Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Spring, spring, glorious spring!

Reflections in Kathleen Lake, Kluane National Park

Reflections in Kathleen Lake, Kluane National Park

Bridge over Canyon Creek - notice high water level

Typical scene along the Alaska Hwy

Good morning from Whitehorse, Yukon!

Spring, spring, glorious spring!  I'm still in awe as I watch the Yukon transform from a lifeless brown landscape into a sea of lush green.  Around every tree or in every marsh scores of song birds, buzzing insects and flowering plants bask in the warm rays of the Yukon sun.  Hard to believe that less than two months ago were were knee-deep in snow and enduring minus 40 degree temps.  Thank God those days are over with (for now).

As you can image I've been outdoors enjoying the changes this new season brings.  I've spent a great deal of time touring the Territory photographing the arrival of the migratory birds, the colours of spring and the mammals as they forage on the explosion of new growth.  So many new photos - very little time to post process them (I guess that's a project for next winter).  

Last weekend I drove westwards along the Alaska Hwy to Kluane National Park (175km from Whitehorse).  Sadly there was no wildlife to photograph but my dinner stop at Kathleen Lake made the long drive worthwhile.  I arrived in time to be serenaded by the tingling of the candle ice as the gentle breeze blew the fragmented ice onto the rocky shores.  Wow, how those sounds sent goosebumps running down my spine.  

Join me in the coming days as I share images and stories from our May-long weekend road trip to Haines, Alaska - a trip filled with bald eagles, black bears, moose, and costal rain forests.  

Hope you are enjoying life in your corner of the world.


Wednesday, 18 May 2011


It's official - spring has finally arrived here in the Yukon.

We awoke this morning to double digit temperatures, glorious sunshine, brilliant blue skies and GREEN LEAVES everywhere.

At some point during the night the poplar and aspen trees literally exploded with a profusion of various shades of greens.  No wonder the warblers, robins, swallows and sparrows were singing so early this morning.  I would be too if only I could sing.

As a good ol' photography friend of mine would say "It's so good to be alive!!"

Photo Exhibit

© Shelley Ball 2011

© Shelley Ball 2011

Milk Snake (© Claus Vogel)

If you are in the Ottawa-Gatineau region this summer I invite you to check out a photo exhibit showcasing images from local photographers including myself.  The Reptiles and Amphibians of Gatineau Park photo exhibit features 18 images representing 17 of the 26 species of frogs, toads, salamanders, snakes, turtles and newts found within the Park boundaries.  Images were contributed by fellow photographers and friends Shelley Ball (44th Parallel Photography) and France Rivet (Polar Horizons) as well as a handful of members from the Club de photographie Polaris√© de l'Outaouais.  My contribution includes images of a milk snake, a mink frog and a yellow-spotted salamander. 

Hope you enjoy!

Location:  Gatineau Park Visitor Centre at 33 Scott Road, Chelsea Quebec.
Telephone:  (819) 827-2020
Time:  Daily from 9am to 5pm (till end of August 2011)
Admission:  Free

Roadside Encounters

Small herd of elk by the Alaska Hwy

 a lone elk 

Peek-a-boo - can you see me?  (elk in hiding)

Our porcupines are giants

Moose foraging on willow branches

Boreal chickadee trying to make sense of my presence

Mule deer

Black bear just a few feet from the highway

Moon rise over Alaska

Driving on the Yukon highways can provide for some fabulous wildlife viewing opportunities.  Take last weekend for instance when a friend of mine and I decided to drive the Alaska Highway from Whitehorse to Haines Junction and return.  Along the way we were treated to some fleeting glimpses of black bears, moose, herds of elk, mule deer, porcupines galore and scores of migratory birds including numerous species of duck and raptors.

Photographing these critters was relatively straight forward as we had prepared our gear before hand.  Most importantly, our gear was located in the back seat ready to be used on a moment's notice.  Our lenses and sensors had been cleaned, the batteries fully charged, memory cards formatted, the telephoto lenses attached and tripods close at hand.  The cameras were set to aperture priority (that way the camera calculates the shutter speed) and the shutter release mode was switched to continuous high (so we could happily fire away hundreds of images in a matter of minutes).  Spare batteries and memory cards were stored in our pockets.

Approaching wildlife near or on the road must be treated with the utmost respect.  Drive up slowly while at the same time pay attention to the traffic behind and in front of you.  Do not walk up to these animals and snap away otherwise you may spook them into running into oncoming traffic or face the risk of being charged at - both very unfortunate and dangerous outcomes.  Keep in mind all animals are unpredictable.  

I find it best to park your vehicle at a considerable distance and observe from there.  If the animal feels safe it may approach closer to investigate you (thus affording you the opportunity to photograph them in a more natural setting).  A telephoto lens is perhaps the most suitable lens to use as it will allow the animal to go about its business without feeling threatened by your presence (the animal will appear much more relaxed in your image).

Don't forget to keep an eye open for landscape images too - the Yukon and surroundings offers some stunning shots of snowcapped mountains, crystal blue rivers and thick green forests.  

Drive slowly, keep an eye on the road and be alert and prepared at all times - you never know what surprises await you around the bend.  With camera gear prepared and stored within arms reach you too will be able to capture those unexpected moments on 'film'.

Safe driving and happy snapping!

PS - I'm curious to see some of your images - email me.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Weekend in Faro

Welcoming folks to the 8th annual Sheep and Crane Festival in Faro

Thousands upon thousands of sandhill cranes fly overhead

Kettling over Faro (cranes riding the thermals)

Small flock of sandhill cranes fly across the Tintina Valley

The view of the Tintina Trench from the Mineral Lick

Trees of the Tintina Valley

Prairie Crocus in bloom

Mew gulls gather at the Sewage Lagoon

Bonaparte's Gull

Male and Female Barrow's Goldeneye

A dark-eyed junco singing his tiny heart away

Finally, an update from my fabulous outing to Faro!

Last weekend three friends of mine from Ottawa joined me in Faro to take part in the 8th annual Crane and Sheep Festival.  Thousands upon thousands of migrating sandhill cranes, a handful of Fannin's Sheep grazing on the mountain slopes and plenty of good ol' fashioned community hospitality were some of the many memorable highlights.

The town of Faro, located some 300km northeast of Whitehorse, is a former mining community.  Established in 1969, Faro was the site of a major lead-zinc deposit.  In its heyday the town was home to over 2,000 residents - today, the number has dwindled to just over 500 (the mine has long since closed).  Nestled between the mountains of the Tintina Trench, Faro is situated in one of the most densely concentrated wildlife viewing areas in North America.

For a few short days each year in early-May approximately 250,000 sandhill cranes fly across the skies of Faro while en-route to their summer breeding grounds in northern Yukon, N.W.T., Alaska and eastern Siberia.  Within seconds, and often without warning, the skies around Faro and transformed into a major avian flyway as flocks of all shapes and sizes crisscross the open skies.  During the evening hours these stately birds gather along the shores of the rivers, lakes and open marshes to rest, feed and gather strength needed for their journey northwards.  In the morning the cranes join thousands of others to form enormous flocks.  Together they ascend the skies resembling giant ribbons billowing in the wind.  What an impressive sight it is to see the various flocks intertwine overhead as they ride the thermals of rising air to their desired altitude (this behaviour is referred to as kettling).  This spectacle repeats itself during the fall migration when the cranes make their return trip to the open grasslands and plains of the central States.

While the cranes fly noisily overhead the other stars of the show, the Fannin's Sheep, are quietly grazing on the southern mountain slopes near town.  Named after John Fannin, the first curator of the Royal British Columbia Museum, the sheep sport a distinctive brown and white coat.  By early June the sheep head off to the alpine areas of Mount Mye.

The viewing platform at the Mount Mye Sheep Centre is perhaps the best place in town to view both sheep and cranes.  Unfortunately, photographing these characters up-close proved to be a challenge (one that I did not succeed in).  With luck, chance encounters with the sheep could occur on the top edge of bluff overlooking the valley where they gather at the mineral lick during the early morning hours.  From the lookout it is also possible to see the cranes fly by.  Plenty of songbirds, prairie crocuses and spectacular scenery also await those who venture there.

The open fields near the airport, the shores of Johnson Lake (by the campground) and the areas around the town's sewage lagoon have also been know to host sandhill cranes.    The sewage lagoon is certainly worth a visit as we saw plenty of waterfowl including horned grebes, Barrow's goldeneyes, buffleheads, Bonaparte's gulls, Mew gulls and scores of songbirds.

The festival would not have been a success without the wonderful hospitality of the residents of Faro.  Thank you for welcoming us all!

I'm off to Kluane National Park for the weekend.

Hope all is well in your corner of the world.