Alaska Walkabouts

The adventures of an Alaska Wildlife and Nature Photographer.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Third Time Was The Charm

The day after my heater was fixed I headed out of Whittier for my third attempt. The weather was calm and sunny and little did I know that it was to stay that way for the duration of the trip. Bryn and I quickly settled in to a little protected bay called Kelly's Cove where we stayed for the next 15 days. With all the equipment working well and with me feeling like I was mostly over my terrible cold, I set about to enjoy myself and do lots of photography.

Anchored at Kelly's Cove

The first evening some clouds moved in and I thought I was going to be shut out of any possible aurora but they cleared out just in time for the first show I was to see. They were subtle at first and I spend some time at the head of the cove shooting them over the snowy fields and dead stands of timber.

At one point they seemed to be fading out so I went out to the boat to check on Bryn. The days were fairly warm with the sun out but the nights were quite cold so I had to make sure he stayed under his blankets. While I was visiting with him the aurora kicked in which sent me into a huge rush to get back ashore. I headed for a small island at the mouth of Kelly's Cove and got there in time to catch the best part of the display. I was there until the aurora faded away around 4:am. I figured that since this was the first night out I was going to see lots of amazing aurora. But that is not the way it worked. I did see a lot of aurora during the next two weeks but this first night was by far the best display.

The aurora blazing over Mt. Gilbert

The aurora dances over Kelly's Cove. 

A rising crescent moon strikes the peaks at about 4:am

Day after day the weather forecast called for sunny days and clear nights so we settled into a grand routine of  hiking by day and watching for aurora each night. Bryn was not pleased about all the hiking and I felt sorry for him but I forced him to keep moving. Sometimes I did leave him in the boat if I went on a second hike and I did quite often since lots of wildlife were in the area. I saw quite a few deer and the herons were always there but remained impossible to get close to. I managed to get some neat shots of them but not the close ups that I wanted.

The snowy peaks of the Chugach Range along Barry Arm

Great Blue Herons in the tree tops

Bryn gives me a look on one of our many hikes

Bryn struggles through the snow

The first week was perfect for hiking as the tides were small. In the mornings I would take Bryn and myself around Pt. Pakenham with the inflatable Zodiac then go up the west side of College Fjord. We hiked a different section of that long coastline each day and found some great landscape and wildlife opportunities. Later in the day we would go back to the boat at Kelly's Cove eat lunch, then walk that area when the sun swung over to that side. I was always playing the lighting game as all photographers have to.

The little Zodiac that is so vital for exploration and getting ashore.

The west shoreline of College Fjord

A flock of Rock Sandpipers

A Great Blue Heron leaps out of the tree top

Part of the shoreline on the west side of College Fjord. This area provides mile after mile of fairly easy hiking as long as the tide is not too high.

A Steller's Jay

A sea otter with a stunning iceberg behind him. This was a treat.

Sea otters on an iceberg

Me and Bryn during a hike up College Fjord

Bryn may have hated our hikes but he loved riding around in the little inflatable Zodiac as we looked for wildlife. We did that a lot during our second week out as some very large tides covered the beaches in the afternoon and made hiking difficult to say the least. So into the Zodiac we for lots of exploring and wildlife photography. There were lots of sea ducks around and many species were just beginning to arrive back in Alaska for the coming summer season.

Barry Arm

Barrow's Goldeneye

Harlequin Ducks

Harlequin Ducks

Surf Scoters

Female Barrow's Goldeneye

Male Barrow's Goldeneye

Female and male Barrow's Goldeneye

Great Horned Owl

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

One of the highlights for me was finding a sea otter that was snoozing in the sun and nibbling at the remains of his fish. He had no problem letting me stay near him. I love the photos but it seems I am the only one. My stock agency rejected them and no one else ever said much. Granted he is a wet mess but these are rare shots and I doubt I will ever have an opportunity like it again.

A shot of me with a dead otter so show a size comparison. Always sad to find the dead young ones but winter is tough on them.

On most nights the aurora put in some sort of appearance. It was out in one way or another 12 nights out of the 15 that I was there. But most of it was brief and subtle. After about 10 nights in a row of staying up until the wee hours of the morning I began to get a bit worn out. Usually I get some breaks due to clouds but not this trip. I wandered all over the place and made the best of every bit of glow that came along. I certainly loved the chance to do so much night photography. The following images were taken on many different nights.

This may have been the last extended winter trip that I will have with Bryn. I am going to try my best with him but the rest is up to higher powers. This coming August he will be 13 years old. Even now he mostly wants to lay down and watch and smell the world around him. I hope to continue with my photography missions over the next winter but there are no guarantees. At the moment that I publish this, I am in my summer charter season out here in the the same region that I take all my photography trips. But I only do day trips and I have clients to focus on so I don't do near as much photography during the summers. Bryn is with me now and he enjoys snoozing on the boat and meeting all the people. For the most part, they seem to enjoy him as well.