Sunday, March 11, 2012

Polar Bear Safari Conclusion

I got home last night and have my polar bear gallery up on my wildlife photography website.  While on safari in Wapusk National Park, we visited a den on Fletcher lake that was about 30 minutes from the lodge. For the last three or four days that I was there we would see fresh tracks every morning. The mother polar bear would come out of her den and go for a walk, then go back in. She just wasn't ready to come out yet. We kidded that the mother polar bear must have triplets in that den and guessed that she likely wasn't coming out because her babies were just too small yet to make the journey. Some days twenty nature and wildlife photographers would wait 100 meters away from that den for anywhere from a couple hours to a full day depending upon what the trackers found in other areas.

On my last day she graced us with her presence. She came out about half way, looked at us a bit, then went back down again and that was the last that we saw of her.

I emailed a friend to enquire about the den. He said she came out tonight and sure enough, she had triplets following her. They came out wandered around a bit right at sunset, then went back into the den. Looks like they aren't ready for the journey to Hudson Bay yet. I suppose they are just getting a little exercise. I think they are in baby polar bear training. :)

On our second last night there was a natural phenomenon that is quite rare. Some kind of solar flare was supposed to create amazing northern lights. The lights did come out briefly but unfortunately we had a full moon, so their brilliance was short lived.

I don't do a lot of landscape photography, but I do take the odd shot of pretty sunrises and sunsets. I have a few pictures of the aurora borealis and some arctic sunsets from the trip on my website. That landscape page has pictures from other safaris as well. Just scroll through. The arctic pictures are at the end.

If you are on Facebook I also put several pictures up on that page as well. They can be found here.
Well, unless I get some more updates from the triplets that is it for now. Thanks for following my safari posts. My next safaris will be mule deer fawns in July, then Kenya and South Africa in August.

Two weeks later...
I emailed my friend again after I got home. He said the polar bear mom and triplets came out and the wildlife photographers photographed them for three days straight. Now, that is lucky! What isn't lucky is after she left, they never saw another bear for the last week of the season....And that's nature and wild life photography for you. You just never know what you are going to get.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Polar Bears Day Eight...

Unfortunately our polar bears from yesterday were real travellers. They travelled at least five miles toward the bay since we saw them yesterday so they were out of our range. We waited all day at  the polar bear den. The mother popped her head up a couple times and once we thought she was actually going to come out.

She was half out of the den, then disappeared back into the hole. All of the wildlife photographers waited until we lost the light, but she just wasn't going to cooperate. Oh well, all in all a good trip. My 2010 & 2011 polar bear images are on my wildlife photography website on my polar bear section. My polar bear pictures from this trip are up as well and can be found here.

So another arctic polar bears safari comes to an end. The next safari is mule deer fawns in July.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Polar Bears, Day Seven…

Today we checked out the first polar bear den. The momma polar bear teased us by peaking her head out a couple of times. At 3:30 we heard those magical words “We’ve got a polar bear”. Our trackers found a bear about twenty minutes away so off we went to photograph her and her polar bear cubs. The light was great, but unfortunately she was faced away from us so we didn’t get much. Oh well, still a fun day.

Tonight was supposed to be an amazing night for the northern lights, but we have a full moon, so the lights got dulled somewhat. They were still impressive for a few minutes. One more try at it tomorrow night. My polar bear pictures are up on the website.

We were spoiled today with only a dozen wildlife photographers in the lodge. A Chinese group of photographers just arrived so the lodge will be back up to full capacity tomorrow (21 people). It bodes well for them though. We have a female polar bear who looks like she is itching to come out of her den and another polar bear mom and twins that we photographed this afternoon. If she doesn't put the miles on, we should be able to catch up to her and her polar bear cubs early tomorrow morning. One more day. It would be nice to finish off with at least one more good opportunity to get some good polar bear pictures.

Polar Bears, Day Six...

We have been checking on the northern lights in the evenings and some of the nature photographers have gotten some pictures of them, but nothing to get excited about. Last night at about midnight we looked out and they were amazing. There were streaks of green, then red, then green again and they were dancing in the sky. It was the most amazing light show I had ever seen. We ran inside to get our cameras and parkas and by the time we got back outside it was if someone had turned off a light switch. There were just faint green streaks left. What a tease!

mom nursing

Me by a polar bear den
Today we drove for about three hours and finally caught up with the polar bear mom and cubs from yesterday. She had bedded down in the willows, so it wasn’t ideal, but we did get a few good polar bear pictures. We watched her and her babies sleep for a couple hours, had lunch, then had to turn around. The amazing thing about yesterday is that it was about -15--20 degrees. It felt like it was almost t-shirt weather...almost. On the way back we visited her den. It was amazing to see how small the entrance to the den really was. It was hard to believe that an animal as large as a polar bear could even fit in that hole.The den looked like it went back about ten feet. Tomorrow's another day. With some luck maybe the polar bear on Fletcher Lake will come out of her den too, so we can get some good baby polar bear photos. Fingers crossed.

Inside the den.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Polar Bears; Day 5

We stopped at the first polar bear den this morning and could see by her tracks that the mother had left the den, walked up the bank and returned again. This is the second time in as many days that she got out for a short walk and went back. Unfortunately there were no baby polar bear tracks. A few minutes later I heard over the radio the words that I have been waiting for..."We found tracks". That means that a polar bear and babies has left the den and are on their way to Hudson Bay. More importantly for us, that meant that we would finally get a chance to take some polar bear pictures.

It was sunny today, -30, no wind. Just a beautiful day. It actually felt balmy. We stayed outside for about six hours taking polar bear pictures. I haven't seen all of my images yet, but managed to get 3,000 pics. I haven't seen many of them yet. Hopefully I will be happy with the results.

Three more days to go on our polar bear safari. A couple more good polar bear photography sessions up here and there will be some happy wildlife photographers coming home.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Polar Bears, Day Four…

Well...the sun came out and momma polar bear didn't move. She gave us one glance and apparently the polar bear cub gave a three second appearance. It just showed an eye and forehead.

Cold and sunny. Great photography conditions. Once again, pictures of polar bear eyes and a nose.

It is amazing the conversations that come up when a small group of nature photographers are together for a long period of time. Today we spent a lot of the time in the van telling lies and bad stories. No good polar bear pictures, but we made the best of it anyway. I never paid attention to the temperature today and although I wasn't outside very long, I was outside long enough for my fingers and toes to still be burning four hours after we got back to the lodge. My toes are still burning.

Next to poor polar bear sightings this year, the most painful thing about the cold is when you need to go to the bathroom when it is in the -40's. You have to stay hydrated or you'll get sick. That means you have to go to the bathroom in the -40's with a biting wind. The wind is so biting and painful that when it hits the unprotected areas of your face, it is quite painful. It is especially painful on those sensitive areas that you need to expose when you need to relieve yourself. So, the question is, do you go several times for shorter periods? or do you save it all up until you are dancing and just go once? At the risk of frosty burning privates, I choose several short bathroom breaks. Sounds like a stupid thing to think about, but seriously a person has to be careful. -40--50 degrees celcius with a strong wind feels like you are  being sand blasted!

Hopefully we will trade in our lies and bad stories for pictures of polar bears and babies tomorrow

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Polar Bears, Day Three…

Another bitterly cold day. The guides have found ten polar bear dens, but only two of them have broken though, so we went to the far den today. This polar bear really wants out. She popped her head out about a dozen times for up to 30 seconds, but just wouldn’t come out. I would imagine that she will be out tomorrow… I hope. At least seeing a bear regularly throughout the day made the time go quicker. When we have good polar bear sightings the day goes by quite quickly regardless of how cold it is. At least today we got a picture of a polar bear...well sort of.

Five more days to go. There is another group of wildlife and nature photographers here that has three more days left. They are starting to feel a little anxious. They got here three days before us and their best pictures (just a head) came today but I am optimistic that they should have some good polar bear sightings in the next three days. Our problem tomorrow may be the snow. It snowed today and will be snowing tonight so if either polar bear leaves her den tonight she may not leave any tracks and we could miss them completely. But that is the worst-case scenario. Oh well, fingers crossed. Baby polar bear pictures tomorrow I hope...

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Polar Bears, Day Two

-35 in the morning to -45ish in the evening. The morning was nice. Sunny, no wind. Late afternoon brought a biting wind. As the light went down, I tried changing the camera settings and burned my fingers. They still hurt.

We did manage to get a peek of a polar bear mom at about 1p.m., then one van went to the other den. They also got a glimpse of a polar bear as well, but then she ducked back into her den. This bodes well for the coming days. As soon as one of the bears leaves her den, she should be pretty easy to locate and photograph. Once we can see her on the tundra, normally we can get pretty good baby polar bear pictures.

After two cold days of standing outside all day looking at a hole in the snow, hopefully we will have some luck soon. The polar bear den we have been waiting at is a very pretty location, so; fingers crossed, hopefully we will get some great polar bear pictures tomorrow.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Polar Bears, Day One...

Polar bears 1, Photographers 0. 7 shooting days left.
-46 degrees, we set up in front of a den at about 9:30a.m. and waited and waited and waited.
I did a work out of 100’s (my clients would know all too well what that isJ)
That was the first time I ever worked out that hard in the arctic. The rest of the time was spent telling lies and bad jokes. One of the vans went to another polar bear den. At some point in the afternoon, a mother polar bear popped out her head for about ten seconds, sniffed the air and went back down. Apparently two photographers got a shot. Shows they are thinking about coming out, so that is a good sign. Every year we come a long way to get pictures of polar bear cubs so hopefully we will have better luck tomorrow. 

Sorry no pictures yet, but check out the polar bear images from 2010 and 2011.

Polar Bears; Wapusk National Park 2012

So far so good…sort of…
The good news..
I was much smarter about packing for my polar bear safari this year and I didn’t have to pay anything extra in baggage fees.

The bad: So far this polar bear season has been terrible for bear sightings. One of the nature photographers that was up with us last year was just leaving as we were getting in. She had spent two weeks up at the lodge and only had two polar bear sightings of one mom and cub and that was it for two weeks. One of our guides was saying that they know of three dens. The wildlife photographers set up in front of the den today and all she did was pop her head out three times. That may be our situation tomorrow. Seven or eight hours of waiting only to see a polar bear’s head for a minute or two if you are lucky.

My optimism: In the area of Wapusk National Park that our guides spend the most time in, they say that only one family has already left for the Bay so far. Based on previous years, they typically see about 12-20 polar bear families a year. The good news is they have to leave at some point, so hopefully we will have good timing. The denning season is done and the lodge is closed by the end of the third week of March. That puts us almost half way through, so…fingers crossed. With any luck we will get some great pictures of baby polar bears this year.

My images will be up on my website at the end of my trip.