David Nichols
Wildlife Photographer
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recent trips...

trip to the Varanger Peninsular 2001

trip to Bosque Del Apache 2002

'Alaska 2002'
Part one
The Kenai Peninsula and Kachemak Bay

Anchorage, 29th May, 3.00am; after 24 hours travelling and three plane changes, they could fly over the pole, half the distance and half the time, anyway I'm here now.

6.00am, I'm wide-awake (after all its 3.00pm back home) I eat breakfast and leave with my gear. First stop Potter Marsh, there's some good stuff here, Greater Scup, Canvass back, Mew Gull nesting but the lights poor I'll come back. Later I make some good images of Ducks and Gulls low down and close up, a good start.

My girlfriend, Karen, arrives and we leave for Homer the next morning in the rain. Two hours along Highway1 the weather improves and seeing Mount Redoubt towering in the distence inspires us. Stopping to rest at Kinilchik Karen explores the Russian Church while I spend several hours stalking Harlequin Duck along the river, finally, using the truck for cover I craw up to a solitary male standing on a rock and get some great shots.

Homer Spilt 31st May; the day starts well with an obliging Adult Bald Eagle prepared to put on a show. This boat trip should be fun; I always worry about boats, not that I'm afraid of water (I raced sailing boats in my youth) no, its that boats tend to move about just when you don't want them to, right at the moment when your going to get that competition winning image. Motoring out to Gull Island, the weather is calm and the sea flat, that's a start. It was an excellent trip; Carl, our skipper was good to work with. Using my 500mmIS on a tri-pod at the back of the boat I made sharp and well-exposed images of Seller Sea Lion, Sea Otter (see Shot of the Month for May), Black Oystercatcher and Red-faced Cormorant.

During the afternoon, sitting in the hot tub with a cold beer………

'There's a Moose out front' in wet shorts and a towel I grab the camera. A young male is chomping grass by the drive. 'Now aren't these blokes dangerous?' No, 'you'll be OK' Bob our host assures me, 'he looks pretty relaxed' So I'm taking shots and the Moose, walks right by just a few feet away, just ignored me, must have been the shorts. Now, that's not how that female behaved but that's another story.

Saturday, my friend and fellow photographer Peter Coe arrives and I organise another boat trip. We are spending the next two weeks visiting Nome and Barrow. After a cruse to see the fjords and photograph Orcas, Karen returns home, Peter and I fly to Nome where our trip really begins.

Part 2
'There's no place like Nome'

Nome Alaska, almost as far west in the US as you can get and the finishing point of the great Iditarod Trail Sledge Dog Race which takes place on the first Sunday in March, 1200 miles in less than 9 days! A frontier town where every third building on main street is a bar, home to some of the friendliest people you'll ever meet and the bird life OUTSTANDING!

Arriving at 9.30am to blue sky and bright sunny weather we set about our work. At midnight looking back over the day we agree that it ranks as one of the best. Red-necked Phalarope, Western and Semipalmated Sandpiper, Red Fox, Sabine's Gull followed by an evening shooting Red Throated Diver and Long-Tailed Duck, truly awesome.

Visiting the excellent Nome Visitors Information Centre we quickly discover good areas to try and on this morning warblers are the targets. After finding Yellow and Blackpoll Warbler plus Grey-cheeked Thrush we make some good images.

Twenty miles east on a good dirt track is Safety Lagoon; Peter spots a Mongolian Plover feeding with a group of shorebirds but due to poor light we are unable to get good shots and on returning to the visitor centre to report the find there seams to be some doubt as to our identification. 'Are you sure you didn't see this'? A Birder pointing to a picture in a textbook of a Red-necked Phalarope asks. Is this bloke having a laugh, the jizz? I think to myself. Oh, and then there's the Ruff that I found, that's another story.

Bristle-thighed Curlews are 70 miles north along the Kougorok road but its closed. Nome council cleared the road a few days later so off we went in search of the 'Curlew' and what a day. American Golden Plover at the nest, close-ups of Whimbrel and finally the Curlew. It's a tough hike and you need to be fit but the pains worth it. Oh, I nearly forgot Arctic Tern nesting on the road side, lying in the dirt with the lens on a bean bag making close ups at midnight in soft sunlight, moments to remember.

Eight days in Nome, possibly the best eight days of wildlife photography I've experienced, no days lost to bad weather and a limitless supply of good subjects to work with. Lasting memories of nesting Long-tailed Skua and Western Sandpiper photographed in wonderful soft light, Red Fox at Cape Nome, Grey Plover and Musk Ox on the Teller Road.

Over a beer at the Polaris Bar, we discuss the nest leg of our trip. 'Barrow, the weather will be far colder, wonder if I'll get to use that new down jacket?'

Part Three
Polar Bears and Snowy Owls

Barrow, the most northly point of the USA is home to about 4000 people and has all the amenities of a large town. Arriving at 8.00pm it's a bright sunny evening, again, we make the most of the good weather.

Its good luck to meet a fellow photographer and filmmaker, Tim Gallagher, who in the space of an hour give us a guided tour of the best areas. This turns out to be absolutely invaluable and saves us a lot of time. Photographing until 2.00am we make cracking images of Pectoral Sandpiper, Grey Phalarope, Buff Breasted Sandpiper and Long-billed Dowitchers feeding in the roadside pools plus Arctic Redpole on the nest.

In morning the weather is still fine so making the most of glorious light we photograph a Snowy Owl from a hide. (See Shot of the month for June).

Over the next two days we experience our first spell of poor weather that confines us to our hotel, a good time to catch up on sleep. On our last day the weather clears; King Eider, Semipalmated Plover and Red-necked Stint are all added to our growing portfolio.

The return flight to Anchorage has a surprise in store; the evening is clear without a cloud, our Alaska Airlines pilot flys over Mount McKinley providing passengers with a breathtaking and awesome view.

Part Four
Around Anchorage and home

Its good to be back in Anchorage where the temperature is in the 70s and we can catch up on the world cup results.

An evening trip to Potter Marsh nets us superb displaying Greater Yellow Legs, Mew Gull, Arctic Tern in flight and Red-necked Grebe on the nest. It's a fitting end to a wonderful trip.

I leave Anchorage on the 19th June having exposed 105 rolls of film containing over 50 species of birds and 9 mammals.

This was my third trip to Arctic regions in as many years, Churchill in 2000 and Norway in 2001. During both of those previous trips I lost critical days to poor weather. I guess the weather plays a big part for my enthusiasm, but this was one of my best trips ranking along side my visit to the Keoladeo National Park in India during February 2001.

As I sit here two weeks later writing this article and editing my photographs I know two things for sure, one, in three weeks I barely scratched the surface so I'll be back next year with a new agenda; two, Alaska is a beautiful and untamed wilderness, long may it remain so.

David Nichols
Wildlife Photographer – July 2002

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