Alaska Winter Photography

 

Alaska Winter Photography

02/24/2009

Late January 2009. It is -36° here on the ridge this morning with area lows forecast to minus 50°f. Denali Park's official temperature, taken at a higher elevation, only got down to -31°f. Down by the local airstrip it was -43°f. A neighbor a half mile from there recorded -49°f at his cabin. The average temperature for the first week of the month was -29°f, the third coldest start to a year ever. In the first half of the month we enjoyed 14 days where the average daily temperature did not get above -20°F. This was the coldest stretch of consecutive days below -20°f in 10 years. On January 16, Fairbanks recorded a high temperature of 44 ABOVE zero. It went from 44 BELOW to 44 ABOVE in three days, an 88° change. An amazing Chinook. Nenana on this same date was +54, an unofficial 104° temperature change in four days. Here we had cold and calm, then suddenly a wind and warming in two and a half days. The Fairbanks record was set in 1917, with 31 consecutive days of 20 below or colder!

The days are growing longer but only a month beyond winter solstice, daylight is still minimal. Today sunlight hit my cabin at 12:30 and the sun set at 2:45. On December 30, on a mild day with a high of 10f°, we held the annual Christmas Bird Count. In all a total of 400 birds of just 13 species were seen. Over half were redpolls with a record number of 79 pine grosbeaks. In addition, counters saw 1 dipper, 29 boreal chickadees, 9 black-capped chickadees, 8 ravens, 31 black-billed magpies, 10 gray jays, 1 three-toed woodpecker, 4 great horned owls, 1 northern goshawk, 6 willow ptarmigan, and 4 spruce grouse.

Sometimes people ask about winter photography. Given the cold, darkness, and scarcity of birds, conditions are not prime. Moose sometimes cooperate and caribou are numerous but in the timber. Snowshoe hares are at the tail end of their high and I have gotten a few good pictures in golden dawn light. The technical secret to winter photography is battery power! Two nights ago I shot the northern lights, at a balmy 30 below, and had batteries in two pockets to switch back and forth. I got less than 20 minutes use from each. In the cold, long exposures are draining. Extra batteries a necessity.

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