We were in the calm between the storms when I took this photo. It gives a good look at life on Alaska’s tundra. The airstrip for the village is in the background, with the hanger, housing the grader/snowplow, on the horizon. A plane had not been able to land for several days, and it would be several more before one came in. People were going about their business: walking or riding a four wheeler or snowmachine. Dogs roamed about, on their own personal business, as well. “Bear”, my seemingly constant canine companion, was sitting in the snow at my side, taking in all the action with me.
It’s been a warm winter so far for Interior Alaska. The low temp for this winter season was officially -29F at the airport. At this same point last year, we already had seen two weeks worth of -30 or colder. We have not hit that mark yet, although I have seen a few -30F degree mornings at the cabin.
The winter started out with some decent dumpings of snow, but that tap has been turned off since mid-November. We have had a total of 5″ since November 16. That is well below the average of 22.4″ during that period. The record snow over that same time frame is 86.8″, which fell during the 1970-71 season.
Anchorage and Fairbanks combined have had 8/10 of an inch of snow over the past two weeks. By comparison, and I’m enjoying this, several towns in Texas have had more snow the past two weeks: Austin with 1.3″; Midland: 3.2″; Waco: 4″; College Station: 4.5″; Lubbock: a whopping 7.6″! Congrats on the snow.
Voyaguers Wolf Project placed a camera trap on one end of a beaver dam near Voyaguers National Park in Northern Minnesota. This six minute video shows the variety of wildlife that made use of the beaver’s bridge to cross the pond.
Airmen out of Elmendorf AFB take packages by dogsled into the village of Savoonga on Saint Lawrence Island. It was -20F when they unloaded their C-123, Christmas Day, 1963. The huskies look to be getting impatient.
On the Winter Solstice, we neither gain nor lose daylight here in Interior Alaska. The day today will be the same length as yesterday: 3 hours, 47 minutes long.
But tomorrow, tomorrow we will gain 20 seconds. Christmas Eve will see a gain of a minute, and by New Year’s, our daylight will last more than 4 hours.
It’s a big deal here in the north.
There will be a double treat in the skies this year, as we get to experience the rare “double conjunction”. Saturn and Jupiter will be so close together in the low southwestern sky, that they will appear as one bright point. The best time for viewing will be one hour after sunset.
The last time Jupiter and Saturn put on this “joint force” in the sky was in 1623.
November in Haines, Alaska normally means bald eagles. The largest concentration of bald eagles in the world happens at the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, where the Tsirku River, warmed by ground water, meets the Chilkat River. This span of open water, and a late run of chum salmon bring in eagles in large numbers. In normal years, one spot on the river can contain 500 eagles, with the total number of the raptors in the thousands.
Haines is the home of the festival, and it brings in visitors from around the globe. People come year after year to photograph and hang out with the bald eagles, mingling with fellow birders and outdoor enthusiasts. This year, the festival was canceled due to Covid-19. It’s just another blow to local businesses, in a year full of them.
Oddly enough, the eagles didn’t show up either. One count had 46 bald eagles on a spot along the river, when in normal years, there would be around 500. The eagles didn’t come to the Chilkat, because the chum salmon never showed up. The run was a record low, and that has hit eagles, bears and fishermen alike. The bears, who normally fatten up on the late season salmon bounty, have been breaking into local homes and cabins more than usual, seeking out food.
Like all of our salmon runs that have been in decline, no one can answer the “Why question”. Is it the warming ocean and rivers? Over fishing? Are the hatchery fish too much competition for the wild ones for food out in the ocean? Or, are all these theories tied in together?
One thing is for certain: The entire ecosystem up here runs off of a strong salmon run. And so does the economy.