Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Bears Fishing - McNeil River Falls, McNeil River Sanctuary, Alaska

In late July, I spent four full days at McNeil River Falls in the McNeil River Sanctuary, Alaska to photograph bears. As the Chum Salmon run peaked, a large number of brown bears (grizzlies) congregated at the river for this big feast opportunity. The full river of salmon slows down at McNeil River Falls (more likely cascades rather than waterfalls). The falls are a premium spot for large male bears. Dozens of bears fish in the small area of the falls.

Each bear has his own unique fishing style - some bears stand right on top of the falls and wait for fish to jump or leap up. When fish successfully climb the few feet of the falls, hungry bears wait at the ready.

For several days this bear (a rare female ) stood at the same spot at the falls looking down the cascade. When a fish swam near her, she would quickly snatch it up! She was very skilled and caught more fish than any other bears in the area.

Some large males sit in the white water of a cascade, staring at the water until fish swam by.

This bear stood with three legs in the water with his left hind leg against the vertical surface of the rock. When fish passed by, he tried to thrust himself in the water... but it wasn't successful...

While most other bears fished patiently and methodical, this young bear tried another method of fishing. He leaped and pounced into the water, splashing, came up with nothing, shook off the water, and pounced again and again. It looked like a waste of energy in that method, but after many tries, he finally caught a fish.

This bear is "Snorkeling." He floats on the surface of water, keeps eyes underwater searching for fish swimming by.

This large male with a fresh deep scar, sat in the icy cold rapids for hours... he stares at the current, and when fish swim close by, he quickly dives and snatches it. He is one of the more skilled bears. He was staying at a rough deep part of the river with waves crashing on him time and time. I admired his endurance. I was happy to see him catch some fish. He didn't waste his time, he ate his catch at his fishing spot, in the rushing water.

Photographing bears has been my passion since I started nature photography... I have visited some amazing bear viewing locations, but I have never seen this many bears gathered at one spot! McNeil River Falls was truly magical.

Now back at home, I'm still editing thousands of images... I will keep updating with more bear images for my next posting. Please check back later!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

"River of Bears" - McNeil River Sanctuary, Alaska

Photographing bears in their natural environment has been my passion since early in my career. I have visited some prime bear viewing areas before, but Alaska's McNeil River is truly outstanding!

The McNeil River Sanctuary is located in the remote wilderness on the Alaska Peninsula along the Aleutian Mountains just north of Katmai National Park & Preserve. McNeil River Sanctuary contains the highest concentration of brown bears (grizzlies) in the world during the peak season of the Chum Salmon run in early July through mid-August. As many as 80 bears congregate at the river. The area was designated as a wildlife sanctuary in 1967 and enlarged to a preserve in 1993. The sanctuary allows only 10 visitors per day for a four-day period with permits scarce and at a premium during the peak season.

I arrived at the McNeil Sanctuary in late July by seaplane. The area is truly remote where access is permitted by seaplane or boat and is without road access. The closest town is Homer on the Kenai peninsula, 100 air miles across Cook Inlet. As the flight approached the lagoon at McNeil River, I could spot a number of bears from the air.

McNeil Falls, the bear viewing spot, is about a 2 mile hike from the camp. An armed naturalist from the Alaska Fish and Game, led us to the falls. We were not allowed to leave the camp by ourselves. We were instructed to walk close together so that bears think we were one big animal instead of individual humans. Crossing the river mouth at the lagoon and waiting for bears to pass by, the 2 mile hike took us 2-4 hours. Approaching the McNeil Falls for the first time, I was amazed that two dozen large bears were standing in a tight spot!

Bear activity was everywhere! As large numbers of salmon continuously came up the river, bears energetically fish. 

Visitors are divided into two groups and sit closely together on the two gravel viewing pads. Bears often walk by within several feet of us. A large bear, the size of a small van it seemed, walked right in front of us and it was really intense, but no one has been injured or been killed since the bear viewing program in McNeil River began. Following strict rules, humans and bears have been coexisting in McNeil for over 50 years.

After a successful catch and quick devouring, it is back to fishing again.  My problem was figuring out which bear to photograph.

Fights can break off at any moment. Tensions among the bears was high.

McNeil Falls is dominated by large males whereas sows with cubs hang out at the river mouth and lagoon area. While the mother bear fishes in the lagoon, cubs play at the shore, sometimes not so far from us. We often stopped by the lagoon and had to wait for a bear family to pass by. Capturing the cubs playing with each other was one of the best parts of this trip.

During an intense 4 days at McNeil Falls, I shot several thousand photos... it took me a month to go through all of them, made some selections, deleted a bunch, and finally the post processing began. It'll take at least a few months to complete the entire work... I will slowly update my blog with new bear images.

Monday, August 7, 2017

"Green Wall" - Tantalus Mountain, Oahu, Hawaii

One of the things that astonishes me is the diverse natural environment on the small island of Oahu, Hawaii. Within a short drive from famous beaches are the razor-like mountains of the Ko Ľolau Range which rise to 2,000 feet above sea level. Mount Tantalus, in the Ko'olau Range, is an old volcanic crater.

As the winding road steeply climbs up the range, the vegetation increases in density. A high amount of rainfall in the summit area creates a beautiful tropical rain forest. I looked for a spot where I could capture the sense of this mountain. Passing through a narrow curve in the forest, this large sheet of vines spread across the trees! Such an incredible view!

While I was waiting for defused light through clouds, this red car drove through... It was a perfect color against the green wall.

I know that Hawaii is famous for its beaches and coastlines; however, I have been more fascinated by the tropical rain forests and mountain landscapes on this island... I promise that I will post some seascape images another time.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Manoa Falls and Rain forest - Oahu, Hawaii

Greetings from Honolulu, Hawaii!! After 6 years of living and photographing in Alaska, I made a big move to Hawaii.

Hawaii's natural landscapes is very different from those in Alaska or mainland states. As a photographer, I enjoy capturing the majestic nature that this tropical island offers. You may think Hawaii is all about beaches... Yes, beaches and coastlines are huge attractions here; however, Hawaii offers diverse landscapes and other spiritual beauties. I am especially fascinated with tropical rain forests with jagged mountain ranges and waterfalls.

Less than a half hour from the famous Waikiki Beach, this island creates different climates and terrains. With significant amounts of rainfall, Manoa Valley is filled with thick green vegetation. Surrounded by tall trees, Manoa Falls vertically drops 150 feet to a forested valley.

One of my first photography trips in this island was to Manoa Falls. Within a short hike, I was already at the falls.

Manoa Falls itself is beautiful but more than the falls, I was stunned with the "jungle" plants along the stream. I wanted to capture the entire atmosphere of the area... so I set up the camera in the stream among the leaves and waited for the lights to arrive at the spot. By the time I finally got this shot, my legs were chewed by mosquitoes.

Beyond Manoa Falls, I explored the trail that reaches the overlook of Nu'uanu Valley. The trail leads through various tropical plants including a patch of bamboo forest. I tried capturing the "zen" kind of atmosphere where the bamboos and tree roots blend. Of course, there were more mosquito bites. 

After the muddy climb up a wooded cliff, I made it to Nu'uanu Valley overlook. The valley looked like a remote countryside! It is not too far from the heavily populated city of Honolulu!

Back from the trail, looking up above Manoa Valley, the tree canopies are outstanding!! The pattern of branches and leaves that created the detailed artwork in the sky! To capture this image, I handheld the camera straight up to the sky. I really like how this image turned out.

Okay, you may want to see an image of the ocean, here is sunrise at Sandy Beach, the south side of Oahu, Hawaii. I'll keep posting more images from paradise!

I'm heading to Alaska soon for a bear photography project. I'll stay in the McNeil River Sanctuary, north of Katmai National Park, for 4 days to photograph bears. In late July, the river is filled with salmon where the large brown bears (grizzlies) gather at the river. When it's peak season, as many as 70 bears can be seen in the area feasting on salmon! It is one place I am eager to visit...

Next posting will be in a few weeks after get back from Alaska.  Please check it back!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Denali Autumn – Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska

For the past several blogs I’ve been posting photos from Denali National Park from the 2016 trip and this will be the last.

It was a short autumn season while camping and photographing the highest peak of the North America; Mount Denali (formerly named Mt. McKinley). With unusually nice weather during my stay, I successfully captured five stunning sunsets glowing on the mountain.

The photo above is the sunrise glow on the east side of Denali, with autumn colored tundra carpeting the landscape.

The fall is the most beautiful season in interior Alaska. The tundra turns to golden fall colors with vivid red patches… I like the way the tundra glows under the warm evening light. 

Here are some more images at Wonder Lake. When the days are calm, the lake reflects Denali.

The old antlers were shed on the tundra hill. Mount Denali is in the background.

Denali glowed bright orange at sunset. This is the spot where Ansel Adam captured one of his famous black & white images, “Mount McKinley and Wonder Lake” in 1948.

Late August is the peak season for blueberries in Denali! The fully ripened berries were everywhere in the park. After 6 years of living in Alaska, I had never seen so many blueberry bushes. 

Frosted tundra leaves. At the end of August, the temperature drops in early mornings in Alaska. Nevertheless, it is art in nature.

The last image is from the Polychrome Pass area. The hill is turning to autumn colors. 

Interior Alaska, includes Denali National Park, is covered with snow with harsh subzero temperature during the long winter months... 

After this Denali photo project, I moved to Hawaii. After 6 years of living and capturing wild Alaskan nature, I was ready to move on to new subjects. I have been capturing beautiful yet different landscapes in this tropic island since September. I will post some of the photos on my next blog posting. Please check back in 2 weeks!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Denali Wildlife, Alaska

 In addition to North America's highest peak, Denali National Park & Preserve is known for a variety of wildlife. Wild animals roam the more than 6 million acres of the vast wilderness along the slopes of Mount Denali (McKinley). During the fall season, animals are in their prime. They are well fed, their fur is prepared for the coming winter, and their antlers are fully grown for the mating season.

 Denali National Park is a sanctuary for wildlife; they are somewhat used to the shuttle bus and visitors traffic within the park. Wildlife, even bears, sometimes can be viewed close by the Park Road. Here is a bull caribou, feeding by the road.

 As much as I enjoyed the close up opportunities, I also love the "animal landscape" images. Here is a grizzly bear strolling along an autumn tundra hill with Mount Denali (McKinley) backdrop.

 Here is a bull moose in autumn colors. The tundra hill warmed by the morning sun.

 Here is another bull moose in bright autumn colors.

 Sometimes little critters will pose for a photo. Arctic Ground Squirrel with fall foliage.

Here is yet another caribou running across the valley.

I'll post some more photos from Denali Park on my next update. Please check back in a few weeks!