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

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

 

Visiting the Kenai Peninsula

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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© 2014 TNWA Photography

A Wing & A Prayer

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

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

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

Tsunami Warning Sirens all along the beach and town

Tsunami Warning Sirens all along the beach and town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Next:  All Aboard in Talkeetna!

Home’r Sweet Home’r

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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