This is one-holiday title that promises a lot – the native wildlife of Alaska, i.e. Bears, Eagles & Whales, plus Glaciers. But this trip delivered so much more! Based in Juneau, the aim was to find the Coastal Brown Bears in a specific wilderness area, & to track down the hump-backed whales migrating south before Winter. We also knew that there would be Bald Eagles almost everywhere, & we hoped that we might get sightings of resident or transient pods of orca. But the wildlife of Alaska is much more abundant.
For the first day, the focus was upon the Coastal Brown Bears. NaturesLens chartered a floatplane to take us from Juneau to Admiralty Island. The flight itself was a buzz, well it was for an aviation enthusiast like me, a DHC-2 Beaver, a piece of Canadian aviation heritage, designed in the late 1940s & built to do the bush-flying job. Not a lot of refinement but rock-solid.
A short 30-minute flight saw us wading ashore at Admiralty Island. This a designated wilderness area & it was what it said on the tin. No facilities other than a choice of rocks to sit on & a bear-proof container for our food.
After an orientation briefing from the Ranger, we walked a short distance to the bear viewing point, & not long after that, the bear-fest began.
The bears are used to humans being in that particular spot &, while undoubtedly wild, they did not bother us. We spent practically the whole day in the company of a sow & 2 cubs, & a sub-adult male bear who was the sow's grandson – not that it got him any favours. To her, he was a potential threat to the cubs & she treated him accordingly. We also sighted at some distance a further sow & one cub, & a more substantial solo, probably, male.
The weather was due to be typically Alaskan – wet. However, we were fortunate; the rain only lasted a few hours & that, surprisingly, was it for the week. Having brought clothing for three seasons, we spent most of our time in T-shirts.
The rest of the week, we alternated venues. Three days with the emphasis on sea mammals & other wildllife of Alaska, & two days visiting the fjord & glaciers of Tracy Arm.
Having started with the thrill of being up close with brown bears, the next day broke the bank! During our first morning with our expert Captain, we were utterly spoiled; the humpbacks put on a great display of pectoral fin waving, chin-slapping, tail-fluking and, of course, breaching.
There were times when we didn't know which way to look; it was happening all around us! The whales, we think, were showing the young with them the art of being a humpback. As the family groups were cruising, they often surfaced to breathe close to the boat & we experienced the heady mixture of fish breath & saltwater – simply lovely! Other days, we did see humpbacks but nothing like on the first day. But it wasn't just about whales; over the week, we also saw Stellar Sea Lions, seals, Dall's porpoises, bald eagles &, a rarity that far North, a Pacific Sea Otter.
The afternoons following our whale watching trips, we explored the local area finding streams stuffed with salmon, bear fishing sites, eagle congregations, picturesque vistas, a cable car to one of the surrounding mountains, & waterfalls & a glacier.
The Mendenhall Glacier terminates very close to Juneau & is a big tourist draw. With Nugget Falls alongside, there's plenty of opportunity for the landscape photographer. Additionally, in the lake on the glacier approach road, we were lucky enough to spot a beaver, & a pair of black bear cubs playing.
Further, as an access port of call for cruise ships, there's no shortage of shopping experiences, but you need to be somewhat discriminating to find quality, locally made, arts & crafts. For the less cerebral, there's the Alaskan Brewery & the chance to examine critically, & solely in the interests of science, the variety of local brews!
The voyage to Tracy Arm takes about 3 hours, during which one can take in the magnificent Alaskan scenery. The passage follows waterways threading between thickly forested mountainsides, sweeping steeply right down to the sea, post-glacial inlets, & isolated islets. Wildlife is equally not far away & it was on one of these journeys that a pod of orca visited us. They played around the boat for a good 10 minutes before heading off.
Arrival in Tracy Arm just about takes the breath away. Navigating a rip current, we headed into a classic fjord, steep sides, high peaks & deep waters. This is one occasion where having a polarizing filter brings out the colours in the sky, sea & forest.
But there's a further dimension – icebergs or, to be more accurate, remnants of icebergs – sculpted by the air & water into great shapes with a depth of blue colour born of the pressures in the parent glacier. If you're lucky (and we were), you get a bald eagle perched on a berg & seals on the sea ice. The journey up the fjord terminates at the South Sawyer Glacier – a tumbling mass of deep blue & white ice. You hope that the glacier is going to ‘calve' – that a block of ice will fall off the visible wall or, better still, break away underwater & surface as an iceberg.
The final facet of the holiday were the sunsets. The sun goes down behind the coastal mountains, setting up classic silhouettes but also playing on the waters. We experimented with ISO & metering, producing some stunning images.
This was such a packed week. David & Pui Hang, as usual, had researched the possibilities & found us the best guides. But we also found other opportunities upon which to build. I travelled as a client this year, but I'm so pleased that David & Pui Hang have asked me to lead the next NaturesLens trip to the area in 2021. It's going to be a blast, so why not come & join me & see the landscapes & wildlife of Alaska for yourself.
PHOTOGRAPH THE BEARS, EAGLES, WHALES & GLACIERS OF ALASKA YOURSELF
To photograph the Bears, Eagles, Whales & Glaciers of Alaska yourself, join Ian, in Juneau during 2021 for a trip lasting 7 nights. This photography holiday is ideal for capturing images of orca, humpback whales, bald eagles & brown bears plus amazing landscapes & glacier-scapes!
The photography holiday is offered on a half board, non-shared basis. Group size for this photography holiday a minimum of 4 participants & a maximum of 5, plus Ian.
All the details of the Bears, Eagles, Whales & Glaciers of Alaska photography holiday are available on the dedicated event page.