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.

 

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!

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!

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!