Archive for wildlife

Apathy or ardor

Posted in alaska, photography, travel, wildlife with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2013 by polarguide

Its that time of the year again, when after returning home from months of travel, work and adventure I have trouble motivating to do anything.  This in between time generally involves lounging on the couch drinking too much coffee, talking to my self or speaking out loud to people who aren’t present. I pace. I suffer with intermittent episodes of insomnia.  It seems the more free time I have the less organized my mind becomes and finding one thing to focus on is hopeless.

Its hard to feel inspired to photograph when I have hundreds of files full of thousands of pictures from Antarctica that I still have not organized. I have snapped only 150 images this past month. I feel photographically congested.

So this year I decided to take a new approach.  I quit the coffee.  Coffee scatters my pattern of thinking. It causes my thoughts to reel down uncharted paths that lead my mind no-where.

Also, I started a strict vegetarian diet. No eggs, cheese or dairy of any kind. Ninety five percent of my diet is fruit and  hearty colorful (mostly organic) vegetables and lots of beans. Once a week I have a meal of fresh salmon or halibut caught by local Alaskan fisherman  or deer meat that I shot and butchered myself. I also joined the local gym and I try to work out everyday.

During this phase of my year I usually hole up in my apartment for weeks at a time, rarely answering the phone and experiencing mild anxiety about spending time with friends while simultaneously feeling sorry for my self, wondering why no one ever calls me.  Lately I have been trying to socialize more. My new strategy has been to actually answer the phone and when someone invites me on a hike or to a dinner party instead of mumbling an incoherent  excuse, I bite my lip and say yes.  So far the results have been quite successful and I am remembering that I actually do have friends.

This past week I said yes twice. The first was to an invitation to go on an overnight sailing trip to Saint James Bay with three other friends.  We had a great trip with some real life adventure when we nearly flipped the thirty five foot steel hulled sail boat completely upside down. Luckily, no one was injured.  The second yes was an invitation to a simple walk on the beach on a sunny day with three lovely ladies. Here are few snap shots from both events.

sailing-11

Kayaking in St. james Bay

Kayaking in St. james Bay

St. james Bay

St. james Bay

Dall's porpoise exhaling

Dall’s porpoise exhaling

Immature Bald Eagle

Immature Bald Eagle

Rowdy Stellar sea lions

Rowdy Stellar sea lions

It seems silly to lament these things, these journeys into the heart of apathy are a necessary rest period.   Soon it will all change. Three more weeks and my sea kayak guiding season begins, then I will be on the move for another three months and life will be a parade of new people, wilderness adventure and wildlife photography.

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Still Reflecting

Posted in antarctica, photography, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 29, 2013 by polarguide

I am in Seattle today.  I will be hanging around here for a couple of weeks waiting for the sub-let agreement on my apartment to expire. I have a few friends in Seattle and I plan  on spending some time visiting and eating at every Korean restaurant I can find.  I also enrolled in a U.S. Coast Guard captains course.  A two-week course to obtain a license to captain small vessels in Alaska.

Bobby in Seattle with her pet chicken, Velveeta

Bobby in Seattle with her pet chicken, Velveeta

On the last two voyages of the Antarctic season the weather was so spectacular it was possible to take incredible reflection photographs. I have been thinking of ways to improve the balance and symmetry in my photographic compositions.  Often while I am trying to photograph I am also working: driving a boat or paddling a kayak.  It seems I am always  photographing on the run and often shooting moving subjects, wildlife just doesn’t sit still. Rarely do I have time to consider angles, lines and symmetry.

prions over the Drake Passage

prions over the Drake Passage

I have posted a few pictures of prions reflected over the Drake Passage. I keep posting them because seeing a prion over the Drake passage is a rare event for most people. Having a Drake Passage crossing that is calm enough to produce mirror image reflections almost never happens. When it does the reflection of sky on the water surface produces a surreal effect. the photos seem to be of birds flying with the sky as a back drop, but the reflection makes us second guess what we are seeing.

When the water is calm prions like to drag the tip if their wing along the surface of the water.  Shooting a back-lit bird in evening light produces amazing effects.

Prion wing dragging with back lighting

Prion wing dragging with back lighting

prion wing dragging with back lighting

prion wing dragging with back lighting

Sunny calm days in Antarctica produce amazing opportunities for reflections and reflections are one of the easiest ways to incorporate symmetry into wildlife/nature photography. It’s almost cheating, but given the conditions I am shooting under: Driving a zodiac, shooting from the deck of a moving ship or the fact that I never use a tripod, make it challenging to take interesting photos with great composition and symmetry.  here are a few more of my favorites.

Antarc_reflect4

Antarc_reflect7

Antarc_reflect8

Antarc_reflect10

Weekend harvest adventure part 2

Posted in alaska, bears, deer hunting, photography, travel, Uncategorized, wildlife with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2012 by polarguide

Finger on the trigger, glaring through the scope I thought to myself ” I know this bear.”   This was the same bear I photographed the previous week.  I recognized his coffee colored legs and shimmering golden shoulders.  He had a mischievous look in his eye. He struck me then as a young bear, maybe three years old, recently abandoned by his mother trying to find his place int he world.

This guy

The tone of My voice dropped, low and threatening, “Hey bear.”  He planted his front paws, lowered his head and gazed up at me from under his eyebrows.  Then he turned and strode away, peering over his shoulder as if concerned I might be following.  I lowered my firearm  and turned to find my three amigos standing behind me.  The bear apparently decided four were too many to take and went about his business of digging roots and catching fish.

One hour later we were back on the Taurus. Exhilarated and Giddy from the cold we ripped off our wet clothes.  Someone opened a bottle of whiskey and passed it around. We each took a slug, then a second.  We laughed.  We laughed about our wet clothing. We laughed about Zach falling in the river and the bear that stole the fish. We laughed that our hands were so cold we couldn’t button our pants.  The bottle made another round.  ” What was that bear thinking?”  Zach asked.  “Aah, he was just a young bear trying to claim some territory,”  I answered.   “I am surprised you raised your gun at him,”  Shellie added.  ” Well,”  I said  “I had no intention of shooting him, I just wanted to be prepared in case he made a run at me.”

We chugged out of Mud Bay, back into Icy strait.  The sky sagged with heavy grey clouds.  The wind whipped white caps across the surface of the water.  We headed west along the north shore of Chichagof Island toward  Idaho Inlet.

Shaw Island is a small islet that floats off the western shore of Idaho Inlet.   “Wanna cruise by Shaw and scan the beach for deer?” Zach suggested.  “Shaw is pretty small,” I replied. “Not sure why a deer would be way out there, but worth a shot I guess.”  Zach swung the boat  south to scan the northern shore of Shaw Island.  From the aft deck I strained to see through my rifle scope as the boat bounced across the chop. We approached within one hundred yards when, surprisingly, I spotted a good size deer standing at the waters edge.  It’s honey colored coat contrasted with the dark  beach boulders.

The bow of the the Taurus crunched to a stop on the rocky beach and the deer slunk into the forest.  I was over the bow, rifle loaded and ducking under alder bows moments later.  I crept thirty feet into the dark understory then stood still and waited.  The deer appeared from behind a log twenty feet to my right and froze in alarm.  I jerked the rifle into place but  I forgot,while I was scanning the beach from the boat I had my scope zoomed in at maximum power, at this distance all I could see was a blur of brown .   I lowered my gun to decrease the zoom. The deer took three steps forward and evaporated into the forest.

I crouched, trying to see which way the deer had gone.  I peered through a riot of roots, shrubs and downed trees.  I ducked under some dead fall and knelt exactly where the deer had stood.  I adjusted the focus of my eyes, trying to see between the forest. Looking for a flick of a tail or twitch of an ear, a splash of brown in symphony of color.  He was gone.

He couldn’t be far, only seconds had passed. I was in awe of his ability to completely disappear so effortlessly. Creeping over down logs and wading through tangles of blueberry bushes I came to a rise in the landscape and followed a well used game trail up a  steep ridge line. I arrived at the top out of breath and discouraged.  No way a bumbling bi-ped like me  could track such a silent and elusive creature through this jungle. I leaned against a tree drawing  deep, quiet breaths and listened, hoping the deer was still close by.

He bounced out of thin air and landed on an open patch of moss thirty yards away.  Standing broad side with all four hooves planted firmly on the ground, head turned looking directly at me, he froze in perfect position. A beam of pale sunlight broke through the trees and landed squarely on his statuesque silhouette. I blinked with disbelief.

I rolled my left hand over the stock of the rifle and snapped the safety off.  My heart quickened. I could feel blood bounding in my neck, my breath short and quick.  I placed the cross hairs on his chest just behind his left leg. My aim bounced with each beat of my heart. I took a deep breath and with a slow exhale squeezed the trigger.  The roar of my rifle echoed through the trees, out past the cobble stone beach and died somewhere over the foggy ocean.

I rested the firearm against a tree and gulped down a few more deep breaths.  I let my nerves settle, waited for my heart to slow then cautiously walked to the deer. I ran my right hand over its coarse golden coat and quietly thanked it.  I Grabbed up the fur on the scruff of its neck a began the slow drag through the dense forest. I gutted him on the beach and skinned the carcass on the Taurus as we continued west through South Inian Pass and into Cross Sound.

We spent that night on the Shoreline scow.  The Shoreline scow is a floating fish barge that buys salmon around the clock from fisherman working the Cross Sound fishery.  The scow floats in Lisianski Inlet just five miles from the the gulf of Alaska and the open pacific ocean.  It is operated by an all female crew affectionately know as the scow girls.  My girlfriend Liz works on the the scow from time to time.  We decided to pay her a visit, cook the scow girls a fresh meal of venison and get an early start fishing in the morning.

By mid-Sunday morning we  had twelve nice salmon, we completed our weekend adventure with a long run back to Gustavus.  We made it back to town sometime around two p.m.  The rest of the day was spent getting our gear moved off the boat,  properly butchering the deer, cleaning the fish and preparing them for the freezer.  Monday morning Adam and I helped Zach get the final rafters installed on his cabin and I flew back to Juneau to attend a photography class at the University.

In two days time and in the company of good friends, through rain storms, near bear attacks and rough seas we managed to harvest a good amount of fish and venison to add to our winter stockpile.

Shellie with a nice Coho

Shellie and Coho

Zach’s Cabin

Weekend Harvest adventure part 1

Posted in alaska, bears, guiding, photography, travel, Uncategorized, whales, wildlife with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2012 by polarguide

Note: I like to keep my posts to 1000 words or less but it was a long adventure filled weekend. I decided to write about it in two or maybe three parts. The autumn weather and the practice of  harvesting wild food does not allow time for photos. I hope my writing is entertaining enough to keep you interested. Who ever you are.

We left Gustavus aboard the Taurus at ten in the morning on Saturday to spend the weekend fishing and hunting on northern Chichagof Island.  The morning was cool, the high grey clouds parted occasionally revealing patches of blue sky. Columns  of whale breath rose like smoke signals from the flat surface of the sea . I counted thirty whales while crossing Icy Strait.

Departing Gustavus aboard the Taurus

morning smoke signals

morning smoke signals

We arrived in Mud Bay some time around eleven a.m.  Shellie, the most experienced and prepared of our group of four had her waders on before the boat hit the beach.  She hopped off the bow, helped set the anchor, shouldered her pack and fishing pole and set off up stream.   the weather had begun to deteriorate. Zach and Adam fumbled with their fly rods and fishing line while I stuffed a few extra warm layers in my backpack, then jammed my camera and two lenses on top of that.  With out a word I hoisted the pack, snatched the fly rod in my left hand the rifle in my right and  lumbered along the bank of the river wondering how Shellie (now completely gone from sight) could be moving so quick.  One hundred meters up stream I freed my self from pack and pole and ducked  into the forest in search of a deer.

I slipped under a stand of  alder and into the dark understory of spruce trees.  Rifle in hand I waited, listened, then crept over the soggy pine needles.  Cold, humid air filled my head with the astringent scent of spruce pitch, but no sign of deer.  I hunted through the trees until they gave way to an open meadow of tall sedge.  I stood on the edge of the forest gazing over a golden sea of swaying grass, waiting for a grazing deer to betray its position and lift its head.  A Northern Harrier materialized above. I watched it’s effortless glide , rising slow, dipping quick like a kite, scouting the savanna  below, hunting,  just like me. Except for the flying part.

The rain gusted sideways in sheets.  I looped around the forest and back to the the river to retrieve my equiptment.  Far In the distance I spied Zach and Adam as they disappeared at a bend in the river, Shellie was, by now,  far ahead of them.  I was happy to be alone.

I plodded up stream realizing I had far too much gear.  My camera uselessly jammed in the top of my backpack  made it cumbersome to shoulder the rifle and it kept slipping down my right my arm.  My left hand was occupied with the fly rod.  My three friends were wearing proper waders, they could wade across the river through waist deep water making navigating up stream much faster. I was wearing an old borrowed pair of hip waders that leaked. The crotch  high rubber boots were two different sizes.  knee deep water was as deep as I could manage.

The cold wind seemed to drive the rain straight through my clothing.  The belief that modern technical rain gear (gortex and the like) is actually water proof is a load of bullshit!  Trust me. My spiffy new Patagonia jacket  hung on me like a wet bed sheet.  My socks, soaked with leaky river water  slid down below my ankles and bunched in the front of my boot. It felt like flopping around in wet clown shoes.  I forgot to mention: I am new to fly fishing,  my attempts to cast in the driving wind and rain were frustrating to say the least.  After two hours I managed to catch nothing but shrubs and dead wild flowers on the river bank behind me.

I began to miss my friends. I assumed they had successfully fished out every decent fishing hole I was now passing on my clumsy journey up river.  I abandoned  fishing and decided to march forward until I found them.  I crossed a shallow section of water and confronted a steep muddy bank on the other side.  My boots in the muck, I reached both hands over head and with my right hand I planted the butt of the rifle into the soggy earth, with my left hand I planted the butt of the fly rod.  I then attempted to pull my-self up the muddy river bank in my waterlogged clown shoes. I kicked one foot high and began to stand, it slipped through the mud and my other foot quickly tried to replace it and Suddenly I was running in place, feet frantically kicking and slipping through the mire until my arms grew tired, realizing the futility of the effort my feet quit and left me dangling.  My grip slowly failed and I oozed down the river bank, belly in the mud.  I felt so alone.

I hefted my self from the mud cursing. I hurled my rifle over the river bank, then the fishing pole, then my pack.  Grabbing fists full of mud and grass I clamored on hands and knees and came up panting, thankful there were no witnesses to this embarrassment.  I stood to brush the mud from my clothes, that’s when I noticed the bear.

He was standing on the opposite side of the river watching me with a vacant glare. We contemplated  each other for a  moment from a safe distance.  “What are you looking at” I hollered over the gurgling river “this kinda shit is easy for you, you’ve got four wheel drive.  But  I’ve got something  you don’t… thumbs sucka!”  I jutted both thumps out in front of me and wiggled them at the bear.  He appeared unimpressed. He began swaying left to right  with an listless stare that made me uncomfortable.  I flung my pack on to my back, lifted my rifle and rod and staggered forward, glancing over my shoulder to be sure I wasn’t being followed.

About fifty meets up river I began to hear strange sounds, like an ancient foreign  language broken up by the rush of the river.  Was it laughter?  My friends having fun with out me?  Maybe it was the wind, I thought.  I came to a fork in the river. A channel flowed in from my right and in that channel were three large brown bears in the midst of a fierce fight over a prime fishing spot.  They were in the middle of the river thrashing at each other with gnashing teeth and claws, fur and spit flying everywhere. The sound of the battle was barbaric and evoked a fright in me that rose from deep in my guts.

“shit!”  I thought out loud  “I’m going to have cross the river again to avoid the clash of the titans”. I slid down the muddy bank trying not to draw attention to myself.  slipped into the river and waded to the other shore, all in plain view of the sparring monsters.  I found Zach,  Shellie and Adam fishing a hole not to far up river from the bear fight.

Hours  passed since I had seen my three friends. All day I had imagined  them having a grand ole time together, catching fish, laughing and eating cheese and crackers in the sun.  Turns out they had adventures and mishaps all along the way. Zach caught a Coho salmon and left it on the beach next to Adam.  While Adam was distracted by a fish on his own line a bear crept from the bushes and stole the salmon right out from under him.  While trying to wade across the river, Zach fell in and drifted down stream. He climbed out on the opposite shore and continued fishing.   The relentless rain and constant wind zapped our enthusiasm to fish any longer.  We were all soaked to the core and on the verge of  hypothermia.  We decided to make our way back to the Taurus.

Zach pulled an inflatable paddle board up river with him and he and Adam began to flat downstream.  Shellie and I trudged along the edge of the river and once again bear appeared on the shoreline to our right.  Zach and Adam floated on the paddle board to the opposite shore to avoid the beast.  As the bear approached it became clear he had no intention of changing his coarse to avoid a close encounter. Shellie waded through the deep part of the river to join the others, leaving me to face the bear on my own.  “Seriously” I said sarcastically. “you’re going to leave me over here alone with this guy”.

I backed into the current  as far as I could with out going over my boots.  The bear passed thirty feet to my right. I spoke softly to it mostly to reassure myself .  When he ambled a comfortable distance past me I paced slowly to the shore. Then a surprising thing happened:  He turned and began to walk straight at me. He sauntered at a relaxed pace, head slightly lowered his eyes fixed on me.  “Hey bear!” I shouted, but he kept coming.  I took a large step toward the bear and kicked up some water “Hey Bear!”.   He closed the distance to less than twenty feet. I dropped my fishing pole, slapped a .300 caliber rifle round into the chamber and flicked off the safety.

I have had countless close encounters with brown bears, black bears, even polar bears. Focusing a bear into my two hundred millimeter Nikon lens is a common experience.  Raising my rifle and narrowing the cross-hairs  between the eyes of a brown bear was a whole new sensation.