Monday, July 11, 2011

Brown Bears- Heading back to Edmonton...

Bye Bye

They are so hospitable in Alaska that even the bears see you off. We took a small plane out from Lake Clark National Park directly to Anchorage. We left at about 11a.m. The flight took about an hour. From there I had enough time to check in, get some lunch and board my flight to Vancouver. I had a comfortable amount of time in Vancouver to stretch my legs, then caught my flight back to Edmonton. I was home by 11p.m. Not a bad travel day. I will definitely be going back to Lake Clark National Park. It was a great experience.

Video from the passenger seat of a small bush plane leaving the Lake Clark National Park runway (the beach).

Brown Bears Last Day...

There were five people in our group all week. Three of them were leaving this morning, so after our first game drive and lunch we saw them off. It was quite a dramatic departure as two boars were sparring on the beach. 
Boars fighting on the beach

Although that was a nice farewell for them it must have been bitter sweet for them as all of their good glass was packed, so they just watched and enjoyed the show.

After supper I decided that I would stay at the lodge rather than going out on the last game drive because the bears inevitably came back to the lodge area in the evening anyway, so I thought I would wait for them. Sure enough, the blonde twins showed up. I got my camera gear together and went out to photograph them. I was just a few feet away from the driveway of the lodge. I decided I wasn't going to wander too far off on my own. I was photographing one of the twins when out of the blue he ran at me a bit, so I yelled at him and he backed off. At this point he was far too close for my big lens so I thought I would back up a bit. I got a little distracted as I was trying to focus through my lens and didn't realize what he was up to. Thankfully a guide on a quad from the lodge next door came speeding to my rescue and scared the little trouble maker off as he was running at me and I didn't realize it. You really have to pay attention to the bears as they can really cover a lot of distance in just a few seconds.

Starting to Charge

In retrospect I should have known better. This teenager is last years cub, so is about 16 months old. He started walking like he was bowl-legged. This was an aggressive walk. One second he was eating grass, the next he started walking like in the picture, then stupidly I took my eye off him and the next thing I knew he was coming at me at a good clip. He ran off pretty quickly when the quad came speeding up. Thankfully I was able to learn this lesson unscathed. I will know better for next time.

That's it for the brown bear and puffin photography for this trip. I invite you to visit our  main gallery and website. In addition to brown bear and puffin prints, I will be making brown bear greeting cards shortly. 

If you are an Edmontonian, my next exhibit goes up in Scotia Place from July 29th to August 31st. I hope to see you there.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Brown Bears (And Puffins!)- Day Six

This morning we went out to see the puffins at Duck Island. I am not a bird person but this was a welcome break from the bears. As much as I have enjoyed photographing them, we have had limited subjects in a lot of different environments. Moms and cubs in the fog, in the sun, in the field, on the ocean, in the field... Moms and cubs are great subjects and I have been delighted with the results, but the birds at this point were definitely a welcome change.

We still managed to get out to see the bears for a couple hours before and after supper. Again, we had some interesting sightings. This time I videoed mom and triplets as the babies nursed. I got a kick out of how they viciously fight over their favorite nipples:)

This trip has been fun. Long days, nice people and great bear activity. One last day of bear viewing before coming back home. Although I have enjoyed the bear photography, I will be delighted to be back home.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Brown Bears- Day Five

Cubs on the beach at low tide.
Today we were all over the place. First we spent time with a mom and triplets right near the lodge, then as far down the island as we could and watched a mom and single cub for several hours. The bears were in tall grass, so we couldn't get good photographs of the cub, but he was fun to watch as he entertained himself by playing with a stick, weeds and just about anything else he could find. After lunch we spent a couple hours on the ocean floor at low tide filming the mom and triplets clamming. After supper as we were leaving the yard the blonde twins and mom came strolling into the yard. They were trouble makers this afternoon. Apparently a couch was purchased for a new cabin that they just built. It had to be specially wrapped and was put on a boat to get here. It was wrapped up in plastic to protect it from the journey, but the twins didn't care and ripped through the plastic and chewed at the corner of the brand new couch before the had a chance to get it into the cabin. In the field we found a blonde mom and single cub that we hadn't seen before. The light was good and they were great looking bears, so hopefully the pics will be good. On the way back I wanted to go home early as we were passing the lodge anyway, I figured I would call it a night as there wasn't much action. That was the plan.

When we got to the lodge the blonde twins were there playing and chasing each other across a creek and back, then fighting. It was too cute,
Yearlings Fighting

 so we stopped for them. I must have taken several hundred pictures just of them playing tonight. From there, I went back to the lodge to start downloading my pictures when out the window in my room we see a mom and triplets. It was 10p.m., but still fairly light, so I videoed the triplets for 45 minutes or so. They are pretty addictive to watch.

Our puffin trip got postponed due to the rough ocean today, so we are going out tomorrow morning. I love the bears, but the puffins will be a nice change. In the meantime, I put together another small facebook brown bear gallery for you to check out. You can find our main website here.

Til' tomorrow...

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Brown Bears- Day Four

Today we woke up to thick fog everywhere. It was pretty difficult to photograph the bears as the fog makes everything look pretty hazy, but in some instances it added an interesting look to the scenes.

 In the morning we saw a mom and two cubs near the ocean so we decided to photograph them from a slightly lower vantage point on the bank of a small stream (well the stream is quite small when the tide is out. When it is in, it is another story). 

Anyway, we were happily taking pictures when I figured I should get my smaller camera lens out of my back pack. My camera was dead as I had forgotten to put the re-charged battery back in the bag. Luckily I had packed a third camera body, so I was switching camera bodies when I heard our guide say "I'm just going to stand in front of you." I thought that was pretty weird until I looked up. The mom and two yearlings were less than ten feet away. They had kept coming towards us and were curious, so he had to shoo them away. Fortunately before they were shooed off and before I clued in that I should be nervous, I managed to get a few pictures off. Good ones too. It wasn't until after all was said and done that I realized how close they really were.

After lunch we went out on to the ocean at low tide and photographed the mom and triplets clamming. It was extremely foggy so the pictures were quite unique. 

From there we went out to the field and waited most of the afternoon as the triplets and twins slept. After supper was great. The light was near perfect. We came upon a mom and single cub that was quite curious. She kept on standing up and leaning against mom and just standing in general. Between the great light and the behaviors we did quite well. 

Tomorrow we go to Puffin Island to photograph the puffins. I haven't seen them in the wild before, so I'm looking forward to it. Another small facebook brown bear gallery from Alaska

Till tomorrow...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Brown Bears- Day Three...

Last night as I was saving to my hard drives the elusive brown bear mom and three cubs that the guides keep talking about walked through the yard of the lodge with a quick stop off to roll in the ashes of the camp fire. 

This morning our group of wildlife photographers made it about 100 yards down the bushline when we saw the brown bear cubs in the trees. Eventually they came down and we spent a couple hours with them. From there they crossed a little creek that was too much for us to cross, so we went out to the ocean to see if we could find some Alaskan brown bears looking for clams at low tide. We walked about a kilometer out to a mom and two cubs and were photographing them for a while. When we looked back we noticed that the mother and triplets were headed toward us. That was nice, so we took more pictures of bears for a while. By the time they left, it was time for lunch. After lunch we caught up with a brown bear mom and two cubs in a field. A couple hours later that same brown bear mom and triplets came toward us, so we photographed the mother bear and triplets again. It was fantastic as we got footage of them playing and nursing. By the end of the day, we photographed them in trees, long grass, on the beach and in the field. It kind of made us really particular as what we would stop for to take pictures of after that. In fact we were so spoiled that when we came home there was a mom and two cubs in the yard of the lodge and I was the only wildlife photographer who stopped to photograph them. The light was good, but everyone was tired so they just went to their cabins. The twins played a bit, nursed a bit then took off. 

Today we walked a couple miles which doesn't sound like much, but when you add the camera gear and walking through mud and swamp it definitely wears on you. Between the walking and waiting, wildlife photography can be difficult at times. That being said, the guides are terrific and among the hardest working guides that I have ever worked with. They are up early and with the guests until 9:30 at night. 

It is midnight as I am writing this and my guide just informed me that he found another mom and two really small cubs. That brings the number of bears that are being viewed in the immediate vicinity to 21. Their record is 25 so it looks like they are on track for a great bear viewing year.

The picture count is great. The first day I took about 2700 pictures of brown bears and somewhere near that on day two as well. In the next couple days they are supposed to take a boatload of nature photographers to an island to photograph puffins. I am really looking forward to it. I have never seen puffins in the wild before and as much as I love the grizzly bears, I am ready for some variety. Another small facebook gallery to wet your appetite. More pictures are coming. In the meantime, feel free to visit our gallery...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Brown Bears- Day Two: Arriving at the Lodge and Day One Photography

Brown Bears- Day Two.
Getting to Lake Clark National Park is quite the journey. After our day in Anchorage, we flew from Anchorage to Kenai via Grant Air, which is only a 30 minute flight. From there we were driven to Soldotna. Soldotna is only about ten minutes from Kenai. From Soldotna we flew 30 minutes across the mouth of the ocean to Lake Clark National Park. This place is beautiful. Not very many people and so far lots of brown bears! We arrived at our lodge at 11a.m.. Even on our descent we counted several brown bears and cubs on the beach. After a short safety orientation, several wildlife and nature photographers headed out to take pictures of brown bears. The light wasn't the greatest, but not bad either, but the bears were really plentiful! We photographed sows, boars, moms with yearling cubs, moms with this year's cubs and generally just a lot of bears.

Juvenile cub on the beach
The brown bears that we wanted to photograph the most however seem just a little to shy to be hanging out in the open just yet. There is a mother brown bear with new triplets that we haven't seen yet. While I was backing up my bear pictures, the owner of the lodge called me. Sure enough, there she was 20 feet from the house. She came into the yard and her cubs rolled around in the ashes in the fire pit. It was pretty cute. From there, she and her babies went back into the woods.
Waking Up

I took over 2700 pictures of bears today already, so as long as the weather holds, I think we are in for a great week....

I have all of my pictures posted on my website, which I will get to in future blogs. In the meantime, here is a very small facebook gallery to tide people over.

Til tomorrow.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Brown Bears- Day One. North to Alaska

Day One- North to Alaska
Today was just a travel day. No travel challenges really which was nice. The flight from Vancouver to Anchorage was almost full and I think I was one of the few people on the flight that didn't have blue or grey hair:) Seriously, I think most of the people on the flight were going to Anchorage to get on a cruise ship. Young people go on cruises in the Caribbean, while the older generations choose Alaska cruises I suppose. 

The Anchorage airport is nothing like I expected. It is beautiful. I pictured the typical small old airport. I surprised and completely wrong. I met another photographer in Anchorage and we went out to lunch then hit the markets. Fourth Avenue is a string of souvenir shops and behind it is a farmers market type set up with 50 or 60 tents of souvenirs. I am not a shopper, but had fun checking out the exhibits for a couple hours anyway.

Tomorrow we take a small plane from Anchorage to Kenai. That will take about 30 minutes, then  we will drive to Soldotna and take another small plane across the ocean north to Lake Clark National Park. With any luck we will be able to start photographing brown bears by noon or so if all goes well. My fellow nature photographer doesn't know about my small "stomach problems" on little planes in Tanzania. Oh well, what he doesn't know shouldn't hurt him and now I know where the leak proof bags are so I should be okay. :)

Photographing black bears in Minnesota and Canada has been fun. In 2010 and 2011, I photographed polar bear moms and cubs and really learned a lot, but up until now, the only grizzly bears that I have photographed have been in Canada, so I am excited to see what the bigger Alaskan Brown Bears look like. 

I can't wait to get pictures of brown bears tomorrow. I heard that there are three moms with brown bear cubs in the area we are going to be in, so hopefully we will find them.

Till tomorrow...