Friday, October 25, 2013

Sightseeing in Alaska

While sightseeing in Alaska, it's a good idea to take it slow and keep an eye open for wildlife.  During long summers when the sun barely sets, a photographer can snap away well into the night and next day.  The best viewing hours begin at dusk and end at dawn, but in the far north those terms don't really apply.  I've found that 8 to 9pm are good times to start searching the roadsides for a moose or a dozen.  Many areas across the state are well-traveled by the largest ungulate.  They can also weigh 1800 pounds, so keep in mind the damage it will do to an unaware driver.  

Bears have pockets around the state where they can be seen more than others.  Black bears appear frequently in and around Anchorage in the spring.  I've found luck in seeing them in Hatcher Pass, near Palmer.  The Knik River and Glacier area are hot spots when the fish are running.  Valdez has been a great spot for coastal brown bears in recent years.  I had only seen black bears in Valdez until about 4 or 5 years ago when brown bears began showing up to share some pink salmon.  I don't know if this has anything to do with the rehabilitation of Prince William Sound after the oil spill.  I've also seen an increase in bald eagles at Allison Point, where the Alyeska pipeline ends.  Plenty of marine life as well.

Whatever animals you may see, it's important to obey the rules of wildlife photography and viewing etiquette.  Denali National Park strictly enforces wildlife viewing guidelines, and I think it's a good idea to adhere at least loosely to these same guidelines wherever you are.  While traveling through Hatcher Pass state park area, my husband saw a black bear off the road.  We carefully backed up and pulled off the road at a safe distance.  For bears, a safe distance should be far enough away that the bear doesn't acknowledge your presence.  Bears like this sow and cub were probably very hungry.  Hibernation had just ended and the sow was nursing her cub, which was out of sight.  A sound of a car pulling up in front of them made the mother jump up and the cub had to peek out for a look.  A tourist pulled right up to the bears and stopped (also blocking our camera view).  Then a man got out and walked towards them for photos.  The sow sent her cub up a cottonwood and she became defensive.  This ended the whole photo session for everyone not to mention feeding time for the cub.  

This all happened some years ago, but it still bothers me.  I see people do this all the time. A bear is literally starving when it comes out of hibernation and it's important not to disturb its chances at survival.  I recommend getting a camera with telephoto lenses for good wildlife shots.  The best wildlife photographs are taken when an animal isn't aware of us.  When spotting an animal off the road, it's also important to pull over in a safe area and walk back if necessary.  

Though the sun stays out for most of the day, it's also good to have your camera mounted on a tripod while searching for animals at night.  A high sun in the sky can also ruin your shot.  I like to keep a pair of oversized sunglasses on the dash and place them over the lens instead of having to change camera parts.  It's great for the sunsets up here, too.  Snow covered mountains are best when photographed in the morning or evening when shadows are present.  Swamps are a good place to find moose and they don't require as large a viewing distance as bears.  If you're interested in viewing more wildlife and Alaska scenes, you can view my photos here.

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