dannygreenphotography Blog

22nd August 2017

Churchill Polar Bears ........

Polar Bears


In November last year I was in Churchill which is a small town on the southern shore of the Hudson Bay, Canada. Churchill is famous for the large concentration of Polar Bears that gather there each autumn and then wait for the Ice to reform on the Hudson Bay. The Churchill River is one of the first places to freeze over and then it spreads along the coast of the Hudson Bay. The Bears have been trapped on land since the break-up of the Ice in the spring and so it is vital that they can get out on the Ice and hunt they favourite prey, the ringed seal. In some years the number of Bears along the coast and the joining tundra is just amazing, which makes Churchill one of the best places to see this iconic predator of the north.

 

Polar Bear

I have been running a trip to Churchill now for a number of years and it is one I am always eager and look forward to going back. Each trip I have done has always been different and so Churchill always has this element of surprise. The trick with this trip is down to timing. You can go in October and there will be a lot of bears just patiently waiting on the tundra for winter to set in but going this early you run the risk of there being no snow cover, which is not great for photographing the bears. If you go too late in November then you run the risk that the Ice has already formed on the Hudson Bay and all the Bears have left. So it is difficult to get it right. I always run our trip in the second week of November just to try and eliminate that risk.

 

Polar Bear

Winter was late last November and so when we first got there we were facing the prospect of having no snow cover. There were lots of Bears around but it just made it much harder to take nice pictures. We had snow flurries coming in but nothing serious to cover the whole ground. It was getting warmer too as the week went on and even these snow flurries turned to rain which melted the little bit of snow which was around.

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Sometimes these bad conditions can bring a downer on a trip but I like to find the best alternative if there is one. As the temperatures were getting a bit warmer the Bears then started to rest on the frozen ponds which were still frozen as it was a way of cooling themselves down a little. Polar Bear

Polar Bear

On this trip we use two kinds of transport throughout. The first one we use is a tundra buggy which is huge vehicle that can go anywhere. We have this vehicle to ourselves and so have the flexibility of just waiting in certain spots to see if anything happens. The Bears do wander over large areas so it is not long before one shows up. Sometimes they come for a closer look and this can be a great way a getting close-up portraits.

Polar Bear

On day three the temperature hit +10 degrees which is so warm for mid-November. This is a really worrying trend for the Bears as they are so desperate for the Ice to form. It is a pattern that is occurring right across the Arctic and as a result the Polar Bear is in grave danger. It is amazing how quickly it can change in the Arctic though and during the night the cold conditions returned with a bang and within 12 hours the temperature had dropped to -30 degrees. The following morning was looking more like the conditions that you get in Churchill which makes a great difference to your images.

 

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Half way between the trip we use 4x4 trucks which is another great way to see and photograph the Bears. You don't see as many Bears as you do on the Tundra Buggies because you are restricted on where you can go but it is still a great way and perspective on seeing them. On the last couple of days the conditions were now perfect and we were eager to get out on the Tundra Buggies. One of the main attractions for me to come to Churchill initially was the possibility of photographing the large males sparring. I have seen it briefly before but never really had a great opportunity on previous trips.

 

Polar Bear

Biologists say the males do this behaviour as they can test each other’s strength and so when they get into the serious side of the business of fighting over females in the breeding season they know who not to mess with. Personally I think they just do it for a bit of fun and it is an amazing experience to witness this powerful predator has such a gentle, playful side.

 

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

The fresh dusting of snow had transformed the tundra and the conditions were just perfect. You do need a good slice of luck in wildlife photography and we certainly had it on the last few days of this trip. We came across three males that were hanging around each other and so decided to stay with them all day and see what they would do. It was a good call as throughout the day they would come together for bouts of sparring. It was so nice to photograph them with this clean white background.

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Well that was my trip back in November; it was a great trip to a great place. That last day with the three large males just rolling around and having a good time was one of the best things I have done in my career and something I will remember for a long time. It just doesn't get better than photographing these iconic predators. The Ice by the way formed about a week later and the bears headed out. I am already looking forward to next year’s trip and I hope the guys that are booked on the trip are as excited about is as me, you are in for a real treat. Here are just a couple more to finish off with.

 

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

 


 

29th July 2017

Northwoods of Minnesota .......

Great Northern Diver

In late June I was in Minnesota running our new trip for Natures Images. I had visited last year to recce the trip but you always worry slightly on new trips as you hope everything works out. It is not easy putting new trips together but it is something I personally love to do as it makes it exciting, not only for me but our guests too.  I had a very good helper on the ground though for this trip in Stan Tekiela who is a local of Minnesota and knows the state well. Our target for the first part of this trip was the Great Northern Diver or Common Loon.

Great Northern Diver

Minnesota supports a good population of this beautiful Diver. The State is perfect for them with a lot of lakes set amongst these northern forests. Stan has many years of experience with working with them and so knows many locations to find them. We had timed our trip to coincide with the chicks having hatched as they are difficult to do when they are still incubating the eggs and they are very susceptible to disturbance. Last year when I went I was slightly later in the month and missed one the images that I really wanted to capture.

Great Northern Diver

When the chicks are just a few days old they hitch a ride on one of their parents backs. They only do it for the first week or so of their lives as they get big quite quickly and so the parents don't allow them to after they have reached a certain size. I think this is a wonderful bit of behaviour and so I was looking at timing the trip so we had a better chance of photographing it. It had been a warmer spring than usual and most of the birds had started the season earlier. Most of the chicks we came across were already too big and so although we were still getting nice opportunities I felt we might have missed it.

Great Northern Diver

We then found a couple of pairs that still had a younger and smaller chick. We then concentrated with these pairs and so we started to get the chance to capture this unique behaviour.

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver

The weather was really kind to us as well during the first part of this trip with cloudless skies and gentle wind, perfect for photographing water birds. We had a couple of glorious morning sunrises too and so made the most of these great conditions.

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver

Each morning saw us rise at 4am which makes it hard work and long days but we needed to work this way to get the best light. We use a small boat to get close to the Divers and they show no fear of the boat as they are used to seeing small boats that fishermen use. It is great way to work and gives us great flexibility.

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver

We also got the chance with other species too on our trip like Red-necked Grebes and Herons.

After our time with the Divers we then headed to northern Minnesota to photograph Black Bear. Black Bear are quite common in the States but they are difficult to find and photograph. In northern Minnesota there is a great location where you can get really close to them and so it offers some great opportunities to photograph them. You can get all ages of Bears and also females with young cubs.

Black Bear

Black Bear

Black Bear

This year there seemed to be a lot of females with young spring cubs which was great because they are so photogenic. One family in particular were very accommodating and we spent a lot of time with these as they were also very playful.

Black Bear

Black Bear

Black Bear

Black Bear

Black Bear

It is a great combination of the Divers and Black Bears for running a trip because you can get so many opportunities and so get a varied portfolio. It's not only mothers and spring cubs you can also get chances to photograph the large males too.

Black Bear

Black Bear

Black Bear

Black Bear

Black Bear

So there you go a small selection from this great trip. Thanks Stan for putting the trip together for us and everything worked out really well. We are running the trip again next June and if you like travelling in the States then this is a great trip to capture two iconic American species. We still have a few places for this trip so hopefully you night be inspired by this selection of images. Drop us an email if you would like any more information.

Black Bear

Great Northern Diver

Great Northern Diver

 


 

6th July 2017

Wild Iceland ..........

Arctic Terns

It has been such a long time since I have put up a blog as I have just not had the time between trips to look at any processing. This has meant I have a year's worth of a back log of images to sort through, a daunting task. Anyway I thought I would go back to trips last year that needed doing and show the images on the blog, but I decided to look through my latest images from a recent trip to Iceland and so here are a few that have chosen. I have been to Iceland many times now and it is a destination that always produces great opportunities. For the wildlife photographer it is dream if you get the right conditions as there are so many subjects and so abundant too.

Golden Plover

Iceland is a wild and rugged place which has become very popular with Landscape photographers. Wildlife photographers have been a little slow on discovering this gem, so even in this day and age the location doesn't feel like it has been overdone. One of the reasons I think is it's quite a hard place to work and you do need some good old fashioned knowledge to get the best out of the location. Having been a number of times now I have the comfort of knowing that if I go back to places I have found things in the past, then I stand a good chance of finding them again.

Red-throated Diver

I had the benefit of Paul Hobson co-leading this trip with me. I have known Paul for many years now and his knowledge of birds is second to none and so was a real asset for this trip. To get the best out of Iceland it's not just a case of driving round looking for things, it is so important to have that experience to get the best out of the place. We (Natures Images) have run a number of tours to Iceland now and each one has produced some nice surprises.

Harliquin Duck

Fukmer

Snipe

What we tend to do on our Iceland tour is drive around the main loop road and stop at various locations along our route. One of our first stops is to look for one of my favourite birds, the Red-throated Diver. On the last couple of trips to photograph this beautiful bird it has coincided with some pretty grey weather. Now the Red-throat really needs a bit of light to make that wonderful red eye and throat stand out. This year the first couple of days were pretty uninspiring, but on our last night the clouds parted and we got the chance to work in the glorious evening light that Iceland is famous for.

Red-throated Diver

Red-throated Diver

Red-throated Diver

Red-throated Diver

Red-throated Diver

Next stop for us was along the coast at Vik, this is a famous landscape spot but it is also a great spot for photographing a bird that we are familiar with during the winter months in the UK. The Redwing breeds in good numbers in Iceland as it takes advantage of the 24 hour daylight and abundant insect prey during the summer. The male Redwings were still defending their territories and were singing from their favourite prominent perches.

Redwing

Redwing

One of my favourite places to visit in Iceland is Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. I consider this location to be one of the best places in Europe for photography, not only for birds but landscapes too. It is very popular with landscape photographers but strangely not many bird photographers. This famous lagoon is a popular tourist destination now and can seem very busy during the day. We visit during the early mornings and late evenings and we tend to have the place to ourselves.

Barnacle Geese

Snow Bunting

I really like how you can incorporate the environment of the lagoon for your final images. Whether you shoot portraits and have the wonderful backgrounds the ice can produce or shooting smaller in the frame and really have the ice as your main point of interest.

Snow Bunting

Our last stop is Lake Myvatn in the northeast, it is a long drive but we spend a good five days at this lake because it has so much to offer. It is one of the top spots in Europe for bird photography and there is an impressive list of birds to be found here. In the past we have had a lot of success here. It is a huge lake with lots of smaller ponds surrounding it. These ponds are great for photographing species like Slavonian Grebe, Long Tailed Duck and Scaup. What I really like about Myvatn is the surrounding tundra which supports a great number of wading birds.

Golden Plover

Golden Plover

Golden Plover

Golden Plover and Dunlin breed in big numbers and these moors come alive with the calls of these wading birds.

Dunlin

Dunlin

Dunlin

One of my favourite waders of these northern moors is the Whimbrel. This bird is not as common as the other waders but Myvatn is excellent for this elusive bird.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel

Snipe are still common around Myvatn and their impressive display flight or drumming echoes around the moors. The evocative call of the Black-tailed Godwit is a fantastic sound. Male Ptarmigan can be heard calling from prominent perches. The whole place is just a joy to spend time here.

Snipe

Black-tailed Godwit

Ptarmigan

So there you go just a small selection of my images from this wonderful country. We are not doing a trip to Iceland next year but are thinking about it for 2019. If you fancy some hard fought images from such a wild and rugged country, with a mouth-watering selection of species, then please get in touch and we can put your name down on a list. I love the place and I am already looking forward to going back.

Red-throated Diver

 


 

8th October 2016

Wild Coasts of Alaska .......

Grizzly Bear

I have been to Alaska a few times now and after my first visit I fell in love with this wild and rugged place. It is hard to explain the vastness and wildness of Alaska but it truly is one of the last great frontiers. All of my visits so far had been in September, either looking for fishing Grizzlies or rutting Moose, so I was excited about visiting at a different time of the year. I had timed my visit to coincide with the King Salmon run which happens in many rivers along the Alaskan peninsular. My ultimate goal was go to Brooks falls in Katmai National Park to photograph the huge Grizzlies that descend there each year to take advantage of this natural resource. I also wanted to try out some other locations for various species, one of which is the beautiful Sea Otter. This has been on my wish list for many years and so I finally made the effort to try and capture images of this marine mammal.

Sea Otters

Mark and I had arranged a trip through Natures Images to concentrate on the Brown Bears of this rich coastline but this trip was completely different from our autumn one and was to be split between two locations. Brooks Falls was the main reason to organise this trip but it proved extremely difficult to take a group and after many years of trying we eventually managed to get something organised. The other location was to go to our usual place at Lake Clark National Park. Before the trip had started though I flew out a little bit earlier as I wanted to check out a location for photographing Sea Otters.

Sea Otters

I had seen some old images of Sea Otters resting on Ice flows and knew they were taken in Alaska so I did a bit of research and eventually I found the location that I was looking for. After a few emails and phone calls I had found a skipper of a small boat that was willing to take me out to the location. The Skipper had a rough idea of where they might have been taken but it really was a case of well lets go and see what we can find. Sometimes working blind like this has huge rewards but usually it spells failure, which is part and parcel of this job. This time though I just got lucky and couldn't have dreamt of it being this good.

Sea Otters

Sea Otters

Sea Otters

The Otters were resting on Glacial Ice and so we just headed out to various different Glaciers to begin our search. We saw Otters all along the coast so at first the signs were good. The first Glacier we got to though proved a wasted journey as there wasn't any sign of them. So we moved on to the next one and the next one but still no luck. I did though manage to get some nice shots of some Common Seals which was a great bonus. Whilst photographing the Seals though we did briefly see an Otter Swim by.

Common Seal

Common Seal

After our first failed attempts we then tried one more location and bingo there was a small group of about twenty resting on the Ice in front of a small Glacier. The scene looked wonderful from a distance but as our boat got closer one by one they slipped of the ice and into the water. I managed a few shots but not really what I was hoping for. Early the next morning we just headed straight out to this perfect location.

Sea Otter

Sea Otter

Sea Otter

This time once we were at the Glacier we took it much more slowly and really just let the boat drift in and around the Ice. After a while the Otters didn't see us as a threat and so we spent the whole day photographing this beautiful and Iconic mammal in some stunning surroundings. I have done many great things over the years but these brief sessions with the Otters is certainly up there with the best of them.

Sea Otter

Sea Otter

After the Otters I then headed back to Anchorage to meet up with the Natures Images group that was flying out to join us on the trip. Our first location was going to be Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park. This is a location that I have wanted to go to for a while now and so it was really exciting heading out not knowing what to expect. Of course we had done a lot of research and asked many people for their advice but it was still new and so we went with our eyes open. Many people had said to me that it was very busy with people during the day but we were staying there for a few nights and so you can get up early and catch the Bears at the falls before the day trippers fly in. Then during the evenings everyone has left and you kind of get the place to yourself. I will say one thing though, this is without doubt one the premier locations for photographing Brown Bears.

Grizzly Bear

The weather wasn't great for our three days with lots of rain and low cloud cover but for me this was perfect because I wanted to try and capture the Bears in the turbulent water of the falls with some long exposures, so blurring the fast moving water. I have tried this technique with many species so kind of knew what to do. The Bears make great subjects for this style of image though because they sit quietly waiting for a passing fish. I took many images just to get a handful but I do like these kinds of images.

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

I also shot in the normal way especially once they had caught a fish. The Salmon run had only just begun and the fishing activity was quite slow but this was perfect for capturing the low speed shots. Once a bear had caught a Salmon though I was quick to change back to my normal settings to capture the behaviour.

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

At the falls it is mainly the large males that have the fishing rights there, further down the stream you can capture images of the females with cubs and the younger bears.

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

After Brooks Falls we then headed back to Anchorage and then the following day we flew out to Lake Clark National Park. This is the same location that we go to for our trip out in September which we hopefully try and capture images of the Bears chasing Salmon through the estuaries and creeks. In early July though it is much more peaceful as the Bears are feeding in the sedge meadows and going out with the tides to dig for clams.

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

The first couple of days at Lake Clark were wet which I think is perfect for photographing bears as it really shows that wonderful texture to their fur. We also had some very clear days but I just didn't like the images that I took on these sunny days as the light was just too harsh. At Lake Clark we encountered a few females with spring cubs which were great because it was the main reason of adding this location to our trip. A lot of the time though we had to be patient and wait for the bears because they were heading to the forests as the Salmon berry crop was much earlier and the bears just can't resist these.

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

During the days we had fine weather at Lake Clark we headed out on a boat further up the coast to visit a small island that supports a small breeding population of Horned Puffins. This was a great addition to our trip as most people weren't expecting this opportunity. It was nice to photograph a different species of Puffin for a change.

Horned Puffin

Horned Puffin

Horned Puffin

Horned Puffin

Horned Puffin

The activity at Lake Clark was quite for large parts of the day mainly in the early mornings and late evenings which was frustrating as we would have had some great light to work in, the best clamming tides fell around midday and so the light was just too harsh to get any decent photos. It was a great shame as Lake Clark at this time of the year is fantastic for capturing different images of the bears, but I shall return. We were hoping to organize another trip back out in early July for 2018 but we have got the chance to put a summer trip on to Svalbard and so we just can't fit it in our program. We will definitely be running it again in 2019 which will be called Alaska's Wild Coasts as we don't want to just concentrate on the Bears but incorporate the Sea Otters and Puffins too. If you would be interested in this trip then please drop Liz an email and we will put you on the list.
Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

Grizzly Bear

 

Older Posts

 

 

Websites for photographers by Click-IT