Sunday, March 17, 2013

Polar Bears- Days Eight, Nine and Ten

Days 8-10
Day Eight:
The forecast lied. It was supposed to be sunny and warm up. Instead it got windy and really cold!

 A video team from CBC showed up a couple days ago. They are filming a program called 'Wild Canada' that should broadcast sometime in 2014. They gathered some great polar bear footage in the few days up at Wapusk National Park. They also did some amazing Northern lights time lapse videos. Today the winds picked up and the snow was blowing hard across the tundra in  the morning so our images were a little soft. They died down in the afternoon and we had a good evening of shooting as the cubs played on the bank. After supper the northern lights were pretty impressive so a few of us had fun with them as well.

Day Nine:
The winds continued and didn’t die down and was brutally cold out. The bears were smarter than we were and didn’t leave the earth den all day. Day nine was the first and only day that we didn't at least get a glimpse of the bears.

Day Ten:
The family hunkered down and slept for most of the day. Again it was really cold today! Mom got up for a little stretch in the early afternoon, looked around then cuddled up in the snow bank again and went back to sleep. Finally at around 5:30p.m. mom got up and went for a walk. We had our best active series with great light during this walk about. Her walk probably lasted for about 20 minutes. One of the photographers who had come in from China must have been careless with his gloves because by the time the shoot was over, he had a thumb that was so badly frostbitten that it had turned black. One of the doctors in the group was pretty certain that he would lose at least part of his thumb.
In the past three days the weather has been in the neighbourhood of -50 degrees with the wind chill making changing batteries and memory cards really painful. Anytime we touched the metal cameras the cold metal burned our fingers through our gloves. I had to take off my glove to change my memory card during the last series of photographing the bears walking. My timing couldn’t have been worse and just from the couple minutes that it took to change the card, my hands turned bright red and are still red two days later. Our hands got so cold that our dexterity became very limited making it difficult to even change a card. In fact my thumbs and first two digits are still quite tender to touch as I type this. A minute or two of changing memory cards, then a minute or two of handling the camera and changing camera settings and my hands were really burning. As usual, this has been a learning experience and I will go back next year with more ideas on how to keep warm while handling the cameras.

Although we only saw the one family this year. In previous years we would have decent photography opportunities on average about 30% of the days out. This year we saw this family on nine out of our ten photo days. The mom liked to take her cubs for walks and the cubs were really active. They loved to spar, chase one another and climb trees making for some pretty great photography opportunities. This family was rare in a lot of ways. Normally the families will only stay around for a few hours or a day or two once they leave the den, but the trackers and photographers have been watching this family since February 20th. Most bears also like to keep their distance from us, where this bear liked to come to check us out and the guides would have to discourage them by driving a van or ski-doo between them and the photographers if they came too close.

I hope they make their journey out to Hudson Bay soon as I can't imagine how long momma bear can live off a few bites of tundra moss daily.

This year would have been a great year for videographers. The cubs loved to climb trees, but their methods for getting down were less than graceful. They would climb up about 6 or 7 feet, then climb down a couple feet and just drop the remaining four feet. Tuck and roll. That is pretty much how they jumped off snow banks too. The antics were somewhat lost in still footage, but would be really entertaining in video.

This year was my best polar bear year yet by a long shot. I may be spoiled for next year now, but after a slow year last year, I will take what nature gives us and hope for the best.

Visit my wildlife photography website for more images of polar bears from previous years.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Day Seven, great light, active bears.

Day Seven…
Another absolutely stellar day! The light was perfect and seeing as we have been with this family for the past seven days, we now know her behaviours and habits. She nurses, sleeps with the cubs curled up on her, then the cubs get up and play hard for several hours. Later she yawns, has a snow bath and goes for a walk towards us. After the guides direct away from us, dejected, she heads back to her day den, curls up and has a sleep. At some point she will look around to see where her kids are, yawn, have another snow bath, go for a walk etc. On nice days she will do this two to three times per day. The action all starts around 2 or 3p.m.  On day’s five and seven, the light and weather has been very similar and so have been her behaviours. 

We have three more shooting days left and the forecast is supposed to be mostly sunny so we may just have three more great photography days, or she may head for the bay. Either way we have had some amazing photo opportunities this year!

To see more of my nature images from this trip see my adult polar bear pictures, or my polar bear mom and cubs, 2013 gallery  and my aurora borealis pictures.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Polar Bears; Days Five and Six

Five for Five…
When we got to the den today the bears were already sleeping in a day den. We had blue sky, but a very cold wind. In the last couple years in -40 C my camera stayed out in the cold for 8 hours straight without draining so much as a battery. Today they went dead three times. I have no idea how cold it was, but this morning was definitely the coldest that I have ever experienced it here. In fact my hands are still burning and we've been back at the lodge in the warmth for the past six hours.

In the afternoon the mom and cubs came to check us out a few times again. The guides had to chase them off because they were getting too close to us, but in the meantime we got some absolutely amazing shots of them as they came towards us. In the past four years of my polar bear safaris up here, this was by far the best nature photography day that I’vehad!

Day Six…
Today was windy and snowy. The bears only came out of their den briefly, but we were fine with that. Shooting through that much snow doesn’t do much for your images anyway. I just stayed in the van and slept.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Day Four Hide and Go Seek...

Day Four:
She still didn’t let us down. We showed up at her den and a couple hours later she and the twins emerged once again. The bears have built a day den in the snow near their earth den and they have several holes with connecting tunnels coming out of the snow. When the mood strikes her, mom will chase a cub into one hole and the agile cub will quickly escape out another. It was really cute to watch.
Hide and Go Seek Countdown. 1, 2, 3, ...

Today was snowy so at over 100 yards away there was a lot of snow in the air making the images soft. It was fun watching the cubs climbing trees and playing even if the images weren't very good today. You can see more of my images are on my nature photography website.

Day Three: Bears and Wolves

Day Three:

On our way out to the den today our trackers noticed two sets of wolf tracks heading toward the den. Some time after we left the momma bear and twins last night, a couple wolves came to investigate the family. If the wolves can separate mom from her cubs, they will get a tasty snack. Judging from the tracks, it looked like the family was headed for the bay, but when she discovered the wolves, they went  back to their den. There were fresh wolf tracks all around the den and the surrounding area. Seeing us humans was likely a relief to the family as the wolves would keep their distance from us. We got to the den around ten a.m. and she came out shortly there after. Today we spent most of the day with mom and cubs and with the great light had a pretty good day of photography. At the end of the day once again it looked like she was headed toward the bay. Ten photographers were enjoying their last photography day today, so it would have been a great ending to the trip for them if the last thing they saw was the bears headed on their journey. She was headed in the right direction and was a couple hundred meters out when she decided to turn around and head back to the den. I guess she still isn't ready to go yet. Maybe she will be gone by the time we get to the den tomorrow. Either way, we have enjoyed some great wildlife photography so far this trip.