Tag Archives: nocturnal

SNOWSHOE HARES

 

DSC9993In early March, snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus) tracks began to appear where none had been all winter long. I guess the solitary males are out and about looking for females. The snowshoe hare cycle has been on the upswing for a couple of years but the hares are still uncommon in most of the black spruce forests around our place on the northern edge of Wrangell/St. Elias National Park. High quality hare habitat, mixed forests with willow and alder thickets are the nucleus of hare populations and often the only places where hares are common during low-cycle years . These “bunny patches” are where snowshoe hares multiply and disperse.  A rising (or falling) hare population has a big impact on most predators and their prey.  With snowshoe hare populations locally low, their main predators, lynx, red fox, northern goshawks, great horned owls and even northern hawk owls are low as well.  Low numbers of predators has relieved pressure on prey species such as spruce grouse and snowshoes allowing them to recover.  Grouse populations have the ability to rebound rather quickly as we have seen them do locally.  All these cycles are driven to a large degree by the rise and fall of snowshoe hares. Continue reading

THE MARTEN

49-20-5The marten scrapes out a tough living in the northern forests.  The largely nocturnal members of the weasel family, prey on small birds and mammals.

49-37-2A tireless traveler, the marten (Martes americana) leaves an endless line of tracks through the Alaskan wilderness.  Like other members of the weasel family, martens successfully hunt quick prey like the red squirrel and snowshoe hare in deep snow. Tracks are the most common sign of the presence of martens.  Following or backtracking marten tracks will tell a story of what this tough, little predator has been up to and gives clues to their habits. Though they are seldom very common, martens are not endangered over most of their range.  But martens are so shy and secretive that little is known about their mysterious lives.   Old growth  forests with large trees and numerous standing and fallen dead trees are a martens prefered habitat, providing cover, food, shelter and cavities for their dens. Continue reading

SONG OF THE BOREAL

 

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For the past six weeks or so we have been delighted by the nocturnal trilling song of a little boreal owl.   I believe the male has claimed our little forested yard as his own.  He sings almost every night from one of the old northern flicker cavities in the black spruce stand surrounding our home.  With his little round head filling up the hole he serenades the darkness, or sometimes accompanies the glow and flicker of the aurora.

Click on the left side of the audio bar to hear the song of the boreal owl.

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The boreal owl is a nocturnal hunter of voles, shrews, flying squirrels  and small birds.

LAST HOMESTEAD

aurora borealis-15-115Our home in the wilderness.

This post is in support of the recent story that appeared in the February 2016 issue of Country Magazine.  The story is about our families life in Alaska.  The following photographs are some that did not make the final layout in the magazine.  Several Country Magazine readers have requested to see more photos.  This is for you. Continue reading

PHOTOGRAPHING AURORA BOREALIS

aurora borealis-15-50Aurora borealis in my back yard.  Slana, Alaska

The aurora borealis displays are really picking up this year.  After a few years of slow aurora activity its an exciting change and a great excuse for stay up late and snapping a few photographs.  With todays wonderful digital cameras getting great aurora photos is easier than ever.  I remember the day when I had only Kodachrome film with an ASA speed of either 25 or 64.  Living in Alaska it could take more than two weeks just to get your processed film returned and check your results.  Today you can snap a shot or two check the exposure using  your histogram display, adjust your exposure if necessary and shoot away .  You can be confident of what you’re getting. Continue reading

OWLS BY DAY, OWLS BY NIGHT

BY DAY

DSC_1262Adult male northern hawk owl is active during the day.

For a few weeks I have been photographing a pair of northern hawk owls that have nested in a stand of tall white spruce.  Hawk owl populations are cyclic and for the past three years they have been rare in my part Alaskan interior.  Over the past twenty years, I have been trying to capture their little known life history.  In those twenty years I have found only six or seven active nests.  Continue reading

BACKYARD SAFARI PART 3

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Red squirrel has cached black spruce cones in an old flicker hole.

RED SQUIRREL

32-15-30I am still on my backyard safari.  This is where I do some of my favorite work.  I have had professional photographers scoff at the mere suggestion of doing in-depth work with such “insignificant” species as the red squirrels, voles and the like. But I happen to enjoy photographing all species of wildlife including red squirrels.  The idea of a backyard safari is to give one the incentive to compile a complete coverage of the wildlife in your immediate surroundings as well as gaining experience turning photographic potential into great photographs.

Red squirrel pry the scales off a spruce cone and feeds on the tiny seeds.

32-15-22Red squirrel jumping.

The red squirrel jumping straight on is a tough one.  I found a place where the squirrel routinely jumps form one branch to another.  The distance is just over three feet and it takes less than a second.  The problem lies in the tiny amount of depth of field with the 560 mm telephoto lens.  I use a Nikon 200-400 lens with a 1.4 tele-extender and pre-focus at about 4 meters.  There is less than one inch that will be in sharp focus.  I manage to get off about three frames each time the squirrel jumps and only about one in fifty photos will be in focus.  What that boils down to is about one photo every four days will be a keeper.  I could increase the percent of successful shots by adding a trigger which trips the shutter as the squirrel crosses a beam of infra-red light.  Maybe next week.

TRACKS

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One of the few sets of snowshoe hare tracks I have seen in the backyard this winter.  They are currently at the low-end of their population cycle.

BOREAL OWL

The male boreal owl is still calling from the flicker holes but not every night.  I suspect he is also singing his territorial songs from other possible nesting sites in the area.

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The male boreal owl begins his territorial songs just before dark.

AURORA BOREALIS

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The aurora borealis usually begins with a band of green, glowing light in the northeast.

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Aurora begins to dance.

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BACKYARD SAFARI CONTINUED

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Aurora borealis dancing over our little homestead

.All week I have been on  safari, backyard safari that is, trying to sniff out a few photographs. I continue working with the pine grosbeaks and red squirrels but they have proven tough subjects.  Yes even squirrels can be very challenging especially when you try for something new.  Last night a fantastic aurora show kept me busy for a few hours after midnight.  The unexpected beauty made up for those frustrating red squirrels.

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For the past couple weeks a boreal owl has been singing after dark.  I had developed this situation by placing a couple of ladders within camera range of his singing posts.  He sings his territorial song while sitting at the entrance of a couple of old northern flicker nesting cavities.  On top of the ladders, I mounted ball heads so I could climb and place my telephoto lens and flash bracket quickly and quietly.  As I photographed the aurora borealis the boreal owl was singing from both of the flicker cavities.  During lulls in the aurora activity, I approached the cavities to see what was going on.  At one cavity there was no owl at the hole and I could hear the male singing from the other cavity.  Just for fun I scratched the tree trunk and to my surprise the head of a boreal owl emerged.  There were two boreal owls!  The male had attracted a mate.  That was exciting news.  Perhaps they would choose one of the cavities for their nest.

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Male boreal owl stares out from the northern flicker cavity.

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