Sunday, February 28, 2016

Yukon Territory in Canada, a photographers dream location.

Yukon Landscapes in the Autumn

“Kevin (K2) promised me an awesome trip up to Canada’s north... but i had no idea i would be that amazed by the beauty of the landscapes and northern lights. Thanks to Kevin and his teaching, i came home with images i was proud of.”
— David L.

This trip is designed to give you the opportunity to photograph all the diversity that the Yukon has to offer. We will cover the area around Whitehorse, Kluane National Park and the Dempster Highway. You will be shooting mountain landscapes, macro images of fall foliage, travel type photography of historical streetscapes, the wildlife, northern lights and other long exposure night photography.

Dates of Yukon Trip: Eight days from August 23rd to August 30th, 2016 with Kevin Allen Pepper

Price: $4195CAD ($3110USD) including taxes, with $500CAD ($370USD) single supplement

Deposit to Secure your spot:  $750CAD, balance due on May 15, 2015

Attendees: (currently only 1 spot left)

Group Leader:  Kevin Allen Pepper - our tour leader that has been leading groups to the Yukon for the past five years.

Included:  Airport pick-up and drop-off, shared accommodation, meals as outlined in the itinerary, Snacks, soft drinks, water during the day, Daily transportation via an 8 passenger Suburban or equivalent. Hot drinks and snacks during aurora viewing nights.

Not Included:  Alcoholic beverages, International flights, Items of personal nature, Items not listed as included

Day One - A day to Welcome You to the Yukon

Today you will arrive in Whitehorse from Home. You should schedule your arrivals so that you arrive in Whitehorse before 4:30pm. You will get picked up at the airport and shuttled to the hotel in Whitehorse.

You can unpack and have some free time before dinner. Today would be your day to explore Whitehorse, buy your souvenirs for the children and grandchildren because once we gather for dinner our excursion begins...

We will meet for a group dinner and go over the itinerary, get to know one another and discuss the various photography situations we will find ourselves in this week.

After dinner, if the skies are clear, we will head out into the countryside for one of many nights of aurora photography. There are a number of spots around Whitehorse that we have identified with interesting foreground elements that will enhance your aurora images.

Accommodation in Whitehorse - Dinner is included

Day Two - The Southern Loop

Today is a day to drive to Dawson City. Dawson City... the epitome of a Gold Rush town in Northern Canada. We will get picked up and begin one of two journeys along the Dempster Highway. The landscapes here are breathtaking and the fall colours will be covering the landscapes like a multi colored blanket. Your highlight on this leg of the trip is Tombstone Territorial Area.

And let’s not forget about the wildlife. The porcupine herd of Caribou will be in the area in late August on their annual migration. It is our intent to introduce you to one of Canada's largest animal migration, in one of the most photogenic fall landscapes Canada offers.

If the aurora is dancing... come out and enjoy the sight near the Arctic Circle... something you will never forget.

Accommodation in Dawson City. Included is breakfast, snacks during the day and dinner.

Day Three - Headed to the Klondike

 Here you will see vast expanses of fall colours and distant mountain ranges that offer everything from panorama's to macro photography, and yes, even the odd fox, wolf, caribou and an abundance of bird species that will be feeding before their southern migration.

If the aurora is dancing... come out and enjoy the sights from just south of the Arctic Circle... something you will never forget.

Accommodation in Dawson City. Included is breakfast, snacks during the day and dinner.

Day Four - Tombstone Fall Colors

We will once again continue down the Dempster or Alaska highway for a chance to photograph the remote painted landscapes one more time.

In between our golden hour photo shoots you will have a chance to explore the preserved Klondike buildings and see how the original settlers lived hundreds of years ago. If you are adventurous... it’s a sour toe cocktail for you... and yet another claim to fame that you will tell your friends and family that you did while in the Yukon.

Accommodation in Dawson City. Included is breakfast, snacks during the day and dinner.

Day Five - Return to Whitehorse

Today we return to Whitehorse and pass through some of the best landscapes to photograph the fall colours in the Yukon. Its an early morning departure after breakfast in order to arrive back in Whitehorse before dinner.

After dinner, if the skies are clear, its another night in the rural areas north of Whitehorse to photograph the aurora under minimal light pollution.

Accommodation in Whitehorse. Included is breakfast, snacks during the day and dinner.

Day Six - - Saving the best for last, well, in my opinion anyways... its a drive west to Kluane National Park.

But before we get to Kluane, we will visit the Whitehorse wildlife Preserve. You will have just spent 5 days photographing areas that many of the animals in the preserve live in. If we were not lucky enough to see these animals in the wild, we want to give you the opportunity to photograph them in a smaller wildness area. You will have the opportunity to photograph, Lynx, Arctic fox, caribou, elk, Bison, Thinhorn Sheep, Mountain Goats and Mule deer.

Then it’s on to Kluane. If you've ever imagined standing amidst a sweeping landscape of mountain valleys carved by glaciers and sprinkled with alpine wildflowers and vibrant fall colours, you will get to live your dream in Kluane National Park and Reserve of Canada. An icon of North America and the center piece of the Kluane region in Yukon, Kluane National Park and Reserve is one of our natural treasures and was declared a World Heritage Site in 1979.

Accommodation in Haines Junction area, Breakfast and Dinner Included

Say Seven - Kluane National Park - A world Heritage sight

Encompassing breathtaking views of lush valleys, mountain ranges, Kluane National Park and Reserve of Canada is part of the largest internationally protected wilderness area in the world. Four interconnecting wilderness parks in British Columbia, Alaska and the Yukon are designated a World Heritage Site.

We will take different hikes into the back country of Kluane before we gather and have a campfire dinner in the park as the sun prepares to set. After dinner, it’s a golden hour photo shoot at one of the two of the most beautiful lakes in the Yukon, Kluane Lake or Kathleen Lake.

Long into darkness we will remain in the area. You will be presented with golden hour and blue hour photography opportunities that end with a star show with zero light pollution, and maybe, a once in a lifetime chance to photograph an aurora show in this area. But if the aurora doesn't present itself, the night skies still offer the opportunity to learn how to easily create star trail photos or other night time long exposure photos.

Accommodation in Whitehorse, Breakfast and Dinner Included

Say Eight - Departure Day

Departure day. We will transfer you to the airport for your flights home. There are early morning flight options and late afternoon flight options for those that want to stay and do some shopping and sightseeing downtown Whitehorse before they depart. There are airport shuttle buses and we will have our vehicle to ensure that you get to the airport in time to get your flight... unless you want to stay. ;-)

If you see landscapes painted with crimson and amber by day and green and magenta skies at night in your future, click the link to contact us to get that last spot.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Species Spotlight - The Orca Whale

Photo courtesy of Simon Pidcock
Orca whales are cetaceans, a large group of approximately 80 kinds of whales, dolphins, and porpoises. The largest member of the dolphin family (females can grow as large as 23 feet in length, while males can reach 32 feet), orca whales have highly developed brains, and like all dolphins, use sophisticated biological sonar called echolocation, to communicate with one another. When the Southern Resident Community whales arrive in Haro Strait on the southeast shores of Vancouver Island, they “announce” their arrival to other whales already in the area with their highly developed vocal activity.

Types of Orcas

Orca whales are divided into three separate categories based upon geographical location and behavior. It is speculated that these three distinct groups of orcas in the Pacific Northwest may be the result of food preference and availability.

Resident Orcas tend to have distinct and stable migration patterns and family structures, while Transient Orca Whales are more loosely organized. It is estimated that there are approximately 450 Transient Orca Whales living along the western North American seaboard from Mexico to the Bering Sea. Little is currently known about the third category, Offshore Orcas, although they are being actively studied by scientists. Discovered in 1991, the Offshore Orcas are most commonly seen 15 to 25 miles out at sea off Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands. It is possible that this third category of whales is the ancestral population of the Northern and or the Southern Resident orca whales.

Social Structure
Orca whales generally live in groups known as pods, which are comprised of two or more females, calves, one or more males, and juveniles. These stable, matrilineal pods of orcas often consist of a mother, her offspring, and several generations of family members who travel together. Some offspring stay with their mother for life. This type of familial structured pod has been consistently observed in the Pacific Northwest. While all pods share common sounds, each pod also has its own distinctive sound.

Photo courtesy of Simon Pidcock
With 46 to 50 conical shaped teeth that point slightly inwards and backwards, the orca is well adapted for hunting. While resident orca whales tend to feed on fish species such as herring or salmon, transient whales eat a variety of animals including smaller whales, penguins, porpoises, harbour seals, sea lions, squid and sharks. Orcas generally forage individually, although it is thought by scientists that a coordinated method of group hunting probably occurs.

Although very little is understood about the orca's breeding habits, newborn calves have been observed throughout the year, indicating no particular breeding season. Orcas are considered to be sexually mature between the ages of 10 and 18 years of age, with females believed to be reproductively active into their 40's. The gestation period for an orca is approximately between 13 to 17 months, and a newborn calf is generally about 6-7 feet long, and weighs approximately 400 pounds.

When resting, orca whales generally maintain a slow swimming speed (2 knots or less), and synchronize their breathing with other whales within their social group. They also rest while laying almost motionless on the surface of the water. During these very quiet rest periods, orcas emit just a few discrete sounds, and scientists believe that one group member may remain more attentive than the remaining pod.

In 2016 we will be running a few workshops to photograph the orcas, our next one can be seen here,

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Canada Spotlight - Beautiful British Columbia

With nearly 1,000 Provincial Parks, National Parks, Marine Parks, Regional Parks, Protected Areas, Conservancy Areas, and Ecological Reserves. Some from volcanic rock and full of beauty and natural splendor, Vancouver Island and the BC Gulf Island and Discovery Islands offer magnificent rain forests, towering mountains, sparkling blue seas, remote shell beaches, and secluded bays. 
Rugged Central and North Vancouver Island feature a largely uninhabited wilderness of forests, lakes and snow-capped peaks. The Pacific Rim on the West coast delivers wild landscapes, old-growth forest, and never-ending sandy beaches, with wildlife residents such as black bear, cougar, Elk, bald eagles, a variety of whales, Vancouver Island is a unique, natural paradise awaiting exploration through your lens.

The first area I want to highlight is the Tofino area. Tofino is a pretty fishing village at the tip of Esowista Peninsula near the entrance to Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It is here where you step into the land of the “Group of Seven” painters and capture the essence of the Pacific Northwest… The Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, typifies the majesty of the Pacific Northwest, boasting flawless natural beauty accentuated by a tapestry of vibrant communities.
This area inspires many renowned artists and artisans, who honor the magic of this land by bringing it into the physical realm. Add to that a climate that summons outdoor enthusiasts from all corners of the Earth and it is clear that this area is poised to please the photographer.

An ancient settlement on the northern edge of Barkley Sound, Ucluelet takes its name from the Nuu-chah-nulth phrase, Yu-clutl-ahts, the people with a good landing place for canoes.

A bit further south is Ucluelet. Ucluelet is situated in the Long Beach of Pacific Rim National Park, located between the villages of Tofino and Ucluelet – the most accessible and most developed component of the Pacific Rim National Park. Named for its 12-mile stretch of surf-swept sand, Long Beach is open year-round and offers outstanding beach hiking, surfing, storm watching and whale watching. The open sea stretches off unbroken and vacant, while the elemental forces at play here, the winds and tides, the sun and rain, excite within visitors a deep-seated resonance, a sense of belonging in this place.

Both Tofino and Ucluelet are excellent areas to observe, and photograph numerous whale species, bald eagles that dot the shoreline, and black bear.

As we move east, we always visit the charming and picturesque seaside village of Cowichan Bay. Cowichan Bay is located on the east coast of southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The Cowichan Bay settlement started in the 1850s as a Hudson’s Bay Company fort. The original site was located at the flats at the top of Cowichan Bay. Cowichan Bay was the earliest development north of Victoria, with Europeans settling on the secluded Cowichan Bay to farm and trap, and eventually moving into fishing and logging. In 1862 the HMS Hecate arrived with a boatload of settlers. A store and hotel soon followed, and by 1900 Cowichan Bay was a tourist mecca with steamboats calling regularly at the government dock.

Cowichan Bay draws its name from an Island Halkomelem word meaning warm country or land warmed by the sun. The name originated because of a large rock formation on the side of Mount Tzuhalem that supposedly resembled a frog basking in the sun. Originally both Cowichan Lake and the settlement were known as Kaatza, the Cowichan word for big lake. The Cowichan Bay area and much of the southern Strait of Georgia is the traditional land of the Cowichan First Nation.

Today, the village of Cowichan Bay and the surrounding area is home to historic buildings and a host of artists, craftspeople, unique shops, and cottage industries – including some fine local wineries and organic farms. Take a step back in time to enjoy the slower pace of life in this community that embraces the values of local resources and sustainability.

But this is much more than that. All you have to do is look towards the ocean. Its home to dozens, if not hundreds of transient and resident Orca Whales. This area has always been our favorite, and first choice to take zodiac tours to follow the orca pods to watch them frolic, hunt and breach amidst some of the most photogenic islands in the Pacific Northwest.

The viewing of wildlife on and around Vancouver Island and the Gulf and Discovery Islands of BC offers something for all nature lovers and wildlife photographers. Whale watching requires little introduction, as British Columbia is well known as the place on earth to watch migrating and resident whales feeding, breaching or spy-hopping. The phenomenon of salmon spawning draws people from all over the world to the Pacific Northwest to watch schools of salmon return from the sea to lay their roe in their ancestral spawning grounds. Vancouver Island happens to be conveniently located on the Pacific Flyway for the millions of migrating birds that miraculously find their way north and south with the changing of the seasons. Vancouver Island supports black bears, cougars, wolves, elk, deer and many other mammal and bird species, both abundant and threatened in numbers.

Whale watching around Vancouver Island in British Columbia is an exceptional experience that will leave you awestruck after watching whales that weigh thousands of pounds frolic in their natural habitat. Killer whales (Orcas), Gray whales, Humpback whales and Minke whales ply the waves and perform their watery rituals. Whale Watching tours are operated along the east coast of Vancouver Island, from Victoria to Campbell River and Port Hardy, on the west coast of the island out of Tofino and Ucluelet, and from the BC Gulf Islands and Discovery Islands. Whale watching at its best!

And finally, there is Campbell River. Campbell River marks the spot where the open waters of the Georgia Strait narrow down and fill with a tight cluster of islands. The BC mainland’s coastal mountain range looms large to the east.

The Discovery Passage runs north along the coast of Quadra Island through Seymour Narrows (famous for its surging tides) and onwards to the Johnstone Strait. This is prime whale watching and salmon fishing. In fact, this area has been called the salmon fishing capitol of the world… and it’s just not humans that know it. The bears know it too.

That is why I lived in BC for three years, and why we still visit the area. We go to photograph the black bear and Grizzly Bear as they feed on the surging salmon coming inland to spawn.
We have numerous trips running on Vancouver Island… Please visit our Canadian workshop page as we are constantly adding tours for wildlife and for landscapes.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Canada Destination Spotlight - Juan de Fuca Marine Trails

The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail was created through the Commonwealth Nature Legacy as an enduring reminder of the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games. Preservation of a living legacy of unprecedented natural beauty, accessible to all, was considered a fitting tribute to the spirit of the Games.

Construction and preservation of the Trail has been made possible by the efforts of government, local industries, First Nations and citizens. Land exchanges and gifts of land have come from Western Forest Products and Timber West. Trail upgrades have been undertaken with funding from Forest Renewal BC and the Environment Youth Team (E-Team).

The Juan de Fuca Marine Trail was originally part of a lifesaving trail that serviced this area, known at the time as the Graveyard of the Pacific.

The park protects significant marine tidal pool life at Botanical Beach as well as black bear and cougar habitat. The region is so biologically significant that the University of Minnesota installed the first marine research station in the Pacific Northwest at Botanical Beach in 1901. Since then, the area has been used for research by a number of universities in BC and Washington.
Botanical Beach offers one of the richest tidal areas found along the west coast, and opportunities for viewing in these tide pools is excellent. Red, purple and orange starfish and sea urchins, white gooseneck barnacles, blue mussels and green seas anemones and sea cucumbers only begin to hint at the colourful spectrum of intertidal life thriving here.

Terrific views can be seen from many points along the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, particularly at the Loss Creek Suspension Bridge and the Minute Creek Suspension Bridge. The Juan de Fuca trail also offers spectacular views of the coastline, Juan de Fuca Strait and the Olympic Mountains. Whales, marine birds and other wildlife can also be seen in the park.

The three main areas to visit in the park are as follows:

The western section of the park around Botanical Beach contains two smaller trails: Mill Bay and Botanical Loop. The Mill Bay Trail accesses a small pebble and shell beach; portions of this trail are steep. Parking for this trail is at the Mill Bay Trailhead, beside the road to Botanical Beach. Botanical Loop Trail connects Botanical Beach and Botany Bay. This is an easy to moderate walk, but in the golden hour, the photography opportunities are endless.

China Beach day-use: A scenic 1 km trail leads from the parking lot through mature forest to the beach. A large viewing deck offers views of the beach and Juan de Fuca Strait. This is an easy to moderate, fairly steep trail with lots to see and photograph.

Second Beach Trail: Second Beach can be reached from the China Beach campground via stairs and a 1 km long fairly steep gravel trail. The 15-20 minute hike (each way) through the mature forest of Sitka spruce, Douglas fir and Western red cedar leads visitors to the great rolling breakers of a tumultuous sea. Benches and viewing areas along the way provide a spot for photographers to stop to enjoy the views of Juan de Fuca Strait and all is beauty.

We visit Juan de Fuca Provincial Park on our Vancouver Island Workshops. Why don’t you consider joining us, all the details are found here,

Monday, February 22, 2016

Can you think of many areas virtually untouched by tourism? I can, and i introduce it to you today

Are there many areas left on this planet virtually untouched by tourism? Can you think of any off the top of your head?

I can, and I have had the pleasure to be traveling there for half a decade with small groups of photographers just like you.

The location, Mongolia. The reason, some of the most unique photo opportunities I have ever experienced.

Although the practice is rapidly disappearing in other centers of Kazakh culture, in Mongolia the tradition of Eagle Falconry on Horseback is alive and well.  It is a tradition as old as the nomadic Khitans from Manchuria. A people who conquered part of northern China around 940AD.

Every year, just as the winter hunting season is about to get underway, eagle hunters gather from all corners of Bayan Olgii province to celebrate the enduring tradition and to pit their birds against all comers during a two day event that will captivate your imagination, fill your memory cards and leave you with memories that will last a lifetime.

Today, approximately 250 Kazakh men live in the western Mongolia province of Bayan-Olgi carry on a tradition first depicted by the Khitan archives. This tradition is “horse riding eagle falconry”. The skill of using a Golden Eagle to capture prey while riding through the mountains.

Now, every October, a festival to celebrate the traditions and the craft of eagle hunting on horseback occurs. During this festival up to 70 eagle hunters gather for the annual Kazakh Golden Eagle Festival of Mongolia. And, on my last trip for the festival, the ages ranged from a young girl of 13yrs old participated, and as old as an 85yr old man showed the intimate crowd the art of golden eagle hunting.

I had the pleasure of witnessing the synchronicity between man (and a girl) and eagle over the course of two entertaining days. Both hunter and eagle showing off the skills needed to once tip the scales between starvation and survival; now showing off the skills to still feed a family, but more to embrace the long standing heritage and show off the prowess of the art of hunting fox.

On my trips, you will join me at their festival to watch the thrilling competition that tests not just the bird's mettle and the hunter's skill, but also the bond between hunter and bird.

Beforehand, we accompany Kazakh Eagle Hunters on a hunt with their eagles in an intimate photo opportunity with eagle hunters in their natural setting… the Altai Mountains.

But it’s just not for the festival that I like to go to Mongolia. You will get a taste of the region's stunning natural beauty—forested valleys, clear alpine lakes, expansive meadows, and snowcapped peaks.

If you would like to know more, we are visiting the festival twice in the next two years.

Please see those trips here…

If you still want to see Mongolia, but would like to see the Naadam Festival, we are going there in 2017 as well. See that trip here,