A willow ptarmigan kicks up snow as it bursts into flight to rejoin the rest of the nearby flock.
One of the other hardy species I came across on a daily basis in Denali where the willow ptarmigan. With their almost all white feathers apart from the red upper eyelashes and their black tails, they are sometimes hard to find. Fittingly, this one made its way through some willow bushes to browse on the freeze-dried leaves. These birds are quiet adaptable. When storms blow in or when predators are around they will fly into the snow and bury themselves beneath it to either wait out the storm or avoid being seen.
On a recent trip up to Alaska for some work with caribou, I took a quick detour down to Denali National Park to get in a few days of photography before the real work started. It was mid April and the road into the park was still barely even open. Night time temperatures were around -20 Celsius and a balmy -5 during the day! Early on the first morning I came across this cow moose as she made her way across a still frozen pond. Golden eagles had returned. but other than that there were few signs of spring. However, the wonderful sound of silence, the few hardy animals I came across and the amazing surrounding scenery was still well worth the detour.
The section of road between Tok, Alaska and the US/Canada border was unbelievable for the number of caribou roaming near the roads. Everyone is allowed to hunt in Alaska and most do so the animals outside the parks are a bit more wary of people! As long as cars don’t slow down they continue to move about normally, but as soon as vehicles start to slow down they run for the trees. I stopped a fair distance from this herd to try not to disturb them, but after a few seconds of standing and staring at me, they sprinted off for the cover of the forest. I quickly snapped off a few photos before they disappeared. With the nice backlighting and snow flying up all around them it made for a great photo.
Starting off the latest photo collection with a bang! I just got back from helping some colleagues up in Alaska and took a few days to drive between Whitehorse, Yukon and Fairbanks, Alaska. A quick side trip down to Denali National Park paid off with four lynx sightings within a day! This was the first time I have seen lynx in the wild and I couldn’t have asked for a better photo opportunity. I was driving down the highway just north of the small town of Healy. The light was perfect and the surrounding mountains looked spectacular. I was scanning for wildlife when I spotted what I initially thought was a coyote. I hit the brakes and as I passed by it I realized it was a lynx! I think at this point I swore in excitement and my swearing continued when I realized I hadn’t set up my camera properly. I had switched lenses to photograph the mountains and had forgotten to switch back to the telephoto. I almost always make sure my camera is set up beside me ready to go in case any fleeting wildlife crosses in front of me on the road and I thought this mistake would cost me the opportunity to get photos. I frantically fumbled with the lenses and camera making sure I had the correct settings before I started to back up the car to get in position. Thankfully, the lynx stayed in the clearing and as I backed up I noticed a second one! Likely last year’s kittens as they weren’t fully grown yet. I managed to get a few shots off before they turned and disappeared into the trees. I quickly hit the playback button to see if I had managed to get any good shots and I was thrilled when I saw this one! The next day my lynx luck continued as I saw two more in Denali National Park. One was running down the side of the road hunting for snowshoe hares while it’s partner stayed on the other side of the snow bank. Unfortunately the light wasn’t great for photos and they lost the hare they were chasing, but it was still amazing to see. Overall the trip was a huge success with lots of great wildlife sightings, including numerous barren ground caribou, northern hawk owls, a dark phase red fox and beautiful scenery. Over the next few weeks I will post the best photos from the trip.