Black Grouse lekking in Finland

This image was taken on a nice cool morning when the temperature was -18.5 degrees Celsius according  to the van out to the lekking grounds. We got up around 5am and were collected by our guide Eero around 5:20. We drove 15-20 minutes outside of Vaala in Finland to where the lekking ground were. It was late March, early April when we were there. It was about 1km from the road into the lekking site so some of us took the snow machine with Eero and the rest of us walked. By the time we were all together again, the three hides were prepared and we entered and got ready for the birds to arrive. We took off our boots after we entered and had a sleeping bag to keep our feet warm. The birds arrived with 30 minutes – they just appear out of nowhere. Generally they are pretty far away at the start and they come closer to the hide then and start lekking – a mating ritual of sorts between the different males vying for the attention of the females in the group.

This shot was taken near the end of the time in the hide – the sun had come up behind the hides and cleared the trees and started to throw some nice light on the birds in front of us. I shot this with the 500mm again but I did not need that range for the final display and fights between the birds – 200-300mm would have been plenty  – even on a full frame camera. There was no needs for tripods as we were down on our bellies at eye level with the birds and using the supports that were in the hide – namely bean bags or portable discs with 1/4 in screws in them for the bodies of the cameras to go in. I compensated for the snow and light by adding +1.33ev to the camera’s metering adjustments.

Another image from one of the other lads on the trip can be seen here

Equipment used:

Camera:Canon 1D Mark IV
Lens: Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS + 1.4x Extender (Effective focal length 700mm)
Wimberly head attached to mounting plate in the hide
EXIF: ISO 1000 f/5.6 1/1000 +1.33ev 700mm

A short week in Alaska

Anchorage, Seward and Denali NP

Duration: 10 days, 9 nights
Location: ALASKA
Budget: €2,800
Miles Travelled: 1,800

The start of the trip sees us arrive in Anchorage from an early morning flight up from Seattle. Then we head down to Homer for the eagles and some bear watching out in Hallo Bay.

After this we head back up to Seward and do some day trips out on the water for wildife and a bit of fishing.

Finally we head back up to Anchorage and north to Denali National Park for some sightseeing and hiking in the area.

 

Day 14 – So this is a follow on from my previous weeks on the trip to date – starting off in Hawaii and then driving up the West Coast from San Francisco to Seattle. Now we are after departing Seattle early on Sunday morning at 06:00 and flying up to Anchorage in Alaska – a flight that took approximately 2h 40 minutes. We slept on the plane for a bit and just rested after the early start. We had had a nice time in Seattle and the West Coast for the past week so we were looking forward to getting off the beaten track a bit in Alaska and seeing what was out there. Now I have to say, of all the places that we were going to travel to on this trip, Alaska was the most unpredictable weather wise. I had done the research and you could expect just about anything from one day to the next. Luckily for us, we are from Ireland and that is your typical weather situation they’re going from one day to the next. When we landed that morning we got a snack at the airport and picked up some brochures and other information leaflets before heading to collect our car. We had toyed with the idea of an RV for the time that we were here but it would be wasted when we were out on Hallo Bay looking for the bears etc so we decided against it. Also there was the cost of fuel for it etc and all in all I think that it was working out at around the same cost – maybe even a bit cheaper depending on where you stay at night hotel wise.

Anyways we collected our car at the airport and got a map off the lady behind the counter and got directions to a local supermarket. The weather was a bit colder and wetter than we had expected so we decided to stop off and get some clothes and food before the journey down to Homer. The weather was not in it to walk around the city doing sight-seeing so we were both in agreement to head off towards Homer and get that much of the journey under our belt and out-of-the-way. We headed to a local Safeway store and looked around inside and made our purchases. It was the likes of a Dunnes Stores or Tesco at home for us so we browsed around the place and made some purchases. The one thing that they have here in Alaska – and the States – is a Club or Members Card – much like back home. We did not bother getting one until later in the trip and we should have got it here. There are some great offers to be had in the place for buying food for lunch and meals and they have some great discounts with the card. We got it later on and used it plenty of times before we flew onto Chicago. Anyways we got some jackets and a jumper and some hats as we were sure they were going to get destroyed with mosquito repellant spray and deet so we did not want to have to damage our good hiking clothes too much. We checked out the clearance rack in the clothes section of the store and got a few pieces for relatively cheap and then loaded up the car and started to drive South towards Seward. There were a few over taking lanes and a lot of the landmarks on the way were familiar to me as I had been there back in 2006 with the lads. I was telling Tracey of the different locations along the way that I could recall and pointing out where we stopped for photos or turned off in order to visit a local attraction or something like that. When we were about 30-40 minutes from Seward we turned off to the right and headed for Homer – I think that we were around 90km from Anchorage and it was a major junction so kinda hard to miss. We turned off there and had around 2h30 minutes to go to get to Homer according to the GPS and the road signs. We were now on the Sterling Highway or Highway 1 South. All we had to do now was kept on moving till we ran out of road – then we would be in Homer. Overall journey time was 4 hours according to the research and data that we collected online. We drove along and chatted and looked at the different views of the countryside as we made our way along in a south-westerly direction towards Homer.

We were looking for somewhere to eat along the way and there were several towns and villages in which to stop and eat but because we had an early start the last thing we wanted was a large meal – it would only make the driver tired and then it would be hard to get back on the road. The main town along the route was Soldotna – pretty much due South of Anchorage but you have to go around a spit and coast road in order to get to it. It has a local airport as well in case people wanted to fly into it and rent vehicles from there – but Homer has the same so it would probably be better to fly all the way to Homer and drive back up. We did not opt to stop here for food but keep on moving – we had some bread and lettuce and cheese and honey mustard in the car from Safeway so we got sandwiches of those as we were driving along. The tasted great and we ate and kept clocking the milage off piece by piece. It was approximately 75 miles from here to Homer or 90 minutes drive time. We stopped at a few stages to get some images of different views and locations and I saw some eagles flying over head as we were driving also but they were either high up or just crossing the road and moving on towards the tree lines or another destination. We approached the view point just outside of Homer later on that day and pulled in to take some images. Unfortunately it was quite foggy and there was low lying cloud hanging over the Kachemak Bay area so there was not a lot to see. We got back into the car and drove on into town to see the place. According to Wikepedia, Homer is a city located in Kenai Peninsula Borough in the U.S. state of Alaska. According to the 2010 Census, the population is 5,003. One of Homer’s nicknames is “the cosmic hamlet by the sea”; another is “the end of the road”. You will see where the latter comes from when you drive down to here from Anchorage or Seward. Homer is located at 59°38’35” North, 151°31’33” West (59.643059, -151.525900). Homer is on the shore of Kachemak Bay on the southwest side of the Kenai Peninsula. Its most distinguishing feature is the Homer Spit, a narrow 4.5 mile (7 km) long gravel bar that extends into the bay, on which is located the Homer Harbor. Much of the coastline as well as the Homer Spit sank dramatically during the Good Friday Earthquake in March 1964. After the earthquake, very little vegetation was able to survive on the Homer Spit. According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 22.4 square miles (58 square km), of which, 10.6 square miles (27 square km) is land and 11.9 square miles (31 square km) is water. The total area is 52.83% water.

Juvenile Eagle

We drove into town and passed another Safeway on the left hand side and just up the road we saw a photographer out taking pictures in the middle of the road 🙂 Of course, being a fellow like-minded photographer, instead of blowing the horn at him or yelling to get off the road, I rolled down the window and looked out to see what had caught his interest. I immediately spotted an eagle in the tree surveying the local area. Suffice it to say that I got my camera and lens out and threw on the hazard lights and started getting some safety shots. The bird was sky lite so it was throwing off the camera with metering but once I put in some exposure compensation I was getting some nice images. The photographer was Dan was Switzerland and he had been in Alaska for a few days with his wife and was leaving that day from Homer. They had an RV and were pulled in to a lay by near the eagle nest. The female was on the nest with the chicks and feeding then – assume that the male brought back something but I missed that part. Anyways I stayed there and moved around the nest for different views and angles and took some more pictures of these magnificent birds before the male flew off – either for peace or more food for the fledgling chicks. I was really happy to have seen Dan and met him for that brief moment. We chatted about camera, lenses and things to see and do in the area – cant beat a bit of local knowledge :-). Anyways, after this, we drove down along the spit to check out the place and get our bearings for the morning as well as see what sort of place Homer is. We crossed over the bridge and found the collection point for the morning for the Hallo Bay Tour and it was currently closed. We said that we would call them later on to confirm tomorrow’s flight and the time for the pick up. We then headed to the end of the Spit and saw several more eagles along the route – mainly on top of lamp posts or flag masts. We returned the way we had come and made our way to the B&B for the night – the Pioneer Inn. It was a nice place to stay and the family were very friendly to us when we got there. We called the Hallo Bay tour office and told them we were in town and they informed us that they were away from the office for the moment and to call down in the morning at 09:00 for the departure. We looked around the town some more and then went up to a store to try get some rain clothes in case it was wet for the walk tomorrow. Unfortunately there was nothing really cheap or convenient to get so we chanced it and said we would bring an extra change of clothes for the trip and hope we were lucky. We got back to the Inn and got something to eat and decided to get an early night as we had an early start that morning from Seattle and tomorrow was going to be no different. Batman Begins was on tv so I watched that – or most of it – for the evening and then fell asleep once it was over.

Float Plane

Day 15 – So we got up and got some breakfast and headed down to the offices for our pick up and meeting. There was no one there so we walked across the road to a coffee shop and got a cup of coffee there and asked the girl to call the Office number. She did this and they said they were running late and would be along in 20 minutes. We waited and finished our coffee and walked across to the office when the car arrived. Our phones had sketchy service when we were out and about so we could not rely on them in order to be contactable. Email was the best option. Unfortunately the weather was not co-operating with us this day – the people in the office did not know what was going to happen so we sat down and watched a DVD documentary on the bears in Hallo Bay. Clint, their pilot – arrived in around 11:00 and said that at the moment they were not flying out to the island. They said it might clear and we could head away but check in again in about 90 minutes. It was very informal to say the least and not really professional – but what could we do. We had found out the night before that there might be some eagles up around the dump so we were going to head up to there and see if we could find anything. We left the office and headed back out of toward towards Anchorage and turned off to the right before the look out point – the dump was about a mile out-of-town. I went into the office there when I arrived and asked if I could go in and see if there were any eagles about – the manager was helpful and said work away and told me where to look out for them – and we drove on in and started to scan the tree line and behind the fence. The weather started to turn pretty crap at this point and there was no point in trying to get out of the car as the place was a mess and I did not know how much the birds were used to humans. I got some shots of a Juvenile Eagle on a pile of rubbish alright in the rain and then we headed back to Homer as it was getting close to our check in time for the office. We stopped into the Safeway to get something to eat for lunch and when we were there we made a call to the office – still no change in the weather front and they said to check back again in another two hours. I did not know what this would mean re our trip – we had paid for two days and two nights out on the island looking for bears – even if we got out later on today we would have missed the whole day out there looking for bears – though it was bright till close to 21:00 hours. Anyways we took our lunch down to the Spit and sat out and ate it while looking at the locals and tourists moving around the place. We looked into some of the shops along here also and got some wet pants and coats in case we needed them for her or Seward later on in the trip. At around 16:00 we headed back to the Office and they were still reluctant to tell us what the plan was for the day – extremely indecisive. I said that it was unlikely that we were going to go out now as it was so late but they said it might clear and we might get out by 17:00. We waited just in case but when I asked about our trip and what we paid for and what we were going to get the people in there were reluctant to give me any idea of refund or compensation etc. Eventually we were told that the flight was not going so we called the Pioneer Inn again to see if they had any rooms for the night. Unfortunately they were booked out as well so we stayed in another place for the night – one that was recommended by the office. It was small and cozy and cost us another 100 dollars – a question that should have been answered by the Office re who was paying for it as we were supposed to be out on the Island so we did not have anything booked for today. However they were not willing to say what the story was with that so we headed back to the hotel and dropped off our bags. We got some nice shots of Float Planes landing on the way to the hotel the first time as well – a bit of luck really as they were coming in to land from a trip that they could get out and do that day – seemed like we were the only ones that were grounded.

We decided to go for a run along the Spit as there was not a lot else to do about the place and the whole day had been a disaster as the bears and trip went. We drove into town and ran out to the end of the Spit and back in again – seeing some eagles along the way and chatting. We saw some cyclists also and one or two other runners. We headed back to the hotel and showered and changed and then we got something to eat at Safeway and took it down to the Spit to enjoy the evening light and breeze across the bay. We walked around a bit and headed backed to the room then to check the weather online and our emails in case the Office was in touch. There was nothing from the Office and the local weather seemed ok for the morning but who can tell. We went to bed and watched a movie and hoped that the morning was going to be a bit better than today.

Day 16 – So we got up and checked out of the hotel. Today was our last chance to make it out to the Island to see the bears as we had to drive over to Seward tomorrow for the trips we had booked there. I had made the others aware of this as well in our conversations yesterday but the weather is the weather and there is very little that one can do about it. We got down to the office and were told that we were going to be heading out today alright – the conditions had improved a lot and we should be able to make it out without too much trouble. We were leaving the bulk of our clothes in the car and just taking some hiking gear and some camera gear and a change of clothes in case we got wet when we were out there. You had to weigh in at the office as well to determine what your overall weight was for the flight – ie you and your camera gear and you bag – so that they could determine the weight that would be loaded onto the plane. I think that you were limited to 200lbs per person – so if you are travelling with a small group you could accumulate the combined weights in case one person was bringing more gear that the others. So between myself and Tracey we had a 400lbs allowance and all was good with regards coming close to that. We loaded up our gear bag and took the camera bag onto the plane with us. There was another family travelling out for the day trip – they were from the Netherlands I think and there was 7 in their party overall. We flew to Hallo Bay first to drop off supplies for the camp and also to pick up the guide for the day – his name was Dwayne. He ran us through the safety briefing and then we were loaded up again and heading off to a small bay a few minutes flight away. As we were taking off we saw a wolf and bear on the beach hunting for salmon and clams. It was nice to see them and hopefully we were going to see a lot more bears in the coming hours. We landed down on the other beach and then said goodbye to Clint – our pilot. He was heading back to Homer with different material from camp and was going to be out later on to collect the family after their half day trip. As part of the trip, we had a packed lunch organised by the tour operators and we had some snacks of our own with us just in case. We started off walking around the area following Dwayne and his directions as we started looking for bears. After a few minutes walk we could see some of them in the meadows around the place. Even though it was late July at this time of the year the bears were still feeding on the protein rich sow grass in the meadows as well as digging for clams. The salmon had not started to fully run yet so there was little activity along the coast line – unfortunately. There was a TV crew from the BBC there as well-doing some recording for an upcoming movie release for 2014 – or so we were told by our guide. We will have to wait and see if that is right now or not. We saluted them and moved on to see our first bear and get in close and get some pictures. I had my 500mm on the 1D Mark IV and I also had a 5D Mark II full frame with a 70-200mm lens attached. At times I could use the 70-200 mm to take shots – the bears were that close. Other times I used the Mark IV as it was better able to neutralise the movements in my handholding. I did not have a tripod or monopod on the trip – or not for this part at least. In hindsight I could have used a monopod here alright and it would not have been any extra weight to carry. A tripod would have been wasted I think .We moved around the meadows and Dwayne positioned us such that we had nice background interest in the shots with the bears – glaciers, trees etc. It was very interesting to listen to him explain the natures of certain bears based on his recognition of them “he is a bully” or “she is fine and nothing to worry about”. In the 25 years that they have been running guided tours throughout the area, there have only been 4 instances where they have had to use flares to ward off the bears – guns are not allowed or permitted on the excursions. It is a pretty impressive statistic. We saw a fox off in the distance as well when we were walking around the place. It was hidden in the tall glass but Dwayne had a good pair of binoculars and I had the 500mm that was about the same with field of view.I did not get any usable shots unfortunately as I could not hold the lens still enough for the shot. We walked on and decided to have lunch shortly after the fox sighting. We all sat down in the middle of the meadow and took out or food – sandwiches, crisps and a drink. The bears have no concept of human food so they don’t know what it is like or how it tastes – and that is how the Park Service want to keep it. So you carry out what you carry in – nothing is left behind. We were eating lunch with no less than 10 bears in sight of us at all times – truly an epic moment. The only thing that was annoying were the mosquitos – they were everywhere. It did not seem to matter how much spray and repellant you had on you – they just kept on coming. We had bought some face nets before coming out to the island and they were a god send. I had a wide-brimmed hat that I wore all the time – for sun protection as well as keeping the net out of my eyes. Tracey had a peaked hat that she wore and it also worked well – we may have looked silly but at least we did not have any bites on our neck or the back of the head etc. We wore a light pair of gloves to keep the mosquitos off the hands when we were shooting the cameras or walking etc and that also worked again – again these were sprayed with mosquito repellant and citrus scented water to help keep the bugs away. We did not need gaitors or wet pants but you do need a pair of wellies or waterproof boots for crossing the river – as we did at times. The company provides these also so you do not need to bring your own – unless you are planning to do a lot of walking out there and stay just for the bears. Their wellies are ok but they are not the best for long walks – as we were doing. After about 3 hours we were changing direction and angling back towards the beach – where the plane was going to collect us. We got back to the pick up location and then Dwayne got a radio call that the plane was going to be delayed by about 90 minutes. We could sit there and wait for it or go off walking in search of more bears. Of course we went off walking again – out along the coast this time – to see if we could spot anything new. The day was warm and hot but we were trying to keep as much skin covered as possible in order to keep the mosquitos from biting us. The bite aint the worst part – it is the stinging and itching that occurs afterwards. We captured some images of yearling bears out on the coast and one walked right in past us towards to the meadows. We walked around a different route and captured some more images before heading back to the beach again for the plane. All in all it was am amazing experience and one that is truly awe inspiring – to come so close to untamed, wild Grizzly bears and be as close as 5m from them in their natural environment – lets just say you have to be there to understand!!
The others loaded up and we flew back to the Hallo Bay camp and dropped off our stuff in our cabin – a kevlar type construction that was setup there year round and could sleep 3-4 people comfortably. We met the camp cook – Tanya – who was going to be feeding us for the next day – and some geologists who were staying in the camp area and doing some research on rock formations in the area for the coming month. Normally food is at 17:00 hours each day and we were back around 16:00 in order to settle in and get the food when it is served. However there were some problems this day with food and preparations etc so it was going to be close to 20:00 hours before food was ready. So we were going to head out with Dwayne and a another traveler from Seattle for a few hours. We dropped off our bags in the cabin and got our gear ready and re-filled the water bottles. It was still really warm so there was no need for a lot of gear. We headed back down to the beach and walked up the beach towards a flowing stream where the salmon were running back towards their spawning grounds. We saw some juvenile eagles, belted kingfishers, mergaser and chicks and of course a few bears. Suffice it to say, the mosquitoes were everywhere – they were all over the place and because we were near a tree line this time, they tended to be a lot more of them about the place. We captured some nice images and videos of the bears when we saw them on the hike and got back to the camp for around 19:30 – just in time to freshen up before the meal at 20:00 hours. Tanya had meatloaf on the menu tonight – something that we had never had before so it was nice to try it out. We were quite hungry and it went down well. The guys were a good sort and we chatted and ate our meal and dessert without too much delay. Dwayne wanted to head out again with us towards the marshes if we want but we politely declined – it was a long day of walking with the gear and we did not get to drink a lot of fluid so we were a bit run down. We said that we would take it easy and rest up. We chatted to the Office inside and they told us that they could offer us a refund on our two-day trip – even though we only availed of one day due to inclement weather. We could stay out tomorrow and do a half day with the bears we were told and come in the afternoon but we were nervous as to whether the plane would fly in the afternoon due to weather. We already had plans for Seward and we had to get over there so we declined and said we would go in in the morning and get back to the office and get on the road to Seward before too long. We went to bed and watched The Big Year on the ipad that night and then fell asleep. The sleeping bags were huge and not mummy sacs so during the night we woke up cold – even though there was a heater in the cabins. So if I was going out there again I would probably bring a small light mummy sac type bag to sleep inside their bag – this would solve the problem of the heat escaping and us getting cold.

Day 17 – We got up around 07:00 and got dressed – we had been awake for a while so there was no point in waiting any longer as far as we were concerned. We repacked what we needed to and then headed into the cabin to get some breakfast. Clint was there around 09:00 and we were loaded up and in the air by 09:15 and back inside in Homer for 10:00. Tracey slept on the way in and I chatted to Clint around flying and this and that. We got back to the office for 10:30 and worked on sorting out our refund policy. Sarah – the girl behind the desk – could not really commit to anything – so we asked them to get in touch with us via email and try get it sorted before too long. It ended up taking about two months but we finally got some money back out of them re the cancellation so it did not work out too bad – it was just annoying not having anything definitely and have to wait so long for a correspondence from them. We left Homer around 11:00 and headed up towards Seward. We stopped at the view-point on the way out-of-town and the fog bank was cleared and we had a semi nice clear view of Homer, the Spit, the Bay and the surrounding areas. We continued on up the road then on the Sterling Highway to the junction that would take us to Anchorage or Seward. We ate in the car again and kept driving through out lunch. We stopped in Soldotna to get some fuel for the car alright and then get some sweets and snacks for the onward journey. We got up to Seward around 15:30 and checked into the apartment that we were staying in for the coming few days. It was called the Harbourview Inn and we were in the C street apartment. We were a little early but the room was ready so we checked in. We dropped off our bags, put the food in the fridge and then decided to go out for a walk around the place and see what it was like. We had also spotted some food stores for dinner for later so we would go back there and get something for cooking in the apartment.
After getting some groceries, we left the car at the apartment and headed out for a walk around the downtown area. We walked into town and then looked at the signs for the museum and the local shops. We walked back out towards the harbour and passed through the camp grounds. There was a little bit of activity around the place but not a lot. We saw some boats coming back in from their fishing excursions for the day and a few heading out also. The air was nice and fresh and when the sun started to set behind the mountains, the area on the other side of the water was lit up a golden orange. I took some panoramic photos of the area and then we walked up towards the harbour – where we were going to meet our captain in the morning. Once we knew where we were going for the morning we headed back to the apartment and got some dinner. Then I backed up some cards and got my bags ready for the morning. Then it was a case of watching some tv and heading to bed so that we could get an early start in the morning.

Alaskian Brown Bear

Day 18 – We got up and did a short run around the town and out the other side – walking it takes a bit of time but running you cover the distance a lot quicker. We did around 5 miles and then we were back to the apartment for a shower and some breakfast. I got my gear ready and headed down to the meeting place for the 09:00 start. We were there with plenty of time and relaxed then for a bit before the crew came to collect us for the boat ride for the day. Our captain today was going to be Tanya and we were heading out on a wildlife excursion around the area. We booked online for the trip and it cost us 200$ per person for the full day trip. There are other boat trips out there and excursions that one can do but I did some research and this one is nicely limited to smaller numbers and focuses on the photography aspect a bit more – or so I was told online at least. Lunch was also included in the price for the day so that helped. Details on their website state the following :

Our full day Small Group Whale Watching, Wildlife, Natural History, and Glacier Tour ventures deep into Kenai Fjords National Park. With over 25 years experience, we will show you the Fjords’ best kept secrets. This is a photographer’s paradise where you will see the Harding Icefield, calving glaciers, seals, Steller sea lions, porpoises, and sea otters. We will stop for lunch in front of a calving glacier, giving us ample time to witness and photograph the face of the glacier as mammoth pieces of ice thunder into the sea. A majority of the time we see whales on these wildlife and glacier tours.
During spring we are likely to spot grey whales on their annual migration to the arctic. In the summer we often encounter humpbacks, minke, and fin whales which have traveled thousands of miles to feed in the rich waters of the fjords. Orcas, also known as “killer whales”, are present in our waters throughout the year.
Most tour operators conduct their wildlife and glacier tours with groups of 100 or even 200 or more passengers. We are more interested in quality than quantity and therefore limit our group size to 15 or fewer and can arrange for tours with as few as 2 people. With smaller groups we can position the boat so everyone gets a perfect view. We take extra effort so you will never miss that photo opportunity of a lifetime.

I have to say that the crew were professional and detailed in their jobs. .There were books on the boat in case you wanted to read up on what sort of wildlife you would see out there as well as framed prints of whales and other animals. The tour was really good and not too long – even though we started just after 09:00 and did not get back till close to 17:00 that evening. When we were out there, the guys went above and beyond the call of duty to get us a view of something different – going so far as to even head out to sea in order to view male, female and baby Orca whale… – very impressive. We saw Sea Otter, Humpbacks, Daal porpices flying along in front of the boat and on the way back into the harbour, the sun came out and we caught sight of a humpback breaching. You can see some more about that here and here. It was really cool and a great high to finish off the day on. We disembarked shortly after 17:00 and headed back up to the apartment. We went and got something to eat then in the supermarket and cooked back in the apartment. In the morning we were doing a similar excursion except that this time we were going fishing. We re-packed our bags as we were heading off to Anchorage tomorrow evening and had to check out in the morning before we left on the trip.

Day 19 – We got up and did another short run before we headed out to the harbour again. We loaded up the car and checked out in the reception before going down to go fishing for the day. There was a slight fog out when we left with our new Captain – Chris – who is from San Francisco originally. We were salmon fishing today and had bought our licenses before we got on the boat. This was something that we had to do first before we left in order to cover the cost of fishing in the area and be covered in case we were boarded and inspected by the rangers in the area when we were out there. According to the website the trip was something along the following lines.

This package combines the Full Day Tour with a saltwater fishing experience. There are several places along our route where a short stop guarantees catching fish. Whales, salmon, halibut, bass, along with puffins and other auklets congregate in the same area to feed on herring and needle fish. It is not unusual to have whales circling our boat and to see puffins diving while we catch fish. This package is a favorite for visitors who are interested in seeing the Kenai Fjords’ wildlife and glaciers and would also like a taste of Alaska’s famous saltwater fishing.

They were not wrong – we had a humpback circling up in one of the sheltered bay areas and there were a lot of puffins in another location on the way back in after the day. We caught several Salmon and our quota of Black SeaBass. Several people who come over to solely fish the waters have them filletted and dry frozen and shipped home when they are leaving. There are some companies that offer this service as well as others that ship it for you – but it can be expensive so be willing to pay for it. All in all it would be worth it – I think that it was working out at 250$ to ship 50lbs of fish back to Ireland – but that would be a lot of fish and flash frozen as well so it would keep for several days on the journey home.

We were on the boat with a family from Hawaii that were up for a few days to do a bit of fishing – you could tell that they were comfortable with the water, rods, gear etc. We learned pretty quick though 🙂 We had a packed lunch with us for today’s trip and ate that when we were hungry later on. We traveled around to several different locations depending on how the fish were biting and then around 16:00 we headed back to the harbour and Chris kindly offered to fillet some fish for us. He told us of a nice restaurant down town where they would cook it for us if we wanted. We decided to take him up on his offer and took in some salmon and sea bass and got it cooked for us. It took around 30 minutes for us to get our meal that day but it was lovely – and we had caught it ourselves. We then started to drive back towards Anchorage as we were staying there that night.
We stopped off about 30 minutes outside of Anchorage and took some photos of kite surfers on the water – I spotted them from a ways away and the sun was nice and low in the sky and I needed some fresh air to wake up from the driving. You can see some of the images here  and here in other article that I wrote. After this, we got back into the car and headed to Anchorage. We got in and found our hotel for the night – the Ramada Inn. There was a nice Scottish fella working behind the counter when we got there – Ken – and we had a good chat with him before we checked in. We got a map of the place and got our bearings before we got something to eat and walked around the main streets for a bit of air and window shopping. We headed back to the hotel and watched some tv and went to bed then as we were heading to Denali the following morning.

Day 20 – We got up early and headed out for a run – there was a bike trail near the hotel called the Tony Knowles Coastal Bike Trail and we got down onto that and headed up to the lake and bore left back towards downtown. We returned to the hotel and grabbed a shower and got something to eat before we headed down to the Saturday Market. It was just starting and we were in no mad rush so we looked around a little before we left. There were some nice stalls here with trinkets and little knick knacks and other touristy pieces. There was also an aerial display on this morning that a lot of people were heading to so the market was a bit quieter than normal. We bought some stuff for a few friends at home and then we got into the car and started to drive towards Denali. We could see the long traffic tail backs of people going to the air show as we headed North. We did not get stuck in any traffic really as we were heading along. We stopped at the Mt. McKinley viewpoint further on up the road but the cloud was covering the peaks and there was nothing there to see really. Besides there were some mosquitoes about the area so we did not stick around for too long. We headed up to Denali NP or close to it – we were staying at Carlo Creek lodge for the few nights so they were located at mile marker 224 on the highway. We stayed there back in 2006 and it was a nice place. We checked in and dropped our bags and relaxed for a little while before we headed out and down towards Denali visitor centre. We got something to eat in here and looked around the display area before we headed North towards Healy and where we were going to do some Horse Back Riding. We got up there at 16:00 hours and headed out on horse back with Alana for a few hours – and Matzo the dog. He was there to warn us of bears that might be in the area. The whole area is a coal mining area or based around that – there are some exhausted mines and some that are still active. We rode to a small cabin in the woods and had a break there and a small snack and a chat. It was nice and quiet and very relaxing – and thankfully not a lot of mosquitos. We headed back towards Carlo Creek and stopped off on the way to look in some shops and buy some souvenirs. We got something to eat and then went back to the accommodation. We stopped off a beaver lake on the way – from 2006 – but there was no activity there when we had out dinner so we headed into the cabin and chilled out. We saw a Goshawk outside alright that evening before we went to bed but there was no other activity that we could hear or see. We went to bed and got ready for the Heli Hike the following day.

Day 21 – So we got up this morning and went into the Visitor centre to look around and do some shopping. We were heading off in the afternoon for a heli hike trip up the mountains. We trekked through the wild Alaskan backcountry with an experienced local naturalist at our side. We got to explore remote areas that are normally a full day’s hike away. We were flown in via helicopter and then the four hour tour began with a helicopter flight that took us to a ridge overlooking the Yanert and Moody river valleys where spectacular vistas of the Alaska Range dominate the landscape. On our hike down the ridge, Mt. McKinley towered on the western horizon and Mt. Deborah provided an impressive backdrop to the east. Our naturalist-guide paused frequently to explain the flora and fauna and teach us how to track animals. There were three of us in the group. You can see a variety of wildlife including Dall sheep, caribou, moose and bear, as well as hoary marmots, pikas, and birds. We saw golden plovers, ptarmigan, pika, hoary marmots and of course the ever trusty Caribou. Our guide used his tripod as a set of antlers to try to trick the Caribou into thinking that we were a herd of Caribou and come closer to us – unfortunately that did not work out too well and all we saw of the Caribou was them heading in the opposite direction. We saw a golden eagle on the ridge line also and it took off and soared overhead. I spotted a hawk owl off in the distance also, quartering the land in search of food – but it was too far away for any decent shots. We walked around to a new ridge line and sat down and had a nice cup of hot chocolate and some homemade cookies that wife had made. The helicopter came to get us around 19:45 and we were back down around 20:00 and heading to the cabin for an early night after grabbing a subway.

Day 22 – We were up early this morning and finished packing our bags before we were collected for our Jeep Safari tour. Details from their website state the following:

You and your fellow adventurers will take the wheel of 4-WD Jeep Wranglers and follow your guide on a spectacular off-road journey into Denali’s backcountry. Your adventure begins near the entrance to Denali National Park where you meet your guide, receive your orientation and Jeep assignment, then head North a short distance on the George Parks Highway toward the town of Healy. Your destination is the Stampede Road. Once called the Stampede Trail, and not shown on most Alaska maps, this road was carved out of the wilderness by early miners working the area’s Kantishna gold fields and antimony mine. The Stampede Road gained notoriety recently in the motion picture, Into The Wild, directed by Sean Penn. This is the very same road that young Christopher McCandless, subject of the book, took to enter the wild. The first few miles of the Stampede Road are paved, but beyond this point your guide will lead you along some very primitive roadway providing you with plenty of bumps and dips and sways. Your Jeep Wrangler® carries four guests, and there will be ample opportunity to switch drivers so everyone can enjoy the thrill of maneuvering along this Wilderness Road. Interactive two-way radios allow your guide to explain the area’s rich history, point out interesting sights along the way, plus provide tips on the condition of the road ahead! Throughout the trip, you’ll be able to ask the guide questions and share the experience with your fellow drivers.

At the start of the trip we were lucky enough to come across a moose in the undergrowth. Our guide was not the best at stopping or allowing us to take pictures of the moose – we literally had to tell her to stop and let us get out and take the images. It was nice to see though and the area was safe. We got back into the jeeps and continued on on our journey. We got to the camp where we had a cup of coffee and some cookies and chatted with a company chef who was working there for the week. There were a lot of mosquitos around when we got there – there was a lot of tree cover for them. We stayed here for 20 minutes and then headed back the way we came. I stopped and got out of the lead jeep at Bobblehead Canyon – where the road was pretty bumpy. I captured some video footage of the other drives as they came through this war zone as well as further up the road at a river crossing. Click on the links before or email me if you want to get your hands on them 🙂 We got back to the cabin at 11:45 – a bit later than predicted as we were supposed to check out at 11:00. We had a quick shower and change and then checked out and left for Anchorage. It took close to 5 hours to get back down to Anchorage and we stopped for fuel along the way as well as one or two view points. We were staying in the same hotel as the other night so we knew where we were going. We checked in and decided to go for a walk. We got directions to a TGI – it was only about an hours walk away 🙂 – but the night was nice and warm and we needed some fresh air after the car ride down that day. We got some food and walked back to downtown and did some window shopping and then headed upstairs to our upgraded room – we got a suite instead of the standard room that we had originally booked – fair play Ken. There was a great sunset this night as we looked out across the train station and docks.

Day 23 – We got another run in this morning on the bike trail – a bit longer than the last day. We were back to the hotel within the hour and got a shower and some breakfast before we checked out. We had to have the car back to the airport before 10:30 so that we did not have to pay an additional charge. Our flight was delayed by approximately 30 minutes so we had plenty of time at the airport to relax. We saw a lot of tourists with flash frozen boxes that were full of salmon and other fish heading home also – the fruits of their labour for the week. We checked in and went through security and then headed to the gate and go on our plane to Vancouver, British Columbia. The flight time was around 3 hours so it would not take too long for us to get there in the end. And so end this leg of the journey… and the next one begins…. in Canada!

Recent Travels

Be sure to check out our recent reports from the other trips that we have done around the world.

Morocco, Casablance and the Sahara

Morocco, Casablance and the Sahara

Duration: 10 days, 9 nights Location: Morocco, Africa Budget: $1750 Miles Travelled: 1970KMDays: 10Dates: 22nd March 2018 to 31 March 2018Tour Company: Morocco Round TripsCurrency: Dirham (10.7:1 exchange rate)Time Zone Difference : NoneMorocco Driving Distance :...

Tunisia

Tunisia

So this trip came about because the Tokyo marathon and Japan excursion was cancelled due to the Covid-19 or Corona Virus pandemic. We got notice approximately two weeks before we were due to travel that the marathon was cancelled so we set about looking planning an alternative destination – and that destination was Tunisia.

Jedi Transition – aka Rainbow Canyon 2015

Jedi Transition – aka Rainbow Canyon 2015

The Jedi Transition starts just west of Owens Lake at 36.403047,-118.01239. From here aircraft hug the desert floor and pull up just before the canyon to clear higher levels. From there they enter the Canyon at Father Crowley Point, and continue through the Valley and exit the valley 3 miles from Father Crowley point.

Hungarian Photo Safari

DAY 1

Monday morning and I left Limerick at 09:00 to head to Dublin for my 15:00 flight to Budapest. I stopped off in Abbeyleix to get a cup of tea around 10:30 and headed on from there at 11:00 towards the airport. The roads were fine re travel at this time of the year and there was a lovely sunrise as I was coming towards Nenagh. Definitely a potential there for future sunrise photos. We arrived at the Blue Car Park near Dublin Airport around 12:15 and got the bus to Terminal 2. We checked in at one of the Kiosks and then proceeded to the bag drop area. Aer Lingus were operating the flight and they were strict re checked luggage weight. Fortunately for us, they did not check our carry on luggage weight. As photographers, we tend to carry a lot of heavy glass and gear onto the plane in order to protect it on the journey. This trip was no different.

Anyways we got through security and got something to eat in the Duty Free section. The gate was posted at approx 14:15 and we headed to number 408 where we proceeded to board flight EI678 to Budapest. There were not a lot of people on the flight as it was a monday and a lot would have been coming back from Budapest after the European Winter Cross Country that took place the day before – Fionnuala Briton taking gold for the second year in a row and also leading the Irish women’s team to a gold medal. I did not see any of them at the airport waiting to board though when we landed.

After we got our 2h 45min flight to Budapest we went through passport control – something akin to what we have in Cork or Shannon – and then headed to carousel number 3 for the baggage claim. Due to a technical problem we were delayed here for an additional 20 minutes. It gave us some time to get to the ATM though and get some local money – Florin – for the journey. At the time of this writing, 250 Florin was equivalent to 1 euro . We headed out to the arrival hall and met Janos from Saker Tours and loaded up the car and headed for the supermarket. We went to Lidl up the road and got some food for the lunches and meals the following day and then drove 3 hours to the accommodation. It was approximately 200km away and it was around -4 degrees when we departed at 20:00 hours. We arrived around 22:30 and unpacked and got our gear ready for the early start in the morning.

DAY 2

We got up at 05:00 after getting to bed around midnight. Attila came and collected us at 05:30 and we headed to one of the eagle hides in Hortobagy National Park. We were there before 06:00 and all inside and ready by 06:15. Attila was gone and we were there waiting for the wildlife to show up. It was quite dark out but dawn soon arrived and we were comfortable in the little hide waiting for the eagles to appear. The one thing that we did notice is that the glass in the hides costs you approximately 1 stop of light when shooting but add a nice bit of contrast to your images. We noticed an eagle flying out around 08:00 and a buzzard arrived shortly afterwards – with the standard grouping of crows, hooded crows, ravens and gulls. This kept us entertained for a while and then an eagle arrived. We thought the buzzard was big compared to the crowd but the eagle was massive again. At first it was shy and cautious re approaching the hide but then hunger won over and glided in and landed in a tree nearby in order to look at the surrounding area and the fish and hare that were left out for it. We stayed in the hide till near 16:00 hours though it was very dark and too hard to take picture from around 15:00 on. We had 12 eagles at the hide in the afternoon so hence the reason for leaving so late. We also had an Imperial Eagle there for a few minutes.. something that is really rare according to the guides. We headed back to the lodgings and dropped off our bags and headed to Lidl to get some food for dinner. We got back and cooked some food while we recharged the batteries for tomorrow . The standard outlet is a 2 pin circular plug so you will need an adapter that suits that outlet. The main is 220v supply the same as Ireland . We watched a movie and went to bed then as we were up again at 05:00 the following morning for another day in another hide. Just an idea of what we shot this day – one photographer filled 32GB shooting with a 7D camera and I shot approximately 20GB on the 1D-X. A good day.

DAY 3

So we were up again at 05:00 to head to the well hide in order to look for some more eagles. This whole getting up early thing is start to be coming a bit of a routine. Anyways we got collected at 05:30 and headed away approximately 30 minutes to the hide. There had been a bit of snow over night and the roads were a little slick. All in all nothing for the locals but for us it would have been fun to drive on . We got to the hide at 06:00 and got settled in soon there after. There was a lot more room in this hide compared to yesterday. There was even a little water body outside one of the windows – heavily frozen due to overnight temperatures hitting -12C. Anyways, Janos headed away and we set up and settled in for the long wait. The day aint long in going when you break it up into stages and have some thing to eat and drink.

Overall it was a poor show for the eagles today – we think that we had three different eagles at the location throughout the day but it was hard to tell as there were never there at the same time. And they were sketchy. There was no sign of anything – eagle wise – till close to 11:00 in the morning. According to the lads, at the start of the month this hide had 9 or 10 sightings a day so it really is hit and miss. We did however have a fox come and visit and take some fish away with it. It stuck around for a few minutes and we got some pictures of it in the snow before it headed away to its den. That was definitely something interesting and different. Throughout the day there were a lot of crows, rooks, hooded or grey crows and a few ravens. All in all a lot of them around the place. We got two buzzards in the afternoon then as well and they stuck around for a bit.

Janos came to collect us at 16:00 and we headed back into town and rested up. We cooked some dinner and put on a tv show and relaxed for the night. There was not a lot else to do really as the town is quiet and we did not have a car to get about. It was probably for the best anyways as the early mornings really start to get to you after a while.

DAY 4

So this morning there was no 05:00 start. Today we got up at 07:30 and got collect at 08:00 to head into town and look for the long eared owl’s. They are located inside in town on a street off the Main Street. We were told that a lot of the local’s dont even know that they are there or in the area. We saw four of them first of all on one street and set up to take some pictures. All in all they don’t seem to mind photographers or people walking around underneath them. We got some images and then headed up a side street where there was a pine tree. We were told that they sit in there sometimes too though it looked like it was empty as we were driving by. Upon closer inspection we found that there were approximately 15-20 owls in the tree. They can really hide out in there now. We got some more pictures but one word of advice would be to bring a cable trigger or full fingered gloves. At that hour of the morning and -8 below it was pretty cold on the hands and skin. We only stayed for about an hour and got some shots and then it was back to the accommodation to finish packing and head back to Budapest. Janos came and collected us at 09:30 and we were on the road around 10:00 to Budapest. He told us that one day when he was driving back from Budapest he saw over 220 buzzards – as we kept seeing them on the drive across. I fell asleep for an hour in the back of the car and woke up around 11:30. We chatted some more after that and arrived in Budapest around 13:00 in the day. The weather was nice and we found the hotel  – Hotel Ibis – without too much trouble. We were able to check in early which was great and we got to dump the bags there and head out around the city for a walk and a sight-seeing tours about the place. We left the hotel at 14:00 and headed down towards Liberty Bridge which was 2 minutes walk away.

We proceed from there up along Vaci Ucta street – a pedestrian street that was running parallel along the Danube in the Pest province. There was a little bit of construction going on where the Christmas lights were being set up along the street at different stages. At the top of the street we came upon Vorosmarty Square where the Christmas Market stalls were running and open till 21:00 at night. We walked around the stalls for a bit and decided to call back later on to make some purchases. It was a small market but nice and festive. The lights were not on yet as it was still too bright so we walked on down to the river front and took some pictures of the Buda Castle across the river as well as the Citadel. From here we walked up towards the Chain Bridge over the river and the House of Parliament – a prominent landmark in the area – especially at night when it is lit up. We found another smaller Christmas market further north with a miniature ice rink in it. We headed into St. Peter Basilica and took some pictures and then departed to the view of the market lit up at night. It was nice and festive. We left and headed back to the main square and got something to eat. Then we headed to the stalls and got some small trinkets before we walked back down to the hotel and decided to do some night-time photography. The cold air really wakens you up when you are out and about in it.

We got down to the hotel and dropped off our purchases and headed down to Liberty Bridge and started taking some pictures at around 20:00 hours. The evening was dark and the sky was slightly overcast with cloud cover so there were no stars visible this night. We met a local hungarian photographer who told us to head over the river for some nice views on the other side. We proceeded to cross the Liberty Bridge and then climb to a nice view-point in front of the Gellert Hotel and Bathhouse. This was where the lads visited nearly ten years before on another trip. We got nice pictures here and then started to walk along the Danube towards the Parliament House. It was reading -3 degrees at 22:00 that night – so it was nice and fresh. Once you were walking it was fine and had a good pair of gloves and hat on you. We stopped at the different bridges along the river from the Elizabeth to the Chain and on down to the House of Parliament. We got some nice images here and decided to head back to the hotel then as time was pressing on. We went home via the Christmas Market square even though they were all closed up for the night. It was still nice to see the place and stroll down the pedestrian street back towards the hotel. We got back to the hotel around 00:30 and were in bed shortly after that as we were hoping to get a few more jobs done tomorrow before flying home.

DAY 5

We got up at around 08:30 – the room was really small but warm and cosy. There were no tea making facilities in it but we paid 55 euros for the room for the night and it was very central so we did not complain. We got up and reshuffled the bags so that the tripods and other gear were safely packed away before we checked out of the hotel. The check out time was noon but they had a storage area for the bags that was secure so we left the checked bags in there and headed out around the city for some more shooting. The day was not as cold as other days – there was no wind to speak of and the temperatures were a little milder than previous days – according to locals. We had a studio booked for a few hours that morning from 10:00 to 14:00 and we shot some models there. Once that was done we headed back to the hotel and dropped off the camera bags in the onsite storage and headed out around the city some more. We got something to eat en route and did some last minute shopping. We got a taxi to the airport at 16:30 and arrived out there just after 17:00 – the normal commute time is around 20 minutes but it being a friday and city traffic we were delayed a little. There was no check in desks open for us at the airport so we got something to eat and just waited. Thankfully they accepted euro’s in a lot of shops. We dropped off the bags and went through security and passport control without any trouble and headed down to our initial gate B14 to await the flight from Ireland. The gate changed to B7 about 45 minutes before the flight so we headed down there and boarded shortly thereafter. They had to de ice the wings and it delayed us leaving Budapest a little but we made it back to Ireland for 22:20 local time – taking into account the time difference of 1 hour and the flight time of 3 hours and 10 minutes – it was not a bad result. There was hardly anyone on the plane either so it made life easier when we landed in order to get the bags and get out to the Blue Car Park Bus. We got back to the car park and loaded up for 23:00 hours and we were on the road down to our parents place shortly there after. We got home just after midnight and fell into bed. All in all a good few days now – probably shot close to 30GB of images between all the locations and more importantly – got a recee on whether to go back again or not. I think I already know the answer to that – now it is just a matter of finding out when 😉

Recent Travels

Be sure to check out our recent reports from the other trips that we have done around the world.

Morocco, Casablance and the Sahara

Morocco, Casablance and the Sahara

Duration: 10 days, 9 nights Location: Morocco, Africa Budget: $1750 Miles Travelled: 1970KMDays: 10Dates: 22nd March 2018 to 31 March 2018Tour Company: Morocco Round TripsCurrency: Dirham (10.7:1 exchange rate)Time Zone Difference : NoneMorocco Driving Distance :...

Tunisia

Tunisia

So this trip came about because the Tokyo marathon and Japan excursion was cancelled due to the Covid-19 or Corona Virus pandemic. We got notice approximately two weeks before we were due to travel that the marathon was cancelled so we set about looking planning an alternative destination – and that destination was Tunisia.

Jedi Transition – aka Rainbow Canyon 2015

Jedi Transition – aka Rainbow Canyon 2015

The Jedi Transition starts just west of Owens Lake at 36.403047,-118.01239. From here aircraft hug the desert floor and pull up just before the canyon to clear higher levels. From there they enter the Canyon at Father Crowley Point, and continue through the Valley and exit the valley 3 miles from Father Crowley point.

Juvenile Eagle in Homer

This image was taken when I was in Homer in July 2012. The weather was not great – as might be apparent in the image taken here – and the float plane that we were hoping to take out to Hallo Bay to see the bears could not fly this day. I asked around the town what there was to see or do but with a population of 5500 people odd – which drops off a lot in winter seemingly – your options are limited. It is either bears or fishing. The eagles are still around even though the Eagle Lady passed away in 2009. Seemingly they gather around the local dump in winter time as an easy place to gather food so we headed up there to see if we could find anything.

I spotted a few eagles further back in the tree line but there were too far away to get a shot. This juvenile was on a heap of dirt surrounded by ravens and he posed just long enough to get this image of him before flying off to the shelter of the tree line approximately 100m away.

I was using the best hide of all for this shot – the rental car. I had the window down and rested the lens on the door frame and composed the shot. I placed my fleece under the lens to help with vibrations etc.

Equipment used:

Camera: Canon 1D Mark IV
Lens: Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS + 1.4 EF II Teleconverter ( effectively 700mm)
Shot from the door of the car – using the car as a hide
EXIF: ISO 1600 f/5.6 1/1000 0ev 700mm