Sunday, November 30, 2014

Valley of the Eagles

The Chilkat River Valley in Haines, Alaska.  Otherwise known as the "Valley of the Eagles".  Every year in late fall several thousand bald eagles converge on this valley to feed on the late run of chum salmon.  We spent a week here and had an absolute blast watching the eagles every day.  Lots of other birds were in the area as well (notice the swans swimming up the river in this photo).  Alaska is truly a photographer's paradise!  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Perched Eagle

This is what the eagles do for most of the day: sit in a tree.  We saw eagles everywhere in the trees during our trip.  Sure, lots of them were on the gravel bars in the river as well, looking for salmon.  But, for the most part, they are perched in trees.  Sometimes they sit there for a very long time.  Most of the time they were facing in the direction of the river, which meant they had their backs to us.  Once in a while, though, one would be facing towards us and in some cases, as shown here, one would be facing the sun downstream.  I loved it when they were doing that because it made for some pretty cool pictures with the morning light illuminating the eagles while the mountains in the background were still in shadow.  The blue backlighting was some of the prettiest light I've ever seen.  

Friday, November 28, 2014

Jumping Eagle

Are you getting tired of seeing eagle images yet?  If so, let me know!  I may have a couple more I want to share, but I promise I'm almost done :-)  This photo shows an eagle jumping up out of the water, preparing to fend off an incoming eagle that is just outside of the frame on the right.  I love it when the eagles jump like this and throw water everywhere.  It's fascinating to watch and a lot of fun to try and capture with the camera!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Eldred Rock Light

As we traveled from Haines back down to Juneau via the Alaska Marine Highway we passed this beautiful lighthouse situated on a large rocky island in the middle of Lynn Canal.  I photographed the lighthouse from the deck of our ferry, the M/V Taku.  The lighthouse is the Eldred Rock Light, commissioned in 1906.  The lighthouse was automated by the United States Coast Guard in 1973 and the original lens was moved to a museum in Haines in 1978.  I loved the setting of the lighthouse with the rugged snow-covered mountains in the background.  The Alaska scenery sure is awesome!  

I wanted to include a bit more of both the water in the foreground and the sky above the mountain, but as I mentioned this was photographed from a moving ferry and I only had a moment to capture the lighthouse with this incredible mountain in the background.  I was at 150mm on my Tamron lens, the widest that lens will go.  Even though it doesn't have as much sky or water as I would have liked, I still really like this photo :-)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Bald Eagle Bath Time

Today's series of eagle images shows a behavior that we saw several times on our trip to Alaska.  I'm sure they do it here in Minnesota too, but this is the first time that I've seen an eagle taking a bath!  I've seen gulls do this a lot near where I live, but never been lucky enough to see an eagle do it.  We had been watching a group of eagles feeding on a salmon and this eagle was the last one remaining.  It got the last bit of edible remains from that salmon.  

Almost immediately after it finished eating, the eagle walked out into the water and repeatedly began to duck its head and most of its body under the water, then shake around in the water while partially submerged.  The eagle did this many times over the course of 15 minutes.  When it apparently decided it had bathed long enough, it walked back up onto the rocky shallows and proceeded to shake its wings off several times before taking flight and leaving the scene.  We felt very fortunate to have such an up-close view of this behavior.  We were only about 50 feet away from the eagle the entire time.  I have video of this as well.  Look for my eagle video to be posted sometime in the near future.  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Fighting over Salmon

In today's eagle photo you can see what all the fuss is about with the eagles in Haines, Alaska.  There is a late run of Chum Salmon that spawn in the Chilkat River and as everyone knows, after salmon spawn they die.  The Chilkat River is a very braided river with a lot of shallows and the dying fish wallowing in the shallows make easy pickings for the eagles.  We saw a lot of fish get devoured by eagles during our week in Haines.  Believe me, with half a dozen eagles munching on a salmon, it doesn't very long for that salmon to disappear.  It seems more often than not that they eat the body of the salmon first and leave the head for last.  Quite frequently there is a fight over who gets the head.  Many times we saw the victorious eagle take flight with the head to finish eating it from the relative safety of a perch in a tree.  This photo shows one eagle chasing another eagle away in an attempt to make off with the fish head.

Chilkoot Lake Fog

One of the prettiest areas we saw on our trip to Haines, Alaska was Chilkoot Lake and the Chilkoot River. We made several trips to this area during our stay and each time we were greeted with differing but equally beautiful conditions.  Near the end of our trip we had some rainy weather and some incredible fog conditions.  When we got to the lake on the afternoon of November 19th the shoreline on the far side of the lake was blanketed in fog.  The air all around us was unbelievably calm and quiet.  Eagles called in the distance.  It was another moment of surreal beauty on a trip that was filled endlessly amazing sights!  

Monday, November 24, 2014

Mendenhall Glacier - Juneau, Alaska

My first time photographing a glacier!  Seeing Mendenhall Glacier was an awesome experience.  Even though the glacier has receded a lot in recent years, it is still incredible to see especially if you've never seen one up close before.  The colors, patterns and textures in the ice are beautiful.  It certainly whets my appetite to see more glaciers!  This was the first of several glaciers that we saw on our trip, although this is the only one we were able to get relatively close to.  The rest were seen either from the Alaska State Ferry or from across Chilkat Inlet on our hike in Chilkat State Park, Haines. 

Nugget Falls - Juneau, Alaska

I've been so focused on eagles with my Alaska posts that I sort of forgot about all these other cool images I have to share with you as well!  Such as this photo of Nugget Falls in Juneau.  This waterfall is right near Mendenhall Glacier and is AMAZING!  It makes for a great shot with a telephoto lens as well as up close and personal with a wide angle lens.  I made this photo with my Tamron 150-600mm lens from near the visitor center, about a half mile away from the waterfall.  We had seen this mountain biker come around the bend, riding along the shoreline of the lake below the glacier.  I waited, hoping he would ride in front of the waterfall and sure enough, he did!  It made for a great shot as well giving a good sense of scale to the size of the waterfall.  The waterfall is quite tall (according to sources online it drops 377 feet in two tiers of 99 feet and 278 feet); this photograph shows less than half of its total height. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Attempted Robbery

I've decided to share another action sequence of the eagles with you today!  This is what happens when one eagle is snacking on a dead salmon and another eagle comes in and tries to take it.  Sometimes the intruding eagle is successful and makes off with what remains of the fish.  Other times the intruding eagle goes away empty handed, as seen here.  It looks like the eagle is going to get away with the fish in this instance, but for some reason he lets go and flies off without it. Sorry I didn't get the full sequence of him flying away empty handed.  My finger must have let up on the shutter because I got this series of 3 images of him flying in to try and take it, and the 4th image shows him flying away already halfway out of the frame.  Whether the attempted robberies are successful or not, one thing is for certain: the interactions are always a lot of fun to watch!   I love how the eagle in the background is just sort of standing there, innocently watching the interaction between the two eagles in the foreground :-)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Foggy Evening in the Chilkoot River Valley

Here is another image of an eagle and its surrounding environment taken along the Chilkoot River in Haines, Alaska.  This valley was one of the unexpected highlights of our trip.  We knew it would be beautiful, but we had no idea just how beautiful it was going to be!  We ended up going back to this valley on two more occasions and each time we found things that were were well worth the trip, like this eagle perched in the fog.  Alaska has surprises around every corner :-)

Chilkoot Eagle in Spruce Tree

As much as I enjoy photographing the action of eagles interacting with each other (and don't worry, there are more of those images to come!), I also enjoy looking for scenes of single eagles within their surrounding environment.  The other day we came across one such environmental scene, where this solitary eagle was perched in a spruce tree and the tree was absolutely LOADED with cones!  I thought it made for a fascinating image.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bald Eagle's Morning Reflection

The past week in Alaska has provided for countless opportunities for creative images of bald eagles.  This photo was taken yesterday morning as the sun was starting to poke through the thick fog that was dominating the valley.  The soft, warm sunlight filtering through the fog made for some nice accent lighting on the eagle.  This is one of my favorites eagle images so far from this trip :-)

Dawn over the Chilkat Mountains

Here's a little taste of the stunning scenery that we've been enjoying for the past week.  Taken on our way to watch the eagles for the day along the Chilkat River just outside of Haines, Alaska.  The Haines Highway offers countless stunning views of the river and the mountains as you make your way out to the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve.  On the morning this photo was made we stopped at a location where the mountains were reflecting beautifully in the river.  The clouds and colors that morning were superb.  It's going to be hard to leave all this beautiful mountain scenery when we head back home!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Afternoon Flight in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

This is such an amazing place!  I think I've probably already said that before, but I can't help saying it again!  The scenery here in Haines, Alaska is breathtaking with beautiful braided rivers, snow-capped mountains and fjords filled with water that is some of the prettiest blue color I've ever seen.  And, this time of year, the gathering of eagles makes a visit to the area extra-special.  We've been photographing the eagles and scenery for almost a week now and each day we look forward to going out and seeing all the wonderful sights even more than the day before.  This photo was made a couple of days ago in the afternoon within the bald eagle preserve.  This mature eagle flew right by us just above eye-level and I loved the way the sunlight was hitting the bird as it flew by.  We've been getting so many great photos each day its hard to choose just one or two to share with you at a time :-)

Eagle Aurora

Here is another image from the night of northern lights we experienced early during our stay in Haines, Alaska.  This was my first experience photographing the aurora in Alaska and I've got to say it was pretty amazing!  The Haines boat harbor made for a nice foreground while shooting the aurora-filled sky.  About 3/4 of the way through the event the aurora took on this shape that I thought resembled the silhouette of an eagle with its wings outstretched.  I thought it made for an interesting sign, considering that we are here primarily to see and photograph eagles :-)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Chilkoot Lake Eagle

The other morning we drove up to Chilkoot Lake outside of Haines just to check it out.  We never expected to have another very cool eagle encounter up there!  The Chilkoot River runs from Chilkoot Lake down to the Lynn Canal and where the river runs out of the lake there were several eagles on the bank of the river.  We saw two immature eagles and a few adults, all of which were eating a fish that had been drug out of the water.  The eagle shown in these photos was perched on a frost-covered tree branch which made for a really nice photo.  I waited patiently with my lens focused on this eagle, as I knew eventually he would swoop down for his turn at the fish.  Eventually he did leave his perch, but instead of going down to the fish he flew across the river and landed in another tree.  I caught him just as he was flaring his wings for a landing.  It sure was another cool eagle experience, and a great start to another wonderful day in Alaska!

Monday, November 17, 2014

November Aurora over Haines, Alaska

I can't believe the luck we've had so far on our Alaska trip!  We've had this trip planned since January and in the last month leading up to the trip I've been checking the forecast every few days for Haines and it showed nothing but RAIN.  But, since our arrival in Juneau, the weather has turned and it's been sunny!  Even the locals have commented on how nice it's been since we got here.  They were getting quite sick of the rain and talking about how awful it's been, rain every day for as long as they can remember.  So, we feel pretty blessed to have had clear skies so far on our trip! 

As an added bonus, our second night in Haines gave us some beautiful northern lights!  The locals were talking about the chance of lights, so I went out just after midnight to have a look.  Sure enough, the lights were visible but difficult to see from the parking lot of our motel.  We didn't have a rental car yet, but thankfully the harbor and shoreline were not far from our motel.  So, I went for a walk and within 10 minutes was on the shoreline of Portage Cove overlooking Lynn Canal and the mountains beyond.  The lights put on a very good show for a couple of hours, dancing and waving throughout the sky.  The rising quarter moon added another nice element to the scene.  What an amazing trip so far, I can't wait to see what surprises the remainder of our time here will bring!

Eagle Attack!

Well, after a few days of travel (with some unexpected flight complications between Chicago/Juneau and an absolutely BEAUTIFUL ferry ride up the Lynn Canal) we arrived safely in Haines, Alaska!  We have been in Haines for the past 3 days and we've been seeing plenty of what we came here to see: Bald Eagles!  Haines is home to the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, an area of almost 50,000 acres that protects bald eagle habitat along the Chilkat, Klehini and Tsirku rivers. 

 Each year in the fall several thousand eagles congregate in this area to feed on the late run of Chum Salmon that come up the river to spawn and die.  It's one of the best places in the world for viewing and photographing bald eagles.  We've had a blast so far watching the birds. Often times, as shown in this photo, the birds will clash over a piece of fish.  What we've noticed is that one eagle will be on the shoreline of the river ripping apart a piece of fish when another eagle will fly in and try to knock that eagle away from the fish.  These are the most exciting moments to photograph, as often times the eagle that was on the fish will jump up and flip upside down in an attempt to fend off the incoming eagle.  We've seen this happen countless times each day, so far this has been my best capture of the clash between two eagles. 

 I can't believe how lucky we are to be here!  It's an amazing place, with incredible wildlife and spectacular scenery!  Look for some images of the scenery to be posted soon :-)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Out on a limb

In preparation for our upcoming trip to Alaska, I rented a just-released Canon 7D Mark II camera. I'm hoping the 7D will allow me to capture more "keeper" images of the bald eagles (it will also be nice to have a second camera body on hand in case one of them fails for some reason).  The main reason for our trip is to see the naturally-occurring gathering of bald eagles along the Chilkat River just outside of Haines.  My 5D Mark II camera is not the best at capturing high-speed action (like eagles flying through the air), so I decided to give the 7D Mark II a try.  It has a much more advanced autofocus system than my 5D and shoots a lot more frames per second.  I've already had the camera for a couple of days and I've been trying it out on some of the local critters, like this squirrel in Grand Portage State Park.  It was my first opportunity photographing an animal with the camera and I think it performed quite well.  

The autofocus is indeed quick and should be a lot more accurate with its 65 autofocus points (compared to 9 in my 5D).  In fact, the limiting factor here is my budget-minded Tamron 150-600 lens.  The Tamron needs really good light and good technique to produce exceptionally sharp images.  I think I did a pretty good job with this squirrel.  The light wasn't the greatest, but it wasn't the worst either.  I shot this image at 600mm and ISO 1000 with the lens aperture set to f/8.  A lot of people have been curious about the image quality of the 7D Mark II, especially at ISO's above 800.  With this image, shot at ISO 1000, I'm very impressed with the image quality.  There seems to be very little noise at this ISO setting.  Even up to 1600 it seems to be quite acceptable.  The camera has a native ISO range of up to 16,000 but I haven't tried anything above 1600 yet.  I am really anxious to get up to Alaska and give this camera a try on all the eagles!  

Sun Rays over Rock of Ages

It was a beautiful morning as I made my way to work the other day.  My morning commute takes me past one of the most beautiful overlooks in the state of Minnesota.  A view that looks out over Lake Superior, the Susie Islands, Isle Royale National Park and Rock of Ages Lighthouse.  Sometimes I just can't resist stopping and making a photograph of the view as I pass by.  Seeing these sun rays out on the horizon shining down on the lighthouse was one of those views that I simply couldn't pass up!  

Friday, November 7, 2014

Birch Forest Abstract

Every now and then I like to dabble in creating abstract images using creative panning/tilting motions with the camera.  The other day while taking a drive through the woods I tried the technique on a stand of birch trees off in the distance.  Using my 150-600mm telephoto lens I combined a slow shutter speed with a panning motion of the camera, where I panned the camera up and slightly to the left while recording the exposure.  This photograph is the result of that technique.  I hope you enjoy the result as much as I enjoyed creating it :-)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Birch Trunks

Here is a "simple" photograph that I want to share with you today.  Something that caught my eye yesterday while driving around the back roads of Grand Portage.  It was another gray, overcast day and I was driving by an area that had been logged when these birch tree trunks caught my eye.  They were far across the logging opening but still the lines of this particular clump of trees caught my eye and made me decide to back up and make a photograph of them. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Immature Eagle

Here is another bald eagle photo from yesterday, this time an immature eagle.  While I was photographing the "Peekaboo Eagle", this other immature bird flew over.  I could see him coming from the corner of my eye, flying slowly overhead.  Once he was close enough I took a few moments away from the Peekaboo Eagle to focus on the immature and grab a few shots of him as he flew overhead.  The sky is really crappy in this photo, but hey that's the kind of sky we're dealing with this time of year.  I still really like this shot.  It makes for a good record of my experience with these majestic birds!  Jessica and I have a trip to Alaska coming up soon, and the focus of that trip is to see the annual gathering of bald eagles along the Chilkat River near Haines.  I feel like the eagles we've been seeing lately are giving us a little taste of what's to come in Alaska :-)  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Peekaboo Eagle

We have a few eagles that hang around pretty much all year along the road that we live on and today one of them was in a really neat position for some interesting photos.  The light was far from ideal but I still really like this photo that I was able to get.  At first I was photographing him from the other side and there was nothing but gray sky behind him.  Then, I moved around to this side of the trees and luckily there was an opening in the branches and I was able to frame him within that opening. It felt like a "peekaboo" moment, as if I was spying on the eagle without his knowledge (of course, he totally knew I was there).  Just moments after making this photograph he flew away.  It was my lucky moment for the day :-)

Monday, November 3, 2014

November Sky over Wauswaugoning Bay

Well, November is here and that means that cloudy days are here and likely to be more common than sunny days.  Here is a recent capture of one such cloudy day.  Even though it might be cloudy, that doesn't mean it can't still be beautiful.  I actually was really intrigued by the sky in this photo and loved how there were little bits of blue poking through the clouds.  A gray but gorgeous afternoon! 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

November rainbow at High Falls

Yesterday I spent some time at High Falls in Grand Portage State Park photographing a beautiful rainbow in front of the left side of the falls.  This time of year the waterfall is in full sunlight for a very short period of time.  I was there at 11:30 AM and the left side of the falls was already in shadow.  Normally I wouldn't like that in the middle of the day, but this time I did because it allowed me to make some exposures at longer shutter speeds and blur the motion of the water.  Even though the waterfall was in the shade there was direct sunlight between myself and the falls.  Every now and then the wind would blow just right, pushing the mist through that sunlight and back towards the falling water, adding this rainbow to the scene.  It sure was a beautiful and fun scene to photograph! 

Sky on Fire

This was my treat as I drove home from work last night.  An amazing sunset all the way.  I simply had to stop at the Mt. Josephine highway pullout and make some images of one of the most incredible sunsets I've ever seen around here.  The sky was on FIRE!  Every day nature treats us to something incredible :-)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Frosted Windshield

Here is another "frosty" image from this morning.  I'm not sure what our low was at the house last night, but I'm guessing it was in the low 20's.  The Mineral Center weather gauge, which is a few miles inland from Lake Superior (and thus generally colder this time of year) recorded a low of 13 degrees at 6:44 this morning.  This meant that our vehicles had a pretty thick layer of frost on them this morning.  The image shown here is the frost pattern that was right in the center of the windshield on our car and shows an area of the windshield about two feet wide by a foot or so tall. 

First Frost

There have already been several frosts inland but last night we had the first HARD frost in our yard along the shoreline of Grand Portage Bay on Lake Superior.  This morning every blade of grass in the yard was covered with the telltale sign of colder days to come.  We have a couple of maple trees in our yard and the ice crystals blanketing the fallen leaves made for some interesting photos.  

Like it or not, Old Man Winter will soon be here.  Might as well embrace the beauty of it!