Svalbard and the Polar Bears

•November 7, 2017 • 8 Comments

Not many people have heard of Svalbard, Norway. It’s in a remote part of the world. It is 700 miles north of the northern coast of the mainland of Norway and 800 miles south of the North Pole. It’s an archipelago of 2300 glaciers and one town. The town is Longyearbyen and is considered to be the most northerly town on the planet at 78 degrees north latitude.

How does one get to Svalbard? View this Google Earth video of the route from Denver, Colorado to Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway:

           Google Earth Video of Flight From Denver to Longyearbyen

 

Svalbard and Longyearbyen are remote and very unique places. Check out these fun facts:

  1. Longyearbyen was founded by an American – John Longyear; Population is 2600 residents. 78 degrees north latitude. Also known for the Global Seed Vault.
  2. Town is built on stilts – melting snow and mud in the spring can make for serious flooding.
  3. Snowmobiles are the mode of transportation in the winter. Over 4000 snowmobiles for 2600 residents.
  4. Longyearbyen is surrounded by a polar bear zone. If you cross from the safety of the town into the bear zone, you must have a rifle or be driving a car. Best to have both.
Entering the Polar Bear Zone

Entering the Polar Bear Zone

 

 

5. Reindeer wander throughout town and can be found everywhere.

6. Can’t have a cat as a pet – they threaten the bird life.

7. Can’t be unemployed – it’s illegal – must show proof of employment to live there.

8. More polar bears than people on Svalbard – approximately 3000 bears as compared to 2600 residents.

9. Because of the permafrost, it is illegal to die in Svalbard. The bodies do not decompose. The last body to be buried in the Longyearbyen cemetery was in 1940.

Longyearbyen Cemetery

Longyearbyen Cemetery

Longyearbyen Cemetery

Longyearbyen Cemetery

My photography adventure started in Longyearbyen in August 2017, where I boarded a 45 meter Swedish coast guard ship outfitted for wildlife touring. We were searching for photographic opportunities:  seals, arctic foxes, reindeer, walruses, whales and, most importantly, the polar bear. We sailed for 8 days through wind, rain, fog, sunshine, calm seas, heavy seas, all around Svalbard, in fjords, in bays, around islands, on islands, near glaciers as far north as 82 degrees north latitude, all with 24 hours of  daylight per day, in search of the elusive polar bear.

 Our GPS Track In and Around Svalbard

Our GPS Track In and Around Svalbard

When the bears were sighted from the ship, the Zodiacs would be launched in minutes. We could approach quite close to a bear on the shore, as close as 25 meters at one point. With professional gear including telephoto lenses, we were able to get some amazing images.

Zodiacs Launched

Zodiacs Launched

Bear Targeted

Bear Targeted

The expedition was organized by Svein Wik, http://www.arcticwildlifetours.com . Svein is an accomplished Norwegian wildlife photographer, organizer and chief guide for the expedition. I highly recommend a tour with Svein.

Carcass in Sight

Carcass in Sight

On A Sperm Whale Carcass

On A Sperm Whale Carcass

We traveled north into the drifting pack ice. This is the home of the polar bear, where the seals are abundant. The seal is their main food source. A single adult seal can sustain a polar bear for a week. We sailed as far north as 81.3 degree north latitude in search of this apex predator. With keen vision, the second mate spotted a yellowish discoloration standing out from the pure white “snow-bergs” a mile to our port bow. It was a polar bear pair. The zodiacs were launched, and for the next three hours we were treated to one of nature’s finest photographic opportunities:  a polar bear mother and 1-2 year old cub huddled on a “snow-berg” in beautiful golden sunset light.

How Close? - 27 meters

How Close? – 27 meters

It was past dinner time, but no one wanted to leave. We continued to shoot until cards filled up and arms became weak with fatigue. I shot over 1000 images in 3 hours. I was exhausted, both mentally and physically, and welcomed the comfort of the warm ship and hot meal.

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And a video clip of the scene:

The adventure also included photographic opportunities of arctic foxes, walruses, blue whales, bearded seals. These will be the subject of another post in the near future.

I returned to Longyearbyen a very happy photographer. It was one of my most amazing photography adventures ever. I now have an unquenchable thirst to return to Svalbard  to do it again.

This was one week of a multi-week adventure traveling in Norway with wife Beth and friends who live there. Norway is a beautiful country with beautiful people and has recently been rated the happiest country on the planet by a 2017 United Nations report. If you have not been there already, then put it on your bucket list.

To view more of my polar bear images click:

Polar Bears

To view images of our Norway trip:

Norway

Pika Flower Power

•October 23, 2017 • 8 Comments

 

Flower Power

The American Pika gets no respect.  When seen, most people think it is just a mouse. No, it is not a mouse. With short ears and a short tail, it is closely related to the rabbit.  They live at high alpine environments where cool temperatures provide them with ideal living conditions. They are industrious little mammals, constantly gathering grasses and flowers during the non-snow months to store in their numerous caches called haystacks. It’s a wonder that they remember where these caches are hidden.  When dry, the haystacks are carried to the pika’s den where they provide food throughout the winter when the mountains are covered with multiple feet of snow.

Pika Packing

Pikas can be heard when they use their high-piched “eek” or chirp to warn others of predators, including encroaching people.  You can hear the chirp in this video:

The pika will use its sharp teeth to clip grass and flowers, stuff its mouth with the bundle and run and jump at top speed to store the bundle in the haystack. Watch this video of a pika running and jumping towards me, the photographer, as it carries a bundle to one of its caches:

Pikas are very sensitive to climate change. They need cool temperatures to survive.  As average temperatures rise, the pika will seek higher and higher elevations. As average temperatures rise they will overheat and perish. Climate change is a threat to their existence.

More images of this cute critter in action. The images and video clips were made on Loveland Pass, Summit County, Colorado:

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You Jump First

•July 25, 2017 • 3 Comments

 

You Jump First

Mt Evans (14,265 vertical feet- – a 14er) in Idaho Springs, Colorado can be a gold mine of mountain goat activity. Mt Evans auto road (operated by the National Forest Service, and Colorado Dept of Transportation) opens around Memorial Day, if the snow levels are low enough for the road to be cleared to the peak (June 8, this year, 2017). This is just in time for the mountain goat babies (kids).

The mountain goat females (nannies) give birth in May and present their newborn kids in early to mid June. They can be cute and cuddly (do not cuddle – they are wild animals). In all my years of driving to the top of Mt Evans for mountain goat photography, I have never seen so many kid goats at one time in one place. I counted eight baby goats. A rare sighting.

Eight is Enough

The kids are adorable and such fun to watch and photograph. They love to run and jump in the rocks and boulders on Mt. Evans.

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One baby was separated from the group. When it realized how far it had wandered, it galloped back to the herd (aka a Band). I was standing in its path as it ran towards the camera, right past me. My lucky shot:

Galloping Goat

They seem to love to challenge each other. Five kids are on the verge of jumping from this rock, if only one of them would jump first

You Jump First

 

I am happy to report that the above image was featured on the front cover of our local Summit Daily Newspaper.

Cover Summit Daily Newspaper

 

Mt Evans is one of the 58 named fourteeners in Colorado (14,000 feet in elevation or greater). The views are spectacular as can be seen from this 4K video of a young goat jumping from a rock. This goat is too busy watching the tourists to enjoy the view.

Goat Rock Hopper

 

 

Be sure to view the previous blog post on my adventures with mountain goats:

Goat Rodeo

 

 

Top 100 Wildlife Photography Blog Winners

•July 7, 2017 • 13 Comments

I am excited to report that my blog has been awarded as being in the Top 100 of Wildlife Photography Blogs on the internet. In fact it is number 70.

The Best Wildlife Photography blogs from thousands of top Wildlife Photography blogs have been ranked using search and social metrics by FeedSpot:

http://blog.feedspot.com/wildlife_photography_blogs

These blogs are ranked based on following criteria

  • Google reputation and Google search ranking
  • Influence and popularity on Facebook, twitter and other social media sites
  • Quality and consistency of posts.
  • Feedspot’s editorial team and expert review

I am challenged to maintain my rank and in fact, by blogging more, improve it. I love a challenge.

 

Thank you

Rich

Whooping Crane Family

•May 10, 2017 • 2 Comments

I love whooping cranes.

These cranes are endangered and rare and are just so beautiful and elegant that I can watch and photograph them for hours. Which is exactly what my photography buddy Bob Karcz and I were able to do in Rockport, Texas on Aransas Bay. Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is the wintering grounds of the whooping crane. Home to a small but reliable sub-flock (Wood Buffalo – Aransas Flock) of the total crane population of about 600 birds. Through conservation and restoration programs these beautiful birds have come back from near extinction when their numbers were down to 21 in the 1940’s. The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America. It stands 5 feet tall and has a wingspan of 7 1/2 feet. It looks down on most children.

A Whooping Crane takes off from the waters of Aransas bay.

 

We hired Aransas Bay Birding Charters (Captains Kevin and Lori Sims) to take us out into the bay where the whoopers were feeding on the marsh, and small islands. Their favorite meal – the blue crab:

A whooping crane snatches a blue crab from the waters of Aransas Bay.

 

 

Multiple Panel Running Start

The cranes often come to shore and hang out in residential backyards and fields along the waterfront. We were invited by Kevin and Lori to use their bird blind in their back field that they built expressly for the whoopers. What were the chances? We did not expect to see any whoopers in their back field. But after arriving just after sunrise and setting up in the blind, we were astonished to watch a whooper family of two adults and one juvenile, glide over the tree tops and land like gazelles in the field. I was awestruck as I photographed these beautiful creatures for the next hour.

Whooping Crane Family Over The Trees

 

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It’s been 6 years since my last (and first) visit to Aransas Bay to see the whooping cranes. It’s great to see that the cranes have increased in population since 2011 and that they are still migrating to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge for the winter from Wood Buffalo National Park, Canada.

For more whooping crane images see my website:

Whooping Crane Gallery

Be sure to read my previous post on whooping cranes.

Whoopers

As always, feedback and comments appreciated.

Rich

 

 

 

Bosque del Apache Spectacular Sunsets

•February 12, 2017 • 9 Comments

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (San Antonio, New Mexico) is known world wide as the wintering home of the sandhill crane and snow goose, where 10,000 cranes and 40,000 snow geese rest, feed and prepare for the flight north to their breeding grounds. But it is also know for spectacular sunsets, so I have been told. In my many past visits, I did not experience such sunsets. However, my last visit in December 2016, changed all that. Now, I have seen the light!

Bosque experienced three nights of vivid red and pink sunsets and stunning reflections. A wonderful opportunity for photography and videography.

Sandhill Cranes Roosting Sunset - Sandhill cranes arrive at the ponds and roost for the night just as the sun is setting. Roosting in ankle deep water protects them from approaching predators. Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.

Sandhill Cranes Roosting Sunset

 

A few images from my last visit to Bosque del Apache in December 2016:

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But wait, there is more. Bosque is also known for some stunning sunrise reflections as shown in this video:

Click the link to view my Bosque del Apache images and video clips. If you see an image that you love, click BUY for a print or an image file download.

Link to Bosque del Apache gallery of images and videos

Thank you

Rich

ps. Check out some of my past blog posts on Bosque

More Than Just Cranes

Bosque del Apache

Sandhill Cranes Roosting

 

Nature’s Reflections

•January 29, 2017 • 5 Comments

Nature’s Reflections – Nature’s mirror, the wonderful experience of seeing nature twice in the same moment.

I have had the good fortune to capture many beautiful reflections of scenics and wildlife. Have a look at my Reflections Gallery. If you see an image that you love, just select BUY for a print or an image download:

Link to Reflections Gallery