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

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

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