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!

Lynx and Lake Clark!

        Where to start… This summer is absolutely flying by and I can’t believe it is mid July already. Lots has happened this summer, and I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to sit down and write about it. Opening the gallery is always a big task and it took a long time to get everything exactly the way I wanted and running smoothly. I spent most of May at the gallery, and then in mid June I left to go to Lake Clark and lead my two workshops there.

        While on my 14-hour drive to Anchorage, I was ready to stop at night and continue the next day, but I drove a little further, and my goodness am I glad I did. Around 10 p.m. I saw something cross the road a good ways in front of me, and when I slowed down in that area to see what it was, I spotted a lynx! I have been looking for lynx very seriously the past few years and my only sightings were very brief. So I jammed my car in gear and jumped out. It sat there and looked at me for a few seconds before getting scared by some trucks driving by. It was gone way to fast. Thankfully, it didn’t keep running and stopped on the edge of the woods further away. It slowly came back out and allowed me to photograph it for a while in perfect light! Not only was I photographing a lynx, but it was in perfect light! It truly was an amazing experience and one I will never forget! So glad I decided to drive a little further that night!

        The next day I got to Anchorage and did a few errands before meeting with my workshop group. I was excited to get back out to Lake Clark and photograph the bears. On June 15 we left Anchorage at 8 a.m. and flew to Lake Clark National Park. It’s always exciting being back in Lake Clark, and I love just being there photographing and being off the grid. Soon after we arrived we were out photographing the bears. Showing a new group the area and the bears of the area is always a good time.

        Throughout the course of the next 5 days we had some really great photo opportunities. It did decide to rain on us a lot that week, but I had a great group who wasn’t deterred by the rain and we still went out the good majority of each day. I was proud of my group, and we were rewarded by the bears for being out in the rain. Watching a mother bear and her yearling cubs on a daily basis never gets old. We even took an afternoon to go photograph puffins, and we had a great time doing that. And when we came back on the boat, the mom and cubs greeted us and put on a show just off the boat on the shore! I had never gotten to photograph a red fox there before, and a couple foxes gave us a few opportunities.

        There are too many things to write about, so here are the photos from my first week that show what we got to see!

        On June 20th, my next group arrived and my first group left on the same planes. My wife, Twila, was on one of those planes and I was so excited to get to show her and the others the bears of Lake Clark. The rain still didn’t stop for the first couple of days of this week. I was done with the rain and ready for it to be over. It finally did on our third day, and it was nice to not have to wear a rain jacket or put a rain cover on my camera.

        The bears of Lake Clark never get old to me. Getting to be out in the wild photographing bears in their natural environment in a close proximity is amazing! We never know what we are going to encounter when we go out, but almost always it is good. On our last evening we were treated with a scene out of a movie, except we got to watch it unfold. The mother and her two cubs kept moving along a little creek, not noticing a young male. One cub got to close to the male and it moved toward the cub in curiosity. Once the mom and cub saw the other bear, the cub took off and didn’t slow down for a very long time. The mom would run and stand to see if the male was still coming, and it was, so the family would run some more. The family made it safely away, and was quite the scene to get to see and photograph! The wider shot of the scene is Twila's! She did a great job capturing the moment!

        The next morning we flew back to Anchorage and then a few of us took a trip to photograph sea life the next day. I will post those photos in the next blog. Lake Clark was truly a great time with both groups and I am already looking forward to going back next year!

Good Bye Lake Clark. What a trip!

            On June 25th we had to fly out at 9 a.m., but we got in one more shoot before breakfast.  I’m sure most people wouldn’t have gone out after yesterday and everything we had seen in the past week, but I’m always looking for the next shot.  I wasn’t worried about not finding anything, because you can’t think like that.  If we saw nothing, oh well, we tried and it was a great week.  But we don’t get to go to Lake Clark all the time, and since we were there, we were going to try one more time for another great shot! Let’s just say we were rewarded for getting up early.

            Immediately we found a different mom that had two second-year cubs, and they were close to the trail.  The tide had been extremely high, and the sedge flats were flooded.  So they ate where they could until the tide went down.  Once the slough was a little lower they swam across and we got some real nice shots in the morning light! Just that moment was worth coming out, and if we didn’t have that moment it would have still been worth it.

A grizzly bear family about to go for a swim.

A grizzly bear family about to go for a swim.

            We drove around and didn’t see much after that, but right as we were getting to the lodge and be done photographing for the trip, a mom and spring cubs came out.  We didn’t have long, but we weren’t going to miss this opportunity.  We drove to a place where we could then walk out to them, and what a great last shoot we had! This was a different mom and spring cubs, but she was a bear the lodges knew well and was around every year.  She actually walked toward us with the cubs and we had to scoot back to not be in their way! They were in real short grass and even though it was a short shoot, it was a great shoot! The cubs stood and were right beside mom, and mom even stood when they were close to us.  But if we had never taken the initiative to go out, we would have never gotten these shots.

            It was sad to fly back to Anchorage after all we had gotten to see and photograph.  My group was extremely happy with everything we got to photograph, and were still in shock mostly because we really got to see so much! I can’t wait to go back next year with my groups, and if interested let me know soon because one of the two weeks is already full.  The bears of Lake Clark are hard to beat! Still a few slots left on my first tour next year, but hurry and sign up before they are gone.

Epic Last Day in Lake Clark!

             It’s amazing how with a group, the more you see the more they expect.  I understand, it’s just hard to keep meeting their expectations when what they are asking for seems ridiculous.  But my group was great and they knew we had had an amazing trip, but why not ask for more.  On our last full day one guy came up to me and said he knew we had gotten some great pictures, but he wanted something epic.  That’s quite the statement, and he knew when he was asking it was ridiculous, but we had seen so much I held out hope that it would happen.

            Before breakfast we had some great light and the mom and three-year-old cubs, but nothing came together.  The cubs lightly played, but it was always quick and then they would separate.  It was going to be a bright sunny day, so we had a quick breakfast and then headed back out.  We saw three bears together on the tidal flats, and if something epic was going to happen it was going to be with them.  Challenge accepted, and lets go get some amazing shots!

            I could write for a really long time what we got over the next few hours, but I will let my pictures do the talking.  The bears ran, played, fought, rolled around, were in front of a volcano, fought in backlight and in front of a mountain, ran through rivers, and gave us one incredible shoot to remember! And then at the end one bear gave us a real nice shot as a parting gift it seemed. If he wanted epic, that was epic!

            In the afternoon we walked out to Johnson River Valley again, and a saw a few bears this time.  One was real curious and came and checked us out.  We even got to see a wolf, which was my first time seeing a wolf in Lake Clark!  After dinner we were on the mom with three cubs, and we got some nice shots of the cubs jumping a little slough.  We even got her nursing all the cubs in real good light! What a day!

Lake Clark Day 4

               Our fourth day in Lake Clark was our only slow day, if you want to call it that.  By that I mean it was the only day where we didn’t have something amazing every shoot.  We still had plenty of bears and got some nice pictures, it just didn’t feel up to snuff of the other days.  But that is wildlife photography, and there will be good days and there will be bad days. It was by no means a bad day; it just wasn’t amazing like the other days.  My group certainly started to get picky, but I couldn’t blame them because of how much we had already seen.

               Early in the day we were with the mom and three-year-old cubs for quite a while, hoping they would play.  They were pretty tired it seemed, and didn’t do much at all other than eat.  Not long after we found the four-year-old siblings, and we had a great intimate time with them.  They did a little playing, but for the most part they didn’t do much but eat.  But they allowed us to be close and it was a neat time with them because they were so chill.  Once they left my group actually went on a little hill and most of us took a nap.  It was such an awesome nap to just lay there with bears around and get a catnap in.  A couple people couldn’t sleep and watched for bears, but it was such a good nap!

               After dinner we went to the beach, because we had been having real good success on the beach after dinner.  Tonight didn’t disappoint either.  There were some adolescent bears, and a couple didn’t like each other.  After running down the beach, they turned and ran onto the tidal flats.  We got to hear some nice bear growling, and the lighting was really neat.  Just being out in Lake Clark and seeing all the bear behavior we have seen already is so amazing!

Two grizzly bears growl at each other in the evening.

Two grizzly bears growl at each other in the evening.

Amazing Afternoon in Lake Clark on Day 3

           We went out at 6 a.m. again on the 22nd, but there was nothing out this time.  It just doesn’t seem like the bears in Lake Clark are early risers.  After breakfast we found a decent size male and spent some time with him, and we were able to get some reflection pictures wit him from a small pond of water.  We saw some other bears and a couple went to clam, but it was a slower morning for the most part.  However, it was not slow after lunch.

            When we went back out after lunch we found the mom and three-year-old cubs right beside a slough.  It was a real pretty spot for pictures, and we were able to be close to them and get some nice shots! They crossed back and forth across the slough and were calm.  Another group came, so we left them so we could look for other bears further down the sedge flats.  As we were riding, the mom and spring cubs came out! Exactly what we were looking for!

            It was nice to see them in the grass, and we slowly approached so as not to scare them.  The mom was calm, and so were the cubs.  They were in fairly tall grass, so it was hard to get good shots of the cubs.  There were a number of bears out, so we didn’t think they would stay long.  We were right, unfortunately, and another bear came closer and the mom took off.  She stood a couple of times to look at the other bear, and those made for nice shots! She really is a good momma bear.

            We then went for a hike out to the Johnson River Valley.  It really is so pretty out there, and a very different view.  The bears out there are a little more skittish, but I’ve gotten good shots out there before.  It’s a little over a mile out there, but it’s flat and a nice walk.  The first bear took off when it saw us.  We didn’t see any others for a while, but on our way back we found another.  It was calm and just slowly moved and ate.  We spent a long time with it, and it gave us some nice opportunities with the valley behind it.

A grizzly bear moves through the Johnson River Valley.

A grizzly bear moves through the Johnson River Valley.

            When we got back to the trailer, it didn’t take us long to find the spring cubs again, and they were in a much better place this time for photos too.  We got to spend some real quality time with them this time, and it was amazing! When the cubs are this young and new to seeing people, they are so curious and stand a lot to try and figure us out.  The mom was very calm, so the cubs were as well.  They played, and stood and really gave us an incredible shoot!

            After dinner we went back out, and didn’t find the spring cubs, but found the mom and three cubs.  They somehow didn’t notice a large male coming their way, and it got close before they took off running.  They headed for the beach, and we followed.  We also had good light in the evening for the first time, and with them being out on the tidal flats it made for really great shots! With the reflections and the perfect light it really made for a great evening! 

            After they headed in back to the sedge grass, a smaller bear was nearby.  Momma bear was tired of other bears around and gave chase.  She didn’t just stop after a short run, but decided to really run this bear off.  All of a sudden they came bursting back onto the beach and were running full speed right by us! It was quite exciting and crazy!  Our first three days have been absolutely incredible!  I was afraid of a letdown over the next couple of days because of how much we had seen already, but Lake Clark in the spring rarely lets me down.  There was more to come and I knew it!

Mother bear runs full out after another bear.

Mother bear runs full out after another bear.

Lake Clark Day 2 and Spring Cubs!

           On June 21st we left the lodge at 6 a.m. and went out looking for bears.  There were a couple of bears out on the tidal flats that we walked out to.  Not long after we got to them, another bear came running along and chased them back off the tidal flats, so we went in for breakfast.  When we went back out after breakfast, the mom and three cubs were on the tidal flats and we went to them.  We got a few shots before they started to head back in, and the cubs got playful as they headed in.  A couple of the cubs gave us some nice standing and playing shots, while also being reflected.

Two cubs stand and play on the tidal flats.

Two cubs stand and play on the tidal flats.

            It became a sunny day and we were having some trouble finding bears in the heat.  Going along the trail I saw what looked like bears sleeping across the sedge flats, and maybe even on a log, so we walked to where they were.  Sure enough, the mother and three cubs were sleeping on a log, with two of the cubs right beside the mom.  Two days in a row of bear families sleeping on a log! These photos were really great since we could get a few of them in the same picture! It’s so neat to see them using old driftwood as a large pillow. Once the cubs woke up, they had some energy and wrestled and played not far from us for a long time!

            While we were at dinner one of my clients saw from the window what he thought were new spring cubs.  I popped up to look through a scope before they disappeared, and sure enough it was spring cubs! I was very impressed with how fast everyone ate as much food as they could in one minute, especially since we had just started dinner.  But it was the first spring cubs of the year, and we didn’t want to miss them!  We all hustled and got out to the beach to see them out on the tidal flats.  It’s always so exciting seeing new spring cubs for the first time!

            We waited patiently for them to pick a spot to get clams, and then we walked out to them.  It was the cubs very first time seeing humans, likely, so we went cautiously and didn’t want to scare them.  The mom was a very good mom and kept watch and ate at the same time.  I was impressed that we were able to get in photo range and not make the cubs nervous.  We didn’t get a real long time with them before she saw another bear and went the other way, but it was great experience and photo opportunities in the time we had!  Finishing the second day off with spring cubs was amazing!

First Day in Lake Clark with Workshop Group

           After being at the gallery most of the summer so far, I was ready to get out and lead my photography workshop to Lake Clark National Park.  I left the gallery on the afternoon of the 18th and drove seven hours into the Yukon and slept in my car on the side of the road.  It was nice to finally have some time and be able to think and look back on how things have gone so far this summer.  I finished the drive to Anchorage on the 19th, and met me group for dinner that night.  It’s always neat seeing everyone for the first time and getting a feel for how the group will be and seeing their excitement for the week ahead!

            On the morning of the 20th everyone was on time at 7:30 a.m., and we met at the bush plane airport to take off to Lake Clark.  It was raining in Anchorage, but not long after we took off it cleared up and we had a beautiful flight down to Lake Clark.  Once we landed, everyone was eager to get out and shoot.  It was warm and windy, not a good combination for seeing bears, but we finally found a mom with two, three-year-old cubs.  Normally by now the mom would kick them out and make them be on their own, but these were still with her.  It was neat; because it was a set of cubs we had during my workshop last year.  Not long after being with them they began standing and playing and our first shoot got the trip off to a great start!

Two three-year-old siblings stand and play fight.

Two three-year-old siblings stand and play fight.

            After lunch we headed back out and found two, four year olds that were still hanging together.  We didn’t get many photos from them, but when we went back around we found the mom and three-year-old-cubs again.  Last year we got them sleeping as a family on a log, and they were near this log, so we waited and waited hoping that lightning might strike twice and we would get them sleeping on that log again.  Our patience paid off, and they actually slept on that same log!  I couldn’t believe it! They didn’t sleep together, but they were still on the same log and we got some nice pictures of them sleeping, even though it was raining. 

A large cub gets cozy on a log.

A large cub gets cozy on a log.

            That night after dinner we went to a different area of sedge flats and found a mom and three second-year cubs.  Not long after we were with them they went to the beach, and the fun began.  Those cubs had so much fun running, playing, fighting, chasing, playing king of the log, and just being wild cubs.  What was also amazing was that we were able to walk behind them enjoying this experience and not interfering with them being wild! It was one of my most enjoyable shoots ever, because the cubs were having so much fun and we got to walk and be a part of nature for over a half mile!  They had so much energy and really gave us a show. What a first day!