Sunday, November 22, 2009

Last Sunset of 2009

Today (October 22) marked a mile stone for us, as it was the last day of the sun above the horizon in 2009.  It will be another 58 days weather permitting, before we see the sun on January 19, 2010 at 12:30 PM.  Officially it will remain up for a total of 1 hour and 8 minutes, but the cold air of winter can make it do strange things.  I have seen the sun come up and set three times  on the day before it was due back, due to mirage and inversion layers effecting the view.  When it does come back it just rolls along the horizon for several days before it gets much altitude.  This can make viewing difficult as it doesn’t take much of a cloud layer along the horizon to obscure the sun. Below are a couple shots taken two days ago of the sun low in the sky.  I was busy with a conference call today and missed the last view of the sun. 




















We still get several hours of twilight, even on the shortest day of the year in December.  Sometimes at night it is even brighter than during the day with a bright moon, and /or Northern Lights reflecting brightly off the snow.  The months ahead make for good star viewing and Aurora watching, if one doesn’t have to bad of a wind chill to put up with.  I look forward to the months ahead hoping that clear nights coincide with lots of Aurora activity.

Here are a few Aurora Borealis Pictures taken over the past week or so. Most night they were just a faint green or grayish green. 


Aurora_22Nov09_5706 copy

This display was just stating to pick up some reds.


Cloud streaks produced a neat display even though the Aurora weren’t very bright.


For about 20 minutes one night we had a really nice bright display.  Looking off to the west, instrument shelter in the foreground.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

New Bird Sighted At Homestead

With late fall drifting into early winter I thought I would cover some of the rarer birds seen this year.   It is a sad time when the last snow buntings leave for the winter and the feeder sits empty.  It always takes a few days to get over the expectation of seeing them squabbling and chasing each other around the willows and feeder.  About all we are going to see the rest of the winter is ravens, ptarmigan, and perhaps a wintering snow owl.

Our fall storms during migration time occasionally drops a rare bird in our lap.  Most of the time it is a bird that breeds not too far away and has just strayed a bit. Then we get really lucky and a bird from distant shores arrives. Last year for the second season in a row we had a finch show up at the feeder with the Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis).  In 2007 it was a female Cassin’s Finch (Carpodacus cassinii) and then 2008 we had a lovely male Purple Finch (Carpodacus purpureus ) at the feeder for several days from late September to early October.  September also brought a juvenile Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus ), both were new birds for the Colville.











          Purple Finch                Common Cuckoo - Juvenile

This year we managed two fall migrants, one a Wilson’s Warbler (Wilsonia pusilla), a neat bird to see as we get very few warblers this far north. 




Wilson’s have been recorded several times here both in the spring and fall. 





The second bird was seen feeding around the house in mid-October, looking cold and hungry.  It was busy feeding on grass seed heads sticking out of the snow, and even though the light was poor, I was able to get a good picture of it.  At first I thought it was a juvenile Lincoln's Sparrow  (Melospiza lincolnii), the only other Lincolns I had seen was a adult in the spring several years ago.  After review from other birders that had more experience with the subject, it turned out to be a juvenile Chipping Sparrow  (Spizella passerina).  Fall_sparrow1d_5877

                 Chipping Sparrow - Juvenile



For some reason we also had a few Hoary Redpolls  (Carduelis  hornemanni) show up in October after our local breeders had been gone for several weeks.  In mid month, two showed up and the one juvenile was still being fed by the other bird. It was doing its wing flutter and begging till it was fed. 



With the days becoming shorter quickly, it won’t be long until the sun is gone and it will be the season for watching the heavens, counting stars and watching the Aurora dance over head.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fishing – Part 2

Winter fishing is over and I thought I would go into more detail about the fish we caught this season.  It turned into a two part season due to unseasonably warm spell right after I started fishing.  The warm weather wouldn’t allow the fish to freeze, and we had some coastal flooding from a strong storm system several hundred miles west pushing up through the Bering straights into the Beaufort Sea.


                Last Day Picking At The Net

The day I pulled my net I had to wade through 14” (35.5 cm) of sea water in the shallow river areas to get out to my net.  After six days of thawing temperatures and even a few rain showers, a strong wind storm moved in and gave us 4 days of snow and blowing snow. For two of those days, we had blizzard conditions with visibilities down to an 1/8 of a mile (.2 km) at times.

As soon as the storm had pasted, I reset my net and was able to finish getting the amount of fish needed for the winter in just five days. 










                 A Nice Fat Arctic Cisco

It would have been nice to have caught a few more Arctic Cisco than we did, as they are the preferred fish for the table, a nice fat fish with firm white flesh.  Unfortunately their population numbers are in a down cycle this year and not many are in our area.

 DayCatch1b0024This photo shows all species of fish taken during the fishing season, listed top to bottom.      

Fourhorn Sculpin

Hump-backed Whitefish

Least Cisco

Arctic Cisco

Broad Whitefish

Boreal Smelt


Species Descriptions:

Whitefishes  family Coregonidae  are related to salmonids (trout,char and salmon)

Broad Whitefish  Coregonus nasus
Only a small number of immature fish are caught in the winter fishery and weigh between .75 - 2.5 pounds, (0.3-1.1kg) but a large mature individual can reach 18 pounds (8.2kg). However, 4-8 pounds is more norm. The broad whitefish can be distinguished from the humpback, even when small, by its short, blunt snout.


Hump-back Whitefish  Coregonus pidschian
Our catch runs from 1-3 pounds (0.5-1.4kg) and includes immature and mature fish.  This year hump-back whitefish made up about 30% of the catch.


In both of the above  species the mouth is inferior, an adaptation for bottom feeding. Their diet consists mainly of small clams, snails, aquatic insects, larvae, and freshwater shrimp. In both species, the head is small and the body deep or wide from stomach to backbone.

Least Cisco   Coregonus sardinella
Least Cisco are a slender herring-like fish with a superior mouth, which means a weak lower jaw projecting beyond the upper. They are anadromous, spending the summer open water season in the coastal waters (brackish lagoons)of the Arctic Ocean, feeding primarily on amphipods.
Our catch averages  .75lb and around 12" (31 cm), but a large individual can reach 16.5" ( 42cm) and 2.5 pounds.  (0.3-1.1kg) Least Cisco made up 69% of our catch.


Arctic Cisco  Coregonus autumalis
These are also anadromous, spending part of the year in brackish waters of the Arctic Ocean  feeding on  invertebrates and to a lesser extent on other small fish. They are distinguishable from the least cisco by smaller eyes and scales, more silver color, white pectoral and pelvic fins, and terminal mouths (at the tip of the body).
The majority of our catch is made up of immature fish age 5-8, with a few older fish to age 11.  Once Arctic Cisco in our area reach maturity, they migrate back to the Mackenzie River drainage to spawn and after that they stay in that general area.  Our catch runs from 3/4 pound to 3 pounds (.03-1.4kg) and average around 13" ( 33cm) with a large specimen reaching 18" (46cm).  This year our catch was about 1% of the total, but in a good year Arctic’s will run 50-75% of the catch.

The following two species are caught in low numbers and incidental to the fishing operation.

Boreal Smelt "Osmerus eperlanus"
Size up to 16" (40 cm)  are anadromous in our area coming into fresh water in the spring to spawn. 
They have a very sweet tasting meat and are called sugar fish by some of the local inhabitants.


Fourhorn (Deepwater) Sculpin  Myoxocephalus quadricornis
These are incidental catch when they are around the net feeding on spent eggs from ripe fish heading up river or larger individuals feeding on smaller fish caught in the net.  They are mainly a food source for other fish and birds during the open water season.

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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.