This photo sequence was a major adrenalin rush to say the least. One of my favorite bear encounters of my most awesome Alaskan adventure in Lake Clark Alaska with coastal brown bears.
Started out with mom and her cub playing near the shoreline.
Following his typical behavior, the cub took off running and he ran right past us. Tracked him while lying in the mud with my ground pod and got off a few shots while he gave me the side-eye.
Thought that was very cool experience but it got really interesting when mom decided to chase him. Glanced back to my right and saw mom coming my way. Didn’t have time to get worried or think but just react.
My years of experience with shooting from a ground pod came in very handy and quickly pivoted around on my stomach and focused on her as she “beared“ down on us. Mom was doing her “happy run” with swinging her head from side to side, which is a behavior that we witnessed several times that week.
Just follow your nose….
Very little time to react as this entire sequence with mom lasted only 4 seconds. Was challenging to try to keep her in the frame. Major rush…
She kept getting closer…
Then, direct eye contact with a full size grizzly bear as she runs past me. Doesn’t get much better than that. Didn’t know that I got this shot until getting home and downloading my photos to the computer. Couldn’t take my laptop with me due to the bush plane weight restrictions.
She kept going and I kept shooting…
She kept running past us with this being the last frame that I captured in this series. Just wow!
Another one of those once in a lifetime encounters on this trip that I kept having and must repeat.
Four of my photos made the top 100 this year in Audubon’s 2021 photo contest. Although 2020 was a very challenging year from a pandemic perspective, it challenged me to get out an shoot more with over 60 local field trips, which paid off in the Audubon contest.
Great egret in silhouette through her breeding plumage from High Island TX rookery
White moph reddish egret spreading its wings just after landing at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary last summer.
Two lesser yellowlegs running in unison at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary.
American avocets at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary.
By day 4 of my trip to Lake Clark Alaska, we were all getting worn out so when we came upon mom and her cub feeding on grass in an open meadow, we decided to lay up against a log on the outside edge of the field and just watch them. Was very relaxing and we loved the opportunity to not shoot but just to chill out and take it all in. We were sitting in a field watching grizzly bears with snowcapped mountains in the background. We weren’t in Kansas (or Houston) anymore Dorthey. Couldn’t get much better than that…until it did!
A male boar entered the field behind mom and she quickly spotted him. She then turned to look at us, foreshadowing her next steps. Mom and her cub quickly got up to check him out. Here is where it got really interesting. As a complete surprise to me, mom started running with her cub directly towards us. That definitely got me to sit up a little straighter against that log and get into the zone while hand holding my 500mm lens.
So, what do you do when a full-size grizzly bear and her cub come running straight at you? Well, #1 you listen to your guide, #2 you don’t run (which could be very detrimental to your health), #3 you keep your cool and photograph the incoming bears or #4 be prepared to change your shorts. Luckily, I followed steps #1 -3.
When they started getting close, couldn’t keep both of them in the frame with my 500mm lens so I automatically switched to focus on the cub.
It happened so quickly that there was no time to think or check/change any camera settings. Was all muscle memory at that point with trying to get part of them in the frame. Would have been nice to have F16 being that close but was happy that I had at least F11 for some depth of field.
Mom got so close at one point that I couldn’t get her whole head in the frame.
The cub walked past us to our left and then looked back towards the boar, giving me a great opportunity for a full frame head shot.
They kept moving off to our left and out into the field. Eventually they made their way towards the mudflats while the male made a slow walk to their previous location to check out her scent. Our guide said that they got about 12 ft from us and were using us for protection as the male would not typically come close to us. One of my favorite unforgettable bear encounters in Alaska.
Taken with Canon 1DX III, Canon 500mm F4 IS II, handheld, uncropped
The beginning of the eagle saga starts when the cub takes off running and flies by us and out towards the water. Mom then takes off after him and shows us her happy run when she would swing her head around.
The cub had found a bald eagle on a kill and was making a b-line for it. More to come…
The cub catches some air with all four feet off of the ground as he picks up speed. Had no clue on where he was going at this point.
Spun around on my stomach with my ground pod to capture him in partial silhouette as he hit max Q.
Mom followed him and was giving us her happy dance run when she would swing her head back and forth. A very happy bear once she figured out where junior was going to.
The cub was running to take away a fish that the bald eagle had caught.
My wish list for Alaska included seeing some bald eagles, if possible. Never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that I would be getting full frame eagle shots from my ground pod as this one landed on the mudflats right in front of me!
Absolutely blew my mind, which didn’t take much at that point as my mind had already been blown by 3 days of bear photography.
He wasn’t interested in us at all as he had bears on his mind. More to this story coming later…
1/2000 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1/3 exposure compensation, 500mm from ground pod
Lift off which was a challenge to keep him in the frame as he was so close.
Bear fly-by but he will return
This Alaskan coastal brown bear cub was full of energy and personality. He kept trying to get mom to play and she sometimes would indulge him and sometimes not.
In this instance, they were walking along the shoreline of the mudflats while we were further up on the beach. Caught him with “that look” where it looks like he is asking mom, wanna play?
Didn’t like the background on my original photo so cropped it vertical to emphasize the interaction and mom’s claws. Converted it to B&W using NIK silver effects pro to give it some drama and bring out the detail in their fur.
Taken with Canon 1DX Mark III, 500mm F4 IS II lens, handheld
1/2000 sec @ F13, ISO 2500, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 500mm
The best piece of camera equipment that I took on my bear photography trip to Alaska was my ground pod. If you follow my blog or on Facebook, you know that I love to use my ground pod for getting low to take shorebird photos. Never dreamed that I’d get the opportunity to take grizzly bear photos from a ground pod.
A few weeks prior to our trip to Alaska, we had a zoom call with our workshop leader and he described the mudflats at Lake Clark. When I asked him if I should take my ground pod, he said yes. Best advice in the world on this trip. Only used my tripod once but used my ground pod on a daily basis. The mudflats looked just like Bolivar only much larger, better backgrounds and with bears on it.
This first photo is a cell phone shot by our outstanding guide and very good photographer from Silver Salmon Creek Lodge, Dave Rasmus. Mom and her cub were working their way toward us while 3 of our group, along with Dave, were standing up taking photos and I’m the one laying down with my ground pod just shooting away. In this photo, I had already turned my camera vertical so they were getting close @ 500mm, see the 3rd photo below.
This next photo is almost full frame when they were walking towards me. Mom was off to my left but I maintained focus on the cub as he was adorable, although those claws could do some serious damage.
1/1600 @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 500mm from ground pod
As he got closer, here is where I rotated my camera on my gimbal head to the vertical position to help try to keep him in the frame. He ended up getting very close before the guide turned him around by talking to him. Mom was a ways away and couldn’t have cared less about us.
1/1600 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 500mm, uncropped from ground pod
Mom later walked by and showed off her claws in this full frame/uncropped photo. Off the charts fantastic experience for sure. Wouldn’t try this anywhere but this location where we had a very experienced guide with bear spray that knows their behavior, the bears are used to people, we aren’t in their food chain, people don’t hunt/harass them.
1/800 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 500mm, uncropped from ground pod
American Avocet at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary
When using a high shutter speed, sometimes the splash is more interesting than the shorebird. I always start shooting when their head starts going towards the water as you never know what you may capture. In this case, the frozen splash also shows a cool water drop.
As mentioned in my previous post about becoming “one with the flock”, my 1DXIII camera got wet from the salt water lapping at the bottom of my camera after the tide came in while I way laying on my stomach with shooting from my ground pod. After that outing, had some issues with my fully charged camera batteries being fully discharged before I took one shot with them. Would put another battery in and it worked fine.
Sent my camera to Canon to have them check it out. My salt water encounter ended up costing me a $1,200 repair bill. Canon described the issue as: “The bottom multi-controller on the back cover is stuck and will not move. At this time the PCB ASS’Y, MAIN W/LI BATT and COVER ASS’Y, BACK will be replaced.” Apparently, it got dunked a little more than I thought in the salt water.
Will it make me think twice about doing it again next time? Nope.
1/2000 @ F11, ISO 2000, evaluative metering, -1/3 exposure compensation, 700mm (500+1.4X) from ground pod, minor cropping
Always love to take back-lit photos at High Island TX rookery and captured this one on Friday
Focused on the snowy’s on this trip as they were in abundance compared to my last visit. Way too many people at the rookery. Got there well before the sun came up and had the last platform by myself. By the time the sun came up, I was sharing the platform with 16 other people. So much for social distancing.
Should have known better than to go on Good Friday but the weather was too good to pass up a sunny morning and some back-lit images.
1/1600 @ F8, ISO 800, evaluative metering, -2/3 exposure compensation, 500mm from tripod.
My favorite part of wildlife photography is playing with the light. In this case, I was playing with the sun.
This is a great egret at High Island TX rookery. Got there well before sunrise and was taking silhouette photos before the sun came up. Kept track of where the sun was going to rise to optimize my chances of playing with the sun and one of the egrets. This one cooperated while standing in some branches. She moved to the right and displayed her breeding plumage just at the right time.
Taken with Canon 1DX III with 500mm F4 IS II mounted on tripod with Wimberley II gimbal head.
1/3200 sec @ F8, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1/3 exposure compensation, 500mm
1/8000 sec @ F8, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, -1 exposure compensation, 500mm
1/8000 sec @ F8, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, no exposure compensation, 500mm
Have to share some details and photos about my unique adventure on Sunday (3/7/21) at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary on the Texas gulf coast in search of American Avocets. Needless to say, I found just a few.
While walking along the beach as the sun came up, there were a couple of flocks of avocets off shore but they wouldn’t have been worth the effort to photograph so decided to keep going to see what was around the corner. Found a group of white pelicans with some avocets feeding around them. Took the first photo with handholding my rig with ground pod/Wimberley head attached while deciding where to lay down.
The avocets were working their way to my right but couldn’t get upstream without spooking them so decided to lay down in the opposite direction in anticipation that they would eventually move that way. Laid down at the water’s edge of a sandbar and focused on flight shots as more and more avocets were coming in to join what soon became a feeding frenzy.
The enlarging flock eventually reversed course and headed in my direction. During that time, the tide was starting to come in and my sandbar ended up under water and I felt water getting into my waders. At 53 deg F air temp, 15 to 20 mph winds and 59 deg water temperature, it got really cold really fast. Tried to back up a few feet to find dry ground but looked behind me and there was no sandbar in site for over 50 ft.
With a flock of several hundred avocets heading my way, had to make the decision to get up to save my frozen body parts or grin and bare it. As my ground pod filled with water, figured that it couldn’t get much worse so stayed put as the flock was nearly upon me. When avocets feed, they put their head in the water and use their long bills to rake across the sand to find invertebrates. They just kept feeding and getting closer and closer.
Eventually they were within 20 ft of me and just moved around me and kept feeding. Was very cool to be surrounded 360 deg. by one of my favorite birds. Don’t know if it helped but I was in full camo with the hood of my sweatshirt pulled over my head. One of the major advantages of photography using a ground pod is that the birds don’t recognize you as a person.
At this point, I became “one with the flock”, which was an amazing experience. I’ve had avocets all around me before but it was a handful, not a full flock. Got a couple of photos that may be photo contest worthy but would have loved this experience if I didn’t get any photos.
It was challenging to photograph them that close as I couldn’t shift my position without moving too much in fear of spooking them. Eventually switched to F16 for more depth of field but it didn’t help much at that distance. The white pelicans also joined the fray and flew about 10 ft over me with one landing very close. Slowly rotated my ground pod around to get a couple of shots of him.
Was so focused and in the zone that I didn’t realize my ground pod was floating in the water and had shifted so that the back end was down into the sand under the water with the front end up resting on the bottom of my 500mm lens. With my gimbal head adjustments being loose for shooting, it just floated up in the water. Pulled it back down and locked it into place for a few seconds to stabilize it when I realized that the salt water was lapping at the bottom of my camera. Shifted the camera up slightly to get it out of the water and then my lens raincoat was in the water.
Didn’t take a rocket scientist to say it was time to get up quickly, which was easier said than done with my waders/clothing full of water and my desire to not dunk my gear. Usually grab the base of my ground pod to help get up but in this case, didn’t want to move/splash my camera/lens so got up next to my gear as water poured out of my jacket. Slowly made my way back to my car while water was squishing in my wader boots. Water just poured out of my waders when taking them off. Removed my camera raincoat and put my camera in the passenger seat for the drive back to the ferry.
After getting on the ferry, noticed that there was water dripping out of my lens hood. Removed the hood and saw that the bottom part had been in the water. Took off the Lenscoat neoprene covers on my lens to dry it off. Took a couple of hours to clean up myself and my gear but was well worth it.
All photos were taken with Canon 1DXIII, Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III, Skimmer ground pod (now a designated floaty) with Wimberley II gimbal head.
Found this bald eagle at Anahuac NWR in Texas on 12/5/20. Was driving around a corner and spotted a very large bird sitting on a fence post. Initial thought that is was a turkey vulture as they are in abundance out there. Second thought was that it was too big for a vulture and then saw the white head. Bingo – bald eagle. Turned my car to the right to get an angle on him where I could take a photo out of my car window. The sun was right behind him getting higher in the sky resulting in a challenging exposure. Kept checking my histogram and was blowing out the sky at times which is not a major concern as the bird was my subject. Just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t blowing out the whites on his head.
Took several shots and was moving my car to get a better position what I heard another vehicle approaching on the dirt road. Pulled off of the road and then a pick-up truck came flying by. He had no clue that there was an eagle there and almost hit him when he spooked from his perch.
Ended up finding him a couple more times before I left but this was my best photo. Always very cool to see an eagle out at Anahuac. First time that I had one posing for me.
Found that he as a bad eye when reviewing my photos on the computer. His left eye is gray in color.
1/3200 @ F9, ISO 2500, evaluative metering, + 1 2/3 exposure compensation, 700mm, handheld out my car window
This was my first year to enter NANPA (North America Nature Photography Association) photo contest and was honored to get all 10 of my entries in the semi-finals and two photos making the top 250.
Here is my first one with a coyote intimidating a field rat at Anahuac NWR in Texas, which was taken in Dec 2018. After pulling up behind a group of vehicles taking his photo, he reversed course and came my way. Saw him “mousing” and he came up with a field rat and brought him out in the road right in front of my car. He initially played with him like a dog plays with a toy.
I tried to take photos out my car window but gave up as he was right in front of my car and didn’t want to get out and spook him. After watching him for a while, slowly opened up my door and stood between my car and my door taking photos.
Right before devouring breakfast, he stood over the rat and bared his teeth which was very intimidating.
Almost full frame shot with only cropping a little off of the bottom to remove the yellow stripe in the road. 1/640 sec @ F5.6, ISO 6400, evaluative metering, 700mm
Taken with Canon 1DX, Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter, handheld
Had one of those great mornings along the Texas Gulf Coast recently when the stars aligned. One big star and a great blue heron.
Visualized this shot when spotting this great blue heron while walking on the beach when it was still dark out. Had to guess where to lay down based on the light peeking through on the horizon. Only had to shift my position slightly when seeing the sun start to pop to keep him in the sunrise. He stayed in one spot while I got off several shots.
While wishing that the skimmers weren’t in front of him, they blasted off and left me with a challenge – do I keep my focus on the GBH or do I try to take photos of the skimmers. I stuck with the heron and eventually all of the skimmers were gone. He then looked up into the sky and I’ll save that photo for a photo contest.
Taken with Canon 1DX Mark III and 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on skimmer ground pod with a Wimberley II gimbal head.
1/640 sec @ F11, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 700mm
Spent some quality time last week at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary on the Texas gulf coast. Found several reddish egrets at sunrise with this white morph really standing out from the rest. Right place at the right time for some great action and beautiful light.
This was about 1/2 hour after sunrise. Had to cranked up the exposure compensation to get the proper exposure. Having 16 frames/sec from my new 1DX III comes in real handy in these situations with being able to capture the action as it happens. The focusing ability of this camera is just off of the charts.
Taken with Canon 1DX mark III, Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on a Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head.
All photos at: 1/2000 sec @ F5.6, ISO 2500, evaluative metering, +2 exposure compensation, 700mm from ground pod, minor cropping
Took a couple of vacation days this past week and headed to the Gulf coast for some quality social distancing at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary. Was well worth the time and effort.
Saw these 3 brown pelicans flying close to each other at a distance and started tracking them with my camera. Got about 80 shots of them just waiting for this photo when they were side by side, coming right at me with their wings outstretched.
Pre-visualized this shot as I’ve gotten some similar pelican photos probably 10 years ago and have been waiting to recreate it ever since. Was very pleased on how this one turned out.
Taken with Canon 1DX mark III, Canon 500mm F4 IS II and 1.4X III telconverter, mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head.
1/800 sec @ F5.6, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, aperture priority, + 2 exposure compensation, 700mm from ground pod
After taking photos of wood storks in the rain, found this clapper rail in the middle of the dirt road at Brazoria NWR. As soon as my car moved, he ran into the grass next to the road. Slowly moved forward while watching the spot where he went in. Pulled closer and turned my car perpendicular to the road to be able to photograph him out my window. Changed to a small single focus point while trying to spot him in the grass with no luck.
Waited patiently for a few minutes when he started moving through the grass towards the road. He eventually came out onto the road to dry off from the rain. Was very cool to see as they are usually hanging out in the weeds and not in the open.
1/2500 sec @ F5.6, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 700mm, hand held out my car window
1/4000 sec @ F5.6, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 700mm, hand held out my car window
1/4000 sec @ F5.6, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 1/3 exposure compensation, 700mm, hand held out my car window
I’m usually not out taking photos when it rains but may have to start doing it more often. Was taking wood stork photos at Brazoria NWR when I got a text alert from one of my weather apps that it was going to rain. Looked to my right and saw the rain coming. Reached for my lens raincoat and it started pouring. Through the raincoat on the seat and stuck my 500mm out the window to start shooting the storks in the rain.
Wasn’t sure what shutter speed would be optimal to emphasize the rain so pretty much tried them all from 1/60 to 1/1250 sec. Having a clean background would have helped to see the rain but didn’t have that luxury.
The gully washer lasted about 8 minutes. Hoped that they would flap their wings to dry them off when it stopped but they just stood there. Turned around to drive away and found a much better target standing in the road…
1/250 sec @ F8, ISO 400, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 700mm, hand held out my car window
Paying attention to bird behavior really paid off on Friday morning. Was taking photos of a reddish egret when he started looking up in the air. Reddish egrets don’t usually pay attention to other birds in the sky unless it’s another reddish egret. This one kept glancing to the sky which peaked my couriosity so I decided to look up from my prone position and got a fantastic surprise when this magnificent frigatebird was right above me.
Decided to quickly take my camera off of the ground pod and rolled onto my back and started shooting straight up in the air. The wet sand in my hair was a new experience but well worth it. She was almost too close as I was clipping wings off of the frame. Got a few shots from that position but it was too difficult to control my 500mm lens so rolled over and sat up to shoot. Didn’t want to stand up and potentially spook her. She kept circling me and I wondered if she was checking me out, which I confirmed was the case after looking at the photos on the computer.
Magnificent frigatebirds are huge with a 7 ft wingspan and a forked tail. Have seen them at the east end of Galveston Island and while in my car on the ferry several years ago but never at the flats. Getting that close was a major bucket list event for me. Was thinking about frigatebirds a few weeks ago while on the ferry and envisioned having a close-up encounter. I need to start dreaming about birds more often…
I always get excited when seeing shorebirds take a bath as they almost always jump up and flap their wings to dry off. Usually a good chance for a great photo op.
Took these shots a couple of weeks ago at Bolivar Flats Audubon shorebird sanctuary along the Texas gulf coast. Cranked the ISO up to 3200 to get a decent shutter speed to freeze the action.
Taken with Canon 1DX III and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head
1/2500 sec @ F8, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation
1/2000 sec @ F8, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation
Hope that everyone out there is well and staying safe. It’s a very strange/surreal world that we are currently living in. I have been working from home for awhile now so nothing new there, just less travel these days. My day job work has actually picked up lately with more projects so that’s a good thing. Have been spending my off-hours backing up my photos and entering some photo contests. I’ll post more later about my updated back-up strategy that I’ve just completed implementing.
Since almost all of my favorite areas for wildlife photography around Houston are shut down, I’ll dig up some of my photos from my newly archived storage unit.
Here is a reddish egret in flight from last year’s July 4.
Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head – handheld
Got very excited when planning for my first trip this year to the High Island TX rookery a couple of weeks ago with a weather forecast including high winds. High winds + great egret breeding plumage = some great photo op’s. This photo is close to what I previsualized before getting to the rookery based on past experience.
No real clean shots without branches so had to make the best of a challenging situation. Usually pick out a couple of specific birds and keep my focus on them waiting for some good action. Took a bunch of photos of this lovely lady with several bursts when the wind picked up to get various feather positions.
For white birds, always expose for the highlights, which helps to darken the rest of the scene. Instead of bringing up the shadows in Photoshop, decided to keep the exposure as captured in the camera. Increased color saturation a little and sharpened. Helped to keep the photo a little dark and moody to relay the sense of it being cold and windy, which it was that morning.
1/2500 sec @ F9, ISO 800, evaluative metering, -2/3 exposure compensation, 500mm from tripod
On Saturday morning at Anahuac NWR, was talking photos of black-necked stilts on the back side of Shoveler Pond when a large bird flew overhead with other birds chasing it. Looked like an eagle but couldn’t tell for sure until his white head came into view. He went along the tall grass and grabbed a coot and flew back to the middle of the pond. Not a good time to be a coot at Anahuac these days as they are prime targets for raptors.
Had just backed off from ISO 3200 to 1600 with the stilts and didn’t have time to crank it back up with the eagle so had to work with a slow shutter speed of 1/250 for this flight shot.
1/250 sec @ F5.6, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +2 exposure compensation, 700mm, handheld out my car window
When the eagle first caught the coot, a northern harrier followed him and kept circling to try to steal a bite. After the eagle was finished eating, the harrier made his move and landed just behind the eagle and stole a piece. Gutsy move.
Spent most of my time tracking the harrier while the eagle fed. Thought that it would be a more interesting photo with the two birds in one shot than just the eagle eating. Paid off in my opinion.
1/2500 sec @ F5.6, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, + 1 1/3 exposure compensation, 700mm, handheld out my car window