Thursday, February 24, 2011

Travel Thursday: Snow, Ice, and Birds

It was last week, and not just on Thursday, that I took out across Nevada and entered the Eureka "white hole" at a time when the road report said the road was open with no controls. The snow had come in so fast that highway signs saying "chains or snow tires required" had not been activated. The whiteout in Eureka, and across Diamond Valley toward Devils Gate and beyond, was not the worst whiteout I've driven in, but it certainly approached the worst in places.

When I left Eureka, where I had stopped for a short breather and to access the internet on my cell phone, the road report was already reporting chains and snow tires required over Bob Scott Summit. By the time I made it to Bob Scott, Austin Summit just beyond had socked in and was the worst part of my drive: whiteout, the road scraped by a lone snowplow only on the other side, and snow drifting into bumpy ridges on the unplowed side (my side).

I found when editing the whiteout photo above that I could actually make the conditions look much better than they really were with strong enhancement, so the photo is barely touched, just a slight change in color balance and the addition of a tad bit of contrast.
This section of Highway 8A, now S.R. 305, from Austin to Battle Mountain was damp but otherwise thankfully clear of falling or drifting snow.
I saw large flocks of small birds on the blacktop and in the flats right next to the road, especially along this entire section of old 8A, and also near Lone Mountain on Highway 50.
They would rise up as my truck approached, and I started randomly aiming the camera toward them, hoping for decent pictures. The photos were all cockeyed to begin with, then rotated toward horizontal during processing. I tried more than once to get pictures with the zoom set to 4x, hoping to get closeups of the birds, but all I got that way was a bunch of crooked sky pictures.
I must have driven through maybe 20 of these large flocks; I suppose I was lucky to have hit only one of them, but I really hate doing that.
Here's one of the birds close to the truck, nearly blending into the pavement. With MOH's help, I determined that these are most likely Horned Larks, possibly with some other hangers on like a few Longspurs or other related birds that typically hang together.
When I stopped at a rest area, I noticed that a strange phenomena had affected one of my tires: radiating masses of frozen slush or ice.
The shadows grew longer, the temperatures dropped into the teens, and I continued on toward my ever closer destination.


Callan Bentley said...

I've had that same radiating icicle effect on my truck, also in the Basin & Range, as it turns out.
Yes, I concur with the horned lark diagnosis.
Cool stuff. The world is interesting!

Silver Fox said...

I've never noticed the ice effect before, and this was just on the shady side of the truck.

It's so hard to see the markings on the little horned larks, but the underside of the wing, the tail, and vague darkness around the head seem right. Glad to have feedback on that!

Anonymous said...

Ben Hur hubs! Being in Canada, I guess I tend to see these more; they're fairly common during spring snow storms in April or May when the snow's right around the freezing point, and the roads are slushy.

The behaviour of those birds is certainly consistent with horned larks. They have the self-destructive habit of flying *across* the road when a vehicle approaches. I wish they'd collectively smarten up and take a lesson from some other birds, like mourning doves, that usually fly *away from* the road when a vehicle approaches. I suppose it's an evolutionary strategy that gave them an advantage somehow (confuse the enemy by flying in front of them?), back before there were highways and cars, but it's sure obsolete these days and must take an awful toll.

--Howard (Calgary, AB, Canada)

Gaelyn said...

I sure wouldn't like driving in that white out. But I do like the slush affect on you wheel.

Silver Fox said...

Howard, thanks for the bird confirmation, and yes, they almost always seem to fly in front, though there were some flocks that flew to the side way before I got to them. I said 20 flocks, but it easily could have beem way more. Hard to count.

I'd never seen the "Ben Hur hubs" before. Nice name. :)

Silver Fox said...

Gaelyn, the hubs are quite popular!

Dan McShane said...

This is why I read your blog. Great trip. I have driven that stretch three times. Each time in April and each time in the snow. The first time the visibility had me down to about 15 mph.
Loved the bird pic

Silver Fox said...

Thanks, Dan!

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

What great photos! My attempts would be waaaay worse than that even if I wasn't driving :)

Silver Fox said...

I really got lucky, and there were so many flocks I was able to keep trying when many photos didn't even have birds in them.