It’s That Time Again …. !

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One of the things that I love most living in south Florida is our availability of burrowing owls to photograph.  They are year-round residents, but my favorite time of year is in the spring of course.  That’s when the baby owlets begin to emerge out of their burrows for the first time.  :-)

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They are hysterical to observe as they very timidly peek outside at the world around them. They are so curious at just about everything going on “above ground”, for the first few weeks they were nurtured within the protection of the underground burrow … safe from the predators and the elements.  When first introduced to their new life outside, they tend to stay huddled together.

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Just how cute are they?  This is the stage that I affectionately refer to as the “hair plug stage”  (sorry guys).  LOL

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While the babies remain close to the burrow, the dad usually ventures out to hunt for food in the early morning or late evening.  You can tell the adult by the speckled pattern on the underside, while the babies possess that mocha colored downy look.

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While the young ones stand vigil at the entrance to the burrow, already with a keen eye for what’s going on in their surroundings.  But as with anything else, there’s always one that gets easily distracted.

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The adults are extremely protective of their young and will observe the overhead skies for any signs of a potential threat or predator.  One quick bark from either mom or dad and those owlets retreat in almost a blink of an eye.  Very early on too, they learn to begin to scan the skies themselves.

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In south Florida, the majority of the threats come from red-shouldered hawks, though a handful of red-tailed hawks also circle overhead looking for a meal.

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These owls are also quite expressive and have a never-ending array of “looks”.                   There’s the surprised look ….

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The caught in the act look ….

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Everyone’s favorite though is always the curiosity look, with the head cocked over to one side, sometimes even almost totally upside down.  LOL

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After not too much time they learn to fly, which is absolutely by far my favorite time.  You can just see their minds at work, trying to calculate that perfect plan for flight.  Usually they start off perfecting the lowest perch-able item around, most often the stake that usually is present to identify the burrow.

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Sometimes there’s a nearby perch which can be used as their next step.  I just love how they always stop and size up their next step.  On a side note, look at those wonderful downy under feathers, or what I call, the “petticoat”.  So adorable.

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No test though is more fun to watch as the rope landing.  Of course, that rope is not the most secured nor stable landing, so when they land and begin to pull in their wings, they wobble … back & forth, over and over.  Eventually they perfect that balancing act.

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Then there’s playtime … so entertaining.  Again, you can watch the “attack scheming” in action play out.  Usually one plays a more dominant role, while the other performs a more submissive behavior.

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Eventually they break it up, but not before the fun watching the one on its back squirm around trying to right itself again.

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Yes, the burrowing owls are a real “hoot” to photograph.  So take a bow for your audience young owl, but don’t think that this is the end of my time with you.  The season is young and lots more visits loom ahead.

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Next up:  More burrowing owls

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

Birds, New Learnings, New Friends

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At the Alligator Farm, we spent 4 days shooting primarily the birds of the rookery as they went about all of the activities surrounding the breeding season.  I’m talking full days too – from 7:00AM until sometimes 8:00PM.  Of course, being that this was a photography workshop, we got to go inside the classrooms for educational components as well.  Yep, right in the heat of the day thankfully!

Each day, I tried to build upon the skills and tidbits that I had picked up from the previous days.  Let’s see how I’m doing …. ;-)

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The great white egrets were a thrill to photograph, especially since many of them had their babies.  I was a bit taken back by some of the baby birds and the treatment of their nest mates, I’ve got to admit it.  I know that it’s natures way and it’s all about survival of the fittest, but it’s still a bit sad for me to watch.

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Not all of the birds had already nested, complete with eggs or babies.  Some were still strutting their stuff, dancing away, advertising for a willing mate.  LOL.  I found that I could watch them forever in their rhythmic dance, so purposeful and precise, though I found myself really wanting this poor guy to get taken up on his offer.

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This guy too!

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As I mentioned, many of the mated pairs already were sitting on eggs, as this heron was kind enough to display for us (as long as we were quick), before they returned to sitting on them again.

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The cattle egret were also nesting, though I don’t recall seeing any of their babies yet.  Perhaps I just missed them because there were just so many birds!

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The wood storks are quite huge, yet still very graceful as they navigated the skies, trees, and other birds, while going about their daily activities.

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It was never-ending work too.

Then there was this image, where perhaps a dozen roseate spoonbills were all lined up at the top of the trees, some of which were doing courtship maneuvers of their own.  I found them so beautiful against that blue sky.

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Many of the photographers and visitors were dodging bird poop … quite comical actually, though I was lucky enough to not be one of those christened.  Maybe if I had it wouldn’t have been so amusing.  :-)  It wasn’t just the humans though … many of the birds were targets as well.  Yes, it was tight quarters in the rookery.  Guess this one will be taking a bath soon.

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These treetop extension shots, showing off the undercarriage of the spoonbills wings, were probably some of my favorite shots.  So very graceful and quite beautiful … like pink ballerinas.

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Of course, this rookery isn’t called “Bird Farm”, but rather the Alligator Farm, so the gators were the real stars to most visitors.  They performed as well, as the males would get excited every now and then and let out their bellow sound, sink a bit into the water, and make the water surrounding them vibrate and dance.  It’s quite fascinating to see and hear!

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As the day was nearing its end, the sun would set and cast the most wonderful golden light.

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Before we said our goodbyes, that light turned a fiery orange-red and by chance, this guy graced us with his dance yet one more time.

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It was a fascinating workshop (Shoot the Light FL Bird Tech Series) with great instructors who were more than willing to assist you in your learning and shooting.  Thanks so much to Chas Glatzer for the instruction and inspiration, and to Michael and Dave for their clarification and assistance in the field.  Thanks also to my classmates, many of which are my new friends as well.  I had a blast!  :-)

Next Up:  “Hooooo” wants to spend time with some more owls?

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

Where Are the Alligators?

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Starting off the month of May, I headed up to St. Augustine, Florida, specifically to visit and photograph the Alligator Farm.  It was my first time to visit their natural rookery, though I had been to Gatorland in Orlando numerous times in the past.  I really wasn’t sure what to expect.  I was also participating in a 4-day workshop there – focusing on the technical aspects of photography, specially metering, composition, flash, and post processing.

It was really nice being part of the class too, since we got an extra hour of shooting in the early AM, even before the “photographer pass” holders.  Good thing too, because it got more crowded as the day went on, as well as quite a bit hotter.

One of the first birds I encountered, as we were perfecting our metering skills, was this great white egret flying ever so gracefully overhead.

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Being that this was pretty much the height of the breeding season, most if not all of the birds were “dressed” to the nines.

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Look at those colors, that beak, that plumage, and that magnificent red eye!

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The big instigator of the group was always hands down the antics and vocalizations of the snowy egret…. glub, glub, walla, walla.  LOL  Speaking of a display of plumage … how does it get much better!

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Many of the birds, like this beautiful wood stork, were busy building or reinforcing their nests.  Just love the way this guy posed against that deep blue sky.

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Of course, one of the most colorful showy birds in attendance, were the roseate spoonbills.  With their plumage in full bloom, they offered us varying displays of their beauty, grace, and uniqueness.

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The reflections weren’t so bad either.  ;-)

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Yes, take a bow, for you sure were the focus of all the camera lenses out there.  Whether flying overhead, perched up on the trees, sitting on their nests, tending to their young, and especially when bathing in the waters, they were the star.

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It was like eye candy to the nature photographer and I was excited to see what else we would find along the way.  Oh yeah, the metering thing, I think that I just might have learned a thing or two.  All good!

 

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Next up … More from the Alligator Farm  :-)

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

 

Guess Who Came To Dinner?

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I was planning a trip up to St. Augustine for a photography workshop and I had a full day to get up there.  My good friend Jess suggested that I meet with her to photograph an osprey nest outside of Orlando and promised that I would find the shoot amazing.

I met her at the nest and I was quite impressed with the vantage point that it offered of the nest.  I set up and began shooting.  Osprey are always a wonderful subject to photograph in Florida and I personally find them quite fascinating.  So beautifully marked, that sharp beak and impressive talons, that intriguing face.

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While I found the mom quite wonderful to shoot, I wanted to see that baby osprey that I knew was there, but hiding underneath its mom.  As if to oblige us, it emerged from the protection of mom and gave us a glimpse.  I was elated.

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It turned to look our way and then it happened … our eyes met and my heart melted.  I do believe that I squealed with delight.  :-)  I think that it even smiled at us.  :-)

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It was so adorable … with that chicken-skin texture to it and the soft downy look appearing on it.  Not sure exactly, but I believe that it was between a few days old and less than 1 week.

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Mom was actively looking around for its mate, as the the baby sat nearby.

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She began to make some minor adjustments to the layout of the nest.  That little one was just as wobbly as could be too, taking a few steps, then falling over.  I worried about it and prayed that it didn’t fall overboard.

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Finally, dad finally arrived back to the nest and brought a fresh catch for the family to dine upon.

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The baby osprey knew what was going to happen next and immediately started to call out for its dinner, leaving an open target for mom to reach its hungry mouth.

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She was a good mom too, taking her time to tear off bits of the “sushi dinner” and offer it to her young one.

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This feeding session went on for quite some time.  Sometimes, she would grab a bit for herself along the way.  I had to laugh as the little one appeared to be in desperate need of a napkin!  LOL

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This little one never seemed to be full either … always begging for more food from its mom.

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Sometimes I had to wonder how it didn’t choke!  But it always seemed to manage to get the bits and pieces, even when they appeared to be too big, down the hatch.

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To our delight mom eventually offered us a better view of both of them during mealtime.  We sure appreciated that.

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Actually she offered us a few different angles to shoot the action from.  The one below was probably my favorite!

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Eventually, they were both stuffed for the moment.  She moved the remaining portion of fish over and settled in for some bonding and rest.  But of course, not before giving us a great angle of the happy mother and her baby.

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Since I don’t live in the area, I’m not sure what happened to the young osprey.  That being said, I sure enjoyed the time that I spent with Jess and the osprey family on that day.  After grabbing a bite to eat and catching up, I had to make my way to St. Augustine…. in the dark!  Oh, and by the way, YES, it was definitely worth the side trip!

Stay tuned for more Florida birds!

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

 

An Unusual Visitor

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It started out just like any other day … a hot early spring day in south Florida … nice and muggy!  But this day was a bit different in that I was signed up to do something quite special.  See, we had visitors in town … the kind of visitors that you don’t get to see often. In fact, I had never seen them personally, in the wild, that is.  Off we went to go see us some birds.  It didn’t take long before we arrived at our destination.  OK, so we see some lovely white pelicans, a bunch of terns, a gathering of black-necked stilts, some coots, and a few cormorants.  While that was itself fine to see, it wasn’t what we came to see.

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I pulled out my binoculars (yes, Tom would be proud) and quickly found them.  What were they, you ask?  What every new tourist that arrives in Miami and thinks that we can see out of our window everyday (thanks to the Miami Vice series), but nothing could be farther than the truth.  I’m talking FLAMINGOS!  Real flamingos too, not those roseate spoonbills that people call out as flamingos.  LOL

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OK, so they weren’t a close encounter by any stretch and I had left my 500mm lens at home, but they were there.  I felt a sense of awe in me that is usually reserved for when I see my first brown bear each year in Alaska.  :-)

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It was fascinating to observe them – 4 in all, 3 adults and 1 juvenile.  It was a bit frustrating as they spread out a bit and seemed to have their heads in the water more than not, as they dined on algae, aquatic invertebrates, and small fish.

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We photographed them for about an hour and were ready to leave when all of a sudden one took flight!  Having my gear already in hand, as we were literally ready to pack it up, I immediately dropped everything but my camera and began to shoot it in flight … against all hope of getting a shot.  To my surprise, it wasn’t all that bad.

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I was amazed at their beauty and grace … that long slender neck, beautiful black tipped bill slightly bent, that amazing 60 inch wingspan, and those long legs … executing the perfect extension in flight.  I don’t believe that I even muttered a breathe until it landed.

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Funny how it reminded me a seaplane coming in for a landing and splashing on touchdown as it continued to coast just a bit.

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Soon it settled into the water, but not before it gave us a nice look at its impressive wingspan.

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Upon its arrival, which was closer to us than the others, the various water birds who were resting nearby, all took flight in unison.

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It began to forage around for food.

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Soon it encountered some other birds who were sharing that same area of the wetlands.  They seemed to be unimpressed with its presence.

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Not me though, I was quite impressed.  Not as impressed if I would have been to catch that amazing image of the flamingos mating a few weeks later.  But hey, you take what you get and I guess that means one day I’ll be even more excited!  :-)

Next up:  How about a visit with a lovely osprey family?

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

A New Bird Generation At Work :-)

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Returning to the habitat known as Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach, the birds continually evolve in their spring behavior of courting, mating, nesting, and rearing of their young ones.

Not all babies have been born yet at this time, as this black-neck stilt can attest to … though it shouldn’t be long for they have been at it for some time already.

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Other birds, such as the black-bellied whistling ducks, pass over the wetlands repeatedly, each time making their presence known.  They usually fly in flocks in varying numbers, but no matter the number, the listener can understand quickly how they got their name.  They have the distinctive sound of very loud whistling as they are within the area.  I personally can’t stop laughing when I hear it.

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Of course, they’re just as silly looking when they tidy up a bit with a nice refreshing bath.

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Yes, the birds are seemingly everywhere and it never ceases to amaze how incredibly protective and possessive they get in the spring.

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I think that every time I visited to Wako, I witnessed an attack of a red-shouldered hawk who was either innocently passing through or looking for a quick delicacy.  This one got double-teamed – a stilt and red-winged backbird were both on its tail … literally!

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The babies that were first born grew up so fast too and have their own version of sibling squabbles going on.

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I have to say that these great blue heron parents are quite patient with their attention-needy, beak-grabbing, little ones.  LOL

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The tri-colored herons always remind me of little prehistoric guys with those faces that only a mother can love.  Look how excited they get when she returns!  LOL

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Now we all know how baby birds often get fed, but come on, this looks quite painful!  How they manage to stay upright in the trees as they jerk around, almost violently, being fed.  It’s really amazing to watch.

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Probably the most fascinating to watch as they grew up were the wood storks.  Speaking of prehistoric looking, these birds take the prize in that category.  I personally though find them beautiful … I know, in their own way.  They start off so tiny, but before long, grew up quite fast.

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Are they just not the cutest????

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So goes it at the natural rookery of Wakodahatchee Wetlands.  Like most places in nature, you just never know what you’re going to get when you go there, but it’s always something interesting and often, heart-warming.

Next up on the blog:  Speaking of the unexpected … check out who spent some time for a visit!

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

Spring Is In The Air ~~~

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Spring means many different things to many different people, but to the birds it’s often a time to start putting on the beautiful colors, woo their mate, have a “little fun” along the way, build their nest, attend to their eggs, and ultimately raise their young.

This spring, I spent some time photographing the birds of Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Delray Beach, FL.  In the beginning, it was all about the variety of birds, all beginning to sport their breeding colors and plumage … in that attempt of mating a suitable mate … or getting them “in the mood”.  :-)
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One of the birds that seems to undergo quite a dramatic change in colors and feathers is the cattle egret.  In non-breeding colors, it’s often an overlooked bird … usually just hanging out around livestock or wherever.  Enter spring, and it becomes quite the impressive suitor.

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Of course, the great white egrets are also quite showy … from their distinctive facial color changes to that amazing plumage … wispy feathers and all.

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Not only that, but it sure can “dance”!  You know, those moves that simply scream “look at me!”  So persistent too.

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Part of attracting their mate involves the building of a solid nest for them to raise their young and that nest building seems to go on and on … much to the fascination and delight of those there to photograph it.

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Theirs is a true love story … such bonding, caring, sharing, and celebration.  Aren’t they just the cutest couple?  LOL

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Of course, there’s more to it than just building a nest and doing the deed.  Now that hard part comes when they work together tending to each other, the nest, and the eggs.

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Attention to every little detail is always noted too.  Look at those amazingly beautiful plumes.  I’m quite fascinated by them.

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Then there were the least terns, the smallest of the North American terns in size, but not in their courtship ritual this time of year.  The offering of the fish is a necessary step in the process, because only when the female finally accepts it, will she be indicating that the courtship may proceed to the next level.  Terns fly around at lightning speed and their aerial dives are legendary.

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In some areas they nest on the sandy beaches, but at Wako, most of their courtship takes place on a hot tin roof!

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Enter the snowy egret (glub glub, walla walla) … you can literally hear him long before you can even see him.  These guys have such fluffy plumage which seems to get even crazier when they get excited.  They also do quite the impressive dance of love.

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They also never sit still for any length of time, darting from tree to tree, almost seemingly looking to stir up trouble or controversy at best.  LOL

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It’s not all peace, love, and happiness either.  Some species get a bit territorial during the spring season and little fights break out, as illustrated by these moorhens.

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Yes, it was totally fun watching nature unfold, thus ensuring the next generation of these wonderful birds of Wakodahatchee.

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More to come in the next blog, as the new arrivals begin to pop up everywhere.

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

Our Last Teton Hurrah!

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We stayed 3 days in Grand Teton NP, but of course, each day is substantially different that the one before … or the next for that matter.  Coming in from Jackson Hole, we immediately pass by the Elk Refuge, which was no longer covered in snow and the elk were largely leaving already.  However, there was a juvenile bald eagle hanging out in the area.

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We observed him for quite some time.  The light was far from optimal for capturing its beauty, but we sure got some fun poses and behaviors from it.  How fascinating those talons are!

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When we first arrived to GTNP, the Antelope Flats was fully closed, but by day 3, it was partially open.  I wanted to photograph the famous Moulton Barn in the snow cover, so we went as far as we could on the road, then hiked in the rest of the way.  I was a bit surprised to see the the snow cover was missing in some areas … still it was so beautiful and particularly fun, especially since you could “hear” the silence … yes, we had it to ourselves.

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Along the way, we came across numerous ice patches in the gravel road.  I was fascinated by their beauty.

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Their geometric shapes were so interesting and each one was unique.

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Some of the frozen ice patches were frosted and opaque, while others were clear and full of bubbles.

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At one point, I noticed something fly by … it was quite beautiful … and to my shock, it was a mountain bluebird … already in mid-March!  Yes, it had been a mild winter and we later learned that this was the beginning of their sightings.  I felt so privileged to be able to partake in their beauty.

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Of course, that wasn’t the only bird that we sighted, as many species of duck and other water birds were present as well.

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This Canadian Goose had its own version of ice fishing … which we found quite entertaining and quite comical.  :-)

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We made a special trip to see the bighorn sheep again.  This time it was the ewes and the lambs and juveniles that we encountered first.  The herds were already up on the mountainside.

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Mama was teaching the young ones an important lesson in their survival skills … how to navigate those rocky cliffs and ledges … to evade their predators.

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I was thrilled to be able to witness them as they tested their skill, though I have to admit, I was probably more nervous than both of them put together!

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Stunned … that’s how I felt as they descended in almost a complete vertical fashion, down  the ledges and rocky landscape.  I know that they’re hooves are specifically equipped for such travel, but it’s still heart-stopping to observe.

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When they decide to “haul butt” too, they can sure get up and go!

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I know that I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again … nature is so amazing!

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Of course, there’s so much more beauty in the landscape of the Tetons to explore as well.

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I didn’t want to leave, but we had to get back to Bozeman for an early morning flight the next day.  I noticed that a storm seemed to be coming, as the mountain range soon became shrouded by the clouds.  As we left the park and Jackson Hole, we started out towards the Teton Pass.  Wouldn’t you know it … it began to snow … a fairly heavy snowfall too.  I call it “divine intervention” … you know, making it OK to leave, for photography would become difficult for a bit.  Except for, that amazing beauty of the area in mid-snowfall … yes, that’s its own beauty.

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Until next year, when we will most surely return, goodbye Tetons!

Next up:  More birding in Florida

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

A Grand Teton Homecoming

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Always a much anticipated visit is Grand Teton National Park and the community of Jackson Hole.  It has so much to offer … from landscapes to wildlife, it never disappoints.

This year we met up with an amazing photographer, Jen Hall, whom I met originally on Flickr.  It’s always such a pleasure to shoot with locals, so we met up in the early pre-sunrise hour and headed off to get some morning first light.  It was absolutely perfect!

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Unlike Yellowstone NP, the Tetons still had a fair share of snow covering the ground, which is always exciting for us.

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Having already photographed bison, moose, bighorn sheep, mule deer, coyote, pronghorn, as well as a few other animals, I still felt the void of the red fox, as I didn’t get to photograph one in Yellowstone.  I REALLY wanted to have a fox encounter, so it was high on my list for the day.

We passed by other wildlife, in search of the sly fox, who was doing a good job in avoiding us.  I’ve always found that when you try so desperately to find a particular subject, it can sometimes elude you.  After hours of looking for a fox, we pretty much took a break, myself figuring that it wasn’t in the cards for that day.  There’s something to be said for staying put and allowing wildlife to come to you.

All of a sudden “eagle eyes” Tom became alert and noticed something emerging from the trees in the snow.  Sure enough, there it was … a magnificent-looking fox.

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After the scurry of reaching for the cameras, I don’t think anyone said one word, fearing it would alter its path, as it was headed right in our direction.  I personally don’t believe that I was even breathing as I clicked away.

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Gosh, it sure was stunning to see and it was quite cooperative with us, as it eventually sat down not far from us (as we were sat still inside our vehicle).  It didn’t seem to be in a rush to get anywhere … in fact, seemed quite sleepy and bored.  LOL  At one point, it gave us quite a yawn … couldn’t believe all of those teeth, which by the way, were quite clean-looking.  :-)

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At first,we thought it was a female (mama), but soon realized it was a male, as it seemed to mark anything and everything it could as it traveled in it path.

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At one point, it became quite interested in something … as it hunted … and ultimately came up with a tasty morsel, which it quickly consumed.

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Must have been good too, as it quickly licked its chops!  LOL

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Last year I photographed a red fox for a bit, as it moused in the snow.  It was quite fun, but also quite far.  This guy was a bit more “chill”, but he made up for it with his closeness to us and his cooperation as well.  Clearly someone had taught this guy a thing or two about camera angles.  :-)

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Once that red fox was checked off my list of wildlife to photograph, we were open for business for the other wildlife, such as the bighorn sheep.  We encountered a large herd of rams as they were slowly, but surely, making their way across the landscape.  Some young ones were in the group too … this one guy clearly had a bit too much energy too … as he jumped almost incessantly, head-butting his buddies.

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As they navigated to the mountainside, I was so impressed with the speed they possessed.  Yes, it was a great encounter as well.  Such magnificent creatures!

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So whether it’s wildlife or landscapes, it’s all beautiful and rewarding for the visitor taking it all in.

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More images and stories from Grand Teton NP will be featured in the next blog post, so stay tuned!

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

2 Owl Species & A Porcupine :-)

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I LOVE OWLS!!!  All kinds of owls … from the burrowing … to the barred … to the great horned … to the snowy … to the great gray … to the barn … and yes, to the eastern screech owl … endorphins release in my brain when I think about them.  (Side note for those of you who read my blog post on my neighborhood eastern screech owls … we heard them last night calling out to each other, so they’re still here … all is good again).

So when I had the opportunity to potentially get to photograph not just one, but two new species for me, I was quite the excited photographer!  So off we went, thanks to a great friend of mine.

It wasn’t long either until we spotted the first one … the long-eared owl.  Isn’t he just gorgeous?  I laugh because when I first saw it, I think that I had a similar facial expression … wide-eyed and intense.

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These long-eared owls are quite amazing.  So very beautiful with their rufous facial disc with that distinctive white patch under their bill.  They remind me a lot of the great horned owls, but they’re smaller, standing about 13-16″ and weighing about 8.5 oz.

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They have asymmetrical ear openings.  The left ear is higher than the right, which helps them better locate their prey by sound.

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I could have stayed there photographing them for the rest of our trip … they were that mesmerizing to me.  :-)  Interesting also to note is that the male’s hoot can sometimes be heard quite the distance … more than 1/2 mile away!  It would be like playing a game of “Marco”-“Polo” trying to find them by just sound.

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They are unlike other owls in that during the winter months, they nest in a communal fashion with others in the nearby vicinity, in the thick brush and trees.  It’s easy to see how they got their name too … like bunny rabbit ears almost.  LOL.  Can’t help but wonder about their success in nesting and what their babies look like.

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While out looking for owls, we saw many other birds, like this meadowlark … doing what meadowlarks do … singing away.  We also saw more northern harriers than I have ever seen collectively in my lifetime.  It was amazing!

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But let’s get back to the owls.  Another lifer for me were the short-eared owls.  They reminded me a lot of the northern harriers too as they cruised the same type of landscapes foraging for food.

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As with other owls, they glided gracefully and with such ease low over the landscape.  As opposed to the long-eared owls, these had very small ear tufts.  Also a medium-sized owl, their head has a pale buff facial disc, with black around the eyes, which of course, are that magnificent yellow.

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Aerial displays during courtship must be fascinating to observe, though it was too early for that when we were there.  These owls nest on the ground on a mound or slight raise of the land, laying about 3-11 eggs.

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While usually spotted flying erratically around, once in awhile they do land and seemingly pose for the camera.  Thankfully.  :-)

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As if those owl sightings weren’t enough for me, we were also treated to the cutest porcupine hanging out, feeding, on a nearby tree.

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I’m always fascinated by them and this guy was quite far up the tree, so I felt safe.  LOL.  Of course, porcupine don’t “throw” their quills like many are lead to believe, but to me, their sheer presence wants to make me respect their “comfort zone”.

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Now this guy, though adorable with those big orange teeth, was only semi-cooperating with us.  Sure the light was perfect, but that dang branch always seeming to cover up his face and eyes partially.

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So we asked for some divine intervention.  Actually Jen asked the porcupine to kindly remove that pesky branch for us, so that we might get a better shot.  I had no idea that I was with, apparently, the “Porcupine Whisperer”.  Within literally a few seconds, would you believe that the porcupine did just that?  No joke!

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Now that’s a face that everyone can both see, enjoy, and love!  What an ending to our day exploring … Owls and Porcupines … yeah,this was an awesome day!

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Not sure how it can get better for me, but rest assured it does!

Next stop:  Grand Teton National Park!  Stay tuned.

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

I Need My Photography Fix!

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After spending several days skiing, while Tom, Kelli & Mitchell snowboarded, I decided that I wanted to have a break.  I dropped them off at Powder Mountain near Ogden and started my way to Antelope Island State Park.  I had been there last winter and it was so beautiful all covered in snow, with the waters frozen as well.  Of course, that wasn’t the case this year, for the winter had been such a mild one … no snow at all … limited ice … warm … I couldn’t believe it!

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Unsure as to what I was going to see, I began to tour the island and look for wildlife.  Usually, one doesn’t go far before bison, mule deer, coyote, etc are spotted.  But what in the world was this?  I had no clue, but learned about it along the way.

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It was a chukar partridge, which is in the pheasant family.  Not native to the area or anywhere in US, it was imported here as a game bird … makes sense.  Come to find out that its actually an Eurasian bird, and the national bird of both Pakistan and Iraq!  Well, I guess you learn something new everyday (at least I do – LOL).

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This guy was so beautiful with such remarkable markings in its feathers.  It would sit up on one of the large rocks on the landscape and watch … and call out … and observe some more.  I was being very careful as to not disturb it and to my surprise it just let me photograph it.  He apparently was communicating, in a sentinel fashion, with the rest of his colony, though I never saw them.

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Further up the road, I encountered several coyotes as they searched for a quick bite to eat.  It was amazing to me that in the brown past-winter landscape, how difficult it was to spot from afar.  Thank goodness I had my binocs with me.  :-)

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Being that he was very intent on hunting, thus probably very hungry, I didn’t shoot long.

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Ended up down by the ranch, where a lone pronghorn antelope was making its way.  Wonder why he was there all alone like that?  Seemed like out on the flats like that, all alone, he/she would be an easy target.  Looked for the great horned owls … found their nest, but didn’t see either of them this year.  All in all, it was a beautiful day, but a bit slow for wildlife.

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So, as I made my way back to exit the park, I bid my new Chukar friend, adieu.  He was still hanging out and playing the role of “the watchman”.  Doing a fine job at it as well too.

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This shot from the Visitor Center area gives you some perspective of the landscape both there as well as SLC area across the way.  So very beautiful!

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The next day, we had one more day of snowboarding/skiing before we had to say goodbye to Kelli & Mitchell.  Gosh, it’s so pretty out this way in the winter.

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Next up:  “Hoooo” wants to see more owls?

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

The Sights & Sounds of Yellowstone NP

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One can’t visit Yellowstone NP and get an appreciation of what it has to offer in just one day … not even in the winter when most of the roads are inaccessible.  Even though we were a bit short on time, we spent 3 full days there.

Now wildlife abounds in Yellowstone and one of the more famous resident species is the elk.  Many sightings of elk were encountered, both the females and the males.  Of course, at this point, they had all dropped their antlers, but still had most of their nice winter coats.

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You had to be careful of them too, as they sometimes crossed the roads with very little warning.  Of course, when there’s one, there’s usually more, so the key is to proceed with caution.

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Entering the park via the Gardiner entrance, the first area of Yellowstone that you come across is the fascinating Mammoth Hot Springs area – the first of many thermal grounds within Yellowstone.

20150312-DSC_6091Viewing the thermal features of the park, it’s easy to forget it’s not all hot springs and geysers and that this was still winter.  Icicle formations hanging over the rivers were equally impressive this time of year.  Snap back into reality.

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Proving that yesterday’s bighorn sheep encounter wasn’t just a fluke, we ran into them again… over and over.  :-)

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I’m always fascinated with wildlife when I get to photograph them from their viewpoint, like in this image below.  What an amazing place that they currently call their home.  I couldn’t help but wonder what this big guy was thinking too.

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OK, you know how your pets love to bask in the sunshine?  Well, these sheep are obviously no different.  LOL

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Another first for us, though admittedly not an great shot, was not just one, but two juvenile moose – hanging out together in the vast expanse of Lamar Valley.

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One of the most difficult wildlife encounters I’ve ever dealt with was the story of a bison who had unfortunately fallen through the ice into a pond not far from the road.  We watched it struggling in a life or death fashion to try to free itself by climbing out of the partially frozen pond.  We could hear it gasping for breathe with each attempt … so did the predators out there as well.

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This curious coyote arrived on scene to check it out.  At one point it sat down, waiting for an easy meal, but soon must have sensed the time wasn’t right yet and retreated.

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I photographed that poor bison for hours, praying beyond hope that it would emerge victorious.  Tom sensed my sadness and though he was stronger, I’m sure he felt sad as well.  He didn’t want to go back the next morning (poor guy didn’t want to deal with me upset yet another day), but I had to have closure.  Again I prayed that it would be successfully freed.  Worst yet, I feared that it might be still struggling.  Sadly, it had perished during the night and a coyote was doing its best to begin to feast upon it.  Such is nature’s way and the circle of life.  It’s a tough life out there for wildlife … for that matter for all of us.  It was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever witnessed and it still brings tears to my eyes when I think about it.

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After that, I look at the bison differently … I know that sounds weird, but I do.

We encountered some younger bison learning how to jostle each other.  It’s all fun and games now, but one day it will be more about that status and superiority.

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These bison learn from a young age how to alleviate the many insect pests that congregate near their faces and in their fur.  A swift roll about on the dusty landscape is just what this bison’s doctor ordered.  LOL

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We did see wolf, but the sightings were mostly from afar.  The howling of the wolves was prevalent quite often and two of the packs intermingled at one point and were a cause for concern amongst the wolf-watchers.

Coyote sightings, a lone coyote each time, were pretty common as well and always entertaining as they scrounged around looking for a quick and easy meal.

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We were very fortunate that our days in the park, though a bit chilly, were quite sunny and beautiful.  The eastern entrance of the park, towards Cooke City was quite snowy also, so it did intermittently remind you that it was winter.

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Our last wildlife sighting while in Yellowstone was on our last evening.  To our surprise, a bull elk was grazing all by itself under the canopy of the trees.  Even more surprising was that it still had its antlers … and a fine rack at that.   Go figure.  With that sun setting and that gorgeous golden light being cast upon the landscape as it did, it was the perfect way to end our day … as well as our winter Yellowstone NP trip.

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Well, until next visit to Yellowstone we said our goodbyes.  Who knows what the next visit will bring ???  Now, off for some snowboarding and skiing!

Next up:  Antelope Island State Park

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

 

Bighorn Ram Encounter @ Yellowstone NP

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Seems like every year I get the urge … or should I say, feel the necessity … to travel out to Yellowstone and Grand Teton NP.  2015 was no different and so we planned a trip out there, which we coupled with some family time snowboarding/skiing in the nearby vicinity.  Being that it was still winter out there, or so we thought, I originally had plans to rent out a small snow coach for the day.  The very mild winter of 2014-2015 changed those plans as snow coach touring and snowmobiling season ended up closing very early.  Quick … we need to execute Plan B.  So we made reservations in Gardiner, just outside of the parks iconic entrance arch in Yellowstone NP.  That road stays open year-round, as residents use it for travel to and from Cooke City.  It wasn’t long before we spotted our first wildlife – a beautiful pronghorn antelope.

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We expected to see them, along with lots of bison, elk, and mule deer.  What we didn’t expect to see as readily was the bighorn sheep.  As a matter of fact, I had never (believe it or not) seen bighorn sheep within the park boundaries!  So I was a bit thrilled.  I usually associate these fabulous rams when I make my way into Rocky Mountain NP.

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It wasn’t just a fluke sighting either … we found a gathering of several dozen rams.

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Though not many tourists come to Yellowstone during the winter months, even a mild one, we still didn’t want to start a “ram jam”, so we parked down the road and hiked in to where they were … paying particular attention to not encroach on their territory or break any distance regulations.

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Everything was going great until that moment … when the “big guy” came around a corner unexpectantly.  I backed up a bit and turned to assess the situation … snow and ice covered landscape and a rocky ledge behind me.  I managed to back out and put distance back between us.

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While the other rams of various ages and hierarchy continued to feed, this guy almost seemed to serve as the sentinel … you know, the lookout for trouble in the area.

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As they grazed in the grasses, they would occasionally look up and give me that “Vogue” look.  :-)

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I was impressed with their majestic look as they stood proudly, making their way within the group.  It was amazing to see the differences in their horns … or their curls.  You can see the signs of wear & tear on the senior guys and I couldn’t help but wonder about their story … what events they had been through for those “scars”.

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Being that it was late winter, they still had such nice coats and they were quite amicable with each other.  That will change as the year progresses towards the eventual rut season, when they will fight for hierarchy and that important status within the harem of females.

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It was so beautiful as they laid down on the landscape and stared off into the distance … with the bushes near then and trees, mountains, and snow off in the distance.

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Yes, it was fascinating to watch and yes, I felt truly honored to be in their presence and thrilled with the naturalness in their behavior as I clicked away.  :-)

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Wish I could click my heels and be back there right now.  Rest assured though, we’ll be back and ready for more.

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Of course, there’s more to Yellowstone NP that the pronghorn and bighorn sheep, so stay tuned for the next post with more wildlife, sights, and stories.

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

A Sunday Drive (or it might have been Saturday … who knows) :-)

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Springtime in Florida has many advantages … especially when it comes to the weather.  Sure it’s hotter than most in other areas of the country, but it sure feels good to those of us who know too well the heat and humidity that is to come.

Every so often, Tom & I take a day drive to another area to see what we can find.  For me, it’s about photography, for him, it might be more about just getting around to see new stuff.  On this day, we were immediately greeted by this lovely Eastern Meadowlark … just singing away his welcome song.  :-)

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Low and behold we also ran into another whooping crane … though this one is a Florida resident.  Here it is hanging out with a few local cows.

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As I observed it, I noticed that it seemed quite attached to one particular cow.  Eventually, as the visiting sandhill cranes came around that particular cow, it got quite possessive and appeared to charge the cranes.

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Wild turkeys were also present along the side of the highway grazing in the grasses.

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Always a joy to watch soaring overhead are the Crested Caracara.  On this day, there was a pair catching some thermals, along with some of the black vultures.

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One of the most entertaining series of images was this wood stork trying to swallow a fillet of fish.  Try as it may, it wasn’t going down easy.

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It would repeatedly try to swallow it, then spit it out, re-grab and re-position it, and attempt to eat it all over again …

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… repeatedly ….

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After observing it for about 20 minutes, and it was struggling, we decided that it might not happen while we waited, so off we went.

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Let’s go check on a bald eagle nest that I’ve heard about also.  Seems like the young eaglet is in the nest and beginning to flap its wings a bit, though certainly not ready to fly.

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It simply sits at the nest waiting for one of its parents to fly in with some food for it to eat.

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Always a highlight each spring is the sighting of my first swallow-tailed kit.  Such a symbol to me of what Florida stands for … I have never understood why it or the Florida Scrub Jay weren’t selected as our state bird … I mean, a northern mockingbird, really … what were they thinking?

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Well, I guess it could have been this … :-)  Found a bunch of these running around on that drive too.

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Such is the life on a weekend drive in Florida during the spring.  Hope that you enjoyed.

Stay tuned … next, we head outside of the state line … all of the way to MT, WY, and UT!

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

The Lucky Getaway Weekend

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Sometimes it’s nice to get away … to see something or do something different … and that’s how this weekend started.  We decided to venture up to northern Florida and meet up with my daughter and son-in-law.  Of course, I did my research before I left and knew that the sandhill cranes were migrating through in numbers and hoped that they would be keeping company with another less frequent, but much loved, visitor.

So off I went in search of the sandhill cranes and sure enough … there he was … Whooping crane #9-13.  At this time, he was a 21-month old male on migration from WI.  Whooping cranes, Grus Americana, are an icon for endangered species everywhere and one of only 2 cranes that call North America home.  As recently as the1940s, there were only ~15 in existence!  Their decline in numbers were a result of habitat loss and over-hunting.  In 1967, they were placed on the Endangered Species list and through the work of many, including Operation Migration, they are making progress!

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This guy made his 2nd trip down to Florida and was hanging out amongst his cousin sandhill cranes in Alachua County.

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Their diet consists of plants, seeds, grains, small fish, frogs, snakes, and insects.

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Operation Migration assists in the migratory process of the cranes first migration and the banding of them with transmitters to track their whereabouts.  Each crane adorns its own branding of “jewelry” which provide that identification.

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Probably my favorite image I got while visiting up there was this one.  Reminds me of “hanging out with the gang at the water cooler”.  :-)

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It’s quite remarkable how well they get along with the sandhill cranes.

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Most times that I’ve been fortunate enough to photograph whooping cranes, they have been from an incredibly far distance, with the Florida heat radiating in waves from the hot earth.  This sighting was different … so close I could have a conversation with it  (who knows … maybe I did … LOL).

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Whooping cranes are the largest birds in North America and quite a bit bigger than their sandhill crane cousins.  They stand about 5′ tall, with a wingspan of greater than 7′, while the sandhills stand about 4′ tall.

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This was my buddy who I met while photographing the cranes.  He/she carried on quite a conversation of their own with me.  ~ MOOOOOO ~

After doing some chores up in the area, we set off for another favorite location of mine … Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, just outside of Gainesville.  Usually we head out, walk the trails, see many species of birds, some snakes, lots of alligators, and maybe get a peek at distant horses or a bison or two.

On this day though, out of seemingly nowhere, we encountered a lone bison who was determined to share the trail with us.  :-)

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Being how it was too late to back out, we decided to respectfully stay put and let him show us which direction he wanted to venture in.  Of course, I was at that point thankful that I was carrying the landscape lens, as this was no situation for a long lens.  In the image below, if Tom were to have tried to retreat, he would have gone into the alligator-infested waters (oh my!).  LOL.

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After being quite indecisive about where the bison wanted to go, it finally decided that it would pass us, but not before we alerted other unsuspecting hikers heading its way.  They were sure glad that we did too.

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Grazing along the way … we finally parted ways.

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At that point, we decided to leave before it decided to come back in our direction.  Tom, aka “eagle eyes” spotted a lovely Wilson’s snipe resting in the wetlands along the trail.  Gosh, they are so beautiful.

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As we approached the sinkhole, we also came across a wonderful tri-colored heron just beginning to come into its colors.  All in all, it was a great getaway weekend and well worth the trip.  It’s not often that you can spend the morning with whooping cranes and in the afternoon share the trail with a bison … in Florida!  :-)

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Note:  For anyone that might be wondering … Whooping crane #9-13 completed his return migration to the north on April 22 (appropriately Earth Day) … another successful migration!  Yay!

Stay tuned for more “time away from home” in Florida.

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

#FindYourPark … Everglades-style

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In 2016, the National Park Service will be celebrating its centennial birthday!  Leading up to that event, they have launched a “Find Your Park” campaign, where visitors tell stories about “their” park.  Recently I launched a 9-day series of #FindYourPark images and stories on my flickr page (if you haven’t seen it yet and are interested, click on the flickr link, scan down several weeks of images, and give it a look).  I found it difficult to designate “my park” … should it be the one I visit most often, the one my soul calls to the most, the one I find most beautiful, or perhaps the one geographically closest?

Geographically, “my park” would then be Everglades National Park.  :-)  Now the Everglades NP is an amazing place to visit, has so much beauty to explore, and holds such an environmental significance to Florida and worldwide as well.  So, let’s visit there virtually together in this blog post.  Ready?

Now this is what I’m talking about … pure iconic Everglades … an early morning sunrise often is accompanied by mist and low profile fog … so very beautiful.  Water levels change drastically depending on the season and recent rainfall in the Everglades.  The Everglades represents such change that you can only be guaranteed that each day will have a look all its own – very different than the day before or even the day after.  It’s totally amazing!

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Having grown up in South Florida and visiting the Everglades more that I can easily count, on one recent very foggy morning, I was treated to a new phenomenon for me … a fog bow.  Similar to a rainbow, but it lacks color, due to the small size of the water droplets, it was fabulous to see.  Immediately I pulled off the road to try to document what I saw.  Have to say that it was a fairly close rendition of the moment.  :-)

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Being that these images were from February, much of the wildlife encountered revolved around the birds.  See, the Everglades are an important part of many species of birds and their migratory paths.  I joke too because once the warmer weather comes, as well as the skeeters, even the birds don’t want to hang around (OK, they probably leave for other reasons ;-), and good thing because you’ve got to really want to hang out in the heat and humidity and get totally bit up to come in the height of the summer).

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Roseate spoonbills arrive to various ponds and waters to do some feeding and begin looking for their mate.  About this time, they begin to get those fabulous breeding colors that make them irresistible to all who catch a glimpse of them.  So bizarre looking for sure, but gorgeous!

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The pileated woodpeckers are just one of the birds which call the area their local hangout.

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Most times they’re quite cooperative, but eventually they launch for destinations unknown.

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Of course, the Flamingo area of the Everglades most dominant resident bird is the osprey. In the winter they build their nests, mate, sit on their eggs, and eventually raise their young.  It’s always fascinating to watch dad bring in a fresh catch for mom as she tends to the nest.  Yum!

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Black necked stilts, as in the image below, as well as avocets and yellowlegs, etc, also join in on the fun at Eco Pond.

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Red shouldered hawks are seemingly plentiful as well.  Sometimes you see them … sometimes you don’t … until off they fly with a quick launch.  So very beautiful.  American kestrels and northern harriers often make themselves visible as well.

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Probably one of the most animated of all birds to visit is the reddish egret.  They always make a grand entrance as they fly low just above the waters surface, allowing their reflection to be seen.  They fly with such grace and beauty … such sophistication.  But don’t let that fool you, for they look more like drunken sailors as they run around doing silly antics as they fish for food.  I dare you to watch them for more than 5 minutes without getting a huge grin on your face, or if you’re like me … busting out in laughter.

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While the Everglades always has its fair share of brown pelicans, they also get white pelicans too.  Again, they also have quite the splashdown landing, which commands your attention when they fly in.

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I’m continually amazed at how they go about catching their food.  They seemingly eye it with their heads on a sideways angle, then slam their head and beak into the water and go for it!  You know that they’ve hit pay dirt when they then sit up and swallow.  So fascinating to watch.

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Probably one of my favorite wading birds are the lovely and delicate-looking black-necked stilts.  So very beautiful and skilled at catching the tiniest of minnows, they get quite beautiful this time of year with those bright legs and big red eye.  Soon they will begin their courtship and mating.

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Before long the osprey babies get big enough to make their presence known.  Not only do they offer the photographer a nice glimpse at their big orange eyes, but they also sure learn quick how to scream at dad to bring them some dinner.  :-)

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Yes, the landscapes of the Everglades are iconic and second to none.  Case in point it this view of what’s affectionately known as the “Z” tree.  Nature is quite amazing, don’t you agree?

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Now no trip to the Everglades is ever complete, at least not for Tom & I, without a stop at the famous “Robert’s” on your way out.  The best key lime milkshakes in town (as well as many other exotic flavors) and much more for the tourists.  For me, I always appreciate it when they grow the sunflowers along the roadside … which is Florida-unique when coupled with the palm trees in the background!

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Hope that gave you an idea about Everglades NP.  That being said, take a moment to ponder and ask yourself … where is your park? … then participate in the #FindYourPark movement in celebration of the NPS.

Stay tuned for more …

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

If You Build It…They Will Come :-)

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I think that in 2012, Tom build 2 owl boxes for me and we placed them strategically in our backyard … not too far from our giant mango tree and as far from our house as logistically possible, trying to provide an optimal location for owls or anything else that might want to occupy it.  Twice in the next year and one-half, we had honey bees call it home, which was a thrill in itself, seeing how they are so threatened.  Both times we called a local beekeeper who gladly came by to take down the boxes and harvest the honey and preserve the colony.  Quite interesting to watch, as there’s quite the science behind the entire process.  Felt good about it too.  :-)  Though we had built the boxes to attract owls, we hadn’t had any takers yet.

That all changed in January 2014.  Tom was away on a snowboarding trip and I was bringing the recycles and trash out to the alley behind our house.  As I returned to the deck out back, I sensed I was being watched.  For some strange reason, I took a look at the owl boxes…. nothing in the first one … and I didn’t think anything in the 2nd either.  But for some strange reason, I went in and grabbed the binoculars just to be sure.  Well, to my amazement, as I peered, I saw a set of big eyes looking back at me … OWL eyes.

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I might as well have seen a ghost, as I was SO excited and I checked my judgement to be sure I was seeing, what I was seeing.  You get the picture, right?

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I wasn’t crazy and within 2 days, I noticed that we had 2 owls, eastern screech owls to be exact, each occupying one of the owl boxes.  For the next 4 months, we observed them daily.  The female was a gorgeous red morph, while the male was gray.  Both were pure eye candy to me and I felt like an “owl whisperer” before long.  LOL.   One day, we were curious about their behavior, as the dad seemed to be the only one leaving the box for any extended period of time.  So, we bought a painters pole and attached a HD Contour (like a Go Pro) with a red lens covering a tiny light.  To our surprise, there were 3 tiny owlets inside!  (OK, this is not a great shot, but the best I could do from the video)

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We would find the female taking breaks in the mango tree, more frequently as the trio grew in size.

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One day, we noticed that the owlets were no longer in the box and sure enough, we found 2 of them far up in the tree.  Looking down at us I delighted in knowing that they were now big enough to fledge, at least from the box.  It was our first time seeing each other too!

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Soon they were gone from our tree, but neighbors reported seeing at least 3-4 of the owls in their yards and on their power lines at dusk and early evenings.  Once in June, I actually heard them calling out and I reasoned that they were telling me that they were fine and still around.  :-)

In late December 2014, we began hearing them calling out at night … more and more.  Before long we noticed the female returned and we got excited with the thought that we would have our guests back … and hopefully some babies again.

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We’re all but positive that they mated and the male was spotted with the female for another 4-6 weeks.

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Their behavior was quite predictable, as they would emerge from the box when the sun went down and would stand out on the perch that Tom built for them.  In March, we left for a trip out west for some winter recreation and photography with my daughter and son-in-law.

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When we returned, they were both gone.  It was so sad for us, as we had the highest of hopes for a repeat experience.  It is my hope that they nested somewhere else, hopefully in the near vicinity, and had a successful brood.  I will never forget them and hope to see them again.  It might be hard to understand, but I felt so connected with them, as I do other species of owls … especially the burrowing owls that Im fortunate to be able to follow annually.  Yes, besides bears, owls hold a special place in my heart.  <3

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Stay tuned for more south Florida sightings!

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy

Our Last Denali Day

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So on our final day in Denali NP for 2014, what did we wake up to?  You guessed it … another bluebird day.  :-)  After a restful morning (the only one on our entire trip – LOL), we set out to “troll” again for wildlife and try our luck at Savage River.  As you can see the fall colors were already beginning to pass, though still evident and colorful, their vibrant peak of explosive color was already a thing of the past.

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Savage River is a wonderful place for taking a leisurely hike around the Savage Loop Trail along the river, as it meanders its way.  The cold fresh air, the sounds of the water rushing by and the birds calling out overhead, and those clear beautiful skies made for the perfect day to end with in our week long stay at Denali.

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It’s just so picturesque.  Knowing that this would be more of a landscape walk-about, I carried my 24-70mm f/2.8 lens mounted on my D800 camera body.  Tom outfitted himself with his 70-200mm f/2.8 lens onto his D7000 … just in case we encountered wildlife.  See, in years past, we’ve gotten amazing shots of the marmot sunning themselves on the rocks along the trail.  So, we were really scouting hard to find some.  Unfortunately, we never did find any and admittedly, I felt a bit dejected.  :-(  But I reminded myself that we had an amazing stay in Denali already and certainly in Alaska as well.

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At some point, I saw a photographer shooting something on the hillside.  Of course, I had to know what it was.  Armed with a pair of binoculars, Tom was still unable to ascertain what it was.  Perhaps he was just shooting the landscape, but he had a longer lens.  Curiosity got the best of me and I inquired with another person who had spotted him as well.  To my surprise, he said that there was … wait for it … a LYNX!  I surge of excitement ran through my body as I set off uphill with my … wait for it … 24-70mm lens.  Sweet!  Quickly I realized that I had like… no chance … so I commandeered Tom’s 70-200mm and pursued that lynx.  :-)

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OK, now I’ll admit that this are not the stellar shots that I was hoping for, but I’ll take them!

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This lynx was intent on observing something … perhaps even more intent than we were on observing the lynx.  LOL  We photographed it for quite some time … just 3 of us … and I was thrilled beyond belief.

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Finally, the lynx got up and began to retreat from us, but not before giving us that “vogue” look.  It reminded me of the first lynx that I ever tried to photograph … only that time I missed for 2 reasons:  1. Our shuttle windows were frozen shut and therefore we couldn’t get the windows down.  2.  Once our windows finally were successfully lowered and the lynx gave me that same “vogue” look over the shoulder, I clicked and my shutter, only to realize that I had the shutter speed set to “bulb” from trying to photograph the aurora the night before.  Ugh … don’t you just hate when you’re not prepared?

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I vowed to never make that mistake again … you know, heading out without a wildlife lens … just in case!  After encountering and photographing this lynx though, I felt on top of the world again.  See, the lynx was seldom seen in Denali in 2014, since the snowshoe hare have declined in numbers lately, as they run in 7 year cycles in their plentiful numbers – just as the lynx do.  Nature at work again.

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So short of the marmot, our wildlife sightings this year were amazing and plentiful.  As we headed to return to the RV, we’re once again treated to this expansive sight.

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The colors have finally arrived towards the lower elevations of the park … aka the first few miles within the park boundaries.

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Before we leave Denali NP, we opt to take one last hike in the Riley Creek area.  The trees are showing off beautifully against the skies covered in patchy clouds.

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No trip to Alaska, or just about anywhere away from home, is ever complete without our trademark cairn building and an image of our creation.  Built out of river rocks along the Riley Creek waters, Tom and build our cairn … one rock at a time … each representing a year that we’ve been together … united by our love for each other and for nature and the outdoors.  17 rocks in all … & counting  <3

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© 2014  TNWA Photography

 

It Just Keeps Getting Better (Denali NP-Part 3)

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Well, it’s another day in paradise for sure … as we’re greeted to an amazing bluebird day!  Nothing like viewing Mt. McKinley (aka Denali) from such a distance away and seeing it without being shrouded in the clouds.

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Of course that was the telephoto view, while the below image was the “eye’s view” taken with a traditional landscape lens near the Mountain Vista Trailhead parking lot.  Either way, the beauty is apparent.

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New to us in 2014 was the Savage Alpine Trail, which was conveniently located adjacent to the Mountain Vista Trailhead parking lot, near the Savage River Campground.  We decided to give it a shot.  I was immediately pleased when I came across a sign warning of bear activity in the area.  I remember thinking that this was going to be a great hike!

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Designated trails in Denali NP are a rare sight to see, as most of this vast wilderness makes only for its own DIY (Do It Yourself) trails.  In the past, one could hike here, but being that it ventured close to the moose rut closure in the fall, it wasn’t generally accessed frequently.  In the beginning of the trail, some boards were used to designate the trail and keep it in good condition.  It was so beautiful as we made our way about 1/4 up the mountain.

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About 1/3 of the way up, we were treated to views like this.  Oh yeah!

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Before long, the views behind us, actually all around us were increasingly spectacular with our climbing elevation.

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Upon reaching near the summit of the climb, Tom took in the view from all around.

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It was one of the most breathtaking views … I’m talking 360 degrees … I’ve ever witnessed.  Didn’t matter which way you looked.  I didn’t ever want to leave as I tried desperately to soak it all in … essentially trying to imprint it into my soul … to draw upon in future days when I would once again long for this solitude and immense beauty.

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But alas, we eventually had to descend … happily the beauty remained all around us.

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And when the mountain views had eluded us, we still had running creek waters to call upon our senses, as the water made its way down the mountain.

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In the finale, we were treated to a beautiful gravel path back down to the park road and our RV waiting for us.

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We never see those bears that were “frequenting the area” :-(, but we were treated some wildlife sightings, mainly birds, such as this lovely grouse seen almost immediately as it scurried off the path in front of us as we explored.  :-)

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Every day and night, we would “troll” those first 15 miles of accessible park road for any wildlife that might be in the area.  Usually it was a moose on the loose, but many have  seen wolf, lynx, bear, porcupine, a variety of squirrels, and other sightings.

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On this evening we made our way back to Savage River to try our chance at finding a bear, lynx, dall sheep, wolf, or whatever might be passing through the area, but only moose were found.  Hard to beat the scene though as the sun began to set on the landscape.

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Then when we turned around to leave for the night, I saw this amazing moon beginning to rise on the landscape.  Being that it was still low, it looked amazingly big … and definitely beautiful.  “Pull the RV over right now”, which was a request usually reserved for wildlife sightings – LOL.

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After a few shots, Tom thought that I was done, but no … for I knew that the light would be changing again and that the image might become more interesting and beautiful.  As we were waiting for the moon to continue to rise and the colors to emerge, we were entertained by this cute little guy … flying into our RV grill … in search of bugs!  We watched as he repeatedly fly in and out.  It was quite interesting and most definitely entertaining to watch.

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Sure enough, the colors began to pop and all I could think was that this was the perfect ending to a perfect day!

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We did however have another day waiting for us to explore the wonders of Denali.  I did a mental checklist of the Big 5 … all sightings were accomplished of the moose, bear, caribou, dall sheep, and the wolf.  Denali in its full glory was also accomplished (30% club inductees once again – even better since we viewed it without a hint of a cloud).  Lots of bird sightings … variety of smaller animals … But I was missing a lynx  ;-).  I was still pleased with my luck so far, as lynx sightings in 2014 were scarce due to the decline of the snowshoe hares in the park … a favorite food of the lynx.

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Stay tuned for the remaining stories and images from Denali NP.

© 2014 TNWA Photography

Another Day … Another Experience

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What a difference a day makes!  Even though it has barely been 24 hours, most of the snowfall from 36 hrs ago has melted on the lower elevations and you could almost watch as it began to disappear from the landscape.  Luckily, those magnificent clouds and fall landscape colors remained.  :-)

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When I say that the landscape was bright, I mean it.  It seems as though I almost needed sunglasses to effectively mute some of the colors erupting.  The reds, oranges, yellows, greens, and even tones of blues … all unmistakeable and truly god’s work of beauty.  We felt quite honored to be a part of witnessing this display, as it quickly arrives and just as quickly fades into the muted shades of winter’s landscape.

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Once again, the cow moose were plentiful and roaming amongst the willows, as they dined freely.

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As much variety of wildlife that we were treated to the first day, we seemed to hit a bit of a dry spell the next.  Except of course, for the wolf pup sightings!  My friend, Rebecca, told us of her various frequent sightings of the pups, but we hadn’t seen any yet and were quite bummed to say the least.  However, on this day, it was alas, our chance.

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Not the most amazing images I’ve even taken, but the experience was quite rich indeed.  This little one paced the road in front of us for quite some time to the delight of everyone on our shuttle.  Once in a while, it did turn around and give us a “vogue shot”, but for the most part we were treated to its backside.  LOL

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The grizzly bears of course were out and about as always, though I think that I had heard that earlier in the year, the bear sightings were harder to come by.  Funny how timing is everything, as they say.

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Berries are “what’s for dinner?” for these guys at this time of year.  They ingest incredible amounts of berries to provide them the much needed last minute gorging that will serve them well through their early winter and hibernation period.  Having the proper nutrition is mandatory for those sows who will bear cubs during their hibernation.  In fact, if they don’t have the proper nutritional (fat) stores when they den, they may not even produce their young!

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If you ever get the chance to travel and visit Denali NP, don’t miss out on a visit to the Eielson Visitor Center, some 70 miles or so into the park.  From there, many amazing vistas await you, as well as several wonderful hikes (of varying endurance levels), which are quite rewarding.  Of course, in 2014, the hikes were either closed due to the high winds or the presence of bears, who also use the trails.  Guess they appreciate the views as well.  LOL.  In the image below, note the hikers below and appreciate the scale of vastness of this incredible landscape.  Also, note that there are very few trails designated in the park … it’s mostly a “DIY” system … that is, Do It Yourself!  :-)

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This sow and her cub cruise the hillside, finding berries where they can.  It’s fascinating to me how quickly these cubs learn from their moms about survival, even though the sow will continue to nurse the cub while they’re still cared for by her.

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Just look at that CUTENESS!!!

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Yes, we were treated to lots of bears in Denali this year and many of them were quite photo-worthy … and not a major stretch for the lens.  ;-)

_DSC5770 Of course, there’s more to Denali than the 88-mile stretch of park road.  Lots of opportunities abound to get out and explore on your own and of course, we did just that.  More to come, so check back often and stay tuned!

© 2014 TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

I Didn’t Forget About Denali NP (Who Could?)

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How do you know when you’re going to have a great time in Denali National Park?  Of course … when your first image goes something like this … how can you miss!  Denali is always an amazing place, but when you combine the beauty of the Denali wildlife & wilderness with the arrival of the fall colors and add a dash of sensing the beginning of the moose rut, this is what you get.

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Of course, on our first day in Denali NP, we were also greeted by the feeling of the arrival of winter as well!

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Now some visitors might have been quite bummed to have this greeting waiting for them, but when you reside in the heat and humidity, you tend to be quite excited!  SNOW! … and lots of it!  (Thanks to Rebecca Tifft for snapping this image of Tom & I for us)

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Denali NP is unique in that one can only explore the first 15 miles in their own vehicle.  After reaching Savage River, one can only travel to the interior of the park on a bus … whether it be an interpretive one or simply a shuttle bus.  But that doesn’t mean that awesome views and wildlife can’t be found in those first 15 miles.  The clouds in the skies provided for amazing landscapes.

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Shortly after Savage River, one starts to look for caribou, amongst other wildlife.  In the late summer/early fall, the bulls may still have their velvet covered antlers or the velvet may have already been shed, leaving their antlers to be quite bloody looking.

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Bears are also quite often seen right outside your shuttle window.  This particular one was walking along the braided river and eventually entered the river to cross it.  Funny … if you look closely, it seems as those this one has white nails.  Apparently, they can have a variety of claw colors, though I found this one quite unusual.  LOL

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Sometimes, they are quite far away.  However, the sight of observing this sow and her 2 cubs, as they travelled across the snow covered landscape was pleasing to me.  Gives the viewer a sense of the vastness of the land … as well as the harshness of the winter-like conditions that they and the other wildlife endure.

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It wasn’t our first snowfall experienced in Denali, in fact once we had snowfall in July!  You just can’t predict the weather in Alaska … especially in Denali.  What you can predict is that you’ll be treated to some of the best wildlife viewing in the US.  When you get to see the animals in the midst of the snow-covered landscape, you’ll also know that you hit the jackpot!

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The landscape itself looks so dramatically different in the snow too, whether dusted with a thin cover of snow or dumped upon, it’s all quite breathtaking.

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The iconic view from Stony Hill Overlook is quite different in the snow, but still remarkable.  Now that I think about though … it’s always different no matter what time you visit.  Sometimes you get full mountain (Mt McKinley, aka Denali), which we did on several days while we were there, sometimes you get no view at all, and sometimes you get this partial view.

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And the viewing of Denali constantly changes throughout the day, so you can never give up on trying your luck (except of course when it’s dumping snow relentlessly, as it was on our first evening in the park).  :-)

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Unique images of the wildlife, desperate to continue to get their fill of nutrition before this unanticipated snow storm becomes an expected daily event, make for amazing photo opportunities.

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Photo ops … it’s not just for the bears … as this adorable red fox entertains us with its own “vogue” looks as well.

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In the early evening, the snow cover from the night before had already began to melt, thanks to the clear skies which usually follow the snow’s nasty skies.  More bull caribou are encountered dining on the autumn-kissed tundra.  Below is actually a great example of how the bulls might have their velvet (on left), or may have previously shed their velvet already (on right).  Like most things in nature, everything progresses at its own pace.  The females which are pregnant later in the season will keep her antlers, while the other females as well as the bulls, will eventually shed them after the mating season.

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The moose rut usually takes place later in September or early October, so lots of bull moose begin to arrive near the front of the park (i.e. those first 15 miles) about this time and begin to jockey for superiority and the sweetest females.  :-)

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Often at this time the females will hang out with other females.  Sometimes they are followed closely by a bull that might be in pursuit.  The bulls are quite patient and wait until the time is right.

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Of course, the sunsets of Denali NP are also a sought after image, though I find myself torn between pursuing wildlife images OR the landscapes … Decisions, Decisions, Decisions … and a nice “problem” to have.  Wouldn’t you agree?

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Stay tuned:  More to come from Denali NP and its grandeur.  I promise, I won’t make anyone wait that long either.  :-)

© 2014  TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

“Sail Away” With Me

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In the last blog post, “Who’s Afraid of the Denali Highway?”, I shared our experience crossing the Denali Highway for the first time.  It was quite exciting, but before we crossed we arrived in Paxson and drove to the first pull off to get our bearings and grab a quick bite in the RV.  It was the evening of our 6th wedding anniversary and I began to think about 7 years ago when we witnessed the aurora for the first time.  The “highway” was going to be quite secluded from any city lights.  I ran outside to assess whether or not we had a chance to repeat our luck.  The sky was beautiful, but heavily scattered with wispy clouds.  Normally, I would be tickled pink, but I was hoping for clear skies.  We proceeded to fix dinner and got to sleep a bit earlier than normal … setting the alarm for 11:30 pm.

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When the alarm rang, I got dressed for the cold and the wind, which I could hear howling outside.  Is everything ready?  Camera with proper night shooting settings? Tripod set up? Remote shutter connected?  Fresh memory card?  Fresh battery?  Proper wide angle lens attached?  All systems seemed like … GO.  The stars were brightly lit and that’s when I realized that the skies had indeed cleared.  Yippee!

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In & out of the RV I went, trying to get warm from that wicked wind.  On one particular run outside, we saw it … the aurora, also referred to as the northern lights.  It was stretched out on the vast landscape before us.  At this point it was relatively stagnant … just fabulous light which would intensify and then retreat.

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Composition … I searched my surroundings for something that I incorporate into the frame to make the shot more interesting.  OK, secret be told, this is actually a really nice outhouse in the lot that we were parked in.  LOL.  I know, quite romantic, but who cares, it was a structure and served the purpose I was looking for.  Now the light was beginning to include a hint of purple hue as well.

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It was then that the lights began to float across the night’s dark sky.  I distinctly remember hearing the wind, feeling it against my face, and I became quite thrilled.  Yes, my senses went back to that first night on August 30th, 2007 … Chena Hot Springs – Tom & I snuggled up under multiple blankets, freezing, as we laid down on top of a picnic table and watched the northern lights as they danced across the sky.  Of course, I would run over to my tripod on occasion to try to capture the experience.

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As the aurora intensified and other colors appeared, I no longer felt the cold.  All I felt was the sensory overload that I was experiencing and the endorphins or whatever flowing through my body … touching my soul like only the aurora can.

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In some cultures, witnessing the aurora is considered to be one of the most prized events in their lifetime.  Some say that the experience bestows good relationships and fortune on its lucky observers.  We never expected to see it the first time we did, so it was quite the pleasant surprise.  It totally moved us spiritually, as the lights fell like curtains dancing in the wind.

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At this point, I thought it was dwindling and I figured that I would be satisfied with what I had already witnessed.  I retreated into the RV and put my PJs on for the night.  Before I got under the covers, I took one my shot at the night skies.  This is what I saw … and all bets were off … in my bare feet and PJs (I’m talking single layered), I ran out with my tripod in hand and began shooting in awe again.  In actuality, it was even colder than before, but it didn’t matter.

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Point is, I didn’t even feel it.  Tom stayed inside for a bit, then finally joined me, with proper clothing on, of course.  Oh, and he offered me my jacket.  Always the sherpa.  <3

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On August 30, 2008, we got married in Chena Hot Springs in honor of our 1st aurora experience.  Seemed appropriate that we would once again see them on August 30th, some 6 years later.  Sort of like renewing our vows.  :-)  Each year, on our anniversary, we go out into nature and present each other with a gift from nature.  I don’t think we could have asked for a better one.

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Reminds me of the David Gray song “Sail Away”.

Lyrics:                                                                                                                                           “Crazy skies all wild above me now
Winter howling at my face
And everything I held so dear
Disappeared without a trace”

I’m sure that wasn’t the actual meaning of the lyrics, but it was to us.  I couldn’t say anything better to describe the experience.  You totally get lost in the experience.  I still get all emotional when I hear that song … ask Tom.  LOL

Coming Up:  A Week in Denali National Park.  Stay tuned.  :-)

© 2014 TNWA Photography

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s Afraid of the Denali Highway?

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Each year that we travel to Alaska, we always make sure that we experience something NEW … something that we hadn’t tried before … somewhere that we hadn’t been before … or something that we haven’t photographed before.  In 2014, one of our NEWs was traveling across the Denali Highway – from Paxson to Cantwell … all 135 miles of it!

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Though this was already our 8th trip to Alaska, it was of course, our 1st across this infamous stretch of lonely road.  Why?, you might wonder.  A few responses come to mind, such as “the more travelled Glenn Highway is wonderful as well”, “the road is too slow for our pace”, “what if we got a flat(s) along the way?”, and being a relatively un-maintained road, “how bad is the road really?”.  The road had a reputation of being primarily washboard like and extremely dusty.  Caution went to the wind and onward we drove.  Well we began on our journey early one morning and we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by almost 24 miles of paved road right off the bat!  The scenery along the way, on this mostly clear day, was unmatched as well.  Like the Glenn Highway, it was breathtaking views, but it all felt so much closer on the Denali, as it climbed steeply up the foothills of the central Alaskan Range.

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OK, maybe not that close … but you get the idea.  :-)

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Everywhere you looked, there were jaw-dropping views.  We found ourselves experiencing “shock & awe”  Awed by all of the beauty and quite honestly shocked that we had never traveled this way before.  Of particular beauty was the area around Triple Lakes … gosh how I wished I could own that cabin!  LOL

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At precisely MM 21.3, was where the paved road ended and the gravel road began.  We both paused for a moment – yes, to take the image, but also to vow to each other that no matter what happened, we were in it together and wouldn’t place any blame on each other.  LOL.  We were going full steam ahead in our rented 28′ RV (which wasn’t restricted from the “highway”, but rather not encouraged, with warnings to proceed with caution).  Heck, we figured it couldn’t be worse than the year that we drove a slightly larger RV over Hatcher Pass … not a good idea for anyone wondering about that trip.

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Various lakes and kettle ponds dotted the road and the views continued to wow us.

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We even got to shoot some hawks along the way.  The wildlife however was otherwise non-existent … but who could blame them for hiding, since it was an active hunting season.  Sort of bummed about that.

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Views of Mt. Deborah, Mt. Hayes, Mt. Hess, as well as the overall Wrangell Mountains, Chugach Mountains, and the Alaskan Range were offered up along the way.  At the Mcclaren Summit, the road reaches a height of 4086′, which earns it the 2nd highest road in AK.  The area also serves as a drainage for the Cooper River, Tanana/Yukon River, and the Susitna River.

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In the distance, you can see the Maclaren Glacier and the Maclaren River, with the mountains looming even further in the distance.

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We found it really difficult to make our way across the highway on our adventure, as we couldn’t have pictured it nicer and so far, pretty uneventful as far as the road was concerned.

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All that we were missing was the wildlife, but as I mentioned earlier, I was glad that they were all in hiding.  Though there were numerous hunters camped out, we didn’t see any of their successful conquests … thankfully.

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As we neared the 2/3 marker of the highway, the weather began to get dreary and our visibility began to diminish, so we made more of an effort to simply get it done.  Gone were the promised views of Denali, but hey, it was an amazing run while it lasted.

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Would we do it again?  There’s a 3-word response to that question … In A Heartbeat! It just goes to prove the point … “sometimes the road less traveled is the most amazing one”.  On a side, for those with good recall and might have been wondering, Yes, we were still talking when our tires once again hit the pavement for the final 2-3 miles.  In fact, I believe that we were closer than ever … very tired, but exhilarated at the same time.

Stay tuned for our unexpected surprise along the Denali Highway … you don’t want to miss it, I promise.  :-)

© 2015  TNWA Photography

 

 

Yes, 2014 Was A Very Good Year!

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I think one of my favorite times of the year is the New Year.  For some, it’s about making BIG party plans and ringing in the new year with champagne toasts, dancing, and fireworks.  For me, it’s a much more reflective time … a time to take stock in the year’s adventures, personal achievements, challenges conquered along the way perhaps … and especially a time to look forward … to 2015!

I made a promise at the beginning of 2014 – to take the time needed to travel at least quarterly.  I wanted to experience new places, new adventures, new friends, and of course, new challenges.  I had some personal goals related to even this blog and I’m happy to say that I think that I accomplished most of them.  As usual, travel and photography went hand in hand and played a large role in my life for 2014.  I’ll try to re-cap some of it – very briefly – here.

I travel so much with Tom, aka my husband and “sherpa”, and I began to wonder if I could make it into the wilderness shooting without him.  LOL.  So, while he went off to snowboard for weeks on end, I decided to head out to Yellowstone NP in the dead of the winter (Jan) without him.  I wanted to see “what I was made of” … and to my surprise, I realized that when I needed to get it done myself, I actually could!  In addition, I made a bunch of wonderful friends as well on Daniel Cox’s Natural Exposure Invitational Photo Tour.

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For 4 months (Jan thru Apr), I had the pleasure of discovering that a pair of eastern screech owls had taken up residence in our owl boxes, but they graced us with raising 3 baby owlets as well.  I have to admit that it was a challenge, but the experience was incredible!  I’ll never forget my astonishment and joy when we peeked in, via a small “Go Pro-like” camera and saw 3 tiny furry owls, all bopping and circling their heads as owls do.  My heart melted and my love for owls immediately soared!

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In Feb we joined my daughter and her husband for some snowboarding/skiing in UT and a bit of photography as well.  I spent a few days at Antelope Island SP capturing bison, deer,  pronghorn, eagle, coyote, porcupine, and other images.  Loved it!

_DSC7954 _DSC8107 Of course, Everglades NP is always just around the corner for us, so several trips to photograph the migratory and resident birds were part of our year.

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Orlando Wetlands Park was a new location for me Jess was gracious enough to show it to me one day.

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We also made it up to Vero Beach and Blue Cypress Lake for some osprey photography with Jess and Michael … always a pleasure.

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In April, we flew out to Denver and made the circuit between Denver, Colorado Springs (Garden of the Gods), Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, Monument Valley, Moab, Arches NP, Canyonlands NP, Dead Horse Point SP, and eventually Rocky Mountain NP.  For part of the trip, we met up with Rodney Lange for some landscape shooting, including some night photography.  We had such a great time!

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From May to June, the early mornings and early evenings were filled with burrowing owl photography, as we’re blessed with having many burrows within 30 minutes of our home.  To spend hours with the parents and their young and literally watch them grow up before our eyes is always a thrill and an honor.

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Another endearing time was had in June when I almost got to witness the hatching of a newborn sandhill crane colt.  I say almost because my friends and I witnessed the cracking of the egg, the hole in the egg enlarging, but the threatening skies kept us from the “whole enchilada” as they say.  The next morning we were thrilled to photograph the newborn colt as it already toured around the wetlands with both of its parents.  Yes, I’m also a craniac for sure!  (Shout out to Monique!)

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A quick trip to the Palouse was also made, since I was already in San Diego for work.  The rolling hills of the farmlands and the shadows cast during sunrise and sunset provide for variations on the landscape … always beautiful.

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“The mountains are calling, so I must go” … for me that was the message I received from the Canadian Rockies.  In late June and early July, we traveled within Alberta and British Columbia to Yoho NP, Jasper NP, Banff NP, Lake Louise, Waterton Lakes NP, as well as Glacier NP in Montana.  Landscapes to die for were around every corner and amazing wildlife, as well as the company of good friends … I didn’t want to leave.

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Our last “big trip” was to Alaska, on our 8th trip.  It was as good as any of the others … and in some ways, even better.  From photographing the brown bears of the Russian River area, to flying out for a few days of Katmai NP bears (my personal favorites) – in the company of fellow photographer and friend Tom Blandford, to touring Valdez and kayaking the ice caves, to crossing for the first time the Denali Highway on our way to Denali NP and being treated to incredible scenery along the way during the day and the mystique of the northern lights in the darkness of the night, and finally varied conditions while staying at Denali NP, including a winter snowstorm … it was all a blast.  All that while catching up with our Alaskan friends.  :-)

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It seemed fitting that on Dec. 20th, I returned to the Deering Estate to photograph the winter equinox and it’s sunrise … OK, I know that was one day early, but who cares, it was fabulous either way.

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So, as you can see, 2014 was an amazing year for us and one that will be hard to beat.  Of course, we’ll give it our best to do so.  As I reflect on my goals for this new year, I can assure you that 2015 will have some exciting adventures and big events as well, so stay tuned for more.

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Wishing everyone a wonderful and healthy 2015, with lots of photographic opportunities either in solitude or in the presence of friends (both good), but always one with nature.  :-)

Regards,

Debbie & Tom Tubridy (TNWA Photography)

Ice Caves Anyone?

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Valdez, AK has a lot to offer for the outdoors enthusiast and we ventured there this year with a particular item on our “To Do” list.  While we’ve gone sea kayaking in Alaska on a few of our trips, and also ventured out on glaciers for hiking and ice climbing, there was still something related to both of those activities that we had yet to do…. ice cave exploration on kayaks.  So while we were in Valdez, we did just that.

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We set out for the Valdez Glacier, aptly named as it is located near the town of Valdez.  Just a quick drive to our launch site, where before long, we were on our way on the icy waters filled with icebergs.

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For this trip, I was well equipped with my gear … 2 cameras, landscape lens, telephoto lens, and trusty iPhone.  I quickly informed Tom that though we were sharing a 2-man kayak, that he should be prepared to do the lion’s share of the paddling, as I would be shooting stills and video.  :-)

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We would let the others get ahead of us, so that we could stop as we needed, always being sure to keep them in sight.

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As we meandered through the beautiful iceberg formations, I could help but feel myself at total peace with this place and I couldn’t wait to get to the ice caves, not really being sure of how it would be.  We passed an area where the icebergs had trapped a pool of water within it and I desperately wanted to portage into its center, though I knew that it wasn’t possible.

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See, the glacial and iceberg formations are constantly changing from year to year, season to season, month to month, week to week, and even day to day.  Not to even mention what they say about the “tip of the iceberg” … and what lurks below.  It was so beautiful to even hear the ice crystal in the glacial features popping, the water dripping, the wind blowing.

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When we reached our first preliminary ice cave, I was taken back by the beautiful blue ice at its center.

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We were to paddle up to the formation, turn around, pose for a snapshot, and paddle out, but Tom had specific orders to pause for as long as we could so that I could take it all in.

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As we approached the terminus of the glacier, I could feel my excitement mounting and I was thinking about how fortunate we were to have such beautiful weather.

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Ice caves of different stages of development were seemingly everywhere.  Take a look at the amazing blue ice shining so brightly.  It was stunning to be in the midst of it all.

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Below is an image of the Valdez Glacier terminus and all of those “rocks and dirt” in the foreground are actually part of the moraine of the glacier and under it all is the actual glacial ice … on top is the earth which had been deposited on it as it made it way in its advancement stage.  Of course, very few glaciers are advancing today.  It always amazes me how this type of glacier almost appears to be a big driveway into parts unknown.

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We grounded our kayaks, secured them, and began our exploration of the actual glacier and some of its features found in this limited portion (think a speck on an elephant) of the Valdez Glacier.  Glacial pools were numerous, as were crevasses and moulins.  It was all so amazing.

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In an attempt to provide some perspective, I chose to take an image with some of the others in it.  This is one place you don’t want to lose concentration on, as it could turn dangerous, if not deadly, real quick.

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Not sure why I opted to keep my life vest on … possibly too cold … probably too lazy.  Haha!

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Of course, this guy decided to forego the glacier hike part of this tour and chose to catch some zzz’s instead.  I guess he didn’t want to take chances either, as he kept his life vest on as well … possibly for comfort … probably too lazy as well.  Guess the paddling was too strenuous for him.  I wouldn’t know, as Tom became “paddler Tom” for me.  :-).  OK, I admit, I’m a bit spoiled.

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After lunch and hiking, we returned to kayaking and were really treated to an amazing ice cave.  As we lined up to enter individually, I readied the gear.  After hearing the feedback from the kayaks ahead of us, I decided to take video on the way in and still images on the way out.  For the purpose of this blog, I changed the order of the images.

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As we entered the cave, we first had an obstacle of melting ice water falling all around us to go through.  All I can say was C-O-L-D!  Immediately I forgot the cold and my sense took a visual turn and all that I could say was …”OMG!” … I’m talking repeatedly!  Each turn inside the cave was followed by that OMG statement and since I was sitting in the front of the kayak, I always had that momentary sneak preview before Tom could catch his glimpse.

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Turn after turn, it just kept getting better.

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Do I look forward, to the left, to the right, behind, or overhead?  I had sensory overload and a touch of attention deficit going on at the same time.

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Natural water fountains flowed and others used it to fill up their water bottles but my hands and my mouth were way too busy to think of that while in there.

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The glacial blues were all around us, along with your standard icy looking surfaces.  I didn’t want to leave.  “Keep going” I kept telling Tom.

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At one point, Tom drove my head into the ice and I started to duck and I became aware that I didn’t want to tip this kayak too much … water was way too cold, of course ice was our only surrounding, and my gear couldn’t be jeopardized, as we still had another 11 days to our trip.

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Though I didn’t want to leave, I knew that we had to, so we carefully back out the way we came.  I wished I knew how far that cave went, but suffice it to say, it was a good distance.  Never once did I fear for my safety inside it, though clearly this was a precarious place to be should anything disastrous happen.

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All in all, it was a wonderful day doing that “something new” on what was actually our 6th wedding anniversary.  Very appropriate for the day.  :-)

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Can’t help but wonder where we’ll be on our 7th … I’m a lucky girl!

In the meanwhile, stay tuned for the next post:  The Denali Highway Adventure.

© TNWA Photography

 

 

 

A Season to Give Thanks

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As we approach the Thanksgiving holidays, I can’t help but take a moment to pause and reflect on the things in life that I’m most thankful for.

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Overlook at Dead Horse State Park in Utah – taken by Rodney Lange… Thanks!

First and foremost is Tom.  I know that I joke about him being my sherpa, but he’s a whole lot more.

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“Sherpa” Tom out to find some bears – Katmai NP & Preserve

Tom is my husband (6+ years now), my best friend, and my partner in travel and adventure.

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Taken by Kelli Williams somewhere in Utah …Thanks sunshine!

I know that it’s a bit cliche to say, but he “completes me” … more importantly, he gets me … and embraces it.

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Thanks for the shot Dave! (www.goseebears.com)

There isn’t a person in the world that I would rather share my life with.

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Selfie @ Dahmen Barn, Uniontown, WA

He shares my spirit of adventure and my love of nature.

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Glacial hiking at Valdez Glacier

Sherpa Tom

Sherpa Tom is also a fine photographer – Yellowstone NP

He encourages me to spread my wings, always encouraging me to follow my heart and my dreams.

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Snowy egrets – Orlando Wetlands

Debbie ready for action. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Thanks for the image Dan Cox of Natural Exposures!

Always willing to try or go somewhere new, life never gets boring.  :-)

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Tom looks out at the Dead Horse SP landscape

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Powder Mountain chairlift selfie in Utah

Then there’s my family… starting first with my daughter, Kelli.  I don’t think that it’s possible to be more proud of her than I.

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~~~ Kelli, my “sunshine” & apparently my “unicorn” as well~~~ :-)

She really follows her dreams and stays true to herself.  Currently 1/2 way through her first year of PA school, she continues to amaze me with her dedication and drive to excel.

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NSU Jax Physician Assistant Class of 2016 Inauguration

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Kelli & her husband Mitchell … both amazing!

With all of the studying that she endures, she still finds the time to have fun with her husband, Mitchell, and their dogs … or should I say “poodles”.

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Snowbunnies – Utah

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Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico

I’m grateful also to my mom and her husband, who live nearby and always a part of my week.  Growing up my mom always set a great example of integrity for me, combined with a love for life.  Though they think that Tom & I have a severe case of “wanderlust”, truth be told, so do they, only their travel is usually on the seas.

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My wonderful mom

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My mom & her husband in Jackson Hole, WY

Family reunion

Family trip to Yellowstone NP

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Holiday celebration with the family, Florida

I’m grateful that Tom & I have always had good and rewarding careers, which have allowed us the resources to do some of the things that we love.

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Landing @ Katmai NP & Preserve

Out on the Russian River

Taken on the Russian River by Todd Stein … Thanks!

Of course, it goes without saying that our close friends and neighbors are also something that we’re grateful for as well.  Whether it be for a social gathering over dinner and drinks or lending an ear to help each other through this journey of life, it’s always a needed ingredient to a happy life.

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Denali NP snowstorm in August. Taken by Tom; edited by Rebecca Tifft.

Last, but not least, I’m thankful for the opportunities that have presented me, whether it be travel, wildlife encounters, photographic adventures, or just the ability to clear my mind in the great outdoors.

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

Yes, life is good, and my thirst for travel and experiences that I have yet to have will surely continue … those who know me, know that it doesn’t take a lot to make me happy … just give me a few bears, owls, (and other wildlife is welcome as well) and a great view!  Remember … “life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away”.  That’s my motto … and I’m sticking with it … THANKFULLY!

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Coastal brown bear @ Katmai NP & Preserve

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Great gray owl looking down at us in Ottawa.

Two Jack Lake, Banff NP, Alberta, Canada

Two Jack Lake, Banff NP, Alberta, Canada

Wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!  May you spend time surrounded by those whom are important to you and get the chance to reflect upon what you’re thankful for and celebrate life.

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Upstate NY winery … Cheers to all :-)

Next up:  Kayaking the Valdez Glacier ice caves!

© 2014  TNWA Photography

 

 

 

 

Our Return to Valdez

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Yes, the Kenai Peninsula can be a drizzly place, but so can the Glenn Highway on your way to Valdez.  This was my view for pretty much the entire 6 or so hour drive.  On the bright side, I didn’t make Tom pull over incessantly.

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As we reached the Richardson Highway and made our way over the Thompson Pass, a 2,805′ gap in the the Chugach Mountains, it was totally fogged over with limited visibility.  The pass is considered to be the “snowiest place in AK”, averaging 551.5″ of the white stuff annually.  In the winter of 1952-1953, a record 974.1″ was recorded.  The single day record was also achieved in 1955 with 62″ within a 24-hr period!

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On our way into town, we stopped off just outside at the salmon hatchery and were treated to views like this one.

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Here the Solomon Gulch Hatchery Fish Weir, seen below, is designed to harness the adult pink and coho salmon as they return to their spawning site and then die, completing their circle of life.  Here the salmon artificially spawn and the eggs are harvested with a goal of 230 million for just the pink salmon.  Each female salmon produces on average 1700 eggs and the harvesting yields 10-15 million per day (as their goal).  It’s really quite amazing to see.

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Part of the process is the fish ladders that the salmon must navigate on the way.  We would watch them and cheer them on as they put forth much effort to successfully reach their destination.

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All of this fish activity, of course, brings the birds …

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… the bald eagles also find their way there to get their share …

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… the seals also come to check it out …

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… and of course, the bears frequent the area for their easy meal.

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While we didn’t see bears at the hatchery this year, we were able to have a black bear come out to greet us.  Funny, we could see movement, but no bear.  Then all of a sudden I guess that it smelled us.  It got up from feeding on the grasses to check us out.

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To better ascertain as to what we were and what our intentions were the black bear began noticeably catch our scent.  See, bears have eyesight somewhat the same as a human, but their sense of smell are light years superior to ours.

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There were obviously a family of magpies living in the bushes and they made it quite known that they didn’t want that bear hanging around their home, as they officially escorted the bear out of the area.  LOL.  The bear looked so indignant as it moved on its way.

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We don’t get the opportunity to photograph many black bears, so it’s always a thrill for us when we do.

_DSC3942 The Duck Flats area along the Richardson Highway, just outside of Valdez, yields views such as this as you look towards Port Valdez.  The Trans-Alaska Pipeline terminus is directly on the other side.

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A few days later, when we were leaving Valdez, the skies started clearing up and the landscape which was earlier under the cloak of clouds emerged.

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One of the highlights when in the Valdez area is the Worthington Glacier, nicely viewed from the only road into town and accessible by foot, or I guess I should say crampons.  Viewing the glacier reminded me of a few years back when we took my daughter and now son-in-law to Valdez and enjoyed a day of glacial hiking, ice climbing, and whitewater rafting.

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Rainbows almost always abound in Alaska, so they’re usually part of everyone’s memories.

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Earlier this year, during the winter of 2013-2014, there was an epic avalanche through the canyon … called the “biggest avalanche ever seen” … which essentially took out the only road into Valdez and left its residents at risk for obtaining supplies and the subsequent flooding.  Most traces of that avalanche are now gone, but the wildlife seems to be less this year.

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Before we leave the area, I noticed the clouds were quite varied and interesting and I couldn’t help but snap a shot or two.

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Well, that’s it for now.  Our reason for travel to Valdez was also to explore the Valdez Glacier and its infamous ice caves via kayak, so we’re off to do that, but not before having a little bit of fun in town…  :-)

IMG_1994Stay tuned for the Valdez Glacier and our day touring the ice caves … Very cool!

© 2014 TNWA Photography

 

Visiting the Kenai Peninsula

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Whenever we venture over to Katmai NP, we always do so via the quaint town of Homer, which is on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska.  About a 4-5 hr drive from Anchorage, the drive itself has a lot to offer … wildlife and views … and it’s one that we always enjoy.  This year though, much of it was done in the rain, well drizzle, and low lying clouds.  That always makes the “views” part of the drive a bit muted.

The stretch of roadway is almost a certain for spotting moose along the way.

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When we arrived into Homer, we’re immediately awed by the views … Kachemak Bay and the Cook Inlet, mountains galore, and glaciers, which were difficult to see clearly due to the fog layer.  Homer is probably my favorite town in all of Alaska, at least of the places that we have been.  It’s been proclaimed the “Halibut fishing capital of the world”.  They describe it as “a drinking town with a fishing problem”.  It’s a combination of seaside, artsy, eclectic, and definitely outdoorsy.  I’m sure that in the height of the season, it can be also quite touristy, but we’re not usually visiting at that time.  Adventures are there for the taking and wildlife is also ever-present.

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Bald eagles are probably the most known residents and can be found just about anywhere.  Such a thrill to roam about town and hear them calling out consistently in the distance.  This eagle is on the job watching for signs of tsunami activity.  LOL

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When I looked towards the lake where we take off from to go to Katmai, this is what I saw.  I didn’t hold much hope for a flight out in the morning, but as you know, we got off without a hitch.

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Gulls and black-footed kittiwake often live in their own version of “public housing” as they make their nests in the pilings of the underside of the dock on the bay.  It’s really quite the impressive colony!

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Yes, it’s quite peaceful to sit at the end of the “spit” and look across the bay and see those layers of mountains, with lakes and glaciers adorning them.

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The fog also hanging in the air and giving quite the mysterious impression of what lies on the other side.

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Yes, the sea is quite revered in Homer, as its fishing industry is a predominant one, so they pay homage to mermaid … however by the looks of things, I don’t think that the eagles and the gulls respect her as much.  :-)

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Near the fishing hole on the bay side of the “spit”, you can almost always count on spotting bald eagles as they wait for the changing tide and the fish that come with it.

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This year, while walking around the town, we came across this sight and so, you know I had to check it out.  Turns out to be an art gallery with a very fitting display, sure to attract attention.

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I especially loved these tiles placed together giving the illusion of the fireweed, which was still a bit in bloom when we were there.  Like I said, it’s an artsy town.

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On our way to the Beluga Slough, I spotted this sign on the road, which I found quite humorous and appropriate for the town as well.

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Last year, while driving past the roadside of the slough, I was treated to the “dance of the sandhill cranes” and I still remember it like it was yesterday.  Not so this year, but we were treated to sighting of the pair and their colt foraging out in the slough.  Such a precious sight.  Sandhill cranes are also a bird that you can hear and see in the distance at almost any moment.  Love it.

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We stayed on a campsite on the beach and woke up to views like this each morning.

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Nearby is a town of Anchor Point, where we visited to spot some wildlife … moose and bald eagles mainly, but another thing we found quite beautiful while there were the beaches.

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Tern Lake, though absent of terns in late August, is a place that we stop every year, always with different views and impressions.  This year, it was quite overcast, the fireweed had already past its bloom stage, and there were very few birds occupying the lake … just a few loons and a solo trumpeter swan.  As much as I prayed for a moose to emerge into the landscape, it didn’t happen.  Maybe that’s for next year.  :-)

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Now we’re ready to go across the Glenn Highway and onward to another seaside town … Valdez, where we hope to get out and do some kayaking and wildlife watching.  Be sure to stop by and check it out on Thursday.  We’ll be watching!  LOL

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© 2014 TNWA Photography

It Just Keeps Getting Better! (Part 3: Katmai NP)

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Continuing on with Part 3 from our recent trips to Katmai NP & Preserve….

We last spent time with this amazing sow and her young solo cub, where the cub had one thing in mind … nursing on mom, while we were in awe of the purring sounds coming out of the cub while doing so.

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However, soon mom had something else on her mind also … salmon … and soon leaves her cub briefly to enter the river in search of something to eat.

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Doesn’t take too long before she has found herself a nice catch.

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Consuming the salmon is short work for these skilled bears.

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Meanwhile, the cub awakens and becomes curious as to where mom went.  Standing on its hind legs is generally reserved for danger, simple curiosity, or getting a better view of its surroundings, as in this case.

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Once it spots its mom, off it goes to join her.  After some tugging and growling with the mom over the salmon catch, the cub finally wins that battle … as it learns how to take care of itself.

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And so she goes … back for another meal.

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We observed numerous bears over the course of the day.  This particular bear has caught itself a fine specimen.

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Not just any salmon, but a female, as evidenced by some of the roe flying about as it is chomped on.

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As it emerges from the river, often shaking off the excess water is one of the first things that they do.

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We noticed that this bear headed straight towards us with its catch. Awesome cooperation buddy!

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Then we happened to see it glancing to its right.  That’s when we realized what was going on ….

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This even bigger bear had set its sights on it, and its salmon, as it came charging in, then halted.

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Right about then, this bear walked right past us, stared at us as if to test our intentions, then planted himself strategically on the other side of us, basically putting us between it and the other bear.

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From there it began to devour its salmon.  See, this was a smart bear, for it came by us and sat near to us, knowing that the other bear didn’t want to be near us.  Sows do the same thing often enough with their cubs.  Though not this year, but in years past, we’ve had them essentially drop them off with us for unofficial babysitting duties.  LOL

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Meanwhile the cub from earlier was up on the hillside, along with it entourage of gulls, which were just waiting for any leftover scraps from the cub’s salmon.

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As we began to leave (myself most unwillingly), I noticed the cub, its belly full of salmon and its mom’s milk, settled down and lounged back – it’s “buddha belly” all swollen and peered down at us.  It was one of the cutest things I had ever seen!

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So, was our time in Katmai National Park & Preserve!  Of course, our guide Dave was gracious enough to capture our farewell shot – Tom B, me, and my husband, Tom.  Yes, I believe there were smiles all around … even on Dave!

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If anyone is interested in bear viewing – day or overnight adventures – in Katmai, I highly recommend AK Adventures (www.goseebears.com).  Dave Bachrach is our guide, who came to us highly recommended by our other guides from years past.  We’ve ventured out with Dave for 3 years now and have enjoyed our trips with him immensely.  Of course, for flying out to Katmai, we also highly recommend Wes and Angela of Beluga Air in Homer (www.belugaair.com).  Flying in the bush can be a concern for many, but we always feel in good hands.

Until next year … I hope that the bears have a successful winter’s hibernation and remain free and safe in 2015.

Oh, and of course, watching all of those brown bears catching and eating all of that salmon made us hungry for our own sushi … Yummy!

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Up next in the blog … Homer, AK … my favorite town in Alaska!

© 2014  TNWA Photography

Another Day … Another Adventure! (Part 2 Katmai NP)

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Ready for some more bears from Katmai NP?  I know that I was … so off we went again on an adventure in search of coastal brown bears.

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From the get-go, I knew that this would be an excellent adventure … the skies were less threatening and we had an amazing flight over the Cook Inlet and across the vast landscape of Katmai, looking for the perfect place to land.  Translation … where the bears are congregating in numbers.  :-)

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As we approach our initial location for the day, one thing to keep in mind is that the float plane must land in a lake large enough to support a landing, but also a take-off.  The bears generally aren’t in those lakes, but in the ribbons of waterways that connect the landscape, as you can see in the this image.  Each winding turn in those creeks, can yield a bear … often unknowingly until they are right there.

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Once landed, it’s time to pull up our boots, de-plane (us and all of our gear … ugh … always a pivotal moment … please no butterfingers when transferring camera gear), and secure our anchor.  Once safely on land, the real anticipation for the day to come begins.

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The day always begins with a nice brisk hike in search of the bears.  About at this point, I realize how grateful I am that I have my “sherpa” with me (aka my husband .  Our deal is … he carries the camera gear, I carry the food, fluids, clothes, and other supplies.  I think I make out the best … his pack easily goes 60+ pounds.

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On this day, we returned to Funnel Creek, where we had photographed this same sow and her cub yesterday.  We tried to cross the river, but the river was still quite swollen and the water level was too high to do so.  We spent some time with several of the bears from yesterday, a family of yellowlegs, and a very curious red fox.  I was quite thrilled with the fox, but not able to get great shots, because it got so close, that we could have touched it.  Not sure who was more surprised … me or the fox.  LOL

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After some time, our guide Dave and Wes decided to load up and try another location that looked pretty good as they initially flew over.

When we arrived at the river, we could immediately see several bears going about their fishing.  Every bear using a different technique … some chase relentlessly … some sit on the side of the river and simply wait … many navigate the waters with their heads underwater in a behavior known as “snorkeling”.

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As we visually navigated the landscape for the bears, we spotted this one bear … an enormous bear literally in the river with its head resting on the bank while sleeping, we believed.  It’s hard to tell in this image, but it was so big and its name must have been Jim… you know, as in Jim Croce’s “you don’t mess around with Jim”.  LOL

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Before long, the bears were seemingly emerging from all different directions.  Over the horizon, through the vegetation, down the river, across the river, and sometimes even behind us.

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Each made its way down to the river in search of salmon.  All were respectful of each other and especially of “Big Jim”.

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They didn’t seem to mind that we were in the travel zone or photographing them.  They simply would observe us, and deviate from their course just a tad, and carry on.  Of course, we and our lenses, keep close tabs on their whereabouts.

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Directly across the river from us was a sow and her single cub.  They rested in the sunshine and cool air.  Then it happened … the cub climbed up on its mom and started to nurse.

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Before long, we could hear the purring from the cub, as it nursed and we all knew that our day was complete.  If you have experienced this for yourself, you know what I mean, but the sound of cubs purring while nursing will make even the most hardened heart melt!  I still get emotional just remembering that moment.

This image reminds me of just how vulnerable a moment that this is for mom and cub.  As you can see, mom tries her best to stay aware of her surroundings and any impending threats.

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After 3-4 minutes, the nursing was over and they both sat up.  If you look closely, you’ll see the “milk mustache” on the young cub.  Sows will nurse their cubs for the entire span of time that the cubs remain with the mom.  Such good mommies they are.

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Before long, onto their sides they both go, as they roll around and scratch their bellies and bottoms.  Such is the life of a bear!

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Mom awakens first, probably because she’s now hungry, as they cub remains on its back in bliss.  When we watched these two, I couldn’t help but notice that the cub constantly had to keep itself touching its mom the entire time … whether it be it’s head, back, or in this case, feet … and I can’t help but relate to how human children do the same.

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Want to see more images from Katmai? … stay tuned for Thursday night, when Part 3 of Katmai gets posted!

© 2014  TNWA Photography

 

Katmai … Here We Come!

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Rain, rain, rain … combined with fog, wind, and completely overcast skies.  That’s how it was the night before we were to fly over to Katmai NP.  When we woke up, it wasn’t raining, but the fog, wind, and heavy skies were still ominously present.  I told Tom that I wasn’t in a panic as I packed my gear, fluids, and nutrition … I was pretty sure that we weren’t flying out.  Thank goodness I was proved wrong!  Somehow, the fog on the lake lifted just enough and the trip was given a green light.

With us this year, we had the pleasure of spending a few days in Katmai with Tom Blandford, a friend of mine whom I met through the world of photography.  In addition, we had 2 lovely ladies who had been shut out by bad weather for several days already.  As the plane lifted off from the surface of Beluga Lake, I began the anticipation of what was to come… like a child the night before Christmas.  :-)

Because the weather had been very rainy, the rivers were a bit more swollen than usual, so we landed at “Just Enough” lake … that is, just enough room to land and take off safely.  LOL.  We unloaded and began our trek through the wilderness of Katmai NP & Preserve in search of coastal brown bears and lots of salmon.  See, they go hand in hand.

While we got to peek at a few bears from a distance, it wasn’t until we came across one not too far off that we began to get anxious with our gear.  Anticipating a bear’s next move is always challenging, but we seemed to get it right and before long we were greeted by a fabulous specimen coming around a corner, catching us a bit by surprise.

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Or guide, Dave, made sure that we were respectful to the bears personal space.  Our goal is also always to observe the bears in their natural behavior, rather than having them adjust to our presence, we would adjust to theirs.

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That plan always works perfectly … this bear accepted us being there without any reservations and before long, began chasing salmon swimming in the creek.

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We remained patiently observing this bear and let it pass us by.  It’s always quite the thrill for me when our eyes meet for the first time … OK, actually every time … to me, it’s the validation that we’re connected at that moment … in each other’s world, if you will.  Always amazing as well how they pass us so peacefully, not like how many would be led to believe.  For bears are actually very peaceful and predictable … honestly!

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Often people want to know how close we get to these magnificent creatures.  My answer varies with each situation, location, bear, etc … but you can see in this image that it’s not very far away at all.

Thanks to Dave of Go See Bears for capturing this image!

Thanks to Dave of Go See Bears for capturing this image!

Generally, the bears pass by and get on with their day at hand which mostly revolves around chasing down and eating salmon.  They are quite skilled at it too!

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Sometimes lens choice is an issue and your full image view becomes simply a head shot due to their proximity to us.  It’s a GOOD problem.

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Not all of the bears are chasing salmon, some are simply catching a siesta in the wilderness landscape.

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Of course, before long, they’re up and repeating the cycle … find salmon … chase salmon … catch salmon… eat salmon… and so their day goes on.

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Somebody looks as though they got caught raiding the cookie jar … or should I say the salmon pool.  LOL

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One of my favorite sightings of the day came with a sow and her young cub, probably a yearling.  We watched them as they made their way down the creek towards us.  The sow was a beauty too … a real blondie!

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Her cub followed her dutifully, not too far behind, and it was already checking things out for themselves along the way.

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As mom went on the hunt for salmon ….

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… her cub did the same.  It was amazing to me to see how it already had quite big paws and claws!

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When the young one would get a fish from mom, it would climb up on the shore to consume it, as mom continued to fish.

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Now on this trip, it wasn’t only bears of course.  There were a few birds … yellowlegs, juvenile harlequin ducks, ptarmigan, and of course, gulls.  The ptarmigan were so much fun to watch as they congregated in a group of perhaps a dozen and all took flight, with their beautiful markings showing the signs of the upcoming seasonal changes.

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Yes, it was a fun filled day so far and I for one, didn’t want it to end.  Looks like my new little friend didn’t want us to leave either!  LOL

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We pulled up our waders and made our way across the treacherous creek.  OK, maybe treacherous is a bit of an exaggeration, but the current was moving quite quickly and the water level was a bit higher than our boots!  The river rocks were also quite slippery and the water quite cold.  As I made it mostly across the creek safely, I quietly thanked goodness that Tom (aka my sherpa) had my gear safe and sound, and most importantly, dry.  What would I do without him?  I did however have a hole in my waders so I drained them out on the other side… woo hoo, it was quite refreshing!

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Heading back to the plane is always the worse part of the day, but we still had more time to spend in Katmai, so it was a bit easier to swallow.  Here’s a shot of Tom B. (aka not my sherpa Tom) and our pilot Wes of Beluga Air.

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That’s all for now, but stay tuned for more adventures from Katmai NP and my beloved coastal brown bears!

Thanks to Dave @ Go See Bears for capturing this image!

Thanks to Dave @ Go See Bears for capturing this image!

 

My Birthday Present :-)

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Continuing on with images from our 4-day stay on the Russian River, our 2nd day (which was perfectly timed for my birthday) was filled with lots of brown bear activity as well.  This time we saw a total of 6 different brown bears and I really couldn’t believe that we had been so lucky.

Almost immediately when we got down to the river we were greeted by the 2 cubs from yesterday.  They were already out fishing in the river and succeeding in making the fishermen scatter…. and the wildlife watchers spring into action.  Early in the morning, most days it’s usually just the “hard core” photographers who are on the river banks, since the mornings are cold, damp, foggy, and strangely, a bit eerie and isolated.DSC_1404

When waiting for the bears, it’s weird because sometimes you have no idea where they might be coming from.  I remember one year a black bear was eating a salmon under an elevated section of the boardwalk as people walked by looking for them.  Of course, to keep the hysteria limited, we pretended to not know where it was either.  LOL.

As the bears entered the river from the opposite river bank, we set up for a day full of activity.  Of course, they didn’t disappoint us.

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Before long they were chasing down the salmon and thrashing them about, ultimately leaving the river for the nearby bank and off into the wilderness, while they ate their prized catch.

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DSC_8017 This day, even mama bear came down to visit us … I think she was telling me “Happy Birthday”… LOL.  She was a big sow too and a bit grumpy at times.  No one on the river wanted to mess with her that’s for sure.

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She joined 2 of her cubs on the river for some fishing.  Eventually her 3rd cub came down to join the party, but didn’t stay very long.  As they made their way down the river, we scurried along as well.  For as much as I utilize the services of “my sherpa” Tom, when the bears are on the move…. I can manage by myself just fine.  :-)

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Both cubs began to fish out of the same hole and I sensed that something was about to happen.  Look at how cute this cub is as it glanced over to see its sibling with a nice salmon.

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Up onto its hind legs it went, as it struggled with that poor salmon.  I was so excited as it stood there, giving some different takes on their day of fun.

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I kept observing them and noticed that they approached each other again near that fishing hole.  I said to everyone in my immediate vicinity … they’re going to play fight … and sure enough they did!

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They were exchanging punches to the head, shoulders, and face … with the mouths open and growling.  I was so excited, I was hardly able to continue shooting.  You know, you get to that point when you question – should I shoot or should I simply watch.  Of course, my shutter finger won out, as it usually does.  LOL

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After 2-3 minutes of playing, they quickly gave themselves a time out.  Funny, it was pretty unanimous too.  Like boxers retreating to their corners, the action stopped and I feared that it was over.

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Then the bell rang again for Round 2!

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Eventually they tired of all of that playing around and they went on to fishing in the river.  Play time though is essential to their learning process and survival later in life.  Bears live in a dominance and hierarchy-based structure and even at this young age, you can tell who is already the dominant bear.

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Another sow and her solo cub were in the area and the cub came down to greet us also.

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It wanted so badly to enter and fish in the river, but mom was having nothing to do with allowing that!  So it sat down right in front of us …

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… and began to scratch itself and seemingly have a chat with us.  :-)  OK, I know that I’ve used a bit of imagination there, but it was quite the thrill for me and I believe that my heart melted with our encounter.

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Then the “Party Police”, aka the 1st mama bear, showed up on the scene again and I think she had lost sight of her 2 renegade cubs.  She was clearly upset and began huffing, stamping, and slobbering with a frothy saliva.  She eventually realized that they had gone quite a bit down the river, as young cubs love to test their boundaries.  Funny, how parents and their young, whether human or any wildlife, tend to be the same in that respect.

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I think that this guy, when he was spotted by the sow, knew it was it trouble.  LOL

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Of course, the more dominant cub hid behind a boulder in the river.  Not really, but it did seem to be engaging in a peek-a-boo behavior, doesn’t it?

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Eventually they returned to the area where they originally accessed the river earlier.

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Now that other sow, with the solo cub, came down to the river and though it wouldn’t let the cub, it didn’t hesitate to do a quick “dine & dash”.

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Though we saw the bears again very briefly the next morning, their appearances were limited and usually in the darker hours.  As sad as I was to depart the Russian River without a formal good-bye, I was so thankful of the present they shared with me … especially on my birthday.  I will always remember that joy I experienced that day.

Stay tuned for more bears … Katmai NP!

© 2014  TNWA Photography

8’s a Charm!

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Yes, 8’s a charm … our 8th trip to Alaska for our photographic journey into the wilderness and all of the fabulous wildlife, landscapes, and adventures that it holds.  Each year, we try something different … perhaps a new geography, a new drive, a new activity … whatever it may be.  Almost immediately we realized that we left our camera-carrying backpack at home, so first of all, there was a trip to Stewart’s in Anchorage to remedy that.  On our way back to the RV, I spotted a totem pole, which sported 3 definite sightings that were high on my wildlife list … a good omen, I reasoned.

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After getting some necessities at the local Fred-Meyer, off we started on our journey, headed to the Russian River on the Kenai Peninsula for 4 days of bears, we hoped.  As we checked in at the campground, the attendant told me that for the first time in seemingly weeks, there were bears sighted on the river that morning.  EXCITED didn’t even begin to summarize how I felt.  In less than 30 minutes, we were on the boardwalk in search of bears.

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Before long we encountered fishermen telling us the whereabouts of the bears … a sow and her three 2nd year cubs.  The anticipation was mounting.  Once we reached the gravel bar area, we caught our first glimpse of one of the cubs.

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The action on the river was varied … whether they were simply traveling along the gravel bar checking out their surroundings …

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… or they were emerging from the hillside and entering the river …

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… or chasing down salmon …

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… and leaping into the air and pouncing onto the schools of salmon, as they were swimming upstream for the spawning, many of which had already reached that red & green, spawned out salmon look.

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Though spawned out salmon are beautiful to look at, being all colorful and impressive looking, they are not fit for human consumption.  The bears, however, seem not to mind.  Once they grab the salmon they then prepare to consume it, or in some occasions, simply seem to “play” with it, seemingly tormenting the poor thing.

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Of course, it’s also fun to see them moving about the shoreline and across the fallen logs that they encounter along the way.  I’m always impressed with the way that they can maneuver the landscape so gracefully.  This is the bigger of the three young ones … quite big in my book!

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The 3rd and larger cub tended to stay more with its mama.  The other two cubs tended to hang out together quite a bit, fishing together along the banks of the shore, reaching into the fishing holes and under the ledge shelves of the banks.

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Sometimes they would play for fun along the way.

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Sometimes it was more personal and the encounter would be a bit more testy, if you will.  See, the smaller cub was the better fisherman as far as I could tell, or at least the most determined to go out and catch the salmon.  Problem was that the other cub would know when it caught one and would venture on over and assert it’s dominance over the other one and ultimately would end up with its salmon.  You can see it doing so in the next image.

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To me, there’s something about a bear’s eyes.  When you’re able to see them and capture the catchlight in their eyes, it’s an amazing moment.  You feel “connected”, or at least, we do.

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Funny thing about the river, bears, and salmon … there are always gulls around ready to pick up the scraps left behind.  Most times they loiter in the background, though sometimes, they get in the way, especially for the photographer.  So many times, I found that my images captured were photo-bombed by the gulls.  Even the bear seems to agree.  LOL

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It really gets exciting though when you’re sitting on the bottom of the river access stairs, photographing the bears, and one turns and heads directly at you.  Now some might be a bit nervous about that, but by now we know and are pretty confident that the bears aren’t interested in us with so many salmon around…. but it still makes your adrenaline peak and your heart race, as well as the endorphins release secondary to the joy of sharing this adventure with the bears.

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We absolutely love “visiting” with them, in their natural environment, as they go about their day.  Most visitors to the river feel the same, whether there for photography or fishing, though once in awhile you get that person who doesn’t feel the same.  I’d like to think that they would feel differently if they saw bears the way that we do.  It’s all about being educated about their behaviors, reading their signs, and giving them the respect that they deserve.

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Until the next blog post …. this will be the end!  :-)

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Stay tuned to more bears on the Russian River!

© 2014  TNWA Photography

Hot Dog !!!

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One of the days, as we were traveling along in the Canadian Rockies, we came across a grizzly bear in the not too far distance.  “Stop the truck!” I said to Tom.  It was after all our first grizzly of our trip … see most of the bears we encountered were black bears.  So Tom, being a good sherpa, pulled over so I could observe and photograph the bear.  It sure was a beauty too.

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This bear was wandering around on the rocky landscape, in a location that I will never disclose.  I’m not being secretive about wildlife sightings, but it will make sense by the end of this post.  Promise  :-)

This healthy looking grizzly laid down on the gravel and began to roll around.  Oh, how cute, I thought … it’s scratching its side on the rough surface of the rocks.   I was ecstatic with the angle because I just LOVE bear paws and claws!

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It rolled over … kind of like a dog in the grass …

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… and it continued to roll around … over and over.  I was happily snapping off images and couldn’t believe what an awesome sighting this was.

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Every so often, it would glance over its shoulder to get a glance at the crowd that was quickly forming.  Most people were out of their cars.  Many tried to get closer to this bear, which made me very annoyed.  I mean, come on!  Here we had this gorgeous bear … acting like a bear!!!

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Hot dog!!!, I thought.  We sure did hit the mother lode opportunity.  This bear was giving us quite the show!!!  Didn’t think that it could get better.

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Well, you know when things seem too good to be true?  After not too much longer, I checked my screen and saw something that haunts me still to this day.  Something that was so inexcusable and disturbing.

That’s when I noticed that the grizzly bear was rolling around, like a dog when it rolls in something dead does.  But this was not your typical road kill.  This bear had been thrown hot dogs … not just one, not two, but 5 hot dogs!!!  Many of the images above were worked on to eliminate what was the reality, as seen in those below.

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Good Lord, who does that???  I’ve seen all kinds of things over the years, but I think that this is the thing that bothers me most.  Spending a lot of time in various locations photographing brown bears (grizzlies), I sure hope that whatever IDIOT person was responsible for giving this bear HOT DOGS! or any other kind of human food, will be caught and fined.  I mean, come on!!!

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This is clearly not the case of a bear who raided a BBQ grill, took the hot dogs to his own little picnic area, to sniff and roll around in.  This was deliberate!  I can’t even imagine why anyone would do this.  The reason that I will not disclose this location, and put this post out of order of our travels, is that this is not the fault of this bear.  Happy to report that he didn’t even eat them.

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When a wild bear is TAUGHT things that aren’t natural for them – like eating hot dogs provided by a human (no, make that spectator(s) standing within close vicinity – closer than regulations mandate), it can only lead to bad things for this poor bear.

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As I mentioned, this grizzly bear didn’t eat the hot dogs and eventually got annoyed with the onlookers, who were slowly, but surely, invaded its personal space, so it left the area and went off into the brush.  After we hadn’t seen the bear for about 5 minutes, Tom & I took a plastic bag and picked them up.  I didn’t want this bear – or another – to come back for it.

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Please remember that a FED BEAR is a DEAD BEAR !!!

After I wrote this post, I thought to myself, I could call this shot of the bear … Dead Bear Walking!  I know that this is not the norm for human behaviors and that especially anyone who is reading this post, would never do something like this, but I felt that I had to share this with everyone.  Let’s all get a dose of COMMON SENSE out there PLEASE!!!

More from our trip to come … so stay tuned!

© 2014 Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

 

Winding Down

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Beginning to wind down from our trip to the Canadian Rockies and Glacier NP, we stayed overnight in the town of Hungry Horse, MT, not far from the western entrance of Glacier NP.  I just love the little touches that this hotel/RV campground had.  It was the perfect way for us to begin our last day in the park.

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As I said, this place had an RV park, but it also had several other accommodation options … that being soft sided tents (complete with queen bed, table, lamp, chair) or the very appropriate for the area teepee (also very nice on the inside).

photo 3On my first trip to this area, when my daughter was much younger, we opted for one of those teepee units (of course, in another city).  It was so much fun for her, but could have been a problem for my mom, as she began to change into her PJs at night…. let’s just say that you should check them to be sure they’re not “see through” at night with a light on.  LOL.  So much for the reminiscing.

Hungry Horse, MT was named for a moment in history when 2 horses, that had wandered away from their sleigh during the harsh winter of 1900-1901, were found about a month later, severely weak and suffering from starvation.  They were able to be cared for and eventually recovered their health and so a town and other things were named after that occurrence, including a dam.  Of course, as most men do, Tom wanted to explore the dam, so off we went.  The Hungry Horse Dam Project was for the production of hydroelectric power and also flood control.  Its concrete dam stands at 564 feet, which at the time made it the 2nd largest dam in the US, though it now stands as the 10th highest.

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(Sorry for the harsh lighting)

As all dams do, to provide flood control, there’s some sort of relief for the water and this dam uses a bell-mouth spillway.  It’s known as a glory hole and this one is actually the highest one in the world!

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It really was quite impressive to see in person and imagine how it must be to see the water entering the spillway from its perimeter as the needs demand.  A nice Visitor Center was open during our visit which was like pulling teeth to get Tom to leave … he’s so into that kind of stuff.  :-)  Then on top of it, I asked how often they call upon that glory hole and she said that it should be happening in “not too long”.  I would imagine she meant several days, so “NO, Tom, we’re not waiting for it!”  LOL

What we didn’t realize was that the dam was just the beginning of the offerings of the area.  It was part of the Hungry Horse Reservoir Recreation Area – a 31-mile long road, surrounded by over 25 mountain peaks, encompassed 23,800 acres, including 170 miles of shoreline.  Fishing, boating, waterskiing, and swimming were just some of the area activities which it provided for.

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Of course, for me, it offered amazing views of the south fork of the Flathead River, birding, wildlife photography, etc.

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We both wished we had more time to explore all 31 miles, but as I said, vacation time was winding down and I had a plane to catch in the morning.  :-(

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Our final destination for the evening was Helena, MT, where I would board an early morning flight.  But not before 2 more important stops along the way.  The first was to explore a now lesser traveled area of Glacier NP, known as Two Medicine.

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Before the Going to the Sun Road opened in 1932, Two Medicine was once most popular for the visitors arriving by train.  The area, one which I had never visited, offers the guest amazing vista, adventurous trails to hike, waterfalls, and of course, lakes.

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The native Blackfeet Indians consider Chief Mountain and Medicine Mountain to be the two most sacred places with Glacier NP boundaries.  Other cool things to note are that the Two Medicine Store there is designated a National Historic Landmark.  For those dinosaur history fans, they’ve also found fossils there of Late Cretaceous Dinosaurs and their eggs.  Pretty cool in my book.

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Eventually, we had to leave the beauty of not just Two Medicine area behind, but also of Glacier NP.

Onward we drove through some pretty beautiful landscapes of rural Montana, on our way towards Great Falls, MT.  Synchronizing our schedules to perfection, we met up with our friends again, Donna & Buck, for some dinner.  To our surprise, they showed up on Buck’s brand new Harley Davidson motorcycle.  Though I kept calling it beautiful, I was quickly notified that you don’t call it “beautiful”, but rather you say it’s “sick!”.  Haha.  Don’t they just look awesome on it?  The question remains as to where in the world he would fit their camera gear!

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After dinner, it was time to say our goodbyes and head on down for some final packing and rest (if that’s what you call 3-4 hrs) before the flight home…. always the worst part of vacation for me.  :-)

We hope that you have enjoyed our journey through the Canadian Rockies and Glacier NP with us.  By the time that you read this, we’ll be already home from our 2014 trip to Alaska, so stay tuned for more about that!

© 2014  Debbie Tubridy / http://www.tnwaphotography.com

Back In The USA

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Finally, our time spent in Canada was coming to a close.  We woke up on this, another gorgeous day, and began our drive back into the U.S.A.  We were headed to Glacier NP in Montana … the other half (and bigger half) of the Wateron-Glacier International Peace Park,  shared between Canada and the US.

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Once we successfully crossed the border back in to the US, of course, the gorgeous landscapes just kept coming.  Northern Montana is such an amazing place to visit.

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We had a special day of fun planned for today, for we were meeting up with some long-time friends that we hadn’t seen in well … too long!  More on that in just a few.  :-)

We were a bit nervous about how the weekend would turn out, since we still didn’t have a place to stay and the rooms around Glacier NP had been booked for quite some time.  The road itself – The Going To The Sun Road – hadn’t even opened up for travel due to the heavy recent snowfalls and local avalanches, until the day before we arrived.  But as they say, things have a way of working themselves out.

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We drove on up to the summit of Logan Pass (on the Going to the Sun Road) and it was quite apparent why the road had just opened up … there was quite a bit of snow up there.

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You know … you think that you’re prepared for anything, then nature throws this at you.  Haha.  Where did you pack the snowshoes, snowboards, and skis Tom?  What?  You didn’t think that we would need them?  Think again baby!

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It was such a glorious day to spend in the great outdoors.  Views of mountains, blue skies, wispy clouds, and green forested landscapes were pretty much everywhere!  We even saw some bighorn sheep walking the mountain ledges and some mountain goats on the landscape covered with snow – all TOO far away for a quality shot.  I’m talking “micro dots” even through the binoculars!

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It’s OK about the distant wildlife sightings.  We were enjoying another sighting, which we appreciated even more!  Our friends, Buck and Donna Shreck drove on up from Great Falls, MT to spend some time with us.  As many of you might know, we’ve known them for many years and photographed with them in Alaska, Montana, Wyoming … it was wonderful to catch up with Buck (he’s looking great and feeling awesome) and Donna (just as sweet as always), as well as finally meet their dog, Abby, who was a bundle of energy and fun!  What a fun day reminiscing about the past and a bit of planning for the future.  Let’s not take so long next time.  :-)

DSC_6918We even got to photograph a moose together as we spotted it making its way through the brush.  Of course, there was that magnificent looking bald eagle too that decided a fly-by was all that we were going to get.  :-)
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Tom and I stayed at Glacier for another day and just focused on having fun and exploring the area.  Found these circa 1930’s Glacier NP Red Bus collection, which features a canvas roll-down top that can be pulled back to allow visitors to see the beauty of Glacier, from just about every angle!  Didn’t venture into one, but I thought it was fun looking.

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Our second day in the park was beautiful as well.  Whether it be the mountain peaks against the landscape, sky, and clouds or one of the many waterfalls who call Glacier NP home, it was all so magnificent.

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At Glacier NP, they have strict guidelines as to who can safely travel on the park roads … and as you can see below, it’s for good reason.  The roads are quite narrow, have no excess shoulder in areas, and have a low clearance as well.  We made it through safely in Tom’s truck.

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Once again, at the summit of Logan Pass, I was a bit drooling about not having our snowshoes with us.  Yes, we’re from Florida but have snowshoes … actually an anniversary gift to each other one year, if I recall correctly!  :-)

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We did venture up the Hidden Lake Trail, which on this day, had a “hidden trail” as well.  Eventually, we turned around when we realized that though it was cool enough temperature outside, we failed to bring any food or water with us, nor sunscreen.  Mental note to self … don’t do that again!

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Gorgeous views continued on the eastern side of Logan Pass as well.

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We also spotted some interesting landscape features along the way.  It always amazes me what you find when you just take a few moments to relax and take it all in.

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We settled in for a quick and delicious bite at the restaurant at the Lake McDonald Lodge, which had some amazing views as well, like the one shown above.  The area itself was a bit crowded for my taste, but who could blame it … look at this amazing day!

More to come on the next blog … more Glacier NP and also the Hungry Horse recreation area and dam!  Check it out!

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© 2014  Debbie Tubridy / http://www.tnwaphotography.com

Did I Ever Tell You That I Liked Bears?

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My very favorite interactions with the wildlife happened one early evening.  We had just finished an early dinner in Waterton Lakes and I was feeling a bit tired.  “Let’s just take a drive through to see if anything’s out” Tom suggested.  I didn’t want to feel like the party pooper, so I agreed, but didn’t expect anything too exciting.  Thank goodness Tom suggested our drive because we came across a “wildlife jam” on the two-lane road.

Not knowing what was up ahead and realizing that it was still quite a bit up the road, we pulled over in a designated pullout.  We debated what to do … do we wait patiently for our turn, which undoubtedly means when the wildlife is gone … or do we get out, but not knowing what it was, I didn’t want to be “that person”.  Within a couple of minutes, we could see people leaving the scene and heading back to their vehicles.  Dang it, we missed it, I thought, but at least I wanted to know what it was.  When I questioned one of the spectators, he said it was a cub up a tree – close to the road.  I asked the stupid question … was it gone already?  To my surprise, he said no.  I figured that the park ranger must have been up there and made everyone move on, I mean they were impeding traffic for sure.

Finally, when it was clear, we made our way closer and sure enough, it was a dark black bear cub up a tree … the cutest thing ever!

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As I snapped away a few shots, I wondered where mom was.  A few others had joined us and no one knew.  I thought that perhaps it was abandoned and had genuine concern for its well-being.  Before long, I could see another cinnamon cub even higher up, but trying to shimmy down.  Also, the most adorable thing … and still no momma bear in sight.

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It was amazing to see them skillfully make their way down that tree.  We had a parks vehicle pull over next to us and I thought that we were going to be told to leave, but they actually thanked us for doing the right thing by pulling over – right side of the vehicle on the grass, with the left still on the road.  I asked about momma bear … they didn’t know.  My maternal instincts kicked in and I became the designated momma until it could be found.  :-)

There she was, waiting for them to come on down.  She must have ordered them up – probably due to the onlookers getting to close.  :-/

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As they reunited with their momma, these little cubs couldn’t have been any cuter!  They were frolicking and running amongst those beautiful wildflowers from the last post.  Yes, this was precisely the same place that Tom & I had earlier hiked.

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Every so often, momma bear would stop and wait for them to catch up.

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They would promptly oblige her and race each other to join her.

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I secretly prayed for them to stand up … dang, my wish was their command.  First, the cinnamon cub stood up for me….

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… followed promptly thereafter by the black cub joining in.  I couldn’t believe how wonderful of a sighting it was and I blessed I felt.

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As they ran around a bit, every so often they would stand up again to investigate their surroundings.  I was beaming with delight!!  No joke.

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Mom would periodically venture on back to them, just to be sure that they were behaving and that all was well.   She would then continue on with her grazing.

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We were all in our cars and no bears felt threatened.  It’s so wonderful to watch bears … well, just being bears.  :-)

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It’s funny how you could literally see this black cub using its nose to sniff out details about its surrounding coming to it via the wind.

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Is this the poster child for bears or what?  Love it!

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“Momma, there’s people watching us … I can see it and smell it!”

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Several times park personnel stopped by us and asked us something quite interesting… they wanted to know if we saw the person in the 1st “wildlife jam” (the cubs up the tree) that was nasty to the onlookers and impersonated a park ranger and ordered everyone to leave!  They were quite serious about finding the person, as they had gotten several complaints about the rudeness of the individual.  Again, they thanked us for our time and said that if we learned anything about that encounter, to let them know.  So that explains why everyone was leaving when the wildlife was still around.  Probably explains the cubs being up the tree as well.

Eventually we realized that we had enough of the amazing encounter, though honestly I could have photographed them forever.  Tom finally got me to agree to let them be … but not before another shot of momma bear and each of the cubs!  Heehee.

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We drove back to our lodging with a HUGE smile on my face … kind of like when I’m flying back to Homer from Katmai NP.  Now, and only now, can I leave Canada!

Next blog post will feature Waterton Lakes NP’s sister park in the US … Glacier National Park.  Stay tuned!

© 2014  Debbie Tubridy / http://www.tnwaphotography.com

 

Waterton Lakes NP – Here We Come!

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Well, Good Morning!  What better way to start a fresh new day than this amazing breakfast!  Rocky Ridge Mountain Lodge is a wonderful B&B in Mountain View, Alberta, not far from Waterton Lakes NP.  The accommodations are wonderful, the people are very friendly, but the FOOD is beyond description!  Yum, Yum!  Makes me want to stay all week!

photo 1 Even as we walk out the doors, photographic opportunities abound, as this magnificent barn is right outside.

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But onward we go to Waterton Lakes NP.  A bit about the park itself … it has been described as “where the mountains meet the prairie” and one of the narrowest places in the Rocky Mountains.  It was designated in 1895 as Canada’s 4th national park and is the smallest NP in the Canadian Rockies.  It shares a border with Glacier National Park in Montana, US.  In 1932, both parks united in their purpose and they together were named an International Peace Park, a symbol of peace and good will between the United States & Canada.  In 1979, it received the designation as a Biosphere Reserve.  In 1995, UNESCO designated the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park a World Heritage Site.  Quite cool!

We first ventured out to Cameron Lake, a lovely lake nestled between the mountain peaks of the Akamina Ridge.  Outdoor activities in the area include hiking, but also water activities such as kayaking and canoeing.

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The hike at Cameron Lake is an easy one, yet affords the guest a wonderful experience and views.  If one is lucky, you might even find some grizzly bears feeding on the mountainside.  We didn’t … but we did find LOTS of hungry mosquitos!

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Towards the southern end of the lake, the 49th parallel north actually runs through and into the United States – Glacier County, MT.  So these paddlers, if they keep going will actually paddle from Canada to the US.  How cool is that?  What a great icebreaker statement to make in a group setting – I once paddled from Canada to the US – LOL – I can hear it now.

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Rivers and creek abound seemingly everywhere in this gorgeous park.

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Wildflowers were just beginning to present themselves and they were so beautiful.  No matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t capture their beauty and do it justice.

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Over 1/2 of Alberta plant species can be found in Waterton Lakes NP.  Now that’s quite impressive!  Tom & I hiked amongst them for a while, of course, looking for wildlife.  Nothing much seen during the day.

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We visited the area again in the evening and found a quite different situation … this place was crawling with bears!  More on that in the next blog post, but I did want to show this cinnamon black bear (yes, black bears don’t have to be black … they can be blonde or often, cinnamon, as in this case).  Well, the cool thing about this very cropped image below is that this bear was about 150 yards away when I first saw it and snapped an image.  At that point, this bear started running towards us (yes, I was I was in my car).

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I snapped off a quick series of images as it came closer to the road and crossed quickly right in front of us.

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I continued to shoot him/her until it was about another 100 yards on the other side of the road in the adjacent field.  I remember being impressed with just how quickly it traveled.  As I posting this image, I got the idea to check the time lapsed from the first shot to the last that I took.  How long do you think it took for it to travel approximately 250 yards?

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It was precisely less than 8 seconds!!!  Now I know that some of us think we’re fast … but come on, there’s no way you could outrun this bear!  Keep that in mind the next time you’re hanging out with bears … :-)

As we were heading back to our lodging, we came across these two sub-adult bears.  One was black, the other was more blonde … both were black bears and were probably just evicted from the mom.  They wandered the hillside together and seemed to enjoy each other’s company as they figured out how to survive on their own.  See, mama bears don’t raise cubs that suffer from “failure to launch” syndrome, like some humans do.  LOL.  Maybe some humans could learn a thing or two from bears.  Actually, I know that we all could.  :-)

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© 2014  Debbie Tubridy / http://www.tnwaphotography.comWat

 

 

Driving Through the Countryside

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All set for our travels out of the Lake Louise/Banff area and on to our next destination … Waterton Lakes National Park, but first I had always heard of the Cascade Ponds, had never been there, and wanted to experience it for myself.  Our day turned out to be a blah one and I was totally unimpressed with the bright orange plastic fencing, etc in the background.  But I had to just take one anyway.  :-/

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So far during our trip, we encountered lots of black bears, a few grizzly bears, lots of elk, some mule deer, and bighorn sheep.  We hadn’t seen a moose yet, but our luck was changed when we found this moose taking a swim in a small pond.

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It’s funny, because after spending lots of time in Alaska, I tend to come across ponds near forested areas and I always say how it would be prime moose territory.  Well, that’s kind of how this afternoon went as well.  I had to laugh at how it casually swam around for a bit, eating the vegetation, and checking out the onlookers.  I couldn’t help but notice all of the flies that were surrounding the poor guy.  I’m sure the water provided a welcome relief from them … everywhere except for his head!

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Eventually the moose decided that he had enough of the pond and slowly, but surely made his way first towards us, then laterally out of the pond.  We watched as he disappeared into the forest.  I remember thinking how fortunate we were to spot him enjoying the water and quietly wondered how many other ponds had we passed where the moose had just exited the scene.  :-)

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A little fun along the road towards Waterton Lakes … when we came across a barb wire fence with wooden posts … but each post was adorned with a hat.  I would imagine that those driving by would see it and make their own donation.  It wasn’t just a few either …

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… as the fence went on and on!  I wished at that point I had a spare hat to “donate” and make my mark, but I needed the one that I had, as the sun was out strong.

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OK, so one of the most beautiful sights I remember seeing in the Palouse area of Washington state was the fields of canola crops along the way.  I thought that I had left it all behind, but alas, here were more.

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It reminded me of a golden carpet … all woven and full of texture.  Tom denied me the right to run through them, probably for good reason.  LOL

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Tom doesn’t like this shot due to the power lines, but hey, I love it anyway for showing the contrast between the golden canola fields and the irrigation trench that ran through it.  Oh, did I mention those magnificent building clouds?

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Along the way I had a flashback to my early college years, where I started out pursuing agriculture and I began to wonder why I changed from that to nutrition science.  Funny how things turn out, though I guess they are somewhat related.  I believe that this drive was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever taken.  OK, back to the present!

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Once we arrived at Waterton Lakes National Park, the first sight most visitors see, and drool and marvel at, is the Prince of Wales Hotel.  It sits perched high and overlooks the Upper Waterton Lakes.  It was built by an American, versus a Canadian, railway company (still the only one in Canada) and opened in 1927.  It was built to lure American tourists across the border during prohibition.  In 1995, it was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada.  It’s simply a site for sore eyes!

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We didn’t stay there though I’m sure it’s lovely.  We stayed just a bit away in a town called Mountain View at a lovely B&B.  Gorgeous countryside, gorgeous views, and an incredible sunset.

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More on Waterton Lakes National Park on the next blog.  Stay tuned.

© 2014  Debbie Tubridy / http://www.tnwaphotography.com

The Wildlife & Landscapes of Banff NP

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Another adventure in Banff National Park started out early in the morning with a sighting of a collared grizzly bear (hence no photo taken) and her two spring cubs.  They were busy sticking close to mom while she was grazing on the grasses.

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Not sure if they totally understood what they were doing or why, but they were certainly giving “grass grazing” a fair shake of their own.  They were so incredibly adorable!

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On our adventure drive, we came across a herd of bighorn sheep ewes and several lamb as well.  One of the momma ewes stopped and gave me a discerning glance, as if to determine if I was friend or foe.  The others went about their activities, but she remained perfectly still and steadfast in her heavy stare.

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I hadn’t noticed but she had a lamb right beside her laying down in the grasses.  All of a sudden, it stood up.

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Then they began to run and I thought to myself … what did I do to frighten them?  But I knew it was sudden and purposeful … and they were running towards me for most of the run, then continued on past me.

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It simply warmed my heart to see this little one prancing right along side of its mama.  Love how it would get airborne with all 4 feet off the ground at once.  :-)

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As I was trying to figure it all out, I turned around and this is what I saw ….

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So, they weren’t running from me, but from this beautiful red fox off in the distance nestled in the woods.  That was incredible to me that they knew it was there.  I hadn’t heard it or seen it, but somehow they knew.  That’s one good mama!

We left the area when they ran, but then returned about 30 minutes later and tried to find them again.  Sure enough, we did.  But this time they were down the embankment a bit and on a cliff edge, so I didn’t pursue them any further.  Mama checked us out, then the lamb peeked its head up.  My heart melted  <3.

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I knew that the lighting was very harsh from this angle, but it didn’t matter to me.  I mean, how cute is this little lamb?  In a weird way, I could sense that they were comfortable with us being there.  In the wild, sometimes animals with young ones feel comfortable enough with “proven humans” that they feel more protected in their presence.  I had a feeling that it might be the case right now.

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Not too much further we found this ram laying down somewhat near the edge of the road.  It seemed to tolerate us quite well too, as I hung outside my window snapping images of him and his amazing curl.

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After some time, it got quite interested in us and approached us – slowly, but surely.  Before long, a few other cars saw it, stopped and pursued it, and I had to bite my tongue to not say anything.  Though the one guy who was out of his car and remained there as it approached him probably needed a change of his drawers when the ram brushed up against him, as he pinned against his car.  I believe I heard him mumble “don’t gore me” at that precise moment.  LOL.  I couldn’t help but think that he at least learned his lesson, as the ram passed him safely.

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We arrived at Two Jack picnic area much later than we anticipated due to the wildlife sightings, but that was well worth it.  Luckily, the wind was still at a standstill and I was so impressed by the view!

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I couldn’t decide if I liked the first one better (closer up) or the second one (further away) with that amazing reflection as well, but with the added clarity of the rocks through the clear water.  I think probably the second … how about you?

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The wildflowers everywhere were an added bonus of delight and beauty.

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We then ventured into the town of Banff and as we did, for some strange reason, I thought I saw a moose!  I jumped out and totally abandoned Tom in the traffic.  LOL.  Of course, it wasn’t a moose, but a really nice looking bull elk … nice rack, eh?  This is the view of him as these two hikers turned a corner without seeing him and were probably 4-5 feet from him.  They were quite pleased that I warned them and may have needed a “fresh pair” as well when they saw what was directly behind them.  LOL

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Any wildlife photographer knows all too well my next statement … you never have the right lens with you when you need it … yes, I was trying to shoot this bull elk, from close range, with my 300mm prime lens.  So, I quickly had to change my plans and shoot its antlers only.

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Banff, the day after Canada Day, was quite crowded, so we didn’t stay long.  Just wanted to capture this shot of Bow River.

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The Vermilion Lakes Drive had been closed due to aggressive bears in the area, but had just re-opened on this day.  It’s always a special spot to spend some time.  There were numerous kayakers out that day and I remember telling Tom that we had to bring ours next time.

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Mount Rundle looming in the background, with the complimentary wispy clouds … so beautiful!

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It was quite a warm afternoon that day, so we took off our hiking shoes and dipped out feet and legs into the cool water of the lake.  We laid down on the dock for a bit, soaking up the sunshine, the sights and sounds of the area, and the fresh air.  Yes, this is the life and I could easily get used to it.  :-)

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Who wants to venture off now to Waterton Lakes National Park???  I do, I did, and so will you on the next blog post!  Stay tuned ….

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© 2014 Debbie Tubridy / http://www.tnwaphotography.com

 

Bow Valley Parkway

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One evening, we timed our adventure to the best time that we could, considering the restrictions … see more below.  So, as we left our “home”, we could hear a Columbian Ground Squirrel calling out loudly, essentially begging for his image to be taken.  Of course, for good luck, we obliged.

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No trip to the Canadian Rockies and Banff NP would ever be complete without a trip down the infamous Bow Valley Parkway … especially for the wildlife enthusiast.

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See The Bow Valley Parkway, aka Alberta Highway 1A, is about a 48-km scenic secondary highway which parallels the Trans-Canadian Highway between the town of Banff and the Village of Lake Louise.  It offers beautiful views along the way, but it’s best known for its wildlife habitat.

DSC_6585It provides critical habitat for the larger carnivores, such as the wolves, cougars, and bears, just to name a few.  During March 1st through June 25th, there’s a time restriction placed on travel on a 17-km section between the Trans-Canadian Highway/Bow Valley interchange and Johnston Canyon Campground, with no travel allowed from 8pm to 8am.  To maximize our chances of seeing wildlife, yet still allowing us to do other things in the morning, we decided to head out at around 6:30pm.

It wasn’t long before we came across our first and only wildlife on the drive …

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This bear seemed completely oblivious to us as it went about its feeding ritual.  I loved how the bear was in the process of shedding it’s winter fur as evidence on its rump.

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We also had to laugh quite a bit as this one sat down near us and scratched away on its apparent itchy spot!

_DSC9023 We’ve driven this drive before and been skunked on that visit, so at least this time we saw this bear.  But it made the trip worth it all anyways, by the amazing views along the way, such as these.

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That and the fact that it was virtually empty of traffic and tourists.  Yes, we were pleasantly surprised!  I couldn’t help but wonder how it would be at 8am … or how it would be on June 26th, when the restrictions were lifted.  Either way, I’m impressed that they actually try to protect the animals and support their existence and the ban on traffic allows the predators to use the roadways as they travel in pursuit of dinner, etc.

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Would I visit there again?  Absolutely!!!

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Next up:  More from Banff National Park … fox, bighorn sheep, elk, and … you guessed it, more bears!

© 2014  Debbie Tubridy / http://www.tnwaphotography.com

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!