Planes, Boats, and SUVs…. « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Planes, Boats, and SUVs….

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This coastal Brown Bear was photographed with the Canon 800mm f/5.6L lens, the 1.4X II TC, and the EOS-1D MIII (while I was lying flat on my belly in the mud). ISO 400. Evaluative metering +2/3 stop: 1/400 sec. at f/8. When working large subjects with large subject-to-camera distances the wide open aperture will offer sufficient depth-of-field; when working with small subjects close to minimum focusing distance you need to use smaller apertures in order to attempt to have enough depth-of-field to cover the entire subject. This grizzled old boar with a muddy forehead showed lots of character. As always you can click on each image to see a larger version.

Well, the bear boat trip turned out to be quite a travel adventure. We awoke at 3:30am on June 4 to catch the 6:15 am flight to Kodiak where we would meet the boat. We took off on time. It was very foggy in Kodiak but as the plane descended we were thrilled to see the ground, but seconds later the pilot pulled up and began to circle; he had been unable to see the runway in front of him. We went round and round for about 25 minutes before heading back to Anchorage. We all got on the 3:00pm flight, but it was put on a weather hold. We finally departed at 4:15 pm, made it through an opening in the fog, and landed on Kodiak a bit after 5pm. By 6pm we had all of our bags and gear in an SUV and were headed for Anton Larson Bay to meet the boat.

After about 30 minutes of driving we were about 3 miles from the dock when the engine of the SUV simply quit. We spotted some folks down the road apiece and they agreed to ferry us and our gear for $100. It would have taken them about 3 or 4 trips as they had only a small vehicle, but just after they left for their first run our captain/guide Chuck and his girlfriend Olga drove up looking for us as we had been seriously delayed. We packed everything into the back of his pickup, climbed in, and headed for the boat.

By 8pm, after a great dinner, we were in the skiff photographing otters. All was well with the world. We photographed the otters again the next morning and then crossed the Shelikof Strait. It was quite windy and several of us wound up feeling a bit queasy. Multiple IPT veteran and dear friend Jim Heupel did get seasick, that after surviving a Drake Passage crossing with 40 foot waves this past winter.  Go figure!  Once we got into the bay at Katmai things calmed down and we wound up photographing two four or five five year old bears playing.

Skip ahead a few days. Our group of five and Chuck were surrounded by several coastal Brown Bears when we noticed that the wind had picked up considerably. Chuck had anchored both of his 65 foot boats—his next group was nine and he would need both boats—on a single anchor. He mentioned that he was a bit concerned that the boats might drag the anchor in the high winds but that he knew that his mate would have alerted him had there been a problem. (His radio, however, had been turned off….) A while back, I had noticed the mate and our cook in the skiff nearby and thought nothing of it, but when Chuck mentioned his concern I told him that his crew was in the skiff right offshore of where we were. He walked very quickly to the skiff, climbed aboard, and headed for the two boats.

We were able to see the two vessels through our long lenses and it looked as if they were in great danger. Had they come hard aground after smashing into each other? As it turned out, the anchor had dragged but the boats were both in navigable waters without any damage to either one. Whew!

On our next to last morning I realized, as I stepped off the skiff at high tide, that I had forgotten to put my NEOS overshoes on. As Chuck pulled away in the skiff I noted that I would be pretty much stuck in one spot as I would be unable to cross any of several fairly deep streams. I raised Chuck on the radio and asked him to bring me a pair of hip waders and he said that he would. Within 20 minutes he was back with the waders. He left the skiff, ran to shore to hand me the hip boots, and made his way back to the skiff. The only problem was that the tide had been dropping so fast the skiff was now barely afloat as the tide steamed out. I quickly put on my boots and joined Chuck in attempting to push the huge (about 25 feet) skiff into deeper water. It was rough going for several minutes as we strained with all of our might, Chuck having a lot more might than I. The boat was actually on the bottom several times and we had to push from the rear while lifting the skiff; finally the boat was floating with Chuck at the helm. (I knew that Chuck had a ton of work to do that day; if the skiff had been grounded we would all have been stuck there for about ten hours until the tide came back in.)

On 10 June, as we started our long journeys home, our bags—as a result of float plane delays—did not get to the Kodiak airport in time for our 4:45pm Alaska Airlines flight. All five of us were switched to the 7:45 ERA flight and will make our red-eye connections later tonight. Our plans to grab a day room at the Dimond Center Hotel for a quick shower and a nap did not materialize. All of us (but for George Brunt, who is laying over in Anchorage) are looking forward to getting home safely on the eleventh.

It is now the morning of 11 June and I am sitting bleary-eyed in the lounge at the Minneapolis airport after the red-eye flight from Anchorage. I will be back soon with tales of bears and eagles and of course, with more new images.

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This adult Bald Eagle was photographed with the Canon 800mmm f/5.6L IS lens and the EOS-1D MIII. ISO 400. I metered the blue sky just above the horizon and added 2/3rds of a stop of light: 1/2000 of a second at f/7.1 set manually. A quick check of the histogram showed a perfect exposure. We had many great opportunites to photograph eagles on this trip.

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