Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Canadian Wildlife Species - The Moose

The moose is the largest species in the deer family. Moose are distinguished by the palmate antlers of the males; other members of the family have antlers with a dendritic ("twig-like") configuration. They have a life span of 15 to 25 years and can grow in size of 550Kilos to 700 kilos and stand six feet at their shoulders and extend to almost 9 feet tall to the tips of their antlers.

Moose typically inhabit boreal and mixed deciduous forests of the Northern Hemisphere in temperate to subarctic climates. Moose used to have a much wider range but hunting and other human activities greatly reduced it over the years. Moose have been reintroduced to some of their former habitats. Currently, most moose are found in Canada, Alaska, Scandinavia and Russia. Their diet consists of both terrestrial and aquatic vegetation. The most common moose predators are wolves, bears, and humans. Unlike most other deer species, moose are solitary animals and do not form herds. Although generally slow-moving and sedentary, moose can become aggressive and move surprisingly quickly if angered or startled. Their mating season in the autumn can lead to spectacular fights between males competing for a female.

In North America, the moose range includes almost all of Canada (excluding the arctic), most of Alaska, northern New England and upstate New York, the upper Rocky Mountains, northern Minnesota, Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and Isle Royale in Lake Superior. Within this massive range, the most diverse range of subspecies exist, containing habitat for four of the six subspecies. In western portions of the continent, moose populations extend well north into Canada (British Columbia and Alberta) and more isolated groups have been verified as far south as the mountains of Utah and Colorado and as far west as the Lake Wenatchee area of the Washington Cascades. The range includes Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and smaller areas of Washington and Oregon. In 1978, a few breeding pairs were reintroduced in western Colorado, and the state's moose population is now more than 1,000 with great potential to grow. In the 1940s, an effort was made to introduce moose to the Oregon Coast  Range, but this effort failed due to the hunting activities of the local Native American population.

In North-eastern North America, the Eastern moose's history is very well documented: moose meat was often a staple in the diet of Native Americans going back centuries and it is a tribe that occupied present day coastal Rhode Island that gave this deer its distinctive name in American English. The Native Americans often used moose hides for leather and its meat as an ingredient in pemmican, a type of dried jerky used as a source of sustenance in winter or on long journeys from home. Eastern tribes also valued moose leather as a source to make moccasins and other decorations.

The historical range of the subspecies extended from well into Quebec, the Maritimes, and Eastern Ontario south to include all of New England finally ending in the very north-eastern tip of Pennsylvania in the west, cutting off somewhere near the mouth of the Hudson River in the east. The moose has been extinct in much of the eastern U.S. for as long as 150 years, due to colonial era overhunting and destruction of its habitat: Dutch, French, and British colonial sources all attest to its presence in the mid 17th century from Maine south to areas within a hundred miles of present day Manhattan. However, by the 1870s, only a handful of moose existed in this entire region in very remote pockets of forest; less than 20% of suitable habitat remained.

Since the 1980s, however, moose populations have rebounded, thanks to regrowth of plentiful food sources, abandonment of farmland, better land management, cleanup of pollution, and natural dispersal from the Canadian Maritimes and Quebec. South of the Canadian border Maine has most of the population with a 2012 headcount of about 76,000 moose.

In 2014 we will be headed to areas where Moose reside. Please consider joining us for these workshop below.

Yukon Wildlife Workshop - http://northof49photography.com/yukon-wildlife-tour

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Canadian Bird Species - Snowy Owl

The Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) is a large owl of the typical owl family Strigidae. Until recently, it was regarded as the sole member of a distinct genus, but data now shows that it is very closely related to the horned owls in the genus Bubo.

Like the related eagle-owls, the Snowy Owl has ear-tufts; they are small and usually tucked away, however.

This yellow-eyed, black-beaked white bird is easily recognizable. It is 52–71 centimetres (20–28 in) long, with a 125–150 centimetres (49–59 in) wingspan. Also, these birds can weigh anywhere from 1.6 to 3 kilograms (3.5 to 6.6 lb). It is one of the largest species of owl and, in North America, is on average the heaviest owl species. The adult male is virtually pure white, but females and young birds have some dark scalloping; the young are heavily barred, and dark spotting may even predominate. Its thick plumage, heavily feathered taloned feet, and colouration render the Snowy Owl well-adapted for life north of the Arctic Circle.

Snowy Owl calls are varied, but the alarm call is a barking, almost quacking krek-krek; the female also has a softer mewling pyee-pyee or prek-prek. The song is a deep repeated gahw. They may also clap their beak in response to threats or annoyances. While called clapping, it is believed this sound may actually be a clicking of the tongue, not the beak.

Young owl on the tundra at Barrow Alaska. Snowy Owls lose their black feathers with age, though particular females retain some.

The Snowy Owl is typically found in the northern circumpolar region, where it makes its summer home north of latitude 60 degrees north. However, it is a particularly nomadic bird, and because population fluctuations in its prey species can force it to relocate, it has been known to breed at more southerly latitudes.

This species of owl nests on the ground, building a scrape on top of a mound or boulder. A site with
good visibility such as the top of mound with ready access to hunting areas, and a lack of snow is chosen. Gravel bars and abandoned eagle nests may be used. The female scrapes a small hollow before laying the eggs. Breeding occurs in May to June, and depending on the amount of prey available, clutch sizes range from 5 to 14 eggs, which are laid singly, approximately every other day over the course of several days. Hatching takes place approximately five weeks after laying, and the pure white young are cared for by both parents. Although the young hatch asynchronously, with the largest in the brood sometimes 10 to 15 times as heavy as the smallest, there is little sibling conflict and no evidence of siblicide. Both the male and the female defend the nest and their young from predators, sometimes by distraction displays. Males may mate with two females which may nest about a kilometre apart. Some individuals stay on the breeding grounds while others migrate.

Snowy Owls nest in the Arctic tundra of the northermost stretches of Alaska, Canada, and Eurasia. They winter south through Canada and northern Eurasia, with irruptions occurring further south in some years. Snowy Owls are attracted to open areas like coastal dunes and prairies that appear somewhat similar to tundra. They have been reported as far south as the American states of Texas, Georgia, the American Gulf states, southernmost Russia, and northern China.

In January 2009, a Snowy Owl appeared in Spring Hill, Tennessee, the first reported sighting in the state since 1987. More notable is the huge mass southern migration in the winter of 2011/2012, when thousands of Snowy Owls were spotted in various locations across the United States.

This powerful bird relies primarily on lemmings and other small rodents for food during the breeding season, but at times of low prey density, or during the ptarmigan nesting period, they may switch to favoring juvenile ptarmigan. They are opportunistic hunters and prey species may vary considerably, especially in winter. They feed on a wide variety of small mammals such as meadow voles and deer mice, but will take advantage of larger prey, frequently following traplines to find food. Some of the larger mammal prey includes hares, muskrats, marmots, squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, prairie dogs, rats, moles, and smaller birds entrapped furbearers. Birds preyed upon include ptarmigan, other ducks, geese, shorebirds, pheasants, grouse, coots, grebes, gulls, songbirds, and even other raptors, including other owl species. Most of the owls' hunting is done in the "sit and wait" style; prey may be captured on the ground, in the air or fish may be snatched off the surface of bodies of water using their sharp talons. Each bird must capture roughly 7 to 12 mice per day to meet its food requirement and can eat more than 1,600 lemmings per year.

Snowy Owls, like many other birds, swallow their small prey whole. Strong stomach juices digest the flesh, while the indigestible bones, teeth, fur, and feathers are compacted into oval pellets that the bird regurgitates 18 to 24 hours after feeding. Regurgitation often takes place at regular perches, where dozens of pellets may be found. Biologists frequently examine these pellets to determine the quantity and types of prey the birds have eaten. When large prey are eaten in small pieces, pellets will not be produced.

Though Snowy Owls have few predators, the adults are very watchful and are equipped to defend against any kind of threat towards them or their offspring. During the nesting season, the owls regularly defend their nests against arctic foxes, corvids and swift-flying jaegers; as well as dogs, gray wolves and avian predators. Males defend the nest by standing guard nearby while the female incubates the eggs and broods the young. Both sexes attack approaching predators, dive-bombing them and engaging in distraction displays to draw the predator away from a nest. They also compete directly for lemmings and other prey with several predators, including Rough-legged Hawks, Golden Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Gyrfalcons, jaegers, Glaucous Gulls, Short-eared Owls, Great Horned Owls, Eurasian Eagle Owls, Common Ravens, wolves, arctic foxes, and ermine. They are normally dominant over other raptors although may (sometimes fatally) lose in conflicts to large raptors such as other Bubo owls, Golden Eagles and the smaller but much faster Peregrine Falcons. Some species nesting near Snowy Owl nests, such as the Snow Goose, seem to benefit from the incidental protection of snowy owls that drive competing predators out of the area.

If you want to photograph the Snowy Owl, please see our workshops here, http://northof49photography.com/2015-owl-workshop

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Canadian Wildlife Species - Woodland Caribou

Caribou are ungulates, which means they are cloven-hoofed and chew cud. The caribou has a short, stocky body that conserves heat, but its legs are long to help it move through the deep snow. Its winter coat provides insulation from the cold, and its muzzle and tail are short and covered in hair. The caribou's large and concave hooves support it through the snow or muskeg, and it uses them as a scoop when looking for lichen and other plants in the snow. Although the caribou can withstand the cold temperatures and hard terrain, it has a tough time coping with insects in the summer. It has been known to run for kilometres, just to escape the hordes of pesky bugs. 

The caribou belongs to the deer family and is the only member where both male and female counterparts carry antlers. The antlers of the female are smaller than those of the male, but they are carried for a longer period of time. Caribou start growing their antlers each spring and are normally done the process by August. Male caribou shed their antlers in November or December, after mating, while females will often carry them until June, after they have given birth. Antlers are a sign of dominance, and it is usually only the pregnant caribou that keep the antlers that late. It allows them to defend their feed and displace large caribou from favoured sites while nourishing their babies.
There are many subspecies of caribou. They can be found dwelling in forests, on mountains, in the tundra, and even migrating each year between the forests and tundra of the Far North. Approximately half of Canadian caribou are barren-ground caribou. This means they spend almost all of the year, sometimes even the full year, on the tundra from Alaska to Baffin Island.

The woodland caribou, the largest and darkest of the species, can be found in the boreal, or northern, forests from British Columbia and the Yukon Territory to Newfoundland and Labrador. In mountainous western areas the woodland caribou make seasonal movements from their winter range on the mountainside to their summer range on the tundra. Those in eastern areas occupy mature forest and open bogs and ferns, or low-lying wet areas.

The Peary caribou are a smaller subspecies and are light-coloured. They can only be found on the islands of the Canadian arctic archipelago and their population is numbered at 10,000. This subspecies does not normally have significant migrations

Canadian caribou can be found from the United States-Canada border to northern Ellesmere Island, and from British Columbia and the Yukon Territory to the island of Newfoundland. There are 2.4 million caribou in Canada.  But many are subspecies and populations that are threatened or extinct.
You can join is on one of our tours to Yukon when we track down herds in the vast landscapes.

Please see this web page for all our Yukon Workshops, http://northof49photography.com/photo-workshops/

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Canadian Wildlife Species - Arctic Fox

The arctic fox is an incredibly hardy animal that can survive frigid Arctic temperatures as low as –58°F (-50°C) in the treeless lands where it makes its home. It has furry soles, short ears, and a short muzzle—all-important adaptations to the chilly climate. Arctic foxes live in burrows, and in a blizzard they may tunnel into the snow to create shelter.

Arctic foxes have beautiful white (sometimes blue-gray) coats that act as very effective winter camouflage. The natural hues allow the animal to blend into the tundra's ubiquitous snow and ice. When the seasons change, the fox's coat turns as well, adopting a brown or gray appearance that provides cover among the summer tundra's rocks and plants.
These colorings help foxes to effectively hunt rodents, birds, and even fish. But in winter prey can be scarce on the ground. At such times, arctic foxes will follow the region's premier predator—a polar bear—to eat the leftover scraps from its kills. Foxes will also eat vegetables when they are available.
Like a cat's, this fox's thick tail aids its balance. But for an arctic fox the tail (or "brush") is especially useful as warm cover in cold weather.
Female arctic foxes give birth each spring to a large litter of up to 14 pups.
If you want to photograph the arctic fox, check out our workshops in the Yukon, http://northof49photography.com/photo-workshops/

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Canadian Wildlife Species - Thinhorn Sheep (Dall Sheep)

The Dall sheep (originally Dall's sheep), Ovis dalli, is a species of sheep native to northwestern North America, ranging from white to slate brown in color and having curved yellowish brown horns. Its closest relative is the more southern subspecies, Stone sheep (also spelled Stone's sheep) (Ovis dalli stonei), which is a slaty brown with some white patches on the rump and inside the hind legs.

Research has shown the use of these subspecies designations is questionable. Complete colour integradation occurs between white and dark morphs of the species with intermediately coloured populations, called Fannin sheep (Ovis dalli fannini), found in the Pelly Mountains and Ogilvie Mountains of Yukon Territory. Mitochondrial DNA evidence has shown no molecular division along current subspecies boundaries, although evidence from nuclear DNA may provide some support.[4] Also at the species level, current taxonomy is questionable because hybridization between Ovis dalli and Ovis canadensis has been recorded in recent evolutionary history.

The latter half of the Latin name dalli is derived from William Healey Dall (1845–1927), an American naturalist. The common name Dall sheep or Dall's sheep is often used to refer to the species Ovis dalli. An alternative use of common name terminology is that thinhorn sheep refers to the species Ovis dalli, while Dall's sheep and Stone's sheep refer to subspecies Ovis dalli dalli and Ovis dalli stonei, respectively.

The sheep inhabit the subarctic mountain ranges of Alaska, the Yukon Territory, the Mackenzie Mountains in the western Northwest Territories, and central and northern British Columbia. Dall sheep are found in relatively dry country and try to stay in a special combination of open alpine ridges, meadows, and steep slopes with extremely rugged ground in the immediate vicinity, to allow escape from predators that cannot travel quickly through such terrain.

Male Dall sheep have thick curling horns. The females have shorter, more slender, slightly curved horns. Males live in bands which seldom associate with female groups except during the mating season in late November and early December. Lambs are born in May.

During the summer when food is abundant, the sheep eat a wide variety of plants. The winter diet is much more limited, and consists primarily of dry, frozen grass and sedge stems available when snow is blown off, lichen and moss. Many Dall sheep populations visit mineral licks during the spring, and often travel many miles to eat the soil around the licks.

The primary predators of Dall sheep are wolves, coyotes, black bears, and grizzly bears; golden eagles are predators of the young.

Dall sheep can often be observed along the Alaska Highway at Muncho Lake in British Columbia, along the Seward Highway South of Anchorage, AK., within Denali National Park and Preserve (which was created in 1917 to preserve Dall sheep from over-hunting), at Sheep Mountain in Kluane National Park and Reserve, as well as near Faro, Yukon

If you want to learn about how you can photograph these animals, see our wildlife tour in teh Yukon, http://northof49photography.com/yukon-wildlife-tour

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Canadian Bird Species - The Common Loon

The Great Northern Loon is one of the five loon species. Its closest relative is the other large black-headed species, the Yellow-billed Loon or White-billed Diver.

Adults can range from 61 to 100 cm (24–40 inches) in length with a 122–152 cm (4–5-foot) wingspan, slightly smaller than the similar Yellow-billed Loon (or "White-billed Diver"). The weight can vary from 1.6 to 8 kg (3.6 to 17.6 lbs). On average a Great Northern Loon is about 81 cm (32 inches) long, has a wingspan of 136 cm (54 inches), and weighs about 4.1 kg (9 lbs).
Breeding adults have a black head, white underparts, and a checkered black-and-white mantle. Non-breeding plumage is brownish, with the chin and foreneck white. The bill is black-blue and held horizontally. The bill colour and angle distinguish this species from the similar Yellow-billed Loon.
Bone structure contains a number of solid bones (unlike normally hollow avian bones), which add weight but help in diving.
Distribution and habitat
The Great Northern Loon breeds in North America, Greenland, Iceland, and Great Britain. This species winters on sea coasts or on large lakes of south Europe and the United States, and south to northwestern areas of Africa.
Chicks will ride on their parents' backs
This species, like all divers, is a specialist fish-eater, catching its prey underwater, diving as deep as 60 m (200 ft). Freshwater diets consist of pike, perch, sunfish, trout, and bass; salt-water diets consist of rock fish, flounder, sea trout, and herring.
The bird needs a long distance to gain momentum for take-off, and is ungainly on landing. Its clumsiness on land is due to the legs being positioned at the rear of the body: this is ideal for diving but not well-suited for walking. When the birds land on water, they skim along on their bellies to slow down, rather than on their feet, as these are set too far back. The loon swims gracefully on the surface, dives as well as any flying bird, and flies competently for hundreds of kilometers in migration. It flies with its neck outstretched, usually calling a particular tremolo that can be used to identify a flying loon. Its flying speed is about 120 km/h (75 mph) during migration. Its call has been alternately called "haunting," "beautiful," "thrilling," "mystical", and "enchanting."
Great Northern Loon nests are usually placed on islands, where ground-based predators cannot normally access them. However, eggs and nestlings have been taken by gulls, raccoons, skunks, minks, foxes, snapping turtles, and large fish. Adults are not regularly preyed upon, but have been taken by sea otters (when wintering) and Bald Eagles. Ospreys have been observed harassing divers, more likely out of kleptoparasitism than predation.  When approached by a predator of either its nest or itself, divers sometimes attack the predator by rushing at it and attempting to impale it through the abdomen or the back of the head or neck.
The female lays 1 to 3 eggs on a hollowed-out mound of dirt and vegetation very close to water. Both parents build the nest, sit on the egg or eggs, and feed the young.
Relationship with humans
These birds have disappeared from some lakes in eastern North America due to the effects of acid rain and pollution, as well as lead poisoning from fishing sinkers and mercury contamination from industrial waste. Artificial floating nesting platforms have been provided for loons in some lakes to reduce the impact of changing water levels due to dams and other human activities.
This diver is well known in Canada, appearing on the one-dollar "loonie" coin and the previous series of $20 bill, and is the provincial bird of Ontario. Also, it is the state bird of Minnesota.
The voice and appearance of the Great Northern Loon has made it prominent in several Native American tales. These include a story of a loon which created the world in a Chippewa story; a Micmac saga describes Kwee-moo, the loon who was a special messenger of Glooscap (Glu-skap), the tribal hero; native tribes of British Columbia believed that an excess of calls from this bird predicted rain, and even brought it; and the tale of the loon's necklace was handed down in many versions among Pacific Coast peoples. Folk names include big loon, black-billed loon, call-up-a-storm, ember-goose,
We often see Loons on our workshops and have experience anticipating their movement to offer you the best opportunity to photograph them in the environment.
Please check out our workshops and come photograph some Loons. www.northof49photography.com

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Canadian Bird Species - Pileated Woodpecker

The Pileated Woodpecker is a very large North American woodpecker, roughly crow-sized, inhabiting deciduous forests in eastern North America, the Great Lakes, the boreal forests of Canada, and parts of the Pacific coast. It is also the largest woodpecker in North America.

Adults are 40 to 49 cm (16 to 19 in) long, span 66 to 75 cm (26 to 30 in) across the wings and weigh 250 to 400 g (8.8 to 14.1 oz), with an average weight of 300 g (11 oz). Each wing measures 21.4 to 25.3 cm (8.4 to 10.0 in), the tail measures 14 to 17.4 cm (5.5 to 6.9 in), the bill is 4.1–6 cm (1.6–2.4 in) and the tarsus measures 3.1–3.8 cm (1.2–1.5 in).

They are mainly black with a red crest, and have a white line down the sides of the throat. They show white on the wings in flight. The flight of these birds is strong and direct but has an undulating quality, similar to the relatively unique flight-style of all woodpeckers. Adult males have a red line from the bill to the throat, in adult females these are black.

These birds mainly eat insects, especially carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larvae. They also eat fruits, nuts, and berries, including poison ivy berries. Pileated Woodpeckers will often chip out large and roughly rectangular holes in trees while searching out insects, especially ant galleries.[4] They also will lap up ants by reaching with their long tongue into crevices. They are self-assured on the vertical surfaces of large trees but can seem awkward while feeding on small branches and vines. Pileated woodpeckers may also forage on or near the ground, especially around fallen, dead trees, which can contain a smorgasbord of insect life. They may forage around the sides of human homes or even cars and can occasionally be attracted to suet-type feeders. Although they are less likely feeder visitors than smaller woodpeckers, Pileateds may regularly be attracted to them in areas experiencing harsh winter conditions.

Usually, Pileated Woodpeckers excavate their large nests in the cavities of dead trees. Woodpeckers make such large holes in dead trees that the holes can cause a small tree to break in half. The roost of a Pileated Woodpecker usually has multiple entrance holes. Pileated Woodpeckers raise their young every year in a hole in a tree. In April, the hole made by the male attracts a female for mating and raising their young. Once the brood is raised, the Pileated Woodpeckers abandon the hole and will not use it the next year. When abandoned, these holes—made similarly by all woodpeckers—provide good homes in future years for many forest song birds and a wide variety of other animals. Owls and tree-nesting ducks may largely rely on holes made by Pileateds in which to lay their nests. Even mammals such as raccoons may use them. Other woodpeckers and smaller birds such as wrens may be attracted to Pileated holes to feed on the insects found in them. Ecologically, the entire woodpecker family is important to the well being of many other bird species. The Pileated Woodpecker will also nest in nest boxes about 4.6 m (15 ft) off the ground.

A Pileated Woodpecker pair stays together on its territory all year round and is a non-migratory species. It will defend the territory in all seasons, but will tolerate floaters during the winter. When clashing with conspecifics, they engage in much chasing, calling, striking with the wings, and jabbing with the bill.

Drumming is most commonly to proclaim a territory and hollow trees are often used to make the largest sound possible.

Pileated Woodpeckers have been observed to move to another site if any eggs have fallen out of the nest—a rare habit in birds. The cavity is unlined except for wood chips. Both parents incubate three to five eggs for 12 to 16 days. There is an average of clutch size of 4 per nest. The young may take a month to fledge. (source for information was Wikipedia)

The Pileated Woodpecker is a species we often see on our Canadian Workshops. Although hard to get a clear photo of, it is always interesting to come across a tree that they have been feeding on and watch them as they fly through the tree canopy’s. Please check out our Canadian workshops here… http://northof49photography.com/photo-workshops/

Monday, June 8, 2015

Mongolia, a visit to the past, so you can understand your future

If you could take a martini shaker and add a dash of vast landscapes of the Gobi, sprinkle in a twist of the snow capped mountains of Bayan-Ölgi and the dramatic gorges and lakes of Khovsgol and then add in the Ger tents of the nomad and the cry of a soaring golden eagle… Shake it all up and top it off with some of the oldest Buddhist temples and ruins, abundant wildlife and legendary hospitality you will find anywhere, and you come up with a recipe for one of the most inviting and beautiful countries in the world.

Since the fall of communism, Mongolia has done just about everything in its power to open itself up to the world. While the old traditions survive and the wild nature is still mostly intact for the adventurous traveler, Mongolia has also reached out to the West for economic and cultural ties.
One of the highest countries in the world, Mongolia is a land of harsh extremes—snowy mountains, wide expanses of grassy steppe, and windswept desert with a people that are inviting and virtually still untouched by major tourism.

About Mongolia
Capital city: Ulaanbaatar (population 1.2 million)
Population: 3 million
Language: Mongolian
Currency: MNT
Time zone: (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar
Electricity: Type C (European 2-pin) Type E (French 2-pin, female earth)

Best time to visit Mongolia
Mongolia has an extreme continental climate due to its inland location. The best time for traveling is from May to October when the weather is pleasant. Due to the popularity of the Naadam Festival, July is the busiest time to go; it can get crowded, but Ulaanbaatar buzzes with an incredible vibe during this time.

Culture and customs
Mongolia is known for its strong nomadic traditions, but life has recently become more urbanised for many citizens in this sparsely populated country. Almost 50% of the population live in or near an urban centre, while the other 50% live a semi-nomadic lifestyle in the countryside; although, settled agricultural communities can be found in rural areas and are growing each year. Despite this change in lifestyle, the rich nomadic heritage remains strong and traditional Mongol songs, dance, stories and clothing are still celebrated, especially during festivals and national holidays.

Many Mongolian people are Buddhist - this is evident in the monasteries and temples that populate the urban areas as well as the remote regions. Shamanism is also still in existence in some of the more isolated regions of Mongolia where the proud cultures have been somewhat protected from modern influences.

A common thread that links most Mongolians is respect for family and the importance of hospitality.
Probably borne from the nomadic way of life, sharing with others and receiving guests with grace is a common theme that recurs in Mongolian society. Harsh conditions, a changeable climate and the uncertainty of nomadic life mean that most Mongolians go out of their way to provide a safe haven for family, friends and guests. It is for this reason that turning down food or not accepting a warm welcome is not advisable.

Geography and environment
Bordered by China and Russia, Mongolia is a land of mountains and plateaus, grasslands, marshes and deserts. Even though Mongolia is landlocked, Lake Khovsgol (one of Asia’s largest freshwater lakes) provides 70% of Mongolia’s fresh water. This ancient lake provides much of the drinking water for the animal and human population, with the surrounding areas providing lush habitats for wolves, ibex, deer and bears. Due to Mongolia’s significant seismic activity, there are also many hot springs and volcanoes throughout the country.

Mongolia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world, leaving much space for nomadic herders to roam. The fast-growing capital city of Ulaanbaatar is an exception, being home to high-density housing, universities and financial institutions. As an economic centre and transport hub, Ulaanbaatar has all the modern conveniences expected of an international city.

History and government
Early History
The area now known as Mongolia has been inhabited for more than 800,000 years. Archaeological evidence, such as rock paintings, points to groups of hunters and gatherers living throughout Mongolia in prehistoric times. Mongolia’s early history is colored by battles and invasions, with various nomadic empires laying claim to the land. The most famous of these was the Mongol Empire, created by Genghis Khan in 1206. This empire was known as the largest land-based empire of its time and had great success invading and claiming foreign territory, before declining due to infighting, disunity and the rise of neighboring territories.

Recent History
Modern Mongolia is an interesting mix of Mongol, Chinese and Russian influences. Rising up to gain independence from decades of communist rule, modern Mongolia is becoming more fast-paced and globalized as the years go by. Holding its first democratic election in 1990, Mongolia now enjoys a time of relative peace and stability, with tourism, agriculture and mineral resources providing more abundance and improvements in infrastructure and living conditions.

Mongolia is one of the only legitimate democracies in Asia. Democracy has given foreign investors enough confidence to stick with Mongolia during hard biggest mining companies in the world. Tourism, along with mining and cashmere, has become a key feature of the economy. It is true that the poor infrastructure and short travel season have kept receipts small, but a growing network of ger camps cater to travellers seeking ecotourism adventures.
Without fences or private property to restrict a travelers movement, Mongolia is a perfect destination for photography enthusiasts.
Like us, most travelers come for Naadam, the two-day summer sports festival that brings the city of Ulaanbattar to a standstill. But a trip to capture Mongolia’s unique charm will always lie in the countryside where, rather than being a spectator to the wrestling, you may find yourself alone with our groups in some of the most awe inspiring vistas you will ever see.
Outside the villages it’s easy to meet nomad families whose relentless sense of hospitality can at times be nothing short of overwhelming.
As a travel destination, Mongolia is a special place for people who enjoy culture, the outdoors and adventure. Immersing oneself in the Naadam festival, the Golden Eagle Festival and the urban culture and then heading out on the vast plains, riding horses and camping with nomad families, Mongolia offers the chance to step back in time to a simpler way of life. It is an invigorating and exhilarating place to visit, and remains one of the last unspoiled travel destinations in Asia.
I believe that one must first understand our past before we can understand our future… and because I have sat many times with nomadic farmers and eagle hunters that embrace a tradition almost 1000 years old as a way of life, I have gotten a better understanding of their history, and now want to continue to share and photograph their future with you.  
That is why I plan to visit the country every year. To see more information on these trips please check out the itineraries.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Canadian Bird Species - Red Tailed Hawk

The Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) is a bird of prey, one of three species colloquially known in the United States as the "chickenhawk," though it rarely preys on standard sized chickens. It breeds throughout most of North America, from western Alaska and northern Canada to as far south as Panama and the West Indies, and is one of the most common buteos in North America. Red-tailed Hawks can acclimate to all the biomes within their range. There are fourteen recognized subspecies, which vary in appearance and range. It is one of the largest members of the genus Buteo in North America, typically weighing from 690 to 1,600 g (1.52 to 3.53 lb) and measuring 45–65 cm (18–26 in) in length, with a wingspan from 110–145 cm (43–57 in). The Red-tailed Hawk displays sexual dimorphism in size, with females averaging about 25% heavier than males.

The Red-tailed Hawk occupies a wide range of habitats and altitudes, including deserts, grasslands, coniferous and deciduous forests, tropical rainforests, agricultural fields and urban areas. It lives throughout the North American continent, except in areas of unbroken forest or the high arctic. It is legally protected in Canada, Mexico and the United States by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Because they are so common and easily trained as capable hunters, the majority of hawks captured for falconry in the United States are Red-tails. Falconers are permitted to take only passage hawks (which have left the nest, are on their own, but are less than a year old) so as to not affect the breeding population. Adults, which may be breeding or rearing chicks, may not be taken for falconry purposes and it is illegal to do so. Passage red-tailed hawks are also preferred by falconers because these younger birds have not yet developed adult behaviors, which will make training substantially more challenging.

A male Red-Tailed Hawk may weigh from 690 to 1,300 g (24 to 46 oz), with a mean weight of 1,030 g (36 oz), and measure 45–60 cm (18–24 in). A female can weigh between 900 and 2,000 g (32 and 71 oz), averaging 1,220 g (43 oz), and measure 48 to 65 cm (19 to 26 in) long. The wingspan can range from 105 to 141 cm (41 to 56 in) and, in the standard scientific method of measuring wing size, the wing bone is 33–44 cm (13–17 in) long. The tail measures 19–25 cm (7.5–9.8 in) in length. The exposed culmen was reported to average 2.5–2.7 cm (0.98–1.06 in) and the tarsus averaged 8.6–9 cm (3.4–3.5 in). As is the case with many raptors the Red-tailed Hawk displays sexual dimorphism in size, as females are up to 25% larger than males.

Red-tailed Hawk plumage can be variable, depending on the subspecies and the region. These color variations are morphs, and are not related to molting. The western North American population, B. j. calurus, is the most variable subspecies and has three color morphs: light, dark, and intermediate or rufus. The dark and intermediate morphs constitute 10–20% of the population.

Though the markings and hue vary across the subspecies, the basic appearance of the Red-tailed Hawk is consistent. Overall, this species is blocky and broad in shape, often appearing (and being) heavier than other Buteos of similar length. A whitish underbelly with a dark brown band across the belly, formed by horizontal streaks in feather patterning, is present in most color variations.

Especially in younger birds, the underside may be otherwise covered with dark brown spotting. The red tail, which gives this species its name, is uniformly brick-red above and light buff-orange below. The bill is short and dark, in the hooked shape characteristic of raptors, and the head can sometimes appear small in size against the thick body frame. They have a relatively short, broad tails and thick, chunky wings. The cere, the legs, and the feet of the Red-tailed Hawk are all yellow.

Immature birds can be readily identified at close range by their yellowish irises. As the bird attains full maturity over the course of 3–4 years, the iris slowly darkens into a reddish-brown hue. In both the light and dark morphs, the tail of the immature Red-tailed Hawk are patterned with numerous darker bars.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Canadian Wildlife Spotlight - The Red Fox

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is the largest of the true foxes and the most abundant member of the Carnivora, being distributed across the entire Northern Hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to North Africa, Central America and Asia. Its range has increased alongside human expansion, having been introduced to Australia, where it is considered harmful to native mammals and bird populations. Because of these factors, it is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN.

The red fox originated from smaller-sized ancestors from Eurasia during the Middle Villafranchian period, and colonised North America shortly after the Wisconsin glaciation. Among the true foxes, the red fox represents a more progressive form in the direction of carnivory. Apart from its large size, the red fox is distinguished from other fox species by its ability to adapt quickly to new environments.

Red foxes are usually together in pairs or small groups consisting of families, such as a mated pair and their young, or a male with several females having kinship ties. The young of the mated pair remain with their parents to assist in caring for new kits. The species primarily feeds on small rodents, though it may also target leporids, game birds, reptiles, invertebrates and young ungulates. Fruit and vegetable matter is also eaten sometimes. Although the red fox tends to kill smaller predators, it is vulnerable to attack from larger predators, such as wolves, coyotes, golden jackals and medium- and large-sized felines.

The species has a long history of association with humans, having been extensively hunted as a pest and furbearer for centuries, as well as being represented in human folklore and mythology. Because of its widespread distribution and large population, the red fox is one of the most important furbearing animals harvested for the fur trade.

Red foxes are the largest species of the genus Vulpes. However, relative to dimensions, red foxes are much lighter than similarly sized dogs of the genus Canis. Their limb bones, for example, weigh 30% less per unit area of bone than expected for similarly sized dogs. They display significant individual, sexual, age and geographical variation in size. On average, adults measure 35–50 cm (14–20 in) high at the shoulder and 45 to 90 cm (18 to 35 in) in body length with tails measuring 32 to 53 cm (13 to 21 in). The ears measure 7.7–12.5 cm (3–5 in) and the hind feet 12–18.5 cm (5–7 in). They weigh 2.2 to 14 kg (4.9 to 30.9 lb), with vixens typically weighing 15–20% less than males. Adult red foxes have skulls measuring 129–167 mm (5.1–6.6 in), while those of vixens measure 128–159 mm (5.0–6.3 in).[6] The forefoot print measures 60 mm (2.4 in) in length and 45 mm (1.8 in) in width, while the hind foot print measures 55 mm (2.2 in) long and 38 mm (1.5 in) wide. They trot at a speed of 6–13 km/h, and have a maximum running speed of 50 km/h. They have a stride of 25–35 cm (9.8–13.8 in) when walking at a normal pace. North American red foxes are generally lightly built, with comparatively long bodies for their mass and have a high degree of sexual dimorphism.

The winter fur is dense, soft, silky and relatively long. For the northern foxes, the fur is very long, dense and fluffy, but is shorter, sparser and coarser in southern forms. Among northern foxes, the North American varieties generally have the silkiest guard hairs, while most Eurasian red foxes have coarser fur. There are three main colour morphs; red, silver/black and cross (see Mutations). In the typical red morph, their coats are generally bright reddish-rusty with yellowish tints. A stripe of weak, diffuse patterns of many brown-reddish-chestnut hairs occurs along the spine. Two additional stripes pass down the shoulder blades which, together with the spinal stripe, form a cross. The lower back is often a mottled silvery colour. The flanks are lighter coloured than the back, while the chin, lower lips, throat and front of the chest are white. The remaining lower surface of the body is dark, brown or reddish. During lactation, the belly fur of vixens may turn brick red. The upper parts of the limbs are rusty reddish, while the paws are black. The frontal part of the face and upper neck is bright brownish-rusty red, while the upper lips are white. The backs of the ears are black or brownish-reddish, while the inner surface is whitish. The top of the tail is brownish-reddish, but lighter in colour than the back and flanks. The underside of the tail is pale grey with a straw-coloured tint. A black spot, the location of the supracaudal gland, is usually present at the base of the tail. The tip of the tail is white - information supplied from Wikipedia

We ran into a Fox den this year on our sprint migration and young wildlife workshop in Ontario this year. The den was home to seven (7) kits.

I hope you join us next year on our annual spring migration workshop. All the details can be found here. http://northof49photography.com/ontario-migration-workshop

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Semi Private Northern Lights Workshops

If you are a group of 3 or 4 photographers and have always wanted to photograph the Northern Lights in one of the best places to photograph them in Canada, we are now opening up the months of October and March each year, specifically for these semi private tours with you and your friends or family.

Below You will see the itinerary that we have as a template. Some customization specifically for your group can be added to suit your groups specific needs.

Day One 
Arrive at Whitehorse airport and get picked up and taken to our accommodation. A relaxing group dinner and a chance to photograph the area and await the night skies for the first possible aurora photography.

Day Two
We head to the Whitehorse Wild Animal Preserve to view all the species that wander Yukon in the wild. This is a chance to photograph species such as moose, caribou, Yak, woodland Bison, mule deer, arctic fox, Canada Lynx, Thinhorn Sheep and mountain goats in a natural setting.

In the afternoon we will head over to the Tahini Hot Springs for a few hours to relax in the natural hot springs.

After dinner we will head out to photograph one of the local lakes surrounded by the fall colors in the higher elevations.

After dinner we head to our very own aurora viewing area away from the crowds and light pollution at sky high ranch. A heated ger tent in high lands with our own fire pit to keep warm. The area here is very photogenic with mountain peaks on all sides with plenty to photograph before the lights potentially show themselves after dark.

Day Three - October 2, 2016
After a later breakfast we will depart for Kluane National Park for landscape photographic opportunities of the Yukon Mountains and lakes. On the way we stop regularly to allow you the opportunity to take photos of the beautiful landscape. Once we reach Kluane we can go for a short hike around Kathleen Lake. One of the most attractive lakes in southern Yukon.

The 22 000 square kilometer Kluane National Park is set like a jewel in the southwestern corner of the Yukon between northeastern British Columbia and the tidewaters of the Alaskan panhandle. Much of the park's 129 kilometer northern boundary is made up of the Alaska Highway and the Haines Road. The Alsek River, known for its big water rapids created by the tremendous volume of water it drains from the St. Elias Mountains, is so swift it appears that native people have entirely avoided using it for travel or trade routes.

Upon our return we will group together for a few hours going through your images to make sure you get some classroom time editing. After an early dinner I will take you to our night of aurora viewing on the shores of Fish Lake. As the sun goes down and the skies start to glow orange we will photograph the shores framed by mountains until we hopefully see that to the north an eerie, sulfurous-green sheen begins to ripple into the night sky.

Our hope is that it arcs itself into an ebb and flow, slowly growing, then suddenly bursts across the full expanse of the night sky waving and dancing as if it were happy.  It’s the spectacular and mystical Northern Lights and viewings such as the one above are common in the Yukon.

Our viewing for aurora will be the ger tent in high lands with our own fire pit to keep warm. The area here is very photogenic with mountain peaks on all sides with plenty to photograph before the lights potentially show themselves after dark.

Day Four
Today is our day to drive south and take in another topographical wonder that was created millions of years ago. Today we head to Carcross Desert. The smallest desert in the world. This desert is surrounded by mountains and cliffs that are adorned with fall colors at this time of year. As an added bonus, early in the mornings your photos often consist of sand foregrounds, fall colors in the trees and the snow and frost line above.

We will also photograph the stunning Emerald Lake area along the southern highways and the Atlin Mountains.

After we return to Whitehorse we will have dinner and head out once again to watch the skies for the aurora dance on top of the mountain ranges around Whitehorse.

Our viewing for aurora will be the heated ger tent in high lands with our own fire pit to keep warm. The area here is very photogenic with mountain peaks on all sides with plenty to photograph before the lights potentially show themselves after dark.

Day Five
Today is our day to photograph the very photogenic Miles Canyon.

Originally referred to as Grand Canyon, Fredrick Schwatka renamed it in July of 1883 Miles Canyon after General Nelson Miles. Schwatka wrote, “Through this narrow chute of corrugated rock the wild waters of the great river rush in a perfect mass of milk-like foam, with a reverberation that is audible for a considerable distance.” Although accounts differ as to the ferocity of the rapids, there is no question that they were very dangerous. During the Gold Rush, hundreds of boats loaded with precious supplies were lost (as well as several lives) before the Northwest Mounted Police arrived to regulate traffic.

Eventually a wooden rail system around the canyon eliminated the need to battle this hazard. The hydroelectric dam constructed to provide power to Whitehorse has tamed Miles Canyon, but drifting through its 50-foot high basaltic walls is still a thrill.

The afternoon is a free afternoon to wander the museums and shops in downtown Whitehorse. Then we prepare for our last night of skies with another possible aurora dancing above our heads.

Day Six
Departure day. You will be taken to the airport for your flight home.
Flights south are generally 5:50am, 8:00am ad 4:00pm

Price: $3500 Canadian per person
Deposit: $750 Canadian

Included: Dinner on day one, snacks, juice and water available in vehicle, transportation, entrance fees to all parks and attractions, accommodation at Best Western Gold Rush Inn, guidance, night photography locations and amenities and private land access for aurora viewing, welcome gift.

Not Included: Alcohol, meals not included in the tour, travelers insurance, items of personal nature.

Contact me through our Contact Us Page and let us know the week you want to attend and to receive booking information. Or email Kevin at kevinapepper@outlook.com