Monday, December 21, 2015

Grizzly Cubs in Denali National Park

 Alaska 2014 continued:


We are finally at the end of the Alaska trip!

While this was ultimately a birding trip--and we saw well over 100 species of birds, many of which were new to me--the parts that stick with me have more to do with the amazing scenery and other animals that we saw. From the boulder-strewn tundra of the Seward Peninsula to the glaciers of Resurrection Bay to the mountains of the interior, I was blown away every day by the beauty of this amazing state. We were lucky to see musk ox on the tundra, the only place on this trip where we could have seen them, and certainly something I could never see at home. Caribou too, and Dall sheep. Then of course all the marine mammals, like sea otters, Orcas, harbor seals, and Stellar's sea lions. Those beautiful, calm, clear days on the waters around Homer and Seward. Getting to join the 30% after being lucky enough to see a cloudless Mt. Denali (whose name has been changed from Mt. McKinley since I started this blog series). Spending ten days with eight of the nicest people you could hope to be stuck in a passenger van with.

But on that last day, with our trip though Denali National Park winding down, we were treated to the ultimate sight.

As we trundled along the dirt road in the tour bus, we spotted a grizzly fairly near the road, digging in the soil for insects and roots. She glanced up as we approached.

Grizzly sow less than 50 feet from the side of the road!

As we inched forward, two small brown blobs became visible.

Could it be?? 

There, scratching in the dirt as they imitated mom, were two first-year cubs.


To say we were delighted would be an understatement.

They scritched and dug and rolled around on the side of the hill. One paused to take a look at the bus as we idled on the side of the road.

He eventually got up and found a stick to chew on...

...while his sibling looked on.

I could have sat there all day, watching this family. To be so close, to have such an amazing view of them as they went about their day to day lives, roaming free, not in a zoo, not behind a fence--it was magical.

We were only able to spend a few minutes with them as another bus rolled up and waited their turn to take a look. While it was such a short time, it's an experience I'll never forget.

I cannot wait to go back.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Grizzly Mom and Second-year Cubs

 Alaska 2014 continued:

While all the up close looks of caribou, moose and Dall sheep were really nice, what we all wanted to see were bears and wolves. Wolves, it turns out, are in short supply in the Denali area these days as hunting and trapping in recent years has greatly reduced their numbers, and we did not see any. But on the return trip from the Eielson Visitor Center, we hit the jackpot with bears. First we spotted a lone grizzly a couple hundred feet from the road. We stopped to watch for a few minutes, then moved on the let another busload have a look.

Farther along the road someone spotted a large sow sitting on the side of a hill, watching our approach. We stopped to have a look. She did not seem too thrilled with our gawking. (Once again I had to shoot through the windows of the bus so the image quality is compromised.)

Grizzly sow eyeing our bus in Denali National Park.

She looked around and sniffed the air.

Soon we saw why--two second-year cubs came trundling up the hill towards her! She got up and walked off to our right, and the cubs followed.

A second-year cubs moves across the hillside, following mom.

The wind had really kicked up and it blew through their thick coats.

Mom paused at this creek while the kids caught up.

The soft afternoon light was gorgeous on the bears and the hillside.

The family continued to move to our right, until they were within 75-100 feet of the bus.

The littler of the two huffed it up the hill.

This is one of only a couple shots where I was able to get both cubs in the frame.

Even in June there were still patches of rotted snow in the hollows. As the bears pushed past us we moved along too. It was one of the most special moments of the trip for me. Watching these animals in their natural habitat was amazing. But before we came across this trio, we'd had another close encounter with a grizzly family, which will wrap up the Alaska blog series--but that's for next time!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Mammals of Denali

Alaska 2014 continued: 

I am determined to get this Alaska series done before 2016. I cannot handle the thought of being two years behind on this, tho admittedly there are other things I want to write about that are older than this trip. In any event, I have three more posts for Alaska, all of them in Denali National Park.

Considering we were only in Denali for about 12 hours, we saw a remarkable number of animals. And considering that the park and preserve total 6 MILLION acres, I was surprised by how many animals were near enough to the road to be easily visible.

We already visited the Dall sheep, which were literally so close to the bus I had to change lenses. We didn't see much more until we reached the Eielson Visitor Center, when I spotted a fairly tame Arctic ground squirrel munching on some tender leaves. Cute little things, they are one of only three mammals in Denali that hibernate over the winter. Smart!

Arctic ground squirrel
After our stop at the Eislson Visitor Center we started the drive back. The return trip proved much more fruitful for sightings. Odd, I thought, as it was now mid-day, but there you have it. This cow moose came up from a stream on our right. I can't recall now if she crossed the road in front of us or not, but at the very least she came within 30 feet of the bus.

Cow moose, shot thru the window.

There were lots of caribou along the route, with some once again quite close to the road. This cow watched the bus with interest.

Cow caribou watching us carefully

A small herd moved down the hillside from our left. This bull paused for a few nice shots.

A bit farther along we found this handsome fellow, by far the largest bull we saw on our trip.

Big bull caribou

According to Wikipedia, caribou bulls have the largest antler-to-body ratio of any animal in the deer family, and the second largest antlers after moose.

Someone spotted a red fox trotting along the road, and I managed a few shots through the window before he slipped off the road.

Red fox.
But one of the biggest treats of the tour was near the end of the ride, when we encountered this bull moose grazing to our left. He's either young, or his antlers have a long way to go. Either way, he was spectacular and, other than some VERY long-distance looks at two bulls in Yellowstone eight years ago, this is the only bull moose I've ever seen.

Bull moose about 50 feet from the bus. 

Such an impressive animal!

Next: BEARS!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

New Artwork--Grey Wolf and More

Here it is, the end of November, and I still haven't finished the Alaska blog series. Shame on me! When my schedule gets messed up I fall out of the habit--or just forget about it completely. The search for our lost dog, Mr. Pickles, took up an enormous amount of time this summer, and I did a record 18 shows this year, so I guess I should cut myself some slack.

While I haven't written my blog in months, I have been getting some artwork done, so there's that at least. Seven new pieces since February is pretty good, and I've already sold two of them.  You can order reproductions from my website,, or contact me directly if you're interested in an original: 734-223-8612, or email,

There are so many cool things I haven't been able to write about since I got so bogged down with Alaska. One of them that I will write about down the line is a day I spent at the Corkscrew Swamp Audubon Sanctuary in southern Florida. What a place! Largest stand of old growth cypress in the world. Right outside the visitor center was this gorgeous male Pileated Woodpecker, going to town on a pine in the evening light. I was so excited to finally get some great shots. This piece sold at the first show I had it at.

 Pileated Woodpecker, 8x10. Original SOLD, reproductions available

I have been reluctant to do the same subjects over and over, but I've decided that if that's what sells, that's what I should do. There are iconic subjects that are universally popular, and if I want to make a living at this I need to keep doing those subjects. While I like doing new things, Chestnut-sided Warblers are not a particularly popular subject. So I went back to the Common Loon well, a subject I hadn't done in about seven years. They are difficult birds to get good shots of, and I put this together from several different images. I also like the stippling effect for the water, and will probably carry this over to many other pieces.

"Between Dark and Light"
Common Loon, 20 x 10, framed to 24 x 14, $800.00, reproductions available

I did a number of shows in the Great Plains this spring and early summer, and felt I needed a bison for the prairie. There's another trip I need to write about--Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa. I had never been in those states before and what I expected was nothing like what I found there. Rolling hills, steep cliffs, HUGE sky, spring flowers, and lots of new birds for my list. This bison was one I photographed in North Dakota, at Theodore Roosevelt National Park (another trip I haven't written about!!) in the summer of 2013. He was actually a pretty old guy, so I made him a little more robust in my piece.

"Evening Primrose"
American Bison, 23 x 15, framed to 27 x 19, $1,800.00, reproductions available.

Another denizen of the prairie, this Eastern Meadowlark was photographed in Oklahoma in March. He was perched on a disc golf basket, so I traded that for a wooden post with rusty barbed wire.

"The Troubadour"
Eastern Meadowlark, 8 x 17, framed to 12 x 21, $700.00, reproductions available

Last summer I took a trip up to Tawas Point State Park (I know, I haven't written about that either!) to get images of Piping Plovers. Living in Michigan, I had no excuse for not having seen this bird, one of the most critically endangered birds in the U.S.  The male plover is the one who cares for the young once they hatch--mom literally flies the coop, often starting her journey south.

"Mr. Mom"
Piping Plover, 10 x 8.5, framed to 14 x 12.5, $495.00, reproductions available

I belong to a Michigan birding group on Facebook, and when pictures of cranes with their colts started popping up this spring, Lisa insisted we go to the metro park where they nest so I could get some shots. Sandhill Cranes are one of the few species I've done multiple times, and a crane with her colt was one of the first originals I sold. This piece took quite a while to complete--the bigger, the exponentially longer a piece takes, plus this one has all the stippling in the nest. I just love the fuzzy little guys peering out. The day was cloudy and chilly, and the little darlings shivered when not tucked up against mom.

"Safe Harbor"
Sandhill Cranes, 19 x 13, framed to 23 x 17, $1,500.00, reproductions available

Last but not least--the grey wolf. I have had so many requests for wolves, but they are difficult subjects to find. I've seen several in the wild--most recently in Ely, MN--but the encounter was either so brief, or I didn't have my camera, that I never got shots. So Lori and I drove down to Indiana to spend an afternoon at the Wolf Park. OMG. What a place. They have several small packs, and a small herd of bison, and beautiful enclosures. The wolves are socialized (not to be confused with domesticated). You can sponsor a wolf for a year, which allows you to go into the enclosure with your wolf--supervised of course. I asked my mom for a sponsorship for Christmas. But you can still get quite close, even outside the enclosures, and I got some fantastic images, all behind wire of course.  This is the first of what I'm sure will be many wolves to come.

"The Better To See You With"
Grey Wolf, 16 x 5.5, original SOLD, reproductions available.

My hope is to finish up the Alaska trip in my next post, then start on some of my other adventures. Winter is for artwork and blogging!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mr. Pickles Goes Missing

Blog writing always grinds to a halt for me over the summer, as I am running around with my hair on fire doing shows and trying to keep up with things on the home front. This year has been worse than past years, as I've done a number of out of state shows, back to back (to back), got wrapped up early in the year with some drama with my grandmother in Florida, and now, with the disappearance of our beloved beagle, Mr. Pickles.

The last weekend in July saw all three of us were out of town--Lori had a show up in Marquette, Lisa and I were headed to Ely, Minnesota. We made arrangements for Mr. P. to stay at my aunt's, as he has done many times in the past. He's a shy and somewhat fearful pup but he loves Terry, and she has the right personality to deal with his quirky-ness. But this time she was to be out of town over night one of the nights, and my uncle who lives nearby was to stay the night and watch Mr. P. and her dog Spirit.

Mr. P. and Louie, looking out the window.

Mid-afternoon Saturday, July 25 I got a call from Terry to say that Mr. P. had escaped from the house when Mike went to take the dogs out. Oh my heart just sank. I knew there was no way that crazy dog was going to come to Mike. And he didn't. Terry and her husband Joe drove all the way back from Chicago that night, getting in around midnight, to be there in the morning to help look for Mr. P. The problem is they had no way of knowing that by Sunday morning he was already five miles away.

Canoeing last summer

We were sick with worry, and left Ely Sunday as soon as we'd packed up the show--which we did in record time. We drove all night, stopping for just a few hours to try to get some sleep, which did not come easy despite our exhaustion. We arrived in Grand Blanc around noon Monday and joined the search. We determined that he had last been seen behind a church on Green Road near M-15 sometime Sunday afternoon, July 26, and that still stands as the last time anyone has seen him.

Oh sweet face!

Mr. Pickles clearly hasn't had it easy in life. He's afraid of most things, including loud noises, children, strangers, things thrown at him, strangers....  It is very hard to catch a dog who is afraid of everything. When we got him from the rescue he was filthy, had a yeast infection in his ears, rotting teeth, and has cataracts. He spent three days running around our house, terrified, until he finally decided I was his person, and he has been my constant companion ever since. The thing is, though, that he panics any time he can't find me. If he's asleep and I leave the room, and he wakes up, he will run around the house, frantic, trying to find me. He gets so frantic that he will run right by me, and I have to holler at him before he sees me.

Snoozing on the stairs.

We have done everything we can think of to get him back. Visited shelters. Gone door to door. Put up signs and posters and handed out fliers. Police, post office, delivery people. Started a Facebook page,, which already has over 500 likes and has reached a staggering 35,000 people. Put together a group of 12 people who drove the area August 1st, talking to folks and passing out info. We've driven backroads and scoured barns and farms and he is just nowhere. We are really afraid that something happened to him Sunday evening or night, that he died of heat stroke or had a heart attack or got hit by a car and crawled off into a cornfield to die.

But maybe he collapsed for a while behind the church, then left in the dark of night, still searching for me and our home, which of course is nowhere near where he got lost. At this point we have no idea where he is, and the haystack has gotten so big that we have had to give up actively searching for him, and instead hope and prey that he gives up and let's someone find him. We so desperately want him home.

Selfie with beagle, last fall at Hartwick Pines State Park

So we continue to search, to check shelters and take calls and hope and pray, and send good thoughts out to the doggie gods that he is safe and will come back home some day.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Dall Sheep, Denali National Park, Alaska

Alaska 2014 continued:

As we bounced along the road on a Denali National Park shuttle bus, we were on the lookout for wildlife. The bus was not overly crowed, which was really nice because I could move from one side to the other depending on where the critters were. One of the first things we saw was a small herd of Dall sheep on a hillside very near the road. Our driver stopped and we lingered for a while, watching the goings on.

It was June so there were, of course, babies.

Young Dall sheep..

They were a little rough looking, in the process of shedding their winter coats. I didn't mind--I'd never seen a Dall sheep and I was thrilled to get such close looks!

I initially thought this was a young male, but that didn't make sense after reading that the males hang out in groups with other males, and are only with the females at mating season. My assumption then is that this is a lactating female.

Scratching an itch.

The little ones are awfully cute!

Both sexes of Dall sheep have horns, though it's only the male's that curl around. It takes about seven years for the horns to fully curl, at which time the rams begin to compete with each other for mating rights.

As we drove along the road we came across a pair of rams as they moved down the slope to a shrub right next to us.

I had to switch lenses we were so close. It was hard not to squeal with delight.

A pair of rams munching on a shrub.

Evidently this is the only population of Dall sheep that is not hunted, and that still lives with large predators, so biologists study them pretty extensively. I also read that the park was established, back in 1917, to protect them from hunting, but I haven't been able to verify that.

Unlike antlers, which are shed each year, horns are permanent, and grow throughout the life of the ram. Ewe's horns stop growing after a couple years, and do not curl like the ram's.

This magnificent fellow paused on the hillside for several great shots. I expect he will be a new art piece somewhere down the road.