and great day to be a dog or a driver. I did my best to capture their doggy-grins and the excitement of the day. I hope you enjoy!

The First Taste of Spring

Like a chick pecking its way out of a shell, one by one the patches of snow fell off the trees of the forest. As each ounce was shed from the trees, they raised up their still lifeless twigs up as if glorifying the sun, thanking it for removing the burden of many months. Throughout the forest cascades of snow starting from the tops of the highest branches tumbled and glinted like diamonds in the sun as the chunks were forced through the sifter of small branches by gravity. The warm rays of sun, an unknown entity through winter, warmed the dark branches. One by one they were free. 

The first time you taste spring after the winter is a moment of true joy. The resilience to cold developed through the winter makes you bold enough to walk in the 30 degree temps in a flannel. Moist air on your lips from evaporating snow, the heat of the sun on your face, and a touch of warm breeze on your face may make you bound for joy. Literally bound. It’s a bound that brings a smile to your face, and if others saw you, they would smile too. The feeling of spring is infectious.

Watching the bonds of spring being softened and eventually broken is a great thing! As the sun warmed my face this week the world was a visual wonder. Snow fell from the trees in smatterings and piles, sliding off from its own weight or from external catalysis. Busy chickadees feeding around the well-stocked feeder at my house perched on twigs, gleaned through the branches, soaked up the heat, and ensured all of the snow was sloughed away from the imprisoned trees before taking flight again. 

The first taste of spring is bittersweet. The knowledge that it ‘came too soon’ only pushes me to enjoy it more while I can. Winter certainly will try to take hold once again, and I will inwardly smile knowing that the next time it may be vanquished for good.

A few days ago the winter wonderland at the Sustainable Village was erased in an afternoon. I realized that the moment was happening so quickly that it could be captured on camera. Setting my up my camera I timelapsed the scene for the rest of the day. As you watch this video, focus on a spot and watch the change. I hope it gives you cheer and excitement for spring. Even if it is just a taste!

Fort Yukon, Alaska : Celebrating Spring!

Spring is in the air! In Fairbanks the trees are leafing out and the days are long and warm. Even now there are only several hours each day that are dark. 150 miles north of here, Fort Yukon is just starting to wake up for the season. I got to spend some time up there (it was much different than the last time I was here) and I made it a point find some of the things which represent spring. All around birds, plants, and humans are celebrating the season.

As an avid birder I am interested  in the new migrants which arrive in the spring. The Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge was set up to harbor waterfowl; they flock there by the 10’s of thousands. The small ponds dotting the landscape are ideal for brooding and raising chicks. My waterfowl list for the trip included a dozen species.  Passerines like yellow-rumped warblers and dark-eyed juncos were abundant. These two  species (e.g. yellow-rumps and juncos) are some of the first to show up for spring, and are a great indicator the season is here for good!

A canvasback salutes the sun and stretches its wings near Fort Yukon
A canvasback salutes the sun and stretches its wings near Fort Yukon
A pintail duck takes flight around Fort Yukon. AK
A pintail duck takes flight around Fort Yukon. AK
A yellow rumped warbler around Fort Yukon, AK
A yellow rumped warbler around Fort Yukon, AK
Dark-eyed Junco around Fort Yukon, AK
Dark-eyed Junco around Fort Yukon, AK

Waterfowl are pursued by Subsistence Hunters as they migrate north. Each spring it provides a new source of meat (in a region that depends on 85% of its meat from the wild) to replenish stores until the salmon arrive in July. In particular white-fronted geese, canada geese, and snow geese are shot. When I was touring around the village I found a place where the birds were plucked. An unusual (for the region) strong north wind blew the features onto the trees and ground. It looked like a massive and violent pillow fight had been staged there. I got to share in the bounty of goose soup, which was delicious!

A strong north wind blew up these goose feathers from the beach where they were plucked. During the spring migration, Subsistence users taken many types of waterfowl.
A strong north wind blew up these goose feathers from the beach where they were plucked. During the spring migration, Subsistence users taken many types of waterfowl.
The results of subsistence users. In the spring time geese are actively hunted, I got to share in the bounty with some delicious goose soup!
The results of subsistence users. In the spring time geese are actively hunted, I got to share in the bounty with some delicious goose soup!

The breakup for the Yukon River is a celebrated event by all who live on it and depend on it. River travel is fast, and gives residents access to some resources which have been unavailable since the previous fall. Although the Yukon has been clear for over a week large chunks of ice on the banks demonstrate the power it took to push them there and are a testament to how thick/resilient the ice can be! Over 8 feet of ice in some regions.

The Yukon River broke up in early May, but huge slabs of ice still cover the shore making boat access difficult in some areas.
The Yukon River broke up in early May, but huge slabs of ice still cover the shore making boat access difficult in some areas.
The power of the Yukon River pushed these ice chunks onto shore where they are still slowly melting away and feeding the river.
The power of the Yukon River pushed these ice chunks onto shore where they are still slowly melting away and feeding the river.

The leaves have not appeared on the trees yet, but spring pasque flowers, and willows have started to bloom. The bright yellow stems of the willows caught my eyes and were at stark contrast with the surrounding gray bark of the aspens. Especially eye catching was the contrast of the yellow stems and the blue sky! The base of the willows were dirty and marred where river water had washed over them just a few days earlier.

These yellow willows are a beautiful contrast against that deep blue sky!
These yellow willows are a beautiful contrast against that deep blue sky!

Yellow Willows

A newly bloomed pasque flower in the sunlight in Fort Yukon, AK
A newly bloomed pasque flower in the sunlight in Fort Yukon, AK
Pasque Flowers are the first flower to bloom in Fort Yukon, AK. Here they have just emerged on 05/15/14
Pasque Flowers are the first flower to bloom in Fort Yukon, AK. Here they have just emerged on 05/15/14

Spring is certainly in the air in Fort Yukon. Overall, it’s one of the ‘last’ springs to arrive in North America. I leave you with a still, spring sunset in one of the river braids of the Yukon. I hope you are having a great spring!

The sunset on a beautiful evening in Fort Yukon. It will not be long before the sun doesn't set at all!
The sunset on a beautiful evening in Fort Yukon. It will not be long before the sun doesn’t set at all!

The Three Bears

Yesterday I got a chance to observe some mothering and sibling rivalry. Bears in the Anchorage area have emerged, and mothers with new cubs are welcoming in the warm temps. Jonathan is filming bear behavior in the region for the BBC and needed a second man for that ‘just in case’ scenario that a bear became aggressive. Incredibly, Jonathan was able to find this sow bear and her two new cubs. Although you’ll see tags in the ears of this female, she has no tracking device – it was very lucky to find where she called home!

As we came up to the tree area it was very important that Mom knew we were there. We talked and walked up to the site, pausing to ensure she had seen us. Once we were settled in she paid little attention to us.

Momma bear hanging close to home and watching the frolicking cubs.
Momma bear hanging close to home and watching the frolicking cubs.

There was lots of opportunity to shoot video of some very classic and cute bear behavior. Check it out! 🙂

The cubs were a constant source of entertainment. The would scramble along logs and tumble off them, fight each other in miniature mock battles, and pester their mother who would sometimes pester them back. The bond between the bear cubs and the mother was evident – there certainly is some truth to that old adage!

The two cubs were always wresting with each other, you'll see this playful see in the video in this post :)
The two cubs were always wresting with each other, you’ll see this playful see in the video in this post 🙂
Two cubs playing 'cub scouts' up the tree trunk.
Two cubs playing ‘cub scouts’ up the tree trunk.
The limb to the left of this cub was their favorite part. They would climb up to it, rest for a bit, and then shimmy back down the tree.
The limb to the left of this cub was their favorite part. They would climb up to it, rest for a bit, and then shimmy back down the tree.
A cute shot of the cubs. One trying out tree bark and the other checking me out.
A cute shot of the cubs. One trying out tree bark and the other checking me out.
This cub looks deep in thought... wishing he was a bird?
This cub looks deep in thought… wishing he was a bird?

 

Through all of the cuteness there was  still a stark reminder of the fragility of life as a small bear cub. These two were meant to have one more sibling. One cub was laying dead outside of the den, and Jonathan had seen it earlier. We experienced the mother eating the dead cub. I can assume this is for two reasons, the first is that she can use the protein. At this time the mother cannot leave the den and feeds little. Second, the rotting body may attract predators or another bear and put her surviving cubs at risk. The mother ate the cub by tearing small chunks of flesh, even though it seems she could have swallowed it in one bite.

We experienced the mother bear eating the remains of her deceased third cub.
We experienced the mother bear eating the remains of her deceased third cub.

Overall I do not know if I could experience more joy in watching wildlife. Watching these two cubs enjoy the spring weather, and the tenderness of the mother was endearing. I feel privileged to have experienced it!

Momma bear and a cub touch noses.
Momma bear and a cub touch noses.

Nenana Ice Classic : When Spring is Finally Here!

Breaking up is a big deal. Especially if it’s the Nenana river at the end of a long Alaskan winter. The break-up of the river is an annual event attracting hundreds of optimistic gamblers. For a small price – $2.50 – participants buy guesses on what time to-the-minute the breakup of the Nenana will send a wooden tripod tipping over and moving downstream. Incredibly, the prize pool can go for hundreds of thousands of dollars! I’ve heard that the winner-takes-all prize is over $400,000 this year. Pretty incredible!

This event has been going on for decades. During that time the tripod has gone down stream on as much at 50″ of ice, but is often times much less. I visited on 04/20/14 and there were many people optimistic would occur in just a couple more days. No matter when it is, there are many who are looking forward to the opportunity of winning, and to the symbol of a new Spring in Alaska.

Nenana Ice Classic 2013.

http://www.nenanaakiceclassic.com/

The tripod at the Nenena ice classic is tethere to a three ropes. One sounds the alarm, one cuts the 'cleaver' and the other? Well, I'm actually not sure what the third does!
The tripod at the Nenena ice classic is tethere to a three ropes. One sounds the alarm, one cuts the ‘cleaver’ , and the other runs the clock. Once the tripod drifts far enough downstream the rope releases the cleaver which severs the clock line, and establishes the official time of break-up for the season!

Baxter State Park : Flowers, roaring water, wide vistas and Quintessential Spring

Sometimes you have to aim a bit lower than you want. If you were to head to Baxter state park you might have a Katahdin summit on the brain. I know I did! However, snowy conditions at the summit (on Memorial Day!) as well as high winds ensured that I wouldn’t be taking to the high-roads. So, Carl Anderson and I stuck to the lowlands for some birding and sightseeing. We covered some ground, about 5 miles, and it was perfect! Below are some of the pieces of spring in BSP that lead to an incredible experience.

Painted Triliums were a common forb along the trails and bogs. These flowers are delicate and beautiful! It was my first experience with these type of trilium. Very cool!

 

Painted Trilium - Baxter State Park, Maine
Painted Trilium – Baxter State Park, Maine

I’ve seen a lot of Ruffed Grouse in my time, but never had I seen such a “ruff” display. Incredible!

 

Ruffed Grouse
Ruffed Grouse

One of the northern breeding ducks, Ring-neck ducks are often confused with scaup. Here a female (above) is sunning herself on the rocks of Grassy Pond.  Below a male preens himself while a female looks on.

 

Ring necked Duckst at Baxter State Park
Ring necked Duckst at Baxter State Park

Ring-necked Duck Female

These white trillium are a bit of a mystery to me. If someone is reading this blog happens to know… are these white trillium a white phase of the painted trillium? Or are the a separate species?

White Trilium (species unknown)
White Trilium (species unknown)

 

A roarining waterfall at Baxter State Park
A roarining waterfall at Baxter State Park

A lifer bird for me this Swainson’s thrush was bouncing around the streamside at Abol Campground.

 

Swainson's thrush during a migratory fallout at Baxter State Park
Swainson’s thrush during a migratory fallout at Baxter State Park

Here’s the view of Mount Katahdin from the Dacey Pond road. See the snow on summit?!

 

A Panorama of Mount Katahdin
A Panorama of Mount Katahdin

Carl and I agree, Big Niagra falls (Above, Below) was instant Zen. How many times have you listened to the waterfalls and cleared your mind? I can guarantee, if you take the time to sit next to a waterfall, that you will not remember anything that you were thinking about! The sound, the smell, the vibrations in your chest, the sights all clear inundate and clear your mind!

 

Sitting at Big Niagra Falls, Baxter State Park with Carl Anderson
Sitting at Big Niagra Falls, Baxter State Park with Carl Anderson