Winter Sights – Fairbanks

Auroral band behind the trees | Purchase Print

We’ve had some wonderful winter sights, and a handful of light shows so far this winter. This is my 11th full winter in Fairbanks, marking a full solar cycle living in Alaska. Well, sort of. Solar Cycle 25 has had a slow start, so we’re still kind of in this minimum of Sunspots. Yet, the aurora is not solely driven by big geomagnetic storms induced from coronal mass ejections, and we still see the northern lights plenty up here.

I’ve been having a lot of fun with my Photo a Day 2021 project. I’ve managed to only forget the camera at home once in 33 days, unfortunately missing out on an incredibly photogenic moose about a mile away from the house. But, I’m now taking a lot of photos again! I’m using this post to share a bunch of photos that didn’t get posted with the one-a-day post.

This is not the first time I’ve tried to do a photo-a-day project, but so far, this is the longest I’ve made it. It’s incredibly easy to let a day go by without remembering to take a photo. I’ve had two days that were very close calls. There’s a couple of things I’m doing differently this time. I’m making a point to take a daily walk on the trails at the house with the cameras. I’ve been hoping to see some animals, but unfortunately, it’s been nothing but trees and sunlight so far. Then I have a back-up of several shots I have planned to do around the house, so if 10 pm rolls around and I haven’t seen anything of interest, I can start ticking off that list.

Snowy forest
Out on the trails at UAF – Cloudy to the North
Snowy forest in Fairbanks, Alaska
The weight of it all | Purchase Print

Early January there is little light in Fairbanks, having just rounded the corner of the winter solstice. Those first few days of the year are only about 4 hours long. It’s good to get out and get whatever sunlight we can. Then there are the overcast days, with everything snow-covered the light is totally flat. Good time for black and white.

Outdoor stairwell with paint peeling off
Time for a paintjob – The back stairwell of the Museum of the North
Museum of the North in Fairbanks, Alaska
Museum of the North at the University of Alaska
Dark forest during the blue hour
The blue hour lasts about 3 hours this time of the year | Purchase Print

About one week into the month the sunlight starts to hit the tops of the birch trees in the yard after a couple weeks of being left in the dark. We’re just enough behind a hill that the light can’t reach us when the Sun is less than about 2.6° above the horizon.

Sunlight hitting birch trees in winter
Sunlight on the birch | Purchase Print
Aurora borealis over a silhouetted forest
A briefly brightened auroral band over the trees. Taken at 1:14 am on January 6, 2021 | Temperature: -14ºF (-26ºC) | Purchase Print

We had our first aurora sighting of 2021 on the night of January 5 and into the morning of the 6th. It was very pretty, but not terribly bright or active. Cat and I watched for about half an hour before I started falling asleep. This is going to be the downside about being on a bunch of medications that make me sleepy, it’s going to be much more difficult to do the late-night aurora sessions.

Hess and deborah mountains from Fairbanks, Alaska
Hess and Deborah from the Musher’s Hall on Farmer’s Loop at sunrise | Purchase Print
Gray Jay in a tree
Gray Jay – I love these birds, they are always so curious and always look like they are trying to figure out what I am doing | Purchase Print
Sun shining through trees
January 8 – Starting to see some light on the forest floor | Purchase Print
A person on a bench with a dog
We took the dog for a walk on Ester Dome. Cat tried to get him to join her on a makeshift swinging bench on a utility pole. He was not having it.
Sunrise over a snowy forest
Beautiful sunrises! Purchase Print
Sunlight on a farmhouse and barn
Sunlight reflecting off the windows of the old farmhouse and now Visitor Center at Creamer’s Field. Purchase Print
Sunset light on clouds over a field and forest
Beautiful sky over the western field Creamer’s Field in Fairbanks. Purchase Print
sunset colors through the trees
Sunset along the Boreal Trail | Purchase Print
Sunset over the barn at Creamer's Field in Fairbanks
Sunset at Creamer’s Field | Purchase Print

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Coyote on a snowy trail
Coyote in the neighborhood
Frosty spruce trees in a snowy meadow
Frosty trees | Purchase Print
Fata morgana - a superior mirage of mountains
Fata morgana – a superior mirage of the Delta Range | Purchase Print
Frost crystals
Frost on the car window. Plates and feathers sharing single nucleation points. Purchase Print
A snowy tree bending over a trail
Snowy arch | Purchase Print
Snowy boreal forest at sunset
Taiga and Sky | Purchase Print
Snow-covered forest at sunset
Snowy forest | Purchase Print
Golden light on spruce trees
Warm Light | Purchase Print
frost crystals on a dark background
The same type of frost formations happened again on the window a few days after the first time I saw it. I haven’t seen frost like this very often. Purchase Print

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Sunlight glimmering on the frosty branches of a tree
The trees were coated in frost and when the sunlight hit them it looked like Christmas lights. Purchase Print
Portrait of Cat
Cat on a walk – Definitely one of my favorite photos of her
Sunlight in the clouds over a forest
Frosted Light | Purchase Print

We went hiking at Angel Rocks one Sunday. Surprisingly there was no one else there. I figured the trailhead would be crowded since it was a weekend and the weather was warm. It was incredibly disappointing to see the amount of graffiti that has been going up on the rocks! Otherwise, it was a pretty hike, although very overcast the whole time.

ice on a river
Bare ice on the Chena River | Purchase Print
Clear ice on the Chena River | Purchase Print
Reflection of spruce trees in a stream through the snow
Spruce reflections in an open creek at Angel Rocks | Purchase Print
The rocky outcroppings at Angel Rocks
Angel Rocks through the trees | Purchase Print
Mountain Valley
Hints of color in the clouds at sunset – Angel Creek Valley | Purchase Print
Forest and mountains
Forest view on the boardwalk along the Angel Rocks Trail. Purchase Print
Stand of trees under a deep blue sky
Deep blue sky behind a stand of frosty aspen trees at Creamer’s Field | Purchase Print
aurora borealis over a snowy meadow
Moonlit snow and the auroral oval | Purchase Print
moon setting through the trees
Last moment of the Moon setting through the birch trees | Purchase Print

The weather finally cooled off late in January, giving rise to some more interesting atmospheric optics displays.

light pillars
Light pillars over the railroad tracks near Tanana Lakes. The ghostly high altitude ones on the left were eerie. Purchase Print
Sun and sundog over the Alaska Range
A -24°F morning in Fairbanks, Alaska. Sunrise and sundog over the Alaska Range. Purchase Print
Frosty trees in the light
More frosty trees in the sunlight | Purchase Print
Immaculate Conception Church
Immaculate Conception Church – This one did actually end up in my photo-a-day gallery. I just really like it. Purchase Print
A snowy red water tower and train station at pioneer park
Frost at Pioneer Park AKA Alaskaland | Purchase Print
cabins and frosty tres
Historical cabins, now shops at Pioneer Park | Purchase Print
Forest in the twilight
Violet hues in the sky after sunset | Purchase Print

It’s been really cool to see how the sunlight in the forest has changed over the last month. We gained just under three hours of daylight over January. At the start of the month, the sunlight only hit the tallest trees’ tops in the yard. On the first of February, I can feel the light on my face.

Beautiful light in the forest
Beautiful light in the forest | Purchase Print
Golden light on birch trees
Gorgeous warm light hitting the birch as the sky turns purple to blue | Purchase Print

Earth entered a solar wind stream from a coronal hole on February 1st. The proton density and speed increased dramatically in a short time, sparking an early evening aurora display. It had a lot of energy but ran shy of what I would call a “spectacular” show. It was still gorgeous to watch!

Northern lights over forest
A band brightens behind the trees | Purchase Print
Aurora borealis showing picket fence display
Some picket fencing and high-altitude reds – the red was only barely visible to the naked eye. Purchase Print
Aurora borealis behind trees
Fading Away – The band drifted north again and quickly died out | Purchase Print

I’m really paying attention to toning down my aurora photos a bit. While I’ve never gone as overboard with over-processing my aurora photos as many people do, I want them to look more true to what I actually see. I tend to brighten them a bit and bring out the color a bit more, trying to balance between making them good for printing and true to what I see. I wrote a longer article with some examples and side-by-side shots on the subject a few months back: Honesty in Aurora Photography.

So, it’s been a good start to 2021. Now it’s February, and the amount of daylight is starting almost to feel “normal.” All of my photos will be archived in my winter gallery here if you want to see even more:

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