For a day that never got above 30 F I found an amazing number of small insects and spiders and even more incredible, many of them were active. Early in the afternoon I stopped by the community gardens for a few minutes looking spiders and insects and while I did find them I also found a vole.
Later in the afternoon I went out for a walk on the trails above my house where I found an amazing assortment of spiders and insects. It was a good day photographically and an even better day to be outside. It stayed below freezing, but I’ve never viewed the weather as a barrier to enjoying the outside although it can be to getting good pictures.
When you think of wildlife photography in Alaska, most people think of iconic images of bears, moose, wolves, and birds and huge landscapes. These more common images take up such a place in the image of Alaska that most people overlook the fact that we have a whole other class of critters that are smaller but no less spectacular. Personally I much prefer photographing that smaller class of animals.
Today I had a great opportunity starting with spiders and then moving on to a vole and then more insects and spiders. In many ways I feel that capturing a photo of an insect, spider, or vole is way harder than getting a good shot of a moose.
Insects and spiders photographically are difficult because of their size; a problem you do not have with moose. It is not difficult to find an insect or to take a generic image of one, but to make that image stand out, means trying to put the viewer at the level of the insect and giving them a perspective from that view. It is very hard with something that might only be a few millimeters tall.
In addition, while moose will pose for you, tiny things like voles and many insects rarely stop moving long enough to get a good shot. On this day I had to sit very still for a long time before the vole I found came out and gave me the look in this photo.
I’ve been trying to get a good shot of a vole since this last spring when I got a slightly out of focus shot. On this day I was photographing a spider at the community gardens here in Fairbanks when I heard some munching about 10 feet away. I very quietly and carefully got up and crept closer. I had to stand very still for about 5 minutes before I even spotted this guy. It was another 5 minutes before I saw where it was feeding.
It would run out for a second or two, get a bite of cabbage leaf, and then run back under cover. It took another 15 minutes to get this shot. My hands were cold, my arms tired, and I was stiff from standing still for close to 30 minutes but it was worth it. Forget the bears and moose, I prefer these voles, insects, and spiders.
After getting home from the gardens I headed up for a walk on the Birch Hill ski trails above our house. For years I’ve been watching flocks of chickadees and juncos feeding in birch trees but it never dawned on me until today to try and see what they were eating.
On this walk I started by looking carefully at the trunks of the birch trees I was passing. It took a bit of time and eye training, but I began to see insects and spiders on many of the birch tree. I focused on the birch tree because their white bark made insects stand out.
I’m sure the spruce trees were similarly covered but I was not about to look for dark insects on their dark bark. I did find one tiny moth on a spruce tree, but it was pure white and was hard to miss.
Most of the insects I found were very tiny and rather lethargic in the cold. The exception were the spiders. While the spiders were moving more slowly than they would on warmer days, they were almost all active. In fact, I found numerous incredibly tiny spiders abseiling down from much higher in the trees or blowing on the wind. I don’t know if they just hatched, but it was very surprising. These tiny spiders were so small that if I had not been looking I never would have seen them. In one of the pictures in this album I put my finger next to one for comparison and it was not the smallest I saw.
I ended up spending several hours wandering the woods looking for insects and spiders. I did not plan on staying that long but I find that when I am truly enjoying myself or find something that catches my interest time passes very quickly.
I’m sure I looked the fool walking up to trees, staring at them and then moving on to the next or pausing to take pictures Most of what I was photographing would have been invisible from only a few feet away. Once again I was reminded that if we slow down and observe our surroundings more closely we will find some amazing things right under our feet and in front of our faces.