Another Great Visit to the Northern Lats!

The Northern Lights, Ice Carvings & The Iditarod in Alaska, 20131x570-LtGrey

AK2013_denali1I’ve just gotten back from my 5th Winter shooting trip to Alaska having had, as always, a great time.  The Aurora Borealis, the International Ice Carving Championship, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, and the usual collection of potpourri and other things Alaskan.

I organized this trip for 6 of my photography friends, not as a true workshop, but more as a guided tour to some of the venues and events that might be a good basis for a workshop next year.   Fairbanks was the main base of ops this time, with a few days in and around Anchorage and along the Iditarod Trail.

Of course, the winter months are best for viewing the Northern Lights.  This is not because of any “season” as some mistakenly think, but primarily due to the far north’s long, dark nights and cold, clear skies.  The aurora phenomenon can and does occur year-round at both earth poles (Aurora Australis at the Southern Pole), but the lack of total darkness at these far-north (or south) latitudes during other times of the year make viewing them essentially impossible (unless, of course, you are on the Space Station).AK2013_aurora1

I’ve been completely addicted to the aurora since I first saw and photographed them in 2001.  They are mezmerizing and one of the most beautiful, yet mystifying, experiences I’ve ever photographed.  AK2013_aurora2

Scientists say that the sunspot activity (at least as related to the earth’s positioning), generally runs in 11-year cycles.  2013 is at, or near, the peak of this cycle (called “SolarMax”).  Sorry for being a little nerdy here, but all of that is just background for my observation that so far, this has been a relatively weak (and  underwhelming) peak.  In any case, the timeframe while we were there, we had pretty sketchy light shows. But, I did manage to capture a few that are maybe worth seeing.  (See blue button at the end of the post for more aurora images.)

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Our Town’s Barred Owl Vistor

When word spread last week that a Barred Owl, a cousin of the northern Spotted Owl, had shown up in a local park here for the first time in memory, I decided to see if I could go find it and take a look.  I’ve always thought owls were very cool.  And, although I love having photographed Bald Eagles in Alaska, there is something about an owl that I find really fascinating.

Barn owls are often seen in this area, but I’ve never been able to catch an owl with the camera, other than at the natural museum, and never one of this variety.  So I grabbed the camera and a long lens and went down to the park along the river where it had been spotted several times hunting.

I guess their behavior is not very typical of their cousins.  They apparently don’t mind being a suburban bird or of being out during the bright daytime.  This one certainly wasn’t shy and wasn’t at all afraid of the humans and their pets who came to visit.  And since this particular owl visiting this area of Oregon is a seemingly rare occurrence, it made for news around town.

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“Fishing The Kulik” Wins Photo Contest

If  you’re not familiar with Cowboys & Indians Magazine® , it is the premier magazine of the West, highlighting western and ranch life and the people and places that make up that special part of theCowboys & Indians Magazine American West. It typically features one cover personality that is prominent in western film, literature or history along with other articles and stories for those who have an appreciation of western lore, wildlife, scenery, architecture, music and even poetry. Once each year, the focus is on some of the most interesting and high-quality photography of the West that can be found anywhere in one place.

Every year since 2004, I’ve entered the magazine’s annual “Photographing The West” contest.  I’ve been fortunate to have had a number of my images make it to the final selections and get published in the March special photography edition.  And,  I was very pleased to win the Landscape category in 2009 for my “Old Prairie Church” (1/24/2011 Blog post).

So I’m was really excited again to hear that I won this year’s Wildlife category with “Fishing The Kulik”.  It  is one of my favorites of the many bear shots from last fall’s trip with my friend, John DuBois, to the Katmai National Park in Alaska. It was taken along the Kulik River during the short period when the grizzlies fish for Salmon in the river.  This guy had just surfaced (without the fish he was trying to catch), about 25 yards from the boat.  I used my new Nikon D800 and 70-200mm telephoto lens with a 1.7 teleconverter, shot at 270mm.  In this type of setting, I usualy fire a burst of 3 to 5 shots (low speed continuous).  This happened to be the only one where his eyes were directly on me, with the water streaming from his face.  He was already unhappy to have missed his fish, but then to see me nearby rattling the shutter resulted in this pretty menacing look.

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