Winter Wildlife Images- Homer, Alaska

A pair of bald eagles share a perch.

Winters in Alaska can be a little lonley for a bear lover, but if you also like birds, moose, snow and incredibly rich low angle light, it is a wonderful season.  When the sun crests the mountains about 11 am, I am often hunting for images that can only be captured during the cold months.  The days are short indeed, but when the sun is out, it is stunning!  A few days ago the clouds broke about 2 pm, which allowed for 2 hours of spectacular sunset light.  We headed to beach on the Homer Spit to look for eagles, and found a few.  There were once hundreds of eagles on the spit in the winter when the famous Jean Keene(“the Eagle Lady”) fed the eagles fish scraps.  When Jean passed away a few years ago, the practice was prohibited, because the high concentration of eagles was not natural, and posed problems to other endemic bird life and domestic pets.  I do miss those days, however, when one could hang out with 300 very habituated eagles.  There are still lots of eagles around, and many still show their trust of humans.  A couple of them posed for me in the orange glow of the northern midday sunset. 

These eagles seem to enjoy each other's company.

Sweet light, 3 pm.

  As I was photographing the eagles perched on the driftwood I heard a familiar blowing sound behind me.  A stellar’s sea lion paused and glanced at me from the frigid blue waters. This was a special opportunity that I wasn’t expecting!  A least its a very close relative of bears!

Curious sea lion emerges from the cold, blue ocean and checks me out.

 

Eagle looking west from Homer Spit, Kenai Mountians in the background.

 I see eagles so often, and they have been photographed so much in the past, I need special circumstances to make an interesting image.  In the above image, I had great light angle, and a very nice backdrop.  The image below is a very unique perspective from an eagle perched on a light pole above me.  I am always a fan of the strange images.  At almost any location other than Homer, the these eagles wouldnt have let me get so close.  The legend of Jean Keene will live on for a while.

This bald eagle stares down at me from high atop a lightpost on the Homer Spit.

 

A bald eagle helps keep watch over the harbor.

Moose in the snowy hills above Homer takes a rest

 

For something totally different, I love to explore the high hills above town. This is a boreal forest environment at around 1,000 feet elevation. The snow depths here can be impressive, but before the snow gets too deep, which forces moose to move down towards the coast, they can often be found browsing on willows in creek drainages up high.  I found five moose in one quiet forested area, and they have remained there for the last week.  This young bull throws me a quick glance withhis mother behind.  It is very important to give moose a wide berth, because they have evolved a fighting spirit in the presence of grizzlies and wolves.   If they feel threatened, they can be a little arrogant, and they know how to use their long legs and hooves.   One should also keep in mind that if a moose had to flee an area because of harassment by dogs, photographers, or vehicles, they would be burning precious calories.  Many moose just barely make ends meet during the long, cold North Country winter.   

I went back to find the moose in the same spot on a sunny day.

This is a very relaxed, mellow moose.

Although the diversity of birds is a far cry from what it is in the spring, summer and fall, if you look hard enough, you can find some very beautiful species that tough out the elements. When I am looking for birds, my most valuable tool is my ears. I locate and identify the majority of my birds by listening for their unique calls. The best way to increase you birding skills is to go into the field with expert birders. Each year I take part in the local Christmas Bird Count. This year, my partner was Jason Sodgren, a very good birder and raptor expert. We braved 8 hours of blizzard conditions to count as many birds as we could during the daylight hours of December 17th. The data that we, and the other teams obtained helps with long term monitoring for conservation efforts. It really helped my birding skills as well. Here are a few birds we saw during the count, and in the days since.

Male downy woodpecker

This northern saw-whet owl was hanging around in the alders near my driveway on the banks of Bear Creek. A flash would have really brightened things up since it was such a gloomy day, but I didn't want to risk disturbing the little guy. I am still so excited to have seen him this close. I heard him for many nights in that alder thicket after I saw him.

 

Black-capped chickadee on a white spruce branch

 

Black-capped chickadee takes flight from a spruce branch.

Female pine grosbeak. Check out the robust beak, which is specialized for eating spruce cones and berries.

Female grosbeak under deep blue skies.

This juvenile goshawk landed for a few seconds, but took off when it saw me. I had a little gap in the branches to get a shot. Goshawks have been very common lately due to a cyclic abundance of snowshoe hares.

Female pine grosbeak in a mountain ash tree in my yard.

Pine grosbeak. Aperture of 4 nicely blurs the background colors, and makes the bird pop.

Female pine grosbeak in mountain ash tree

Having a giant mountain ash in your yard is priceless. I love grosbeaks.

Common redpoll in a birch tree at sunset. Taken on my front porch.
I spend half of the year around some of the most charismatic megafauna (big, popular animals) on earth, such as pandas, polar bears, grizzlies and wolves.  I could be spoiled, but I get just as excited by a tiny redpoll in beautiful light.  My favorite aspect of photography is that you can do it anywhere, at anytime.   A photographer sees reality a little differently.  He or she is constantly framing subjects and assessing light quality as he or she views the world.   Get out there, have some fun,  and take some pictures, no matter the season, or where you live.  The images are out there, you just have to find them.   For something exciting, check out Natural Habitat’s brand new Photography Expeditions

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23 Comments

  1. June Cunningham says:

    Hi Brad, Beautiful pictures. I am going to be seeing you again next July. I am bring 5 friends on the Homer Bear trip. You know one of them, Marcia, she was in Churchill with you a couple of years ago where I met her. Anyway, I enjoyed that trip so much 2 years ago, I need to repeat it. I was with the 2 gay guys (Steve and John) along with the German lady and Lois, my friend. Have a great holiday season, continue taking Wonderful pictures, and see you soon… June

    1. Brad Josephs says:

      Ha ha ha. yup. looking forward to seeing you in July June!

  2. Martha Scott says:

    Hi, Brad! What beautiful pictures! Looks like you’ve been having a lot of fun with your photography. Hope you and your family had a wonderful Christmas! Happy New Year!

    Martha

  3. allen josephs says:

    The grosbeaks and the redpoll remind me of idealized Chinese landscape paintings. Especially the first one, hanging upside down. Great work, Brad.

  4. Scott Davis says:

    Hey Brad,
    Great pics, I miss the winter trips to Homer I may have to plan one next year. You are still the big hit for the College students, they love the wolf/bear videos. Kathy and I are going to try and photograph some nuthatches today. If I get any I will put them on my web sdavisphotos.com.
    See Ya!!!
    Scott

  5. Marion Owen says:

    Hi Brad, and warm greetings from Kodiak! Thank you for sharing wonderful examples of great light and depth of field. I agree with Allen, the grosbeaks chowing down on the mountain ash berries make me smile. If it’s OK with you, I’ll use some of these as examples in my photo classes and workshops. You’re a class act! ; – )
    Happy New Year.

    1. Brad Josephs says:

      certainly Marion thank you!

  6. Gary Carter says:

    Hi Brad-These are really awesome pictures.You are a great voice for our natural world.I have the greatest admiration and respect for all you do.Wishing you a beautiful holiday season filled with much love and happiness.Gary Carter

  7. Charlie Butcher says:

    Great pictures Brad, keep that camera going in 2012, and Happy New Year
    Charlie Butcher

    1. Brad Josephs says:

      Hope you are good in Minnesota Charlie. Miss you!

  8. Bonnie Chartier says:

    A very merry holiday season to you and Melissa, Brad. Beautiful pictures. Interesting that we will be counting many of the same species in southern Manitoba. Have participated in two counts so far and my best bird was a Harris’s Sparrow. Got a Rough-legged Hawk yesterday.

    Have a joyous and prosperous New Year.

    Bonnie

  9. Debra says:

    You have captured some real beauty with your camera…and patience… well done…thanks for sharing…

  10. Chris Che says:

    Awesome pictures. Looking forward to more next year.
    Happy New Year!

    1. Brad Josephs says:

      Looking forward to working with you again in China Chris.

  11. Kara says:

    Amazing photos! The owl is my favorite. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Larry Wood says:

    Hey Brad, those moose pictures remind me of a story about a young lad, going to the U of A at Fairbanks, demonstrating just how feisty a female moose can be. You need to run faster, lad, that moose is gaining on you! Our best to the Josephs’ for 2012.

  13. Joyce & Chris says:

    Thanks for sharing such beautifulo photos. Envy you the ash trees, because birds do love them and it’s too warm here for them. Birds lots later in the Mid-Atlantic this year – at least a month. Saw our first massive flocks of snow geese over the weekend. Had an eagle fly over Xmas Day, nice. Happy New Year!

  14. Mary Ann L. Hiester says:

    I admire and envy all that you do, Brad. The photos are awesome! You are a great photographer, and you write beautifully! So many talents! Thanks for sending the photos. My favorite is the large image of the eagle. I also take pictures in our backyard of squirrels, chipmonks, and birds. Two weeks ago we had a buck and a doe in our yard. I was so excited! Happy New Year to you and Melissa.

  15. This is so cool, Brad! I love seeing your new photography.

  16. Katharine Jewler says:

    Hi Brad:

    Gorgeous pictures, as always. Really love the little owl.

    Katharine

  17. Linda French says:

    Brad your pictures are lovely. I live in Deep Cove N.S. and enjoy photography. I enjoy taking pictures of birds, and wildlife.

  18. Mamal, says:

    Dear Brad,

    I am writing to admit that I was

    so impressed and to be honest I personally adore you. I saw your captivating pictures accidentally while I was looking pictures of Alaska’s landscapes by my mobile phone. To tell you the truth, I have applied a visa to visit Alaska in this coming December 2012. Also, I downloaded your pictures

    I would like to meet you when I get in Alaska it would be my great pleasure to see you in person and an unforgettable meeting for me

    I am keenly looking forward to hearing from you soon.

    YOURS CORDIALLY,
    Mamal Rezazadeh

  19. [...] Photo credit to alaskabearsandwolves.com [...]

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