Puma, Torres del Paine National Park

A puma, aka mountain lion, walks along a ridge.

Puma at Dusk, Chilean Patagonia

In May 2016 I went to Torres del Paine National Park with two friends in search of pumas or mountain lions as we know them.   The park is on the Chilean side of Patagonia.  We had great success in that we saw 18 different pumas in six days and photographed twelve of them, as I recall.  It involved a lot of hiking. This puma, however, showed itself when we were driving back to our hotel after sunset.

Pumas are protected in Chile, but they kill some sheep and the ranchers shoot them without regard to the law on ranches throughout Chile (and Argentina).  Fortunately, many more pumas are safe today thanks to the work of conservationist Doug Tompkins and his wife, Kris, who have bought millions of acres of ranches and converted those lands into national parks with the cooperation of Chile and adjoining Argentina.  Unfortunately, Doug died in a kayaking accident in December of 2015.  His wife, however, continues his legacy.  For more about Doug Tompkins, see this article.

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Mother Brown Bear, Lake Clark National Park

Brown bear sow, clams

Mama bear goes clamming.

My last two mornings at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge we had very low tides.  That brought the bears from the sedge grass meadows to the tidelands.  I was amazed to learn how well the bears find the clams.  They quickly smell them through little holes or vents in the sand that go from the clams up to the surface.  It’s also amazing how easily they use their big claws to pry open the shells.  They are very efficient at it.  Not a lot of meat from each clam, but I guess it adds up and is a welcome change from their mostly grass diets.

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Brown Bear Cubs, Alaska

Brown Bear Cubs, Lake Clark National Park

Are we fighting or dancing?

I was in Alaska recently.  I spent the first week of this month photographing brown bears in Lake Clark National Park.  If you’re interested in photographing brown bears, Lake Clark is a good place to go and Silver Salmon Creek Lodge (SSCL), where I stayed, offers excellent accommodations.  In fact, the lodge provides full services, including meals/lodging, flights to and from the lodge and a guide.  My guide, Jim, has an M.S. in Wildlife Biology and his thesis involved bears.  SSCL is already taking reservations for 2019, but I think it still has some openings for 2018.  The lodge is about 100 air miles southwest of Anchorage.    http://silversalmoncreek.com/

If you’re thinking of going, you may be wondering when is  the best time?  That depends. I’ve been there the first and last weeks of July.  My understanding of what happens there in June, July and August follows.

June.  June is mating season.  I understand most of the big boars leave the area by the end of June.  Also, the ones that remain into July have lost their luxuriant winter coats by the end of June, if not before.  What kinds of foregrounds and backgrounds will you have to photograph the bears in in June?  The bears will be feeding primarily on sedge grass, which I like to photograph them in.  They will also be feeding on razor clams when the tide is very low.  That’s another setting I like.

July.  It’s my understanding that the sows with cubs, at least spring cubs, don’t arrive until the big boars have left.  Boars kill and eat cubs.  So, if you want to photograph cubs, July is a good time.  When I was there this year most of the sows and all of the cubs still had their winter coats.  The foregrounds and backgrounds you will have will be the same as in June.

August.  In August, the silver salmon/coho start migrating up Silver Salmon Creek.  The bears will focus on eating as many of them as they can to fatten up for the long winter.  The big boars may return at this time, but you should check with the lodge on that (plus everything else I’ve said).  I don’t know what the color of the sedge grass is in August, but I’m guessing it would still be green.   I don’t think I need to describe the setting for the bears standing in the creek trying to catch salmon.  There are no falls, at least at the lower end of the creek, so don’t expect to photograph bears standing at the top of some falls with their mouths wide open catching jumping salmon, like McNeil Falls is famous for.  But you won’t have to fight with hordes of people either.

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Our Tree Swallow Nest Box

Hungry Tree Swallow Chick

Hungry Chick

Our tree swallow chicks fledged today, June 18, Father’s Day.  I knew they were getting close to leaving the nest box, so on Friday and Saturday I spent some time photographing the parents feeding the young.  I missed seeing them leave the nest.

The adults are very fast and agile flyers.  They are to winged insects what peregrine falcons are to most bird species.

I think of them just catching bugs in the air, but I realized in watching them with the telephoto lens that they get vegetation attached to them by apparently also flying into heavy vegetation. The male had a twig sticking out of the right side of his neck and the female had vegetation stuck in her tail.   Fortunately, the vegetation on each came off after a while.  I was worried that the male had impaled himself to some extent, but he finally came in on a feeding run without the stick.

We’ve had the nest box for 6 years and swallows have used it every year.  Unfortunately, all the chicks died last year.   I spoke with a song bird expert and was told that lots of tree swallow nests were unsuccessful last year because of the drought.   Apparently, the dry conditions caused a big drop in insect populations.

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Elk Calves Getting Bigger; Point Reyes National Seashore

Near sunset, a tule elk calf roams with its mom near Pierce Point Ranch.

The elk calves are getting noticeably bigger and the spots on the older ones are becoming somewhat muted.  If you like to see spotted elk calves and deer fawns, you should get out to Point Reyes soon.

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Blacktail Doe and Fawns, Point Reyes National Seashore

Look for fawns throughout the Seashore.

It’s Fawn Time!

Now is a great time to be at Point Reyes.  There are lots of elk calves to see and some deer fawns as well.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I think the heavy winter rains helped increase elk births. I think the same can be said for deer and most other critters.

One thing that I am always amazed at is how fast people drive in the Seashore as they rush to get to some particular location to start enjoying nature.  If they would slow down and scan the fields they would see all kinds of nature’s creations, such as coyotes, bobcats, badgers, elk, deer etc.  Plus, less wildlife would be killed by vehicles.   As Glenn Frey used to sing, “take it easy.”

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Grizzly Bear, Yellowstone National Park

A mother grizzly bear walks through the south end of Swan Lake Flat.

A mother grizzly walks through sage.

A well-known place in Yellowstone to look for grizzlies is a large open area called Swan Lake Flat.  It is especially good for seeing grizzly sows with cubs.  I have often seen grizzlies there, but they have always been too far away for good photos.

In May 2015 I got lucky.  I was approaching the flat from the south when I saw a flash of brown out of the corner of my eye.  I stopped and saw a mother grizzly with two two year old cubs walking parallel to the road about 75 yards away.   Unfortunately, they were heading in the opposite direction.  By the time I got the car turned around they had disappeared into some trees.  I drove to a spot that looked like it would be a good place to wait for them and got ready.

As luck would have it, after a minute or two I noticed that there was a very young elk calf between me and where I hoped the bears would pass.  It was standing in a little clump of trees.  Hmm.  Bears love elk calves.  In fact, grizzlies and black bears kill about 50% of the calf crop each year.  What if they see/smell the calf and charge toward it (and me)?  That’s as far as I got in my thinking when the bears came into view.  They didn’t detect the calf and kept going.  The calf got to live another day and I got my photo.


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