Friday, September 28, 2012

Denali--The Mountain

"The mountain is out!"
This expression has specific meaning when you are in Denali National Park and Preserve and refers to the most sought after geological feature for many park visitors when they come to the park--Mount McKinley.  More often than not, the mountain is hidden by clouds, so it was a surprise to hear these words on the morning of my second day in Denali, especially after arriving in steady rain on the previous day!  We wasted no time.  
Mt McKinley, with its summit elevation of 20,230 ft above sea level, is the tallest mountain in the United States and in North America, and the third tallest in the world next to Mt Everest, in Tibet at 29,029 ft, and Aconcaqua, in Argentina at 22,837 ft. This feature makes the mountain a notorious and popular mountaineering site.  1223 registered climbers climbed the mountain in 2012 before the season closed--498 of those climbers made it to the summit.
View from Eielson Visitor's Center

Besides the incredible beauty and mystique surrounding this mountain, it's also fascinating to consider its geological history and the fact that the mountain is continuing to change. Mt McKinley is considered a granitic pluton, a mass of magma or lava that cooled and hardened beneath the earth's surface.  Over tens of millions of years the mountain was up lifted by tectonic pressures imposed by the collision between the Pacific plate and the North American plate, large segments of the earth's crust that shift and overlap over time in a process called subduction. These pressures formed the mountain and surrounding range and continue to influence them.
Above and below, views of Mt McKinley from the Wonder Lake area.

Earthquakes occur along the Denali Fault line, which runs through the park and the Alaska Range, and glaciers advance and retreat making this mountain and its surrounding valley alive with change and movement.  In fact, geologists report that Mt McKinley continues to grow taller by 1 millimeter each year.
I could only absorb a small amount of this fascinating geological history while visiting Denali from Sept 1st through 6th and since that time.  I brought home many books to enjoy at my leisure!  I encourage you to visit some of the links below that offer more interesting details about the history of the mountain formations and their dynamic influence on the land and ecosystems around them.

Up Coming:  More about Mt McKinley and its glaciers, Wonder Lake, and Wildlife Encounters

Links and Resources:

Click this link to view all my posts on Denali National Park and Preserve.  To see all posts on my visit to Alaska in the fall of 2012, visit Alaska

Mt McKinley's geological history
Ecological Overview of Denali National Park and Preserve
Geological Features of Mt McKinley
Wiki on Mount McKinley
Mountaineering in Denali, current climbing activity
Glaciers in Denali National Park

Monday, September 24, 2012

Western Hummer Species Have Reached Tennessee

This beautiful male Allen's hummingbird is currently in east Tennessee!  
Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell, Knoxville, TN

On November 19th of 2011, Mark Armstrong, Knoxville, TN master bander, banded an immature male Allen's hummingbird in east Tennessee, in Russellville.  That hummer has migrated back to the same area as the beautiful mature male you see in the images above and below.  Reported by his hosts, he was captured again and released on September 23rd, 2012, confirming that he is the same individual that was present last year and in good health.      

This information can only be confirmed through banding research.  As researcher and co-founder of the Hummingbird Study Group, Bob Sargent, states:  The only way to preserve all species of birds for future generations is to know what they require for survival.  The best way to accomplish this is to learn as much about them as possible. Banding is one of the tools in that effort."  
Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell, Knoxville, TN.  Above you see the green head and back of the male Allen's hummingbird.  The bird is held by master bander, Mark Armstrong, of Knoxville, TN while being examined before release.

Allen's Hummingbirds breed in coastal California and their traditional wintering grounds are in northwestern Mexico.  Prior to 1991, an Allen's had never been documented in the five eastern states of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee or Mississippi, according to Sargent, and the first documented case occurred in Alabama in 1991. The first recorded Allen's in TN was banded by Bob and Martha Sargent in the Chattanooga area in 1993.  Since that time, eastern residents have been encouraged to leave at least one feeder out after November 15th.  It is now known that these western migrants, the most common of which is the Rufous Hummingbird, can arrive as early as July and August, though they are more difficult to identify midst a steady influx of migrating ruby-throats. 
Photo credit:  Wally Manspeaker, Russellville, TN.  Above and below, the beautiful mature Allen's hummingbird currently visiting east Tennessee feeders at a home near Russellville, TN.

Wintering western hummingbirds do not rely on human-provided nectar sources, but find their own sources of nectar and protein in nature.  The primary reason people are encouraged to leave feeders out in the winter is so we can better document these birds and learn about their survival habits.
Photo credit:  Wally Manspeaker, Russellville, TN

The following report was provided to the Tennessee List-serve on November 19th, 2011 by Mark Armstrong:

"On November 19 I banded a young male Allen's hummingbird at a home near Russellville, Hamblen Co. [TN]....It has been a banner year for wintering hummingbirds this year.  In the eastern TN area I cover I have banded 5 Rufous hummingbirds, the Allen's, a late Ruby-throat and I had a return Rufous that I banded last year.  The Rufous that I've banded have been in Johnson City, south Knoxville, and 3 in Tellico Village, Loudon Co....I'm not the only one seeing a lot of hummingbirds.  Other banders [in] the eastern US are getting record numbers of Rufous as well as Calliope, Broad-tailed, Allen's and Anna's.  If anyone has thought about leaving a feeder out this would be the year to try it."

Clearly, 2012 promises to be a busy year also!

Photo credit:  Billie Cantwell.  Above, Mark Armstrong, in Russellville, TN.  Beside him is the trap apparatus that is used to capture hummingbirds for banding.  The trap door is closed via a connected line after the hummer enters to feed.

Not only do we have this Allen's Hummingbird present in the eastern portion of our state, we also have Rufous Hummingbirds currently being reported in upper east Tennessee and in the Chattanooga area.  These birds are often first identified as immature birds, but as in the case of this Allen's, they frequently return to the same areas while migrating and to the same wintering grounds year after year.

With each season that western breeding hummingbirds are documented in the eastern United States, we learn more about the nature of the species and their migration patterns.  If you live in the east, keep at least one feeder out during fall and winter and check the reference link below for information about who to contact to report a wintering hummingbird in your state.

Links and Resources:

Previous blog posts on western hummingbirds in the east:  wintering hummingbirds
More on hummingbird banding:  hummingbird banding
Sketches of an incubating Allen's Hummingbird

Who to contact if you have a wintering hummingbird
Hummingbird Study Group
Allen's Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Wintering hummingbirds in TN:  Second record of Allen's in TN, The Migrant 2001, The Migrant 1998:  five species of wintering hummingbirds

Next:  back to Alaska!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Alaska! Denali National Park and Preserve

Alaska!  Breath-taking beauty, inspiration, all types of challenges and worth every minute of effort and preparation!
View of the Alaska Range and Polychrome Pass from Polychrome Overlook.

My trip to Alaska was a solo journey with a self-created itinerary for the first week that I'll tell you more about later, and a second week devoted to a special visit with two park ranger friends from Tennessee who were working in Denali National Park and Preserve.  Their invitation to visit them while they were in Denali became the catalyst for my entire journey.  It had never occurred to me to take a trip to Alaska alone, even though this had been my dream destination.  When I received the invitation, I didn't hesitate.  I couldn't pass it up!
Arrival on the Denali Star at Denali's train depot.

Preparation for what I planned to do on this trip was a major undertaking during the three months before I left.  I had a lot to learn in a short amount of time, about methods of travel in Alaska and wilderness preparedness, and I had to get in better aerobic shape for wilderness hiking and carrying a day pack.  I spent many hours researching and finding what I needed--clothing layers, a comfortable backpack, gaiters, hiking boots and "non-allergic" socks, rain gear, accommodations, transportation reservations, and learning about Denali National Park, as well as, my two other destinations-- Katmai National Park and Kenai Fjords National Park.  After all that preparation, it was hard to believe it was really happening when I boarded my plane on August 24th and found myself on my way to Alaska!
I arrived at Denali from Anchorage by train in the pouring down rain, but the rain only made me smile.  I was ready for it.  I had rain gear for my suitcase, a rain cover for my backpack, rain pants and jacket for me, and rain covers for my two cameras, all of which, I used liberally throughout my stay!  Once off the train with luggage claimed, I navigated to the bus depot to catch the free shuttle to the Wilderness Access Center where I picked up my pre-paid bus pass and caught the bus to my wilderness destination, the Toklat River.
Tiaga or boreal forest above, a mixture of white spruce and low growing shrubs in the lower elevations.  

This is the routine of all visits to the wilderness area.  Travel is by bus beyond mile fifteen of the park road, a road that extends 92 miles to its end, giving only partial access to the six million acres of land that make up the Denali park and preserve.  The Toklat River is a three hour ride from the Wilderness Access Center.  On September 1st this ride provided a spectacular panorama of fall colors in the boreal forest (above) and mountain tundra (below), including vast overlooks of glacial river valleys and the Alaska Mountain Range.  Since the park roads are carved out of the natural gravel in the area, this can make for a muddy bus.  But the rain itself only enriched the beauty of the fall transition underway as we drove deeper into the wilderness.
One of our driver-narrated stops along the way included Polychrome Overlook where we were encouraged to explore. The many-colored rocks in the area are hardened larva formed 100 million years ago during a period of mountain-forming activity. This activity is still in progress--earthquake tremors along the Denali fault are frequent. And the land continues to be shaped by glacial melt-water rivers that deposit silt and rock fragments into the valley.

Above, low growing shrubs such as blueberry, bearberry and willow give the tundra some of its electrifying color.  Below, you can see kettle ponds reflecting light in the distance.  These ponds were formed by deposits of glacial ice.  When the glacier retreated, abandoned blocks of ice left deep depressions in the earth where these ponds formed.  
Glaciers can be seen in the distant mountains (top and last photos), enormous ice deposits formed over millions of years and seasons of winter snow fall, partial thawing and re-freezing.  Glaciers continue to shape the rivers and valleys of Denali.

Next:  The Mountain

Links and Resources:
Click these links to view all my posts on Denali National Park and Preserve and to see my posts on my fall 2012 visit to Alaska

Denali National Park and Preserve
Wiki on Glaciers
Polychrome Glaciers
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For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham