Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Skywatch Friday:  Between Storms

8:17 AM, Temp 49.2° F, Dew Point 48.4° F, Barometer 29.77 in Steady, Wind Calm, Humidity 97%

Between storms, there is a moment of peaceful moodiness in early morning over Skagit Bay.  Until Christmas, December weather was unusually dry here on South Fidalgo Island.  We received less than a half inch (12 mm) of rain for the month.  The dry spell ended on Christmas Day.  Now we are getting a succession of storms delivering wet and windy conditions, with calm spells in between.  Fortunately, all predictions indicate the New Year's weekend will be fairly nice.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Skywatch Friday:  Gone in a Flash

It was early morning and still quite dark outside.  I was watching the news over a second cup of coffee when suddenly, the room  went pink.  I grabbed the camera and caught this Skagit Bay sunrise just in the nick of time.  A moment later, it was gone.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fidalgo Summit Views

At 1,273 feet (388 m) Mount Erie is the highest point on Fidalgo Island.  Technically, it is a diorite pluton.  This is a mass of magma, heated by tectonic plate subduction, that rose up into the earth's crust and solidified.  It became igneous stone similar to granite.  Later it was exposed by uplift, glaciation and erosion.  It is part of a complex formation called Fidalgo ophiolite, a mixture of ocean crust and volcanic rocks that make up Fidalgo and the San Juan Islands.  Note that if the molten magma reaches the surface, a volcano is the result instead.  (As an editorial point, while I am comfortable with technical writings in medicine, chemistry and biology, I find those in geology to be uniquely impervious to understanding.  Please excuse my feeble attempt to clarify the basic concepts here.)

Mount Erie is an Anacortes City Park and a part of the Community Forest Lands.  It is a popular spot for hikers, rock climbers and hang gliders.  It is also possible to drive a steep, winding road to the summit.  There are overlooks providing spectacular views of the surroundings.  Above, Mount Baker presides over the North Cascades, Padilla Bay and the oil refineries on March's Point.

The morning of my visit to the summit was chilly, below freezing with patchy fog in some areas.  Looking northwest, Burrows Island and the Skyline neighborhood of Anacortes can be seen.  Beyond are the San Juan Islands.

An interesting sign on the road to the summit warms visitors of owl attacks during the early morning and evening hours.  Perhaps these are the original "angry birds."  I was spared their wrath during this visit.  A pair of transmission towers crowns the summit of Mount Erie.

To the east, the peaks of the North Cascades can be seen through lifting fog.

Finally, looking southeast is Skagit Bay which is my neighborhood.  Lake Campbell is in the foreground.  As we approach the winter solstice,  the low sun just out of view to the right is wreaking havoc with the camera.  Look carefully at the horizon towards the right.  I believe the peak barely visible in the fog is Mount Rainier, 118 miles/190 km away.  This is yet another attempt to get a really great photo of this view.  I guess I will need to keep trying.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Wild Fidalgo:  Eagles of Ala Spit

Meet the Bald Eagles of Ala Spit at Wild Fidalgo.  I have discovered that this Whidbey Island county park is a great spot for viewing wildlife.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Weather Wonderland

Photographing the weather can be a challenge.  Weather is not an object that can be portrayed in an image.  It is a condition of the atmosphere at a particular place and time.  It is possible to make images of the weather's effects.  For example, the wind cannot be photographed, but bending trees or crashing waves caused by the wind can be pictured.

For the past week, western Washington has been under the influence of both a lingering high pressure off the coast and a temperature inversion.  The high has given us clear, calm sunny days.  The inversion layer has trapped cold air near the ground under warmer air aloft.  The calm conditions prevent the mixing of air layers.  This is a recipe for chilly surface temperatures and morning fog in spots.

At home, the sun had come up under clear skies.  With nice weather and a day off, I headed over to the dike at Wiley Slough in the Skagit River delta to try and catch some wildlife photos.  The dike serves as a trail and makes it possible to hike out into the wetlands where the river approaches Puget Sound.  On the drive, I encountered icy roads and found Fir Island under dense fog.  Fog does not create the best conditions for wildlife photos.  I wondered if it would last long and how productive the morning would be.

When I reached the dike, I found the weather conditions had created a mystical, icy world.  It was probably about 26° F (-3° C) at the site and ice had formed on the surface of some of the marshes.  Freezing fog had deposited a coating of rime frost on plants and shrubs.  The unique beauty I encountered here abruptly switched the photo subject of the morning from wildlife to weather.

In the winter, these wetlands can be a dreary, brown-on-brown world.  On this morning, however, the weather had created something magical.  With fog playing tricks with the sunlight, ice-covered ponds and frosty coatings, these swamps and sloughs had been transformed into a mysterious wonderland.  A calm stillness was interrupted only by an occasional tardy leaf falling from the mostly bare trees.

I did encounter some wildlife on the hike and I got a couple of fair shots.  I spotted my Red-tailed Hawk friend from a previous visit.  A pair of young Bald Eagles eyed me from the trees above the dike.  I wondered if they were from the brood I spotted in the nest across the pond in the summer.  A Northern Harrier soared and Trumpeter Swans flew in formation overhead demanding attention with their honking.  In the distance, I heard Snow Geese on the move to a new field.  A startled Great Blue Heron was heard but not seen.  Juncos and sparrows foraged on the ground, Kingfishers chattered, ducks paddled and I was serenaded by a Raven singing baritone.  Black-capped Chickadees, Robins and Towhees were still enjoying the fruits of the wild crab apples.

Though the wildlife was abundant, the star of the show on this day was the weather and what it had done to this amazing place.  Hazy images, muted colors, frosty highlights and diffused sunlight created a unique experience and a great photo op.  There will be other times to catch some wildlife photos.

The weather had created an early preview of the winter to come.  As the morning progressed, the fog began to lift in spots.  The frost and ice would soon disappear as the temperature rose into the low 40's.  This magical weather world would be gone and again become a dismal brown-on-brown with just a bit of lingering green grass.

This is a mixed use area managed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.  Walking out, I encountered some master birders (their spotting scopes give them away) who wanted to know if I had seen anything interesting.  I felt briefly elevated to their level relating what I had spotted.  From September to March, this is also a public duck hunting area.  I saw no hunters on this visit, probably discouraged by the fog.  It's just as well as there weren't many ducks around either.  If you come for a visit, be sure to bring your Discover Pass.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Skywatch Friday:  Rain Shadow

The Olympic Rain Shadow is a local weather phenomenon produced by the Olympic Mountain Range in northwest Washington State.  It is the reason the annual rainfall in my location can be nearly half of what Seattle experiences.  If I look over Whidbey Island, I can sometimes see it.  Such was the case early this morning.  As weather systems move in off the Pacific Ocean, the mountains will literally part the clouds.  The region under its influence gets less rainfall and more sunny days than other parts of western Washington.  The clouds empty most of their rain on the windward side of the mountains producing the famous Olympic Rain Forest.

UPDATE:  This morning we saw the sunrise through the oculus of the Olympic Rain Shadow.  This evening, the sunset is also worth a look.  I cannot see the sunset from my location (it's off to the right), but I can see its reflection when I look southeast.

Weather Statistics for November, 2011

TemperatureHigh 56.6° FLow 28.2° FMean 42.7° F
Rainfall2.40 inches
WindHigh 35 mphAverage 2.6 mphDom Dir S

Observed at South Fidalgo Island (See Climate page for complete climatological data)