Day 2 of the 7 day Photo Challenge
Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
A red fox braces against the wind during a Manitoba blizzard. The high winds kicked up a lot of snow and decreased the visibility. To make this photo, I stopped down the lens to increase the depth of field, in case an errantsnowflake threw the autofocus off and waited for a lull in the gusts for a clear shot. The intensity of the winds can be observed by the horizontal streaks cutting across the frame. The fox’s bushy tail behaved more like a sail, and would catch the wind, altering its trajectory, making it move kind of sideways across the tundra. Note the beautiful lichens growing on the exposed part of the rock.
Canon EOS 1DX, Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS II USM, handheld
1/200s; f/10; 600mm; ISO1600
On my second day I nominate Meril Darees ofMnmwow – Wildlife Photography. Meril is a world class wildlife photographer and one of my closest friends. I have spent thousands of hours shooting with him in the field: Churchill, Yellowstone, Canadian Rockies, California, Svalbard, and 5+ trips to Alaska. Over all these trips I have learned a lot from him, and significantly improved as a photographer. Please check out his work and give his page a like!
7 Day Nature Photo Challenge: Day 1
My friend Barrett of BearHead Photography nominated me for the Nature Photo Challenge. Barrett is an incredible photographer, and intimately in tune with nature. His beautiful work reflects this perfectly. Thanks for the nomination! Let’s see if I am able to keep up with this….the goal is to post one photo for the next seven days, all while nominating a new person each day.
Polar Hide and Polar Seek
Spotting wildlife is never guaranteed. In fact, at times it feels like Mother Nature is actively advising her creatures to hide from me. But every now and then, she surprises you with a scene that goes beyond your wildest dreams. This was the case for these courting polar bears in the high arctic.
On the final full day of my 11 day Svalbard expedition, we sailed to a location not typically known for hosting polar bears. I was sad that, in all likelihood, I had already seen the trip’s last polar bear. But it had been a good trip for bears; with 20 or so sightings around the archipelago, and the weather on this day was great. The low angle polar sun provided perfect photographic conditions. Lots of light, blue sky, and puffy clouds. We manned the zodiacs with the goal of bird photography. I observed these two bears and the agenda quickly shifted….
In this scene, a large adult male bear is following an adult female. The sexual dimorphism between them is striking. But despite his substantial size advantage, the male behaved like a nervous teenager that lacks the courage to ask for a date. The female played it cool. Mostly ignoring him as she sniffed the beach, occasionally giving him a playful glance back. This ballet went on for over 2 hours. These bears had each other’s full attention; my zodiac and I weren’t given a passing glance. At one point the female slipped behind this lichen covered rock, as if to hide from her suitor. With the line of sight on his target temporarily obstructed, he froze in his tracks, and waited for her to reappear. I was able to capture this moment, complete with his reaction.
The famous polar bear warning signs posted in Svalbard have the Norwegian words: “Gjelder hele Svalbard” and the image of a polar bear. Which means “Polar Bears to be found all over Svalbard”. The sweetest words in the Norwegian language!
A zodiac explores Alkefjellet in Svalbard. Look how small the human component is in the scheme of things.
Some of the most influential forces experienced by planet Earth are contained within the borders of this photo. To list a few: glacial ice, volcanic basalt, Carboniferous limestone, and human existence can all be observed in the scene. Each component has contributed significantly to day-to-day operations of our planet. Whether we are aware of it or not.
Volcanoes erupt rock and create new landscapes, and glaciers polish these new landscapes away. The cliff’s white limestone base indicates one of the more prolific periods in the geologic record; the Carboniferous. This is the period of when forests dominated the landscape, and extraordinary amounts of carbon were sequestered in limestone and coal fields. As such, the Carboniferous period also is responsible for much of the coal and fossil fuels used by industrial man. It is the release of this sequestered carbon that contributes to acceleration of climate change, and increasing the rate of retreat for the glacier depicted here.
Aug 21, 2015 #svalbard#glacier#zodiac#volcano
After a rough night sailing through stormy arctic seas (motion sickness medicine was a lifesaver). The ship, Sea Spirit, made its way through the Krossfjord and King’s Bay, finally entering Lilliehöökfjorden. We dropped anchor and manned the zodiacs to explore the Lilliehöök Glacier. We faced a horseshoe shaped wall of ice. 7 km across, 80m tall, and stretching to the horizon with jagged peaks poking through the ice and clouds.
The only place ice didn’t meet the sea was where a mountain stood instead. In-between these mountains, glaciers spilled out into the fjord. At least 14 glaciers! This was the biggest glacier bay I had ever been in. Of course, this “accomplishment” would soon be “defeated” by other, more massive fjords of Svalbard, it doesn’t detract from the impression this fjord made on me.
The green-blue water was silky smooth and looked thick with glacial silt. The underwater housing was working, but the “thickness” of the glacial water limited visibility. Nonetheless, I practiced using this new piece of equipment. Afterall, this was my first time doing underwater photography in the field! A bearded seal swam lazily around the smooth water, coming close to a zodiac that I was not in. Shortly after spotting the seal, a pod of beluga whales surfaced for a few minutes, before diving deep and moving on.
In terms of photography, the stop in Lilliehöök provided a gentle warm up session to get into that “photo-mindset”. Not all the zodiac expeditions would be nearly as smooth and easy. In fact, many times the arctic sea conditions were not conducive to producing interesting photography, that is, unless the photographer was adequately prepared and exercised sound judgement in the field….For me the learning process never ends. and the conditions I experienced in Svalbard forced me to re-evaluate and adjust some of my preparations.
“The bear that traps you, is the one you didn’t see.” – Inuit Proverb
This trip was about the polar bears, followed by arctic foxes as the next objective, with a small hope of some auroral activity. Though expectations for the Northern Lights were low given Churchill 98% November cloud coverage. The trip produced good results for all three.
All things considered, Churchill is moderately easy to reach, given its remote location and being the gateway to the Canadian arctic. It is not as easy to reach as a place like Yellowknife, but the connections from Winnipeg to Churchill on Calm Airlines are frequent, start early and end late. These convenient timetables allow you to maximize your time there, if you are so inclined. For me, when I go on vacation I tend to squeeze as much as possible out of each PTO day. The trip to Churchill was probably my most efficient trip to-date in terms of maximizing my efficiency. I arrived at Winnipeg at midnight, got some sleep, was flying to Churchill first thing in the morning (06:30), and searching for polar bears by 09:00. The return mirrored my arrival in the sense that I left Churchill at 20:00, and had a 06:00 flight out of Winnipeg.
Driving Report on Trip
Rented a Jeep Patriot from Tamarack Rentals. It gave a solid performance for the most part, but still left room for improvement in important several areas. The first complaint is we couldn’t lock the four-wheel drive differential, even when we disabled the ESP. Which seemly defeats the purpose of having 4-wheel drive. The windows are small and there isn’t much vertical, which made it difficult to handle large lenses.
1 flat tire, punctured by willow stalk. We had to use a sledgehammer to dislodge the frozen wheel off the wheel studs.
2 times stuck. The first time we were towed out by the town’s pastor who was passing by (thanks Doug!) and the next time we were well offroad (on a tundra buggy path) and had to dig ourselves out by hand.
Approximately 60 Km road available to explore in this “road locked” region
$2.10/liter gas or ~$100 to fill up tank. (expensive for me, normal for Meril)
2: number of 600mm lenses jockeying for space to shoot out the window
6: nights sleeping outside in the car, instead of a hotel room (out of 8 nights total). The ice encrusted interior cabin (our frozen breath) was a pleasure scrap off each morning.
In terms of changing tires in polar bear country, we learned that the important thing to keep in mind when doing this type of activity, is to remain aware of your surroundings. It is easy to become fixated on the task at hand. Specifically you focus your eyes downwards on the tires and underside of the vehicle. You want to solve the problem and be on your way, as quickly as possible. The problem with this approach is that you are often ignoring your surroundings. In Churchill, this introduces an entirely new level of danger, the land of white bears on white land and white sky. Constant awareness and guard must be taken to avoid a bear surprise. And they seemingly pop up out of nowhere….
This is why I repeated the following Inuit Proverb over and over in my head:
“The bear that traps you, is the one you didn’t see.“
Things for next year:
– avalanche shovel (digging out stuck vehicles)
– tow rope
– kitty litter