Archive for January 3rd, 2009
For the first time in 20 years, Interior Alaska is locked in a deep, long cold snap. For readers from warmer climes, that means temperatures lower the -35 degrees F, sometimes down to -55 degrees F, lasting longer than a week. Because there is so little daylight – less than four hours – and the solar angle is so low – the sun only 7 degrees above the horizon – there’s no warming during daylight.
Then there is ice fog. When the temperature is lower than -35 or so, water vapor freezes out of the air and hangs as a dense, whitish-grey fog, opaque and thick. Car exhaust, smoke stack emissions and open water all contribute. Every day activities become difficult, even dangerous. Driving, in particular is a real challenge.
And yet in all this, even when it is too grey and dank to take decent photos, a few species of songbirds succeed and even prosper. We get flocks of a hundred or more Common Redpolls at our feeders, along with a few Hoary Redpolls, Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees and the occasional Ruffed Grouse. Redpolls weigh just 13-14 grams, less than half an ounce, yet can maintain a body temperature of 104 degrees, a “thermal wall” of nearly 160 degrees. Part of the Redpoll’s strategy for coping with the temperature is to fluff out feathers until they look like colored golf balls.
So even in the dark, freezing winters of Alaska, there are little bits of amazement. I sit in the comfort of my den, warm and comfortable, whining about inadequate light for photography, while these little birds survive
16 hours of unbelievable cold without any food except what is in them at dark. And then fly to find food in the pitiful dawn light. It certainly amazes me. How can birds be less than amazing?
All the same, I wish there was more light for photography.