Wildlife in Fox, and along the Elliott and Dalton Highways
Photography - hints and tips gleaned from personal experience and learned from others
"With an emphasis on WILD"
The most important thing to remember about wildlife is these animals are completely UnPredictable! This is not a zoo with regular feeding times. Wild animals see you as either a threat (in which case they will either attack you or run away) or as a snack (in which case they will attack you). Do NOT try to attract them, do NOT harrass them, and do NOT let your pets interact with them. Feeding wildlife in Alaska is illegal and has large fines associated with it. And it normally ends with the death of the animal - they have to be shot because they become a danger to every human they come in contact with. Please respect the wild, and leave it as wild as you find it.
It really is best to view wildlife at a distance, so bring a good set of binoculars or a small telescope. For photography, a good distance lense is a must, althought the pocket cameras are getting very good these days. With a high pixel rate and built-in telephoto, you may be able to crop a photo and still get a good-quality print. A small tripod comes in handy too. Oh, and patience - bring lots of that. Wildlife moves to its own schedule and typically does not show up on cue.
Around the RV Park itself, you can see many types of birds - ravens, inland gulls, swallows, sparrows, ducks, chickadees, robins and so on. Sit quietly, listen and watch, and they'll often fly or land close by. Butterflys are often seen, and the dandelions are a favorite landing spot. In summer on warm days the dragonflies often appear in squadrons.
The local fox is most often seen down by the pond, or up in the back brush and overgrowth. He hunts for rabbits, voles, birds and frogs. Early mornings or late afternoons are good times to watch for him; and he's a bit shy if it gets noisy. If you see him, don't start yelling for everyone to come and look - he'll disappear in a flash. Texting or messaging on your cell phone may be a better way to spread the news.
Moose are most likely to be seen late evening thru early morning, and they often visit the pond during the summer. A mother moose with calf is very dangerous, and will attack if she feels threatened. If you see one, don't stare - they find that threatening. Turn you head away, and glance back out of the corner of your eye. If she urinates, move away - that's her way of telling you she's ready to fight.
There is a bear in the area; we haven't seen him but we have seen his scat in the yard and in the RV park. Bears are a good reason to sing songs while hiking. They normally won't bother humans as long as they know you're coming - it's when you surprise them that you're in the most danger from them. If a bear stands up, it's to see you better - they have poor eyesight. Try to make yourself look bigger, so the bear won't want to bother with you. Move slowly away at an angle, and do not run - running triggers the bear's chase response in which case you'd better have a very tall tree or a vehicle close by.
Going up the Elliott Highway north towards the Dalton you may see wolves, caribou, moose, ptarmigan, martins, lynx (if you're lucky), wolverines, bears, and other critters. If you take the Dalton Highway up to Prudhoe bay you'll normally see caribou and musk ox, bear, or maybe an Arctic Fox in his summer clothes. Summer of 2012 there was a lynx in the Gobbler's Knob area. Atigan Pass normally hosts a herd of Dall's Sheep. There are fish in the streams as well; young grayling often hang out near the culverts that pass under the road.
Keep your eyes open; you never know what you might see. Take advantage of the visitor's centers to learn more about the wildlife in the area; we highly recommend the one in Coldfoot half-way up the Dalton as an information source for current viewing possibilities and for learning about the surrounding area and its inhabitants.
"The best camera is the one you have with you"
Wish I could remember which photographer I was reading when I came across that quote. What is a good camera to bring to Alaska? Bring what you are comfortable shooting pictures with. The fanciest camera in the world won't be much good if you don't know the settings, or it's too heavy, or you're worried about dropping it.
Different folks will be comfortable with different camera types. Sometimes a cell phone with camera or video capability works just great! Practice with it before hand so you're familiar with the controls and can snap a quick photo without hunting for the right button.
For the casual photographer a point-and-shoot digital may be just the thing; they tend to give you really good pictures even if you don't know an F-Stop from an ISO. They work equally well for close-up views of flowers or a quick shot of a fast-moving bear from your vehicle as you go up the road (you're the passenger, right?) And if you feel the urge to learn how to use the settings, many of them have a help manual in the camera itself - no more lost or soggy paper manuals.
For the more sophisticated or practiced photographer, you likely already know what camera you want to bring. We suggest an assortment of lenses depending on what your goals are for the trip. Flexibility is always a good idea; you may start the trip thinking you want to return with certain types of pictures, and then change your mind once you get here. Alaska is a wonderful place to get some fantastic photos, and yet no photo will ever do it justice.
For those that still prefer the old-style film cameras, bring plenty of film - you'll need more than you think. Two camera bodies with interchangable lenses is a good idea if you have them - that way you can be ready to shoot close-up or distance just by grabbing the camera you need for the shot.
Regardless of which style of camera you use, there are several ways to approach photography.
- You can set up in a single spot and wait to see what materializes. Choose your spot wisely by watching wildlife movements, or how the sun moves through a field of flowers.
- You can carry your camera in hand for a quick shot when movement is seen.
- You can wander around and just pull out the camera whenever anything interesting appears (this actually works better than you might think, even with wildlife)
A good tripod may help, again depending on the kind of pictures you want t take, and your photo strategy. One of the best features of digital cameras is you can take as many zany, crazy, "this may not turn out" shots as you want, and then just delete the ones that don't work. Sometimes the unexpected occurs, and that shot you though was a dud turns out differently than planned and in a very cool way. You may want to bring both digital and film cameras, and even a video camera, just to try different things. Bring what you think will interest you the most; Alaska will provide the rest.
Here are a few links to photos taken here on the grounds of the Northern Moosed:
March 2012 - Mama and Baby Moose, Ptarmigan
(Camera: Canon Elph point-and-shoot)
Summer 2011 - Plant Life as Still Life
(Camera: Canon Elph point-and-shoot)