Monthly Archives: October 2021
Between 1930 and 2015, Fairbanks had a total of five Halloweens with less than an inch of snow on the ground. Counting this year, we have had five years since 2015 with less than an inch of snow on the ground. Currently, we have a dusting, and with 40F degrees forecast for Halloween Weekend, the odds are in favor of a brown Halloween for 2021.
Busy, busy, busy
The neighbor stopped me one night a week or two ago. The beavers had broke through the fencing around his yard. I asked if he had stopped up the breach, but he said he wasn’t concerned as freeze up was almost upon us. I did issue a warning about the damage a beaver can do in a short time, but I left it at that.
24 hours later, I received a call. Is there any way I can help plug up the beaver portal? I went over to the new clearing and counted ten new stumps. Not ten trees necessarily, as most were hauled off through the portal to the pantry. The bigger ones were left behind for the next night, and two were hung up, which obviously caused some beaver irritation, judging from the chaotic pattern of wood chips.
Camera: Rolleiflex 3.5 MX; Film: Kodak 120, Tri-X 400
The Chugach Transients
Over the past several decades, scientists out of Homer & Seward, Alaska have tracked a pod of killer whales that they have dubbed The Chugach Transients. In 1989, this particular pod swam through the Exxon Valdez oil spill. That year, the pod had 22 members. The following year, nine members had died.
Today, only seven remain, including a 46 year old male known as Egagutak. Individual whales can be identified by photographs, which is what happened with Egagutak this summer, when a tour group sent his photo to the North Gulf Oceanic Society. Individual pods of whales are also identified acoustically, because a pod’s call is unique.
The Chugach Transients have not had a calf in the thirty plus years since the oil spill. The exact reason is not known, but most killer whale pods in Alaska waters are doing well, but the two that swam through the oil spill are not.
At 46 years of age, Egagutak is nearing the end of his lifespan. Killer whale males typically live 45-50 years. The pod also seems to be nearing its end. With no calves being born, this particular pod of killer whale and their unique song will go extinct.
The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council was tasked with spending the money from the civil settlement after the oil spill. They have funded the research into the study of the Chugach Transients until this year, when they decided that the council would no longer support the research.
Sources: North Gulf Oceanic Society, University of Alaska Southeast, Alaska Public Media
October is American Archives Month:
The building of the Alaska Highway. Even in October, the load of dirt has frozen to the bed of the dump truck.
Photo is from the National Archives
The slumping of the Denali Park Road
The Denali Park Road has a slump in it. The road was cut into the rocks 90 years ago, and a section at Mile 45 in Polychrome Pass, in an area that is known as Pretty Rocks, is built over an underground rock glacier. The existence of the glacier was unknown at that time, but it has been melting at an accelerating rate the past three years.
In 2018 the road was dropping an inch a month, by 2019 that had grown to an inch a day. This August, the road has been dropping over a half inch an hour. More than 100 dump truck loads of gravel were dropped over this span every week this summer, but even that proved pointless, and the Park Road was closed to traffic at Mile 43 in August. The landslide has moved far enough down the hillside to expose the ice below the roadway.
Winter should put the freeze into the ground once again, so that the road can be used early next spring, but the plans are for the road to be closed for all of the summer of 2022. There is solid rock on either side of the glacier, so a bridge will be anchored into those to span the slump zone.
Photo and time-lapse credit: NPS
1870’s or 1970’s Alaska Advert?
Across the centuries the lure of gold has been consistent.
Welcome to the Freeze
Starting on Tuesday, the official average daily high temperature for Fairbanks dropped below the freezing mark. It does not rise above 32F until March 30.
A rare bird for Alaska, turkey vultures have been seen in several locations around the state this year. The above photo was taken in Chalkyitsik, which is in the northeast part of the state in the Yukon Flats north of the Yukon River. Turkey vultures have also been documented in Noatak, which is in the northwest part of Alaska, as well as in Juneau.
Their normal range is limited to southern Canada, but these migratory raptors are built for long distance travel. They have been known to travel over 200 miles in a day by just riding the thermals and barely flapping their wings.
There is some evidence that the turkey vulture is expanding its range northward, but hundreds of birds of varying species that are not common to Alaska show up sporadically. Many go unnoticed. For the turkey vulture, it is a tad difficult to travel incognito.