Found the Harlequins again

I went back to the river twice more looking for them. The first time I came back with an empty memory card. The second time I found two males who seemed to be courting the same female.They were quite restless this time and moving around the stream in seemingly random patterns making the photography challenging. Normally I observe which direction they are swimming in and position myself in a location without to many alders and willows blocking the view and wait for them to swim by. This time that tactic was quite futile and I came back with only a handful of useable pictures.

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Harlequin Ducks are back

It is mating season and they are back in fast flowing rivers, after spending the winter out on the ocean.

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This couple were feeding and navigating the whitewater like expert boaters.

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Based on my experience in previous years, the female will soon disappear out of sight hiding on a nest along the river. I’ll be back out there again today to see if I can find them.

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Cordova Shorebird Festival

I just got back  from 5 incredible days in Cordova. It was amazing to watch large flocks of of shorebirds in coordinated flight. All birds would turn at the same time. This flock consisted mostly of Western Sandpipers. Too see more images from the trip go to the gallery.

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During high tide the birds often took a nap in tightly packed groups. This flock was Dunlins, Western Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones.

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This flock of a few thousand Western Sandpipers landed all around me, with many of the birds only 5 feet away. I got many great shots even if my 600 mm lens didn’t focus close enough. The MFD (minimum focusing distance) is an often overlooked feature of camera lenses. In retrospect I wish I had brought along my extension tube to help with the MFD, but I couldn’t have imagined getting this close.

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Semipalmated Plovers were common but mostly seen individually or in small groups.

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Face-shots are often better than butt-shots, but there are exceptions to every rule. Black-bellied Plovers.

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Least Sandpiper feeding on the upper part of the tidal flats.

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Short-billed Dowitchers were feeding on the mudflats along Alaganik slough.

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Our good friend, Leo Americus, took us out to sandbars at the south end of Orca Inlet, which had an amazing array and amount of migratory shorebirds, such as Bar-tailed Godwit and several thousand Red Knots.

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Of course there were other birds and wildlife as well. Glaucous-winged Gulls, Bald Eagles, and Beavers were other frequent companions.

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Oh Yes -we can’t forget that spring was arriving and the Alder bushes were in full bloom.

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My most common body position was flat on my belly in the muck. Big thanks to, my wife Nancy for this last flattering picture of me, and our friend Bill Mohrwinkel from Arctic Wild for letting us camp by is cabin and his invaluable birding tips.

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Spring Vacation in the Arctic

Most people don’t head to the Arctic after a long winter, but I went kite skiing with my wife Nancy in the High Arctic of Alaska. We arrived in Kaktovik in beautiful weather, that was a balmy (-2ºF) to the locals, but cold to us.

 

The Arctic Ocean in April.

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Whale bones protruding out of the snow.

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Kite skiing outside town.

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Soaking in a Hot Spring, water temperature at 104ºF (40ºC) and air temperature at -10ºF (-23ºC).

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The Aurora danced over our campsites almost every night. The cold -25ªF (-30ºF), quickly drained both camera batteries and the heat in my fingers during night photography. Breathing on the camera would freeze my beard to the camera.

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The light quality was often amazing for photography with amazing blue tones. I found it was best captured by setting the cameras white balance to Daylight. I often shoot in Auto White Balance and have found that it works well for most subjects excepts in unusual light situations such as winter twilight in the Arctic.

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We had no wind in the Brooks Range or in the foothills, so we spent the first few days slowly dragging our sleds back towards Kaktovik.

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Finally Kite skiing on the Coastal Plain!

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Of course we also had long periods of what we fondly call Kite-Waiting. In other words waiting for the wind to start blowing again.

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With the possibility of Polar Bears on the Coastal Plain we experimented with winter Bear Camping practices. We strived to cook away from our campsite despite the cold and used an electric Bear fence.

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Nancy catching a few turns off a pressure ridge on the Arctic Ocean.

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We found our first Polar Bear track on the sea ice just outside Kaktovik.

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Aurora Borealis

I’m back from my  winter trip to ANWR (pictures coming soon), but first I wanted to share a few Aurora pictures from last night. It was a stunning display and nature is likely to bless us with another display on April 21. The most important aspect for capturing aurora pictures is to be up and outside at night. Last night the aurora was fantastic  around 3 am.

The first one was taken from my front porch.

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Then I walked down the road to capture the Aurora above Arkose Ridge.

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