The skies started clearing yesterday and the temperature plummeted. I’d been thinking earlier this week how much I’d been missing the sun. We had an exceptionally warm and snowy November with temperatures ten degrees above normal and over ten inches more snow than normal. Our normal winter weather consists of clear skies which is great since our days are so short.
Of course without the cloud cover any heat trapped near the surface rises up and the temperatures drop. Yesterday the temperature dropped throughout the day and bottomed out at -22 F as measured at the bottom of our road on my way home late last night.
It had not warmed up this morning but it also had not gotten any colder which I was grateful for. By lunchtime it was still hovering from -15 to -20 F. I did contemplate not going for a walk, but again, it was the first sunny day we’ve had in a while and with our very short days, I’ve found that it is important for my mental health to get out and enjoy it whenever I can.
I got to work early today and was not leaving till late so decided to take a bit of an extended lunch. I first headed over to see the ducks on the Chena river behind the Carlson center. At these temperatures they are not very happy. Many have feathers crusted in ice, some have beaks coated in ice, and almost all huddle together on the water waiting for their daily meal of food.
I’ve been in a debate on facebook after posting some pictures of the ducks yesterday and commenting on how they suffer. The ducks should not be in Fairbanks during the winter. The only reason they are is that people feed them in the summer and fall and there is an open stretch of water below the warm water discharge from the power plant that they hang out in and does not freeze.
During the winter there is a nonprofit group that has taken it upon themselves to feed the birds and get them through till spring. Technically it is illegal to feed wild animals, but the state seems to turn a blind eye in this instance. Personally I feel the ducks should not be fed and allowed to die out. While this may seem cruel, I don’t think it is as cruel as perpetuating a population that has to suffer through the extreme cold we have.
I’ve had several people comment that the ducks can take it, or that they would just migrate if they were not fed. To each I have said no. The ducks do suffer, I see birds with frostbite, I see the coating of ice, I see the lethargy, I see the desperation when food is give. And as for migrating… migrating to where? At this time of the year there is no where to go. I do not believe they could fly fast enough or far enough to escape the cold before running out of food. The open water they live on in Fairbanks is artificial and by this point in the winter rivers and lakes in the interior of Alaska with the exception of the occasional small lead are frozen over.
I watched the ducks for awhile and then headed over to the community gardens. With the gate to the park and parking lot closed, the area is little used. Snowmachines travel through and a few intrepid walkers, but otherwise it is quiet and peaceful.
After parking I watched a small group of ravens resting in the trees at the entrance to the park and then walked down to the river and watched the sun still low on the horizon shining through a plume of fog rising from one of the only open spots on this stretch of river.
I walked along the riverbank till reaching the community gardens where I took the path between the gardens and the snow dump. Looking further up the path I spotted a moose. During the summer moose stay clear of the area because of all the people, but during the winter they often pass through; I’ve seen their tracks in previous winters. On a couple of occasions when trees have fallen on the garden fence moose have ventured in to munch on the garden remnants and come spring their droppings can be found all over.
Today I approached slowly and the moose mostly ignored me. I managed to get fairly close before it ambled off into the trees on a path. I chose a path that ran parallel for a while before converging and managed to stay close to the moose. It was fairly tolerant of me but even so I was cautious and made sure that I did not get too close.
I saw a video the other day of a moose running full speed through snow twice as deep as the snow today. The moose in the video was not even slowed down by the snow and there would be no way I’d be able to outrun it if it became aggressive.
Maybe you don’t think of moose being aggressive, but there was very recently a man in Fairbanks who was severely hurt when he had an encounter with a moose.
Although bears are probably what most people fear when they think of the Alaskan wilderness, it is moose that I worry about more.
After watching the moose I headed back to the truck and to work. It was cold out today, but I’d dressed well for it and as long as I kept moving I stayed plenty warm.