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!

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.