Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Little Boy- Ken excited to see us at Manu National Park 4000 m

Arriving in Lima from a flight from Cusco we started with adjusting to the higher elevation with sipping Coco Tea. This herbal tea has amazing qualities to help with the risk of altitude sickness. Our driver, Yirilo met us the next morning to drive us down through the mountains and into the Amazon. You can’t help but be in awe of the amazing landscapes photo opportunities. Rolling hills, winding roads and a variety of trees brush the landscapes.


On our way to Manu National Park, a home to different ecological zones between 4,000m (13,120ft) and 300m (984ft) above sea level we meet some local people living at these extreme high levels.  There are over 1000 species of birds, 200 species of mammals, many reptiles and 10% of all the plant species on the planet have been recorded within the park's boundaries. You can’t help but have an amazing feeling and feeling a bit light headed being over 4000 meters in elevation. The fresh oxygen going into your lungs is like having a complete body detox and the views are incredible! Along the way we spotted a Smooth Billed Ani, a Yellow Headed Vulture, Highland Mot Mots, and Oropendolas.

Cock of the Rock - Male
Since the drive to the Amazon is a 10 hour drive we included a stop- over at the Paradiso Lodge, home to Cock of the Rock. After 6 hours of winding roads and driving through waterfalls cascading over the mountains, we were welcomed by hummingbirds flying about. There sitting amongst the bushes looking at us, was a male Cock of the Rock.  Hummingbirds included Booted Racket-Tail Hummingbird, Many Spotted Hummingbird, White-Necked Jacobin, Crested Quetzal, Green Hermit Hummingbird and we also spotted a troop of White-faced Capuchin Monkeys across the river.

The next day, we continued down to the Amazon River boat dock where we would take a boat journey to our next destination, located in the tropical lowland rainforest of Manu Biosphere Reserve, The Amazonia Lodge. We passed by wonderful orchids growing along the mountain cliffs and great birding opportunities.  
Little Woodstar Hummingbird
As we entered the grounds of Amazonia Lodge, an old tea plantation we were greeted by the porters nice enough to carry our camera equipment and gear through the jungle paths.  When arriving to the main lodge there were a large variety of hummingbirds zip-zagging around. A perfect place for our multi-flash set up and to take advantage of some great tropical bird photography.  With our multi-flash set up in place and the perfect lighting to capture the brilliant colors we were impressed with the variety of birds. In the early morning we were greeted by an Agouti and could hear the Ornate Tinamou calling about. We took amazing photographs of a large variety of hummingbirds and video of the Rufous-Crested Coquette fanning his tail and presenting his Crown. We watched the courting dance between the male and female Rufous-Crested Coquette. We performed night macro photography of tree frogs, saw caimans in the swamp with red-eyes by the water’s edge and photographed the Scorpion Spider, a spider larger than a large dinner plate. After 1000’s of images later, exploring trails and night walks we were delighted with what we had accomplished and were ready to head back up to the mountains.
Rufous Crested Coquette - Male 
Some species we photographed include: Amethyst Woodstar, Blue Tailed Emerald Hummingbird, Fork- Tailed Woodnymph Hummingbird, Golden- Tailed Sapphire Hummingbird, Gould’s Jewelfront Hummingbird, Grey-Breasted Sabrewing Hummingbird,Green Hermit Hummingbird, White-necked Jacobin Hummingbird, Violet-bellied Hummingbird, Forked-Tailed Woodnyph Rufous-Crested Coquette, Golden-Tailed Sapphire Hummingbird, Koepckes Hermit, Road Side Hawk, Golden Olive Woodpecker, Lineated Woodpecker, Oropendola, Military Maca, Hoatzin, Crimson Masked Tanager, Cinnamon Throated Wood Creeper, Chaca Laca, Chestnut-Eared Aracari, Trogons, Forked Tailed Tyrant Flycatcher and more.

On the return drive through the mountains we spotted Mountain Caracara, Blue Winged Mountain Tanager and Black Bellied Tanager. We stopped again at the Paradiso Lodge to photograph more hummingbirds, tanagers and lucky to photograph and video a White-faced Capuchin Monkey. Photographed Black and Chestnut Eagle, Cock of the Rock, Mountain Gem Hummingbird, Booted Racket –Tail, Speckled Hummingbird, Little Woodstar, Rufous Hummingbird, American Spotted Tanager and Silver Beaked Tanager.

We took advantage of the waterfalls beside the lodge and waited for the perfect light to create that soft slow flowing water affect. Cranking our F-stops high and setting our timers the flowing water turned from a regular scene into flowing candy-floss along the rocks. We saw Dippers and we were lucky enough to photograph Ladder Tailed Night Jar that flew out from under a rock.

Rarely seen during the day, this Ladder-Tailed Night Jar appeared from under a rock.
Night Jars are nocturnal.

Scarlett Macaw
We visited 2 Parrots Garden owned by a local boy and his grandmother where we were able to hold a 3 week old Ocelot, photograph a Spider Monkey, Scarlet Macaws, Sloth and Wild Boars.
Reaching Cusco, a city full of historical buildings and busy streets. We stayed at a charming Peruvian style hotel, Terra Adina and refreshed ourselves with the local Coco Tea, essential to drink before going onto Machu Picchu to assist with the changes in elevation.
The next morning we took the Vistadome train with panoramic views of the mountains and local country side to the base of Machu Picchu. The train is a wonderful way to see the grasslands and farms along the way up into the mountains.

Reaching our next hotel Pueblo Hotel-Inkaterra Resort, a luxury 5 star hotel we took the opportunity to pamper ourselves getting ready for some incredible hummingbird and tropical bird photography. While enjoying the orchid gardens and amenities of this resort we photographed some incredible hummingbirds such as: Collard Inca Hummingbird, Chestnut Breasted Hummingbird, Long-tailed Sylph, White-bellied Woodstar, Highland Mot Mot, Collard Inca Hummingbird, Blue Grey Tanager (Amazonia Sub-species), Euphonia, Blue Dacknis Tanager,Grass Green Tanager, Red Crowned Ant Tanager, Blue Necked Tanager, Rufous- Collard Sparrow. Jay and Stephanie were delighted to see their images as it was their first time photographing hummingbirds.
Collard Inca Hummingbird

Long- Tailed Slyph Hummingbird 

Koepcke's Hermit 

Woman on the mountain looming and looking after her sheep

Machu Picchu Ruins

Our last stop was Machu Picchu, a site definitely worth visiting. A hike up steps from the main entrance to the platforms viewing the ruins is well worth the effort. You are amazed at the craftsmanship of these ancient ruins that gives you a heavenly feeling as you look across the landscape. We watched the sun slowly rise with light beams hitting the ruins. Plenty of landscape photo opportunities, sitting about are Alpacas enjoying the view. Turn around and you see wonderful snow-peaked mountains in the distance. Overall if you are looking for endless photo opportunities, with an Amazonia journey, culture, incredible bird photography and birding opportunities with ever changing landscapes from jungles, lowlands, grasslands to snow-peaked mountains then Peru is an adventure for you.  We hope to see you on the next workshop in Peru.

More information and photo gallery

Jennifer, David, Stephanie and Jay at the ruins

Alpaca - Peruvians make wool sweaters, hats, blankets from the wool. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Jobu Junior 3 Gimbal Head
Product review by David Hemmings of Natures Photo Adventures
I was looking for a lightweight, functional good quality gimbal head for my wife to use on her now frequent photo excursions with me. Jennifer uses lighter equipment than I do, usually a Canon 7D with a Canon 100-400mm lens and sometimes she borrows my 300 2.8.
 Jobu Junior 3 Gimbal Head
A fellow photographer had mentioned to me to go and check out the Jobu Design Junior 3 gimbal head. I had heard of Jobu and knew that they were a Canadian manufacturer located in Mississauga, just outside of Toronto. I liked this and decided to go and have a look at what they had to offer. After a visit to my favorite retail photo supply store I left with a brand new Jobu Junior 3 gimbal head in my hands. I was impressed by the sturdy build, beautiful finish and the smoothness of both arms of this head. I couldn’t wait to see how it performed in the field.
We were going to test the setup at a local pond full of different ducks coming and going, flying, swimming and landing.
The first combination we tried out was the Canon 7D with a Canon 300mm 2.8 lens attached. After getting the Junior 3 attached to the tripod the lens foot plate slipped with ease into the J3 quick release clamp.
The control knobs for both arms are solid, large and very comfortable to make quick and easy adjustments to, even wearing gloves. Balancing the 300mm lens and the camera body was as easy and smooth as could be; the lens balanced very well over the center of the tripod to lessen risk of any the tripod falling over when the legs were tucked in. It was quick and effortless to make fast adjustments to the balance of the rig when we added a tele converter or an external flash unit. Just a small turn of the quick release clamp knob and a soft nudge forwards or backwards of the camera and lens and the balance was easily obtained quickly and efficiently.
We took turns shooting our subjects at the pond for the next couple of hours. The J3 performed extremely well and actually exceeded my expectations on all fronts. The unit panned effortlessly back and forth at the slightest touch. Panning with this unit is so much better than using any ballhead that I have ever tested, and I have tested about all of them. The up and down tilt movements were equally as smooth and sure. Never did I feel worried about tightening down after the action subsided because the unit was so well balanced that I didn’t have to.
The unit worked just as smoothly and effectively with the 100-400 mounted on it. It was a bit more challenging balancing because the Canon 100-400 is a push/pull zoom but that is a lens factor and does not detract from the performance of the J3. We found ourselves shooting at 400mm most of the time anyways.
The J3 is also very lightweight, a huge plus for those of us who travel often and are always concerned about keeping our baggage and carry on weight limits down.
For more information or to order, visit Jobu Design at or email
Visit David’s website at

Friday, March 16, 2012

Polar Bears Churchill Natures Photo Adventures

Polar Bears and Cubs Adventure 2012

The train pulls into the Churchill station with a high pitched squeaking of the brakes and a pronounced call of the horn. All of us pile aboard the nicely appointed interior with reclining chairs as we are almost the only ones off to Chesnaye that evening. Where is Chesnaye you ask? Good question. It is an area northwest of Churchill that is a slow two hour train ride into the middle of the tundra, literally. When we arrive we step off the train and onto a small snow bank which is where we are met by our Mattrack vehicles that whisk us off for another hour or so further into the open tundra. It is so cold that I can feel the inside of my nose icing up. Thank goodness for the heated vehicles there to meet us from the lodge, right on time. After a bumpy ride we arrive at the tundra outpost lodge, this ain’t Kansas Dorothy. It is rugged but cozy, warm with all the things we will need to look for and hopefully photograph Polar Bears and their cubs for the next nine days. After we are assigned our rooms, 3-4 to room with bunk beds, we organize our gear for our first venture out onto the tundra the next morning.
My alarm goes off and I rise only to hit my head on the ceiling, oh yeah, I am in the upper bunk. A conspicuous start to the day.
Breakfast is served at 7 and what a great spread! Daryl, our head cook, really can whip up a great breakfast.
After eating it is time to bundle up, meet outside and load up the Mattrack vehicles to head off in search of Polar Bears. By 9 a.m. we are set up outside with our gear focused on a Polar Bear den that has a mom and an unknown number of cubs. It is -41 Celsius with the wind chill factor. We wait patiently for a few hours and then out pops mom’s head from the den to look around and sniffs the cold arctic air. Cameras start clicking and hearts start racing as we hope for mom to come all the way out. Not today, we will have to settle for images of her head poking out of the hole, but what a thrill it was to see.
In the evening we head outside near the lodge to photograph the Aurora Borealis.
The next few days we experience much of the same, each day mom peeks out to look around and she goes back into the den. In the morning we see her tracks around the den telling us that she has ventured out but has not yet left with her cubs to head for Hudson’s Bay. During these days we experience very cold temps and all of our patience is pushed to the limit. Then the call comes from one of the trackers, we have a mom and two cubs out of a den and headed out towards the bay. We catch up to them quickly and everyone sets up their gear in record time. Just as we set up, mom decides that it is time for a rest and settles into a snow bank 100 yards in front of us and we excitedly snap away for the next couple of hours. It is hard to put into words what an experience this is. To see this endangered species emerge from its den with two new Polar Bear lives and watch them interact is beyond description.
We are fortunate the rest of that day and some of the next day to have access to these three beautiful creatures as they go about their day. We all shoot a few thousand images and are very happy to have some downloading and processing to do the next couple of evenings.
This place is the best place on earth to see this amazing species with their newborn cubs. It is out of the way, it is cold and it is rough, sort of like summer camp only it is winter and we are there to photograph Polar BearsJ
It is more than worth the time and effort, an experience never to be forgotten.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Falkland Islands Natures Photo Adventures

If you have never been to the Falkland Islands to photograph penguins and other species such as Elephant seals and Sea Lions, it is difficult to explain in words what a natural wonderland the Falklands are. You really have to experience it to believe it.

Most of the wildlife, notably with the exception of Black-necked Swans, is unafraid of human presence and will often sit right down beside you out of curiosity.  While at Volunteer Point on East Stanley we sat amongst King Penguins and their chicks while they went about their business seemingly oblivious to our presence. I had one young King lay down 2 feet from me and fall asleep!
It was a similar experience with the 3 other common species of penguins on the Falklands, Gentoos, Rockhoppers and Magellenics. While sitting outside their colonies they would go about their life coming and going from the ocean and switching nesting duties with their partners while fending off intrusive neighbors and feeding their young. At one point I was surrounded by a dozen Rockhopper penguins while they picked at my boots and slept in the surrounding grasses.
One of the best experiences for me was watching the Gentoo penguins swimming into shore in small groups and springing out of the water onto the beach to begin their walk back to the colony along one of the many penguin highways as they are called by locals. You could watch them porpoising in from sea about 100 yards out right until they reach the breaking surf, looks like they are having fun but it just could be that they are in a hurry. Either way it was so cool to witness this behavior.
Then there are the colonies of Elephant seals on the beaches at Sea Lion Island. There you can see and photograph up close 3 week old calves and young males practicing their fighting skills to prepare for when it is time to find mates. The noises these seals make are loud and impressive as they voice their opinions to the other individuals in the colony.
Then there are the Striated Caracaras. These beautiful falcons nest and breed in the outlying islands of the Falklands are very photographable, sometimes very up close.
Then there is the majestic Black-browed Albatross. There are a few colonies that are accessible to humans and the photo opportunities are unbelievable. To watch these beautiful seabirds coming and going from their nests and doing greeting displays is something that you really need to see once in your life. Sometimes I just watched in amazement and forgot that I was there to take pictures!
Throw into the mix an abundance of other species such as Snowy Sheathbills, Upland Geese, Kelp Geese, Cobb’s Wren, Long tailed Meadowlark, Crested Ducks, and Silvery Grebes and you have a place with so much to offer the bird and nature photographer.
The hosts on the different islands are just so hospitable and knowledgeable that they add a lot to the Falkland experience.
The accommodations are basic to good but there is always a friendly smile, good food and all of your basic needs are met.
I can’t tell you in this blog what the Falkland Islands are really like, words do not do it any justice, you just have to experience it for yourself! Read more about the Falkland Islands Photo Workshop

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Trip report  ALASKA – Brown Bears of Lake Clark

After a week in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska, I can safely say that this is one of my favorite places on earth. The natural beauty, majestic mountain peaks and volcanoes combine for some of the most stunning backdrops for nature and landscape photography one could ever hope for.
Our group was all energized and excited.  Working closely with the guides and  coordinating with the ever changing water tides  to be in the right  place in the right place at the right time for photographing the powerful and beautiful Alaskan Brown Bear also known as Grizzly Bears. The first thing I want to tell you about is how wonderfully accommodating the owners and staff was at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge. They were organized, extremely flexible to the weather and light shooting times and also very knowledgeable about the bear behavior in the area.
Our first day was not very nice weather wise and we were delayed a few hours from high winds and rain. The smaller Cessna aircrafts can’t fly safely in these conditions so we had to wait it out. We ended up getting in later in the afternoon and the rain was still falling heavily so we unpacked, had an orientation with the lodge owner, David Coray. After our orientation was done we were treated to a wonderful dinner of fresh halibut, I can tell you the food here is just fantastic! We were hoping for the weather to clear that evening but instead it was raining steadily. We went out anyways and saw our first Alaskan Brown Bears after only 10 minutes of waiting.  A bear even greeted our second plane as it landed safely on the beach. Perfect timing for a bear with the water waves behind it.  The conditions were next to impossible but we did manage some interesting shots regardless, sometimes rain can add another dimension to your images, so don’t be afraid to shoot in bad weather!
Day two was much of the same, with lots of rain and some damp but determined photographers. We had several guests on the workshop from South Africa and this weather was quite a rude welcoming for people use to so much sun and heat. Despite the rain, we still saw some bears and everyone worked hard with high ISO’s and lots of numb fingers.
Day three finally saw a bit of a break in the rain but we still had some seriously dark and overcast skies. By the afternoon, the cloud cover began to break up and we were greeted with our first good shooting light. We took advantage of the new found light and shot right until sunset. Finally we were all smiling with some great bear images and things were looking good for the next 3 days.
On day four, half of our group went to visit an island about a one half hour boat ride from the lodge. There were incredible landscape opportunities along the way. There we were hoping to get a chance to photograph some of the last resident Horned Puffins and maybe some Common Murres. When we landed on the island, we were very happy to see that some Horned Puffins were still flying around bringing food to their dens from Cook’s Inlet. We all managed some pretty good shots of these wonderfully colorful and animated birds flying with their fresh catch firmly in their beaks.

Day five saw lots of nice light and we were all thrilled when we had the good fortune to photograph Brown Bears charging around the river mouth trying to catch the tail end of the salmon run. Everyone got some great action shots and we even photographed one bear busily digging for and eating Razor Clams during the low tide. On day six we had a mix of sun, wind, cloud and rain. It was still lots of fun and we managed to find a mother and cub grazing in a nearby sedge grass field for some intimate close up images.
After a bit of poor weather at the start, the week finished well and everyone went home with home with wonderful memories of incredible fresh salmon, halibut meals and  new friendships. Everyone left with some great images and memories of beautiful Lake Clark National Park and Silver salmon Creek Lodge. .

See you there on a workshop soon!

David Hemmings
President, Nature’s Photo Adventures

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Costa Rica Photo Adventure

Costa Rica – Bird and Nature Photography Heaven

My wife Jennifer and I recently spent two weeks in Costa Rica as a part honeymoon, part bird and nature photography photo adventure. I can tell you that we were not disappointed on either front.
Costa Rica has it all. Beautiful countryside, stunning ocean beaches and all the flora and fauna that one could possibly hope for in a country of this size.
Costa Rica´s territory is so small that it encompasses only 0,03% of the planet´s surface but is still within the top 20 richest countries in biodiversity on Earth in terms of species density. It means that it is possible to find more species in 1,000 km2 in Costa Rica that in the same area in countries like Brazil or Colombia. Costa Rica has nearly half a million species, representing 4% of the planet´s expected biodiversity.

There are many places to go in Costa Rica to photograph its vast array of tropical bird species, hummingbirds and wildlife. One of the places on our itinerary for this trip was Rancho Naturalista,
the premier birding lodge in Costa Rica, Rancho Naturalista is among the finest in Central America. Over 430 species of birds have been recorded in the area. These birds may be sampled from this comfortable lodge famous for its excellent food, welcoming hospitality and stunning volcano views.
Many of the resident hummingbirds can be photographed right from the large second story balcony that runs along the length of the rooms. Hummingbird species include Crowned Wood-nymphs, Brown Violet-ears, White-necked Jacobins, Green Thorn-tails and Green-crowned Brilliants.

Some of the other species in and around the lodge include Blue-crowned Motmots, collared Aracaris, Keel-billed Toucans and White-crowned Parrots. Rancho is also home to one of the smallest birds in the world, the Snow-capped Hummingbird.

Another spot on our list of must visit places for photography was Selve Verde Lodge. We traveled to the beautiful lowland rainforests of the Sarapiquí region and the Selva Verde Lodge, where we had two feeders that offered great bird photography opportunities. A number of colorful birds including tanagers, aracaris, and toucans visit the feeders. Selva Verde is also a fantastic place to photograph poison frogs, tree frogs, basilisk lizards, and lots of other wildlife. We also photographed Mot mots and Toucans at this location. As if this wasn’t enough we found a spot where we can photograph both Great Green and Scarlett Macaws!

A visit to Costa Rica without visiting the Arenal Volcano would be a shame, so we will visit it on this trip for some stunning views and photo opportunities of this constantly active volcano. On clear nights, the views of incandescent avalanches are breathtaking! A quick visit to the nearby Danaus Wildlife Reserve yielded opportunities to see and photograph Boat-billed Herons, 3 toed sloths, emerald basilisk lizards and Rufous-tailed jacamars, wow! At night from our rooms we had a clear view to photograph the Arenal volcano. Not far from our volcano lodge we visited a fascinating Snake Zoo where we saw and photographed eyelash vipers, parrot snakes, pine snakes and red eyed tree frogs.  We photographed all of these animals on natural stages that we set up on site. This was a great opportunity to photograph a number of species that are very difficult to find in the wild and also to continue our work on multiple flash setups for pleasing macro lighting. We enjoyed a delicious home-cooked lunch as well as refreshments and coffee throughout the day. We returned that late afternoon to the Arenal Observatory Lodge to photograph the sunset and the Arenal Volcano.

The final destination of our visit was Bosque de Paz. Bosque de Paz Ecolodge is located in one of the most biodiverse areas of the country, nestled in a picturesque valley at approximately 4,500 feet above sea level between the Poas Volcano and Juan Castro Blanco National Parks. With its rushing mountain streams, cool air, and orchid and moss-festooned trees, the area is akin to a tropical Colorado.Here we photographed to our hearts content bird species such as Violet sabrewings, Little Hermits, Green-fronted Lancebills, Purple-crowned Fairys, wood creepers, flycatchers and many more. This lodge is also home to many orchids and beautiful plants and flowers.

We could have easily spent another two weeks in Costa Rica. We can’t wait to go back. The food, the people and the wildlife is just enchanting.

Here is a list of equipment to bring with you for a photo workshop with Nature’s Photo Adventures.

Recommended Equipment:
SLR Digital Camera of any sort. Two camera bodies will avoid you having to change lenses and potentially missing out action.
Preferably a minimum of 300mm lens with converters. A 500mm lens with a 1.4 tc. is perfect. For multi flash photography a 300mm/400mm or a 100-400 or 80-400 is perfect.
For Nikon users, the 200-400 F4 VR lens is great for this trip. This lens is relatively light, pin sharp and combined with a 1.4 converter you will seldom need anything else. The zoom capability will also allow you to compose efficiently meaning that you will seldom miss an opportunity.
For Canon users, we recommend a 70 -200mm F2.8 or F4, combined with a longer prime lens. The compact 400mm F5.6, which although lacks IS, is still sharp and incredibly light and manoeuvrable. Alternatively, the 500mm F4 with a 1.4 converter will be a fine prime of choice. A 600mm F4 is also a fine option but remember that manoeuvrability is essential in wildlife photography and this lens is big and heavy.
Any other lenses that you might have (i.e. wide angle, portrait or macro) should be brought along. These are small and light so why not pack them? We recommend at least bringing a wide-angle lens for landscape shots.
Your own camera support is a must. A heavy duty carbon fire tripod with a Gimbel head or ball head is best. Remember to use tripods and heads that are rated for more than your equipment actually weighs.
A flash and an off-camera flash cord are very beneficial to bring as well. We will be using flash often in the shadowy area of the rainforest and jungle. A Wimberley off-camera flash bracket is highly recommended to set the flash away from the camera. This will prevent our subjects from acquiring the dreaded steel eye!
Memory cards & card reader plus a storage device to download your images onto are also important. In this day and age memory cards are stable and we recommend a number of 8G–16G Sandisk cards.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Arctic Birds in Cambridge Bay Changing Weather Fantastic Birds!

Photographing Arctic Birds in Cambridge Bay
This year’s trip July 2011 to Cambridge Bay, Nunavut will be one to remember for many reasons.
Upon my arrival in Cambridge Bay four days before my guests arrived for the workshop, it was raining cats and dogs and the thermometer was hovering around 38 degrees Fahrenheit. So I ask one of the locals “is this unusual weather for this time of year”? His reply was, “sure is, we almost never see rain in June and July up here’. So the trip starts.

The idea of me getting there early with our guide was to scout bird locations for photography. One of the primary goals of the workshop was to find and photograph nesting Snowy Owls. There are basically three different roads to traverse by vehicle in Cambridge Bay. The one that was most likely to lead to the Snowy Owls was closed off due to a damaged bridge that had been rampaged by severe ice melt off and fast flowing water. When we made this discovery on the second day of scouting, we went as quickly as possible to the town hall to try and find out what, if any, were the plans for getting the bridge open. After all, this was the road that leads to one of the biggest attractions in Cambridge Bay, Mount Pelly. We were informed that they had called in an engineer to assess the situation and see what, if anything could be done quickly to get the bridge back open. We crossed our fingers and went about the task of scouting the tundra from the only two other roads open to vehicular traffic.
At this time of year the weather should be clear, reasonably warm for the high arctic and smooth sailing. Instead we found ourselves walking and scanning the tundra in pouring rain, drizzle, hail and even a snowstorm! We had no choice, we had a job to do so scout we did. For the next two days it continued with the rain and drizzle but we did manage to see and mark some wonderful spots for photo opportunities.
On the morning of the fifth day my guide and I headed out for some last minute scouting before our guests were to arrive at 1:30 that afternoon. We trekked about in the damp tundra managing to find a few birds of interest in places that would be possible good shooting locations. We saw very few Lemmings anywhere which did not bode well for the possibility of nesting Snowy Owls. We scanned every rocky rise and point on the horizon for that nest we wanted to find oh so badly, but no luck. Mother Nature, can’t live with her, can’t live without her!
So a quick lunch and it was off to the airport to meet the participants in the workshop. I was fortunate enough on this trip to have guests who have travelled with me before on previous NPA workshops. So when I showed up at the airport covered in mud and dirt from head to toe, the general response was “that’s what we like to see, someone who has been out in the bad weather finding us birds to photograph!” After a few hugs and handshakes it was time to get everyone checked into the hotel.
The road back from the airport managed quite nicely to coat everyone’s luggage with some mud spatters. By the time everyone was checked in it was still raining and the sky was showing no signs of improvement, an ominous start to the trip.
Although the workshop did not officially start until the following day, I asked our guests if they were interested in coming out to scout that evening after dinner. Almost everyone was eager to get out and see what was what, wonderful I thought.  
As a vehicle for a group of 8 of us, we were supposed to have an 11 passenger van. Last minute we found out that the vehicle we had reserved had transmission trouble and was not available. Luckily a local gentleman named Wild McDonald had 2 extended cab diesel pickup trucks available for us to use. If it were not for that I don’t know what we would have done, perhaps a lot of walking! As it turned out, having two separate vehicles with easy in and out access was much better than having one panel van. Sometimes things just work out for the best.
Well, we were out for 4 or 5 hours in the drizzle that evening but the weather report was showing improvement over the coming days of the trip. It is amazing to me the different moods and atmospheres between the group that can be created by having bad weather or sunshine. Bring on the sun........
Our first day of photography turned out to be pretty decent. For the most part the rain held off and everyone managed to get some good initial images of some Bonaparte’s Gulls, King Eiders and some Lapland Longspurs. We spotted a few other species such as Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, Ruddy Turnstones and a Sabine’s gull nest that we put in the GPS for the coming days.
Finally on the third day, the sun broke and everyone got a chance to see that amazing arctic midnight sun. It is almost indescribable if you have not witnessed it for yourself. The soft reddish orange glow imparts a warmness to the landscape and the birds that is second to nothing I have seen in my lifetime. Needless to say we stayed out until the wee hours of the morning photographing whatever we found. This happened to include some Ruddy Turnstones and a couple of beautiful Sabine’s gulls. We also found the nest of a Pacific Loon pair on a pond where we could try to set up blinds the next afternoon for a possible evening shoot of the loons.

The next morning, after another huge breakfast at the Arctic Inn we went off in search of some male King Eiders. We found a large pond with a fair number of the Kings but it was very large. We were lucky that there was still a lot of ice on this pond which restricted the area that the Eiders could swim away from us. Three of us set up on the edge of the pond and waited. When you first approach a pond with your intended quarry they will more often than not swim or fly away from you. Don’t leave! Sit down or better yet, lie down cover yourself with a portable blind blanket and wait quietly. Chances are you will be rewarded with some wonderful photo opps as the ducks start to return to their original spots. That is exactly what happened with the male King Eiders on this morning and we were all clicking madly when a few of them swam by us full frame! That evening I set up two participants in a blind by the Pacific Loon’s nest and left them there for a few hours. When I came back to pick them up there were ear to ear smiles as the loon had returned to the nest, tended to her eggs and quietly sat while the photographers recorded many high quality images and video footage. What a great day we all had!
One of the interesting and sometimes challenging things about photographing in the high arctic is that it is light out 24 hours a day. The sun never really sets. It gets low on the horizon but does not disappear.
 It is very easy to lose track of time and wonder in at 2 or 3 in the morning. As bird photographers we all want to make good use of the soft light when we have the chance. Sleep tends to become a secondary consideration on these trips. Most of us would take an hour or two in the afternoon to nap while the sun was at its harshest and not great for photography. This system seemed to work well for all of us. Luckily, the hotel had some thick dark curtains to help mimic the night for sleeping.
On the next day, we were informed that the bridge to Mount Pelly had been repaired and was going to open at noon that day. We were all smiles at that news! The morning saw us find and photograph an unexpected surprise, the very hard to find and hard to photograph Yellow-billed Loon! Actually, it was three of us, I was not one of them that were very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time when a Yellow-billed Loon flew in and landed on the pond very close to where they were sitting and photographing eiders. The loon hung around for about a half an hour and then did a nice fly by which they all captured great!
After we all saw the great images of the loon, we headed out for the road to Mount Pelly to search for snowy Owl nests as well as Peregrine Falcons nesting. These were to be two top highlights of the trip for everyone. Across the bridge we went in search of our Snowy Owls and Peregrine Falcons! Wait though, not a mile down the gravel road we see people coming the other way, car after truck after ATV. What is going on? As we stopped one vehicle to ask, they informed us that the road ahead over the hill was completely washed out and impossible to drive through to Mount Pelly. Great, just great. We continued ahead to see for ourselves that the road was indeed washed out and completely impassable. Now what? Somebody get me an aspirin, or a stiff drink!
We had to regroup and rethink what we were going to do for the remaining days of the trip. We really had no choice but to revisit the areas we had already been and search for new species and new photographic opportunities. As it turns out, not being able to travel the road to Mount Pelly was indeed a bit of a bummer but we did manage to do very well with all the other target species we wanted to see and photograph on the trip. These included more King Eiders and a female near her nest, Long-tailed Jaegers were seemingly everywhere, Buff-breasted Sandpiper on a nest, Snow Buntings feeding their young, Pectoral Sandpipers nesting, American Golden Plovers, and the icing on the cake, an Arctic Fox den with kits!
What started out as a somewhat frustrating and semi productive trip turned out great for all of us. As far as the Snowy Owls are concerned, well, there is always next year!