Alaska Walkabouts

The adventures of an Alaska Wildlife and Nature Photographer.

Friday, March 6, 2015

For the Love of Dog

The time came for me to head out with Bryn on our third annual March photograpy quest into Prince William Sound. I  had planned on being out the entire month. As usual there were a couple of unknowns that I had to think about; one being that the boat had a brand new motor that needed to go through a break in procedure (very slow for the first two hours), and a bigger one that involved how well old Bryn would do out there.

I planned on leaving March 2 which was a Monday. Our weather had been warm and cloudy most of the winter and on Saturday Morning I was sitting at the computer working on my websites when something told me to just get going. Now! The new forecast called for clearing skies in the evening with strong winds setting in at Whittier so I was in a race to beat the winds. I needed flat water as I had to gently run the new engine down Passage Canal. So next thing I knew I was indeed chugging down Passage Canal on flat water. It was cloudy with a few rain sprinkles as well. For two hours I just tried to be patient but I was more than happy when at the beginning of the third hour, I was able to take the engine up a bit and get my boat moving at last. At 5:30 I was anchored at Pakenham Point and the sky began to clear off.

Old Man Bryn at 13.5 years old. 

Smooth waters on the way out

Finally able to get the boat moving!

Anchored at Pakenham Point

Bryn Checks out the forest

Looking over to the Pakenham Spit where I was to shoot the aurora for much of the night.

Bryn and I settled in and had dinner. At 8:pm , just as it got as dark as the moon would allow, I saw the first beams in the northern sky. So I got into the Zodiac with my gear and off I went to the Pakenham Spit to catch whatever the universe was going throw my way. As I walked out the spit I startled an otter that was hauled out. He startled me as well.

The tide slowly rose and forced me back to the old ghost forest. The trees were killed during the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964. The land here settled and saltwater killed the trees. They can withstand the occasional high tide but not permanently.

I had expected to shoot all night long like the display I got here back on St. Patricks day two years ago. But around 1am it all began to fade away. I went back to the boat to check on Bryn then the aurora rallied a bit. So off I went to one more location. The aurora was faint but the setting was stunning so I did what I could. As I entered the woods to go up onto a bluff, I flushed some kind of big bird. I think it was an owl but I did not see it. The second time I was startled that night!

The end of the display but a stunning view up Barry Arm lit by weak aurora and the moon.

A Great Place for a bird to sit 
I ended the aurora shooting at 2 am. The next day was a sunny and warm one. We had a record-breaking warm winter and it was amazing that there was no snow for at least a thousand feet up the mountains. I had never been able to walk on bare ground in March before. Bryn and I cruised around in the inflatable Zodiac and I had fun shooting iceberg macros. Bryn had a very hard time with his arthritis and it became much more obvious out there. Something that was to get much worse the next day. But for the moment I was still hoping to stay out for the entire month.

Bryn got a bit of sun

The tip of the iceberg :P

The surface of an iceberg

In the late afternoon of what was still just the first day(it seemed so much longer after all the cool things I had already seen), I moved the boat into Kelly's Cove where I had spent so much time a year ago. I still had high hope about more aurora although during the day I watched high clouds relentlessly approaching from the south and the weather forecast called for increasing clouds during the night. All I could do was hope for the best and after settling in I went on a hike. Within half an hour I had seen 12 Great Blue Herons which was to be expected. 10 of them were in a flock that flew over and two more were on their own.

I got eight in one shot but there were two more

I finally found a heron in a tree that wasn't completely terrified. I waited below him and hoped he would spread his wings and although it took forever, he finally did. The sun was just setting and the light was good but although these are the best heron shots I have taken so far, I hope to do much better some day.

At 7:45 that evening, the aurora returned. I went ashore with high hopes but I was afraid the high clouds were winning the race. Unfortunately the aurora disappeared for the next hour or so and by the time it came out, weakly, the clouds had arrived. But the moon was burning through and it had a huge ring around it. A moon dog. So I played around with it and took advantage of moonlight and some very weak aurora that made it through the clouds. I have also been learning about light painting so it was a good time to practice a little bit.

The moon burns through the overcast onto bare ground where there should have been lots of snow

My final view of the aurora for this trip.

My little boat out there under a huge universe. What a night it was!

Moonlight at the heron pond
The next morning I loaded Bryn into the Zodiac and we cruised around for a while. But he started to fall down and I was really worried about him. When I got back to the boat I pulled the anchor and although I was just going to move the boat a short ways to be better protected from a minor storm that was due to arrive, I got to thinking about Bryn. The whole time I was out there I saw how tough it was on him. It was really hard just getting him ashore to do his business. And when I was hiking around on my own I was thinking about him and my heart was broken. Honestly I wasn't enjoying myself very much. So with a heavy heart I headed for home and ended the trip after only two days. God only knows what the future holds but Bryn will never be out there again.