Come To The Island … Antelope Island State Park

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We’re getting ready to head back to Utah soon where we will explore Arches NP and Canyonlands NP, as well as Monument Valley, for our fill of landscape images and hopefully, some night photography as well.  To get my wildlife “fix”, we’re also planning on spending some time in Rocky Mountain NP.

But as I was thinking about Utah, I started to think about the time we spent in Utah in February.  For my family, it was a snowboard trip, but for me it was a photography trip, with a side helping of skiing.   :-)

Not far from Salt Lake City is Antelope Island State Park.  We spent several days visiting the island, which is accessed via a causeway into the Great Salt Lake, connecting the island to the Wasatch Front Range.  It comprises 28,000 acres, stretched over a length of 15 mi and 5 mi across.  Interestingly enough, the island is home to over 40 freshwater springs which produce over 30 million gallons of water per year … all while being surrounded by the Great Salt Lake!

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It was first explored in 1845 by John C. Fremont and Kit Carson who also named it Antelope Island, after the population of pronghorn antelope that grazed there.

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It’s quite the fascinating place to visit … each season brings a different perspective to the island.  In the winter, I found it much easier to spot the wildlife, as they made their way across the snowy and icy landscape.

In fact, on this trip, we saw more coyote than I think that I ever have there!  They seemed to be just about everywhere …

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… on the ice …

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… on the road …

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… hiding in the brush of the tundra.

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Of course, there were more wildlife sightings than just the coyotes.  Mule deer were sighted as well.

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The coyotes saw the mule deer as well, which signaled the “dinner time” bell in them, so off they went to try to stalk one down.

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The poor deer, though quick making their way over the brush, were on high alert!

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There were so many deer on the island and apparently the Utah state parks have had issues with the lack of deer in other areas, so were stumbled across the Department of Natural Resources conducting a catch of some of female mule deer, for ultimate re-introduction into another park, which had decreased numbers of deer recently.  It was quite interesting the assembly that they had going on.  I know this is a horrible shot, but check out the multi-level carrier netting system they used to transfer the deer to their station for inspection and then transportation.

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In 1848, the Fielding Garr Ranch was erected, which was the first permanent residence on the island.  In 1981, the island and the ranch were bought by the State of Utah and thus turned into the state park of today.

We also had sightings and interactions with other wildlife, such as the great horned owls, as they tried desperately to camouflage themselves from being spotted.  OK, I’m well aware that this is less than stellar of a shot … LOL

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We also spotted several different porcupines in our travels.  One was feasting high up in a tree.  The other was on the ground munching on leaves, twigs, and downed branches from the nearby trees.  This particular one got out in the open and let me crawl around with them.  Contrary to popular belief, porcupines don’t throw their quills, so I was actually quite safe.

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There’s quite a large bison herd on the island as well.  They’re quite interesting to watch as they move slowly across the landscape and you become slowed down by them as they approach the roadway.  Makes me want to belt out with a round of “Oh give me a home…”.

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As we were leaving, we noticed the skies becoming quite beautiful in the rear view of the car.  I made Tom stop and my intention was to capture the moment.  I never did shoot it, but I think I got something better.

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There was a coyote pair hanging out right where we stopped!  Serendipity, I say!  One of them was actively hunting for food (I presume it was the female), while the other (I presume it was the male) followed along like it was stalking the other and just waiting for the right moment for something …. hmmm …. it was quite interesting.

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Either way, they were in gorgeous light as they made their way, all while the sunset was happening.

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On our drive back to SLC, the alpenglow on the Wasatch Range was amazing … such tones of blue, pink, and purple … gorgeous.  Sorry for ending with the moving shot from the iPhone camera, but it truly was gorgeous, so I had to share.

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Hope that you enjoyed Antelope Island SP!  I highly recommend a side trip to visit, if you’re ever in the SLC area.  Will be back to Florida sights and shots for the next blog post.

 

 

All’s Clear for Everglades National Park

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During the winter months, Everglades National Park becomes a mecca for bird watching and photography.  Not only that, but the weather is simply gorgeous … sunny skies, cooler temperatures, spectacular sunrises, and most importantly … a noticeable decrease in the number of mosquitoes.  So, each winter, we begin our own migration of photography trips to the Everglades.

This particular year, the water levels remained so elevated and because of that, many of the usual birding spots were affected and we saw much less activity and nesting going on.  In fact, on one trip through the Anhinga Trail boardwalk, we saw only a few great blue herons, purple gallinules, tri-colored herons, cormorants, and anhingas.  Oh, but there never was a shortage of vultures.

Great blue heron almost had the place to himself at the Anhinga Trail.

Great blue heron almost had the place to himself at the Anhinga Trail.

 

It was a good winter for red shouldered hawks as well.  Often, in the early morning hours, they seemed to be everywhere along the park road.  Sometimes they would even pose for the camera …

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… and sometimes they were looking quite tropical themselves.

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This year at Eco Pond, we were treated to a reddish egret … aka “the entertainer”.  I just love to watch and photograph them as they glide over the surface of the water so gracefully and preen themselves when they take a break from their fishing endeavors.

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As they run around like drunken sailors, I just find myself laughing to myself and sometimes to photography complete strangers.  LOL.  When they fish, they canopy feed to shade the surface of the water for easier pickings.  They’re quite quick too!

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After they’ve had enough, or if they get chased off, they elevate from the water’s surface and take flight … usually to simply return without being gone too long.

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The roseate spoonbills were also present in numbers, especially in the early light, but don’t stay too long.  No worries, they’ll be back later.  Of course, the black necked stilts provide endless entertainment as well.

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This year, there was a pair of avocets that hung out with them as well.

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Osprey are present in big numbers, especially in the Flamingo area.  Why not?  The canals and the bay are ready sources of food for them and they are quite efficient and skilled fishermen.  There are many nests in the area too.  Most nests are higher in trees, but there’s one nest by the marina where you can literally almost look into the nest!

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We watched this pair of osprey parents over February and March raise their two young ospreys.  It’s amazing how fast they grow up.  This particular mama osprey is quite demanding of her mate and she seems to always be calling for something … food, nesting material, a break …. whatever.

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Often, when he goes out to catch dinner, he’ll come back to the nest with it, but then will almost instantaneously depart – with the dinner!   He’ll take it to a nearby tree, post, or stump and eat about 1/3 to 1/2 of it, then return to the nest with it.  Mama will then take the remnants and tear into it and feed her babies – one at a time.  Many baby birds in a nest will fight violently for their fair share of the food, but not these osprey.  So patient, so peaceful, and yes, so adorable!

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Another big star of Flamingo are the American Crocodiles.  The Everglades are one of only a few places that they can be found in the U.S.  My favorite thing to watch is the tourists that go out in rented canoes and kayaks when they arrive back at the marina docks, only to find several crocodiles in the water right next to them.  It’s quite intimidating to them and the look on their faces can be priceless.

"My what beautiful teeth you have!"

“My what beautiful teeth you have!”

Perhaps my favorite sighting each winter and early spring is the arrival of the swallowtail kites, which to me is about as iconic of a symbol of the Everglades as there can be … well maybe except for the alligators.  Oh, that and the mandatory stop at “Roberts is Here” fruit stand for an amazing key lime (or many other flavors) milkshake.  Tom won’t let a trip go by without one.  Yum Yum!

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Hope that you enjoyed the Everglades sights as much as I did photographing them.  :-)

 

 

The Final Curtain Call – Yellowstone

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Our last day in Yellowstone NP finally arrived.  I remember in the beginning, it seemed like four days would be plenty … I would have my fill of the cold … the snow coach … the photography.  What was I thinking?  Nothing could have been farther from the truth.

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Our day started with a group of elk in the middle of a side road near the river.  Before this, we had only seen small gatherings of elk.  This group seemed to have a dominant elk, which seemed to keep its eye on us.  They seemed quite inquisitive …

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… and quite entertaining …

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Before too long they bolted into the nearby brush – one at a time – as they leaped over smaller shrubs and trees.  They have a tough life ahead of them, especially in the winter and I hope that they remain safe.

Another wonderful bald eagle sighting was encountered, right on the roadside.  This mature eagle sat in the nearby tree and offered us some awesome shots.

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It too, got a bit bored with us, or tempted by something in its immediate surroundings and off it went, but not before clipping its wing on a branch, allowing a drift of snow to fall down around it as it took off to its next destination.

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Roadblocks seemed to be the theme today as we traveled throughout the park.  This time it was a herd of bison – all seemingly sunning themselves in the middle of the road.  They didn’t seem to be in a rush to get anywhere fast, so we became delayed by them.

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Of course, what do you do when you’re being held up by wildlife in Yellowstone?  You get out and begin to capture it.

Courtesy of Daniel J. Cox

Courtesy of Daniel J. Cox

Courtesy of Daniel J. Cox

Courtesy of Daniel J. Cox

It took some time, but eventually they got up, one by one, and began to move on down the road.  We took the opportunity to bypass them.

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Late in the day, we began to make our last drive from Madison Junction to West Yellowstone.  Along the river, in awesome light, we came across another group of elk, but this time they were bulls.

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We were totally enjoying our time shooting them, when all of a sudden, I heard Dan say … “someone said that there’s a bobcat down the road”.  Well, that was all that I needed to hear.  While the bull elk were gorgeous … I mean, a bobcat … AGAIN!  Off I ran, along with several of my fellow photographers.

Sure enough, it was our bobcat from our first day in Yellowstone.  Only this time, it was on the move!  I ran into the snow and began to shoot it, but found it hard to keep up.

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As I struggled making my way through the snow, I was not so gently reminded by my body and cardiovascular system, that I was from the flatlands of Florida, which was also warm and humid.  This environment was cold and dry and the altitude was obviously higher that what I was normally used to.  I was also not accustomed to trekking through the deep snow.  After some time, I made my way to the road, which afforded me the ability to keep up the pace of the bobcat.

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Several times this cat stopped in its tracks, as it was stalking a duck floating in the water.  I feared that we would witness carnage, but thankfully for me, that never happened.

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I couldn’t believe the beauty of this creature and the grace it possessed as it made its way down the river … to the exact location that we saw earlier in the week.  I truly felt blessed to have shared in its day.

I couldn’t imagine a better ending to our time spent in Yellowstone!  As we drove back to our lodging, I believe that collectively we all arrived with big smiles on our faces.  :-)  I know that I did.

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Honestly, I didn’t know what I expected from this photo tour.  What I found was obviously amazing photo opportunities (both wildlife and landscape), but even more pleasantly surprised was the amazing people that I shared this trip with.  I’m quite sure that many of them I will see again at some amazing place or another.  I also learned a lot about myself – most of which I won’t bore you with – but I encourage everyone to challenge themselves throughout life.  It’s always good to see what you’re made of.  :-)

Courtesy of Daniel J. Cox

Courtesy of Daniel J. Cox

Thanks so much to Dan & Tanya Cox of Natural Exposures!  Your hospitality was truly wonderful – from start to finish!  Oh, I can’t also forget to thank Colter, tour assistant-extraordinaire!  You’re amazing!

Next blog post will most likely be something more local, so stay tuned.  Until then …..

Courtesy of Daniel J. Cox

Courtesy of Daniel J. Cox

Another Day in Paradise … a.k.a. YNP Day #2

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Waking up in the morning, I couldn’t help but wonder … what kind of things will present themselves today?  I mean, after yesterday, how could we possibly ever top all of that?  Will the weather remain as cooperative as it was yesterday?  So many questions yet to be answered.  Again, our carriage awaits … in the form of the Yellowstone snow coach, of course.  It really was nice … nicely heated for our comfort, especially on those early and cold mornings … roomy as well, as we each had 2 seats to work with, which was handy to keep all of our gear ready to spring into action … spacious yes, but intimate enough to engage in conversations and form friendships with fellow photographers.

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Birds once again were the first order of business.  The trumpeter swans were out in force and began strutting their stuff in the early morning hours.

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I was fascinated to see numbers of common goldeneye ducks – male and females – sharing the waters as well.

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Of course, bald eagles were not to be outdone.  It wasn’t long before we spotted and even more exciting, heard our first eagle of the morning.  It was truly lovely to see, as it was relatively an eye level shot and the calling of the eagle and then subsequent flight was a sight to see, enhanced by the snowy backdrop.  The sound of eagle calling out in the wilderness left me breathless.

The call of the wild

The call of the wild

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Of course, it wasn’t too long before we started seeing bigger wildlife, such as the female elk.  Several of them were together and feeding on whatever vegetation they could find underneath the snowy landscape.  It was so beautiful as they would look up with the traces of their efforts on their faces.

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Some young males were found sitting nervously in the sunlight, relaxing, but always on alert for an unwanted “visitor”.  Just love their snowy noses.  :-)

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Of course, there were more coyote sightings.  Seemed like everywhere we went we ran into coyotes.  Fun for us, yes, but that must mean a different story for the status of the wolves, which we never did see over the course of the week.

One of the coyotes we watched from afar, but before long it was nearer to us and just looked glorious in the midst of the sea of white that blanketed the immediate area.  It came to the rivers edge, looking for food.

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Each day, we stopped at the Madison rest stop and on this day we ran into my favorite dusky grouse.  Again, the park rangers were not pleased with her presence.  Eventually they trapped her and were preparing to introduce her, miles away, to an area where she would not be exposed to people.  Seems a bit unfair to me.  I’ll just leave it at that.

On this trip, there was never a shortage of food or drinks.  We were treated to magnificent lunches that I still think about, our hot beverages of choice, and a daily scrumptious yummy … guaranteed to keep your energy high and your blood sugar zipping … as if I needed something extra to keep me hyper!

Colter serving up our yummy of the day

Colter serving up our yummy of the day

More elk were encountered seemingly most of the day.  We enjoyed their natural grazing as they made their way up the river.

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Today was going to be more than wildlife we knew, since Yellowstone NP is also a landscape photographers dream.  So off to the geyser basins we went and actually we were treated to an active geyser erupting which usually only goes off 1-2 times daily.  Perfect timing in Biscuit Basin!

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The paint pots are always a fun place to visit as well, especially in the winter.

DSC_1106The winter landscape is perfect for creating that special mood and atmosphere.

_DSC5503One of my favorite drives in Yellowstone, no matter the season, is Firehole Drive.  It is home to the Firehole Falls … a winter’s landscape dream.

_DSC5650Once again, we stop at the Madison rest stop for a needed “bio break” and it’s confirmed that we no longer have a grouse visitor in the immediate area.  So sad.  :-(  But we did have a parade of bison marching through and also a coyote, which apparently understands the road signage … LOL.

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A quick trip on one of the Madison area turn-outs also yielded yet another coyote sighting, as this poor coyote was deep in the snow as it ran up the hillside.

_DSC5709OK, so I have to admit … at first I thought … what are we going to do with 4 entire full days in Yellowstone in the winter?  I mean, we had seen so much the first day.  Now that our 2nd day was winding down, it happened … I began to be sad that my experience was 1/2 way over.  So, as a celebration to my trip so far, I toasted our trip so far with Moose Drool draft over dinner!

photoHere’s to the next 2 days!  Stay tuned for more blog posts on Yellowstone in the winter!

Winter Magic of Yellowstone NP

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For several months, I had been getting the itch to return to Yellowstone National Park in the winter.  It finally culminated on New Year’s Eve, when Tom was making his plans to venture out on his annual month long snowboarding trip.  I thought … why should he have all of the fun?  I know that I didn’t have a month’s worth of vacation to spend, but could I have a month’s worth of fun in just 1 week?  The answer was an overwhelming YES!

That’s how I decided to join a group of photographers for a Winter in Yellowstone photo tour … then it hit me … NO SHERPA!  Yikes!  Well, it was more than time to pull on my “big girl panties” and so I packed my 48# camera bag carry-on (bless all of the men who helped me with my gear on and off the plane), my tripods, my winter clothes and off I went … looking like I was indeed going on that month-long trip, like Tom.  :-)

Arrival into Bozeman

Arrival into Bozeman

I arrived into Bozeman and was transported to West Yellowstone the following day (after literally about 18 hrs of sleep, yes, I had burned the candle before making the trek).  By the time I arrived in West Yellowstone, I already had felt a great comfort with the other members of my group.  Yes, it was the start of an amazing trip!

My arrival gift

My arrival gift

The day began with an early boarding on our snow coach.  As we all piled in, ourselves and our equipment, I distinctly heard a “holy crap” when my bag was hoisted inside.  It did get lighter as the week progressed.  A girl from south Florida into the winter wonderland of sub-zero temperatures of Yellowstone, just had to be sure to have everything she needed.

Snowcoach is the only way to go in Yellowstone in the winter!

Snowcoach is the only way to go in Yellowstone in the winter!

As we drove down through Madison, we immediately found several pairs of trumpeter swans on the river.  What a great way to get those image-taking fingers warmed up!

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We would pass more trumpeter swans, but we were on a mission to Hayden Valley, so we passed them up.  “Stop the bus” was called out for a coyote on the hillside, only to find out 2 things:  #1  There were several coyotes there, including 2 frolicking along the rivers edge right across from us & #2 The snow along the roadside is REALLY DEEP!  Of course, I found out the hard, but fun way!  LOL

I think I interrupted their play time by falling waist deep into the snow!

I think I interrupted their play time by falling waist deep into the snow!

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The coyotes were running around up and down the hillside, through the deep snow, in the absolutely gorgeous light!

Coyote making good time on its way down the hillside

Coyote making good time on its way down the hillside

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JUMP!

JUMP!

We stayed there longer than planned, but how could you leave these beautiful creatures when we were all having so much fun …

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A much needed bathroom break yielded probably one of the most bizarre situations of the week.  There was a dusky grouse who was hanging out at the rest stop, apparently making good use of the human’s crumbs.  Well, the park service didn’t like that and tried their best to make it leave.  Meanwhile, it entertained the visitors as it ran around, flew to the top of a nearby shack, tried to bury itself in the snow on the roof, and eventually flew down to the snow, amongst the visitors.  What a thrill for me and quite a beautiful bird.

Sliding down the snow covered roof

Sliding down the snow covered roof

So beautiful!

So beautiful!

Thanks Dan for capturing this image - she flew down to me!

Thanks Dan for capturing this image – she flew down to me!

What YOU looking at?

What YOU looking at?

Other birds along the way included some time spent with an American Dipper, as it would fly from the frozen river bank to the water and back … repeatedly.  The goldeneyes were also congregating nearby and plunging into the water as well.

Taking flight ....

Taking flight ….

.... touch down, just prior to the dive ....

…. touch down, just prior to the dive ….

.... flying back to do it all over again!

…. flying back to do it all over again!

"I will not be outdone by the dipper"

“I will not be outdone by the dipper”

"Look what I can do!"

“Look what I can do!”

Of course, no trip to Yellowstone is complete without visiting Yellowstone Falls … such an iconic sight to see, and even more beautiful when draped in winter’s snow & ice.  I don’t think that its ever looked more beautiful!

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The surrounding canyon views weren't too shabby either.

The surrounding canyon views weren’t too shabby either.

We got our first glimpses of the bison, as they notoriously carry around much frozen snow and ice on their coat.

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When we were having so much fun with the coyotes, I jokingly asked Dan if he could arrange a lynx for me.  He laughed and said that he would see what he could do.  Well, we didn’t get the lynx, but we did get the bobcat!  What a beautiful creature it was too!

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It didn’t do much, other than sit there … look at us … blink … turn slightly …. and close its eyes, but it didn’t matter.  I was jumping for joy with this sighting and I thought to myself … I can go home now!  Of course, I didn’t mean it literally, but I was thrilled beyond belief.

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How could our trip possibly get better?  Well, I was about to find out!

Stay tuned for more, as I will blog more about the magical winter experience I had in Yellowstone NP.

The end of a wonderful start to my trip to Yellowstone NP - winter-style.

The end of a wonderful start to my trip to Yellowstone NP – winter-style.

The Landscape Beauty of Denali

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26 days in Alaska … sounds like a lot, but the time just flies by!  This will be the last in the series of blog posts detailing out 2013 trip.  Funny how I’m still blogging about it, since it’s only about 7 months until we hopefully return again!  Yes, that’s right, make that #8!  See, there’s so much to see and do, not to mention that by the time it gets to be August in south Florida, you really need a “chill break”.  LOL

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Our final 5 days in Alaska were spent re-visiting Denali NP.  We spent the time in the Riley Creek Campground, which allows us the flexibility of traveling the park road’s 1st 15-miles on our daily moose trolls, and the ability to get outside for dining and other activities.  We have always had a great time in the campgrounds, regardless of which ones (several choices in Denali for RVs), but we did have a challenge on this leg of our trip.  See, in Denali campgrounds, you grab your site, identify its occupied status by posting your registration on the site identifier, and come and go without concern.  One night we came home from dinner to find our site occupied.  The “invader” said that they were “told to park there” and we could “find another site somewhere else”.  I don’t think so.  After some debate, they finally left our site and found another of their own, clearing without belonging to any site, since they didn’t even have a registration ticket.  First and only issue ever encountered on 7 trips!  Whatever ….

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The Denali landscape was prettier than ever.  The front end of the park was in full bloom and the weather began to clear up a bit.

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We even had a few sunny days!

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We were able to get out hiking a bit.  We love to hike along the creeks and view the plant life and views that it affords.

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We’ve been coming to visit the railroad trestle that supports an iron bridge over Riley Creek for years.  It can been seen along the park road …. such a view.

Another favorite hike in the front of the park is the Horseshoe Lake Trail.  I always find it quite interesting how the hiking path meanders through the vegetation and descends into the lake.  Always fun on the way down … not too bad coming back up either.  :-)

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The Alaskan Railroad also connects visitors to the park entrance, though we’ve never been a passenger.

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During our visit, we were treated to a variety of weather patterns, each offering us a different “feel” and experience of the landscape.  Whether it was offering up rainbows, which were plentiful during our stay, or producing misty rays of light over the vast landscape, it was always fascinating.

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One of the last nights we were there, I noticed that the skies cleared up nicely.  After dinner and a few beers, we decided to find a dark spot to check out the horizon for any signs of auroral activity.  Now I know I had a few beers but I thought I saw some “lights” (keep in mind that I have “seen things” that didn’t actually exist before).  Tom cautiously agreed that there might be something.  Within minutes, we were off to the other side of Healy (i.e. the closest nearby town).  So, what did we find?

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Yes, albeit it wasn’t the most spectacular auroral activity that I had ever seen, it was in fact a northern lights sighting.  Set up in the middle of nowhere, in complete and utter darkness, it was a bit creepy to say that least.  But it sure was fun!

At one point, I turned just a bit and witnessed the milky way displaying itself.  How beautiful!

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We in south Florida don’t get to see that often, since our city lights dim the twinkling stars, so we were quite a bit excited!

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Yes, Denali is one of the most spectacular places that I have ever been to and I don’t think that I could ever travel to Alaska and not venture to visit it.  So, I guess I’ll have to wait until my next trip, which fortunately shouldn’t be that long away.  :-)

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Hope that you’ve enjoyed coming along with us to Alaska!  I wanted to give a special shout out to my good friend Rebecca Tifft, who actually has the honor of working out there every summer … lucky girl!

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Denali National Park … Re-Visit the Wild Side

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As it was our 7th trip to Alaska, we decided that in 2013, we wanted to take things a bit more slow … to really set ourselves up to enjoy thoroughly an area … and we could think of no better place to do that than in Denali.  Not that one could even begin to scratch the surface of endless possibilities of adventure, but we wanted more time there.

Maybe the landscape and the fall foliage changed over the last few days …

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Maybe the moose were out and about more frequently and closer to the actual rut …

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Maybe we could see something different that we hadn’t before … or at least photograph something different or in another way …

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Maybe get a shot of the northern lights which were know to be minimally active during those days – assuming the skies would clear up (a huge assumption) …

Who knows … but to me, Denali NP is all about the wildlife.  The quest to see and photograph the “Big 5″…. dall sheep (check), moose (check), grizzly bears (check), caribou (check), and the wolf (no checkmark yet).  At least until that second 5-day visit …

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Now, put a checkmark on the wolf as well.  Not a easy quest either, since the wolves have been so threatened in Denali, as they continue to be in other areas and national parks as well.

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Though the wildlife draws me in, Denali is also about landscapes, which are ever-changing, and the subject of the final Alaska 2013 trip blog post … watch for it!

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Head North, My Friend

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Continuing on with our trip to Alaska 2013 … we left the overcast and rainy weather of Denali NP and thought we would find drier and sunnier weather in Fairbanks.

Well, we couldn’t have been more wrong!  Not only did it continue to be drizzly, it got downright into a more noticeable shower, then a full on downpour.  To make it worse, the Parks Highways which connects Anchorage to Fairbanks (aka pretty much the only road to travel) was full of construction and potholes on the northern end for about 2 of the 3 hour drive north!  Usually, we end up seeing wildlife along the way, but even the animals and birds wanted nothing to do with the weather.

When we reached Fairbanks, we checked out Creamer’s Field to see if the sandhill cranes were still visiting, but they had already made their way through.  We did see get some beautiful wild sunflowers though, so it brightened up my day.

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After a few mandatory stops at some of the local outdoor adventure stores, we decided that we would venture over to Chena Hot Springs.  See, of course, I was on the hunt for some Aurora Borealis (northern lights) sightings and though the skies were threatening, I figured if we didn’t go …. I would miss them.  You know that goes  ;-).

Again … no such luck.  While we did manage to have cold weather and a nice trip down memory lane … we continued with the drizzly weather and cloudy skies.  Not even much wildlife along the way, since it was already “open season” for moose.  :-(

We did have a wonderful dinner at Chena Hot Springs and met a few friends along the way.

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Though signs of fall’s arrival were surrounding the area …

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… there were also treated to more beautiful blooming flowers.

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That night, we got up twice to check on the arrival of the aurora … along with many of the tourists that come to Chena for that exact reason … but it wasn’t meant to be.  All in all though, to us, Chena Hot Springs holds special meaning.  In 2007, it was there that we photographed our first northern lights and it was such a spiritual moment for both of us, that we got married there exactly one year later!

In the morning, it continued to rain … and the only thing that seemed to be out and about was this cute little squirrel … who was on a mission to gather up, and consume, as many nuts as possible for the snowfall, which wasn’t too far in the future.

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We then decided to head back to Denali NP.  The next blog will feature even more on Denali NP.  Stay tuned!

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More From Denali National Park

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As mentioned in the last post, I wanted to continue to share some of the images and stories from our last trip to Alaska, so I’ll pick up back in Denali NP.

Fall is an amazing time of year to visit Denali … the wildlife has a sense of urgency to it and the landscape with the seasons changing, is nothing less than spectacular.

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It’s always amazing to me how quickly the colors change and also how deep the colors get.  Being from Florida and not getting to experience much seasonal “changing of the guard”, we really look forward to the colors, the cooler temperatures, and the lessening of the crowds.

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Some of the most sought after wildlife in the fall are the moose, as they ready for the rut season.  The cows (females) begin to congregate together and the bulls (males) are not that far behind.

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Antlers begin to lose their velvet as the bulls begin to fight for the privilege of mating with their chosen cows.  It’s quite an enticing time for all, as the hormonal surges occur, and just as exciting for the photographer.

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Some of the younger bulls might hang around the cows, but eventually they’ll give up their spot to a more mature bull.  Not to worry … their time will come.

Of course, Denali in the fall is more than just moose.  There are caribou – also getting ready for their breeding season.  The velvet on their antlers also sheds, as do the actual antlers on the male caribou whom are not quite ready to compete.  The antlers on the females (yes they do grow a smaller set) are shed on those who do not get successfully bred, while those pregnant, retain theirs through the harsh winter.

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Grizzly bear are always a fan favorite in Denali … whether it be an adult or sub-adult ………

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or especially when they’re still a cub!

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It’s not just the larger wildlife that draw attention.  Arctic ground squirrels play a huge role in wildlife balance in the Denali ecosystem.  Just love those guys!

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As many of you know, I just adore owls of all types, so one evening when we arrived at our campsite, I was delighted to hear the calling out of one.  After investigating further, we found this great horned owl up in one the trees adjacent to our “home”.  The light was quite challenging, but I wanted to share it anyways.

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Of course, the biggest star of Denali is … well, Denali (aka Mt. McKinley) itself.  This is an iconic view of “The Big One” from the Stony Point Overlook.  In 2013, it was the first year that we didn’t get to witness the entire mountain in full view.  Though it wasn’t complete, we’ll take it.  :-)

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Any trip is more special when you’re able to share it with friends as well.  In 2013, we had the honor of sharing one of our days with Darlene & Mike Bushue (and her dad).  It was their first trip out.

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Yes, Denali NP is such a special place to visit.  Visiting for our 7th year, it never ceases to surprise me – for it’s always changing, but it always pleases the viewer and visitor.

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Stay tuned for our travels into Fairbanks and Chena Hot Springs.  :-)

2013: Photographic Year In Review

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I’m a firm believer in listening to your mind, body, & soul…. that being said, it’s been a while since I last published a blog post… in fact, I seem to have left everyone off 1/2 way through our Alaskan vacation (Aug-Sept).  Wanting to finish that blog theme I planned the remaining posts, but something felt wrong. See, I’m also a big believer in reflecting on the closing of one year and the promise and hopes for the next.  With that said, I will blog an overview of 2013 and give some insight as to what we have planned for the upcoming year.

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Well, the first 4 months of 2013 were spent photographing a variety of birds.  First we traveled to Ottawa, while visiting my daughter and son-in-law in upstate New Year.  Owls of all types amaze me and the great grays were no exception.  They are simply so beautiful, quite large, and amazingly graceful and stealth-like in flight.

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Several trips to Blue Cypress Lake also provided some exciting images of the ospreys that breed and raise their young there in the cypress trees.  It was incredibly peaceful to capture them as they brought in nesting material, participated in courtship and mating, and brought fresh fish in to feed their mates.

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Who can also forget the incredibly tender moments of bonding captured between the sandhill cranes and their colts.  So fuzzy and adorable … they grow up way too fast … much like our own children.  :-)

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Tom flies out every year to Oregon to meet up with some of his RC glider plane friends from south Florida, as the bluffs and mountains provide the perfect lift and thermals for them.  In 2013, I decided to go out early with Tom, but added a special twist to the trip … a side trip to the Palouse Region of eastern Washington.  What an amazing and special place that was and we would love to return for more.

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Once we arrived to Hood River, OR, we then headed over to the Oregon coast for images of the famous Oregon coastline, with the rocky landscape and amazing atmosphere, complete with shorebirds, wildlife, and of course, bald eagles soaring overhead.

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For about 3-4 months during the spring and early summer, I spent quite a bit of time observing the Cooper City resident burrowing owls of Brian Piccolo Park.  It seemed that nothing brought a bigger smile to my face than witnessing their antics as they literally grew up before my eyes.

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I have always wanted to photograph the black skimmer colony on the west coast of Florida, so when my good friend Jess notified me of the colony and its new babies, I had to drive on over to witness (and photograph) it for myself.  I was amazed at the beauty and the concentration of the colony, though I have to admit that I was taken back by some of the aggression I witnessed between some of them.  All in all though, it was a fantastic experience.

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No year for us would be complete without our annual trip to Alaska!  This year was a bit different – we affectionately refer to it as the bear and moose trip, but it was a full 13 days in Alaska before we saw our first moose!  We visited many of our usual “hang-outs”, including Katmai NP and Denali NP.

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We also visited Lake Clark National Park for some coastal bear viewing this year, as we celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary.  Though the bears weren’t as plentiful as I would have hoped (seems it was a bit late in the season), the scenery more than made up for it.

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As you can imagine, it takes quite some time, and energy, to get through all of those Alaskan images, so for the remainder of the year, I slowed down quite a bit.  I did try to concentrate more on some landscape images in my native south Florida.  A group of south Florida photographers got together very early one morning for a private sunrise shoot at the Deering Estate in Miami.  What a gorgeous day it was … not to mention, what a fun time we had together!

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We had so much fun that we gathered again for an early morning sunrise shoot at Bill Baggs State Park on Key Biscayne.  With the lighthouse, landscape trees, surf, and sand as the backdrop … it’s hard to miss a great shot.

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So, all in all, 2013 was a very good year indeed!  At this time, plans for 2014 are still in the works … but they so far include a winter trip to Yellowstone NP and also a side trip to the snow covered landscape of Utah; hopefully a return to Arches NP, Canyonlands NP and Moab, UT in a much more comfortable time of season (versus the dead of the summer, as we had the last time that we visited that area); Glacier NP & the Canadian Rockies in the late spring; and of course, our annual visit to Alaska.  So, I think it’s safe to say some really exciting things will be happening in 2014.  All I can say is … bring it on!

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I will make up for “lost blog time” by continuing on, as blog space allows, for more from Alaska 2013.  Until then, Happy New Year to all!

Please End The Moose Drought!

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Going into the end of Week #2 in Alaska and I can hardly believe that we STILL haven’t seen a moose!  This has never happened before … usually by now we’ve seen moose in and around Anchorage, cruising around the town of Homer, all along the Kenai Peninsula landscape, or at least on the Parks Highway on our way to Denali NP & Preserve.  So, when we arrived at the entrance of Denali, I told Tom that he had better find me a moose and fast!  LOL.  But first, of course, we were treated to some wonderful early autumn colors blanketing the landscape.

Autumn-kissed landscape of Denali

Autumn-kissed landscape of Denali

The drainage areas where the moose tend to be spotted easily

The drainage areas where the moose tend to be spotted easily

As we cruised the first 15 miles (aka “Troll Road”) of the park road, our eyes scanned through the trees, off in the distance, near the ponds, and in the drainage ditches.  Not to sound like a brat or anything, but I was getting discouraged quickly.  Where did all of the Alaskan moose go?  Finally, Tom told me to get my gear ready as he turned away our 28′ RV (not an easy task).  Sure enough, there was a cow and her young one in the drainage area.

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The drought was over!  We had a “two-fer”!  After some time, your eyes begin to adjust to spotting the moose … watching for movement through the brush and trees … looking for the “shine” of the bulls shiny antlers … and yes, looking for the “moose jams” along the roadside.  Maybe that’s cheating a bit, but locating the moose in the weeks before, as well as during, the rut season is big business.  We came across a young bull and his intended cow, though no one had yet informed him that he really had no chance with this lady.  LOL.

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After some time, as dusk was approaching, the moose seemed to be out congregating just about everywhere!  By the time we finally called it a day and headed in for dinner, we had spotted I believe about 20 moose!  If you don’t believe me, you can ask our friends Darlene & Mike Bushue or Rebecca Tifft, who were also out trolling with us.  Now that’s what I call making up for lost time!

Sorting it all out

Sorting it all out

The next morning we set out to find more wildlife and wonderful landscapes within the parks interior.

Glorious light shining through the misty atmosphere

Glorious light shining through the misty atmosphere

We came across several bull moose almost immediately.

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When we entered the Primrose area of the park, we came across some caribou grazing on the trees, leaves, and tundra.  They simply amaze me with their antlers … so huge and sort of imposing … and I imagine how hard it must be for them to maneuver in the landscape.  They sure are beautiful in the fall.

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One of my favorite areas of the park has to be the Igloo Canyon area, but this year, we saw nothing much.  Views along the way continued to be awe-inspiring!

Glorious light shining through the misty atmosphere

Glorious light shining through the misty atmosphere

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As we approached Toklat River, we were treated to some “close” dall sheep.  I say close because usually they’re either “microdots” or “rice with sticks” or right on the road.  These were simply hanging out on the mountainside – not too far, but not that close either.  Dall sheep and their protection is how Denali NP got its start, so it’s always great to see them!

Dall sheep rams

Dall sheep rams

Grizzly bear sightings were pretty good this year as well, though most were further from the road than normal.  Not sure why.  Most times they were grazing on the berries, which this year were in a boom crop … the bears should be happy with that.

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At the end of the day, we always continued with our “moose trolling” and our luck continued.  Sometimes it would be just one moose …

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… sometimes two moose; sometimes bulls; sometimes cows.

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A few of them were still shedding their velvet in preparation for the rut season, when the larger bull moose fight for the honor to mate with the females in the area.  Those poor younger males never stand a chance.  At this point, we were still a bit early for the rut, but we found it really interesting to watch them following around the females.  Soon it will be a frenzy of hormonal surges with these guys!

Notice the velvet still hanging on his right paddle

Notice the velvet still hanging on his right paddle

We spent about 10 or so days in total at Denali this year, so I will have several posts on our Denali adventures.  Stay tuned for more!

What an amazing creature!  GORGEOUS!

What an amazing creature! GORGEOUS!

Rainy Day In Talkeetna

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Sure we were treated in 2013 to our fair share of drizzly weather in Alaska, but first of all, that’s pretty much normal for this time of year and second, it was drizzly, not a torrential downpour ever, and third, we were in Alaska – who cares!

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So as we left the Kenai Peninsula and headed on our way to Denali NP, we decided that we were going to check out the Hurricane Turn Train out of Talkeetna.  We had heard about it the year before when Tom met Mary & Clyde Lovel, Alaskan homesteaders from in early 1960′s, with 4 kids in tow.  They settled in a small area they call Sherman, AK.  More on that later.

In Alaska, not all communities are accessible by paved road, or even dirt road for that matter.  Many communities are accessible only via bush planes, while others are accessible via what’s known as the Hurricane Turn Train, which goes out into the communities served by it – once a day, just a few days a week.  It is one of the only “whistle stop” trains in the USA.  Residents which wish to ride the train into the town of Talkeetna, simply walk out to the train track … anywhere along the way … and flag the train down.  How cool is that?

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Now normally you would imagine that a train that pretty much follows the path of the Susitna River into the wilderness would have lots of wildlife along the way.  Most times of the year that might possibly be true, but on today’s adventure, the only wildlife that we saw were faraway bald eagles and several pairs of trumpeter swans.

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“Hey honey, I think that we’ve been spotted”

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“Stop staring at us! Go away”

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“I don’t think that they’re leaving anytime soon”

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“Well, let’s just take this show somewhere else”

There were wonderful views outside the train as it traveled down the trains towards the Hurrican Gulch Bridge, which in itself is a fascinating sight to see roadside, but probably even more fascinating to witness as the train stops directly on the bridge and the gorge looms below.

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Of course, all along the way, Tom & I were having fun running around between the mostly empty train cars.  What a way to visit history, stay dry, experience something new!

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For Tom, I think the highlight of the day is when we stopped at the “Sherman City Hall”.  Well, OK it’s not really a city hall, but it is the self-proclaimed city hall of Sherman and the home of the Mary & Clyde Lovel.  Not only that, but they whistled the train down and boarded the train and rode it into town.  Once we arrived in Talkeetna, Tom was able to chat with Mary again, which he really enjoyed.  :-)

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We also noticed a structure on the tracks, which turned out to be a train track snow blower, which I’m sure gets plenty of use most of the year, other than the summer.

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After our time spent in Talkeetna and the other tiny towns along the way, we realized that we STILL hadn’t celebrated even our first moose sighting of the trip yet!  Until that moment … there it was … right in front of our eyes ….

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Oh well, I guess the hunt is still on.  Glad that we’re on our way to Denali NP!

A Magical Place … Lake Clark NP

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Every time we venture over to Alaska, we always try to do something different (sea kayaking, paragliding, whitewater rafting) or go somewhere different … and this year was not an exception.  OK, so it’s no surprise that we LOVE the brown bears.  We always fly over to Katmai or visit the Russian River to spend time with them, but we had never gone to the other area national parks, which are also renowned for their bears.  So, off we went to Lake Clark National Park for a new adventure.

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It was a short flight from Soldotna to Lake Clark and it was also an outstanding one – once we got off the ground.  The views were incredible!  That being said, for a few hours, I thought for sure that we would not be going, as the fog layer was quite thick in Soldotna.  That’s pretty much a way of life in Alaska … flight delays  :-(  … and to make it worse, the weather was reportedly beautiful on the other side of the inlet.

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But we finally made it there.  We usually fly over in a floatplane to Katmai, so it was quite a treat to experience a beach landing!  Pretty nice arrival, I must say.

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We had plans to stay at the Alaska Homestead Lodge, hosted by James & Shelia Isaak, on the shores of the Cook Inlet, with Mt. Iliamna looming in the backdrop.  What a fabulous place with great views, great food, great lodging, great guests and great “neighbors”.

The first “neighbor” to greet us was a brown bear nicknamed “Trouble”.  How excited I was as I rushed to grab my gear to document the welcoming party.  It came strolling down the “road” … I say “road” because the dirt road in front of the property was also the “runway” for James’ personal airplanes.

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Trouble didn’t get that nickname for nothing, as he immediately found the barrel out in the garden and began to try to roll it around and mess it up.  To us, it was fun to watch though and quite comical.

What an innocent looking young bear!   ... Not!

What an innocent looking young bear! … Not!

Meet Trouble ... doing what he did best  :-)

Meet Trouble … doing what he did best :-)

Eventually, with a bear just being a bear, it found the cover to the septic tank and began to gnaw on it.  Well, that didn’t sit well with the owners and he got yelled at and as it ran off, it tried to take the cover with him!  LOL

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After a quick orientation to the property, we were off to find the bears.  There were signs of them along the way, as we ventured out to the shores of the inlet.

Now that's a big one!

Now that’s a big one!

Before long, we came across our first brown bear … coming in from the water it was coming right towards us … and continued past us.  Trouble was also present and we thought that we might have an interaction between the two, but Trouble was quite the submissive one around other bears.

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Most of the time, we found this bear doing one of two things ….  sitting and looking around

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…. or resting on a pile of warm sand, probably with its fresh catch buried under the mound.

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But you couldn’t beat the view!

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The bears weren’t the only ones fishing off the coast, as one morning we were treated to a bald eagle flying in, hitting the waters surface, grabbing a fish, and flying off with the prize.

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Again, the bears wouldn’t be outdone by the eagles, so they would catch their own, carry it off, bury it, and of course, take a nap!

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During our stay, the bears were less plentiful than even just a few days ahead, but none of that mattered to us.  We were just so happy that we could spend our wedding anniversary in the most magnificent place around.  Our “30th” … maybe, but probably more like our 5th.  See, our hosts had a 30th celebration for us, which made us laugh, but we took that as a good omen to come.  Thanks to all at the Homestead that helped to make it special for us.  :-)

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Until next time …. we leave you with the serenity of Lake Clark NP

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Next up for the Blog …. All aboard in Talkeetna!!

A Wing & A Prayer

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One last blog post from Homer, AK … where we always seem to spend some time on each and every trip to Alaska.  They say that Homer is “A Drinking Town, With A Fishing Problem” … LOL … see, everyone knows that Homer is quite a laid back type community.  That being said, it is also well known that Homer is the place to be for fishing … for it’s the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World” and it ain’t too bad for many other types of fishing as well.  Fishermen come from all over the world to fish in the waters off Homer, Kachemak Bay, and the Cook Inlet.  I’m not just talking about the human kind.  :-)

One morning, after our “must stop” at Two Sisters Bakery for some drinks and a few baked goods or even their amazing sandwiches, we took off on a long hike along the shoreline north of Bishop’s Beach.  Being from south Florida, I feel very familiar walking along the sand, knowing that you never know what you’ll find.

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As we hiked along, we could hear all of the familiar sounds … the crashing of the waves, the whistling of the wind, and the seabirds calling out along the shore.  What we didn’t expect was the tsunami sirens going off loudly and alerting everyone to what to do if this had been “an actual emergency” and a tsunami was imminent.  Of course, seeing the tall cliffs around us that we would have to somehow scale … I knew we, or I should say I, would probably be screwed!  Yikes.

Tsunami Warning Sirens all along the beach and town

Tsunami Warning Sirens all along the beach and town

Before long, we could hear the unmistakable calling out of bald eagles.  So shrill, yet so beautiful.  Our ears tried to determine their exact location.  It was like a game of “Marco … Polo”.  Soon, we saw where it was … that being not far in front of us, perched on one of the  beach rocks on the sand.  At that time, Tom had the long lens … I had the landscape lens. We were quite a bit apart and I knew that Tom had to act quickly to ensure that at least one of us got the shot.  From here on in through this post, these images were taken by Tom alone.

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I told him to approach carefully, with respectful, yet not too quick of pace, being ready to push the shutter at any moment.  I sat down where I was, so as not to disturb his shooting. It was admittedly, one of the hardest things I could do … just sit.  I mean this juvenile bald eagle was perched so beautifully, calling out to what I would imagine where his nearby parents or siblings.

After some time, I guess that one of the gulls wasn’t too happy with his location and it began to harass him.  It dove at him, screaming all the time, coming from the right …

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… then from the left, as the eagle turned around to defend itself.  Funny how even the feared bald eagles get the “Rodney Dangerfield” treatment, i.e. “no respect”, every now and again.   LOL.

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I was hoping and praying that Tom was taking advantage of the gift of this sighting and having the right gear, at the right place, and the right time.  It was however, the equivalent of the perfect storm … the trifecta, if you will.

Finally, the juvenile prepped for its take-off.  “Be sure to get it Tom” I shouted.  I REALLY wanted my wildlife lens right about that point.  I could hear Tom clicking away on the shutter in a very purposeful manner … not your “spray & pray” fashion.

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Off went the eagle, flying low to the sand, over the landscape towards Tom and eventually past him.  We watched where he landed and headed in the general direction.  This young eagle didn’t even mind when we got pretty close to his perched position, as he continued to call out.

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We eventually decided that it had gotten as good as it was going to get, so we continued on our walk back to the RV.  It wasn’t until later that I saw what Tom had captured and I have to admit, I was quite impressed!  What do you think?  Yes, grasshopper learned very well.  :-)

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Next:  All Aboard in Talkeetna!

Home’r Sweet Home’r

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Absolutely by far one of our most favorite places to visit each year is the bayside town of Homer, AK.  It is on the very end of the Sterling Highway on the Kenai Peninsula … then via the “Spit”, goes into the Kachemak Bay waters of the Cook Inlet.  To say that the town and location are beautiful is a bit of an understatement.  See, if you’re a fan of the mountains, glaciers, waters, cliffs, birds, fishing, kayaks, flowers, art, good food, and of course, bald eagles, you can’t get better than Homer!

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On our way there, we always stop at an area called Happy Valley, where one can walk out on a lot, which has been “for sale” for as long as I can remember.  There the fabulous green grass path leads you to the cliff area, with the Cook Inlet below.  As you look across, you are treated on a clear day to views of Lake Clark NP and Katmai NP, including the peaks of Mt. Iliyamna, Mt. Redoubt, and Mt. Douglas.  I find myself just wanting to bring my lunch and picnic in the cool breeze and take it all in …. ahhhh!

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Upon entering the seaside community, the visitor is immediately taken by the views of the cliffs, covered with blooming fireweed and other beautiful blooms, as more often than not, beautiful skies and gorgeous clouds.

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Almost immediately, the first glimpses of the bald eagles, which are plentiful in numbers, begin to occur.  In fact, if you just pay attention, they seem to be everywhere … on the shores, flying low over the bay, resting on the steeples in the area.  Both the mature, as well as the immature and young eaglets are common photographic opportunities.

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Towards the end of the spit, we found a large colony of seabirds, including the black-footed kittiwake nesting under the pier.  They seemed to be everywhere, once your eyes adjusted to their presence… in flight overhead …

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… in their “nesting condos” on the supports of the pier dock ….

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… resting on the surface of the chilly waters of the bay.

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Of course, that’s not all that was hanging out not far from the shore of Kachemak Bay.  We also spotted this lovely seal, which entertained us for quite some time.  Funny how, like much of wildlife, they seem to be as curious about us as we are about them.

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Driving on the East End Drive, we also came across more sandhill cranes on their migration journey.  I find it so fascinating when they prepare for landing in the area … they almost look like paratroopers coming in.

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Speaking of paratroopers, this year we also were treated to photographing a local motorized paraglider as he prepared, took off, and did several landings, only to have him take off again.  One year Tom got to paraglide, non-motorized at Alyeska … I tried, but the winds changed direction and it was no longer safe after Tom took off.  To this day, I’m not sure if I was happy or sad about that.  :-)

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An annual tradition for us is our walk along Bishop’s Beach … preceded by a quick stop at Two Sisters Bakery (an absolute MUST!) … looking for bald eagles, sandhill cranes, other wildlife, and listening to the sound of mostly just the wind blowing and the seabirds calling out.  Of course, the day on the beach would not be complete without a cairn building session.  Each year our cairn grows by one rock … one rock for each year that we’ve been together.  Seems like each year it gets harder to build, but I guess that’s how life is … something worth building, or keeping, should never be easy or taken for granted.

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For the next Blog post, I will have Tom share with you some of the images from one of our walks along the beach, with a very special guest in attendance …. all images taken by Tom!  Until then … hope that you’re enjoying following along with our 2013 adventure to AK.

The Dance

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As I have self-proclaimed on earlier posts, I’m a total CRANIAC!  I just absolutely adore sandhill cranes – from the baby colts to the full grown … they never cease to intrigue me and make me want to photograph them.  So you can imagine when Tom told me that he had just spotted a sandhill crane and its young out in the Beluga Lake Slough in Homer, Alaska.

With this adult feeding low in the grasses, I can see why Tom thought it was a colt

With this adult feeding low in the grasses, I can see why Tom thought it was a colt

Of course, I begged Tom to stop so that I could run out and take a peek for myself and hopefully capture an image or two.  He obliged and I ran out, but when I got there I noticed no colt, but in fact two fully grown cranes, probably mates.

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Even so, the scenery with them against the lush green grasses and the deep blue sky was enough for me to begin shooting.  Then, as some nearby joggers past by and I feared that they would scare away my crane subjects, something was beginning to happen …

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They began to get excited to their surroundings and to each other.  See, sandhill cranes do this type of dance to and with each other, that simply expresses their closeness and affection towards each other and celebrates their union together.

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From their calling out, to their posturing and presenting themselves to each other, they looked more like ballerinas of the tundra and they unfolded their story to me.  I struggled with whether I should continue to shoot images, or switch over to video, to capture best the experience … even thought about simply putting down my toys and simply watching them … well, dance.

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While watching and photographing (it won out over the video), I couldn’t help but hear the song “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack playing over and over in my mind.  What a beautiful moment it was and I can’t tell you how privileged I felt to be able to witness it.

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Every so often they would appear that the dance was over, but alas, they would re-unite in their passion to sing and dance together.

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Eventually though, they did ultimately fly off into the distance together, but not before they literally had me with tears in my eyes.  What a lucky couple they were and in a weird way, I envied what they were displaying.  I mean, isn’t that we all want?  :-)

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Poor Tom, when I returned had to figure out what happened to me and why I had tears in eyes and rolling down my face.  I shared with him what I saw and tried the best that I could to explain what it meant and how it moved me.   I think he understood … and I wished that he would have come out to see it too.  I wanted to get his attention to join me, but I didn’t want to risk missing the show.  :-)

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Homer has a lot more than sandhill cranes to offer.  Stay tuned for more from Homer, AK.

Did You Want More Katmai Bears?

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I don’t know about you, but I personally can NEVER get enough of the wonderful bears of Katmai NP & Preserve.  I keep emphasizing the “Preserve” portion of Katmai because this year, we were actually not in the Park, but in the Preserve.  See, it makes all of the difference in the world to these bears.  More on that later.

Another one of the bears we spent time with this year I nicknamed “Scruffy”.  He was a beautiful bear, a bit younger and smaller than the ones in the last post, and he was in the process of shedding his fur, so essentially was going through that “awkward” stage.  LOL.

"Scruffy"

“Scruffy”

As you can see though, he was quite skilled as a fisherman as well, so it won’t be long before he gets big enough to compete with the likes of the larger boars of the area.

Scruffy gets ready to pounce on a nearby salmon

Scruffy gets ready to pounce on a nearby salmon

Got 'em!

Got ‘em!

It is amazing to me how … when there is plenty of salmon for everyone, all of the bears seem to really get along well.

Let the feasting begin ....

Let the feasting begin ….

Not a scrap goes to waste ... leftovers get turned over to the gulls for clean-up duty

Not a scrap goes to waste … leftovers get turned over to the gulls for clean-up duty

All sorts of bears were along the shores and the waters of the creek in an attempt to fatten up before the winter while the going was good.

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Just like us humans, these bears, after an afternoon of feasting ultimately will reach the point when they are full and a siesta is in order.  So you might just find them sleeping on the banks ….

Imagine running into this on your hike!

Imagine running into this on your hike!

…. or simply resting in the brush, allowing their food some time to digest.

Waking the sleepy bear

Waking the sleepy bear

Then of course, it’s time to do it all over again!

Going for Round 2 - or maybe 4 or 5, who knows!

Going for Round 2 – or maybe 4 or 5, who knows!

One bear, we nicknamed him “Lazy Bear” would apparently be so full and fat, that he would simply arrive at the edge of the water, sit down in the water, and fish from that spot.  I mean you could literally see him sizing up the fishing opportunities from his seated position, getting up only to actually capture the “sure bet” salmon.  I guess we could have called him “sedentary bear”.  :-)

This looks like a good place to fish

This looks like a good place to fish

"Sitting on the shore of the creek ... watching the salmon swimming away"

“Sitting on the shore of the creek … watching the salmon swimming away”

Expend no extra energy than necessary

Expend no extra energy than necessary

Before we left Katmai Preserve, we were treated to the only sow and cubs that we encountered on this particular viewing.  Of course, it was a special treat to see them.  I have to admit that I was a bit surprised that she had her young out in the open in that area, as the big boar are known to go after and kill the young, but I guess that’s more so in the mating season.  I’m sure she knew what she was doing.

Sow with one of her spring cubs hiding behind her

Sow with one of her spring cubs hiding behind her

I mentioned earlier that these bears and Funnel Creek were in the Preserve boundaries, as opposed to the National Park.  See, in the preserve, contrary to how it sounds, they can actually be hunted during the bear hunting season.  I don’t mean to get all crazy about it, but it does drive me nuts because these bears are clearly not afraid of humans.  Doesn’t seem like a very fair hunting practice to me, but it does occur and it’s BIG business.  If you’re not aware of this practice, you can read up on it by googling it … if you’re like me, it will bring tears to your eyes.  I pray for their welfare and safety.

Probably the worst part of our trips to Katmai is the farewell.  Not much of a mature farewell for me … I literally go kicking and screaming!  But in my heart of hearts, I know that I will return, maybe not to the same exact location, but back nonetheless.  Who knows, these bears have such an incredible range in which they roam, perhaps we WILL meet again.  As the Beatles song goes … “I’ll Follow the Sun”, I’ll follow these Katmai bears and I know that they’ll follow the salmon!

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One more trip back to the Sadie Cove wilderness to drop off our new found friends …

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As soon as our plane dropped us back off in Homer, it took off to pick up the last of the workers and supplies out of McNeil River … when Tom realized our RV keys were on the plane’s seat.  Sweet one babe!  But alas, our guide Dave saved the day by taking us to Fat Olives for some yummy salad and pizza (the best ever), while we waited for our plane to return with our keys – hopefully.  It did return … they were on board … and life was good again!

For anyone that might be heading off to Katmai from Homer and needs a guide, I highly recommend Dave for “above & beyond the call of duty” service!  You can find out more on his website at http://www.goseebears.com.

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Until next year ….

NEXT:  The town of Homer

Nothing, Nothing, Nothing Like Katmai!

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Nothing says “bears” in the vast open wilderness like Katmai National Park & Preserve.  From our first visit in 2007, and every year since, we have indulged in the natural beauty and magical moments of the various places within Katmai.  Every year has been different – all have been exceptional!  It’s always a nail-biter situation, for not always are you able to fly out when you plan to, as unplanned weather delays and cancellations are a way of life in Alaska.  We arrived at Beluga Air on the Beluga Lake Seaplane Base and were concerned when we saw it through a thick layer of fog … but luckily as the sun made its appearance, it quickly burned off the fog.

Beluga Lake Sea-port

Beluga Air waiting on Beluga Lake

This year, we were treated to a special side trip to pick up a couple at a remote location within Sadie Cove, in Kachemak Bay & Cook Inlet.  Such a beautiful piece of paradise over there.  We know because we took a sea kayaking tour over there on a past trip.

Remote paradise encountered within Sadie Cove - totally "off the grid"

Remote paradise encountered within Sadie Cove – totally “off the grid”

Off we were to Katmai NP & Preserve … to wherever the bears happened to be congregating in the greatest numbers.  The bears follow the salmon run & being later in the salmon season, that means that they’re more inland than on the coast.

Aerial view of the beauty possessed with Katmai

Aerial view of the beauty possessed with Katmai

What a gorgeous landscape - meandering streams, glacier carved valleys, glacially fed lakes ... heaven on earth!

What a gorgeous landscape – meandering streams, glacier carved valleys, glacially fed lakes … heaven on earth!

Once we landed and our “business” was taken care of, we began to hike towards Funnel Creek.  Our guide, Dave, suggested that we hike about a mile or two before we began our bear pursuit.

Tom leads the pack as we hike out to photograph the brown bears

Tom leads the pack as we hike out to photograph the brown bears

But it didn’t take that long before we saw our first brown bear grazing  for berries on the tundra just ahead of us.  Of course, we were in hiking mode and I only had a wide angle lens on my camera at that point.  We hiked to a respectable distance, then let the bear have the right of way.  Once it went by, we continued on our hike.  The other couple with us had never seen wild bears before … never been to Alaska.  How fun it would be to watch their excitement grow.

Nothing but open tundra covered in berries and bears!

Nothing but open tundra covered in berries and bears!

We began hiking through the creek, as it winded back and forth in an on-going “S” fashion.  Soon we encountered our first close bear in the water … and he was quite the big guy.

This boar surprised us as it emerged through the dense brush from one turn of the creek

This boar surprised us as it emerged through the dense brush from one turn of the creek

To be quite honest, I think that he was the BIGGEST boar that we had ever seen!  Our guide estimated that by the end of the summer, he would be ~1200 pounds!

Look at the size of this guy!

His belly was practically hanging in the water!

Our guide knew this bear well – even had him nicknamed “FlapJack”, earned by the pancaked ear, a result of an injury some time in the past.

"What was that?"

“What was that?”

This was a big healthy boar all right.  He didn’t get that way for no reason … he was quite a skilled fisherman and though he looked like he couldn’t get around easily … that was not the case!

First interest peaks and plan of action is determined

First interest peaks and plan of action is determined

The sight of this big guy readying to stalk its dinner, then the sound of it splashing … not more like thrashing through the creek waters was undeniably eerie.  I definitely had a moment of questioning my sanity being in the water with the bear, but he had one thing on his mind and it wasn’t me.

The chase sequence is activated

The chase sequence is activated

Success!!!

Success!!!

Can't imagine how hard it was for this bear to haul itself out of the water!

Can’t imagine how hard it was for this bear to haul itself out of the water!

"I have no idea what happened to that salmon ... honestly"

“I have no idea what happened to that salmon … honestly”

Every so often, he would shake himself off … like a dog when it gets out of the water … and it was quite amazing to watch that big boar shake!

S-H-A-K-E !!!

S-H-A-K-E !!!

Of course, there were many other brown bears in the creek.  It seems like at every turn of the creek, we could either see or hear one racing up and down the stream chasing the salmon.  It was literally excitement at every corner!

Well, hello there ... as we encounter another big boar!

Well, hello there … as we encounter another big boar!

Triple Trouble!  Not!  Triple the FUN!

Triple Trouble! Not! Triple the FUN!

The landscape of Katmai is spectacular in itself … with so many bears calling it home – and moving around the landscape following the salmon.  Such a special place, for the bears and for us as visitors to their home – a privilege that I take seriously and with great pleasure.

Beauty in the wildlife ... and the surroundings

Beauty in the wildlife … and the surroundings

More to come in the next Blog post!

Do you think that we're happy?

Do you think that we’re happy?

Special Moments on the Russian River

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Have you ever awaken in the morning and got that feeling that the day was going to be a special one?  Well, for me, it was just that kind of day.  By 6:00 am, we were off to the Russian River boardwalk to begin our “bear stroll”.  We walked to the confluence, where the Russian & Kenai rivers merge, and we were treated to early morning heavy fog and mist, with the early morning light beginning to emerge.

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We sat down to enjoy the view and wait for the sun to rise – or at least the bears to emerge.  There was an wonderful sense of tranquility on the river, so quiet, nothing but the sound of the gulls and eagles calling out in the distance.  Each year on the river, we meet great people, some from the far stretches of the world, some local.  All have their reasons for being there – wildlife, fishing, adventure, seeking peace and enjoyment of the wilderness of Alaska.

The seagulls were the only ones around

The seagulls were the only ones around

This year, we met some new friends from Anchorage – Renee and Alton – and we were there for the same reasons, which included photographing the bears.  We walked along the path alongside the river, but the bears were in hiding.  After some time, we felt that they were going to be no-shows.  We turned around and this is what we saw …

It was truly a magical moment!

It was truly a magical moment!

See, I always say that things happen for a reason … and if you’re open to it, you’ll be treated to something even more special.  It was such an amazing moment and our equipment was changed out accordingly to be able to capture it.  The sunlight rays were simply beaming through the trees and the misty atmosphere simply added to the view.

Sunbeams and rays - doesn't get any better than this

Sunbeams and rays – doesn’t get any better than this

Before long – all lost in the magical moment – we hear Tom interrupting with … “we have bears!”.  What????  I have to laugh at how quickly our reflective moment turned into pursuit.

Backlit bear crosses the river not far from us

Backlit bear crosses the river not far from us

What a encounter we were treated to that morning!  The air was cooler that morning and I remember that the boardwalk was actually covered with a thin layer of ice in spots.  I think that the bears really enjoyed the colder weather, especially with the sunlight out.

Lots of action on the river

Lots of action on the river

Catching, then ultimately eating, the salmon was the favorite activity of these amazing bears.

Those poor salmon never stood a chance!

Those poor salmon never stood a chance!

Yum, Yum, Yum ... a bear's sushi bar!

Yum, Yum, Yum … a bear’s sushi bar!

During their break from fishing, they would interact with each other through sniffing, soft pawing, and gentle biting.  Nothing like watching sub-adult bears – not quite adult behavior and still open to playful encounters.

Gentle encounter between young sub-adult bears

Gentle encounter between young sub-adult bears

To get the best angles on these bears, one must get low to be on their level.  The position of the sunlight is also a consideration.

Sometimes the bears just seem to know, and go, right where you want them

Sometimes the bears just seem to know, and go, right where you want them

Of course, the bears dictate where you can be and if the bear wants to be where you are, you gently relinquish your spot to them.

Bear approaches the stairs where we were sitting

Bear approaches the stairs where we were sitting

Funny how bears will sheepishly walk towards you to get a better look - or sniff.

Funny how bears will sheepishly walk towards you to get a better look – or sniff.

Probably one of my favorite actions exhibited by the bears is what I call “the shake”.

I always wonder what makes them think that they can shed that excess water off of them while they're in the water!  LOL

I always wonder what makes them think that they can shed that excess water off of them while they’re in the water! LOL

This one particular bear was having a ball in the water.  It would find the hole where the salmon were congregating and catch one …

Such skillful fishermen the bears are

Such skillful fishermen the bears are

… then get on its back and begin to devour it, as the river current floated the bear down the river, all feet in the air, grasping its prize …

Lazy day bear

Lazy day bear

… then it would do it all again!  Got to love it!  :-)

What fun these bears have ... just another day in the life of a bear!

What fun these bears have … just another day in the life of a bear!

So we had a great start to our Alaskan adventure during those 3 days spent on the Russian River.  Met some awesome new friends, enjoyed their company, had lots of funny moments, and of course, got to spend some incredible time with the bears.  :-)

Yes, they sure do have the life!  Then again, so does Tom!

By mid-day, Tom takes a well needed rest on the Russian River banks

By mid-day, Tom takes a well needed rest on the Russian River banks

Today is a special day as well … it’s my sherpa’s birthday!  Today’s post is dedicated to my husband and best friend – Tom.  Happy Birthday baby!  Love you!  xoxoxo

Next will be our visit to Katmai National Park & Preserve for more coastal brown bears!

Our 2013 Alaskan Adventure Begins

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My passion ... brown bears of Alaska!

My passion … brown bears of Alaska!

It has become a summer tradition … our annual trek to the magnificent wilderness of the US, known as Alaska, or what others might call the “last frontier”.  To us, it is paradise and it seems that we can’t let a year go by without it.  This year was no different, so off we went to spend 26 magnificent days … where my spirit would soar, my energies renew, and my heart would go a-flutter.  :-)  For the next month, I will try to share with my readers our memories from 2013.

This year, our adventure was a very different one.  For one thing, we had more inclement weather (i.e. very drizzly and overcast, especially in the beginning) and lots of concentrated wildlife sightings, with lots of nothing in between.  Let me start with our time on the Kenai, specifically our 3rd and 4th days staying at the Russian River in Cooper Landing… one of the hot spots for brown bears … at least while the salmon is running.

Our first morning at the campground, we ventured down to the boardwalk, in search of bears.  Wasn’t long before we got our first sighting.  See the fisherman were leaving, warning us of the bear ahead, so off we went for some bear photography.

Sub-adult bear seeking privacy to eat its salmon snack

Sub-adult bear seeking privacy to eat its salmon snack

We observed it from a respectable distance, often making eye contact with this magnificent creature.  Before long, it decided to head back to the river, so up the boardwalk it went, as we backed off accordingly.  It took a leisurely stroll to the next stair access to the river.

"Share the Road" - brown bear style ... got to love that paw pad.

“Share the Road” – brown bear style … got to love that paw pad.

The river was a virtual “floating buffet line” of salmon, as they made their way upstream in their ultimate last deed before becoming part of the circle of life.  Problem for the bear was simply which one to grab.

Checking out "What's for Dinner?"

Checking out “What’s for Dinner?”

Ultimately, the chase begins….

Such intensity on their faces during this feeding frenzy period

Such intensity on their faces during this feeding frenzy period

Even during the pursuit, there are many decisions to be made ... like which one!

Even during the pursuit, there are many decisions to be made … like which one!

Once a salmon is successfully caught by the bear, it’s quite a thrill to watch them as they efficiently and skillfully devour it, in a very targeted approach.

What a prize ... can't you just see the pride in the bear?

What a prize … can’t you just see the pride in the bear?

Of course, the seagulls are always hanging around to dutifully pick up any scraps left behind by the bears.

Quite the conversation these two are engaging in ... such a racket too!

Quite the conversation these two are engaging in … such a racket too!

Even when the bears aren’t chasing salmon in the river, they are always a thrill for us to observe them as they go about their daily ritual.  Such activities include getting around in the slippery river rocks and over, on and around the trees.

So fun to watch them navigate the fallen tree branches ... not always to perfection though.  LOL

So fun to watch them navigate the fallen tree branches … not always to perfection though. LOL

Such a peaceful creature, as it pauses to assess the "goings on" around it

Such a peaceful creature, as it pauses to assess the “goings on” around it

The morning hours on the Russian River are especially rewarding, even if the bears haven’t arrive yet.  Tom & I don our hip waders and venture out into the river alongside the fishermen.  Not once have we thrown out a line to catch anything, though Tom has been known to catch a few with his bare hands (catch & release, of course).

How many Florida boys own hip waders?  Especially guys who don't even fish!

How many Florida boys own hip waders? Especially guys who don’t even fish!

Over the years, I feel like we’ve gotten to know some of the local bears.  This year there were 2 sub-adult bears hanging out together quite often.  After looking at some shots from last years adventure, I can’t help but feel that these are actually the 2 yearling cubs we photographed last year, but without their mom.  See, the bears usually keep them for 2 years, then kick them out to fend on their own.

Not completely sure, but I believe that these are the siblings that we photographed last year  :-)

Not completely sure, but I believe that these are the siblings that we photographed last year :-)

It’s fun to see how good of fishermen they have become … yes, mom taught them well.  :-)

Mine!  Mine!  Mine!

Mine! Mine! Mine!

Further down the river, past the confluence, is the Kenai River, which is world renowned for its “combat fishing” – standing shoulder to shoulder, while fishing lines are being tangled, patience wanes, and tempers flare.  Of course, late August is not peak time for salmon fishing for the humans … but for the bears, it’s like a little bit of heaven.

What a life!

What a life!

Signing off for now … be sure to check back next week and beyond for more posts covering our 2013 Alaskan Adventure.  Hope that you enjoy.

Taking a break on the Kenai River on one of the most glorious days we encountered.

Taking a break on the Kenai River on one of the most glorious days we encountered.

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

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Today’s blog will finish my Burrowing Owl series – at least for now.  See, they’re all still at the burrows, so …. you just never know.  :-)

"Hey ... is that you again?"

“Hey … is that you again?”

When I returned to the burrows, after my 2-week hiatus, I was quite excited to see that everyone was fine and progressing along splendid.

Several "gang" members - safe & sound  :-)

Several “gang” members – safe & sound :-)

The gang was flying around …

Showing off its skills by flying around and around - in and out of the trees

Showing off its skills by flying around and around – in and out of the trees

… perfecting their balance skills …

"You're not supposed to land on each other!"

“You’re not supposed to land on each other!”

… hanging out in the nearby trees, even ones a bit further away

Height was soon not a factor in the trees

Height was soon not a factor in the trees

Yes, even after I stressed about them when we had over 14 inches on rain over a 24-hour period and I feared for their survival, of course, nature has a way of making it all work out for them.  :-)  Thank goodness!

The gang was all accounted for!

Of course, it wasn’t always only the burrowing owls that came around while I was photographing.

There were parrots flying around freely

There were parrots flying around freely

Who could forget our resident friendly squirrel

Who could forget our resident friendly squirrel

Activity level was at a high for awhile …

Playtime has never ceased with these guys!

Playtime has never ceased with these guys!

However, over time, the activity level, though still active, became more and more unpredictable.  In short, it became that much harder to photograph them in their flight activities since they were so confident in their abilities, that they no longer took the time to size up their next move …. and give you a “heads up” for capturing the moment.

Sizing up the leap to the top of the perch!

Sizing up the leap to the top of the perch!

Eventually, I found myself more and more, just going out there to spend time with them.

My "friends"

My “friends”

I became a bit mesmerized with their amazing eyes – so bright, big, and yellow!

Such beautiful eyes that captivate the photographer

Such beautiful eyes that captivate the photographer

A bit excited, don't you think?

A bit excited, don’t you think?

I would simply sit back and watch them – often, as they watched me.

Peeking at me with the same interest that I was peeking at them with.  :-)

Peeking at me with the same interest that I was peeking at them with. :-)

I know that it sounds a bit bizarre, but I know that they knew me, felt comfortable around me, if you will.

Just can't get enough of these guys!

Just can’t get enough of these guys!

The last time I was out there, they were all out in force… all accounted for.  I said my goodbyes to them, just in case I didn’t see some of them again.  See, they should be getting ready to “flee the burrow” soon.

"What did you say?"

“What did you say?”

I especially gave a special farewell to Peanut.  After all, Peanut was the one that would make me smile most of all.  :-)

Peanut and one of its parents

Peanut and one of its parents

Such a gorgeous specimen

Such a gorgeous specimen

I then thanked the parents for their patience with my presence for the last 3 months and reflected on how I had grown to admire them so much.

One of the pair of burrowing owl parents at Brian Piccolo Park

One of the pair of burrowing owl parents at Brian Piccolo Park

Burrowing owls become of reproductive age in 1 year, so I wonder who I will visit with their babies next year… and I can’t wait!  :-)

The Burrowing Owls Saga Continues ….. :-)

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Another in the series of the Burrowing Owl blog posts …..

Gaining confidence in its flying abilities

Gaining confidence in its flying abilities

Activity around the burrow was growing increasingly active, as the owls were learning new things, gaining new skills, perfecting their moves, and overall advancing into their juvenile stage.

"I've got style ... I've got grace!"

“I’ve got style … I’ve got grace!”

Working on carrying and flying!

Working on carrying and flying!

Often we would see them out and about within the burrow, as well as some of the surrounding areas, not just within the ropes, but bravely beginning to explore the areas just beyond them.

It’s often fun and games at the burrow with the young owls

They would take turns occupying the 4 stakes which marked their burrow’s location and boundaries and at times, would walk the ropes that draped from each of them.

Up on a tightrope!

Up on a tightrope!

The ropes were always the most entertaining, since they required the most skill in terms of balance.

Working on their balance moves

Working on their balance moves

They continued to play with each other, sometimes nicely, sometimes rough, around their burrow.

"It's not what it looks like .... we're just playing"  LOL

“It’s not what it looks like …. we’re just playing” LOL

Sometimes one of the parents would have ENOUGH and gently peck at one of the babies.  Never would know it, since this one played it for all that it was worth!

"Help!  I've fallen ... and I can't get up!"  :-) (until it realized no one cared that it was carrying on .... does anyone see the similarities with their own children?)

“Help! I’ve fallen … and I can’t get up!” :-)
(until it realized no one cared that it was carrying on …. does anyone see the similarities with their own children?)

Even within the young siblings, there was still a well established pecking order and certain ones were definitely more submissive than others.

"You might trump him, but I trump you!"

“You might trump him, but I trump you!”

Often they would also be found in what I would describe a snuggle-like position.  That would normally be while they were at rest.  :-)

Snuggle-Time  :-)  So sweet!

Snuggle-Time :-) So sweet!

They would often begin to get tired in the heat of the afternoon … oh, how I could relate to that.  They would take the time to “owl-nap” and stretch their wings independently.

S-T-R-E-T-C-H!

S-T-R-E-T-C-H!

Sometimes, they would also stretch their wings backwards, but I would like to think that they were actually taking a bow for some spectacular activity they had just accomplished.

Taking a Bow

Taking a Bow

Flights around the burrow became longer and they began to venture off into the nearby trees – that just not that long ago were reserved for mom & dad, when they flew off on a much needed break from the young ones.

"Wow!  This is nice and cool up here."

“Wow! This is nice and cool up here.”

There's no privacy from the paparazzi!

There’s no privacy from the paparazzi!

They also began to hunt for their own food – or at least “attack” things, real of not real, in the grasses that they lived amongst.  Sometimes though, the parents still rang the dinner bell for them.

Anyone for frog legs?

Anyone for frog legs?

During this time, I had to leave them for 2 weeks while I ventured off to Charlotte and also the Pacific Northwest.  While I was glad to be traveling and getting a break from the south Florida heat and humidity, it was with mixed emotions.  I hoped that they would be OK while I was gone and anxiously awaited seeing them again.

All lined up at the burrow

All lined up at the burrow

Hang in there Peanut!

Hang in there Peanut!

More burrowing owl images and the stories behind them are still coming.  Check back soon.  :-)

Growing Up with the Burrowing Owls

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Howdy!

Howdy!

Continuing on with some of my thoughts and experiences during my 3 month long journey of observing the burrowing owls of Brian Piccolo Park in Cooper City, Florida.

“She’s back Mama”

There are numerous burrows with babies in the area.  It’s funny how each advances with their babies at their own pace.  At first, it was one of two burrows whom had babies taking a peek out of their burrow at their new surroundings.  Before long, there were many.  It really made it that much more fun for I could alternate which burrows I was following.  Each burrow though was very different and the parents had different human tolerance boundaries and we quickly learned them.  The last thing that I wanted to do was to alter their normal behavior … that would defeat the whole purpose.

More playing around the burrow

More playing around the burrow

The burrow that ended up having the most babies survive finally began to emerge and how adorable they were – all 6 of them!  As I said before, each owlet is born independently and therefore were at different stages of development.

Varying ages of this burrowing owl family are represented here

Varying ages of this burrowing owl family are represented here

Feeding of the young would continue with what I believed to be a carefully placed cache of goodies to be doled out as necessary.

Who wants a piece of this juicy caterpillar?

Who wants a piece of this juicy caterpillar?

The young owls began to play with each other, which was the most comical thing you could ever imagine or hope for.

Often, time would be set aside for mutual grooming, which I believe was enjoyed by all.

Mutual grooming was a favorite activity of the day

Mutual grooming was a favorite activity of the day

The grooming would often end up, or be preceded by what we would call “canoodling”.  Not sure that’s actually a real term or not, but they would engage in nibbling of their beaks, almost as if they were kissing.  Some of the young, like our own children, were a bit more needy of such affection and would run around after the parents of older brothers/sisters to get it.  LOL

Kisses all around!

Kisses all around!

Sometimes, such behavior resulted in a playful retaliation where one would effectively pin the other down in a submissive position ….

The "pin-down" - all in fun, of course

The “pin-down” – all in fun, of course

Most times it was quick, but sometimes the claws (though playful) came out.  I’m sure it was all part of teaching them to defend themselves.  It was entertaining to watch and some acts were worthy of Academy Awards!

Somebody's a bit cranky today, eh?

Somebody’s a bit cranky today, eh?

I've got claws, you know

I’ve got claws, you know

About this time, they began testing their wings – especially when the wind was in full force.

"Wow, I can feel a little bit of lift!"

“Wow, I can feel a little bit of lift!”

Learning the power of its wings

Learning the power of its wings

Sometimes it appeared that they almost got more “air” and lift than they expected, as evidenced by the look of surprise on their cute little faces.

"I have lift-off!"

“I have lift-off!”

Just a short trial run to begin with!

Just a short trial run to begin with!

Oh, how the learning was progressing, as they flew around and around within the confines of the safety of their roped off burrow.  At first it was simply quick jumps on the ground.

"Look what I can do!"

“Look what I can do!”

It then progressed to jumping up to the stakes at their burrow, which their parents had modeled for them routinely as they were growing up…. and always learning.

Wings don't fail me now!

Wings don’t fail me now!

Eventually, they learned to pull their wings in to go into a dive back down to the ground.  I’m sure that the first trip down instilled a bit of fear to them, but can you imagine the feeling of accomplishment that they felt!

“This is how we do it ….”

Their grace in the execution of their flying attempts got better with each landing.  Yes, the learning curve was quite exponential at this point.

"10" on that landing!

“10″ on that landing!

They would fly around pretty fast and furious and when there were 6 babies and 2 adults to photograph, it became quite a difficult task.  Many a time, I wished I could clone myself and my gear to be able to follow all of them simultaneously!

A little bit of perch, A little bit of rope!

What a joy they were!  Often times, I wasn’t sure who was having more fun …. them or myself!

The wires were crossed on this execution – clearly someone didn’t get the memo …
:-)

One thing I knew for sure, I was becoming attached to one particular owl, I nicknamed “Peanut”!

Are you looking for the burrowing owl blog?   Yep, you're in the right place!

My New Found Friends – Burrowing Owls

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Are you looking for the burrowing owl blog?   Yep, you're in the right place!

Are you looking for the burrowing owl blog?
Yep, you’re in the right place!

In South Florida, once late April arrives, so do several things … the heat, the humidity, the mosquitoes – which for me are never a welcome addition.  However, it also signals another change … the pending arrival of the burrowing owl babies!  So, beginning in mid-April, I began regular visits to the burrows.

Expecting the new arrivals

Expecting the new arrivals

At first, we simply see the parents-to-be, as they go about the final preparations for their impending arrivals.

Parents share the watch of the burrow

Parents share the watch of the burrow

Once the baby owls are hatched, which can happen over a period of time, we begin to see only the dad, since the mom is busy in the burrow taking care of her new hatchlings.

One of the burrowing owls parents stand guard and protects its family and burrow

One of the burrowing owls parents stand guard and protects its family and burrow

By the end of April, we get some of the first glimpses of the baby owls.  They are absolutely adorable and each has its own looks and personality right from the get-go.

The very first glimpse this year of the new baby burrowing owls

The very first glimpse this year of the new baby burrowing owls

To me, there’s nothing like the first glimpses of the babies, as they are so timid and quite curious about this great big world outside of their burrow.  It reminds me so much of when our own young began to explore their own world.  Everything is new, everything is exciting, and they are quite cautious of certain things.

Two very young siblings take a look at their newfound world.

Two very young siblings take a look at their newfound world.

Besides taking care of the young, the parent owls must also take care of their burrow – making sure that the opening is secure and clearing out unwanted items.  Often, the parents will enter the entrance of the burrow and dig in the sand, effectively throwing it up onto the babies waiting above.  It’s quite comical to watch as they appear to take it on the chin, the eyes, head, etc.

How Rude! Parent digs out burrow and tosses the sand onto its young

How Rude!
Parent digs out burrow and tosses the sand onto its young

The parents also have to take care of nourishing themselves and their young.  They will venture outside of their roped burrows to grab a quick bite and often bring some home for the others.

Crickets, anyone?

Crickets, anyone?

Burrowing owls will digest what they can or need to, then over time, they cough up a pellet consisting of the undigested remnants of their diet.  Yum!  LOL

Regurgitated pellet just after expelling - must feel better now  :-)

Regurgitated pellet just after expelling – must feel better now :-)

Burrowing owl parents are quite the protective breed.  See, these owls make their burrows and raise their young in what is essentially a sports park @ Brian Piccolo Park in Cooper City, Florida.  Every day, many humans inhabit their environment, which is a mixed bag of feelings for me.  See, it’s nice that the public can view them and learn from them and about them, but some don’t understand how their actions can affect these wonderful creatures.  They’re also protected by law, though some humans (hopefully unintentionally) seem not to understand that.  All that being said, the benefit to the owls is that they are a bit protected from their predators, such as the various types of hawks that fly overhead looking for an easy meal.

Adult burrowing owl stands guard

Adult burrowing owl stands guard

On alert .... Look, up in the sky, it's a bird, no a plane, .... no it's a bird .... an enemy hawk specifically! With one alert "bark", the entire family quickly retreats to the confines of the burrow.

On alert …. Look, up in the sky, it’s a bird, no a plane, …. no it’s a bird …. an enemy hawk specifically!
With one alert “bark”, the entire family quickly retreats to the confines of the burrow.

Look out ... One of the many hawks soaring above their burrows

Look out … One of the many hawks soaring above their burrows

Yes, either way, these burrowing owl parents are amazing parents – very loving, very patient, very protective and attentive, and very strict with their warnings and disciplines.  See, it’s for their young’s own good … and perhaps some human parents could learn a thing or two from them… hey, just sayin’.

Parent & Child - a special bond for sure

Parent & Child – a special bond for sure

I waited for a few months to blog about these owls, to do an entire blog on their developments and antics along the way, but that just can’t be done in one blog.  So for the next 3 blogs, I will continue my Burrowing Owl Encounters blog, so check back weekly.

Owlet wing stretch ... feels good! Note:  This particular baby had such dark eyes, not bright yellow like his brothers & sisters.

Owlet wing stretch … feels good!
Note: This particular baby had such dark eyes, not bright yellow like his brothers & sisters.

Hope that you enjoyed meeting the objects of my affection so far.  :-)

3 of the first 5 baby burrowing owls that we spotted in 2013

3 of the first 5 baby burrowing owls that we spotted in 2013

I’ve Become A Craniac!

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From the first time that I laid eyes on sandhill cranes, congregating in masses at Creamers Field in Fairbanks, Alaska, I have had a total fascination with sandhill cranes.  There’s something about their uniqueness, their size, their grace in flight, their social nature, their calling out to each other, and their dance – like none other and such a gift to the viewer.

The sandhill crane pair that sings together .... stays together

The sandhill crane pair that sings together …. stays together

That being said, there’s one more thing that really makes me feel like a kid in the candy shop about sandhills cranes … that would be colts.  No, I’m not talking about ponies, but rather colts are the name given to the sandhill crane young ones – the babies, that is.

This year, I had the amazing opportunity to observe and photograph several different sandhill crane families from all over Florida.  Being from Broward County, it seems that we don’t get sandhill families in our area.  In fact, I joke about how they simply fly over Broward County from Palm Beach County to Miami Dade County.  That however doesn’t stop me from embarking on my quest for sandhills and their young.

Sandhill cranes in flight

Sandhill cranes in flight – why won’t they ever stop in Broward?

Sandhills make their nest in grassy marsh areas – usually in a mound of dead vegetation where they faithfully tend to the nest and the eggs until they hatch.  A clutch is generally 1-3 eggs, though sometimes they’re not all fertilized.  Gestation period usually is ~28-32 days, where the parents will take turns on the nest, though the male usually takes a primary role in defending the nest from predators.

Sandhill crane parent patiently sits on the nest

Sandhill crane parent patiently sits on the nest

Early on, the young colts, in an attempt to regulate their body temperature, spend some time sleeping under the protection and warmth of the parents wings.  It’s about one of the cutest sights you could ever want to witness.

The parent begins to stir and checks on it's young colt

The parent begins to stir and checks on it’s young colt

The first ever-so-slight image of the colt emerging from it's slumber

The first ever-so-slight image of the colt emerging from it’s slumber

The young colt awakens for its first glimpse of the morning - from the "original featherbed"  :-)

The young colt awakens for its first glimpse of the morning – from the “original featherbed” :-)

Once the young are hatched, they are incredibly prepared to follow their parents around in their immediate area right from birth – I’m talking walking, eating, you name it.  The parents will usually teach the colt(s) how to search for food and how to eat within 24 hours.  They generally dine on worms, crickets, grasshoppers, or whatever they can get their hands on … or should I say, their beaks.  :-)

Solo colt out & about with one of its parents

Solo colt out & about with one of its parents

Dining on a juicy grub - Yum!

Dining on a juicy grub – Yum!

These colts can be so expressive - as this one looks down into the grasses .... doesn't he look so sad?

These colts can be so expressive – as this one looks down into the grasses …. doesn’t he look so sad?

When there’s only 1 colt, the colt tends to get more food and seems to grow bigger at a quicker pace.  The lone colt will also tend to be at the side of both parents more often than when there are 2 colts.

Always exploring - themselves and the world around them

Always exploring – themselves and the world around them

If the lone colt is so cute, can you imagine how cute 2 colts together are?!  That’s right, double the fun!  Not only do they do the same activities, but now there’s two and there’s also the adorable interaction between them.  Often, when there’s 2 colts, each parent will take one on their own little stroll, to be sure that they older one doesn’t bully and get all of the food or pick on the younger colt.  Generally, there’s also a size difference between the colts, so it’s easy to see how that might happen.

Twice as much fun with two sandhill crane colts!

Twice as much fun with two sandhill crane colts!

Tender parent and colt moment - we were hoping that we would get some under the wing action, but no  :-(

Tender parent and colt moment – we were hoping that we would get some under the wing action, but no :-(

But even though they might have the occasional squabble and competitiveness …

Competition over the cricket offered to the smaller colt

Head butting competition over the cricket offered to the smaller colt

One colt giving the other some smack about something

One colt giving the other some smack about something

… there’s equally moments of bonding that only siblings can relate too.

A special bond being formed between these sibling colts

A special bond being formed between these sibling colts

Yes, the colts spend long and tiring days with their parents as they practically grow up before our eyes.  There’s waking up …

Just about to wake up from its "colt nap"

Just about to wake up from its “colt nap”

walking around …

Exploring its own "private Idaho" of its surroundings

Exploring its own “private Idaho” of its surroundings

eating, eating, & more eating …

A fresh offering - leaving this young colt to wonder how they're going to manage this huge dinner

A fresh offering – leaving this young colt to wonder how they’re going to manage this huge dinner

then running, playing, & picking on the other …

Always a playmate within reach

Always a playmate within reach

bonding, stretching …

These colts will be together for at least 9 months before the parents leave them on their own

These colts will be together for at least 9 months before the parents leave them on their own

S-T-R-E-T-C-H .... it feel so good

S-T-R-E-T-C-H …. it feel so good

and finally crashing!

Can't take it anymore .... power nap .... colt-style ... but it lasts only a few short minutes

Can’t take it anymore …. power nap …. colt-style … but it lasts only a few short minutes

After a two minute break, it starts all over again.

Checking out where mommy & daddy went

Checking out where mommy & daddy went

Ready to do it all over again!

Ready to do it all over again!

Out for a stroll again

Out for a stroll again

I just LOVE these colts and I hope that you have enjoyed them as well.

I can't wait until I grow up - says the young colt

I can’t wait until I grow up – says the young colt

The End  :-)

Blue Cypress Lake Experience

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About 10 days ago, I had the opportunity to visit Blue Cypress Lake with some wonderful photography friends, Michael Libbe, Mike Fitzpatrick, Donna Faylo, Jess Yarnell, and her dad.    It’s situated out in the middle of nowhere – between Vero Beach and Yeehaw Junction (yes, there really is such a place) on Hwy 60.  It was a place that I’ve been thinking about going to for years, but with all of the other events that life throws at us, I never made it there.  At least, not until now.

Now I know, some of you are wondering “What’s the big deal with a lake?”  Well, Blue Cypress Lake has a beauty that is unmatched in Florida – very natural and very secluded – oh and did I mention, has an enormous amount of osprey activity going during the nesting season.  It did not disappoint!

The morning was a quite crisp one, especially for Florida standards.  Being the frustrated “winter-deprived” person that I am, I was totally excited about the cold weather.  I met up bright (well actually dark) and early with the gang, as we waited for the dawn to light up the skies just a tad, so that they would let us take out our rented pontoon boat.  Finally, the moment had arrived … and I wondered … do I have everything that I need with me  (cameras √, variety of lens √, spare batteries √, and memory √ – make that lots of memory cards √).  Alrighty then … let’s crank this baby up and go!

The morning was absolutely amazing … very still wind conditions, blue sky with some clouds, and a stillness in the air.  You could hear the birds calling out and flying to and fro already, but first, we had to capture the sunrise.

Sunrise @ Blue Cypress Lake - you know it's gonna be a good day, when it begins like this.

Sunrise @ Blue Cypress Lake – you know it’s gonna be a good day, when it begins like this.

After sunrise images were achieved, we turned our attention to the ospreys ….

The golden light from the early morning hour was perfectly highlighting this perched osprey.

The golden light from the early morning hour was perfectly highlighting this perched osprey.

Before long, it seemed that the word got out that we were in their habitat and anxious for some amazing photographic moments.

Hey everyone, we have visitors!

Hey everyone, we have visitors!

What?!  This osprey looks as though we have clearly caught them by surprise  :-)

What?! This osprey looks as though we have clearly caught them by surprise :-)

There seemed to be nests everywhere!  Such an array of activity going on …. lots of flying overhead

Often the osprey would circle us and fly either right over or nearby us - offering us amazing views.

Often the osprey would circle us and fly either right over or nearby us – offering us amazing views.

Banked shots really were enhanced when they would fly by the cypress trees, as a backdrop.

Banked shots really were enhanced when they would fly by the cypress trees, as a backdrop.

The back view of the osprey, when it's wings are fully extended, is an incredible angle to view this beautiful bird.

The back view of the osprey, when it’s wings are fully extended, is an incredible angle to view this beautiful bird.

Of course, landings are always a favorite of mine and an event much anticipated by the ever-ready camera shutters  :-)

Such timely precision and execution perfection!

Such timely precision and execution perfection!

Going, going, going down - every so gently.

Going, going, going down – every so gently.

Of course, now the day wouldn’t be complete without the images captured of the supremely skilled osprey – doing what they do best – fishing that is …

The classical - Dine & Dash!

The classical – Dine & Dash!

In the midst of it all, there was ample opportunity to catch some extra-curriculum activities going on as well  :-)

"A little privacy, Please!"

“A little privacy, Please!”

Spring is the time for welcoming all of those newborn ospreys into the world, so they need to prepare for their new arrivals.

Bringing in some nesting material to bring the nest back "up to code".

Bringing in some nesting material to bring the nest back “up to code”.

Probably one of my favorite images - such a tender moment as the pair are working in unison.

Probably one of my favorite images – such a tender moment as the pair are working in unison.

As in most aspects of life, you always have one or two overachievers to make the rest look like slackers :-)

Apparently, size DOES matter  ;-)

Apparently, size DOES matter ;-)

The ospreys kept us all happy for the time we shared with them … click, click, click went the shutters, often in rapid fire mode.  Expressions of that perfect moment (or close to it) were often heard while “chimping” our captured images.  What a marvelous experience, amazing company, lots of laughs … great times … can’t wait to go again.  Until then, I have this to remember …_DSC1787

Hope that you enjoyed!

Your comments are always welcomed and very much appreciated ~ don’t be shy  :-)

The Season of Love

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What better topic to highlight for this particular blog post … with Valentine’s Day fast approaching us.  :-)

There’s a lot we humans can learn about courtship, romance, and appreciating the object of our affection … and working on making that love last throughout the years.

It all starts so sudden – as the animals go about their everyday rituals – all very routine … then one day something has changed.  There’s an awareness of an attraction to another one of its kind.

That moment of discovery for these 2 juvenile moose - Denali National Park, Alaska

That moment of discovery for these 2 juvenile moose – Denali National Park, Alaska

For humans, this is usually the point where the women start making themselves more beautiful by actively prepping themselves for the occasion  :-).  However, in the animal world, nature takes care of that for us and in a strange role reversal, the males are the ones getting all decked out.

Anhinga in mating colors - Everglades National Park, Florida

Anhinga in mating colors – Everglades National Park, Florida

Even the cattle egret get in on the act - Joe Overstreet Landing, Lake Kissimmee, Florida

Even the cattle egret get in on the act – Joe Overstreet Landing, Lake Kissimmee, Florida

Then the courtship rituals begin … so natural, predictable, and beautifully executed.

A shout out to all the single ladies by this handsome green heron - Everglades National Park, Florida

A shout out to all the single ladies by this handsome green heron – Everglades National Park, Florida

Then the seductive dance begins as the green heron shows off for the female - Everglades National Park, Florida

Then the seductive dance begins as the green heron shows off for the female – Everglades National Park, Florida

He can hardly contain his excitement, as he gets all fluffed up in anticipation - Everglades National Park, Florida

He can hardly contain his excitement, as he gets all fluffed up in anticipation – Everglades National Park, Florida

Some show off for the females attention by swooning and dancing, others shake their tail feathers in an attempt to say … Hey, look at me! … Choose me!

Great white egret proudly displaying its plumage to all - Gatorland, Orlando, Florida

Great white egret proudly displaying its plumage to all – Gatorland, Orlando, Florida

"I'm in the mood for love" proclaims this gorgeous egret - Gatorland, Orlando, Florida

“I’m in the mood for love” proclaims this gorgeous egret – Gatorland, Orlando, Florida

Some simply try to mesmerize their potential mate in a dazzling display of magnificent beauty and magnitude.

Peacock proudly displays what his mama gave him - Crandon Park, Key Biscayne, Florida

Peacock proudly displays what his mama gave him – Crandon Park, Key Biscayne, Florida

Ultimately, that moment of truth arrives – will she, or will she not?  The female finally decides if the male is worthy of her time and affection.  Sorry, guys, but it is the female in nature that decides.  :-)

As she accepts his offer of courtship, then the real romance begins for this pair of terns - Green Cay Wetlands, Boynton Beach, Florida

As she accepts his offer of courtship, then the real romance begins for this pair of terns – Green Cay Wetlands, Boynton Beach, Florida

She accepted!  She loves me!  Makes a boy feel so proud!

Male great blue egret struts his stuff proudly - Viera Wetlands, Viera, Florida

Male great blue egret struts his stuff proudly – Viera Wetlands, Viera, Florida

They then begin building a life together … as their day revolves around their newfound love, and the result of it  :-)

Proud great blue heron couple preparing for their new family - Viera Wetlands, Viera, Florida

Proud great blue heron couple preparing for their new family – Viera Wetlands, Viera, Florida

Bald eagle returns to the nest with an offering of another stick to make their nest foundation a solid one - Kenansville, Florida

Bald eagle returns to the nest with an offering of another stick to make their nest foundation a solid one – Kenansville, Florida

Of course, other animals show their playfulness at this time in their lives as well, as they undergo their own version of discovery, courtship, and romance as well.

Sub-adult coastal brown bears discover each other - Katmai National Park, Alaska

Sub-adult coastal brown bears discover each other – Katmai National Park, Alaska

They begin to play as part of their courtship - Katmai National Park, Alaska

They begin to play as part of their courtship – Katmai National Park, Alaska

Ultimately, it gets a bit more serious, of course, after the female consents to the union

Ultimately, it gets a bit more serious, of course, after the female consents to the union – Katmai National Park, Alaska

Wildlife tends to appreciate and nurture the formed union by expressing attentiveness and teamwork cooperation in life.

"Let me whisper sweet nothings in your ear" - actually this red fox has just brought dinner home for its mate, which they will shortly take home to their den - Denali National Park, Alaska

“Let me whisper sweet nothings in your ear” – actually this red fox has just brought dinner home for its mate, which they will shortly take home to their den – Denali National Park, Alaska

Of course, in all species of wildlife, and even humans, the hardest part of love is finding a way to make it last.  Now some wildlife species mate for life, some just for a season, and some just for the moment.  Some species will even mate several different partners in a breeding season … OK, we won’t go into the commonalities of humans at this point … this season of love should be full of fun and playfulness …

Coastal brown bear feeling playful and joyous rolling around in the lush green grasses of Katmai National park, Alaska

Coastal brown bear feeling playful and joyous rolling around in the lush green grasses of Katmai National park, Alaska

… and defending one’s turf …

Barred owl couple stands untied in their position - Dinner Island Ranch WMA, Hendry County, Florida

Barred owl couple stands untied in their position – Dinner Island Ranch WMA, Hendry County, Florida

Burrowing owl protects its burrow from other owls or predators - Brian Piccolo Park, Cooper City, Florida

Burrowing owl protects its burrow from other owls or predators – Brian Piccolo Park, Cooper City, Florida

… but overall should leave you feeling on top of the world … flying high!

Bee Couple flying high over the Balloon Fiesta Park at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico

Bee Couple flying high over the Balloon Fiesta Park at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico

So, there you have it … take that chance, open your mind and your heart – to someone or something.  Life is what you make it.

Tom readies for a tandem paraglide jump - a leap of faith, if you will :-) - Alyeska Resort, Girdwood, Alaska

Tom readies for a tandem paraglide jump – a leap of faith, if you will :-) – Alyeska Resort, Girdwood, Alaska

Whoa ... what a feeling!

Whoa … what a feeling!

Don't ever look at life in just one way ... use your imagination.

Don’t ever look at life in just one way … use your imagination.

But most of all … appreciate what you have!  Take cues from the nature which surrounds us.

- Letchworth State Park, New York

– Letchworth State Park, New York

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY everyone!!!

2012 Review: PART 7 – Back in the FLA

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The remainder of 2012 was spent with family, friends, and of course, with nature – the ever-present beauty that surrounds us.

Parent killdeer with its newborn chick
Parent killdeer with its newborn chick
Crested caracara surveys its surroundings during a rain shower - Kenansville, FL
Crested caracara surveys its surroundings during a rain shower – Kenansville, FL
Wild horses of Paynes Prairie State Park, Gainesville, FL
Wild horses of Paynes Prairie State Park, Gainesville, FL
Fox squirrel at Joe Overstreet Landing
Fox squirrel at Joe Overstreet Landing
The sandhill crane pair that sings together .... stays together
The sandhill crane pair that sings together …. stays together
Juvenile bald eagle at Lake Marion, Kenansville, FL
Juvenile bald eagle at Lake Marion, Kenansville, FL
Lake Newnan, Alachua County, FL
Lake Newnan, Alachua County, FL
Great Blue Heron, Wakodahatchee Wetlands
Great Blue Heron, Wakodahatchee Wetlands
West Palm Beach night scene, FL
West Palm Beach night scene, FL
Barred owl pair perched in tree, Dinner Island Ranch WMA, FL
Barred owl pair perched in tree, Dinner Island Ranch WMA, FL
Northern harrier soaring, Green Cay Wetlands, FL
Northern harrier soaring, Green Cay Wetlands, FL

I want to be sure to thank those of you who shared our year’s experiences with us, somewhere along the way…. you know who you are.  It’s always good to see old friends, and of course, make new ones along the way.  Oh, and a special shout out to all who helped out immensely in Georgia – again, you know who you are!  Your friendship means the world to us!  One last person to thank for my 2012 – that’s a great BIG THANK YOU to my best friend, husband, adventure traveler, and sherpa – Tom.  Not sure what I would do without you.

Sherpa Tom
Sherpa Tom

So what’s on the burner for 2013?  Who knows really … but a sneak peek does involve another return trip to AK, visit with the kids in NY or wherever they land, and wherever else makes sense or my hearts tells me to go.  Life is an adventure that one must live to appreciate.  My favorite saying, which guides me in my life and provides me with much inspiration is:  “Life in not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away”.  Here’s to 2013 – BRING IT ON!

Hope that you’ve enjoyed a look back at my personal 2012.  I really welcome any and all comments and advice on this blog.  Here’s hoping I can keep this 2013 Resolution – a post a month or so (I give myself permission to “go with the flow”).  I wish you all a year full of life’s wonderful moments, great health, life-altering opportunities, and of course, adventure!  Life is only as good as the effort you put forth into it.

Take off from Beluga Lake, Homer, AK
Take off from Beluga Lake, Homer, AK
Thanks for hanging in as I looked back at 2012.  Now on to 2013!

2012 Review: PART 6 – Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2012

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We eventually had the destination of the 2012 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta on our agenda. What we didn’t plan for was the flu bug to invade my body and make me feel so tired, sore, and overall, yucky!  Oh well, time to feel all sick and all just would have to wait.  I pushed through the malaise and set out each morning we attended at the ripe hour of 4am to drive to the shuttle site, board the bus, and arrive, in the pitch dark, to the site of the event.  It was my first time attending and it was quite amazing and left all of us in awe of the beauty and passion of the event.  Never have I seen that many hot air balloons!  So many colors, so many shapes, so many people!  Incredible experience!  Brought me back to our first hot air balloon flight, several years back in Lake Tahoe area, when I literally thought that I would fall out of the balloon as it swayed in the air.  Of course, it was nothing like that, and I could only describe the experience as one of the most peaceful and surreal experiences I have ever had.  If you’ve never done that, and you seek adventure, it’s not too late to add it to your “to do” list for 2013.

Welcome to the 2012 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta!
Welcome to the 2012 Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta!

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So many colors ....
So many colors ….
So many people ....
So many people ….
So many shapes ....
So many shapes ….
It's a crowded place for the balloons too!
It’s a crowded place for the balloons too!
Dawn Patrol participant
Dawn Patrol participant
A view from below
A view from below
So many hot air balloons .... over 600 in all.  The largest hot air balloon event in the world!
So many hot air balloons …. over 600 in all. The largest hot air balloon event in the world!
So fascinating!
Stay tuned for the final blog on the 2012 Review:  Part 7

2012 Review: PART 5 – Family Reunion – Yellowstone, Tetons, & Zion NP

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Barely unpacked from AK, I had a family reunion to get to out west.  See, we decided to gather up the gang – Kelli & Mitchell, my mom & her husband Murray, and us – to spend some time together out in the great outdoors, appreciating each other’s company, as well as the company of lots of wildlife and beautiful surroundings.  Tom & Kelli took a road trip out west, stopping along the way to get their mountain biking fix, and met us in Salt Lake City.  After a brief stop in SLC, we ventured out to Yellowstone NP & Great Teton NP.  To my surprise, we were a bit late for the explosion of fall colors that we had enjoyed 2 years ago – same time, same place.  Oh well, didn’t matter because the trip more than made up for the lack of fall colors by the abundance of wildlife.  Bears, moose, bison, wolves, coyotes, pronghorn, and elk were plentiful!  The weather was crispy cool, OK maybe even cold at times, but this Florida girl enjoyed it immensely.  Tom & I would get up really early every morning and shoot, while the family took in a bit more sleep.

Family reunion

Family reunion

Bison battling it out for superiority

Bison battling it out for superiority

Bull elk readying for the rut

Bull elk readying for the rut

After spending several days trying to track down the elk in the very early mornings, there’s a few things that I can remember as if it were just a moment ago ….

1.  The sound of the elk when they bugle.  If you haven’t heard that amazing sound, you need to google elk and listen to their call.  It’s one of the most amazing sounds that you will ever hear.  For literally miles and miles you can hear the echo within the vast wilderness of the landscape.  So soothing ….

2.  Another sound ….. see we ran across many sightings of coyotes – hunting in the fields, running to and fro ….. but on 2 occasions, we saw them run back to what I figured out afterwards must have been their den, most likely with a meal, and you could hear the yips of their young.  I’m not talking a yip or 2, I’m talking about 1-3 minutes of continuous calling out.  That is another sound that if you’ve never heard it, you should.  I wanted to tape it on my video in my camera, but I was paralyzed by the beauty of their sound.  Big time smiles after hearing that one!

Three generations

Three generations

Moulton Barn, Grand Tetons NP

Moulton Barn, Grand Tetons NP

Enjoying the view from Signal Mountain, Grand Teton NP

Enjoying the view from Signal Mountain, Grand Teton NP

Yellowstone NP, WY

Yellowstone NP, WY

Several days were also spent in and around Park City also, as Mitchell joined us for an extended weekend or so.  Then off towards AZ and NM we went – taking a few detours along the way – some intended, some not.  What a beautiful country we live in!  One of our unintended detours involved St. George (we won’t go into that one), but things happen for a reason and the detour turned into a visit to Zion NP – so incredibly beautiful and a treat from the summertime visit we did several years ago – much less crowded.

Looking up at the tall stand of aspens kissed by autumn

Looking up at the tall stand of aspens kissed by autumn

Paria, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, UT

Paria, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, UT

Zion NP, UT

Zion NP, UT

Zion NP, UT

Zion NP, UT

While the beauty of the southwest was difficult to leave, we had a more definite destination.

Stay tuned for 2012 Review:  Part 6

2012 Review: Part 4 – Denali National Park & Other AK Areas

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Off to Denali we went for another week or so – actually we loved it so much that we returned to Denali for another 4 day stint when Kelli & Mitchell flew out to join us in Anchorage.  Hoping to see the moose rut, it seems that we were still a bit too early to see the real jostling that goes on, but we did see some early “practice sessions”.  We did see many sightings of grizzly bears this year – many times they were sows and their cubs.  As they frolicked in the amazing autumn-kissed tundra or sometimes even in the snow covered landscape, they thrilled me to no end, as I clicked off images to my heart’s content.  Wolf sightings were achieved, as well as coyotes, caribou, golden eagles, harriers, dall sheep, just to name a few.  Conspicuously absent for us in 2012 was the lynx, though I tried really hard… new found friends of ours were successful in seeing one, so I lived vicariously through their sighting.

When we first arrived, we were treated to a vast array of autumn’s best colors.

Autumn color changes were everywhere, as even the caribou has to stop to enjoy the view

Autumn color changes were everywhere, as even the caribou has to stop to enjoy the view

Young grizzly cubs frolicking at play

Young grizzly cubs frolicking at play

Lone wolf cruising the tundra in search of a meal

Lone wolf cruising the tundra in search of a meal

Cow moose feeding

Cow moose feeding

Then the weather began to change, as the fog and rain rolled in
Where's the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow?

Where’s the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow?

Then it happened ….. SNOW  (remember, we’re quite excited – being from FL and all)
The snowfall started in the afternoon and continued on through the evening

The snowfall started in the afternoon and continued on through the evening

The next day, it was beautiful!  The snow had stopped, the skies were clear, the weather was cold, but plenty of sunshine to help warm us up.  Even the wildlife seemed to enjoy it.
Grizzly bear stop in the snow flurry blanketed landscape

Grizzly bear stop in the snow flurry blanketed landscape

What a fabulous day!

What a fabulous day!

Taking in the view from Wonder Lake

Taking in the view from Wonder Lake

The freshly fallen snow contrasts so beautifully on the mountains and against the sky

The freshly fallen snow contrasts so beautifully on the mountains and against the sky

Not a cloud in the sky - viewpoint of Mt. McKinley (aka Denali) from Stony Hill Overlook

Not a cloud in the sky – viewpoint of Mt. McKinley (aka Denali) from Stony Hill Overlook

Having some fun along the way!

Having some fun along the way!

A mother-daughter moment of happiness  :-)

A mother-daughter moment of happiness :-)

We also traveled to other areas of Alaska, of course, as we always do.  There’s never a shortage of experiences or sights/animals to see and photograph.  I encourage everyone out there that has never visited AK to do so … you won’t be disappointed.

Hatcher Pass vista

Hatcher Pass vista

The newlyweds along the Turnagain Arm @ Beluga Point - yes, we did see the belugas!

The newlyweds along the Turnagain Arm @ Beluga Point – yes, we did see the belugas!

And our most favorite of all sights, though very different viewing in 2012, is the spectacular aurora borealis.  First experienced by us in 2007 in Chena Hot Springs, outside of Fairbanks, it continues to be sought after by us when we visit AK in the later summer.  This year, the aurora didn’t “dance” across the sky like a blowing curtain, but rather made it’s presence know with an almost glow in the sky.  Not much movement at all, though still very beautiful.

Northern lights over Chena Hot Springs

Northern lights over Chena Hot Springs

What a wonderful place … ever-changing, awe-inspiring …. warms the heart and soul  :-)

Stay tuned for 2012 Review:  Part 5

2012 Review: PART 3 – Brown Bears of the Kenai Peninsula & Katmai

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Of course, our sights were also focused on our return to Alaska – our 6th annual trip!  This time we visited with our good friends, Todd & Susan, who were experiencing Alaska for their first time.  Really made it fun to see and hear their thoughts on a place that has become so near and dear to us over the years.  We spent about a week on the Kenai Peninsula – visiting with the Russian River bears (always a thrill), eagle watching in Homer, walking Bishops Beach near Home Spit,

Hanging on to the prize

Hanging on to the prize

Like a child playing in their bathtub

Like a child playing in their bathtub

Out on the Russian River

Out on the Russian River – photo courtesy of Todd Stein

and of course, spending some time with the coastal brown bears in Katmai NP.  This year, we spent time at Kuliak Bay, where we were treated to numerous bears, including some sows and their adorable cubs.  What a sight these cubs were, as they scurried by us, not sure of what we were or what we were doing in their world.

Spring cub is not too sure about us

Spring cub is not too sure about us

Salmon fishing at the falls

Salmon fishing at the falls

Chasing down the river towards us (after the salmon, of course)

Chasing down the river towards us (after the salmon, of course)

Retreating into the tall grasses to rest

Retreating into the tall grasses to rest

No matter how many times we visit Katmai NP, it’s never the same.  We have been fortunate to visit new locations within the vast Katmai landscape each year and 2012 was no different.  We even got to spend some time with crew members of the BBC film crew shooting a documentary in the area.

... missed ....

… missed ….

The skillful fisherman

The skillful fisherman

The flight over to Katmai is always a treat for the eyes, but this year we were treated to an incredible fly-over of the glacial landscape and mountains of the coastal areas and a bit of the interior of Katmai – on an amazingly beautiful day.  I can’t thank Jon enough for that added bonus thrill for us!

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What an incredible place!  Make it a destination for yourself one day!

Stay tuned for more of the 2012 year in review!

2012 Review: PART 2 – Florida

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Of course, Everglades NP is much more than crocs … the weekends were filled with many different photo opps, featuring a wide variety of many different species of migrating birds.  I know that if I ever left south Florida, the Everglades would be sorely missed.  Never the same place on any given time – always  evolving and changing.  Of course, no trip to the Everglades is ever complete without a side trip to Roberts for a strawberry-key lime milkshake – at least not if I make the trip down there with Tom!

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Burrowing owls were also a big focus for us this year, visiting them at Brian Piccolo Park in Cooper City quite often.  They’re just so gosh darned cute!  In 2012, I really felt that I got to know the various families of owls, as we watched their young grow up, literally through our lenses.  I have to admit, it was a bit sad when they were all grown up and finally “flew the coop” – or should I say “flew the burrow”.

Our very first sighting of the little ones

Our very first sighting of the little ones

Testing out its wings and balance

Testing out its wings and balance

Some of the gang showing off in the nearby tree

Some of the gang showing off in the nearby tree

Can’t wait until the burrowing owl families are back in full swing!

Stay tuned for 2012 Review: Part 3 & Part 4

Welcome to My Blog

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Happy New Year!

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I had a New Year’s Resolution in 2012 … it was to begin my personal blog.  I did create the blog site, however, I never got around to posting any blog entries.  Not that I hadn’t thought about it … for every month it seems, as I saw my “To Do” list … there it was …. “Write a blog entry”.  So, guess what my first 2013 New Year’s Resolution was?  You guessed it, finally the first entry!  This all seems a bit weird for me.  Those of you who know me, know that I’m not short on words, but this is so “out there” for me, so have some patience with me as I undergo my first post.

What to talk about?  Let’s see … overall I want to share random thoughts about life, travel, wildlife, nature, and of course adventures experienced.  I have always loved to LIVE life to the fullest … trying to never have regrets about something I did, but more importantly something that I didn’t do.

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I thought that it would be best if I took the first post opportunity to reflect upon my life in 2012.  It was a very busy one for me!  From wedding planning to a return journey to Alaska to a family reunion (and its extension travel, of course) out west, it was a challenge to say the least.

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PART 1:  See, early in 2012, we were putting the finishing touches to a year’s worth of planning my daughter Kelli’s wedding.  Well, she actually did the vast majority of the work – bless her heart – all while finishing her Master’s in Human Performance at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL  (yes, she’s a Gator – after spending 6 years pursuing her educational goals – but she did me proud by graduating With Honors, with a B.S. and her M.S.), while still holding down a research position and then a FT job as an Exercise Physiologist in Ocala, FL.  All the while her husband-to-be was traveling for his job and spending a full year in Arkansas.  Imagine my surprise when she told me that she wanted to get married in the Georgia mountains!  Now that planning was quite complicated, but it did have benefits – as we needed to travel to Cleveland, GA to visit Neverland Farms (no, not Neverland Ranch). The wedding was the most amazing one – so relaxed, so natural, so beautiful, so “country chic” as my daughter calls it.  (Note:  the wedding images are not mine, simply borrowed for the blog, yet impressed in my memory – thanks to Matthew for capturing through images this spectacular day for us).

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These wonderful candles are available from our friends @ Drunkenbottle  (www.drunkenbottle.com)

These wonderful candles are available from our friends @ Drunkenbottle – the art of recycle  (www.drunkenbottle.com)

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I honestly don’t think that I’ve ever felt so proud … the moment when the ceremony was over and Tom & I were watching everyone have an amazing time at the reception.  How beautiful Kelli was and what a lovely young lady she had become – so caring, yet strong, and how mature she had become over the years when I wasn’t looking.  :-)  I distinctly remember looking at Tom and declaring … “We’ve done good”!

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Immediately after the wedding, they took off on their honeymoon to Costa Rica, where apparently my daughter and Mitchell walked through the croc-infested waters unknowingly, because they didn’t want to be “tourists” and take the boat over to the other side.  Yes, she’s got a bit of me in her – always seeking adventure.  Yikes!  They are now living in Brockport, NY, where Mitchell’s job has taken him.  Of course, this called for a visit where we toured Niagara Falls, Rochester, Hamlin Beach, Braddock Bay and the quite impressive Letchworth State Park.  Destination for 2013?  Who knows, but hopefully somewhere fun!

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Over the next few months, we visited the Everglades quite a bit and had a crocodile experience of our own!  What a thrill!

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Do a Blog : Check!

Stay tuned for Parts 2, 3, & 4 of my 2012 Year in Review.