BearHead Photography has many images to showcase his expansive portfolio on mammals of North America, and these are his Alaskan favorite pictures.
It is hard to understand just how vast Alaska is until you have been. Denali is over 6 million acres, and the majority of that land is all backcountry access only. Wildlife can truly live their lives and never be influenced by human activity. A large moose takes advantage of a nice evening to eat from a pond and to get away from the bugs.
Grizzly bear cubs are very playful when they are young. These cubs had been rolling around, and when they finished the one cub stood up and put its paws together.
Highly Honored Photograph Natures Best Photography Competition
It is hard to describe just how awesome a large tidewater glacier is! In Glacier Bay National Park there are a number of really large glaciers that come all the way down to the water from high in the mountains. This particular glacier has carved out a massive area that has in the last few hundred years filled in with sea water. The expansiveness of the area and the grandeur of the glacier and mountains was quite the site to see!
Coming at You
When brown bears are fishing they can become very excited and chase any fish they see. This brown bear was patrolling the river all afternoon when a salmon got stuck in shallow water near where I was standing. She turned immediately when she saw this and bolted like a freight train after that salmon. She had every determination to catch that fish, and she was successful.
Grand Prize Winner National Geographic Photo Contest
Observing the northern lights never gets old. Each show is very different from the last, and unpredictable. This night started off very slow, and then all of a sudden this beam appeared and started moving around! Watching it move over the mountains was a memorable experience.
It's not often you come across three bull moose hanging out together. I first only saw one moose, and it was only once I hiked up and over a hill did I see that there were three moose. After spending over three hours with them and only getting mediocre pictures, that all changed in a heartbeat. I couldn't believe my good fortune when they all left the pond and went up on the ridge and stood still for just a few moments. Being all along with these moose with this setting was a moment I will never forget.
Rise and Shine
Bears are just like humans when they wake up from a nap, groggy. This bear family had a good rest on the tidal flats, and were woken by the rising tide. They weren't ready to get up yet, but had to. The two cubs clung to their mother and wanted more rest, but mom knew better because of the rising tide.
Humpback whales are usually a solitary animal. The only time they will be with other whales, is during mating season and when food is at its peak. These whales dove at the same time in hopes of rounding up little herring fish.
Alaska is an incredible state to see from car, train, boat, and even plane. Seeing glaciers from above gives you a much large appreciation for their size and power. Flying directly up this glacier let me really see exactly how powerful these ice waterfalls are in carving out the mountains.
The Wild Coast
In Alaska you just never know what you might encounter with wildlife. There is such great diversity, and the animals are in numerous areas. Once this bear noticed the bald eagle had a fish, it went over to investigate. The eagle had eaten all it wanted and flew over the bear as it went to rest and digest its meal.
Until this night, most of my northern lights experiences had been one streak of light in the sky. I had seen some nice lights and very dramatic lights, but none that filled the whole sky. Just standing and being able to look up and see the entire sky alive and dancing was an experience I would like to have again.
The night before this while hiking in the mountain was fully enclosed in clouds and I had no idea where Denali was. I happened to wake at 4 a.m. and when I looked out my tent the great mountain was clearing from the clouds. I ran back to a marshy area from hiking in and got some amazing clear pictures on a beautiful calm morning.
When the fireweed grow later in the summer in Alaska it turns the entire state into a much prettier state! There can be field after field of fireweed, and they really liven everything up. When I saw Denali clearing, I knew I wanted to frame the mountain with fireweed and found some along the edge of this pond.
Mother bear bent this tree down and used it to rest on. The tree made for a great jungle gym for the cubs to play on too. After they were done playing, they came next to mom and leaned over the tree branch all at once.
The entire coast of Alaska is beautiful. Everywhere I have been on a boat in Alaska, it is just amazing to me how the mountains never stop as far as I can see. These waters create an amazing habitat for numerous marine mammals, and humpback whales come to Alaska in the summer to feed in this paradise.
Watching bald eagles never gets tiring. They are such a large majestic bird and fly with such ease. One morning, just as the sun was rising, this bald eagle flew close to the river trying to scare river otters hoping they would drop their fish.
I love getting off the road and away from everyone and finding my own shot. There are many times I spend hiking through the tundra or woods and don't come up with anything. But those moments when you do find wildlife to yourself are the moments you never forget. When I found these three bull moose together I was ecstatic. I followed them for over three hours before this special moment occurred, and I was more than happy that I waited and followed to see what photographic opportunities they would present.
In the mountains in the morning it is often foggy after a rain storm. The moisture in the air combined with the usually cooler temperature, can create a very heavy fog. As the fog was beginning to burn off, the larger trees began to cast a shadow across the fog and add a neat effect to the look of the forest.
The fall in Denali is my favorite time of the year. I love being in Denali in the fall because the color is spectacular, the animals are moving around a lot, and the weather is better. Catching Denali on a perfect calm day in the backcountry is why I love Denali in the fall!
There are too many times to count when I had a great setting with wildlife, but no light. Having both come together perfectly on this morning was a dream. As I ran to the stream, hoping they would cross in the perfect morning light, I waited only briefly before they decided to cross. The morning light, reflection, and mountains made for a dramatic backcountry Alaskan scene.
In the summer in Alaska, the nights just turn dusky and not all the way dark. It was nearly 11 p.m. when I spotted this mother and her 4 cubs for the first time. I was getting ready for bed, but that quickly changed and I hurried to find them again. They were moving down the lake shore looking for salmon to fish for. It was my very first time ever seeing a mother and 4 cubs, and having them all walk in a line on the lake shore sure made my night a lot better.
Seeing the northern lights is more likely the further north you go in Alaska. I was very far north on this night, and set up on the river hoping to the see the lights over the river. I had been seeing the lights, and then for just a couple of minutes the lights danced over the river, and even a star shot across the northern lights.
Humpback whales are a huge whale that only show off their tail when they are going to dive. They can hold their breath for over 30 minutes and surface miles from where they dove from. This whale had come fairly close to us while following the fish it was dieting on, and then dove on a calm Alaskan morning.
Everything about this picture screams beauty. The night before I had no idea where the mountain even was because of clouds, and the next morning all of a sudden a 20,000 foot mountain appears from nowhere. Walking around in a marsh, I was able to find some calm waters for this reflection picture. Seeing Denali on a clear day is an experience I will not forget, especially since I did not even know what it looked like before that morning.
Haines is known as one of the best places in Alaska to look at bald eagles. At certain times of the year they congregate in huge numbers. Here, a mating pair look down on a stream in the rain in search of a salmon.
Glaciers all over the world are melting at an incredible rate. Some glaciers are still very large, but I would have loved to see them even 50 years ago and how much larger they would have been. Being up close to this glacier and seeing the deep blue of the ice made me respect the glaciers even more.
It is not very often that you have a crystal clear view of Denali. On my last camping trip of the summer I was fortunate to come across this scene. In Wonder Lake was a mother and calf moose taking there time eating the grass of the bottom of the lake. I could not think of a better way to end my summer.
Sea otters are very easy going animals most of the time. They lay on their back and rest, or eat clams and mussels they have brought up from the ocean floor. This young otter was stretching out from a nap, and it looked like it was about to clap its paws.
The fall in Denali is my favorite season of the year! The colors and activity of the animals always gets me up early in the morning. I hiked many miles to have an opportunity to photograph this moose. I had gotten good shots, but after he moved up the hill to scare another bull moose off, did I finally get a shot that showed just how endless the valleys of Denali are.
Humpbacks are a massive whale, and can reach up to 70 feet long. It isn't known exactly why humpbacks jump fully out of the water, but there are some good educated guesses. This whale was part of a fishing group of humpbacks that were not having much success. It likely was a little upset and decided to jump out of the water to release some frustration.
Going underneath a glacier into a cave that has formed underneath was very surreal. The colors and natural design of the ice cave is indescribable until you have been in one. An ice cave forms by a river that moves underneath the glacier. The natural color and design of the ice was like nothing I had ever seen before.
Watching young bear cubs play never gets old. They have the protection of mother, and act as if there is nothing in the world that could bother them. They have such a great time and really play when they are young. These two cubs were usually really close to each other, and both wanted to take a look to see where mother was before playing some more.
It's not often you get to see a glacier at the sea, and see where it started from in the mountains. They often curve down the mountains and make only half or less of the glacier visible. Being able to see over 10 miles back into the mountains to where the ice I was looking at started hundreds of years ago made me realize just how amazing glaciers really are.
Going for a Ride
When cubs are real young, it is somewhat common for them to latch onto mom while she is swimming. This little cub was tired of walking in the grass and decided to climb onto mom as she moved around and save its energy.
Grizzly bears normally have between 1 and 3 cubs. 4 cubs can happen, but is really rare. This mother had her hands full caring for all of her cubs, and the cubs would closely follow her as she moved around looking for salmon.
Glaciers in Alaska, and everywhere, are quickly receding. Mendenhall glacier, in southeast Alaska, is no exception to that, and by 2080 they think it could be gone. As it recedes, it drops ice bergs into the lake it has created as it retreats up the valley.
All at Once
There is a very small time of the year when humpback whales feed together. Some years it can last less than 2 weeks for when the whales bubble net feed. They will circle around the herring and blow bubbles and create a wall of bubbles. The herring don't know they can swim through the bubbles and become trapped. The whales then come up through the middle with their mouths open, and have a meal of herring.
In the summer in Alaska the sun doesn't set in some places of Alaska. In southeast Alaska it does set, but in the middle of the summer it is not until very late at night. It was worth staying up to see this sunset in Juneau.
There were only a couple of bears that fished on Brooks Falls that were fast enough to catch salmon that did not jump right to them. This bear was probably the most successful bear at catching salmon that there was. As this salmon tried to sneak by, at the last second the bear turned its head and that salmon was caught.
Watching the northern lights on a clear night is a sight to be seen. On this night they came and went very fast, and had so much energy. Seeing a green light in the dark night makes everyone stop and watch.
The plants and bushes in the tundra can be very tall. I often forget just how big the moose are because they are usually only a foot or two above the bushes. This massive moose had no problem moving around because he was so much taller than everything.
This bear family was resting quietly on the shore of the river, when across the river another bear started to chase a fish. This startled the bear family and they woke up. They decided to sit there and watch the bear fish, and make sure that it did not come their direction. The bears stayed close, so in case they had to leave they knew where each other was.
Watching a group of humpbacks fish together is quite the site. They are normally a solitary animal, and fish by themselves. However, when the herring population reaches its peak, the whales come together for a feeding frenzy called bubble feeding. All of a sudden, anywhere from 5-12, humpbacks appear out of the water with their mouths open and inhale the herring.
The Great Caribou
Large bull caribou can have really strange looking antlers once they are fully grown. They roam the far north and are continuously on the move looking for food and to get away from the bugs. There is not a really large herd in Denali like there use to be, but this large guy was alone one morning and went on a small ridge to look out over the valley and up at Denali.
While in Denali, I love being in the backcountry exploring on my own. It is so fun to be off the beaten path and find animals by myself. Once I found these moose, I did my best to track them across the endless tundra. When they walked the ridge above this pond, I knew all the tracking I had done had more than been worth, and I could reflect back on how great the state of Alaska is!
When salmon really start to push up the river, bears start to show up from everywhere. Salmon are high in protein, and every bear wants to eat salmon. Congregations like this do not happen very often, but when they do bears tolerate each other fairly well because there is such a large supply of food.
The northern lights are a part of our world that will never get tiring. They come out in the northern latitudes, and are very unpredictable. From night to night they put on a different display, or decide not to show up at all. On a very clear night I was able to have no wind and capture the big dipper reflected in the lake while the northern lights played above the mountains.
Orcas are a beautiful whale, and can swim hundreds of miles a day. There are many pods that are transients, and roam whatever waters they choose. This pod of orcas was a resident pod in southeast Alaska, and were seen off and on. They don't normally swim right beside each other, but they did this one time with the dramatic Alaskan mountains behind them.
I don't think I've ever seen an unhappy otter. I've seen some playing and fighting each other, but it still looks like they have a smile on their face. This guy was having a relaxing evening and just enjoying his clams and slowly eating them while swimming backwards.
Beauty of Alaska
Finding an animal of the size is always a thrill. After finding him, I was hoping to be able to put him in the environment and show just how large he is. After following him around for over an hour, he finally went in a low vegetation area, and I positioned myself right in front of him as he walked through.
Denali is a park with over 6 million acres of protected land. There are only around 300 grizzly bears in the park, due to how hard it is to survive there. On a clear day, a grizzly bear roams the open tundra looking for berries in the fall.
Fall in Denali
The only way to experience fall in Denali is to be there yourself. Watching literally everything turn red is crazy. The plants that turn red are some of the most dull plants all summer, and then for one week they light up. The fall in Denali is the prettiest fall I have ever seen.
Finding wolves in any season is not easy, but in the fall it is hard because they blend in so well with the foliage. I happened to find this wold crossing a dry river bed and followed him until he left the river bed. Seeing him against the fall colors made for a photo I didn't think I would ever get!
Humpback whales flock to southeast Alaska during the summer to feed. The summer in Alaska is the only time they feed all year, and they can feed up to 23 hours a day. When the herring fish reaches the peak of the summer, humpback whales form groups to fish in and will bubble net feed. Less than 10% of all humpbacks know how to do this, and it only happens for two weeks or less in the summer. After circling the herring, the whales breach with their mouths open and inhale the herring.
Large pieces of ice that fall off glaciers make for great resting and birthing places for harbor seals. The seals actually depend on this ice to have their babies. This seal looked so small and almost unnoticeable in from of the large John Hopkins Glacier.
The amount of time I search for animals in Denali, as compared to how much I find and get to photograph animals, is dramatically different. So when I find an animal in an amazing place, it is that much more exciting. Watching these three moose move together in the lake while the Alaskan range was out was 9 years of waiting. I've looked and looked for moose here, and I just knew one day they would be there. I didn't expect three, but getting to be there and capture them in the lake was incredible.
After trekking miles with this moose, I still wasn't sure I was going to be able to get any pictures of him. He always stayed just far enough out of good photo range. Finally, he stood on a ridge and looked back and me (and I wondered what was going through his head). It was a powerful moment in the backcountry on a beautiful evening.
There are places and views in Alaska that just can't be captured in other places. There are sea otters along most of the west coast, but only in a couple areas can you photograph a sea otter with a beautiful glacier behind it.
After climbing up the mountain and searching for sheep, I finally found a few walking a ridge coming my direction. As this sheep paused to check me out, Mt. McKinley rose in the background.