Monday, July 27, 2020

Coastal Brown Bears of Alaska, 2020. "All In on Red 26"

With the pandemic here most of my safaris have been canceled. I've made the most of it by finding local fox dens to photograph...Correction. One of my friends who was on one of my African trips found me two fox dens to photograph the kits.Fox Kits huddling for warmth

While I canceled two African safaris and one trip to Alaska to photograph Eagles, our brown bear trip fell right in the middle. Cases were dropping and we might be able to figure out a way to travel. The odds were against us going with the borders being "closed".  
Fox Kit Posing on Mound
I told my guests there was a big chance we wouldn't be able to travel, but that we would exhaust every avenue before we gave up. We betting the house on red 26. We were going all in and would let the chips fall where they may.
The borders were closed until the end of June. Hopefully with the cases dropping the borders would open up the end of June and we would be able to travel in July. The problem was although the cases were dropping across most of Canada, the cases actually increasing in Quebec and the U.S. Around June 19th we heard they were keeping the borders closed. Was this going to kybosh our trip?
Fox Mom and Kit Silhouette
A day or two after we heard that the borders were remaining closed we discovered that Canadian airlines were allowed to fly Canadians back and forth across the border. Just U.S. airlines weren't allowed to cross the border. That gave us one of the crucial windows we needed to get to and from Alaska. It meant it was expensive as we had to buy additional tickets, but we figured it out.
Alaskan Coastal Brown Bears Clamming
I kept telling my guests if we were able to make it, we would have a bear safari of a lifetime. I was up last year and we didn't see any cubs. Some people would have blamed it on "Climate Change". Logic told me otherwise. Nature goes in cycles. I thought this year would be epic!
Brown Bear Spring Cubs Playing
In order to go first we had to find a way to get to Alaska...Check. The Canadian government allowed Canadian Airlines to fly across the border.
Brown Bear cubs sparring
Next we had to find a place to self quarantine in Alaska for 14 days. It was a stretch, but we asked to increase a day at the lodge on either side of the safari. We canceled our stay on either end at an Anchorage hotel. And hoped customs would buy our "quarantine at the lodge" request.
Next we had to get tested for Covid within 72 hours of arriving in Alaska. Seeing as we would be flying out on Monday morning and the tests took between 5-7 days for results to come back, that seemed like a big ask. That wasn't going to work. I was hoping we would get our tests within a week of travel and out of good faith they would let us through. They were testing at the Anchorage airport. We would get our Anchorage test results back after a few days of "self isolation" at the lodge. The next problem was none of us could get our covid tests back in time.
Brown Bear Clamming
Insult to injury on the Thursday before we flew out I heard that one of my clients was golfing with someone who was exposed to someone with covid. That shot my anxiety up a notch or two! Maybe I had covid and didn't know? 
I got my test on July 1st. My doctor didn't know why it was taking so long so he did a test on Friday July 3rd. On July 5th I received results of both negative tests. I haven't been more happy to fail a test. :) We flew out Monday, July 6th.
Spring Cub Brown Bears Playing
Reality was in Anchorage they didn't care much about our tests in Edmonton. They tested at the Anchorage airport, but anyone could walk right by the testing area and no one would question you. Also after we were tested in Anchorage, a week later no one had received their results yet. Some of my guests didn't even receive results from their Edmonton tests a week earlier. By the end of our trip they still hadn't received their  Edmonton results and it had been two weeks at that point.
Brown bear walking through fog
So, there was a loop hole in the "closed borders". The need for testing was kind of a joke. No one asked where we were self-isolating. No one at customs or airport security even asked.
Brown Bear Mom and Cub

For six days we photographed 8 brown bear spring cubs and moms. There were also two second year cubs in the area too.
Brown Bear Mom and Second Year Cubs
But how would we get back. We didn't have an Anchorage hotel room to stay in on our way out. We were instead "Self-isolating" at the lodge. If the fog came in we would have had to stay another day at the lodge and would miss our flights back.
Moose Twin CalvesOn the way back because our flights were changed and we would have to overnight in Seattle. I called the Washington government. They told me if we were to enter Washington state as Canadians we would have to self-isolate somewhere for 14 days. When we got to Seattle no one asked us about self-isolating. No one cared. And when we (Canadians) went to check in, no one asked how long we had been in the US. The only problem we ran into was one of our guests who had been living in Canada for the past several months was not allowed to fly back to Canada because she had a U.S. passport. She would have to fly back to Florida. We knew this might happen. It was our "plan b".
Brown Bear in Creek
So now here I sit in self-isolation at home on my twelfth day of isolation. I am doing it right. Gaye hasn't been here in two weeks. She's been kind enough to deliver groceries and I have kept myself busy with pictures, company administration and house projects. A month before we left on this journey I kept telling my guests "we would be all in on red 26. Momma needs a new dress". If we got to the lodge I knew we would pretty much have the lodge to ourselves. I knew the bear viewing would be phenomenal...Or we could get held up somewhere and would be turned back. All in on red 26. And we won big! It was a great trip! Great people, great photography, great bear viewing. Our only complaint was the weather was too nice. Too many cloudless skies meant for poor photos during the day. That was our only complaint. Not too bad considering what we went through to get to Alaska and the amazing sightings we had.
My next trip up to photograph the brown bear moms and cubs is July, 2023. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Cure for Cabin Fever...

While it is important right now to contain this virus, our mental and physical health are still very important. If we aren't sick I see no reason why we can't enjoy the outdoors, get some sunshine while practicing social distancing. And that is just what two of my friends and I did over the past few days.

We met at a park in Edmonton and started looking for fledgling great horned owls that we heard were in the area. This got our minds off our cabin fever. It gave us something to look forward to, it got us out of the house, we soaked in the sunshine and got hours worth of great exercise while carrying heavy camera equipment.

So yes, we do need to continue practicing social distancing and we do need to be responsible for the health and safety of ourselves, our friends and families and society as a whole.

We can however still enjoy life responsibly. While I am not a "birder" exactly, exercise, wildlife photography and being out in nature is where I am happy. So while I am not in safari in Africa or Alaska right now, enjoying the local parks looking for wildlife while staying at leastt six feet away from others will suffice for now.

Even though our current situation may not be ideal I hope you are finding your "happy place" too.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Love Elephants

If you love elephants, then sit back, relax and watch this short video compilation of pictures and videos from our trips to South Africa and Kenya.

It is surreal watching elephants lumber through the camp. On our last trip they were in the camp every day. When they come through they have the right of way. We give them a wide birth and let them wander through. 

Safaris are amazing enough, but when the wildlife wanders through camp, it's pretty special.

Join us on our next Kenyan safari

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Adorable Polar Bear Cub.

In 2014 on our polar bear trip we only photographed one polar bear mom and cub. This little bear didn't have any siblings to play with and mom didn't come out of the den very often. I think she was bored. Every time we set up to photograph her she would come out of the den and look at us. It was as if she was posing as she pranced around the den.

We photographed her on and off for two days. She would come out of her den and wander around the den a little bit, then she'd go back in. Hours later she would come out again and play with a snowball or wander around the perimeter of the den again. On the second day we couldn't photograph her much because it was too warm. When the warm air hits the cold ground it creates a heat shimmer, making the images soft. On those days I video instead as heat shimmers don't interfere with video as much as still images.

Pictures from this season can be found on my website
Check out our current safari options at HW Photo & Safaris

Monday, April 15, 2019

Hot Air Balloon Safari Over the Masai Mara.

If you have never gone up in a hot air balloon and you have always wanted to go, go to the Masai Mara on a hot air balloon flight over the Mara river. If you like nature and wildlife, I can't imagine a better hot air balloon flight in the world!

March, 2019:

November, 2018:

Sometimes only a few of my guests go up in the hot air balloon, sometimes most of them do. Regardless of who goes, they all have one thing in common. The hot air balloon trip over the Mara river is one of the highlights of their trip.

Visit my website for more information on upcoming Kenya safaris.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Ultimate Kenyan Safari- Masai Mara & Giraffe Manor, 2019

This past February I hosted another group in the Masai Mara. This time it was a small group. There were only seven of us. No one in the group had been to Africa before. It is always fun seeing people experience the Masai Mara for the first time. We had fantastic group chemistry which made the trip that much more fun!

On our fist day in the Mara we had a great sighting of a cheetah mom and her two month-old cub. The cub was using mom's head as a springboard. It was super cute! A few minutes later we saw a mating pair of serval cats. And that was just the first morning in the Mara.

We had a lot of highlights. One of which was seeing elephants in camp. I could go on, but the pictures and videos in the slideshow will do a better job of showing what the trip was like.

I take groups to the Masai Mara every February and November. If you have never been to Kenya before and would like to go some day I hope you will consider joining us.

Check out the details of our next trip.

Or see our website for pictures of our African adventures.

After the safari is over we are back in Nairobi for a stay at Giraffe Manor and a private tour of the elephant orphanage. 

Join us in Africa for a bucket list safari trip of a lifetime!
Some nice comments from my November, 2018 trip:

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

What constitutes a "Bucket List Safari?"

One of my favourite things in life is a great sighting on a safari. Better than that is a quiet, private sighting on safari. I think that is what is so appealing about a hot air balloon safari. When you are sixty feet in the air, it is completely peaceful. All you hear is the hot air balloon burners kicking in occasionally when the captain needs the balloon to have a little more elevation.

On our November, 2018 HW Photo & Safaris tour, eleven of us enjoyed a hot air balloon safari over the Mara river. 

Seeing the animals below, while floating gently above is an amazing experience. Some people are pretty nervous before they go up, but once in the air, it is a completely comfortable, fabulous experience! In my experience, even the most nervous first timers, were completely relaxed once in the air.

The last time I was up in a ballon was in 2012. I really need to go up in the balloon more often. As much as I love leading tours, ensuring everyone is enjoying a trip of a lifetime is stressful. I am always worried about everyone and hoping they are having a great time. I don't mind the stress though. If I am ever not stressed about people enjoying themselves, to me that is when I should quit because I am no longer serving my guests to the best of my ability. 

For the hour-long trip floating above the Masai Mara seeing pristine nature below it is a completely blissful experience and I notice my stress melts away. We float over the Mara Triangle part of the Mara where there are very little vehicles. Other than a few roads down below we don't see any sign of human activity. That is nature just the way I like it.

Join us in the Masai Mara in February or November for a truly bucket list safari experience. 

So what makes this safari a bucket list safari? Is the hot air balloon the definition of a bucket list safari? Nope, the hot air balloon flight is optional. Is it the visit to Giraffe Manor?

 Or the private tour of the elephant orphanage? Donating much needed supplies to a local school and visiting the children? Or is it going with a professional wildlife photographer who knows which camps to choose based on the camp experience 

and the animals in that part of the park? Enjoying a maximum of 3-4 people per vehicle instead of the six people you will often see in vehicles? No. What makes it a bucket list safari is all of the above. It is the combination of all of these and many more attributes of this trip. You can contact Greg at to enquire about this trip. Sign up for one of our bucket list trips to Kenya and the Masai Mara and find out for yourself first hand why this is a bucket list trip.