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!

Best Denali Trip Ever!

Every year I look forward to going to Denali. Most places I photograph have one or two animals I can photograph in that area, but Denali is different. I will go with a certain animal I want to photograph, but there are also 3-4 other animals I can photograph if I’m not finding the animal I am wanting the most. So it’s exciting because I just never know what I will find.

Denali has some of the largest moose in the world, and it’s always exciting finding a monster. The problem is, the terrain is so vast that these huge moose blend into the environment. The entire first day Twila and I looked and looked for moose and our eyes hurt from scanning the terrain looking for moose. As we were leaving in the late evening to maybe find something else before dark, I spotted a moose off in the distance. It was not in an easy area to get to, but he looked big and we were determined. When we got to him, there was another bull moose there as well, and that was awesome. It may have been my best shoot ever with moose because of the light and the different shots we were able to get!

After getting such great moose shots the night before, I wasn’t too worried finding some the next day. It’s such a great feeling when I am able to get great shots on the first day and I can then focus on other photos I am wanting to get. We still looked for moose, and we found some, but it wasn’t nearly as good as the night before. We spent more of the day looking for bears, and finally had a great opportunity with a mother and her spring cubs coming up a river drainage right to us. Denali is huge, and I haven’t had many opportunities with cubs in the park, so I was excited about getting good cub photos in Denali.

The weather was not good the next morning, so we looked for different animals, and we were rewarded for that decision. I’m not going to write in detail about our incredible experience, and truly an experience I never thought I would get to have, but I will share a few photos of the wolf pups we were able to photograph! It truly was so special and I never thought I would get the chance to photograph wolf pups, but I did!!!

When we weren’t watching or waiting on the wolf pups, we photographed the landscapes of the park. One super early morning we even found a lynx (Twila’s first lynx!) and were able to get a few photos of it before it disappeared.

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This was my best trip to Denali, and I have taken so many trips to Denali. It seemed like every day we were getting shots that were incredible! That is not normal. For a week trip if I can get two days that I get great shots I consider it a great trip, so for every day to be getting great shots, it truly was an incredible trip! I can’t wait to be back in Denali in a couple of weeks for more opportunities.

 

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 Gallery Preparation

            After my workshop, I was ready to get out on my own, and with Twila, and photograph more.  The day after I picked up Twila, February 6th, is when my otter video went viral, and my plans changed.  Instead of getting out in the park and showing Twila Yellowstone, I was at my friends house answering email requests and phone calls about my video for a couple of days.  It was very exciting, but I felt bad because Twila had never been to Yellowstone before, and we didn’t even make it into the park for a couple of days. 

            Once the requests slowed down, we went in the park and I was excited to be back in the park and show Twila how great Yellowstone is in the winter.  The weather really didn’t cooperate with us, unfortunately.  The wind howled for a few days, and actually shut the park road down a couple of times because of zero visibility and drifting snow.  When the roads were ok, we did get to see moose, sheep, bison, coyotes, and distant wolves.  I was hoping for her to be able to see a wolf decently close, but we never saw a wolf except through a spotting scope.

Twila and I enjoying the snow in Yellowstone.

Twila and I enjoying the snow in Yellowstone.

            We went on a snowcoach to Old Faithful on the 9th, but that didn’t go how I had hoped either.  We got to go in for free with a friend of mine, and I was excited to show her the geysers and hot springs around Old Faithful.  However, it was a warm day in February and it decided to rain, and not snow.  I had never seen it rain in the interior of the park in February.  I was bummed it had to happen on the day we went in the park.  We did watch Old Faithful erupt, but it was too wet and nasty to walk around and look at the other thermal features.  She will just have to come back and try again next year.

            It was sad seeing all the snow melt from the strange warm up, and having brown patches appear in the snow.  Just a week ago there was so much snow, and now ground was showing underneath.  It’s amazing how fast nature changes things.  I was getting discouraged, so we went to West Yellowstone to visit, and for Twila to meet, some good friends.  It was nice to relax there a couple of days and to visit with them.  We then went to the Grand Tetons to see the beautiful mountains there, and the wildlife.

            The Elk Refuge is a very neat area, with thousands of elk residing there in the winter.  Twila had never seen so many elk in one place before, and she loved it!  I even got a nice shot of an eagle taking off from a cliff at sunset as she watched the elk.  We stayed with my friends in town, and it was fun seeing them again too. 

An eagle takes off from a cliff at last light.

An eagle takes off from a cliff at last light.

            On Valentines Day we went back to the refuge in the morning, and my car got washed by the big horn sheep licking it.  This thrilled Twila, and she loved every second of it! We, of course, then took a drive to see the beautiful Teton mountains, and they are a very scenic mountain range.  That afternoon Twila spotted a red fox and a great grey owl! I was impressed with her ability to spot wildlife, and it’s great that she loves seeing wildlife so much! We went out in Jackson that night, but we had to leave early the next morning so we didn’t stay out too late.

One of the big horn sheep cleaning my car stops and checks out Twila.

One of the big horn sheep cleaning my car stops and checks out Twila.

           We got up at 5:30 a.m. on the 16th and hit the road back to Canmore, AB.  It was a 12-hour drive, but the roads were good the whole way and we made it to Canmore in one day.  Twila had work she needed to get done for her business, and I needed to start planning everything I needed to get for my gallery this summer.  I was glad Twila made it to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, but the weather didn’t cooperate.  But at least she made it and we had a great time together and next year will be better for her.

            It was nice being back in Canmore and relaxing after the past few weeks of craziness.  I went out and explored Banff National Park some, but didn’t have much success for the most part.  Once I started planning for the summer, I couldn’t stop myself.  There was just so much to think about for everything I wanted to bring back from last year and try to change: what to replace, what do I need more of, what signs to change or make new ones of, what sizes of new pictures, and the list goes on.  The more I did, the more I thought of that I needed to work on.  I’m thankful year one of the gallery is done, and that I now have more experience and knowledge of what my customers are looking for.  It was a very different feel preparing for the gallery this year from last year.

            Working on the gallery was made easier by where Twila is now living.  Last year she was in downtown Vancouver, BC, and now her place is in the mountains and has a great view!  There is just something about looking out the window and seeing only beautiful mountains.  Seeing mountains out the windows even helps me work inside better. 

            We’re not sure where the time went, and before we knew it, it was April.  March absolutely flew by, and that means the summer is getting close.  I feel much more prepared for the gallery this year, and I am looking forward to it.  I will have to do a crazy amount of traveling between now and being in Alaska in May though.  Let’s just say my trailer and pictures are all in Tennessee, and I am in Canada.  Let the craziness begin!