Fall's Journey South Final Update: November 20, 1998

Today's Report Includes:

Darkness and Temperatures Are Falling in the Far North

Arctic NWR is about the size of South Carolina

Yesterday (November 19, 1998) in Anchorage, 61.4 degrees N, there were 6 hours and 57 minutes of daylight. In Fairbanks, 65 degrees N, there were 5 hours 52 minutes of daylight. Every day the daylength decreases by several minutes, and above the Arctic Circle, soon the sun will set and not rise again until February.

As the sunlight decreases, the thermometer drops. Jim Kurth, manager of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, told Journey North that most winters there's at least one stretch of five or ten days when the high temperature never rises above 45 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (-42.8 degrees C), and the low can get down to colder than 70 degrees below zero (-56.7 degrees C)! Mr. Kurth explained that when it's about 40 below, car tires start flattening out, and if you throw a cup of hot coffee in the air, it "never hits the ground--it swishes and vaporizes."

Animals that don't hibernate or migrate away from the refuge are prepared for the harsh winter. Musk oxen are already going into their "energy conserving mode," Mr. Kurth noted.

Conversation with a Class in Alaska

Desiree Arrow talking to Journey North

Journey North had a telephone conference call with Joy Hamilton's class in Shageluk, Alaska, at the Innoko River School. This school is on the Iditarod Trail, and the race will go through Shageluk this year. Shageluk is off the highway system. The only way to get in and out is by plane all year, snowmachine in the winter, and boats in the summer. We at Journey North wanted to find out what winter is really like so far north.

Seventh grader Desiree Arrow told us that the sun is rising about 9:30 am and setting at about 5:00. Leroy Benjamin, also in the seventh grade, said that by the winter solstice, there will be about 5 hours of daylight at their latitude. He estimated the current snow on the ground as 40 mm. Desiree said the two nearby lakes are frozen, and many places on the Anoka river are frozen.

JN asked sixth grader Sheila Workman what kinds of birds are still coming to feeders. Her own bird feeder blew down, but she still sees birds around: mostly gray jays, which are nicknamed "camp robbers," crows, ravens, and chickadees. She said sometimes in winter they also see owls. Desiree said the most conspicuous mammals they see in winter are red squirrels. "We hear them in the trees all the time." Other mammals they sometimes see include foxes, moose, beavers, muskrats, martens, mink, wolves, mice, and rabbits. "The rabbits and weasels turn white in the winter," Desiree added.

One Hardy Bird

Several students in Joy Hamilton's class and Jim Kurth at Arctic NWR talked about one bird they see a lot in forested areas: "camp robbers." Gray Jays got this nickname because they boldly steal food from people, and also from wolves, foxes, and other predators. They are songbirds that need meat in their diets, but aren't powerful hunters, so they survive thanks to their clever habits. They have exceptionally thick plumage to insulate themselves from the cold. Gray Jay photo courtesy of the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center.

Tracy Arrow tells of funny experiences with sled dogs

What's a Kid to Do?
Even when it's cold and dark, kids still want to play! Anna Benjamin told JN that some of the games they play in the dark in the snow include wrestling, Capture the Flag, sliding down the snow banked up on the side of the school, riding around in sleds and on the snow machine, having snowball fights, building snowmen, and making tunnels in the snow for snow forts, but "they usually break on us."

Some of the kids have dogs, which are both fun and helpful. In places without plumbing, people get water for drinking, bathing, and washing dishes from a pumphouse. They have to lug 5-gallon pails home, but when there's enough snow, they can tie their dogs to the sled to pull the buckets. Tracy Arrow, Desiree Arrow, and Sheila Workman all had funny and interesting stories about riding on dog sleds. Kids also get to ride on snow machines, which are also used to make trails for the sled dogs to run on.

Beautiful Nights

Joy Hamilton's class at Innoko River School

Desiree Arrow celebrated her thirteenth birthday on Halloween, and that night when she was walking home, she saw some beautiful Northern Lights above.

You can send an e-mail to Joy Hamilton's class at jhamilton@shx.iasd.gcisa.net

Discussion of Challenge Question # 10
Last week we asked, "When winds are fierce, do you think birds control their flight better when they are flying into the wind or away from it? Why? If you were a bird, would you prefer to fly on days (or nights!) with light tailwinds or powerful ones? Do you think it's better for birds to save energy by flying in a fierce system or to spend more energy but be safer flying in more gentle winds?"

This was a tricky question, because different species of birds use different strategies. Some birds, such as loons and albatrosses, can only take off from the ground or water when they have fairly strong head winds. But the stronger the wind, the more difficult it becomes to actually CONTROL that flight. When the wind is strong enough, birds can't control their flight hardly at all--they just ride it out. The more birds and other things are in the air at the same time, the more likely mid-air collisions become, and the more dangerous flying becomes. But these fierce winds are most dangerous at ground level, where many things are blowing about from dirt particles and small pieces of litter to larger things. In tornado or hurricane level winds, even cows and large trucks can be lifted off the ground! And birds plucked up in these strong winds can be thrown against trees, buildings, or other flying objects.

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