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.
Ready to Pounce
I had seen this lynx just briefly as it crossed an opening and then disappeared. I wanted to find it again, but finding lynx is a very difficult task even if you know exactly where they are. After searching a while, I decided to try one more area, and as I walked around a tree our eyes met. It was an incredible feeling! Thankfully the lynx just sat there and looked at me and didn’t run away. Seeing a lynx’s eyes looking at you in the forest is just incredible!
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
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.
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
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.
Out of the Clouds
I’ve spent many years in the backcountry of Denali searching for and photographing moose. The ultimate goal was to find a bull moose and photograph it with Denali in the background. I’ve seen the mountain and moose, but never in a good opportunity for photos. When the mountain began to come out of the clouds, I prayed the moose would stay by the pond long enough to capture it with Denali in the background.
A bald eagles wingspan can be greater than 7 feet. They are a beautiful bird and a very graceful soarer. When a fish below caught this eagles attention, it made a sharp turn to head to the river.
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.
On our first day with the pups we only heard the adults and didn’t get to see them. We knew they were around, but they didn’t show themselves. The next day the alpha female wolf went onto a riverbed and the pups followed. Comparing the pups size with their mother for the first time really showed us how young they were.
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.
Sea otters are a very playful animal. This otter had just finished playing hard with another otter and was ready for a rest. It looked as if it went to give the other otter a high-five to say it was fun playing with him.
Going All Out
When this bear made up its mind on a fish it saw and thought it could catch, it went all out. It would completely lay out and go horizontal with the river. Here it is a split second away from going in the river and catching its fish.
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!
Most of the time whale watching humpback whales is seeing their tail before they dive. Just seeing that is neat because of how large they are. Every once in a while they jump and show just how large they are. Capturing this is hard because it is often unexpected and over in just a few seconds, but it so impressive seeing just how large these whales are.
Seeing any baby animal is exciting. They are often very playful and also very cute. Finding a new lynx kitten, and getting a photo of it, surpassed all my other animal baby encounters. It had such large feet for its small body, and was so curious and small. When it stopped for a moment and looked my way, it took everything in me to keep my camera steady.
Bald eagles take advantage of any opportunity to eat fish. Many of the fish are to large for the eagles to carry away, so they must wait on bears or other animals to eat some of the fish first. This eagle saw its opportunity and swooped in snag some fish.
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.
Sometimes I wish I could be a cub and just hang out. I know being a bear cub is not easy and living in nature is difficult. But when you see a cub in a tree hanging over limbs without a care in the world for that moment, it would be nice to also not have a care in the world.
There are moments when photographing when everything comes together, and it makes you forget all the other moments. Even though the other moments make up 95% of the time, it is that 5% that keeps me going. Ever since I came to Denali in 2008, I have been trying to get a bull moose in a pond with Denali in the background. I didn’t think it was going to happen on this night, but the clouds opened enough and all those years of waiting paid off!
Seeing just one wolf pup was a real treat. But slowly another and then another, and a while later even another wolf pup cam out. It was amazing having four wolf pups so close and them behaving so wild and calm and being pups and playing with sticks.
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.
Ice bergs come from glaciers when they become detached from the glacier. I loved the perspective I was able to get to show this ice berg up close with where it came from many hundreds of years ago.
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.
A Mom's Embrace
When we spotted this mother and baby sea otter, we made sure we didn’t scare them. This was a very young otter, and spent most of its time we were with them on its mother. Mother sea otters will hold their baby on their stomach as they rest to make sure the baby is safe and to protect it.
As mother bear was off fishing, this cub was sitting near the waters edge on a rock. It seemed uncomfortable and not sure if to sit there or run for a tree. As it looked around it had a very soft look to it.
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.
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.
I’m sure the salmon run is an exciting time for bears, but also a frustrating one. The river can be full of fish, but they can be very hard to catch. This bear was looking the salmon over carefully and waiting for its chance for an easy meal.
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.
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.
Salmon run in hundreds of rivers across Alaska and through many different terrains. Black and brown bears head to the rivers while they are running to fatten up for the winter. Black bears are more shy than brown bears and typically avoid other bears. But when the run is so good and so many fish around, they will tolerate other bears presence for a little while.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Great horned owls are a very large owl. If you get to see them fly they can make you feel very small. I was fortunate to find one owl in this fall tree, when another owl came and landed beside it. It was incredible getting to photograph these two great horned owls resting in this fall aspen tree!
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.
I watched as this lynx went into the woods, and I hoped it would stop and give me a chance for more photos. I could just see its ears in the woods, and I wanted it to come back out so badly. I waited, and slowly it came out more and more and sat down and watched from the edge of the woods. The light slowly moved down and when it lit the lynx up, I had a shot I never thought I would get.
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.
When photographing wildlife its nice to be able to get a clean background behind the animal so that it is not distracting. I really didn’t think I would get that chance with the wolf pups. To my great surprise, this pup stopped close enough to me in the right spot to allow me to get the shot I wanted!
I’ve seen so many bears shake off from being wet that I’ve lost count. Is it begun to shake a saw a little color, and as it fully shook off a full rainbow appeared. It was incredible seeing a rainbow in this bears water that it was shaking off!
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.
The northern lights is a phenomenon most people want to see in their lives, but many people don't get to. They only occur in the northern most latitudes, and you have to stay up late most of the time to see them. They come in many different colors, and can move very quickly across the sky. This wave of lights was impressive in how fast it changed shape and danced. Trying to place an object in the foreground with northern lights can be tricky because of how much they move.
The contrast in the bright red fish and the dark bear is terrific. You can see in the fish's eyes that it knows it is doomed. Many of the fish that bears catch are not this bright and colorful. This bear is happy about its catch and ready to eat.
The waters of Alaska are a beautiful space for whales to live in during the summer. If I was a whale, Alaska would be on the top of my list to spend feeding all day long. This whale shows its tail before diving in front of a glacier.
There are shots you dream of and say,”If only a moose would be right here".” I’ve lost count on how many times and in how many places I have said that for a shot I wanted. This was one of those moments when I had said this for a few years, and when I saw this large bull moose walking in the fall tundra in front of Denali I captured a shot I had been dreaming about.
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.
Mountains and fog go hand in hand. When the fog is thick and you can’t see, the fog is annoying. However, when that fog begins to clear it can create a dramatic scene. I love how the angle of the light makes it appear as if this is a black and white photo, but this was the natural light of the shot. The fog created a dramatic effect that really showed how many different ridges there were.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Alaska Range Glow
Not only were there no clouds over Denali, but the entire range that I could see was cloudless. Being fortunate to watch the sunrise while looking at a priceless view is why I love Alaska. Not only was it priceless, but me and a buddy were the only 2 people around for miles.
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.
Black bear cubs are such amazing climbers. Not only that but they are completely comfortable in a tree and act as if they aren’t even off the ground and could fall. After walking pretty far out onto this branch, this cub found a good spot for it to lay down and rest.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.