It is no longer light enough before work to get out and take photographs. It’s such a contrast from several months ago when the midnight sun provided light for almost 24 hours every day. This past week, the lack of light in the mornings has reminded me that it won’t be long before darkness becomes our normal. Of course this time of the year I find it especially dark. During most of the winter the ground is covered with snow that reflects what little light we have and lights up the night. I have very mixed feelings about the coming cold. On the one hand I am excited about the opportunity to photograph the amazing ice crystals that form in the interior of Alaska as a result of the consistent and deep cold. On the other hand I don’t think I’m ready yet for the cold. The older I get the faster time seems to fly and right now I feel as if the start of summer was only a very short time ago.
Today on my lunch break I headed down to the boat launch at Pioneer Park (Alaskaland for any of you old time Fairbanksans). During the summer people people come to this location to feed the ducks. I know that this is a common practice in many places in the country, but in Fairbanks it has a rather grim outcome. The ducks that are fed do not migrate, but overwinter. They survive by hanging out in the open lead in the river located below the power plant. The outflow water from the power plant is warm enough to keep most of a mile of river below the plant open even at temperatures that drop to -40 F. Ducks are not designed to survive at those temperatures and yet about 400 overwinter, but would not survive without human intervention. It may seem ironic that they stay because of people feeding them and only survive because of feeding, but it is accurate to say that the population exists and survives because of people. During the winter a non-profit takes on the feeding which is expensive and time consuming and controversial. There are those, myself included who feel that the feeding should be stopped and the birds allowed to die out.
Last winter I very much enjoyed photographing the ducks, but they were sometimes hard to look at. When it got very cold, it was not uncommon to see ducks with blackened beaks covered in a layer of ice and ice matted feathers. During the winter the ducks are literally starving. Even with feeding they don’t seem to ever get enough. The negative effects of the cold on them and the voracity with which they come in when fed and their disregard for personal safety speaks volumes to why they should not be there. So while I do enjoy the opportunity to take some amazing photographs, I would be quite happy if the ducks were not there.
The ducks I photographed today are a few of the group that overwinters. I can already tell that some will not make it. There is at least one with a broken wing and while there was a duck that made it through the winter last year with only one foot, it really is a case of the survival of the fittest. The majority of the ducks are mallards and while they are one of the most common ducks, they are also a very beautiful bird. Photographing something so common makes me focus on trying to capture images that are out of the ordinary. Today I managed to take what I think are some OK pictures. I make a point of being out there every day, taking pictures and in doing so getting better through practice and being there and prepared when that perfect shot comes along.
Today while I was sitting on a log watching the ducks I looked down and discovered a tiny spider walking along my hand. I know that there are many people for whom this would have been a terrifying experience, but I looked upon it as an opportunity. While I enjoy photographing the ducks, if you have followed my photographic journey the last year or two you will already know that I what I really love is taking macro shots of small things.
Spiders, insects, ice crystals; all fascinate me and immediately catch my attention. I carefully put the spider back on the log and got some shots of it. Sometimes insects are nice and pose, but like the ones yesterday, this one did not. Trying to get a good picture of a spider that does not want to stop moving can be hard, but I persist. While photographing the first small spider I spotted an even smaller one on the same log and of a different variety. This one was a bit more accommodating, but it was still hard to get a nice clear shot.
It was good to get out today and watch the ducks. I got a few good shots, but mostly it provided a good break before heading back to work and a very full afternoon of counseling.