Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Green, Green, Skies

A warm spell with scattered clouds here at our homestead in the Colville River gave me a chance to view and photograph the northern lights in temperatures 30-40 degrees warmer than I usually have to contend with.  Even if the lights were not that active I wasn’t going to miss a chance to be out and not freeze my nose or cheeks on a cold camera.

Being outside when the temperature was only +20F/-29C was like watching the light show just after freeze up in late September not early January.  I made my first trip out to film just after midnight, and at that time the sky was covered with  various shades of green aurora. 

Shimming lights over the homestead
They were not especially active but at times there was just a hint of red on the edges of some of the curtain type displays.  All the big sheet type of aurora remained  green and covered so much of the sky the snow took on a green cast at times.  there was also a band of clouds to the east of me and it was glowing orange-red from all the oil field lights in that direction.  After about an hour the northern lights faded and so I took a coffee break and waited to see if they might come back.


In this photo most of the aurora is a sheet but there is also some descending curtains that have a very weak mix of red along their upper edges.


Here is a photo showing lots of green with the cloud cover reflecting orange from all the lights on the horizon.


Here we have a all green auroral corona with its rayed bands spreading out in all directions.



 A lovely green swirl pattern developed as the first active episode started to fade away. 


 I went back out two hours later and the lights were more on the horizon in narrow bands, the big sheet type had disappeared. 


I filmed a couple neat formations and when I got back in the house and looked at one of my shots there was a red fox off in the distance, I’m sure wondering what I was doing.


 Here is a photo of the fox that I managed to get just as I was getting  camera gear ready to go in the house.  The fox was running about looking for scrapes that my dogs may have left laying around. A special way to end a lovely night of  aurora watching.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Full Moon 2015

Clearing skies gave me the opportunity to film the full moon this Christmas season, one that doesn’t come come around very often and the next one won’t be until 2034 . Our stretch of clear weather also brought our coldest weather of the season with the temperature at –32F/-26C Christmas morning.

On the 24th, the sky was covered with a thin overcast layer and the moon was showing a 22 degree halo for most of the morning. At other times the moon was visible through thicker clouds that didn’t have the necessary ice crystals for the formation of halos or arcs. Christmas Day broke bright and clear with visibility greater than 25 miles, just what I needed for my project I had in mind for this day. I wanted to film the setting full moon once it descended low enough to be effected by the inversion layer that creates mirages. In order to be able to do this I needed a very clear horizon to the north as that is where the moon would be setting today.

While waiting for the moon to move around to the north I filmed it with various objects around the homestead. There was nice contrast with the moon and some of the willow bushes covered with thick frost and a nice moon beam shimmering across our lake ice.

The final moment arrived around 11AM when I started my project which lasted until 12:25PM. With the temperature holding at –31F, I was glad that the wind had dropped from yesterday’s 14 mph wind and a wind chill of –54F. My camera battery had a full charge when I started, but with the cold it was blinking and about to shut the camera down when I took my last photo of the series #115.

Start of the series of photos as the moon starts showing the inversion causing mirage effect. This second photo also has a small green flash on top and what looks like a orange one on the bottom as refraction is causing colors to separate along the edges of the moon. Time 11:41 AM

Time 11:49 AM moon is being distorted more on the bottom as it gets closer to the horizon. Notice another capture of a green flash.

Time 11:54 AM another green flash can be seen and the moon has been pulled apart on the bottom.

Time 11:59 AM in this shot the two halves look almost like mirror images as the moon looks to be touching the horizon.

Time 12:03 PM Here the mirage has taken on an almost rectangle shape with a small anvil and green flash on top.

 Time 12:16 PM now just two thin strips as last of moon mirage is about to disappear. This is where my battery gave up and since there wasn’t much more to see I didn’t put in a fresh one. Also even with my fur parka and other heavy gear I was chilled and ready to snuggle up the warm wood stove for a spell.

It was fun watching the moon go from a round shape to one that was constantly shifting and becoming more flattened or elongated. To add to the thrill, I was also able to see and catch on film several green flashes. A green flash is caused by refraction causing color separation when the moon’s disk is close to the horizon.

As a side note, I was actually filming the moon below the horizon for the last 20minutes or so as atmospheric refraction causes a vertical shift of about half a degree. Since the moon’s angular diameter is also half a degree the moon is really below the horizon when the moon’s disk appears to touch the horizon.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Spring Birding

After a day of high winds and snow showers, the bright sunshine today  made one want to get out for a birding trip. It would most likely be the last one by snow machine since we are just starting  our break up period, and flowing water would stop land travel off our home island.

Even with the bright sun, it was a chilly day with a brisk wind out of the southwest and the temperature never got above +34F  while I was traveling about.  I  headed up river  from our home and checked out some of the islands that have a sand dune system. The winter wind move sand from the dunes and the snow in this area melts out sooner and creates feeding area for the returning geese sooner than the less sandy areas.   In one area next to a small frozen lake there were 50 greater white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons) feeding.  Most had already separated into pairs as they spread out over the tundra feeding in the wet areas.  

About 4 miles up river I started seeing well defined shore leads as the advancing first water of break up moved our way. 

flood waters_6627

View looking up river with the green bands of the shore leads on each side of the deep water channel.

Besides the white-fronted geese seen feeding who were local birds that would be nesting in a couple weeks, several flocks were seen moving west. There were also a few snow geese  mixed in with these white-fronts  heading farther to the west  to nest.


         Greater White-fronted Geese



                                                    Snow Geese migrating westward.

I covered 14 miles in my travels and saw three new “first of the year”  birds on my travels. They were a pair of Hoary Redpolls feeding on grass seeds poking out of a snow patch, a flock of Pomarine  Jaegers (Stercorarius pomarinus) migrating east, and a pair of Tundra Swans traveling further to the west.



       There were a few dark phase individuals in the flock of Pomarine’s , but the majority of them were the light phase with their white bellies.



Most of the Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus  lagopus) I saw were males on territory and the females were near by I’m sure hiding in the patch work of snow and bare tundra.  I did find one pair and I was able to get a photo of her. She still has a ways to go to get changed into her summer plumage.




    Female willow ptarmigan changing into her summer plumage.



On the way back home I stopped at a nice dry bluff to see what might be starting to turn green. Grasses are not showing any new growth yet, but I found several fresh moth cocoons and puffball mushrooms from last fall that showed the hole blown out in the top when dispersing  their spores before freeze up.



From this location I took a photo back towards the homestead, which was 3.5 miles away to show how much snow still covered the tundra.  Overall it was a wonderful trip and besides the birds, I also saw 1 red fox and 15 arctic ground squirrels.


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Arctic Smoke Signals by James W. Helmericks is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.