Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Our Katmai Lynx

This post is entirely out of order, but is here for the benefit of my Natural Habitat Ultimate Alaska friends.

While returning from our Monday evening photo shoot at Brooks Falls, our guide, Eric Rock, spotted this lynx ahead of us on the trail. He alerted the rest of our group without startling the cat. Despite some initial fumbling and bobbling, I clicked in a few serviceable shots. The lynx was very patient and remained in place for several seconds.

Here's a quick album with a few nice ones with minimal post work (denoise, contrast, saturation). The shooting conditions were poor and my skills are limited.

2015 07 Katmai Lynx

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

AUWPS 12 - Our Final Day, at Brooks Camp


The river ran thick with salmon today, and by the time we arrived at the falls for our morning shoot, the bears had gorged on fish and were sleeping it off in the brush.

The salmon had the run of the falls and were jumping at rates we had not previously seen. So we trained our cameras on the cascade (water going down and salmon going up), hoping to catch the salmon mid-jump as they strained to return to their spawning waters.

At one point, I found myself shooting next to Len Rue, Jr.. (We was leading a group from Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris) We laughed at how in-sync our shutter releases were as we reacted to the jumping fish seen through our telephoto lenses, and we commiserated over how many deletions we were generating for ourselves. I made an attempt at Salmon Slo-Mo (see below).

As it was our last day traversing the mile-long trail between the lodge and the falls, I indulged in a few trail shots. Technically, you're supposed to keep moving (and talking) on the trail because bears.


After the morning shoot, it was off to lunch and (sadly) back on the float plane to King Salmon and then back to Anchorage. We had a slight delay out of King Salmon, so we took in a "true Alaska bar" experience at Eddie's Fireplace Inn.


In Anchorage, we gathered for our farewell dinner at Sacks Café.We did our best to let the good food and laughter suppress the realization that our adventure together ha dome to an end. With all the scenery, travel, and photography, it seemed like our welcome dinner (less than a fortnight prior) had been at least a month ago.

We were grateful to have a night in the deluxe accommodations at the Historic Anchorage after our time in the spare barracks of Brooks Lodge. After a breakfast at the hip and delicious Snow City Café, we scattered to our various separate post-safari destinations.

Jumping Salmon and Return to Anchorage

Salmon Jumping in Slow Motion

The Grizzlies of Brooks Falls, Alaska - Part 3

Brooks Falls LIVE WebCam

Monday, July 6, 2015

AUWPS 11 - A Full Day At Brooks Camp


The only traveling today was the walk back and forth to the falls. So here are some informative links and such.

National Park Service - Katmai National Park - Brooks Falls

Here's the layout of the camp. Meals are served at the lodge. Photo-ops are primarily at the popular but small Falls Platform. There were also scenes to be seen at the Riffles Platform and Lower River River Platform. There's a covered, open air structure at the junction of the elevated boardwalks to Riffles and Falls platforms called The Treehouse.

The cabin rooms were small, but packed four to a room. Spartan, but they did feature running water. Here's what our room looked like.

When we were gearing up or gearing down, I usually stepped out to the porch, where there was a small bench. There simply wasn't room for four grown men to sling camera gear and get into/out of rain pants.

One moment of excitement was had at the cabin (and I think it was had when upon our return to camp for dinner the first night), I opened the door to see an adult brown bear lumber past our cabin about 20 feet away. I went back in to alert our guide (and Team Swede). We naturally went back out to see, only to find two more following the first. That was a moment, but it passed too fast for photographs or video. Thankfully, an image like that sears into one's memory.

One that didn't quite get away was on our return from the evening shoot today. Eric was on point and came upon a lynx standing in the middle of the trail. We were all conditioned to be watchful and fearful of bears on the trail. So when he approached those of us in the rear with excited gesticulations, we instinctively went into retreat. But he summoned us forward to see this beautiful cat. My camera settings were all wrong, and I fired off a couple of losers before correcting things. Lucky for me, the kitteh was in stalking mode and we were a distance-keeping annoyance. So Mr. Landscape guy here captured a few keepers before the lynx slowly walked into the brush in pursuit of dinner.



A Full Day at Brooks Camp

Grizzlies of Brooks Falls, Alaska Part 2

GRIZZLIES OF BROOKS FALLS, ALASKA-#2 from Timberpak Video Prod-Ken Roggow on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

AUWPS 10 - Anchorage to Brooks Camp via King Salmon


Natural Habitat
It's hard to imagine that anything could top all we've experienced so far, but for most wildlife photographers, today is the ultimate highlight of our Alaskan adventure. 
Katmai National Park is home to the world’s largest population of brown bears, and it takes some effort to get here. We fly by small plane to King Salmon, then by float plane to world-renowned Brooks Lodge, one of the best places to view these coastal grizzlies in their natural habitat. 
From the safety of platforms built over Brooks Falls, we photograph this classic spectacle up close, as the bears fish vigorously for salmon swimming upstream to spawn. Every photographer dreams of that iconic shot, 'freezing time' as a salmon leaps from the boiling falls into the waiting jaws of a giant brown bear—and our Expedition Leader is by your side with tips to help you achieve this compelling image!
Our NatHab leader, Eric, supplemented our complementary hotel breakfast before we hopped on our Magic Bus for transfer to the very modern Ted Stevens International Airport.


A PenAir flight took us from Anchorage to King Salmon. (Best ANC-AKN flight attendant of the entire AUWPS trip.) A Katmai Air Service float plane flight got us from King Salmon to Brooks Lake. In optimal conditions, the planes land on Naknek Lake which is adjacent to Brooks Camp, but today's conditions required landing on Brooks Lake with a road transfer to the camp. (A float plane that attempted to land on Naknek this day became a sunken navigation hazard.)

All visitors to Katmai National Park lodging attend "Bear School" upon entry. At Brooks Camp, you are certainly living among the brown bears. That said, confrontational interactions are rare and maulings are once-in-a-generation events.

We settled in, lunched up, and trekked out to the Brooks Falls viewing platforms. We broke for dinner, then went back to the falls. But enough jibber-jabber; on to the pics!

Anchorage to Brooks Camp

Someone on Vimeo has produced a set of Brooks Falls brown bear videoclip montages, and it looks like they had weather similar to ours. So here's what you might have seen had you been there in person, part 1.

Grizzlies of Brooks Falls, Alaska - #1

Saturday, July 4, 2015

AUWPS 9 - Seward to Anchorage via the Alaska SeaLife Center


Natural Habitat [edited]:
This morning we tour the Alaska SeaLife Center on Resurrection Bay. Visitors to Alaska’s only public aquarium and ocean wildlife rescue center find a "window on the sea," enjoying close encounters with puffins, octopus, sea lions and other creatures while peering over the shoulders of marine biologists studying Alaska’s rich and diverse sea life. 
The mountain ranges of the Kenai Peninsula rise one after another on our drive to Anchorage, each offering a more enticing photo than the last. We spend the night in Anchorage.
Amusing "local color" at breakfast at the Breeze Inn: the waitress wasn't having it! I'm an easy-going, order-from-the-menu kind of guy. But the close proximities in the Breeze Inn's restaurant allowed considerable overhearing. The waitress verbally waived off several attempts of customers trying to get substitutions on various breakfast combinations. She explained that they were slammed and substitutions would slow things down unacceptably. And I do not doubt she was correct. My simple order took about 20 minutes to arrive, and the restaurant was nowhere near full capacity at the time.

We motored over to the Alaska SeaLife Center, an enduring positive legacy of the Exxon Valdez oil industry disaster. The SeaLife Center is to Alaska's marine biology what the Monterey Bay Aquarium is to California's. We had a "behind the scenes" info tour, and a bit of time to photograph before hitting the highway to Anchorage.

There was beautiful scenery along the way, and nice stop for lunch. And we poked around in Potter Marsh before ambling into Anchorage.

Our hotel for the night was the Historic Anchorage Hotel. Though there were trendy bistros in the area, I "settled" for a hot dog stand across from the hotel. And I stretched my legs looking for a subtle, understated, and tasteful Alaska T-shirt. I kissed what seemed like thousands of frogs (shirts) in the area and found exactly two. I'm not going to lie here, I was also looking at shirts as clean laundry.

Friday, July 3, 2015

AUWPS 8 - Fox Island to Seward


Natural Habitat [edited]:
After a final morning of photographing the wild environs of Fox Island, we transfer back to Seward.  
We spend the night in Seward, surrounded by some of Alaska's most majestic peaks.
After another delicious breakfast, we vacated our rooms and awaited our circuitous transport back to Seward. I distracted myself with attempts to capture hummingbirds at the Fox Island activity center in slow motion on my iPhone. They wriggle their little bodies so fluidly as they churn those propeller wings so as to maintain omnidirectional mobility. And I'm easily entertained.

Hummingbirds at High Speed

After an informative slideshow from our guide, Eric, we enjoyed a tasty Fox Island "day-tripper" lunch before boarding our vessel for the non-direct ride back to Seward.

Along the way, we spotted more whales, porpoises, and sea birds. Many of these creatures are fun to spot, but don't translate well to nice keepers in terms of photography. (I'm reminded of the old line about how a nice way to spend an evening with a special someone is to watch the submarine races.) Landscape images rolled by, and warm chocolate chip cookies were served.

We settled in at the Breeze Inn (directly across the street from the harbor) and reunited with our "left behind" luggage, plugged in our depleted devices, and checked our emails. Later we indulged in a dinner feast at Ray's Waterfront. Once again, I ordered fish: this time, it was Halibut Andaman, which seems to be a dish that is Google-owned by Ray's.

The town was at a summer peak, with Mount Marathon runners poised for the next day's insane race. This race isn't just a little bit crazy, it's stark raving mad.

At the stroke of midnight, it was The Fourth of July, and fireworks ensued.

Seward Independence Day Fireworks in Slow Motion

Thursday, July 2, 2015

AUWPS 7 - Kenai Fjords Private Tour

Sea Lion Dive

Natural Habitat:
Iconic images of Alaska are on display today as we board a private charter boat for a cruise through a realm where the Ice Age still lingers. Our small boat allows us to approach wildlife at intimate range, and Kenai Fjords National Park provides unparalleled opportunities for photographing marine life including orcas, Dall's porpoise, a large colony of puffins and myriad other seabirds.  
Mighty tidewater glaciers grind their way to the sea's edge, and we may be fortunate to capture exciting images of icebergs calving with a huge splash. The water is filled with floating bits of ice, often tinged blue, and we'll be able to get plenty of classic Alaskan shots. Following our all-day outing, our boat returns us to Fox Island for a final night.
After a delicious breakfast at the Wilderness Lodge, we were off to Resurrection Bay and our private tour of the Kenai Fjords. (All the meals at the lodge were, as the kids would say, "totes delish".)


There were Tufted Puffins, Horned Puffins, Eagles, and many other seabirds that the birders among us appreciated (and knew the detailed names of).

There were Humpback Whales, Fin Whales, Dall's Porpoises (who seem to enjoy escorting moving vessels).

We made a close approach of a massive glacier (Aialik, I believe) and experienced The Katabatic Breeze™ firsthand. We even pulled up a chunk of glacial ice and enjoyed an adult beverage cooled by chunks of it. There's an interesting gender study to be done on the beverage selection under such conditions.

Kenai Fjords Private Tour

An overnight time lapse of Resurrection Bay from the dining room seemed appropriate. So I let it rip. The incoming clouds made it seem darker than it really gets. The cruise ship at the end was a nice bonus.

Overnight at the Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

AUWPS 6 - Kenai Fjords and Fox Island


Natural Habitat:
Fox Island, a private island bordering Kenai Fjords National Park, reveals the pristine side of Alaska most visitors miss. The region is famed for sea kayaking, and an easy paddling trip will unveil some of the fjord estuary system's prolific wildlife. Keep your camera handy during paddling breaks to capture possible shots of Steller sea lions, sea otters, harbor seals and black bears wandering ashore.
This morning we were back on our Magic Bus, headed from Girdwood's Alyeska Resort to Seward's Municipal Harbor. Our final destination was the Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge on Fox Island, so we "packed down" and left much of our non-photo luggage at the Breeze Inn in Seward.

We boarded a Kenai Fjords Tours boat and headed out into Resurrection Bay. In the Kenai Fjords National Park, rugged, snow-capped mountains rise out of the ocean; it's as if the Tetons met the Pacific.

A landscape photographer is overwhelmed with too many options; it becomes paralyzingly difficult to isolate a composition. Being on a boat at midday cut into the possibilities a bit, and the motion of the boat meant that landscapes needed to be taken at 1/1000th of a second as the scenery moved past you.

But you lose sight of landscape compositions as you're swept up into the wildlife challenges that present themselves port and starboard.

Make no mistake, however; collecting keepers under these conditions will challenge skilled wildlife shooters. The motion of the boat is stochastic at best. The wildlife is distant. And moving. There is glare on the water and bright reflections on curved, wet surfaces. Birds with any white on them (gulls, puffins, eagles, etc.) will have that white blow out unless you underexpose the scene. But dark birds, etc., will be blots of black on reflective seawater and bright skies. You could try your luck with spot metering, but remember that both you and the subject are moving. A polarizer would help with the sky and reflections, but you're shooting telephoto and need photons to keep the shutter fast and the aperture tight, without pushing your ISO against the ceiling.

After settling in at the lodge, some of us geared up and headed out in a small flotilla ("flotillita") of tandem sea kayaks to explore the nearby coves. "There were plants and birds and rocks and things," including moon jellies. And there was apparently some available real estate on Fox Island.

Kenai Fjords I