Monday, June 29, 2009

Denali National Park, Day 3 - Small animals

67977 - Snowshoe Hare

67930 - Snowshoe Hare
 Day three was uneventful as I took a bus back to the Toklat river station (mp 53) but did not see much wildlife. It began to rain a couple hours into the ride, but I did manage to snap a couple photos at a reflecting pond just west of Toklat, and of the braided river as we crossed the bridge. It began to rain a couple hours out and this would have made photos difficult anyway.

67935 - Snowshoe Hare

67646 - Mew Gull calling

7358 - Arctic Ground Squirrel
 Upon my return from the day's trip, I rode out to Savage River and photographed some snowshoe hares on the wayback. I was able to take time and approach them very slowly, and one of them allowed me to get within about tenfeet and photograph him as he was chomping on some roadside vegitation. I was watching a mew gull sitting on afence post and he began calling, which made an interesting photograph.
Below is an arctic ground squirrel that I actually photographed on Thursday near the Eielson Visitor Center (mp66).

7327 - Grey Jay
 The last photo is a grey jay photographed at Wonder Lake on Thursday.

 The next post will deal with animals encountered while out hiking some of the trails inside Denali National Park. It will include photos of a fairly rare bird that I photographed yesterday while hiking the Rock Creek Trail, as well as several others during three different hikes. I hope to post it tomorrow if I can find internet access. Tomorrow is a travel day as we will be driving down to Valdez (approximately 10 hours away) and camping out, then taking a cruise on Prince William Sound Tuesday, hopefully to photograph whales. Please check back for updates.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Denali National Park - Day 2

On day 2, I took a bus tour to Wonder Lake, which is 85 miles inside Denali National Park. This is nearly as far as you can go, with only one stop, Kantishna, lying beyond. It is at the end of the road at mile post 89. This was an eleven hour bus tour and with the weather clear, the scenery was spectacular. I am posting lots of photos so everyone can see a little glimpse of what I saw.

The highlight of the day was being able to see all 20,320 feet of Mt McKinley without any clouds obstructing the upper peaks. It is rare to get to see the entire mountain, and from what we were told, only a small percentage of the visitors are so lucky. I shot photos of the mountain from 4 or 5 different locations along the Denali Park Road, but I will post my two favorites. The photo above is a view from the first place we saw the mountain.

This bull moose was the first wildlife sighting of the day, and it actually was before we saw Mt McKinley. The moose photo I posted yesterday was a one year old moose, where this one is an adult.

I was hoping to photograph a bear close up, but the 6 or 8 grizzly bears we saw this day were too far away for a good photo. I am hoping I will see one up close before my time here is up.

The next photo is from the Teklanika River overlook at mile post 29. This is the first rest stop along the way to points deeper inside the park.
The next three photos are mountains along the way to Polychrome Overlook.

I snapped this photo of one of the tour buses going around the bend to give some perspective to the photo. The drop-off here is about 900 feet to the valley floor below. The mountains in the distance are several miles away.
This is another photo of Mt McKinley, as seen from Stony Hill, located at approximately mile post 63.

This is Wonder Lake, which was my final destination before we turned around to head back.

These remaining photos were shot on the way back.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Denali National Park - Day 1

I arrived in Alaska Tuesday night and made it out onto the park road in Denali National Park for the first time Wednesday morning.

Seeing the amazing beauty of the scenery, I was reflecting on how wonderful it is just to be here. The possibility of seeing wildlife and photographing it would be icing on the cake.

Wednesday afternoon on the park road it started snowing. The truck thermometer showed the outside temperature at 36F. What a change from Florida... I was literally giggling at the experience.

We traveled the park road to mile post 15 and back twice in the morning without seeing any wildlife. But in the evening another run to the same location resulted in some exciting wildlife viewing and a few photos. Our first sighting was the yearling moose pictured above and we spent a few minutes photographing him before moving on to explore further.

We saw a coyote in the woods near the side of the road, and watched has he appeared to be hunting snowshoe hares. He was bouncing around in the woods chasing something and he finally emerged with a snowshoe hare pictured here. I felt sorry for the hare, but this all part of nature. It was interesting to watch.

This time of year the sun is not setting here until around midnight, and it rises again around 4:30am. It never really gets dark, and even in the middle of the night, it is no darker than dusk. It makes for long extended periods of light which are great for photographers.

The next two images were shot at night - the first one after 9pm, and the last one at 11pm.

I will try to post updates to the blog every day or two, time permitting. Please check back often for updates.

The next post will include images of Mt McKinley that I shot on day 2. We had a very rare, crystal clear day with blue skies morning until night, making it possible to view Mt McKinley from top to bottom. It is an amazing sight.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Headed to Alaska

Mt. McKinley, Denali National Park Alaska (film scan)
An unexpected opportunity arose in the last couple weeks to travel to Denali National Park in Alaska and hook up for some wildlife photography with my friend Ken Conger. Many of the folks who have stopped in here to visit my blog are also readers of Ken's blog. But for any readers who have not yet visited Ken's blog, you owe it to yourself to click on the link above or check out the spectacular wildlife photography on his photo website here.

The only other time I had the opportunity to visit Alaska was in September 2001, and we were actually on our way into Denali National Park the morning the terrorist attacks shocked the world on September 11th. What an eerie and bizarre day that was.

On that trip, I was without a camera of my own, and used a friend's Minolta Maxxum film camera that he insisted that I borrow and take with me. This was the first auto-focusing camera I had ever used. I had been shooting with a Canon AE-1 Program for many years, and autofocus cameras had not yet hit the market when I purchased it.

The photo of Mt. McKinley above was captured at Stony Hill, which the maps show at mile post 62. This a popular stop for viewing the mountain on the tours that go that far into the park. It was explained to us that less than 10% of the people who visit Denali get to see the top of Mt McKinley, because it is usually covered by clouds. We were fortunate to have a clear day, and I have wanted to return ever since, especially after I purchased some more modern camera gear. The photo above was scanned from film.

Grizzly Bear - Denali National Park, Alaska (film scan)
Anyway, this time instead of being limited to a one-day bus tour, I should have a lot more time to try and capture some interesting wildlife photos. This grizzly bear photo above was captured by shooting out of an open window of our tour bus. My wife was shooting video while I was shooting stills when the bears appeared from the woods and walked alongside the road.

I am planning to keep up the blog while I'm away, so we'll see how that goes, assuming I am able to get some decent photos. In the meantine, if you care to see any of the other photos my 2001 Alaska trip, there are 8 additonal shots posted on my photo website. I have only scanned and digitized a few of the photos from that trip.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Black Crowned Night Heron

This morning after meeting some friends for breakfast, I was watching some birds along the shoreline of an adjacent lake. I noticed a white ibis and a black crowned
night heron fishing along the shoreline, but was particularly interested in the heron. I had my camera in the car, but the longest lens I had with me was a 70-200 f2.8. I had never used this lens with an extender but since it was the only solution available, I tried some shots first with the 1.4x and then later with the 2x extender. All photos in this blog entry were shot with the 2x extender.
I was fortunate under these circumstances to capture a few decent images, although I blurred a few of them due to a combination of shooting at slow shutter speeds, and being crouched down in an unstable shooting position, trying to get down as close to the water level as possible. As always, it's best not to use an extender if you don't need to, but I found that the results were acceptable with both the extenders and the 70-200. It did seem to work a little harder to acquire focus with the 2x, however. Below are a few more photos from this morning.
I tried shooting both with a flash and without, because I feared that the flash may cause a bad red eye situation due to the distance from the bird, since it was mounted directly on the camera as opposed to using a flash bracket. But it only caused a problem in a couple of the photos.
Using the flash was probably the best approach because it allowed me to expose for the background, which had some bright reflections in the middle of dark water, and then use the flash to put some light on the bird.
My goal with flash photography is to make it subtle enough so that it is not obvious to the viewer that flash was used. The horizontal lines you see on the bird in several of these photos are reflections from ripples in the water. All in all, this turned out to be a fun way to spend a couple hours in an unplanned, unexpected opportunity.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Break from the Rain

Florida Birding

The heavy rain has finally let up, so now we are just getting our typical Florida summertime afternoon showers. This gave me the opportunity to go out shooting again, and I enjoyed spending the morning at my favorite venue. But it is really getting hot - the temperature topped out just over 90-degrees F yesterday, and it is expected to get worse. You can tell summer is on its way, although it has not officially arrived.
Below are some photos from my latest outing, including a few headshots and a great egret flight sequence.

[click on any image to enlarge]
6791c - Snowy Egret
This snowy egret photo is probably my favorite shot of the day. It was made with my backup camera, a Canon 40d with 300mm f2.8 lens and 2x extender (600mm). I've heard people say for a long time that the 2x extender degrades picture quality too much to be of use. I used to think that was true, but I realized last year that my camera focus was out of calibration, and once that was corrected, I began to get nice images, even with the 2x. I might add that to get good results with an extender, you should attach it to a good quality lens.

The tricolor heron below is a young bird, as you can tell by the coloration and the head feathers.
66424 - Tricolor Heron
There were a good number of roseatte spoonbills (15 to 20), but they were roosting in the trees and seldom flying around. Every so often a few of them would get restless and fly off to a different perch. I was not able to get many good flight photos of them because I either was not close enough or the light was at a bad angle. Here is one shot I managed to get, although pretty heavily cropped.

66577c - Roseatte Spoonbill

66606 - Snowy Egret
Snowy egrets were flying around jousting for space in several trees, and I captured this image when one of them held still for a few seconds. Most of the time, the snowy egrets did not stay put for very long, except for the ones sitting on eggs.

66651c - Tricolor Heron

I do not have many tricolor heron flight shots, so if I get an opportunity I always try to capture a better one. I snapped several photos as this one flew past, and
this was my favorite one.
Below is a flight sequence of a great egret flying to the nest with a stick. I watched as the bird tore the branch from a tree, and then prepared to fly back to the nest. I like the first and last shots the best. It's interesting to watch as the bird springs off the tree and spreads its wings to take off.

#66627 - 66631 Great Egret flight sequence

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Swallowtail Kite

66409 Swallowtail Kite
I have wished for an opportunity to photograph a swallowtail kite for quite some time, and until today I had never gotten that chance. It's funny that in my occasional travels with my friend Ken Conger, there was a day when we both thought we would nail that shot. I cannot honestly remember if it was 2007 or 2008, but talk was buzzing around the nature photography forums that a swallowtail kite was building a nest in the Everglades National Park, in a tree right next to the parking lot at Shark Valley. Folks were coming from all around and photographing that bird as it would swoop down to the nest, carrying moss. I had even thought about how I could like to compose a shot if I had gotten the opportunity. We were travelling across Florida and we had already planned a stop there, but when we arrived, we did not see the bird we were seeking. In fact we only saw one swallowtail kite there, and it was far in the distance from our location, and nowhere near the tree where we had been told to look.

66406 Swallowtail Kite
This morning I walked outside to pick up the newspaper and I noticed a swallowtail kite soaring about a hundred feet or so above the street. My first thought was if I go get the camera, it will be gone when I return. But what the heck, I went back inside and grabbed my camera and attached a 100-400 lens to it, then headed for the door. When I got back outside, the bird was about twice has high and getting a decent photo was out of the question. I snapped a few shots anyway just to have a record of bird's visit, and I was about to head back inside when the surprise came. A second swallowtail kite swooped down about 20 feet above me and began to circle my driveway. It was so close that I clipped the wings on a couple shots. I tried to relax and follow the bird and I managed to get a few photos before it flew away toward the lake that is behind our house. According to time in the exif data of the photos, it the whole ordeal lasted only 16 seconds.

66410 Swallowtail Kite
I wasn't sure I got anything worth posting as I realized that I had not even checked the exposure mode of the camera, or any of the settings. When I examined the camera I found that it was in manual mode, iso 200, 1/640 at f8. I had been photographing a construction project the last time out and those were the settings I used last. I pointed the lens toward the sky and looked through the viewfinder to check the exposure, and found that those settings amounted to +2/3 EV against the blue sky, and +1 EV against the white clouds according to the camera's meter. Now how lucky is that? When I shoot birds in flight I always set the camera to either +2/3 or +1 EV because it allows me to properly expose the bird without the meter being fooled by the bright sky. So just by chance, my camera was already set to the perfect settings to photograph that bird.

66412 Swallowtail Kite
One other thing I wish I had done is grab a flash. That would have helped, but perhaps the bird would have been gone before I returned if I had taken any more time. In the soft early morning light the photos came out pretty decent even without it.

66413 Swallowtail Kite

What a nice surprise this was first thing in the morning. You can bet I'll be looking up at the sky from now on when go outside to get the paper.