Untamed Land

Untamed Land
Untamed Land

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Goodbye to St. Paul

This last post from the Pribilof Islands is just a random assortment of photos from St. Paul that did'nt get included in the previous posts. The Arctic Fox in the photo above is not like the typical dark island form. It has a lot of white in its fur. This is more typical of the mainland foxes that turn completely white in the winter. It is believed that some foxes cross the ice cap in the winter when the islands are encircled in ice. A long journey to survive.
One last photo of a fox pup.
And a Northern Fur Seal.
I only managed to get two photos of a Pacific Wren that were remotely close to being in focus. It would not sit still and the light was very dim. This bird is no doubt accustomed to being wet.
I was standing in this blind when I shot the previous photo of the wren. One of our guides, Scott is standing with his back turned. Jeff from Wales is next to him and Ann his wife is watching seals behind them.
This juvenile, Gray-crowned Rosy Finch is perched on the same blind.
A Rock Sandpiper near James Heath's grave.
A bad photo of some distant Fork-tailed Storm Petrels in the fog.
Long-tailed Ducks tend to stay well out of camera range. I am not sure if these are females or immature birds.
This is a typical post breeding female.
One last look at a Least Auklet from behind.
A nice comparison of a Parakeet, and Crested Auklet.
A resting Parakeet Auklet keeping a wary eye on me. You can see by the holes in the rocks that this is a volcanic island.
Someday I would like to get even better photos of Horned Puffins. I'll need to upgrade to better photo equipment but I don't want to lug around a tripod and heavy lens. Better to wait for technology to make everything smaller, sharper, faster, and lighter. I think its all coming. Will I live to enjoy it?
This Tufted Puffin may not be the best photo of the trip, but it is the last.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Over the Edge

Personally I have never really suffered from vertigo, and climbing up or down precarious cliffs never really bothered me much. As I have aged I have lost much of my youthful agility. My sense of balance is nothing like it used to be. I have become a clumsy oaf. Fear of heights has crept into my heart. 

Below the edge of the nesting cliffs on the Pribilofs there are often narrow ledges that are utilized by the various alcids and other seabirds. These are Crested Auklets above, a new and very beautiful species for me.
The only problem is that, in order to get good views of them, we had to climb down treacherous ledges to get close to them.
The birds must have a natural fear of Arctic Foxes, but when humans join them on the ledges they show more curiosity than fear.
If you want to get a nice portrait of a Crested Auklet, you have to climb down the cliff. I really worried about the rocks giving way beneath my feet. I could even imagine them starting to shift under my weight. The experience was worth the stress I felt.
To me the real stars of the show are the Tufted Puffins. I have painted them many times. Those are Crested Auklets with the puffin to show the size difference.
Although I have seen hundreds of puffins from a distance, this trip is the only time that I have been able to get passable photos. I would have loved to have a better camera and stronger light, but I'll take what I can get.
This bird will no doubt show up in a painting sooner or later.
You can see this bird in the top photo of this post. See if you can pick it out. It will give you an idea of what steep rocks I had to climb down to get this photo. The same goes for the photo above this one.
The other puffins on the island are the Horned Puffins. My camera had a hard time dealing with the strong contrast of the bird's black and white plumage. They were just as common as the Tufted Puffins.
One ledge was too scary for me. I sat down and scooted up to the edge on my butt. Then I dangled my legs over the edge and looked down. This Horned Puffin was right below me. It never even flew. 
That was enough rock climbing for me and I slowly clambered back up to the top of the cliff.
Before heading up I got a photo of a bull, Fur Seal on the rocks at the bottom of the cliff.
I'll end this post with a photo of our guide Doug at the top of the cliff where we started down. You can see that it was scary enough just getting down to the edge of the cliff.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Saga Continues

Back at the Northeast Point of St. Paul Island we saw some Ruddy Turnstones, but what are the other shorebirds with them? Any guesses?
This photo should be good enough to help anyone with a field guide to North American birds identify the species. It looks very similar to a Dunlin, but don't be fooled, the Dunlin has a longer beak and darker legs. It was by far the most common shorebird on the island, both on the shore and inland. It has been a difficult species for me. I have had a hard time finding them and keeping the field marks straight in my head, especially in Winter plumage.. I wonder how many Rock Sandpipers I have seen in the past and passed them off as Dunlins?
The Pribilof subspecies of 'Rock Sandpiper' is larger and has more white in its plumage than other forms.
A Rock Sandpiper chick.
Among other species of shorebirds, we saw Red-necked Phalaropes. There were even more Red Phalaropes, (Grey Phalaropes in the Old World), but they stayed far away from us.
On the far side of the same marsh we saw a pair of Red-throated Loons. This one came close enough for a distant photo. Too bad it was so foggy.
Another new bird for me was this moulting/sub-adult? male, King Eider.
A bird that nests only on the Aleutians and the Pribilofs. It is rare and declining even on those islands. I'm not sure if it also nests on a few islands on the Russian side. This is a sub-adult, Red-legged Kittiwake. Another lifer.
The adult is very cute for a gull. This is one of the first birds that I saw upon arrival to St. Paul. It was with some Black-legged Kittiwakes on the dock.
While we walked along the top of some seabird nesting cliffs, we spotted several Arctic Fox pups.
They ducked down into their burrow and poked up their heads often to keep an eye on us.
The real stars of the Pribilofs are the puffins. This Horned Puffin is a preview of the next post when we drop below the edge of the cliff. It was at times precarious and a little scary for me.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Painted Foxes

More blog posts about the Pribilofs are being temporarily waylaid by my latest paintings. The photo above is an extreme close up of part of a painting that I completed just before I went to the Pribilofs.
Another close up from the same painting.
The complete painting, "In The Foxhole", 9x12".
The distinctive, Arctic Foxes on the Pribilofs inspired me to do a painting. I thought that this photo would be a good choice as the basis of a painting.
I liked the mood of this photo with its soft lighting and the rugged rocks.
The first stage of the painting. I could have done the whole painting in this "A La Prima" style. That kind of painting may even be more popular in the art world but leaving paintings in such an unrefined state brings me no sense of fulfillment. I like naturalistic paintings.
This is a more developed background, albeit less colorful. There is a trade-off between different elements like, color, texture, and atmosphere.
A rough version of the foreground rocks.
After I refined the foreground rocks, I added some kelp and roughed in the fox.
The completed painting. The actual painting looks much better than the photo indicates but I have a feeling that I will refine this painting a little more in the future.
A close-up of, "The Island Fox" 16x20".