Monday, May 20, 2013

Shots of Snowy Denali National Park

Is this a Denali post or a photography post?  These are the first out-of-the-house experiments with my new Canon EOS Rebel T3i.  Without a doubt, these are pictures I would not have gotten with my Powershot.

As pristine and natural as the top raven scene looks, the bird was headed for the muddy red truck that you see in the lower shot, which sure looks like a Yupik dancer in a kuspuk.  It was snowing at the time.  And while ravens are very cool birds, the fact that I'm shooting ravens in Denali should be the first hint of how few animals of any sort we saw.  Just like the moose, these are common Anchorage sights, and when we go to Denali we generally are hoping to see critters we don't see in our back yards at home.

Nevertheless, given that the first day the biggest mammal we saw were two ground squirrels, and this was the only one we saw the second day, we stopped and spent some time.  We had given up on seeing any animals when this one showed up on the side of the road above us coming toward us.  And no matter how many times you see moose, they are magnificent animals.  And this one was not an urban moose.  

The landscapes were magnificent, even with the clouds cutting off the larger mountains.  I'm not sure what the bluish/greenish tinge in the forefront is.

Another critter I might overlook on a more active day, the mew gull is a bird one is sure to see in Denali.  White head, and the white dots in the wing tips.  And not shy around people.

I couldn't help noticing the stark black and white contrast between the fresh snow and the stubble of last year's shrubbery.

Here's one my Birds of Alaska book says I saw in Denali before - the American Tree Sparrow.  Trying to identify it was hard in my book, but once I found the picture on the  Cornell Lab of Ornithology,  it matched perfectly.  The two colored beak (orange on the bottom and black on top, which was clearer in the originals), the buff shoulder, the white bar on the wing.  The picture is actually the same bird photoshopped onto one picture.  From the Cornell link, where you can also hear its call:
Come snowmelt, these small rusty-capped and smooth-breasted sparrows begin their long migrations to breeding grounds in the tundra of the far North.
 And they had every right to believe it would be tundra and not more snow this time of year.  

[UPDATE 1:30pm:  Wickersham's Conscience has a more detailed post on hungry songbirds arriving in Alaska. Better photos too.]

This is a break in the ice on the Teklanika River.  We were walking from the Teklanika River bus stop - the end of the road open to the public until today - looking down.  When I got this picture up on the computer, I noticed there are tracks going from left to right (well, I'm not sure which way the animal was going).  They stop at the water and then pick up again on the other side.  (They are clearer if you double click.)  So, I thought, the ice must have broken since the animal went by.  But where would the ice go?  I assumed that open water like this just never froze, but the tracks made me think about it.  Ice floats, so it shouldn't just sink down and under the ice that didn't break.  I may have lived here a long time, but I don't live along a river.  Here's a bigger view of this hole in the ice.

So, when I ask a question like that, I know I should try google, though I wasn't quite sure what to ask.  There are a number of scientific studies of river ice break up online and ice chunks can go under sheets of ice.  But that seems to be when there is more water flowing than here.  The jagged edges of the ice would suggest to me it broke and not that this was open all winter.  Perhaps someone will leave an answer in the comments. 

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