Katmai National Park, Day 1

A week off the grid on the coast of Alaska – photographing bears.

Brown bear, just after catching a salmon – Geographic Harbor, Katmai National Park.

My father and I spent a week on a photography workshop in Katmai National Park, on the southern coast of Alaska west of Anchorage. The trip was organized by Muench photography workshops and was an outstanding opportunity to refine my photography skills in a beautiful setting – up close and personal with Alaskan brown bears as they feasted on the annual salmon run. We spent seven nights on the Dreamcatcher, a small ship that allowed us to anchor in several bays along the Katmai coastline, using its skiffs to visit shore two or three times daily. We saw dozens of bears, as they were feasting on the annual salmon run, up close and personal. I snapped over 8,000 photos and it will take me many weeks to find time to sort, process, and share them all – so I’ll share the best photos in future posts. For now, I’ll post retroactively in segments – with a few preliminary/teaser photos. Read on!

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Alaska

First visit in three decades.

In the first moments of my return to Alaska – my first visit in over three decades – the pilot announced there was a fine view to be seen on the port side. From the in-flight map I noted we were 36,000 feet over over Canada’s Kluane National Park, looking southwest into the Alaska panhandle. The scenery was awe-inspiring, with vast glaciers punctuated by rugged mountains:

Looking roughly southwest from a plane over Canada’s Kluane National Park..

Why am I headed for Alaska? I met my father there and we’re about to embark on a trip to Katmai National Park. Read on…

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Pinnacle meadow

The quiet days of August.

August is a time of quiet in the meadows and forests of New Hampshire, as the plants and animals enjoy the long days of late summer after the busy days of spring and early summer. This afternoon I strolled down from the summit of Lyme Pinnacle, through a mature meadow filled with goldenrod and Queen Anne’s Lace, with the crickets chirping and a light breeze blowing puffy clouds in from Vermont. Very peaceful.

What’s in my pack?

Pays to be well prepared.

When I’m out for a dayhike I tend to carry more than most hikers – because I often hike solo, and because I keep my pack pre-filled with the essentials. Below is my full summer kit, which weighs about 10kg (22lb) in typical configuration. Heavy! But I like to be prepared. So what’s inside?

Mindshift Rotation 180º pack.
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Vermont Institute of Natural Science

Always a worthwhile visit.

It’s always worthwhile to visit VINS, especially when they have a special event… today, it was “Marvelous Mammals Day”, so in addition to their display of live raptors (hawks, eagles, owls, etc.) they had several live mammals on display, with expert docents explaining their interesting features. We enjoyed the presentation of a red-tailed hawk, a porcupine, and a possum.

Red-tailed hawk at VINS, Vermont.
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Riverside birds

Camera practice.

I took a short paddle today on the river beside our home, and came across some ducks … and some fast-flying insect-catching birds. I welcome tips about the name of these birds! Update: it appears to be an Eastern Kingbird.

A pair of Eastern Kingbirds, next to the Connecticut River, near home.
An Eastern Kingbird, next to the Connecticut River, near home.
A mallard duck in the Connecticut River, near home.
Mallard ducks in the Connecticut River, near home.

Crop factor

Does size matter?

One of my goals for my recent camera upgrade was to jump from a ‘crop-sensor camera’ (like the Nikon D500) to a ‘full-frame camera’ (like the Canon R5). I had long avoided the full-frame cameras like the Nikon D800 and D850 because they (and their lenses) were so much larger, heavier, and costlier… but I favor smaller and lighter equipment because I like to be able to hike with them.

The switch from DLSR to mirrorless, however, enabled me to get a full-frame camera body (Canon R5) that was actually lighter (738g) than the crop-sensor camera body (Nikon D500) that I had been using (860g). To be fair, though, the R5 with its 24-105mm kit lens was heavier (1438g) than the D500 with its 16-80mm kit lens (1340g). But, I rationalized, it’s full frame! better quality, right?

But what else was I gaining… or losing? People often say that crop-sensor cameras have better ‘reach’ – because their effective focal length is a multiple of the lens focal length, making subjects appear ‘closer’. The truth is much more complicated. Read on.

Canon 500mm; 1/640 at f/7.1, ISO 2000
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Going mirrorless

Time to make the leap!

I’ve been a Nikon photographer for nearly forty years – first with an SLR and then a DSLR – but decided to upgrade to mirrorless and settled on a Canon EOS R5 after extensive research. Here’s why.

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Groundhog

Dinnertime.

Canon R5, 800mm + 1.4xTC, f/16, 1/200; ISO 12,800. Cropped about half.

After sunset, and as the summer evening fades into twilight, our friendly neighborhood groundhog comes out to browse. (I think he lives under our storage shed.) He’s quite shy, so I snapped a few photos from the deck – using my new 800mm lens plus a 1.4x teleconverter (effective 1120mm). The combination is fixed at f/16 and, combined with the deepening twilight, the photos are a bit noisy. Still, he’s a cute fellow!

Canon R5, 800mm + 1.4xTC, f/16, 1/200; ISO 12,800. Cropped about half.

(Also known as a woodchuck!)

Bald eagle

Our new neighbor.

As I was rowing on the river this morning, I scanned the tall riverside trees to see whether I might see anything interesting, as is my habit. Unlike other days, today I spotted the telltale white head of a bald eagle, high in the branches of a distant dead snag. I turned around, headed home, grabbed my camera, and drove up the road to that location. This was a great opportunity to test my new 800mm lens!

Canon R5 with 800mm f/11 at 1/400, ISO 500, cropped

It appears to be a somewhat immature bald eagle – not fully developed with the all-white head of an adult. It stuck around as long as I would, and beyond. I hope to see it again sometime soon.