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!

Yellowstone and Upcoming Summer

            In late January I headed to Yellowstone. I spent a few days in the northern range of the park scouting before my workshop began. I didn’t come across too much on those days, but I did see a number of animals, just not in good photo range. The best opportunity I had was with moose.

            On the afternoon of January 27th I picked up my photo workshop clients and we headed to West Yellowstone. The next morning we went in early looking for a wolf pack we had heard was around, and after a couple hours of searching we found them sleeping. Not exactly what we wanted, but we could see a number of the pack on the hillside asleep. We left and went to a geyser area close by and shot some beautiful trees that were heavily covered in hoar frost. The trees looked like a ghost forest. We went back to the wolves, but unfortunately they stayed asleep until we had to go.

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             The next morning we searched and searched for the wolves, and we found tracks, but no wolves. After looking for the wolves we went to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Hayden Valley. Our coach got stuck in the middle of the road because of a snowdrift in Hayden Valley, so we had to turn around and headed back to the canyon. After waiting and looking for otters, we were finally rewarded and one put on a show for us for a long time!    

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             On our last morning of the snow coach, we headed to Old Faithful to shoot geysers and hot springs. It’s always neat showing people the thermal areas for their first time. It’s just like nothing they have ever seen before. We also got to photograph bison and coyotes. In the afternoon we tried one more time for the wolves, but the weather was so bad and windy that we had to turn around.

            For the next four days we were on the northern range. There is a lot of wildlife on the northern range and good opportunities. The wolf pack we had been tracking made its way to the northern range. One morning we found tons of tracks on the side of the road and lots of bird activity, but no wolves. We were getting closer, but still hadn’t gotten any wolves close enough to photograph.

           Over the course of the four days we had great photo opportunities with river otters a few times, moose, bald eagles, big horn sheep, red fox, coyote, bison and elk. We were really seeing lots of wildlife. The wolf was eluding us though. On the last morning, in a different area of the park than the pack we had been tracking, we heard wolves howling back and forth, so we knew they were close. We went to different areas to try and see which area the howling was the loudest from, and hoped for our opportunity. On one of our drives to listen, a black wolf crossed the road not far in front of us and into an open meadow. Everyone got out and got their wolf photo! It felt great to finally get a wolf!

          On the morning of February 3rd I dropped everyone off at the airport, and then I flew to Arizona. I met Twila there for a week trip, and then we went back to Yellowstone together. We spent around a week in Yellowstone photographing and visiting friends. In the park one of our favorite encounters was with a red fox. We waited and waited as the fox sat patiently in the snow, and then it jumped and dove into the snow! I was happy Twila got to see and photograph a fox doing that behavior. We then proceeded to follow it as it walked in the snow close to the road for a long time. It was fun walking along side it as it hunted. We saw lots of wildlife, but the red fox was our favorite.

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         After seeing a number of friends around Yellowstone we headed up to Canada. Over the next number of weeks Twila was busy getting ready for a couple of her shows, and I was busy helping her and preparing for the gallery this coming summer. In early May we headed to Alaska and set up the gallery for my third summer with the gallery!