May 17, 2015

WHOOO HOO is that?! It’s a GREAT HORNED OWL!

Filed under: Interesting Things, Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 11:05 am

Back in the middle of April, a few friends told me about a Great Horned Owl pair that were nesting in a windowbox in a rather urban part of Fairbanks. The windowbox was on the side of a building with businesses on the first floor and apartments on the second floor.

From what I was hearing at the time, there were two eggs in the nest, but only one actually hatched. The female owl spent all of her time in the nest, sitting on the eggs and then later keeping the owlet warm, while the male hunted and brought her food.

I visited the nest for the first time on April 24th. There were several others in attendance, and I gathered that as word spread, more people would be stopping by to see and photograph them. Fortunately, during the times I was there, everyone was behaving quite respectful of the owl family - keeping their distance, keeping their voices down, and otherwise just standing and watching or photographing. I imagine the owls would have preferred a little more privacy, but I was drawn to them - like so many others - especially as they had chosen such an odd place to raise their family.

Much of the time, especially in the evening hours, the male owl would perch on the pole next to the windowbox, keeping watch over his little family. We were already seeing the longer daylight hours of late spring, so the evening hours tended to be after 8pm. At other times of the day, the male owl would perch on a nearby power pole, where he could also keep an eye on his family, but see the many voles (small rodents) running back and forth in the grass below.

These are some of the first photos I took of the owls - on April 24th. I knew there was an owlet in the box, but he didn’t show himself. These were taken about 8:30pm, and the sun is still very bright:

Great Horned Owl Pair Female Great Horned Owl Male Great Horned Owl

I returned the next evening (April 25th), and caught my first glimpse of the owlet! He was quite the homely fellow with his sparse, downy feathers, and yet so incredibly adorable too.

Great Horned Owl Female and Owlet, Fairbanks AK April 25 2015

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May 7, 2015

Denali - The Spring Shoulder Season

Filed under: Roadtrips, Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 10:51 pm

Denali Park’s “shoulder season” is fully upon us. While I have already made several trips into the park once the road opened to mile 12 and then mile 15, my trips have become much more frequent since it opened to mile 30 (Teklanika).

DENALI - APRIL 18th

My first trip into the park - to Teklanika - was with my friend Tracy on April 18th. The road was still snowy and icy in many places, but not too dangerous to drive on with some care. The landscape was mostly white with snow too, and the mountains appeared to be a shade of blue where they showed beneath the snow. We didn’t see one animal. I don’t even think we saw birds on that trip. But it was still wonderful to be out in nature. Unfortunately the mountain didn’t show itself either.

When we reached the end of the road, we decided to walk down to the Teklanika Bridge - about a half mile from the parking area. The wind was very strong, and very cold, so we put on our snowpants and parkas before taking off. I am so glad I packed my heavy winter gear because even with temps in the low 40s, it was COLD!

Once we reached the Teklanika River Bridge, we had to turn our backs to the wind because it was so strong it made it hard to breathe. Tracy asked me if I wanted to go further, so we continued on another 2 miles - into the shelter of tall spruce trees. Once we entered the trees, it felt much warmer and the wind was blocked almost completely.

The only tracks we saw in the snow, besides human footprints, were dog paw prints and fat and knobby bicycle tire treads. We weren’t sure if any bears were up, so we kept alert. But even there, in the woods, we didn’t catch a glimpse of any wildlife. At mile 32, we turned and headed back to the parking lot. We walked a total of 5 miles, and I knew I’d feel the ache the next morning. Especially after sitting in the car for the 2.5 hour drive home.

And I did.

Denali Park Landscape Denali Park - Teklanika River from the bridge Mile 32 on the Park Road
Denali Park Road - past Teklanika Denali Park Landscape Denali Park Landscape

DENALI - APRIL 24th

On the 24th, I went back to Denali with my friend Joyce. I met Joyce several years ago, when I was belly dancing. Joyce is a dance instructor and her students have performed in all of the recitals over the years, as has she. I’ve always wanted to hang out with her, as I felt we had a few things in common and thought similarly about a lot of topics. So I invited her to go along with me to the park. I don’t think she’s ever visited the park in the shoulder season. I was happy when she said she’d go. We’ve gone together twice since then, and plan to go again next week.

On this visit - 6 days after my last visit - things were a lot more thawed. We had been seeing some really warm temperatures for late April (high 50s), and this time of year is known for fast melting, puddles, warmer temps, green up (new leaves) and wildlife waking up from hibernation. I was really surprised at how much more we could see, now that the blanket of snow was quickly disappearing. Best of all - the mountain was out!

Denali aka Mt McKinley

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April 23, 2015

Melting Snow and Butterflies, and Goodbye Aurora

Filed under: Aurora, Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 10:16 pm

Every day, more and more snow melts away, revealing the brown grass below. Our front yard only has a small patch of snow left, but our back yard - which is mostly in the shade - is still rather white. The snow in the woods has melted, so this big patch of white is surrounded by brown. I even noticed some green growing under the dead brown leaves from last year. It won’t be long. Some of my friends have reported seeing buds on the bushes. All I’ve seen so far is willow buds and catkins.

Yesterday, while I was out with Raven, a Green Comma butterfly flitted above my head and came to rest on an old tree stump, where it basked in the sunshine. Later in the afternoon another (or the same one) flew around the back yard and landed on our shed door where the sun was hitting. I didn’t have my camera, so no photos this time, but you can imagine how exciting this was for me. I literally found myself smiling from ear to ear as I watched it fly. (The smile was also because my mother loved butterflies, and seeing it made me think of her) I am really looking forward to seeing more butterflies, and wildflowers, and especially green leaves on the trees.

Because I blogged about our trip to Valdez in my last entry, I didn’t post photos from the week leading up to the trip, so I wanted to share them now. A week ago, I photographed my last aurora display. The northern lights did show a few times after I took these photos, but I have just been too tired to wait up for them, considering they don’t usually show up until after midnight, and the sky is too bright to see them by 4am. (I am loving all the daylight that’s coming back!)

These photos were taken between midnight and about 1:15am on the early morning of April 16th. I think these are the latest aurora photos I’ve ever taken while living here, but I could be wrong. In these photos, you can see that the lower part of the sky is still fairly bright as the sun isn’t too far below the horizon.

Aurora over the Slough, North Pole, AK

Aurora Aurora Aurora
Aurora Aurora Aurora
Aurora Aurora Aurora
Aurora Aurora Aurora

DUCK, DUCK, GOOSE …  & SWANS

The arrival of waterfowl at Creamers Field, and on the Chena River, is one of the first indications that Spring has arrived in interior Alaska. As the snow begins to melt, the Friends of Creamers Field prepares for the arrival of Canada geese, ducks, swans and other waterfowl on their migration through this part of the world.

Here’s a photo of Creamers Dairy, at Creamers Field, with just a small snippet showing the geese and swans present. Someone told me there were 40 swans at Creamers at one point. Today, when I visited, I only saw two. I’m glad I was over there before they flew off.
Swans, Ducks, and Geese at Creamers Field Fairbanks AK

I took the photos of the ducks at the Chena River near Pioneer Park. These ducks winter over in Fairbanks, because folks keep them fed and the water stays warm due to hot water being discharged by the power plant upstream. The pigeons also winter over here. It’s much better to view and photograph them in the spring than in the winter (in my opinion). I always feel so sad for them when it’s so cold out, whether the water is warmer or not. I have seen ducks there in the winter with frost on their feathers. That can’t be any fun! I wish they would leave with the other birds in the fall and spend their winter in a warmer place.

Goose at Creamers Field Geese at Creamers Field Two Pairs of Swans
Mallard Duck Pair and Pigeon near Chena River Two Mallard Drakes and a Hen Mallard Drake
Pigeon and Ducks Pigeon Mallard Hen
Mallard Drake Pigeons Mallards
Mallards Mallard Drake Mallard Drakes
Mallard Drake Mallard Pair Mallards
Trumpeter Swan Pair at Creamers Field Trumpeter Swan Pair Creamers Field Trumpeter Swans, Creamers Field

Things should start thawing out more quickly as the temperature continues to rise. While April is my least favorite month (dirty snow, litter appears, bare trees, etc), it is also a reminder that soon the green will return. I can’t wait!

Until next time….