What a day! We met up with our pilots Derick and Joe of Alaska Bear Adventures out of Homer at 6:30AM Monday morning for a briefing and fitting of hip waders. Then we boarded two Cessnas (I got the co-pilot seat) for the one hour flight to Katmai National Park to see Coastal Brown Bears, AKA Grizzly Bears. When Derick spotted a couple of bears near the shoreline, we landed…on the beach! The next five hours was indeed an Alaska bear adventure.
For most of the day, we watched a mama bear and her three almost grown cubs, fish for salmon that were beginning their run from the ocean inland. Derick and Joe kept us safe and always with bears in view for us to photograph. They knew how close to approach the bears. Most of the time shooting, we knelt so as to minimize our presence. The bears want to be the biggest thing around so we knelt while shooting to appear smaller. We were rewarded twice with Mama and all three cubs walking up to and by us without incident. The first time, Derick made sure mama bear kept moving as she passed within a dozen feet of us, even stopping to defecate right next to us. The second time, Joe knelt next to me as one of the cubs made a bee-line directly towardus. I kept shooting while Joe calmly redirected the cub, but not before I got these shots. Just about the time Joe made sure the bear moved away, using only his voice and not the protective flare he carried, the bear’s face filled the frame and was too close to focus. My lens can’t focus any closer than 10 feet.
It was the adventure of a lifetime! Because of weight limitations on the airplanes, most of us used our lighter Nikon Z7 mirrorless cameras. I also used my 500mm PF with a 1.4x teleconverter. The teleconverter was overkill for these two shots.
The cooperative Violet-crowned Hummingbird that we encountered at The Nature Conservancy’s Preserve in Patagonia, AZ posed all afternoon for us. After the monsoon downpour, he seemed unfazed and sat on one of the metal perches surveying his territory.
In Big Sky country, the roads seem to lead directly into the big skies.
When we visited Nevada City, Montana last month, I saw a red cart resting outside one of the buildings. Its bright yellow wheel caught my attention even more than the red cart. The early morning sunlight cast a trio of shadows.
Nikon D850, Nikkor 105mm f/1.4
The feeders in Madera Canyon were dominated by aggressive male Broad-billed Hummingbirds. There were a few other species that occasionally attempted to feed but usually, whenever the male Black-chinned hummers or the male Rivoli’s Hummingbirds approached the feeders, they were harassed mercilessly by the Broad-bills and driven away. Thefemale hummingbirds, however, didn’t seem to suffer the same harassment that the males did. And, they were usually more cooperative, darting to and from the feeders over and over, giving us more opportunity for photographs. Here are two of the females, one a Black-chinned female, the other, a female Broad-billed hummingbird.
Nikon D5, 500mm PF Lens.
On the Fourth of July, I tried out my MIOPS Lightning Trigger for the first time. My subject was (illegal) neighborhood fireworks. In Madera Canyon last week, I got a chance to test the MIOPS on real lightning and there was nothing illegal about it. And wow! It really works. I set up the camera on a tripod, manually focused, and the MIOPS did the rest. Every time it sensed a lightning strike it took a photograph. Despite it being Monsoon season, I didn’t capture any dramatic cloud to ground strikes but the MIOPS senses cloud to cloud lightning as well. This is one of the shots I got on my first attempt on our first day in Madera Canyon. It was also one of the first times I used the Nikon Z7 Mirrorless camera and the Z 24-70 f/2.8 lens. What a great combo.
Most of the hummingbirds surrounding us in Madera Canyon last week were Broad-billed Hummingbirds. The brilliantly colored feathers of the males make them seem like flying aquamarine and emerald jewels.
Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm PF.
On the way back to the Santa Rita Lodge after dinner in Green Valley on Wednesday, we went out intending to photograph lightning but before the lightning show began, we were treated to a beautiful striated sunset with intense oranges and deep reds. I used my longest lens, the Nikkor 500mm PF and the Nikon Z7 with FTZ adaptor. The scene reminds me of photographs depicting atmospheric depth, only with clouds not mountains (except for the single stratum of mountain range at the bottom.
A visit to The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia and Sonoita Creek Preserve south of Madera Canyon on Wednesday was quite an experience. We spent most of the day at the visitors center where the patio’s hummingbird feeders attracted lots of gorgeous hummers. This Violet-crowned Hummingbird was most cooperative and he had attitude! He appeared to be the dominant hummer in the area and for most of the day, he was the only Violet-crowned hummer there. Most of the other hummers there were Broad-billed hummers. When another Violet-crowned perched near one of the feeders, this tough guy stared him down and ultimately chased him off. Here he is, with his tough-guy stare, stretching and drying off after an incredible monsoon downpour that flooded the patio. Thunder was so loud after one lightning bolt that we all flinched at the sound. It must have struck something very close.
We took our hummingbird photo rigs with us to Patagonia. Nikon D5, 500mm PF lens, two SB5000 Speed lights with Impact soft boxes.
It’s been a Zwonderful week! I got a chance to try out my new Nikon Z7, Nikon’s new mirrorless camera. Until last week, I had no plans to get a Nikon Z mirrorless camera but circumstances change and I am now convinced that it is a perfect addition to my camera bag. I hadn’t planned to use the Z for wildlife but on Thursday, Moose convinced me to try it. And, I am pleased with the results.
I’ve been in Madera Canyon in Arizona. We saw at least a half dozen different species If hummingbird, including Broad-billed Hummingbirds, Rivoli’s Hummingbirds, Violet-crowned Hummingbirds, and a first for me, the Blue-Throated Hummingbird. The Rivoli’s and the Blue-throated are two of the largest hummingbirds in the US. We stayed at Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon and we did most of our shooting in the patio areas between our cabins. The Z7 won’t replace my Nikon D5 as my primary wildlife camera but it served me well on this trip and I captured some marvelous photographs using it with my Nikkor 500mm PF with the FTZ adaptor. In fact, one of my favorite shots from the trip is of a species that I saw for the first time, the Blue-throated Hummingbird.