Monday, August 31, 2015

Seasons Change Fast: Day 277

In the not so distant future, this is what Fairbanks will look like. Frozen. In fact it snowed briefly at our house last night and became cold enough to form a layer of frost on the car windshields. And it's still August, well barely. Crazy to think not very long ago temperatures were in the 90's, although I wasn't around to experience it. One upside to the recent cold-snap, dead mosquitoes.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-800 f/5.6 @ 1/500 sec.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Paper Wasps: Day 276

This is a paper wasp nest Casey discovered in a tree next to our house. In early spring, queen wasps emerge from dormancy and search for an appropriate location to construct a nest using wood shavings and saliva, eating nectar for energy while in the process pollinating spring wildflowers. Once the rudimentary nest is ready, she lays eggs that hatch into larvae. The developing larvae are provisioned by the queen with insects until they mature into adult"worker" wasps. The workers take over the labor of expanding the nest while the queen continues to lay around one hundred eggs per day. As the population of the nest increases, developing larvae actually feed the colony by converting insect exoskeletons into sugars they regurgitate to the adults. Towards the end of summer, the original queen lays a special clutch of virgin queen and drone eggs. Once matured, drones and virgin queens disperse form the nest for special mating areas. Drones can discern from queens of their home nests, ensuring interbreeding does not occur. At this point the queen stops laying eggs, shutting off the supply of sugar produced by the larvae, and forcing the workers to scavenge for food until they eventually die. Workers kind of get the short end of the stick. Newly mated queens retreat to a safe location and wait out the long winter until spring, where the whole cycle starts again. Fascinating.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-400 f/5.6 @ 1/250 sec.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Rain: Day 275

I seem to have brought St. Paul's weather back with me to Fairbanks. It's been continuously raining here since I arrived a few days ago. Swollen rivers are breaching their banks, leading to flood warnings for locations upstream of control dams. There's even an inch of snow accumulation foretasted tonight for elevations down to 1,000 ft. Summer appears to be over.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon 17-40mm f/4L USM + Canon 25mm Extension Tube II, ISO-800 f/4 @1/320 sec. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Final Sunset: Day 274

My final sunset on St. Paul Island, one of the few I was able to witness during my three months in the field.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-250 f/5.6 @ 1/800 sec.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Shrooms and Shooms: Day 273

Not sure which committee determines holidays like National Dog Day, but never-the-less it's another excuse to post a photo of Shooms (one or Reef's many nicknames). Here he is looking up from eating grass near a cluster of giant Super Mario mushrooms growing along our back road.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-1000 f/4 @ 1/200 sec.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Beluga: Day 272

I regretfully didn't photograph any of the spectacular scenery during the ten hour the drive back from Homer to Fairbanks. The Alaska Range is just beginning to pop with fall colors. Once I'm on the road, I just want to keep driving. I was forced, however, to pull over and watch a group of maybe 200 Belugas swimming along the banks of Turnagain Arm on the Seward Highway. I've read that late summer is the best time to see Belugas around Cook Inlet, as they come in to feed on the salmon runs. Honestly they're not much to look at when they surface, but the idea of Beluags is pretty cool. Beats seeing them in a tank.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-640 f/5.6 @ 1/2500 sec.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Home Again: Day 271

It was a long drive back from Homer where I left my truck, navigating the hoards of summer tourists bound for Denali, but I finally made it home to Fairbanks. Happy to report Reef still likes me. I got here just in time for the beginning of fall colors. The birch leaves are just starting to fade to yellow and fall from the canopy.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-1000 f/4 @ 1/40 sec.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Dock Dog: Day 270

If you're seeing a photo of Reef on a dock in Seward, this means I made yesterday's flight and I'm currently in transit, soon to be reunited with him.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-640 f/5.6 @ 1/1000 sec.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunny 16: Day 269

Today's the day, the moment of truth. Will I make the flight or not? Check-in doors open at noon, and I plan to be there at 11, hopefully putting me at the top of the standby list. If I make the 4 o-clock flight, it's four hours to Anchorage, with a stopover on St. George, and another hour or so to Homer, getting in sometime around 10 pm. I'll spend a brief night in Homer then drive ten hours back up to Fairbanks the following day. If I don't make the flight, it's another three days on St. Paul. We'll see what happens.

By-the-way, this photo is an example of the "Sunny 16 Rule", a method for attaining a perfect exposure without using a light meter. The rule is this - on a sunny day, set the aperture to f/16 and the shutter speed to the reciprocal of the ISO setting. (equivalent to film speed). For example, I wanted to photograph this scene using an ISO of 200, so I set my aperture to f/16 and my shutter speed to the reciprocal of 200, which is 1/200 of a second, and voila, a perfect exposure. Works every time.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-200 f/16 @ 1/200 sec.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Soaking Up The Scenery: Day 268

There's a slight chance today will be my final full day on St. Paul Island. Tomorrow's flight back to Anchorage on paper is all booked up, but I plan to show up early before the airport doors open and put myself on standby in case a seat opens up. It has worked for people in the past. My scheduled flight is on the 26th, so either way, I should be getting back to Fairbanks before then end of next week.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM, ISO-100 f/10 @ 0.8 seconds.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ribbon Seal: Day 267

While working on data yesterday morning, we received a call at Staff Quarters from a local who reported seeing a ribbon seal near West Landing. A ribbon seal!? We of course immediately stopped what we were doing and jumped in the truck to investigate. Although they range throughout the Bering Sea, ribbon seals almost never haul out on land. They are strongly associated with the pack ice during the breeding and molting seasons from March to July, and spend the rest of the year far out to sea. Ribbon seals have the capacity to reach depths of over 2,000 ft, possibly aided by two unique air sacks under the flanking ribbons, that might serve as a mechanism for buoyancy control and oxygen storage. With this in mind, seeing a ribbon seal on St. Paul is a rare once in a lifetime occurrence. We combed the harbor with no sign of a ribbon. On a whim, Greg decided to give Salt Lagoon a look, and sure enough there it was, hauled out on an exposed mud flat. This animal remained in the same spot all day, and I managed to army crawl to the edge of the grass line to snap a few photos at sunset.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-800 f/5.6 @ 1/640 sec.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Mini-Murre: Day 266

It's only a matter of days now before murre chicks begin raining down from the cliffs above, as they leap forth into the unknown from the ledges where they hatched; much to the delight of the arctic fox pups waiting below. Provisioned by their fathers, the ones that don't end up as dinner will finish developing at sea. This thick-billed murre chick is from my favorite site T4 on plot 87 at Zapadni. At 23 days old it's reached true mini-murre status. Click HERE to see how much this little guy has changed in 13 days. I don't expect him to be around on the next check.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-800 f/5.6 @ 1/500 sec.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Cobble Fire: Day 265

In a last minute decision yesterday evening, I hopped on an atv and drove out to Lincoln Bight on the northwest side of the island, in hopes of catching a good sunset and photographing bioluminescence in the waves after dark. There have been reports of a massive algal bloom in the North Pacific and Bering Sea, of the type that typically emit a blue fluorescent glow when agitated, so I figured the time is now. Clouds stifled the sunset colors minutes before the finale, and darkness still takes a while at this latitude, so I canned the idea and went back to bed. I did, however, build a very nice fire on the cobble beach and listened to the surf surge in and out, so it wasn't a total bust.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-400 f/22 @ 2.5 seconds.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Revisiting the Past: Day 264

I have developed quite the catalog of photos during my time on St. Paul, so with just over a week left to go before heading home, I plan to re-live a few of them. Here's another shot from our close encounter with a pod of transient (Bigg's) killer whales during a boat based survey earlier this month. The leading animal has a small line of kelp draped over her dorsal fin.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-500 f/5.6 @ 1/4000 sec.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Reflecting In The Waves: Day 263

I have come to the conclusion after re-reading past entries from this blog, that if I ever decide to pursue a career in writing, however slim a chance that might be, I'm going to need to find myself a good...editor. Yes, I realize that has nothing to do with this beach scene. Then again maybe it does. The seashore is always a great place for self reflection.

Canon EOS 60D, Bower 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye CS, ISO-200 f/? @ 1/60 sec.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Cat-dog Nap: Day 262

On this day, possibly my final day off on St. Paul, I plan to do as this young Arctic fox does. Nap. Except instead of bedding down in the remnants of a failed red-faced cormorant nest I likely helped destroy, I will be using my bed. Screw it, maybe I'll go for a hike.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-400 f/5.6 @ 1/800 sec.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Barely A Sliver: Day 261

Here is the exact moment the sun rolled off the edge of the earth. The only time this entire field season I witnessed an unobstructed view of a sunset on St. Paul, and what a sunset it was.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-400 f/5.6 @ 1/1600 sec. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Lava Tubes: Day 260

Near the summit of Bogoslof Hill, one of St. Paul's extinct volcanic peaks, is an extensive lava tube reaching a few hundred yards into the heart of the island. During an eruption, lava tends to spill out of the source point in discrete channels. Like an artery of super-heated rock, the lava begins to solidify and forms an exterior crust, creating tubular walls of rock that insulate the hot lava flowing within. Eventually the pressures forcing magma up from chambers deep inside the volcano subside, closing the valve on the eruption. Deprived of lava, the volcanic arteries drain and cool, leaving behind vast empty tubes of black volcanic rock. The round dome-like chamber in this photo was accessed through a narrow slit off the main lava tube, which I believe is actually a type of "inflationary cave", where a bubble of pressurized lava pushed back against the surrounding rock and later drained into the main channel.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-200 f/4 @ 30 seconds.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

From On High: Day 259

Is this still considered a "selfie" if you used a tripod? I prefer the term "self portrait".

Canon EOS 60D, Bower 8mm f/3.5 Fish Eye CS, ISO-200 f/? (manual aperture) @ 1/60 sec.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Gentian: Day 258

While exploring the island's interior, I came upon an atv trail that led to the summit of North Hill, offering an expansive view of the entire northern coast. It was a stunning scene, but the micro views from the summit were equally as interesting, such as this miniature forest of Whitish Gentian (Gentiana algida), bizarre tubular white and blue flowers that speckled the rim of the extinct cinder cone. Gentiana are late bloomers, one of the last wildflowers of the season, and are relatively common in alpine meadows across western North America.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM + Canon EF Extension Tube II, ISO-320 f/14 @ 1/320 sec.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Brief Window: Day 257

Morning light illuminating the town of St. Paul, with a moody sky moving in from the south. It's only natural yesterday's crisp sunrise would follow such a brilliant sunset the night before. Grey has returned this morning, the sun has gone back into hiding.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM, ISO-100 f/8 @ 1/200 sec.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Sun Makes An Exit: Day 256

I arrived on St. Paul back in late May, and ever since then the clouds, fog, and tilt of the earth have thwarted any attempt I've made of watching the sun set into the Bering Sea. Now that the northern hemisphere is making it's move to shorter days, and the fog bearing summer high pressure systems are becoming less persistent, last night the conditions were met for the sunset I've been waiting for. Here it is setting over Big Lake on the northeast tip of the island, silhouetting the dunes of North Beach. After snapping this photo I quickly hopped on my atv, took a few bugs in the face, and made it to the beach just as the giant burning orb dipped below the horizon, providing a sense of closure to a long field season soon to end.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-320 f/4 @ 1/3200 sec.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Are You Waving At Me? Day 255

Before working on the Farallones and St. Paul, I only ever sighted fur seals in the water, typically far out to sea during seabird trips in Monterey. Unlike California sea lions, Steller seal lions, or harbor seals, northern fur seals never haul out on the mainland, and spend all of the non-breeding season at sea. When resting at the surface, the disproportionately long hind flippers of fur seals fold over towards the head, forming a distinctive jug-handle posture. It's believed this position not only provides stability while asleep, but likely aids in thermoregulating their body temperature by circulating blood through the flippers in the sunshine. When they do eventually haul out on their respective breeding islands, instead of trying to warm up in a cold ocean, fur seals cool down by waving those long flippers in the air, dumping heat like the radiator of an automobile. In the rare event of a nice day out here, seeing hundreds of seals waving away on a hot beach is quite the sight.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-640 f/5.6 @ 1/320 sec.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Sleeper: Day 254

While driving North Beach yesterday afternoon, investigating a report of an unusually high number of dead seabirds drifting around the Pribilofs, a came upon this washed up specimen. This is a Pacific sleeper shark, a stubby-nosed deep water species found throughout the continental shelf, from Baja California Mexico to the Arctic Circle in the Chukchi Sea. Once considered to be a docile bottom feeder, passively foraging on soles, halibut, and benthic invertebrates, surprisingly recent diet studies have revealed a high percentage of larger sleeper sharks sampled in Alaskan waters contained stomachs full of fast moving marine mammals, including St. Paul's very own northern fur seal. This one was looking a little too rotund to risk puncturing the bloated abdomen to poke around the stomach, plus I didn't have a sharp knife on me, so the composition of its last meal will forever remain a mystery.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-500 f/4 @ 1/320 sec.

Friday, August 7, 2015

No Time to Waste: Day 253

For most seabirds, the process of reaching fledgling age is fairly straight forward. Once an egg hatches, parents begin foraging at sea, bringing back food to the awaiting chick either as complete items in a bill load or a regurgitated soup, until the chick grows to roughly adult size and develops flight feathers, somewhere between 40-50 days later. At that point, the plump chick is cut off from meals, and motivated by a growing appetite, leaves the nest to find food and is considered fledged. Murres, on the other hand, have adopted a different strategy. Instead of bringing food to the chick, they bring the chick to the food. Fathers rear their young at sea. The thick-billed murre chick in this photo is about ten days old. It's been listening to the call of its father, and can recognize his unique signature. In less than a week, still unable to fly and a third the size of its parents, this mini murre will leap from the steep cliffs, navigate the chaos of the surf zone, listen for its father's call waiting on the water, and follow him out to sea. For murres, the real world happens fast.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-800 f/5.6 @ 1/1000 sec.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Broken Skies: Day 252

Weather in this part of the world is often a contradiction to seasons elsewhere. For example, July is as wet and cold here on St. Paul as January in parts of California (well in California during a non drought year). As summer lags into fall, the persistent marine layer that has cloaked this island in a haze has become fragmented, revealing on occasion the warming glow of the sun, before sweeping back "the dust of the sea".

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM, ISO-200 f/10 @ 1/125 sec.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

NOFU: Day 251

While checking on murres in productivity plot 87 at Zapadni, leaning a bit further over the ledge than I should have been, I spotted my first northern fulmar chick of the season and life. A ball of down no longer small enough to hide under the parent. Fulmars apparently take incubating very seriously. Despite the fact that they nest among the kittiwakes and murres I've been monitoring all season, I have yet to observe a single fulmar egg. Now that the chicks are hatching, I probably never will.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-800 f/5.6 @ 1/800 sec.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

More Birds: Day 250

As the old saying goes, when in doubt, post a photo of a puffin. That's all I've got this morning.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-640 f/6.3 @ 1/500 sec.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Plague: Day 249

If you still think I'm exaggerating when I say the flies have reached plague proportions out here, take a look at this photo. Imagine sitting in the vegetation, trying to look through a scope to see an egg or small chick under hundreds of birds 50 yards away, while hoards of these little demons are crawling all over your face, eyes, mouth, ears, arms, hands, data book, plot maps, pretty much coating everything with annoyance. It's rough. In fact at times it's maddening. The identity of these flies is yet to be determined, twenty odd specimens have been sent to a specialist at UAF to sort this out, but one thing is clear, such an outbreak of this particular species, whatever that may be, has never been documented before in the history of this island. This is a new phenomenon, and it's unique to St. Paul. None of the other islands in the Pribilof group, Otter, Walrus, or St. George, have any reports of these little green-eyed marble-winged pests.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-20mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-640 f/16 @ 1/800 sec.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Form and Function: Day 248

Yesterday while wrapping up a red-legged kittiwake count of all the seabird cliffs on St. Paul, Greg and I came upon a large pod of the world's most famous dolphin, the killer whale.The first visual cue was a column of white mist highlighted against the dark backdrop of Otter Island, the unmistakable exhalation of a Cetacean. Then a tall fin emerged, slicing through the glassy surface. The over-sized erectness of a male killer whale's dorsal fin goes beyond serving the function of stability, and is the sole outcome of sexual selection. Female dorsal fins are less than half the size. This isn't to say that males exhibit dominance over the opposite sex. In killer whale matriarchal society, females are in charge, where offspring form lifelong bonds with their mothers in pods that can span several generations. The group we encountered contained at least eight female-types (younger males are indistinguishable from females until they sprout their taller fins), two calves, and this adult male.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-320 f/5.6 @ 1/5000 sec.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Flight: Day 247

I've been staring at birds for so long I often take their ability to fly for granted. It really is an amazing feat. For starters, a whole suite of flight feathers, primaries, secondaries, and coverts, mold the shape of the wing, providing lift and propulsion. A one-way circular respiratory system, with specialized sacks that fill the body cavity with air, allows for both an efficient breathing pattern and exchange of oxygen to fuel the flight muscles. The exaggerated keel of the sternum serves as an attachment point for the supracoracoideous and pectoralis muscles, enhancing the leverage necessary to pump the wings. Like the fuselage of any modern aircraft, many fused bones, hollow in most species, form a rigid lightweight skeletal frame. Most importantly, beyond the physical build of birds, is the ability to harness the wind. To coordinate the wings, the muscles, the breathing; to create lift and become airborne. Flight is a learned skill, and as this season comes to an end, many fledglings will soon leap from the comfort and safety of their natal cliffs, open their wings, and for the first time experience what must be the thrill of flight.

Canon EOS 60D, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM + 1.4x, ISO-400 f/5.6 @ 1/4000 sec.