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!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Denali (McKinley) Views, Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska

 Continuing from a previous post, I would like to share more images of North America's highest peak - Denali (Mt. McKinley). I camped deep inside Denali National Park & Preserve to capture Mount Denali in bright fall colors. With unusually nice weather, I successfully photographed five beautiful sunsets of the famous North Face of Denali. In addition, I captured the view from the Eielson Visitor Center, another well-known park icon. 

 I climbed the ridge above the Eielson Visitor Center to get a better view of the valley with Mount Denali and the Alaska Range. The surrounding tundra was draped in warm autumn colors.

I discovered the view of Denali from Stony Hill to be stunning and easily became one of my favorites. When visitors ride the shuttle from the entrance, Mount Denali can be seen in its entirety only after a few hours of riding. When the bus turns the corner on clear days, the view is impressive. I clearly remember that awe inspiring experience back in 2001. I wanted to capture this "first impression" of Denali.

I had to wait a few hours for perfect lighting at Stony Hill... Dozens of shuttle buses passed by as clouds drifted by... I like the shadows of clouds on the vast tundra field. A few hours passed easily, I noticed a few buses stopping on the road down below... This means wildlife presence, normally. Sure enough, I spotted a small black dot moving on the road. It was a bear - a grizzly bear! More buses joined the bear viewing. Those passengers were lucky to see the bear very close by. Slowly, the black dot moved away from the road and walked into the hilly tundra. The bear started climbing up the hill ... It was a small dot and soon its was out of sight from where I was at. Then, the next time I saw him, the small dot got bigger and closer. He was coming my direction! I quickly packed up my gear and began walking to one of the shuttle buses parked by. The bear climbed up this steep hill so fast and with ease. The shuttle driver yelled to the passengers to get inside the bus. I too joined them. Soon, the huge grizzly bear came close and walked behind the bus then crossed the road! Thank goodness, the bus was here at that moment.

Here is another photo of the Grizzly Bear, I took earlier in the day.

I'll have some more Denali images to share on the next posting. Please check back soon!