Last day in Kodiak

Our last day in Kodiak dawned grey and dreary, and it didn’t take long for the rain to start. There were two remaining roads marked on the map, one to Anton Larson Cove, and the other, amrked with dots, to Saltery Cove. We’d heard that the latter was a very beautiful spot, but upon further investigation it turned out that the road was only passable on an ATV, not with a car.

We headed off on Anton Larson road, home to the US coastguard and a golf course. Having passed the latter, the tarmac road ended and we travelled the rest of the way on a potholed gravel road. For most of the drive between the mountains there were no signs of life, aside from some works vehicles, but once we reach the mouth of the cove we spied some life – just what we’d ordered for today, bald eagles.

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We saw quite a few eagles, some in the far distance, a few more wheeling overhead, and then rounding a corner, there were 3 on the road. Two flew off, but the third stayed on the ground, eating whatever leftovers it had found. We were able to get in quite close before he finally flew off with the remains of his dinner.

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Not too much further and we came across about 20 parked cars at a boat launch, and then 1000ft further, we very unceremoniously reached the end of the road.

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Judging by the state of most of the road signs, they’re most important use here is as target practice.

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Having turned around and driven back to the main road, we decided to continue to the restaurant we’d visited on our first road trip. By the time we arrived, the wind had picked up and it was raining heavily with minimal visibility, so after eating we returned to the hotel for a lazy afternoon.

Katmai Peninsula – Kinak Bay

We landed at Kinak Bay with high expectations, having heard that it’s usually one of the best places for bear sightings. Alas, we were to be disappointed with one of the least active days of photography yet.

After a short stop to photograph a juvenile bald eagle that was sitting and waiting for us when we landed, we had a longer walk than normal for our first stop.

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We arrived in low tide, which meant clambering over a lot of slippery rocks to get into a position looking down on the river.

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There were a couple bears there, but the photography wasn’t great due to the poor light, the distance from the bears, and the fact that we were looking down on them from quite a height.

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Eventually we decided to move further upstream. It turned out to be quite a long walk, especially carrying 300mm lens and tripod and with a long break to photograph a resting eagle.

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We finally settled ourselves down by the river, with two bears in view, both of which were snoozing. One of them rolled over every so often, but that was about it. It was a cold and grey day, and in very little time my toes were beginning to feel like blocks of ice. All the sitting around on cold ground didn’t do very much to improve the situation. We sat, and waited, and waited, and waited a little more.

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Eventually, one of the bears began to stir, and mercifully came in our direction.

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Like yesterday’s bears this one ended up coming quite close to us at times, and whilst she was in front of us, I saw that she’d somehow wounded her hind foot. It didn’t seem to be causing her any trouble though.

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For a little while we had some activity in front of us, and were able to forget how cold we were getting. Then, alas, the show was over, as the bear wandered further upstream. In the hope of a good long photography day, the crew put together some sandwiches for us, and sent them out, but most of us were so cold, we decided to head back to the boat. In the meantime, the area had been transformed, as the tide had come in. The skiff was able to collect us from our spot (where we’d been inching slowly uphill to escape the rising water), and we were saved the long walk back.

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Having lunched and warmed ourselves up, we headed out again. Our original plan was to go back to the same area, but in the end we went to a much smaller bay, home to an old male bear who has killed a couple females in the past year or two. This little trek ended up being the most adventure we’ve had so far, although the bear never made his presence known. Due to his history, we had to take extra precautions – walking in a tighter huddle, always keeping behind our guide, and calling out to make sure that the bear knew we were there. This little river was very enclosed, unlike the open bays where we’ve been spending most of our time, and rich with vegetation. It would have been very easy to miss seeing the bear in those conditions.

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Because of the narrowness of the route, we kept having to cross the fast flowing river, forming a chain to avoid being knocked over and swept away. Having reached a small gravelly beach, half of the group continued into the river to view the waterfall around the corner, whilst the rest of us stayed on dry ground. After all the warnings we’d had about the bear, we were somewhat disconcerted to see the guide vanish around the corner, flares and pepper spray in hand, whilst we were empty handed.

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We walked slowly back to the mouth of the river, stopping en-route to look at the bones of one of the female bears that had been killed here. In the end we had quite a long wait as the batteries of the radio were flat and we couldn’t make contact with the ship.

Kodiak

Today was the first official day of our bear photography trip, but all that meant was that the rest of the group arrived in Kodiak during the day, ready for our departure to the Katmai peninsula tomorrow. Since we had the main part of the day free, until a trip briefing in the late afternoon, we scheduled a boat ride, in the hope of spotting some killer whales.

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We started out with a slow ride through the harbour and spent some time photographing a group of sea lions who were basking on a pontoon.

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We were lucky to get fairly close to a group of horned puffins, and spotted a lone tufted puffin. Having only ever seen the atlantic puffins, I was really pleased to finally see the other two species.

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Having taken our fill of the puffins we headed out into the more open waters and went to a couple spots which are known to be good for orcas. In the end, we enjoyed some great cloudy skies, but there was not a whale to be seen.

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Back at the hotel, we met up for the first time with the whole group. As well as my Mum, Arie and Marcel, there are 4 others in the group that I’ve travelled with before, as well as the leader Chris. The four of us were assigned to the first flight out in the morning, meaning that we had to get all our gear packed up and ready for an 8:15 pickup. The adventure is about to begin.

Birds of Prey – Czech Republic

After missing out on last spring’s photo workshop in Bavaria due to Rupert’s accident, I’ve been crossing my fingers the last week that nothing would happen before my trip to the Czech Republic for a workshop photographing Birds of Prey, along with companions in crime, Arie and Jules.

Unfortunately, after a week of fantastic spring weather, things took a turn this week, and apart from a few lucky sunny spells we had rain and even some snow to contend with.  The snow would have been nice for photography, but unfortunately that only came when we were in transit back to Prague.

We photographed 8 species of bird (Grey Heron, Harris Hawk, African Vulture, Barn Owl, Long Eared Owl, Siberian Eagle Owl, Goshawk, Sea Eagle) as well as a surprise – an orphaned wild boar piglet.  The early bird in flight attempts were pretty lousy, but I managed to improve a bit by the end of the workshop, although I still threw away more shots than I kept.

Of course, as well as trying our hand with birds in flights, we also spent some time taking static shots of the different birds, a task which offers its own challenges in the form of trying to make an original photograph which offers more than the standard ‘bird on a branch’ pose.

It was great to see some of the Czech countryside, and the falconers were very good about finding different spots to fly the birds.  Far better than my local falconry where there are always buildings in sight.  As ever, Chris, Matt and Terezka had everything very well organized, and I’ll certainly be joining them on future workshops.