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

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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….

April 17, 2015

Girls Trip to Valdez

Filed under: Photography, Roadtrips, Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 6:03 pm

Last weekend, two of my gal pals (Lacey and Amanda) and I drove to Valdez for a few days. Two years ago, my friend Amanda and I drove down just for an overnight stay, and were amazed at the amount of snow down there. You can read about that trip, and see the photos of all the snow, in my blog entry here.

What a big difference this year! We were shocked and amazed at the lack of snow in Valdez. Our friend Cheryl, who lives there, said it has been a relatively easy winter in Valdez - a place that usually averages more than 300 inches of snow per year.  I believe that this year they’ve only had about 30 inches of snow, which is just crazy!

The timing for our trip was a concern, as Arctic Man was going on down in the HooDoo Mountains, which is the area we would be traveling through. I was hearing reports of heavy traffic heading that way, many vehicles towing campers and trailers with snowmachines on them.  Since it’s one lane each way, I scheduled our departure for 6:30am on Friday morning. This would also give us the opportunity to see pretty morning light on the mountains down in the Delta area, if the weather remained clear.

We didn’t hit as much traffic as we anticipated, which was nice. And down in the Gulkana Glacier area, where Arctic Man is held, there wasn’t as much traffic or campers as we thought there would be. But then again, it was only Friday and the big race was on Saturday. Perhaps people needed to wait until they got off work to head down. (Arctic Man was later cancelled due to a big storm and snow dump, although many who already set up camp there, and had their snowmachines, elected to stay and make a weekend of it anyway.)

While there were patches of blue sky showing through, the area near Summit Lake also had quite a bit of heavy clouds overhead. This made photographs more challenging with an overabundance of bright white light, bright white snow, and very little detail to isolate the two from each other. In fact, when we came upon several swan pairs just south of Summit Lake, if not for the yellow-white of their feathers (when compared to the stark white of the snow), they would have blended right in with their surroundings. You can see a photo of them in the group below.

As we traveled south, we saw the temperature fluctuate from the low 40s down to the low 20s. Between Paxson and Glennallen, snow fell on and off, and I had to slow down to compensate for slightly slippery roads, reduced visibility, and in some places a more narrow roadway due to deep slush on the shoulders.

Before leaving that morning, I checked the weather report for Valdez, and was disappointed to see that they were calling for temps in the teens and twenties and intermittent snow and/or rain. When we hit this stretch of inclement weather, the three of us were quite disappointed as we expected this is what we’d see all weekend. Boy, were we wrong!

As we approached Glennallen, we could see pockets of blue sky ahead. We could also see the base of Mt Drum in the Wrangell Mountains. That was encouraging! We stopped for gas and to stretch our legs at the Glennallen Hub of Alaska ($3.31/gallon). Only 115 miles to go. We were making great time!

The heaviest clouds disappeared by the time we reached Worthington Glacier and Thompson Pass. The last miles to Valdez were under such sunny skies, we had to wear sunglasses because the bright light on the snow hurt our eyes. By 2:30pm, we were checked into our room at the Totem Inn, and ready to take off exploring. But first - lunch. We chose Old Town Burgers and were all pleased with our meal.

This photo of the three of us was taken outside of Valdez, at the welcome sign. This sign is really beautiful and is carved wood, but in the winter, they put a canvas *sleeve* over it with winter graphics on it. (I found a photo of the summer sign in another blogger’s post) As you can see by our outerwear, it was warm for April (about 41F!):

Me, Lacey, and Amanda at the Valdez Welcome Sign


April 5, 2015

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Filed under: Aurora, Everyday Life, Roadtrips, Wildlife — Susan Stevenson @ 5:10 pm

Today is my and Steve’s 23rd Wedding Anniversary. I can’t believe that it has been 23 years since we pledged our lives to each other. The time has just flown by! I do hope that we are blessed with at least another 23 years, because there are still many adventures ahead of us.

Those who have been reading my blog for a while know that Steve and I met in a very unique and special way. When Steve was active duty army, serving in the Persian Gulf, during Operation Desert Storm, I mailed several letters addressed to “Any Serviceman” as part of Operation Dear Abby. Steve picked up one of my letters and we became penpals. That was in late 1990. Steve came home from the war in 1991, and we were married on April 5, 1992. I wrote about our love story and posted it online when I started this blog. If you’d like to read it, you can find it here.

While all marriages have challenges, ups and downs, bumps in the road, etc. we have always managed to weather any storm and come through the experience even stronger. I attribute that to open communication, honesty, and a deep commitment to US. Now we are looking forward to full retirement (two years if all goes well!) and future adventures and experiences. We want to travel, explore the country, spend more time with family, and otherwise live life to the fullest. We’re both so excited, even in the uncertainty. How did we get to *this age*?! Seems just yesterday, we were 30-somethings just beginning our life together! And now… retirement is almost HERE. Wow.


We’re in the final days of aurora displays. The days are getting longer so quickly, and the window of darkness grows more narrow each week. We now have almost 16 hours of visible light.

On March 24th, there was a beautiful display of light. I stayed in my own driveway to photograph them as they were high enough in the sky to see them clearly. There were beautiful coronas and other shapes and formations. One looks like a beautiful bird soaring above. A dove? An eagle? I didn’t see it while it was happening, as the movement was much too quick. But when I downloaded my images, I saw what I captured in this frame and was quite surprised!

Aurora bird

Aurora Aurora Curtains Aurora Burst
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