Always Expect the Unexpected

Yellowstone NP in the winter is a fabulous place … so vast, so snowy, so quiet.  The freshly fallen snow makes wildlife spotting easier and tracks in the snow provides clues as to what might be where.  Bring in the sun, patchy white clouds, and blue sky, and it all seems so perfect.IMG_0571 2As we leave the wintery roads of Lamar Valley, the scenery beckons me and makes it hard to drive away.  We are off to the West Yellowstone entrance of Yellowstone NP, which is closed to most traffic during the winter, except for the organized snowmobile and snow coach tours.  Numerous years ago, Tom & I engaged in one of the snowmobile tours, but quickly realized that they are not the preferred route for photographers.  Two years ago, I experienced a Yellowstone in Winter photography tour, with Daniel Cox of Natural Exposures.  It was amazing and I highly recommend it for anyone that might be interested.IMG_0572 2This year however, I had arranged a small snow coach to take Tom and I, as well as some friends into the park … in search of the notorious bobcat(s) that had been spotted regularly for about a month, but not for the last week or two before we got there.IMG_0604 2Though Yellowstone, for me, is primarily about the wildlife … it also has some gorgeous landscape views._DSC4063_DSC4055Before long, a lone coyote was spotted along one of the rivers.  We jumped out and began to photograph it as it made its way quickly, stopping to check us out along the way._DSC6287At one point it stopped at something that was somewhat buried in the snow.  After closer observation, we noticed that it was an elk carcass, specifically the head and antlers.  It was a very strange sighting, especially with what appeared to be wires wrapped in its tines.  To this day I wonder what the story was behind that sighting, though it did seem a bit eerie._DSC6382On the lighter side of our sightings, the trumpeter swans were out in force … some in mated pairs, some with juveniles still with them, and some were solo.  All were beautiful.  :-)_DSC6170As were the falls, with the crashing of the waters as it made its way along._DSC4086We had some bald eagle sightings as well, including this one towards the end of our day.  It was finishing off a meal of fresh fish as we caught up with it.  We watched patiently as it devoured it … one piece at a time._DSC6397Suddenly it lifted up and flew off, but not too far.  It was then that I noticed that this bald eagle had been banded.  I researched the internet and found that many years ago, researchers had banded bald eagles in that area, and perhaps this was one of them.  If anyone out there knows more on this, please reach out and/or comment, so that I can learn more.  Thanks!_DSC6405It finally landed in the river, but in a location which was even better for us to photograph it.  I thought that was pretty nice of it to do that for us, don’t you?_DSC6434Well, in case you’re wondering, we never did find that bobcat, though there was reportedly a possible sighting that day.  Of course when we heard the call, off we went to the exact location where it was spotted.  Nada!  Perhaps it was an erroneous report … or it wandered off.  Dang!

What we encountered though was quite remarkable and could never have been expected … never have I seen this before.  We came across an area where we had earlier seen a coyote (one of many sightings that day).  So we slowed down just a bit to check out if we could find it again.

Well, all of a sudden we see not one, but two coyotes together … and close.  It was odd in that they just stood there and didn’t try to run.  That’s when Jen realized and called out “they’re mating … they’re tied”.  Of course, now it made sense … they couldn’t run.  Poor things just stood there, taking turns on who was going to have to look our way.  Once and awhile, they both looked our way.  Such indignant looks too.  LOL.  I know that it doesn’t look like anything, but these two lovebirds were in fact … tied._DSC6495After several minutes and hundreds of collective clicks of the camera later, they “untied” and parted.  The female walked away, followed by the male who sniffed her for a bit, then they had an affectionate moment of nose to nose action and a bit of rubbing.  It was after all, Valentine’s Day.  No joke!_DSC6526Being that we didn’t have any moose sightings, I had to find one on my own.  OK, maybe this was just a moose carving in town.IMG_0606 2When we left West Yellowstone … on our way towards Grand Teton NP … we came across more bighorn sheep rams.  Not before we got our AWD car stuck in an unplowed pull-off (yes, I just had to have that landscape shot … which ironically I never got since we were stuck and all)._DSC6486No matter how many of these guys we come across, I can’t help but stop for more images._DSC6490Finally we had a group of trumpeter swans bid us adieu as we made our way into Idaho._DSC6761So all in all, I learned that when in Yellowstone during the winter … Always EXPECT the UNEXPECTED!

Thanks Jen, Travis, Debby, and Jessica for sharing in our snow coach day in Yellowstone.  We had a blast and were quite entertained.  ;-)  Good times.

Next Up:  Back to some springtime action in Florida … Sandhill crane-style.

© 2016  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

The Silence & Beauty of A Yellowstone Winter

As I mentioned in the last blog post, sometimes the heat comes early to south Florida, and I have to get away to cool down.  Tom always goes out west with his buddies on an annual snowboard trip in January, so what better time to meet up with him on a side trip to Yellowstone NP.

From the first time, 2 years ago, when I visited Yellowstone NP in the dead of winter, I knew how incredibly special it was … the silence, the cold, the lack of visitors, the winter wildlife … all make for an experience that you won’t soon forget.  There’s something so beautiful about encountering the wildlife in the snow, such as this healthy coyote, with its thick winter coat._DSC6085Some areas of the park in early February were already starting to have sporadic snow cover, which allowed the bighorn sheep to be able to dig in the sparse snow cover and find lichens and new shoots of grasses to feed upon._DSC5227_DSC5304The rams seemed to be out in force too this year._DSC5719I’ve always been fascinated by bighorn sheep, especially their eyes, which are so hypnotic to me.  They are often locked on us, while they graze or simply chew on the hillside._DSC5324When photographing wildlife out in the wilderness, sometimes patience is required.  For this particular image, I remained in place and tried to stay calm and relaxed, hoping for him to climb higher to the crest of the hill, so that I could get that amazing blue sky as the backdrop to show him off.  Yes, patience can sometimes be rewarded.  :-)_DSC5154Bighorn sheep have horns, which I like to refer to as curls, which they keep lifelong.  Consequently, those horns carry the story of the life that the sheep has lived, including all of its battles.  I often stare at them and wish that I could be privy to the animals life history._DSC5344This year, we found a lot of fox roaming around.  Most were hunting near the roads or off on the trails, mousing in the deep snow, or resting along a log.  However, this red fox was spotted in the crack of high rocky landscape … an unusual sighting for us for sure.  _DSC5454Reportedly it was hanging out in the area for a bit, then disappeared for a few days after a coyote was found hunting nearby.  We were sure happy to see that it returned just in time for us to observe and photograph it._DSC5473It would give us so many expressions and poses, but one thing is for sure … it sure was quite comfy way up there._DSC5495The eyes of the red fox are also quite beautiful and I get so excited when our eyes meet as they travel past us.    _DSC5569On one of our days, we were having a wonderful sunny early morning … until it turned cloudy, windy, and cold … until it turned into blizzard-like conditions.  It was like someone would open and close the “wind tunnel door”.  It made me appreciate what these animals have to endure during the winter months and how difficult their survival was._DSC5721Massive in size, but slow in movement (unless perturbed) is the bison.  They were seemingly everywhere along the valley road and would often be spotted walking the road … otherwise known as the “path of least resistance”.  Otherwise, they could be spotted off in the distance in search of food and running water._DSC6152An image that I really wanted to capture this winter was that of the bison, with its face covered in the snow, so incredibly iconic of Yellowstone in the midst of winter.  I was amazed at how the snow would cake up on their fur … though it was caked up on the photographers who were braving the snow and blowing wind as well._DSC6188Bison are actually quite smart in that in their search for food, they swing their heads from side to side as they made their way through the snow, making a clearing for them to try to find some food to eat._DSC6208When they would lift their heads, that iced-over face image is the result.  I think that I accomplished my goal of the snowy faced bison.  :-)_DSC6231-2As we were leaving, a coyote appeared and seemed to be inquisitive as to why we were leaving so soon.  Don’t worry there Mr. Coyote … we’ll be back for several more days._DSC5391In the winter, the sunset comes early … and spectacularly.  The perfect ending to a perfect few days so far in the north end of Yellowstone NP in the winter … I think my favorite season.  With all of the “eye candy” I saw today, I know that I’ll have sweet dreams tonight._DSC4030Next Up:  More images and stories from Yellowstone NP … but from the West Yellowstone entrance.

© 2016  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

Wetlands, Preserves, & Yards … Oh My!

Taking a break from the snowy conditions of the Alaskan arctic, let’s return to the warmer, more humid climate of southern Florida.  Sure we have beaches, sand, and sun … but we also have winter visitors … not just of the human kind, but also our bird friends come to visit for a bit.  Some also court, mate, and raise their young too.

When they arrive, they do so in their Sunday finest … all dolled up and ready to impress.  No other time do they possess such beautiful breeding colors and perform such elegant ways, designed to tantalize the ladies.  One of the best examples of undergoing a metamorphis as such are the cattle egret.  Once an “ordinary white bird”, they become striking with that red eye, multi-colored bright beak, exaggerated coloration, and that fabulous breeding plumage._DSC4777Not native to Florida, though becoming quite popular, is the swamp hen.  A bit similar in appearance to the purple gallinule, though its colors are muted and beak consists of less colors too.  Still they possess a bit of that iridescence in those feathers when the sun hits it just right._DSC4824Still one of the most elegant is the great egret._DSC4912Though not as entertaining, the grebes also possess that cuteness factor … especially when they’re all fluffed up._DSC4957In Florida, it’s not all birds that hang out in the wetlands and preserves.  Again, though not native, we get our fair share of iguanas.  I used to get quite upset seeing them, especially when they would hang out near the birds, but in reality, they’re more vegetarians and not necessarily after wildlife.  Also, look at how amazingly photogenic they are … so prehistoric-looking, so full of details and features that could be the subject of a macro lens setup as well.  We even get them in our yard!_DSC4937Other reptiles live in the wetlands too.  This poor snake, fighting for its life, after being snatched from the grasses by the great blue heron … one of the most skillful hunters of frogs, snakes, and fish alike._DSC0234It’s hard to miss the red cardinals when they’re around.  On this particular day, there was one female, as shown below ….._DSC2027… flying around with not just one, but two, male cardinals chasing it.  Clearly one of them was her favorite beau too.  Look at how rich this guys coloring is!  This was not enhanced via any processing color, but rather straight out of the camera._DSC2051It’s always a thrill to find the sora out and about looking for something to eat along the soggy landscape.  Usually the sighting doesn’t last too long, as it generally returns into the plants rather quickly._DSC2082Though I’m not much of a “small bird”er, even I can’t resist the pretty little ones when they finally stand still, in the open, and pose for me.  :-)_DSC8644The tri-colored herons are one of the most striking birds when in their breeding plumage.  That bright red eye, deep blue bill, the beautiful tuft of white feathers out the back of their head, and their beautiful body feathers make the photographer or observer stop and look. _DSC8563The dance of courtship that they, and other birds, perform is a treat to watch as well.  Preening one’s feathers, poking around at the tidy nest, and rhythmically moving up skyward, then down repeatedly … so amazing to watch!_DSC8568Speaking of beautiful show-offs, what better example of that is the peacock, with their extremely long feathers, all patterned with designs that look like eyes, as they drag them behind them like a bride with her wedding dress train.  Though this guys not quite excited enough to lift them in a display fashion, it’s still quite beautiful.  This guy was photographed while making his way through my friends front yard.  I have some chickens down the block who wander through my yard … this guy can come visit me too if he wants._DSC2255So these were just a few of the many avian visitors to south Florida.  As the breeding season is over, not all, but many leave the area.  Don’t blame them … it gets way too hot down here … I sometimes leave too.  :-)

Next Up:  Anyone want to go to Yellowstone NP in the winter?

© 2016  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

 

Adding A Dash of Snow

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 6-1/2 months since I visited with the polar bears of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  It’s hard to believe that Kaktovik,in the fall season, was about 70+ degrees (farenheit) colder than I find it in the spring of south Florida.  Especially hard to believe that we actually had the most amazing of weather while I was there … from sunny clear days to misty/foggy days to snowy days … but the notorious arctic winds were never strong enough for us to be grounded in the 5 days.  Quite lucky for us … adding to the unbelievable experience that I had there.

On this morning, it was lightly snowing … just enough to make it pretty for the composition, but not too much to cause problems with the actual photography experience.     I have to admit that it was probably my favorite morning for capturing the “mood” and environment they lived in … see, polar bears should be in the snow.  At least that’s what I had always thought while growing up.  :-)

_DSC7514I love to imagine what it was like for the polar bears to roam around on the arctic landscape each and every time I took their image.  While the one above seemed to be enjoying the snowfall, I wondered if it sensed that the period of waiting for that ice to freeze was shortening and it knew that soon it would be off on its hunt across the frozen landscape.  Or was it simply enjoying the snowfall and trying to catch a snowflake?  LOL  Didn’t matter to me … either scenario was intriguing to me.
_DSC9603One by one they made their way down the shore of Barter Island and as they did, I struggled with how exactly I wanted to capture them.  So I opted for a variety of near and faraway images to better tell their story of struggle, survival, and love for their young.  I wanted to hang onto every ounce of emotion that I was feeling as I possibly could._DSC9545 Sometimes they would encounter others along the way … while other times they would simply pass by them, while other times, they would stop to interact with a sniff, a swim in the water together, a submissive move away from the dominant bear, or engage in a bit of a pushing match … which I’m sure was also a lesson in learning one’s hierarchy status.  I couldn’t help but notice the differences in their coats – a range of creamy white to quite “dirty” looking … probably a consequence of dining on whale blubber._DSC8367 The most tender moments, that would instantaneously melt my heart (and serve to keep me warm out in the cold) were the moments and images captured of moms and their cubs.  Of course, the cuddle moments were highlights on that list._DSC9869 When they snuggled, whether playing or napping, they were absolutely endearing to photograph.  These cubs were generally “cubs of the year” and therefore about 10-11 months old.  Interestingly, only pregnant female polar bears den during the winter, where they give birth somewhere between Novemeber and December.  Females then emerge from the den when the cubs are old enough to safely do so, usually in March or April.  _DSC9817 One afternoon, I probably hit my “squeal quota” observing the antics being performed by this young cub, in its attempt to entertain itself while its mom was resting nearby._DSC9580 This cub had THE BEST TIME with this stick, that it managed to find on the snowy landscape, as it wielded it around and around, and falling clumsily over and over, all around it.  I remember how it played with it for probably 45 minutes while we watched._DSC0066 _DSC0014 During that time, it seemed that time stood still for me.  I don’t remember breathing (though I’m sure that I did), I don’t remember feeling my heart beat or my chest expand and sink with my respirations.  I simply remember hearing the clicking of my shutter … endlessly … and feeling a huge smile spread across my face.  My heart was melting.  I found another true “happy place”._DSC0013 _DSC0209 _DSC0143 Finally I guess the thrill of playing with that stick was gone because the cub eventually abandoned it and returned to its sleeping mom.  I sensed that the cub was a bit uncertain if it should wake up its mom, but it cautiously and gently tried to approach her._DSC0477 To my surprise, the mom responded by sitting up and rolling over, patting her cub on its head.  _DSC0393Nursing of the cub soon followed and just in case I had any heart space that hadn’t been touched yet, that moment sure sealed the deal.
_DSC0019 I’ve said previously how impressed that I was with how wonderful these polar bear moms were … patient, nurturing, loving, and kind … though still in charge when necessary._DSC0216I noticed also that they moms appeared that they would take turns watching over each others cubs, enabling a sleepy mom some much needed rest, especially those who still had several cubs in tow._DSC0453 The moms were never far from their cubs though, which was refreshing to see.  Speaking of refreshing … look who’s playing a game of “Tag” and “Hide & Seek”?  These two cubs were so entertaining as they swam around and under this iceberg, climbing up it a bit to get a better vantage point to check on it playmate.  It was so heartwarming to see them playing as such, reminding me of our own young children … having fun, learning new things, interacting with others, all while being supervised by their mom.  Well, maybe they do that more than some humans do, but that’s a whole other story.  LOL.
_DSC0087 Yes, these polar bears were such interesting subjects and by day 3, I think that we had learned so much about them and their behaviors.  Good thing too, for that’s when wildlife photography really can kick in, being able to anticipate their behaviors and next moves.  It also allows you to open yourself to enjoy the experience more._DSC0886 As I write about my experiences, emotions that I dealt with, and share these images, one thing that I know for sure is that I will return to see and photograph these amazing polar bears again one day.  How could I not?   _DSC0603There will be more polar bear images and stories later this summer, but for now I’ll return to more birding action from Florida … UP NEXT.

© 2015  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

Nature in Florida

January in Florida doesn’t necessarily offer much to make you feel like it’s winter, except for the promise of birds to photograph.  One doesn’t have to travel far to partake in their beauty, especially when you wake up early to catch them in that early morning sweet light._DSC4487If you’re wondering where the birds are hanging out … all that you have to do is follow their path inflight.  This roseate spoonbill, of course, revealed their location._DSC4625To our surprise, we didn’t find just a few, but hundreds of birds foraging in the waters and even all lined up on the boardwalk handrails.  Not just spoonbills either … white pelicans, white herons, ibis, tri-colored heron, great blue herons … one big happy family._DSC4783Of course, the roseate spoonbills hold the most interest for everyone.  I mean, how could they not?  Flamingos, they are not, though you almost always hear someone mistake them as such.  All dressed up in the beginnings of their breeding plumage, with their reflections of varying degrees of pink and white effectively doubling their beauty into the waters below._DSC4604Perhaps it’s just me, but they seem to me to have such fun personalities.  This one seems to actually be smiling.  :-)_DSC4636A walk around the wetlands yields many other sightings, including this European starling, known for its aggressive behavior in bullying other cavity dwelling birds out of their home.  Until this day, I never noticed how their markings were so beautiful._DSC4900It’s always fun to watch the beautiful and skilled green heron hunt for dinner, or in this case, probably lunch.  The stillness of the water almost makes it for a “mirror, mirror, on the wall” moment._DSC4971Also delightful to witness were Mr. & Mrs Hooded Merganser, who went swimming on past us.  _DSC4510Off to another location, we find the brightly colored, unmistakeable, male cardinal, with its red crest and feathers contrasting beautifully with that green foliage in the background._DSC5023Its mate, while not as red or brightly colored, was not far away.  I just loved the way that it was hanging out in the palm fronds, keeping an eye on everything going on._DSC5246Where there are birds and outdoor feeders, of course there are other critters trying to take  advantage of an easy meal.  This brave squirrel was running up and down not wanting to miss anything.  I just hoped that it wouldn’t jump out at me … LOL._DSC5031Then came a visitor who was a bit more assertive in trying to get a hand out of food.  The raccoons have been know to approach humans (yes, a terrible lesson that humans have taught them, much like the squirrels) … I’ve had one in the past tap my bottom as I sat at a picnic table years ago, giving me a big hint of what it wanted.  Of course, I didn’t indulge.  _DSC5061This particular raccoon put on its cutest face while it begged and pleaded for something tasty.  Here it even looks like it was praying for something good.  :-)_DSC5176Before long it found where a secret stash of treat were hidden in the log.  BUSTED!_DSC5130One of the most beautifully colored birds with an array of colors like that from an artists palette is the painted bunting – male, that is._DSC5537Though the female is beautiful in her own right, she lacks the variety of colors.  If one didn’t know better, they would never even think that they were related to the male version.  Reminds me of the how different the red-winged blackbirds are – males versus females._DSC5340Alas though the males again look like when they were created, a child was asked to color it.  So very beautiful.  These birds are winter visitors here in south Florida and will eventually move on with their migratory plans._DSC5579Much less colorful, though also marked quite nicely, is the thrasher … love those specks on its breast._DSC5589Of course, there will be lots more wintering birds and those breeding and nesting opportunities and blog posts, so stay tuned.

Up Next:  More Polar Bears!!

© 2016  Debbie Tubridy / TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

Soaring With Eagles

Taking a break from the polar bears … well pardon the pun, to a “polar” opposite subject … from bears to birds, of Florida, no less.

Am I the only one out there that has difficulty getting the camera in gear after a big photo trip?  Seems like every year after I return from Alaska, I cull and process my images for endless hours.  Combine that task with the holiday events that seem endless as well, once the last quarter of the year arrives and I guess it’s a bit overwhelming.  So this year in early January, I made it a priority to get out and see what my home state had to offer.

This little loggerhead shrike might look all sweet and fluffy, but it’s actually a fierce predator that has been known for executing its unfortunate prey by peircing them on the barb wire that often is readily available in its environment.  I remember one year we found one in the middle of a dirt road that we were driving on, dazed but alive, Tom rescued it from a certain untimely death.  I was a bit concerned that it would use its sharp beak to impale Tom’s hand, but it didn’t as Tom gently placed it in a bushy tree nearby, where its partner came over to it.  What an awesome feeling to know that we (actually Tom) did something good.  Yes, he’s always the one placing the crossing turtle on the side of the road it was traveling to … giving it a hand as well._DSC4199-2Many of our sightings were of Florida’s resident bald eagles, hence the “Soaring with Eagles” blog post title._DSC4215-2We photograph lots of bald eagles in Alaska during our travels, so I’m always quite a bit fascinated by them.  Everyone expects bald eagles in Alaska, or migratory ones in eastern Washington state or other known migratory paths.  Few know that Florida actually has the most bald eagles in the lower 48 states.  On top of that … ours are primarily residents, not just migratory. _DSC4438-2Whenever I’m traveling in my car from south Florida to the north, I can almost always count on spotting on them along the way, to which a “BALDIES!” scream comes out of me.  LOL._DSC4219-2Hard to believe that these iconic birds, our national bird and symbol, were once so endangered and their numbers were so few.  It’s an incredible story about recovery once restrictions and protections are implemented.  It makes the “doubters” of recovery efforts have difficulty defending that stance.  _DSC4366-2The earlier images were all adult bald eagles, which sport that iconic white head and white tail feathers.  The next two images show the bald eagles in their sub-adult phase, clearly lacking that fully white head and fully white tail.  In Florida, if someone tells you that they saw a golden eagle, it was probably a sub-adult baldie.

_DSC4369-2
I don’t know why, but I always find the sub-adult feathers quite fascinating and beautiful.  Of course, whether fully adult, sub-adult, or even young eaglets, their talons are always amazing and mesmerizing to me._DSC4394-2Probably my favorite thing about bald eagles is their call.  Once you hear it once, you’ll never forget it.  _DSC4266-2Of course, our time in the wilderness wasn’t just about the eagles … but also other birds, such as another favorite of mine, the sandhill cranes.  Flying over in (a sort of) V-formation is a thrill to witness and of course their bugling when in flight, in landing, in take-off, or in dance, sends a big smile across my face._DSC4207-2_DSC4243-2Sightings of eastern phoebe are also common along the way.  So cute, aren’t they?  They are also quite fascinating too.  Did you know that an eastern phoebe sings a perfect song without having to “practice” it?  Also, what was the first bird ever to be banded well over a century ago?  Yep, the eastern phoebe._DSC4392-2Now, how could a day be complete with a “coot convention” sighting?  LOL_DSC4345-2So overall, it was a fun weekend of birding in central Florida and of course, soaring with the eagles.  One more beauty to share._DSC4367-2Hope that everyone enjoyed the blog post.

Next up:  More local birding adventures … from Florida … it’s what’s for winter, after all.

© 2016  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography

 

Sun Rays & Water Play

Who wants more arctic polar bears?  I know that when I woke up on day 2 of my polar bear adventure, I sure did.  Not sure, but I think that I dreamed about them all night.  What would it be like today?  We wanted to vary our opportunities photographing them, so we woke up very early to get out on the water for sunrise.  What an amazing sunrise it was too!

IMG_0076Not surprising, we weren’t the only ones who woke up in the wee hours to greet the early light.  The first sighting of the day involved this cub duo who were frolicking on the shoreline._DSC4577 I couldn’t believe how fabulous they looked with that sun highlighting the texture in their fur.  They played for quite some time and then ran off in search of their mom._DSC4692 Of course, their mom wasn’t far away and was keeping a keen eye on their location and activity.  She too was basking in that wonderful sunlight … in that crisp, cold breeze.  It was the arctic after all. _DSC4545 Barter Island is located just off the coast of Kaktovik.  Polar bears congregate here for a few reasons.  One is that they wait for the ice to form so that they may travel across it as they begin their hunt for seals and other food sources.  I love seals, so I find it a bit disturbing, but such is nature.  It’s all about survival._DSC4845 For those who do not know the whereabouts of Kaktovik, AK, it’s where the Alaskan coastline meets the arctic.  Basically, where the land ends.  North, there’s nothing … no more land, just the North Pole.  Fascinating really.  Another reason why these polar bears like Kaktovik is that it is a village of Inupiat eskimo natives, and they live off the land and sea/ocean for their food and supplies.  Part of that includes the harvesting of whales (2) each year, after which the carcass is deposited at the “bone yard”.  These bears know it and feed off the carcass remains when available.  We didn’t visit or photograph the bone yard, as the bears that feed there tend to get that dirty look to them._DSC4927 These polar bears are quite entertained by each other and as mentioned earlier, the moms seem to take pride in their young and nurture them lovingly._DSC4887 _DSC5123

Sometimes, it seems like all they do is play with their young … who are more than willing to burn off some excess energy jumping, rolling, and playing._DSC5087 Of course, Barter Island lies right off the Beaufort Sea, so there’s plenty of water activities to entertain these bears too.  Almost anything found floating in the water or sitting on the shoreline is fair game.  This bear has found a stick to play with,  which is remarkable, since the nearest trees are literally hundreds of miles away!_DSC5622 The water is more like a big slush pool … and while we would be a frozen mess, they quite enjoy it!_DSC5831 While their interactions might look ferocious, they’re more playful most of the time.  Just like the brown bears who as cubs or sub-adults frolic together in the rivers or coastal waters, so do these polar bears!  Lots of splashing, dunking, and posturing going on, for sure.  Love it!_DSC5721 _DSC5885 Sometimes they play in the water with each other, but other times they just play by themselves … with or without props.  Funny too, because they always seem to know where the cameras are … to our delight.    _DSC5961 When they’re not playing in the water, they’re traveling up and down the landscape._DSC6077 As you can see, the landscape gets littered by broken up ice chunks.  Soon it will be solid ice, but luckily for us it’s still got some freezing to do.  I can’t imagine how I would react to not being able to go out on our boat to visit them due to the freeze._DSC8871We never got skunked from the polar bear sightings.  Sure some days or times were better than others, but there was always something to photograph.
_DSC6136 _DSC9244 It was amazing to me to see what the cubs would unearth and begin to play with.  Sometimes it was a stick or a log, other times it was a remnant of blubber from the bone pile I would assume, or even feathers from an unfortunate bird.  One of the bears actually boarded a native’s boat and made off with a life ring.  LOL_DSC6162 The two cubs above found that blubber remnant and began to chew on/play with it a bit.  A curious solo bear was interested in it, but the cubs mom would have none of it and defended their right to the “find”.  That interaction was only 1 of 2 possible “friendly confrontations” that we witnessed in 5 days of shooting._DSC6281 _DSC1189 A playful tug-of-war ensued over the ownership of the blubber …_DSC2058 … to which the winner proudly walked off with its prize.  :-)_DSC1988

Some people have asked if the bears ever threatened us or if I ever felt fear from them … even I wondered it before I arrived into Kaktovik … after all, WE are in THEIR food chain.  I can honestly say that I never once felt anything but pure joy, awe, and respect for these amazing bears.  How could anyone not want to protect these bears for generations?

Lots more polar bear images and stories coming up, so stay tuned.  :-)

© 2015  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

I’m Dreaming of a White … Bear … Polar Bear, that is :-)

Well here goes … the blog post that some of you have waited for with much anticipation.  Quite honestly, I was so excited to share my “once-in-a-lifetime” experience with everyone, though I knew that just as my “pre-trip preparations” seemed overwhelming … so did the “post-trip” work – processing over WAY more images than I care to admit.  :-)  I hope that no one minds that I share these images over  several blog posts.

So, for those of you who don’t know, this past October I took an amazing trip that I had dreamed about probably for a lifetime – to see the polar bears in the wild!  Never did I think I would ever realize that dream.  Never did I think that it would be so PERFECT!  :-)

Years ago when I talked about going to see them, I think that Tom thought I was crazy… and that was when I wanted to see them from the comfort of the tundra buggies in Churchill.  Over the years, given my affection (or some would say “infection”, LOL) with Alaska, the ante had been raised.  I was now set to travel to the edge of the arctic to Kaktovik, AK.  It started with a good friend of mine was going to celebrate a special birthday there and Tom gave the OK for me to join her and her friend.  Excited, I set out to coordinate my plans with theirs, but it wasn’t to be.  I resigned myself to thinking that I was not going to realize my dream in 2015.  OK, I think I must have sulked around a bit because Tom eventually encouraged me to “find another way to make it happen”.  I jumped on that request and as they say, “the rest is history”.  Tom opted to let me venture out on my own for this trip … much like when I traveled to Yellowstone in the winter by myself, I’m sure he had a great time imagining how I was able to get all of my gear and clothing on and off 3 planes without him.  :-)  But, when there’s a will, there’s a way.  :-)

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Once I arrived to a snow-covered Fairbanks, AK, I prayed that I had everything that I needed and that things would go as planned.  My group was headed by Epic Destinations and Alex Mody.  It was me & 3 other photographers from various places around the world.  Little did those guys know what they were in for.  LOL

IMG_0037 We flew Ravn Air, in our 9-seater plane, without incident or delays, from Fairbanks to Barter Island (the airport that serves Kaktovik, where we would be staying).  I could hardly contain myself when we neared our destination.IMG_0006 Once safely on the ground, I could see that we were out in the middle of pretty much nowhere.  I could see a truck coming out our way to pick us up and transport us into the village.IMG_0137 To my delight, I ran into my dear friend Renee and Catherine (my new friend), – both amazing photographers – as I was arriving and they were ready to depart.  I could tell how absolutely pleased they both were with their experience and how excited they were for me.  I so wished that we could have shared the experience together … but hopefully we will have more opportunities to do so in the future.  Right girls?  :-)IMG_0132 In Kaktovik, there are few places to lodge and we stayed at the Marsh Creek Inn, which I’m told is the place to stay.  I really didn’t know what to expect, but I can tell you that I was pleasantly surprised … it quickly became my home away from home.  There’s one thing that’s nice about being the only female in my group … for I had pretty much my own space, bathroom, etc.  It just keeps getting better!  We were fed our meals, which were quite varied and tasty, while there.  Yes, Tim (the manager) and his staff took great care of me!IMG_0122 After we settled in and grabbed some lunch, we made our way to the first of 8 trips out to photograph the polar bears.  As you can see the waters were icy … see, the bears are there waiting for that ice to form, so that they can venture out to hunt seals, etc.IMG_0113 There it was … our first sighting of a polar bear!  Do I need to tell you how excited I was?_DSC7779 _DSC8543 The excitement waned only when I glimpsed my first mom with her cub. Now my heart was melting faster than the polar ice (couldn’t resist that one)!_DSC8116 We were asked earlier to keep quiet when we find polar bears.  While I understand the reason for the request, I immediately fessed up and apologized in advance for the squeals of delight that were undoubtedly going to be emanating out of me.  LOL.  To my surprise, I really wasn’t too bad.  I think that it was a combination of wonder, awe, not wanting to miss a second of the experience.  I would literally pinch myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming!_DSC8142 I remember being particularly aware of how patient and kind these polar bear moms seemed to be with their young._DSC8256 Just like the brown bears that I’ve photographed so often in the past, the cubs were quite rambunctious._DSC7930 Of course, being a lover of bear paws and pads, I couldn’t help but be totally fascinated with the ones possessed by these bears of the arctic.  Makes sense, but wow, they sure were giant._DSC7910 While photographing, you could just feel the love and bond between this mother and cub. I think that there were times that I actually would find myself forgetting to breath.  It was all so perfect!  What could possibly be cuter that this mom and cub bear hug?_DSC8342 I remember that when I was readying for my trip I was told about how the polar bears were not actually white … what I found is that the color of their fur varied greatly … from a creamy white to almost the color of a brown bear blondie.  _DSC6749 These cubs undoubtedly grew exponentially from the time that they are born, to the time they first emerge from the den, to now.  It was all that I could do not to jump out and go cuddle with it.  Just kidding of course.  ;-)_DSC7124 _DSC7451 Mom always kept a keen eye on her young.  I was afraid that we would see defensive and aggressive encounters between bear families, but we saw nothing like that at all.  They all just seemed to get along peacefully._DSC7301 These bears were quite intrigued by us, but never acted unnatural or afraid.  I think that they were almost as curious about us as we were of them._DSC9482 As I mentioned before, there are so many images and memories, so stay tuned for more blog posts, including the next post which will feature these amazing polar bears as well.  So until then, I leave you with this wonderful trio we observed from afar.  Near or far, they were amazing!_DSC6647Next up:  Sun, water fun, games, & more – Polar Bears!

© 2015  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

Denali NP … Until Next Time

All aboard the train back into Denali NP!  DSC_7298As the new day begins, the promise of great things ahead initiates with this beautiful sunrise.DSC_7179Even this moose cow stops what she’s doing to check out the fabulous sights and sounds of Denali.DSC_3026No matter the weather that you are greeted by, just wait a few moments or hours, it’s bound to change.  Though the misty, low clouds make this a gorgeous atmosphere as seen by a vista at the Savage River overlook pullout.DSC_7243Usually we head out early for a few runs along the park road looking for wildlife opportunities and friends to catch up with.  By mid-day, Tom has one thing on his mind … Bean Cloud coffee shake from The Black Bear, a delicious coffee house located across the street from the entrance to Denali NP.  Our good friend Rebecca knows that this is a required stop when she rides along with us.  :-)IMG_1055A usual hike, one of only a few established trails in Denali NP, is the Horseshoe Lake Trail.  Crossing over the railroad tracks I can’t help but stop, get low, and snap off a few images. Railroad tracks have always fascinated me.DSC_7327The water on this mornings hike was exceptionally still, which provided for wonderful reflections.  DSC_7346Along the way, while exploring the shore along the river, we heard the train whistle blow.  How lucky to get a second train sighting!  That deep blue and yellow train, set against the greens and yellows of the early transition period into the fall colors towards the front of the park, made it all that more special.DSC_7386Well, until a rainbow come out and topped it.  How lucky we had been with our travels and the weather this year in Alaska!DSC_7407Tom is quite fascinated by beaver dens, lodges, and activity, so it didn’t surprise us when he decided to ham it up for the camera.DSC_7430During the late afternoons and early evenings, we would “troll” for wildlife along the park road.  Of course, being in the midst of the beginnings of the moose rut, encountering bull moose gathering about was the prime target of our quest.  Usually, it wouldn’t be long before we got those encounters that we desired.DSC_3505This particular bull moose was one of only a few that still had traces of velvet on their antler paddles.  It was so amazing to see it hanging off the tines, like unraveling threads hanging down.DSC_3814Sometimes, while pleading your case for an additional night at the campground during a holiday weekend, you come across the unexpected.  I could hear another gal doing the same right next to me, then heard, “Hey lady”.  To my surprise, my good friend Renee was standing there, after just arriving to Denali without a reservation.  Well, neither one of us could get the extra night in demand, but we had our campsite for the night already, so we just had them join us!  How much fun we had sitting around the campfire, dropping our droopy marshmallows into the fire, enjoying a bottle of wine, and catching up with other, something we didn’t think that we would get to do until we returned to Anchorage.  So much fun that we ended up talking and laughing it up … right through the fabulous display of northern lights!  Ugh!  Oh well …. it was worth it.  :-)DSC_7435On our last day in Denali, the mountain was still out, though just a tad covered mid-section by a thin layer of clouds.  I think that those clouds add a bit of character to the mountain view._DSC3816When breaking during the day within Denali, I always take the time to see what their information signs have to offer for the day.  I was so struck by this quote by Margaret Murie – “Beauty is a resource in and of itself … I hope the United States of America is not so rich that she can afford to let these wildernesses pass by or so poor she cannot afford to keep them”.  So eloquently spoken and never so true as today.DSC_7485Yes, we truly LOVE Denali and this amazing vast environment of wilderness, wildlife, adventure opportunities, and views that take your breath away!IMG_1107DSC_7487More dall sheep sightings along the way.  These two guys were consistently there each day that we passed by.DSC_4036One last thought when experiencing Alaska to remember:  “Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary in life” – Rachel CarsonDSC_7469With that in mind, we made our way towards Anchorage to begin our journey home, somewhere along the Denali Highway.  I was restless that night and peeked outside around midnight or so.   Something was outside wanting to bid us farewell … until next time.  It was the aurora, once more, though behind some sporadic clouds.  Of course, I had to snap a few shots.  :-)  My spirit was refueled with energy and excitement.DSC_7550DSC_7553So, until next time … adieu Denali … as Arnold says … “I’ll be back”!DSC_7472IMG_1059Hope that you enjoyed our images and stories from Alaska 2015!

Next Up:  Think White ~~~~

©2015  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

A Special Memory in Denali

For some reason, we generally save Denali NP for the end of our trip.  Perhaps it’s to let the crowds thin out a bit, or maybe allow more time for the big bulls to arrive for the moose rut, or we like to end on a high – a definitive one pleasing for both wildlife and landscapes.  As soon as we arrived and saw the snow on the landscape and the trees, we knew that it was going to be a special week of Denali.DSC_0889As we made our first pass on the 15-mile public road within the park, while looking for moose, we spotted a bear … actually 3 bears walking the gravel bed of the braided Savage River.  What a great omen.DSC_0952We did find the moose as well … always fascinating to find them drinking near the kettle ponds._DSC6511_DSC6556Our arrival into the Denali NP was timed perfectly … for on August 31st, the Park Service officially gave back the name of Denali to the nations tallest peak – standing a proud 20,322′ tall – out for all to witness in all of its glory.  Not a cloud in sight … amazing!  Well once again we were inducted into the 30% club (seeing the mountain at all) and even the 10% club (seeing the mountain unobstructed).  Yes, we were blessed and quite proud to witness this historic moment of pride to the native Americans, Alaskans, and others who never understood why it was known as Mt. McKinley for so long._DSC3553If you look closely, you’ll see us at the summit of denali waving … LOL.IMG_1058Sometimes you just never know what you’re going to get when you venture into Denali’s interior.  For some strange reason, the sightings on this particular morning were few and far between, so when we arrived at the Eielson Visitor Center, the arctic ground squirrels running around in the deep fresh snow, got lots of unusual lens time._DSC3579_DSC3582_DSC3578Cute little guys too.  It reminded me that it’s not just bears, moose, wolves, caribou, and dall sheep – aka The Big 5 – that call Denali NP home.DSC_1286-2Of course though, I was there for bears, especially in the snowy landscape, so I was quite excited when this one came along, though I pretty much had too much lens.  For those of you who might wonder … we’re in the safety of the shuttle bus and this wasn’t cropped!DSC_1356An unusual sighting were these dall sheep ewes and their young traveling on the river bed.  In our 8 previous trips, I had never seen them that low.  DSC_1416Now when you arrive into Denali in early Spetember, you’re really there for two things … the fall colors and the moose rut.  Sometimes, you get both.  :-)DSC_1562DSC_1679These guys were out in full force for the rut and congregating together, sizing each other up I would imagine, and following the estrous cows in the area.  All of their antlers were clean, already shed velvet for the most part.  If you’ve only seen moose in the lower 48, you really need to see them in Alaska to appreciate their size.  It’s not just those giant vegetables that grow bigger in Alaska.  LOLDSC_1701DSC_1876A favorite of mine are the ptarmigan, especially this time of year when they’re transitioning from their usual rust color to white to aid in their camouflage from predators in the winters snowy landscape.  Quite unusual to find it perched in a tree … such beautiful birds.DSC_2052More landscape images of Denali looming in the distance, still roughly 33 miles away (as the crow flies).  There’s no denying the grandeur of Denali.DSC_7132Grizzly bears were out and about during the week – solo adults, as well as sows with cubs, and sub-adults too.  These bears can get quite big, but remain smaller than the coastal brown bears that feed on salmon.DSC_2351Caribou posing in the fall colored landscape is always a sight that takes your breath away.  Also primarily free from their velvet cover on their antlers, they are quite striking when their head is lifted and those antlers stand out proudly.DSC_2482Of course, just because their velvet-free doesn’t mean that they don’t itch, as you can see this one thrashing its antlers violently in the brush.DSC_2432One evening, while out looking for bears, we watched this bull caribou take off at full throttle over the braided river landscape and up the Savage River.  Not sure if something was after it or it simply got spooked, but it was amazing to see the territory that they could cover in pursuit.  Poor guy was exhausted and took a bit of a breather as he simply pranced about.DSC_2589Before long, off he excellerated again up towards the road and over the hill.  DSC_2593Yes, Denali is impressive … both the mountain and the national park.DSC_7144Next Up:  More from Denali

© 2015  TNWA Photography / Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com