Workshops in Lake Clark National Park

  The summer is flying by! By the time I got the gallery set up and everything running how I like, it felt like it was already time to be leaving for my workshops to Lake Clark National Park. It’s exciting every year to be heading to Lake Clark, because it’s usually the first photo trip of the summer, and I can’t think of a better trip to start the summer off than with bears.

            On the evening of June 14th Twila and I met the group for dinner, and everyone was very excited for the next week! When we woke up the next morning, it was raining a little, but it didn’t cause us to leave late for our flight. Bush planes are very dependent on the weather to fly, so it’s always nice when we get to leave on time! Once we arrived in Lake Clark it didn’t take long for us to get out and start photographing. Right away we found a mating pair, and the male was very large. One of the largest bears (if not the largest) I’ve ever seen in Lake Clark or anywhere! They gave us a great first shoot and a great way to start the week!

            Over the next week we ended up seeing them every day many times. It was amazing watching them and seeing how they interacted together. Most of my experiences with mating behavior are the male will stay with the female for a few days and then move on. This male was different, and he never let her get very far away and they were always together for our entire week. They also traveled a lot of miles, because at different points of the day we would find them in very different areas of the meadow. It never got old photographing them, because they gave us many different types of shots and in many different situations! It was fun looking for them each time out and seeing where they were.

            There were other bears out, of course, and any other bear was very aware of where the mating couple was because of the male. Whenever any sub adult bear saw the big male, they would leave the area immediately. There were also a couple other larger males around, which isn’t usually the case in this area. Some years we hardly even get to photograph one male bear, and this year we had a few nice males to photograph. Getting up close to a large male really lets us know just how small we are compared to them.

            After the first couple of days it didn’t rain again and it got sunny and hotter each day. On our last full day a large fog bank moved in and stayed for a long time. We were able to find a bear before the fog got to thick to even see anything. I like photographing animals in different scenes, and this fog was very neat. At time we couldn’t see the bear, and then it would come back into view. This bear was in heat, and a male bear found her in the fog. After they mated, another male bear arrived and pushed the other male bear away. Watching and photographing this in the fog made for some unique shots! I loved the mood that it created and was different than other bear photos I had ever gotten!

            Here are some photos from my first workshop!

 

            On the 20th my groups switched, and my 2nd workshop flew in. There was another fog bank, and it caused a delay. Thankfully it cleared up in the morning and didn’t cause to big of a delay. It was sad to see my first group go, but I was excited to get to guide and show my new clients the bears. The day started off a little slow, but the evening was great! The mating pair was still together, and when the male bear got a little too close to the female she responded and they had a small fight. We were in a great position to photograph the fight and it happened it in good light!

            The sun continued to shine and get hotter and hotter as the week went on. I don’t know if I had ever been in Alaska for so many hot, sunny days in a row. The heat isn’t good for photography, as the bears will go lay down in the shade during the hottest parts of the day. So when we did see bears in the middle of the day they were often by water, or in the water trying to cool off. One morning we had a younger bear come quite close to us and it was a fun experience for everyone.

            A few days in we started covering more distance looking for bears because of the heat. This led us to a different area, and we found a bald eagle perched on a beautiful piece of driftwood. The eagle was very accommodating and stayed perched on the log for a long time! This allowed us to move around and get closer for different shots.

We found some cubs tracks later in the week and started searching hard for cubs. We hadn’t seen any cubs yet on both trips, and it’s always great to see cubs. On our last day we heard someone had seen cubs way off in the distance, and sure enough that afternoon we finally got to photograph cubs! It was a mom and three spring cubs, and spring cubs are always fun! We mostly had them in tall grass, but one cub stood up and gave us a great shot! It felt great to finally have cubs!

On the day we left the fog moved back in, and really stayed around. It wasn’t until 3:30 that we finally left Lake Clark. So much happened in the 2 weeks Twila and I were in Lake Clark and it was a great time!

Here are the photos from the second workshop!

Photographing Along the Coast

The more years I am in Alaska, the more and more I try and go to new places and have new experiences. The day trip I went on after Lake Clark was one of those trips. Having been in this area before, I knew I hadn’t gotten some photos I wanted, and planned the trip in a way that I would hopefully be able to get more of the photo opportunities I was looking for.

We left early in the morning, and the sun was out and we had nice morning light! On the coast it is often cloudy and rainy, so having the sun out was a nice bonus. My main goal for the trip was sea otters, because I wanted more great shots of them. We were able to find a mother and young otter first thing, and it was great! They put on a good show for us before we moved on to larger animals.

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The area we were in also has whales, and I knew we would be able to find some on our trip, but I didn’t expect to get to see what we did. At first there were a few humpback whales in the same area, and then they started to bubble feed! Watching humpback whales bubble feed is awesome. Bubble feeding is when a group of humpback whales swim in a circle around a pod of fish and blow bubbles to confuse the fish and then they all come up from above at once and eat a lot of fish at one time. You never know where they are going to come up at, and that is what makes photographing whales so hard. My arms get tired when photographing whales because I have to be ready at any moment and that means holding my camera up all the time.

The whales were in a great spot, because there was a glacier in the area. We tried for a long time to get them lined up with the glacier, and we got a few shots, but because you never know where they are going to come up at it is hard to position the boat in the right spot. But that’s what makes it fun and the photos that much better when everything comes together. We did get to see a few whales jump all the way out of the water, and that was also exciting.

I did have a new experience on this trip that I wasn’t expecting. I’ve gotten to photograph bubble feeding before, but the whales were closer to the boat this time than before. And not only that, but a couple of times we could hear them directly beneath the boat! Hearing a group of whales singing and being able to hear that was incredible! It was such a neat experience.

We were with the whales for quite some time, and then we went to look for more sea otters. The captain was really good and spotted a mother with a new baby in a cove. We slowly approached and were able to spend some time with them and got some nice shots of them. Then we found a group of otters later that were really playing and were so much fun to photograph.

The biggest surprise of the trip, though, was a bald eagle. Our captain spotted something unusual and we went to investigate. What we found was a bald eagle swimming back to shore. I had never seen a bald eagle swimming before. Once it got to shore, we saw that it had a salmon in its talons. Salmon are large for an eagle, and it likely couldn’t fly after catching the salmon and had to swim to shore. When it got to land, it then flew up to some rocks and began to eat it. So cool!

It was a full day, but an incredible day! We could do this trip 10 more times and not have as much happen as we did on this day. It is days like this that make me love my job!

Successful Winter Yellowstone Workshop

            Through the 2016 holidays, it was nice to see family and catch up on many much-needed projects.  The Christmas season is a busy selling time, as well, but I was still able to see everyone I wanted to see back home and many extended family members.  Once the New Year came, I headed back to Canada for a few weeks to be with me fiancé in Canmore.  I was excited to be back with her and scout out the Canadian Rockies for wildlife.  It was cold and snowy while I was in Canmore, but I didn’t have a whole lot of luck in locating much wildlife other than elk. 

            I always enjoy going to Yellowstone in the winter and searching for the wolves, and other animals.  I left Canmore on the 24th to scout for my upcoming workshop that started on the 28th.  I did manage to see some wolves in those three-days and figure out where they were hanging out, but they were very far away when I did see them.  There has been a good amount of snow this year, which was nice because there weren’t any brown spots showing like there has been in years past.  The animals didn’t cooperate for me in those three days to get many shots, but I felt confident I could find them when we come back to the north on my workshop.

            On the night of the 27th I went and stayed with some friends in Livingston, MT, and then on the morning of the 28th I went to Bozeman to get my group.  I was excited for the workshop to start and help them find and photograph the wonders of the Yellowstone Winter.  We headed to West Yellowstone after I had gotten everyone, and that night we went out to shoot the sunset.  The next morning would be our first in the park, and we would go in from West on a snow coach.

This was the very first sunrise of our workshop! So great!

This was the very first sunrise of our workshop! So great!

            Everyone was excited and ready on the 29th, and at 7 a.m. we headed into the park, and my good friend Justin Parsons was our driver guide as well.  It was forecasted to be the coldest morning of our time in West, so we headed toward Old Faithful first thing to try and get frosty bison.  The sunrise that morning was absolutely incredible, and a great way to start the workshop! I wish it had been colder than 5 degrees, but we were still able to find some bison that were covered in frost in the thermal areas.  We spent a long time with the bison and headed back toward the Madison River.  We got there after lunch, and as we were looking for a bobcat, another coach had already spotted one and everyone rushed out.  It is always such a treat to see a wild bobcat!  We were fortunate to watch it across the river for a few hours that afternoon as it stalked ducks and waited for an opportunity to pounce.  It never did jump, but we got great shots of the bobcat! It was a great first day of the workshop!

A bobcat laying patiently waiting for a duck to swim by.

A bobcat laying patiently waiting for a duck to swim by.

            On the 30th we headed to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Hayden Valley in the morning.  It was so nice being the only group at the canyon in the morning, because in the summer that never happens.  It was a nice day, so we headed into Hayden Valley while the light was still good.  We photographed a famous tree there, and then further down the road found a red fox.  It was a very cooperative red fox, and we got to watch it hunt as it moved along the endless snow ridges.  It even decided to come our way and walked right up to us and onto the road! Once it crossed we kept photographing it, and it went on a ridge with the beautiful dark clouds behind it!

A red fox beautifully set against a dark sky.

A red fox beautifully set against a dark sky.

            We had heard otters were near the canyon, and we had great timing because the other groups had come to look for the fox we had and we went to the otters, where 50 people had been.  When we got there we were the only ones there, and the otter pups were so playful.  They played and played and played and ran around and were so fun to watch! A bald eagle flew in after a while and landed on a tree close to the road! It was one of the best otter experiences I had ever had! We went to Artist Point to photograph the canyon, and when we left we found the otters again and had to stop.  A different bald eagle was in a tree nearby this time too.  The otters weren’t as playful this time, but were still active.  One otter went running and sliding our direction down the frozen river, and it was great to photograph!  If he did it again I thought I would take a video of it because it was so neat.  Some time later it did it again, and I videoed it running and sliding on its belly numerous times! I never thought this video would go viral, but nature and wildlife sure can capture people’s hearts!  We even managed to catch a glimpse of a bobcat that evening.  What an incredible first couple of days!

A family of river otters wrestle on the edge of the ice.

A family of river otters wrestle on the edge of the ice.

One of my best bald eagle shots in Yellowstone ever!

One of my best bald eagle shots in Yellowstone ever!

            The 31st was our last day on the snow coach, and we headed to Old Faithful again in the morning.  We followed wolf tracks for a long time, but never saw the wolves.  It was a very windy day, which wasn’t a good sign for trying to find wildlife.  Animals don’t like wind, and will hunker down in the trees and wait for the wind to die down.  We shot some thermal features, but it was hard to photograph in the blowing snow.  On the Madison River we found more coyotes, and even got to watch one try and fish in the river.  Later that day a bobcat was spotted, so we got to see a bobcat again! I can’t believe we got to photograph the bobcat every day of our trip in from West!

            Our time in West went better than I could have hoped, then on the morning of February 1st I drove the group to the Northern Range of Yellowstone.  It was not a fun drive because of the snow and wind from last night that iced up the road.  We made it safely, and then that afternoon went in to the park and checked out the northern range.  We found some big horn sheep and coyotes on our afternoon run, but it was just good to see that part of the park and refigure out where the wildlife were in the north.

            On the 2nd we left Gardiner at 6:30 a.m. and it was snowing hard when we left.   It didn’t let up, but when we got to Roosevelt Junction, a mother and calf moose were right off the road.  It was still a little dark, but they were right by the road.  We were able to stay with them for a little while as they moved near the road.  It snowed so hard when we were with them, but it made for a dramatic scene.  A great start to the day!  We continued on to Lamar Valley, but it was snowing so hard you couldn’t see anything.  A large bison was on the road, and we were able to get ahead of him and pull into a pullout and let him walk by.  He was beautiful and fully covered in snow.  It had been a very long time since I had seen it snow that hard in Lamar.  The roads were getting dangerous because of how much it was snowing, so we headed to Mammoth hoping it wasn’t snowing as hard.  It was snowing just as hard, but we photographed the terraces anyway, and it made for a neat scene.  We called it a day a little early because it wouldn’t stop snowing and the visibility was so bad.

A moose moves through a meadow during a heavy snow storm.

A moose moves through a meadow during a heavy snow storm.

            We left at 6:45 again on the 3rd and headed into the park.  It was a quiet morning, but when we got back to Pebble Creek we found a small bull moose bedded.  We waited for him to get up, and it was a beautiful scene when he did with the trees fully covered in snow.  It snowed off and on throughout the day, but nothing like yesterday.  My group really wanted to see wolves, as did I, but it is never an easy task.  Most days, if you see them, they are really far away and you have to pray you are in the right spot if they do come close enough.  Around lunch I was able to show them a pack of eight wolves through a scope, but they were over a mile away.  This is what wolf watching is like over 95% of the time in Yellowstone.  Wolves are, in my opinion, the hardest of the large mammals to photograph because they are skittish and hate people.  We saw some wildlife that afternoon, but didn’t have many opportunities other than with moose.

A young bull moose stands in front of heavily snow covered trees.

A young bull moose stands in front of heavily snow covered trees.

            Our last full day was the 4th, and when we went in that morning the wind was absolutely howling.  On the Blacktail Plateau the snowplow hadn’t been up there yet, and I was plowing through 3-4 foot drifts! It was absolutely crazy! I only did it because I knew the road, and was surprised I didn’t get stuck honestly.  It was super windy across the whole park, which almost never happens.  Nothing was out because of the wind, but we did find one large bison fully covered in snow.  The wind blowing created a dramatic scene at times, and we stayed with him a long time because I knew there was nothing else out.  The roads were very dangerous and we had to wait on snowplows a couple of times to clear the road of snow.  We went back to Mammoth because of how dangerous it was, and that nothing was out.  A wolf pack was on a ridge above Mammoth, but again way to far for pictures.  We photographed the terraces in the sunlight and then went in.  There was no way I was driving back out with how dangerous the roads were.

The wind blows snow around this snow covered bison.

The wind blows snow around this snow covered bison.

            On the 5th we put everyone’s luggage in one room and then headed in at 7:30 into the park.  I am dropping them off today, but no one’s flight is until the evening, so we went in the park in the morning.  It was again very windy and very little wildlife was out.  Four large bison were near the road and in a nice scenic spot.  A couple of times the wind kicked up and made for a very nice cold windy scene! A little further down the road we found a moose, and he came close to the road.  Then he turned around and crossed the river! It was a great way to close out the workshop!  We drove to Bozeman and I dropped everyone off by 4 p.m.  A great way to relax after a long, but great, workshop was to watch the super bowl with friends!

A very windy day makes for a dramatic scene in Lamar Valley.

A very windy day makes for a dramatic scene in Lamar Valley.

A moose walks across an open river during the winter.

A moose walks across an open river during the winter.

            Overall I was very excited for how the workshop went! We saw so many different species of animals, and all of those species gave us an opportunity to get good pictures except the wolves.  I know wolves were on the top of everyone’s list, but I can’t define a workshop by wolves only.  They would have been great, but we were able to get great shots on many species, including the elusive bobcat.  Twila flew in the night of the super bowl and I can’t wait to get to show her Yellowstone for her first time!

 

If you haven’t seen my video of the otter sliding on it’s belly that went viral, click on the video below this blog! It got over 70 million views on facebook!