Last night while I was watching the sun go down along the river, I noticed bugs hitting the water. The little circles they were making looked like rain drops hitting the river. So tonight I went to the Raritan River in Manville where I thought the setting sun would be shining on the water in hopes of photographing the bugs and circles. There were plenty of bugs and circles, but I couldn’t make a picture I liked. There were swallows there for the bugs too, but they wanted them for dinner. The swallows were making sharp turns as the strong sunlight illuminated their wings. I didn’t get the bug photo I wanted but came away happy with a bird shot.
It is never easy for me to get out of bed before the sun rises, but I know that is when I can make the best pictures. So I rolled out this morning and did my usual check of the sky to see if there any clouds. All clear, so I headed out along the Ottaquechee River in search of great light. I could see some fog in the distance and thought that could make good photos. The fog got heavier and by the time the sun was due to break through, I couldn’t see anything but fog. Sometimes it is hard for me to change gears, I was expecting and wanting a brilliant sunrise, but I got fog. I drove down a small dirt road that dead-ended at a farm. I didn’t see anything that made a good photo but I could hear coyotes crying in the valley. The fog carried the sound across the valley and up the hill. I couldn’t see them, but the sound was fun. About a mile away I saw a horse looking out of his barn into the fog. I didn’t get my pretty sunrise shot, but I like the horse.
After several cloudy and rainy Vermont days, it was great to be able to see the sun rise today. It was foggy, which is pretty common, but the sun was able to break through and make some dramatic light. I headed to South Woodstock where there is a large horse association and their grounds always look good.
After the fog cleared, I drove some back roads where there are great scenes around every corner. I noticed a spider web along the road with the sun shining through it. As I looked closer, there were dozens of webs and most of them had a spider in the middle. I haven’t really photographed a web with a spider in it, so it was fun.
I was just thinking yesterday that I hadn’t photographed wild turkeys lately and I hadn’t seen any for a while. After a couple of morning thunderstorms, I went out searching for photos. Rain must bring out the turkeys because I saw five or six rafters of turkeys in fields. They were grazing in the fields, it looked like they were getting plenty of insects after the big rains.
Years ago somebody in New Jersey government realized that the open space in the state was getting sparse. So they created a special tax, bought land and call it Green Acres. The cool thing about Green Acres is that it is now public land and anyone can go there but most people don’t know it. About 15 years ago I found a Green Acres site of 170 acres that is home to Upper Raritan Watershed Association. They keep the former farm in great shape, keeping paths mowed and meadows clear. I did a lot of photography there and saw lots of wildlife. There are lots of deer, birds, fox and even a bobcat one February morning.
So today when I went there I went to a nice flower garden they have created. It is designed to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. There were lots of butterflies, at least four different kinds. I took the normal pretty butterfly photos but then tried getting in real close with the macro lens to see what would happen. An Eastern tiger swallowtail landed on a flower and started sucking nectar.
Today had to be one of the top five weather days of the year. Clear skies, low humidity and nice temperatures made for a perfect day. So I headed off to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and NJ Audubon’s Scherman-Hoffman Wildlife Refuge. They are about five miles apart and only 15 minutes from my house. At the Audubon center, I walked one of their trails and saw two trees that had grown together and were tall and straight. They had grown together at the base but became more separated the higher they grew.
As I was leaving, the Audubon people showed me some bear bones. The bear was killed on a highway and they put the bear in the woods to get “cleaned” naturally. It only took two weeks for the coyotes, buzzards and bugs to get rid of the flesh. I wouldn’t have thought of using nature to clean the the meat and fun off of roadkill, but it was effective. It is good to know what to do with any dead bears I may have in the future. Now the bones are in a cardboard box.
I went over to the Great Swamp, which is pretty dry since we haven’t had much rain this summer. I did some macro work on wild flowers. I have to do more research to see what kind of flower it was, all I know it was pretty.
I spotted an egret, so I stopped the car and went back. There were three of them in the shallow water. One didn’t move and the other two walked around stalking food. They did a couple of spears, but I didn’t see them catch anything. After a burst of pictures, I noticed a black blob in my pictures. The shutter on my camera blew out. It is a pro camera that hasn’t had near enough actuations for the shutter to go out. Bummer.
It was a great week during my first trip to Alaska. Going there has been long my list of places to see for a long time. It is the 49th state I’ve visited, now I need to make my way to Hawaii.
Alaska is big. Real big. We drove over 2,200 miles during the week making a loop around the bottom third of the state. That’s like driving from New Jersey to Las Vegas. The borough of Mat-Su is the size of West Virginia.
I photographed critters I hadn’t before: bald eagles, golden eagles, sea otters, moose, sandhill cranes, Dall sheep, coyote and even a pocupine. There was scenery that can’t be described. The mountains are majestic and the valleys wide. The forest is extensive and seems to last forever, until you get to the North Slope where trees can’t survive the hard winter.
We met great people, natives, converts and tourists. The locals were friendly and happy to be there. They love the outdoors and most get out and enjoy it whenever they can.
The towns were neat, although few and far between. I like that though. Anchorage is a real city but easy to get around. Homer is eclectic. Chitina is real, old-time Alaska.
I experienced more than I could expect while in Alaska, but there is so much more to see. If I am lucky, I’ll get back there again.
After eight days of fun and awe in Alaska, it is time to head home. Our last stop was the Creamer’s Field State Wildlife Sanctuary in Fairbanks. The preserve is known as a haven for sandhill cranes after their migration to their summer home. Cranes like open fields, like airports, so they put out plenty of food at the preserve so the cranes aren’t tempted to fly over to the airport. Cranes have a funny mating dance but they weren’t in the mood today. We have been keeping track of how many critters we could identify. The cranes let us hit our goal of 50.
On our way to the field, we drove past a grove of birch trees behind a grassy field that was lined with the ever-present fireweed. A beautiful end to a great trip.
Read more at Walter’s blog.
The greatest thing about being a photographer is going places most other people don’t. Last night Walter did a shoot for a corporate client who is doing road repair 85 miles inside Denali National Park. After the first 12 miles the road isn’t open to the public and is gravel. You can ride a modified school bus that stops at a few places and the round trip is eight hours. They can only do the repairs after 9 p.m., so we went into the park with them for the night. The drive is through single-lane mountain passes, along narrow ledges and through massive valleys. It nevers gets dark in Denali this time of year, which makes working at night fairly easy. Sunset was at 11:48 p.m. and it didn’t get darker than about 30 minutes after sunset at home. It is strange to be standing along a river a 1 a.m. and taking a photo without a tripod.
We were promised wildlife, especially bears, during our drive. The rain was steady all night and the critters are smarter than us, they were hunkered down. We saw some Dall Sheep on ridge right way and later a large caribou. One of the workers was driving the truck and stopped where he sees a wolf and her litter of five every night, but not tonight. He guaranteed us we’d see bears. He drove us from their base, where the workers live in campers and spend two to three weeks at a time in the park before getting a day off to go home. He took us on the hour drive out to the work site, but no bears. All the workers were stunned at the lack of wildlife but the scenery was incredible. Since the public can’t drive on this road, few people are able to stop anywhere for photos like we did.
We finally had to end our adventure in the park and head back out. Walter and I were were plenty sleepy and bummed at the lack of wildlife. We got back to the paved section of the road, where Walter and I had driven twice during the day, and our driver was apologizing for the lack of bears and wolves. He and I both yelled at the same time. There was a grizzly bear at the side of the road! It was incredibly cute. The bears in Denali are cream color with black legs and they only look like that there. The bear ran into some brush and we could see its back as it walked along the road about 50 feet away. It would stop, pop its head up to check us out and then move on. It was too dark and rainy to make any pictures before it vanished into the deep brush. But the picture of the cute grizzly face will always stick in my mind.
We traveled to Denali National Park on our bear search. On the way, we saw a pretty coyote sitting along the road. So, of course, we screeched to a halt and went back for some shots.
You can drive 12 miles into the park and then you have to take a converted school bus the 89 miles to the end of the road – unless you know somebody. Walter has a client doing road work past where the buses go. So we are going in with them tonight at 6 p.m. It is a four hour ride, then Walter will shoot some photos of them working for a couple of hours and then we’ll ride back out.
We drove the 12 mile route a couple times this afternoon. It was a rainy day so we decided not to do any hikes. We’re also saving energy since it will be a sleepless night. We are amazed at the number of gulls in Alaska. They are everywhere, including Denali which is hundreds of miles from any major body of water. At one of the pulling off spots on the 12-mile drive, a friendly gull lands on car roofs. It seems like it his gig, being cute for food. I’m sure it works way too much.
Be sure to read more at Walter’s blog.
Another beautiful day. This is getting old, nothing but great scenery. We spent much of the day around the Talkeetna area, which was the town they modeled the Northern Exposure TV show.
There are great views of Mt. McKinley and Denali National Park from town. It is the base camp for the mountain climbers and the town has a real Alaskan feel. We had breakfast at the old Roadhouse, we you sit at a big table with a bunch of other folks. It is a great way to talk to other travelers and locals.
It was clear all day and we drove to several places looking for bears, but we only found a porcupine. It went up a tree and posed for us.
The clouds rolled through late in the day, which made for dramatic shots.
We started the day with a bonus: a bull moose first thing in the morning. That was the wildlife highlight of the day.
We went to the Russian River and hiked 2.3 miles to a waterfall where we were told the salmon would be jumping the falls and probably bears would be catching them. The falls and the hike were beautiful but the critters weren’t around. We saw several salmon in pools but they weren’t jumping. And no bears.
We stopped at a marsh and photographed some ducks, wading birds and ever-present gulls. Our plan for the day involved over 300 to get north near Denali National Park. So we had about six hours of driving, which limits the shooting.
See Walter’s blog for more details of our day.
Another great day in Alaska. Today we worked the Kanai Penninsula from one end to the other.
On the way back north, we saw eagles soaring off a bluff. We found a place to pull and and a short hike took us to the bluff’s edge where bald and golden eagles soared right past us like they were in a parade. We had well over 50 birds pass by including a slew of golden eagles. Neither Walter or I had seen a golden before, so it was quite a thrill.
Also today we saw natives fishing with nets for salmon. Only native Alaskans are allowed to net salmon and they have a limit of 25. We saw moose mommies and babies three times, in Homer we watched sea otters playing and a bald eagle posing for photos in town. We finished the day with a caribou about a mile from our hotel.
Again today we are running on way too little sleep and I am too groggy to put together a gallery of photos from the last couple of days. We have a long day planned again tomorrow, so it looks like I have to get home before postings lots of photos.
It’s 11:30 p.m. and the sun just set. We’ve been going since 5 a.m. and I need to get some sleep. Today started with a great horned owl, then we had waterfalls, majestic mountain ranges, eagles, crazy colored rivers, moose, Anchorage, glaciers, I got pecked on the head by an Artic Tern.
There are lots of photos at Loren’s Alaska photo gallery.
Read daily details at Walter’s blog.