On The Sunny Side

Onward on the Richardson Highway, we headed towards Paxson and the east entrance to the famous Denali Highway.  Some of you might remember that we traveled this road last year, got magnificent mountain views on the east side and about 2/3 of the way across, inclimate weather on the west side, and saw the aurora borealis in between.  We hoped for the aurora and the wonderful views, but hoped for no repeat of all of that rain on the other side of this 124-mile, mostly gravel road, truly the “road less traveled”.

Though we were in some nasty weather early in the morning, it lifted to scattered clouds and less rain predicted as the day progressed.
_DSC3422When we arrived to Paxson, we began our path onto the “highway”, at least as far as the paved road went.  So far, this was the beginning of a repeat with respect to the weather we experienced last year.  The views overlooking the Alaskan Range were once again magnificent!_DSC3427_DSC3433We decided, like last year, to hang out on the east side and try our luck at spotting the northern lights.  Fat chance that we would see it again, but it was too tempting to pass up the chance.  We set our alarms for about midnight, woke up reluctantly, and saw nothing at first.  Re-setting the alarm for another 30 minutes, we then woke up and once our eyes adjusted, there it was … and off I went in a jiffy!DSC_6974DSC_6983Two things, other than the obvious, always come to mind when I view the aurora borealis.  First, how each aurora sighting is so different than the last and how the aurora evolves as the night wears on.DSC_6991DSC_6993Second is that no matter how cold it is, or how cold you should feel (especially when you’ve been warmed up in the RV sleeping, in your pjs, when you hurriedly race out only half dressed for the temperatures that you’re about to endure), but as soon as you see natures light show, you never even give the slightest thought to the cold.  That is, until the illumination and dance stops, even just briefly, and the cold reaches your brain again until … you guessed it, until it emerges again.  LOL.  I still get the same euphoria rushing over me when I witness the lights, pulsing and dancing across the vast landscape and overhead in the sky.  Like no other feeling in the world!  DSC_6995DSC_7003But all good things must come to an end … and it was time for our return to a early morning’s slumber.  When we awoken, there was that magnificent view again … just doesn’t get much better than this alond the “Denali”._DSC3444_DSC3468Poor Tom had a few scary moments though this time.  As we cross the highway, we’re always acutely aware that there’s hunting along the way.  As I spotted a few caribou not far from the road, I got all excited and began the process of immediately grabbing my gear for images, but I couldn’t for fear of the hunting that was literally happening right off the road this time.  I’m talking adults and children, armed with shotguns/rifles, walking along the roadside looking to flush out birds, I would imagine.  So, Tom made the decision to not stop the RV once he saw that and headed out.  I guess he knows me too well and didn’t want to deal with any repercussions.  _DSC3470Glad I grabbed a bunch of images of the views along the way we left._DSC3493_DSC3442As beautiful as it was on the east side, we knew that heavy rains and snow were due on the east side, so we aborted our travel on the Denali Highway for this year.  Funny, because last year, it was exactly the same._DSC3514A last minute decision was made to head up to Fairbanks, on our way to Denali National Park.  That’s one of the things that I love so much about when we travel to Alaska.  Though we have a few definite plans, there are weeks of “flying by the seat of our pants”, being responsive to what nature throws at us and what our spirits guide us to do.  Got to love that!IMG_1023Next Up:  Fairbanks surprises

© 2015  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

Seals, Sea Otters, & Sea Lions … Oh My!

We never know what to expect when we arrive in Valdez.  Usually, we treated to an adventure of some type and the weather generally is a mixed bag.  The landscape is always fairly predictable, while the wildlife sightings are varied … sometimes we get grizzly bears,   black bears, sea otters, bald eagles, and bunny rabbits.

We decided to try our luck with finding some bears by the salmon hatchery, but we didn’t find any this trip.  We did see the usual bald eagles hanging out for an easy dinner and lots of other birds.  Then we saw them … lots of seals … in a feeding frenzy going after the salmon which were high in numbers._DSC6339Now this wasn’t the first time that we’ve seen the seals, but it’s the first time that they were so numerous, close, and quite honestly, so animated.  They were quite curious with us and would often come close and give us great photo ops.  How absolutely adorable they were!_DSC6080In seemingly a sea full of salmon, they swam about … probably trying to figure out which one to get first.  I wondered if they went after the females for the roe like the bears do?_DSC6400Like the bears, they were quite skilled fishermen, while those poor salmon barely had a chance.  It seemed like they were sometimes just catching them, then releasing them, and chasing down another…. just like the bears!_DSC6273_DSC6000DSC_9791Not to be outdone, the sea otters joined in on the fun._DSC6105I had to laugh how they navigated the waves of the sound, never losing grip of their fresh catch.  Now I’ve seen otters before, but never catching whole, live fish like this!_DSC6117_DSC6118There were 2 otters working together and would be very observant of the other marine life in the area doing their own hunting …_DSC6124… like this sea lion!  He was quite a bit bigger than the seals, who were quite bigger than the sea otters._DSC6181I couldn’t tell if this was mom and baby seal or two amorous seals, but they were certainly affectionate with each other … so wonderful to witness._DSC6314Salmon after salmon, they dined at a virtual smorgasbord of delicacies._DSC6356_DSC6371I was so fascinated with their big eyes and how they worked their nostrils in and out of the water.  There was also such color variations between the different seals._DSC6395However, they consistently caught their salmon and would swim near us and pose with their prize, almost as if it were presenting the fish to us.  I was truly honored to be in their presence and so grateful to watch them swim, play, hunt, and feed._DSC6332OK, so we went for the bears, but we got the seals, sea otters, and sea lions.  Sometimes, you just never know what you’re going to get, never know why you visit where and when you did, but I can tell you one thing … WE WERE THRILLED!  I think that this guy was happy too.  Doesn’t he look like he’s smiling?  :-)_DSC6450Next up:  The Denali Highway

© 2015  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

There’s More to the Kenai Peninsula …

Continuing on with Alaska experiences from 2015 … we find ourselves on the Kenai Peninsula, while returning from Homer and Katmai NP & Preserve.  For some reason, we sometimes don’t venture over to Seward, but this year we decided to do just that.  Of the 9 years visiting Alaska, this would be just the 3rd time to Seward.  Our first was wonderful … our 2nd was a big mistake – 4th of July weekend.  Crazy, crazy place that weekend.  What would our 3rd visit bring?

We stopped off along the way at the Bear Lake Wier to observe the salmon as they tried to return upstream for spawning.  It was quite fascinating to watch them jumping up the rushing falling waters.  I found myself quite mesmerized by their will to complete their cycle, all the while wondering if bears would come check them out with us.  :-)_DSC3181Our arrival into Seward was quite a beautiful one, though it was a bit late in the day already.  We toured the Seward Harbor, a place that makes me feel oddly at home, since I grew up in the midst of all types of boats.  Of course, the mountain backdrop brought it home promptly … we’re not in south Florida anymore!IMG_0996While touring around the docks, I noticed 2 sea otters playing and feeding in the marina and ran (OK, made Tom run) to get the camera.  They were having such a great time swimming around and feeding.  They seemed quite used to company of the human kind and put on a performance for us.DSC_9385DSC_9362DSC_9409We made tentative plans for the Kenai Fjords NP marine tour for the following day, since they were having pretty good wildlife sightings of recent.  But when the morning arrived, it wasn’t to be … it was raining quite a bit and we decided to move on out.IMG_1003-3Along the way, though the skies were rainy and overcast, the area was still beautiful, so we stopped along the way for various landscape shots.DSC_6890_DSC3215_DSC3230We left Seward and eventually the Kenai Peninsula and started our way towards Valdez.  One more thing that we found on the Kenai was Phil Kuntz.  I just love it when we get to meet photographer friends along the way.  Though we had never met in person before, I have long admired his photography work, so this was such a special treat.  We had planned to do more photography together, but sometimes life has other plans.  We did however, get to spend some quality time together and a darned good lunch.  If you don’t know of his work, treat yourself and check it out.IMG_0987-2As you can see we began to get a bit clearer skies and less rain likely.  On one of our stops for a quick snack, I was admiring the mountain views and I could hear a small bush plane flying by.  How beautiful it looked.IMG_1015As we made our way along the Glenn Highway – one of the prettiest stretches of road in Alaska – the overcast skies, low-lying clouds, and rain started up again.  See, though it’s beautiful to have the sunny days, much of Alaska is actually situated in the rain forest._DSC3243A favorite sighting along the Glenn is the Mantanuska Glacier.  We usually stop and go glacier hiking, or sometimes ice climbing, but this year we opted for neither due to the weather.  Sure is pretty either way though … the combination of that glacial blue ice and the beginnings of the fall colors._DSC3258The weather actually didn’t know what it wanted to do, as sometimes along the way, we got that sunny and clear sky._DSC3271Sometimes, the scattered clouds also appeared, which is always a landscape photographer’s dream come true.  As we began our approach through Thompson’s Pass, the Worthington Glacier appears on the horizon.  Also a wonderful place for glacier hiking and exploration of glacial features, as well as ice climbing._DSC3316_DSC3327Yes, the surrounding area between Thompson Pass and the town of Valdez is such a gorgeous area… no matter the season.  Berry picking was in full swing while we were there, but I was too busy shooting._DSC3356

Next up:  More from Valdez … featuring my new marine friends  :-)

© 2015  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

 

2015 Year In Review – Part 2

I hope that everyone enjoyed Part 1 of the 2015 Year In Review … but the year wasn’t over where we left off … oh no, far from it.  So make yourself comfortable and enjoy the ride of June through December.

“Road Trip!”  Not just any road trip, but a cycling one with friends across country and back.  First stop, Virgina.  There Tom, Todd, and John had the honor to represent Team USA in the 2015 World Police & Firefighter Games.  They were competing in the mountain biking and road cycling events.  I know that it was quite an honor to march in the Opening Ceremonies Parade of Countries, featuring these skilled athletes from all over the world.DSC_4724Tom competed in the road criterium race and was awarded 3rd Place.  Not bad for a guy who doesn’t ever compete in road cycling events.  :-)  Shout out to his sponsor Tune Cycles in Boca Raton, FL.  DSC_3753In the mountain biking event, Tom took top honors and was awarded the Gold Medal for his effort.  A nice repeat from his last appearance at the World Games in Indianapolis, where he also finished first.  So proud of my World Champion hubby!  Yes, he’s my sherpa, but also quite the athlete.DSC_4812I never made it to the road race, since I had something even more important to do.  See, my daughter Kelli was having her “White Coat Ceremony” for her Physician Assistant program, so off I went to Jacksonville to support her honor.  Such a proud momma.  :-)MIMG_2677The guys continued on their way out west, stopping to ride the trails along the way.  I met back up with them in Park City, with much anticipation for some photo shoots, but the weather had other ideas.  Either way, it was gorgeous.DSC_4862No trip to Utah is ever complete with visiting the Moab area, especially if you’re with 3 cycling fanatics.  No worries, Arches NP and Canyonlands were just down the street for me.DSC_4886

While in Canyonlands NP, the guys mountain biked the Shafer Overlook Trail, a place Tom & I had visited before and I told him “no way, no how would I drive down that thing”.  Well, you guessed it, that’s just what I did … well, not me driving … thanks Rachel.DSC_5059On our way east again, we stopped at Grand Junction & Fruita, CO – also a mecca for cyclists.  For me, there was the beauty of the Grand Mesa area, as well as Colorado National Monument.  I have a feeling that we might be seeing more of this area again.DSC_5184DSC_5346-HDRMy only request on this road trip was Mt. Evans and those mountaintop mountain goats.  Couldn’t believe my eyes when we arrived to a closed sign for some major road repairs lasting months.  Since this was a cycling trip, Tom took one for the team and road the 15 mile winding road, in the high winds and cold, with about 4500 foot vertical elevation climb, all in an effort to get me those mountain goats.  What a guy!  IMG_2799-2IMG_0898The World Champion not only made it to the top, but got some world class images to prove it!  So grateful to him.DSC_5550Not having enough mountain climbing, Tom and his buddies decided to give Pikes Peak a try.  As you can see, the weather was threatening … wind, rain, sleet, snow … they had it all.DSC_5292Back in Colorado Springs, of course The Garden Of The Gods is a must.DSC_5351Along the way, we stopped along the Bourbon Trail, and I learned more about bourbon than I ever thought was possible!  Such an amazing process and beautiful countryside.DSC_5784When we returned home, it wasn’t long before our 9th return trip to … you guessed it … Alaska.  _DSC5938Katmai National Park & Preserve is always a MUST when making the journey out there and the bears didn’t disappoint.  Dave of AK Adventures and Wes of Beluga Air once again treated us to some spectacular inflight views and amazing bear encounters.DSC_6195DSC_7677DSC_8370Each visit to Alaska is so different from any other, so it always makes the trip exciting.  This year we were treated to very nice weather.  By that I mean, cold, but for the most part sunny._DSC3327Though we generally see the sea otters, seals, and sea lions while there, no previous encounters were of this level.  I mean, the marine life practically presented themselves to us… with their salmon offering as well.  :-)_DSC6332Now that I don’t “stalk” the aurora like I used to, I find that it presents itself more readily!  Probably the most spiritual phenomenon that I have ever witnessed, there’s nothing like witnessing the northern lights.  Sure, it’s frigid cold while out there, but honestly, I get carried away by natures light show and I don’t even feel it.  If I could wish something for everyone to witness, it would be the aurora borealis!DSC_6995We’re usually pretty lucky when it comes to seeing “the mountain” out in its full glory, this year was even more special.  See, we were there for the official return of the name “Denali” to the mountain (previously known as Mt. McKinley, though previously to that, Denali).  I felt so proud to be a part of that history and as you can see, the mountain was proud too and really showed off as if in graditude._DSC3553The moose rut season was getting close, as the bulls were almost shed of their velvet and congregating with the other bulls, all following the ladies.DSC_381413 days after returning home from Alaska, I had a special treat for myself in store … a return to Alaska.  This time, Kaktovik was my destination and the stars of my trip were the amazing polar bears of the arctic.  It was a dream of a lifetime and I had to pinch myself often to be sure that I was actually living that dream._DSC6749_DSC1471_DSC9445_DSC7514If I had two more wishes, I would have wished that Tom was there with me.  No, not to carry my gear, but to experience their beauty, silly antics, and share in the awe of it all.  The other wish would be that everyone could also see the polar bears of the arctic and judge for themselves the importance of preserving their home for them and us as well.  Hey, you can, as we did, see the northern lights there too, so it could be just one trip!  :-)_DSC0014OK, now I’m feeling a bit spoiled … but we also treated ourselves to some autumn glory, as seen off the Blue Ridge Parkway and Ashesville, NC area.  Such a treat to this Florida girl._DSC4161_DSC4136Yes, 2015 was a dream come true on all levels.  Now that I have more time to fully enjoy travel, photography, and personal business pursuits, who knows where the road will lead.  Life is such a journey … its path is often unknown … its duration is even more unsure.  The only thing that I know for certain is that I will live life to the fullest and challenge myself with new experiences and adventures along the way.  It will be hard to top 2015, but … “challenge accepted”.  Thanks to all who made 2015 possible and shared moments with us along the way … especially Jen, Liz, Jess, Amy M, Cris, Kathleen, Kim, Kelli & Mitchell, Nicole, Violet, Bob, Maria, Todd, John, Rachel, Amy H, Rick, Dave, Phil, Rebecca, Renee & Al, Alex & the gang from Kaktovik, Kem & John, my mom & Murray, and of course, Tom.

Here’s to 2016!

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Next Up:  More from Alaska

© 2015  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy     (www.tnwaphotography.com)

2015 … A Transitional Year in Review

As we begin the 2016 new year, I always take the time to reflect back on the past year.  It was a year of great change for me (as I knew it would be), great opportunities, and awesome experiences.  Here are just a few of the highlights.

Early in the year, when the hot weather cools down a bit, I always take the time to visit “my park” – Everglades National Park.  The Everglades are a place where you visit with great anticipation as to what you’ll find, as the environment changes always depending on the water levels. During the first 5 months of the year, it can be a mecca for bird watchers and photographers, as well as offer landscape gems such as this wonderful, and unexpected, fog bow.

DSC_0391We usually also spend a few weekends up in the Gainesville area early in the year, since we have a home up there.  To my surprise this year, in addition to the influx of migratory sandhill cranes which visit, there was also a whooping crane, specifically No. 9-13.  He stayed for several months before he migrated successfully back to the north in WI.  DSC_9825Of course, it was also quite a thrill to share the hiking path with bison at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in Alachua County.  As we were on the lookout for the alligators, can you imagine Tom’s surprise when it emerged from the grasses and brush adjacent to where he was standing?  LOLDSC_4785-2

So far the year had been progressing along routinely, but that was about to change.  On March 4th, I took retirement from my medical sales position (aka my “day job”).  Though it was to happen on its own in 2015, this came about in an unexpected way … I felt like I won the lottery!  LOL  Before long, I learned that Fridays were no longer the best day of the week and I learned to love Mondays!  It’s all about perspective.  :-)
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Always an exciting day is the arrival of the swallowtail kites in Florida.  Numerous trips “upstate” followed for more bird photography.DSC_5426

As Kelli and Mitchell progressed with their educational pursuits, they met us out in Bozeman, MT for some snowboarding fun.

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Combining that trip for Tom & I, we arrived early and toured Yellowstone NP in what can only be described as an anomaly winter for them, as much of the snow had already begun to melt.  On that trip, I learned the cruelty of nature, as we watched a bison who had fallen through the ice of the frozen pond, and being unable to free itself, eventually died there, and the circle of life displayed itself right before our eyes.  I stood there, numb and crying, as there was nothing that I could do to help.DSC_6735

We also encountered many specimens of wildlife, including these wonderful and beautiful bighorn sheep.DSC_5928

Grand Teton NP was also visited during this trip and the wildlife and landscape opportunities were undeniable.  Who would have thought that we would have a red fox posing so nicely for us as we happily snapped away images.  DSC_7292

There’s nothing like experiencing first light on a mountain and the Tetons are no exception.  A better day couldn’t have been possible.DSC_0822

OK, perhaps it was the mother in me, but these bighorn sheep ewes teaching the young ones how to navigate the rocky cliff ledges had me on pins & needles.  It was fascinating beyond belief to witness their skills … I mean, I’m less sure footed on solid ground!  LOLDSC_1653

There were several “firsts” for me in 2015.  I was fortunate enough to photograph both the long-eared owl and the short-eared owl as well.  As many of you know, other than my beloved bears, owls rank very high on my favorites list, so I was thrilled.DSC_7170DSC_0727

Once back in Florida, I spent many days photographing the courtship, mating, nesting, and raising of the young of many of our birds that make spring in Florida so unbelievably amazing.DSC_8390DSC_2391DSC_3577

How about a wild American Flamingo?  Yep, it was an amazing experience, one that my tripod still bears the scars of, as I got so excited when I witnessed the flamingo take flight.DSC_2209

In April, Tom competed in the Florida Firefighter Games.  Held at Alafia River State Park, some of the states finest mountain bikers raced through the POURING down rain for medals, both individually and as teams.  DSC_3054

Of course, no season would be complete without my mornings and/or evenings revolving around the burrowing owls.  Once again I had the pleasure of photographing them as they literally grew up before my lens.  Often, I would simply delight in their antics, forgetting to click away.DSC_8841DSC_1341DSC_4436DSC_2476

A real special treat was this bird’s eye view shooting position of this young osprey while dad had just dropped off a nice fresh catch and mom proceeded to feed it.  Someone get this guy a napkin.  :-)DSC_9194

Now that I had more time to do the things that I had always wanted to do, I traveled to the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, FL.  For 4 days I learned how to best expose for the outdoor subjects, tell a story with my images, use my flash (no more auto mode for the rare times that I actually use it), and even a bit more on processing images too.  A bonus was that we were able to shoot at the rookery a full hour before even the Photo Pass kicks in.DSC_9707DSC_9839DSC_3464

Two trips up to St. Augustine also followed for capturing the courtship, mating, tending to the nest, and taking care of the young, as performed by the least terns.  Sometimes the taking care of was accomplished by teamwork in elimination of the enemy intruder.DSC_2723DSC_3242

Well, as you can probably guess, 2015 experiences were too many to lump into just one post.  Picking up in June, Part 2 will follow in the next post.  STAY TUNED.  :-)

© 2015 TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

Did You Think I Was Done With The Bears?

As I finish up on the bears of Katmai NP & Preserve, we have more images from our initial set of spring cubs and their mom.  We seemed to see these guys just about everywhere that we went….. not that I’m at all complaining … to the contrary, I was elated.DSC_8219 As they would move along the edge of the river, mom would pay close attention to the boars in the area … for though this is not breeding season, sometimes boars and young cubs don’t mix well.DSC_8292 When she saw something that she didn’t like, she would head up on the ridge line for better options.DSC_8296 Eventually, when the threat was gone, she would then return her and the cubs to the rivers edge for some more fishing.  This sow was not the best fish catcher out there … she should take some time to watch Flapjack … the most skilled by far!DSC_8319 When the cubs weren’t in hot pursuit of following mom, they would periodically use that time to get some playing in … way too cute!DSC_8345 One this particular day, we opted to carry only one tripod, so Tom would occasionally improvise while I was using it.  Quite resourceful, I say, using that big backpack as a backrest on the rocky shore.IMG_2927 Glad he did too, so he could get low profile images like this one!DSC_8371 Of course, sometimes he improvised in other ways … like using my head for his tripod!  Thanks Dave for capturing this very special moment.  To be honest, I couldn’t have cared less.  Nothing can distract me from photographing the bears…. just figured that I would deal with him later.  ;-)IMG_0984This little one is obviously an over-achiever in the making.
DSC_8614 OK, who can guess who the cub in the back is?  Of course, it’s the same cub who we often found standing up.  LOL.  When they stand, to me, they seem to take on behaviors like our own children.  Wouldn’t you agree?DSC_8392 Now for the 3rd set of spring cubs from this years trip … meet Ying & Yang.  I had seen them from the floatplane as we were beginning to land, but they were off running, the opposite direction, on the vast landscape, so I was thinking that we weren’t going to meet this sought after trio.  Luckily, we did.  Aptly named due to drastic difference in coloration.  What’s really cool about this is that I’ve never seen such a light colored cub!  It’s not blonde … almost a grey silver color!  Really, really unique! In 9 years of photographing bears, I’ve never seen anything like it.  Not only its extremely light color, but its fur was like a fluff ball.DSC_8888I was, as everyone else was, amazed and became entranced with their differences.  DSC_6577 Towards the end of the day, this mom led her cubs up on the hillside and searched for somewhere to lay down to nurse them, but the cubs had other ideas and we never got to see it before we had to leave.DSC_8507 DSC_8524 So all in all, 2015 was an amazing trip to Katmai NP & Preserve for us.  We had such varying photo ops …. whether it be simply solo bears chasing and catching salmon ….DSC_9120 … to not one, or two, or three, but 4 sows, each with 2 spring cubs (though only able to photograph 3 of them) …DSC_9207 … to photographing spring cubs playing together while mom was fishing …DSC_8958  … to being able to capture tender bonding moments such as this moment between sow and one of her cubs, it was amazing.  Unbelieveable how each trip is so different from the last.  For those that don’t understand why we keep going back … there’s your answer.DSC_8985 Back at the floatplane, just prior to boarding, we paused to get a shot of Tom & I, with Dave (www.goseebears.com) and Wes (www.belugaair.com), our friends.  We highly recommend the services of both of them.  :-)IMG_2982 Yes, we’re now back to returning past Homer Spit, and heading towards Beluga Lake, with nothing but a HUGE SMILE across my face … some things, never changed._DSC3084 The same goes true for a celebratory dinner at Fat Olives in town.  Yum yum!IMG_2956Next up:  2015 – Photographic Year In Review

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

Cute Things Come In Small Packages

Continuing on with the splendor of Katmai NP & Preserve …..

Usually when we visit in late August, we get lots of males or single females without cubs.  When we see  sows with cubs, they’re usually yearlings (cubs just over 1.5 years old).  So you can imagine my excitement when out of the bushes emerged this gorgeous blonde sow and her two spring cubs.  These cubs are about 8 months old and just the cutest things ever!
DSC_7596 I mean … how CUTE are these two adorable sibling cubs?  Sporting those natal collars and inquisitive expressions … all the while keeping their eye on their mom, but also watching us, full of wonder.DSC_7645 They are so curious about everything that they encounter … fish, rocks, branches … doesn’t matter.  Usually they tend to stick close together when moms not right next to them.DSC_7639 They’re pretty obedient too.  When you watch the command that these sows have over her cubs, it makes you wonder where many humans went wrong with their own young.  Sure these cubs test the limit every now and then, but they are quickly reprimanded and they learn quickly where the line is drawn.DSC_7647 DSC_7642In case you’re wondering why these two cubs look so different, it’s because they probably had two different fathers.  See, these sows are quite promiscuous and mate with different boars during the season.  So it’s not at all unusual to have cubs that don’t resemble one another, color-wise.
DSC_7677Mom keeps them quite close, catching salmon for them to feed upon and modeling the skills needed for survival.  While they stay quite attentive to her, passing distractions, like this bird, sometimes win over the attention of the young curious cubs.  LOL
DSC_7764 Sibling cubs can also have quite different personalities too.  This one cub in the back was always the more cautious one between these two and often we found him standing up to investigate the situations better.DSC_7942 However, both interact together and though they might bicker about who’s fish it is, for example, often they share … or take turns.DSC_8051 As with most young animals, they can be quite animated and silly.  This little one had just fallen over and was trying to right itself … quite the rolly polly … you can’t help but be entertained watching them.DSC_9243 Sometimes, in their anxiousness to be more grown up, they tend to bite off more than they can handle.  Case in point, this little springer picks up this huge salmon … already dead … and tries to drag it around and impress the others.  LOLDSC_9096 These two sibling cubs, another set, had the best time ever playing in the creeks waters, as mom chased down salmon nearby.  DSC_8965 DSC_8958 So curious they were … climbing, chewing, shaking, and pouncing on the nearby shrubs in the creek.DSC_8954 Now back to the original two siblings, they found their own trees to play with on the banks.  Of course, their mom stayed nearby as well.DSC_6668 DSC_6758 Again, there are more images to share, including another most interesting set of cubs.  Yes, we had a great time out there and the weather, though more threatening on this day, was still not bad.  Life is good.  :-)IMG_2980Up Next:  Polar opposites … no, not polar bears (that will come later).

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

The Happiest Place on Earth … Katmai!!

Always a favorite adventure for me each year is our return to Katmai National Park & Preserve for some amazing bear encounters and photography.  As we have for the past 3 years, we enlisted the services of Dave Bachrach of AK Adventures to serve as our guide and Wes Head of Beluga Air to get us there safely.

On this trip to Alaska so far it had been pretty good weather, so we hoped that our luck would continue.  Sure enough, on the day of our departure for Katmai, the skies were clear and we were psyched to board the Beaver floatplane for the leisurely trip over.  Beluga Lake was just about as calm as could be.

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Of course, I kept some gear in the cabin with me, ready to take some aerial shots along the way.  This image is of Homer Spit which is a road that extends into Kachemak Bay, with the amazing mountain and glacial views as a backdrop.  Gorgeous!_DSC3085 Mt. Augustine, situated in Cook Inlet, is the most active volcano of the Eastern Aleutian arc.  On our way to Katmai, we always fly over it, but don’t always have such a clear view. Last eruption was in 2006, which can play havoc for aviation in the area.DSC_6155 Once we landed in the interior of Katmai NP & Preserve, Tom was able to pull up his hip waders as he exited the floatplane.  His steady hands and feet are always appreciated, especially by me as we transfer our backpacks, camera gear, and tripods._DSC3054Almost as soon as we began our hike from the lake to the river and creek where the bears were congregating, we saw evidence of their presence … the bear print … one of my favorite sightings.  :-)
DSC_6182 Once we reached the river, our first glimpse was that of this sitting brown bear … stationary in the waters and just chillin.DSC_6161 Though it’s hard to judge the size of a sitting bear, once they stand up, it’s much easier to tell that this was no mini bear.  LOLDSC_6171 As we hiked off the beaten path, in search of bears a bit more secluded, we ran into this beautiful, yet scruffy looking, bear fishing for salmon in the creek.  My favorite part of photographing bears is when they look at us … and our eyes meet and we become unitied in place and time.  Bears eyes are so captivating to me, I find it hard to get behind the lens because I want to see them firsthand.  DSC_6195 While we remained still, simply observing this bear, it decided that fishing was a bit slow and it would sit along the creeks bank and wait for some salmon to swim close enough to it, that it didn’t have to exert too much effort.  Again, the stare vacillated between looking for salmon and checking us out.DSC_6282 Eventually, it found what it was looking for and in a quick lunge, it was over for the poor salmon.DSC_6518 Many different solo bears were out and about, staking a little bit of geography as their fishing spot … all the while the occasional human fisherman were out there as well.DSC_7026 Everyone was catching salmon, but none more proficiently than the brown bears.  :-)DSC_7055 DSC_7046 Preferentially, the bears seek out the female salmon, since the eggs are quite the delicacy. When they find one, they go straight for the roe.  In this image, you can see the eggs flying out of the fish as the bear tears into it.DSC_7071For some strange reason, I had just asked Dave about an unforgettable boar from a few years back.  To my surprise Dave said that he had seen him earlier this year.  I was quite thrilled because he was quite large and older, so I was happy that he had made it over the last two years.

Tom called out a large bear coming around the corner of the creek, so we watched for it as it approached.  I couldn’t believe my eyes … it was my long lost friend, Flapjack!  The same boar that I had just asked about.  Now I was over the top ecstatic as he got nearer and nearer.
DSC_7220I know it sounds crazy, but he got pretty close, then just stared at us, and I felt that perhaps he remembered us.  LOL.  People tell me that I humanize animals a bit, but it was truly a magical moment for me.  I remember the first time, 2 years ago, when we encountered him.  He was, by far, the largest boar I had ever seen.  Quite identifiable by its right ear injury, which left his ear split and flat … like a pancake … hence the nickname “Flapjack”.
DSC_7449 A proficient fishing machine, as you can well imagine by his size, he still had great technique and was catching more than his share of salmon.  He was also quite quick in devouring it.  :-)DSC_7491 Yes, we were quite happy so far with our adventure … especially since it was my birthday!  I considered Flapjack’s visit as my present, as well as the amazing brown bear activity and the awesome weather.  So many images this year, so the blog will feature 2 more posts of these amazing creatures.IMG_2929Not to be outdone by the bears, we celebrated our bear viewing with some sushi of our own.  :-)  Oh, and I can’t forget about that amazing appetizer of brussel sprouts too!IMG_0978IMG_0975

Next Up:  Cubs, Cubs, & more Cubs!

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

Homer-Bound

The Russian River Campground is an interesting place to stay when in Cooper Landing, Alaska.  It is home to the notorious “combat fly fishing” for salmon, trout, and other varieties.  It’s also a place where the photographers can find bears also fishing in those rivers.  While we did find brown bears again on this trip, it was only one afternoon, and we really wanted to say our goodbyes to them.  :-)  So we visited the river via the boardwalk for a final walk.  We took our time once we arrived at the confluence of the Russian River and the Kenai River, just down a bit of the ferry.
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It was a stunning morning and once again we were treated to the early morning sunlight peering through the trees along the boardwalk.  It was a bit cold this morning and foggy as well._DSC2970 We patiently sat down for awhile at the stairs and chatted with some of the fishermen.  We received various stories of theories as to where the bears were … none of which were authenticated nor pleasant.  I still hoped that they would return one last time for us.  In the meanwhile, a big group of common mergansers came by.  I was quite fascinated at their “team effort” in chasing down and beaching of some small minnows and smelt for their dining pleasure.  I had never witnessed it before!DSC_6022

The fireweed was still in bloom and had already reached the end of the stalk … meaning winter was simply about 6 weeks away.  It was only August 21st!_DSC3009

Harlequin ducks were also out and about in the Russian River.

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When we decided to make our way back on the boardwalk, we encountered this sighting, which usually means only one thing … bear(s)!  I eagerly made my way to their spotting._DSC3014 But it was for not, as it was simply a bald eagle that had flow in and the fishermen were simply admiring it and taking some cell phone shots as well.  Dang!DSC_6076 On the way towards Homer, we stopped a few times for photographs, but we were equally anxious to get there and check in with Beluga Air and Dave for our Katmai bear viewing the next day._DSC3042 It’s so beautiful to photograph the fireweed standing tall and proud in various fields.IMG_2901 _DSC5946 Once we arrived at our final destination for the evening, Homer, we ventured to the end of the “spit” and took in the beauty of Kachemak Bay and glaciers within the state park across the Cook Inlet waters.DSC_6159 IMG_2914We visited the Beluga Slough area, which is a “must do” annually, though we didn’t see the sandhill cranes like in years past.

_DSC3131 We also visited Bishop’s Beach and built our traditional cairn … in celebration of our upcoming wedding anniversary.  Each year we build this feature containing 1 stone for every year we’ve been together … plus 1 more for good luck … so this year it was a cairn of 19!  It wouldn’t be the same to not do it, though I’m wondering how much more stable we can make it during the next 5-10 years!  LOL_DSC3124

We then checked in for our bear trip which initiates the next day … weather permitting, as always.  Let’s hope for it to be a good morning.  :-)

Next up:  Katmai or bust ….

© 2015  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

 

In Search of Bears

OK, so on our way to Homer, Alaska, we ALWAYS have to stop off at the Russian River Campground for a few nights and as usual, we hope to find some brown bears fishing for salmon on the river, amongst the fishermen.

Used to be that the bears were plentiful … but we’ve noticed that their numbers seem to be dropping off on recent years.  For the last 2 years and this year as well, we were told that the bear sightings had been very limited.  Last few years, we were lucky though and bears showed up – last year on my birthday!  Would our luck continue?  When we arrived to the boardwalk along the river and worked our way down the first stairs that accessed the river, we didn’t see any bears, just the gleaming of the suns rays through the trees.

IMG_2889 First thing … the salmon were running … that’s a good sign.IMG_2896

The 2nd set of stairs leading to the river someone asked us if we wanted to find bears.  Of course!  He said that there were 2 bears playing in the water.  Off I went in a hurry, fighting off the urge to run, then wondering if the guy was simply laughing at us scurrying after them.  I hoped that wasn’t the case.

Then I spotted them … 2 sub-adult brown bears … playing in the river water like two sibling brothers in the tub!  LOL

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Yep, we hit it again!  I couldn’t believe our luck right about this point!  They began playing and “fighting”, to the thrill of myself and all of the other onlookers.

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I couldn’t help but wonder if these weren’t the same two who were here last year with their momma, but now they were perhaps big enough to be kicked out and therefore hanging together for companionship and safety.  They sure seemed to have a level of comfort with each other and the fighting was more like fun than anything else more serious. DSC_5905-2

They each began walking over in our direction …

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It was such a thrill to photograph them as they were coming closer.  Understand that we’re on a boardwalk with a rocky shoreline, thick shrubs, plastic netting, and trees between us and the bears.  They’re also very habituated towards people, so I really didn’t think anything of it.

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All of a sudden, the larger of the two grabs one of the tree branches and lifts itself over the netting barrier and begins to climb … the tree!

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Now, I’ve seen black bears climbing trees regularly, and even brown bear cubs climbing, but these guys were sub-adults and quite big to be climbing the trees!

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It was having the best time jumping around in the tree and began to shimmy its way back down the tree.  I was shocked, fascinated, and thrilled to watch it all unfolding before me.  Finally, it turned to us and gave us this priceless glance …. How could anyone NOT LOVE that face?!DSC_5919-2 Once back on the ground, which was right next to the boardwalk, we saw it feasting its eyes on approaching the walk, so we retreated.  Sure enough, when it had plenty of distance between any of the onlookers, it did in fact take the boardwalk for a bit.DSC_5951

Eventually, it dipped into the thick brush and wilderness and we never saw it … or its buddy, who we had lost contact with when the larger was on the boardwalk … again.  We were there several more days, but never saw it again … or any signs of its presence.  Wished we would have, but we were quite thrilled to have shared that limited time together.  I do worry about those, and other bears in the area.  Though photographers love to see them active and mingling around, not everyone shares that love.  Of course, humans have, and will always unfortunately, do stupid things in their presence, thus perhaps teaching them bad habits.  I would just love to share their home in the wild, in a respectful way, and continue to observe their awesomeness.  :-)_DSC2915Next up:  Finally reaching our destination of Homer.

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com