Friday, October 27, 2017

The Bears of Katmai

I recently returned from a great adventure. I traveled to Alaska to visit the Brown Bears in South-East Alaska

The Brooks River in the Katmai National Park and Preserve is a long way from the Midwest. It takes three or four airplane rides to travel all the way to Brooks Camp

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In September the Bears are busy with one thing: eating!!

Since leaving their dens in March and April, the bears have been busy regaining the 40% of body weight that was lost during the winter hibernation.

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The cubs and their mammas travel up and down the river fishing and grazing on late season berries.

These are 'cubs of the season'. Born in January, they emerged from the den with their mother in the spring. They will hibernate with her this winter and spend next summer with her as well.

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The juvenile bears that have separated from their mothers are out there too. When not eating they are often wrestling, practicing for the more serious battles that will take place in the future. The battles we saw could be loud and vigorous, but usually (but not always !) no blood is shed.

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The big male bears hang out at Brooks Falls. These bears are the expert fishermen. One bear might catch and eat six or eight salmon in a matter of a few hours. The guides said that we were witnessing a strong fall salmon run.

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Fields Afire !

Recently I had the great opportunity to document a prairie burn in the Kansas Flint Hills


The ranches in this grassland country use prescribed burns to clear the pastures of the dead grass from the previous season. This allows for more and better new grass and provides control the weeds and brush.


For the photographer this is an environment of heat, smoke, sharp contrasts in light, and sometimes smoke in your eyes.


The burning is highly controlled to provide the desired effects while minimizing risk.


Adding the light of fire to the shadows of dusk make for some striking images


A Conservation Discussion - for the readers with interest in preservation of natural environments, you may be concerned about the effects of fire on the prairie. No need to be concerned! Fire on these lands are a natural and beneficial event. See these articles from the Nature Conservancy and National Geographic.

The prairies of the Flint Hills and the larger Great Plains region would not have existed as wide open spaces without the actions of fire. Fire maintains the open nature of the grasslands. Without fire woody species sprout into the open spaces and eventually crowd out the grasses. You may have heard or read about the large and destructive wildfires in Kansas and Oklahoma this spring. These were in areas where controlled burning is not practiced. The invasive red cedars were a big part of the fuel for these fires.

You may be thinking that this is a practice that was introduced by the settlers from the east. Not True! Native Americans used fire for much the same reason that the ranchers do today. Burned areas grow more and better new grass. In this historic case the increase in new grass attracted more bison and other grazing species, which were a prime food source for the tribes. Additionally the grazing animals prefer the shorter grass areas because there is less cover for the predators to approach undetected. And in the geographic history of these lands prairie fire, sparked by lightning, are part of the geologic record.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Lake Naivasha

Lake Naivasha is a large freshwater lake in the Great Rift Valley of Kenya. While river-fed, Naivasha does not have a river outlet. Lakes of this type are usually salty. The geology of the Rift Valley is such that most lakes are high in soda, so that makes the fresh-water nature of the lake even more unique.


Lake Naivasha was our first stop after leaving Nairobi. One of the attractions is Crescent Island Nature Reserve. Within the reserve the major predators are excluded by a fence. Visitors are allowed to walk among the grazers that inhabit the area.

You go to Crescent Island by boat. The viewing of wildlife from the water would be a highlight of this stop. The image below is a Cape Buffalo feeding in the shallows, with a harem of Impala grazing on the shore beyond.



The boatmen knew how to call the local African Fish Eagles to come for small fish that the boatmen bring along. The following photos are of a couple of the eagles that came for the food.



And you can't visit almost any body of water in Kenya and not see Hippos!


While not geographically a part of the Maasai Mara, Lake Naivasha was a great up-close introduction to the wildlife of Kenya

- Dale

Our previous posts on Kenya

- The Maasai Mara