The Island of Costa Rica?

Tropical Fantasy | Resplendent Quetzal

When you mention Costa Rica people often envision a tropical isle in the Caribbean, decorated with colorful birds, white sand beaches and rich rainforests. Though most all of that is true, one point is decidedly false. There are a few common misconceptions about this popular photographic destination and being an island is right at the top of the list. It doesn’t help that the name of Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose, is easily (and often) confused with the capital city of Puerto Rico, which is San Juan. Costa Rica is not an island, though in some ways Costa Rica does have an island like feel to it. One can easily enjoy a quiet morning along the Caribbean coast, followed by a breathtaking drive through the cloud forests and mountains, and still arrive at the Pacific coast in time for a sundowner overlooking the ocean.

Cloud Atlas | Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a small country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the South. It comprises a total of 19,700 square miles, which is roughly equivalent to the size of West Virginia. Despite its relatively small size, this country boasts more than 10% of the world’s biodiversity with 19 different ecosystems! Costa Rica has been a bastion of democracy and stability in a region that has seen its share of revolutions and civil unrest. Costa Rica is recognized as a land of peace-loving people and has been without a standing army since 1946.

Color Pallet | Keel-billed Toucan

Conservation here is very important. Costa Rica is moving toward carbon neutrality faster than any other country in the world. A major goal of the Costa Rican government is to be the first carbon offset country in the world by the time they celebrate their 200th year of independence in the year 2021.

Heart of the Tropics | Costa Rica

This beautiful country is broken up into seven different provinces and during our recent photo tour my group visited six of them. We enjoyed being transported in our own private bus by our dedicated driver, Santiago. He was an expert of navigating the roads of Costa Rica and kept our luggage and camera gear safe at all times. Santiago arrived at the entrance to our hotel and ushered us away in a spacious 18 passenger bus with plenty of room on board for the group to spread out and have their camera gear close at hand. As you travel across this lush countryside one has to resist the urge to grab your camera and go chasing off into the rainforest every time you pass over one of the regions countless, beautiful streams!

The shadow of our bus as we travel out of San Jose up to the mountains.

For my Costa Rica photo tours I partner with the very best native guide. He graduated in 1996 as a biology major from Costa Rica University. Shortly thereafter he began guiding trips and now has nearly two decades of experience under his belt. He’s an endless wealth of knowledge and an incredible photographer as well. More than once on the trip he identified a bird species by simple characteristics like the color and shape of their bills. Due to his background in the field of biology he’s always mindful of the well-being of our subjects and his knowledge in that regard is indispensable.

Morning Glory | Scarlet Tanager

Costa Rica is far more than just colorful birds. During our ten day photo tour my group was able to photograph Howler Monkeys, Coati, Crocodiles, Sloths (including a mother and baby), as well as a wide variety of frogs, snakes, bats, insects and owls. There were endless breathtaking landscapes and multiple waterfalls to enjoy as well. To see a sample of the subject diversity that we photographed take a moment to browse my Costa Rica portfolio here at this link.

Midnight Snack | Orange Nectar Bat
Eye Candy | Spiny Glass Frog
Nectar Bar | Fiery-throated Hummingbirds
Cover Girl | Eyelash Viper

If you’re planning to visit Costa Rica, one term you should be familiar with is “Pura Vida” (pronounces poo-rah vee-dah). Simply translated, it means, “simple life ” or “pure life ”. In Costa Rica this is more than just a saying, it is their way of life. Another thing you should be aware of is the food. It is delicious! The portions are plentiful and hunger is never a problem. If tropical drinks are your thing, then you’re in for a treat with their Pina Coladas. The only warning I’d give you is to stay away from eating the Mangos that my guides will offer to pick for you fresh off the trees. I say this for the simple reason that the Mangos from the supermarket back home will never be the same!

Spotlight | Red-eyed Tree Frog

I’ll be taking another group to photograph this incredible country again next year and the trip is already sold out. If you’re interested in joining us in 2021 you’ll find next year’s itinerary at the Tropics of Costa Rica Photo Tour. This is truly a magical destination filled with species diversity and stunning landscapes. It is for good reason that Costa Rica is the only country that can make the claim ‘Pura Vida‘ and you’ll need to visit to experience it for yourself.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

Nathaniel

The Golden Canopy | Costa Rica

Life, Legacy and The Shadow of Death

Inspiration | Iceland

“Leukemia,” my doctor answered when I asked him to clarify specifically what he meant by eliminating anything ‘really scary’ from the possible cause of my symptoms. His words were followed by stunned silence as my wife Elizabeth and I tried to process the weight of that word. Leukemia is perhaps the most dreaded of all cancers. For those who have been diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia the survival rate after five years is a mere 26%. Earlier in March of 2018 I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a non-contagious, auto immune disease that attacks the digestive system. I’d also lost over 35 pounds in the past year without really trying. During the following weeks my blood labs showed my hemoglobin was below normal and that my blood platelet counts were dangerously low, and dropping steadily. Healthy platelet levels range between 150,000 – 400,000 per microliter, mine were at 32,000. Platelets are responsible for clotting your blood, so low levels make even a small cut a serious situation as significant blood loss can occur. In mid-May my hematologist recommended I take a high dose of steroids over four days in hopes of boosting my platelets into a normal range. The following week we met to discuss the results. They were far from what we’d hoped, my platelet levels had only increased to 48,000. It was on this day that my hematologist indicated the urgent need to eliminate Leukemia as the cause of my symptoms. I was scheduled for an emergency bone marrow biopsy two days later on May 24th.

For Whom The Bell Tolls | Iceland

WHISPERS IN THE DARK

From the day my doctor uttered the word ‘Leukemia’ my life was forever changed. Despite the absence of a confirmed diagnosis both Elizabeth and I were certain of the results long before we received them. It all made sense now, my platelets were low because with Leukemia I’d no longer be producing them. I went through a variety of emotions; disbelief, loneliness, anger, sadness and a host of others. At the same time all the typical, daily frustrations suddenly seemed so insignificant. The priorities of life rearranged themselves incredibly fast as my family and I struggled to grasp and accept this new reality. So often we take life for granted, there is an unwritten expectation of living well into our eighties. I wasn’t afraid of dying, however, the pain of knowing I’d not be able to be there for my wife and children crushed me. When I looked at the faces of my three sons I struggled not to weep. I’ve usually been very observant of my surroundings, but now when I went outdoors I took even greater notice of the trees and flowers, the warmth of the sun, the sounds of a bird singing and tried to soak up every single moment of my existence here. Over the following days Elizabeth and I had some very real conversations, the kind you never expect to have in your early forties. We discussed what a positive diagnosis would mean as far as where we lived for the next five years. All of my family lives in New England. Elizabeth and I decided it would be best to move back to Maine so that our four year old son Dimitri could develop a strong support network and be surrounded by my family members once I was gone. We’d been seriously considering a move back to the East Coast within the next five to ten years anyway, but my health was now accelerating this decision. We insulated our youngest from what we were discussing, however our two older sons (ages 15 and 13) knew all my symptoms were pointing towards some form of cancer. As a result we had to discuss all the possibilities of life and death with them as well. This was certainly the most difficult conversation we’d ever had and lots of tears were shed. Most of the time Elizabeth and I were stohic in front of our children in the face of this situation, but that conversation was the exception. Over the following week sleepless nights became almost common. Elizabeth and I frequently awoke in the middle of the night and cried in each others arms when the pain became too much to bear. We would sit up together for hours discussing everything from our favorite memories, to planning how to best position our family for a life without me.

The Solar Effect | New Zealand

LIFE AND PURPOSE

During one of our late night conversations Elizabeth asked me what I wanted to do with whatever time I had left on this earth. I’d had many hours to ponder that question over the past few days, so my answer was easily articulated. I said my primary focus would be on making wonderful memories with her and our three boys. Secondly, I already had four major photography workshops sold out for this year to Iceland, Alaska, Sedona and Africa, and if my health would allow I wanted to complete those trips with my clients. After that I’d see how effective the chemo treatments were before deciding whether I could continue my photography business in 2019. My third and final wish was to dedicate a concentrated effort into making the world a better place as long as I had the strength to do so. My plan is to donate any spare time I have teaching nature photography and sharing presentations of my images with the infirm and those suffering from terminal illness in hopes of brightening their days. I’ve been immensely fortunate in my life to travel the world and photograph some of the most beautiful places on our planet. I want to share these blessings from my life with others in attempts to ease the sufferings of my fellow man in some small way. Elizabeth said that would be a noble way to spend the remainder of my life and that me using my last days seeking to comfort others who were suffering would be a profound example for our sons.

Photographers speak about using nature photography to bring about awareness and affect change for the benefit of the natural world. While I believe this is important or perhaps even critical, it has never seemed like it accomplishes enough. There’s more that could and should be done. People all over the world live every day with chronic diseases like Leukemia while no sign of a cure exists. Nature photography can be used as a tool to bring peace and comfort to them in their pain and suffering. Just knowing someone else cares enough to visit them and share their work could brighten the day in ways we can’t even imagine. Though much of the devastation in the natural world has been caused by man, I don’t believe we can discount the fact that humans are also the key to protecting it. People protect what they love. The famous Russian author Dostoevsky wrote, “Beauty will save the world”. Through my images I’ve always strived to foster a real love and respect for the natural world by touching the heart of the viewer with its beauty. As Dr. Jane Goodall said, “We can never win an argument by appealing to people’s heads, its got to be in the heart”.

Dawn Of Time | Africa

CREATING A LEGACY

The results of my bone marrow biopsy surprisingly came back negative for Leukemia, Lymphoma or any other forms of cancer. I was instead diagnosed with ITP, an auto immune disease where the body destroys your platelets. I’ve begun infusion treatments for this disease at the cost of $40,000 per treatment and I’m expected to do four of them in the first month alone. While I am immensely grateful for this news and thankful that my journey on this earth continues, I’ve been forever changed from this experience. I see life through a completely different prism now. Once you’ve experienced life as a defined timeline, your perspective is permanently altered. For an extended period I truly believed that my time here was over, instead I now have a new lease on life and a fresh outlook. I’m delighted at the prospect of spending it with my beloved family and eager to continue sharing my love of photography through teaching my workshops. All of these recent experiences caused me to ponder the idea of building a legacy with ones photography. Due to the sheer number of photographers today, leaving a legacy behind after your death is more implausible than ever. I’ve often wondered what would happen if I stopped uploading files to my website or posting on social media, just how many people would notice? We are so inundated with an endless stream of content that it would be easy to overlook the absence of our favorite photographers if they faded from view. The realization that my weakened health led me to see was that I must create a legacy with my photography now. Perhaps this was the reason I had to go through such a terrifying experience, the clarity that it brought me is invaluable. This seed of inspiration, to teach nature photography and share my images in order to brighten the lives of those around me that are suffering, was planted in my heart for a reason. The results of these efforts will produce a far greater legacy than being remembered for ones work after your death. My commitment to this is even more important now that I have the time to fulfill the task. I’m deeply grateful to have this opportunity. It is my hope that by teaching nature photography and sharing my images with those that are terminally ill, perhaps I can enrich their lives and help to ease their suffering. I pray that these recent life experiences I’ve shared here inspire others to do the same and bring happiness to those who need it most. This is how photography will change the world.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

Nathaniel

* UPDATE:

Nearly two years after this terrifying experience I am happy to report that my Crohn’s disease is in full remission and my blood platelet levels are continuing to climb back to normal levels. Thank you all for your love, prayers and concern during this incredibly difficult period of my life.

Through The Tempest | Iceland

Alaska, Land Of The Ggagga

This is the incredible backdrop while on location photographing Alaskan Brown Bears in Lake Clark National Park. The top of Iliamna Volcano, shrouded in clouds here in this photo, towers 10,016 feet above the park and is covered by snow year round.

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve protects more than 4 million acres of diverse habitats ranging in elevation from sea level to over 10,000 feet. The first record of the native people building permanent settlements on the shores of Lake Clark are estimated to have arrived around 1000AD. Known as Dena’ina Athabascans, these people came to this land for the fishing opportunities. Lake Clark (known to the Dena’ina as Qizhjeh Vena – or ‘The lake where people gathered ‘) was named after John W. Clark of Nushagak, Alaska in 1891. Long before the Dena’ina came to this place or John W. Clark discovered it, this region belonged to the bears. The Dena’ina word for Bear is Ggagga… Welcome to the Land of the Ggagga!

ALASKA’S BEST KEPT SECRET

A few years ago I began to explore the possibility of leading a workshop in the wilds of Alaska to photograph the majestic Brown Bears. After a lot of research I determined the ideal location was at a remote Lodge along the shores of Cook Inlet in Lake Clark National Park. The Lodge is situated on 40 acres of private land in Lake Clark National Park. The owners have deep roots in Alaska combined with a sincere love for the land and its wildlife. This is an exceptionally unique location offers an unrivaled opportunity to photograph these incredible animals. Over the past 30 plus years the Lodge and its caretakers have carefully established their presence so as to limit the impact on the bears way of life. The Lodge requires compliance of their staff and guests to certain guidelines that ensure the bears and people continue to live together here in harmony. Since starting to lead groups to the area nearly half a century ago, the they have achieved an impeccable safety record with zero bear related injuries or attacks. The Lodge has been named “One of the 10 great places for a North American Safari” and boasts a 50% guest return rate.  Their experienced, professional staff attended to all the needs of their guests with the greatest enthusiasm and care. Due to the immense popularity of this destination there was a multiple year wait to even be able to book space for my workshop participants. Finally after a lot of planning the day of our departure finally arrived.

The view from the skies approaching Seattle.

THEN AND NOW…

Before you even reach Alaska the anticipation begins to build. My flight routed through Seattle and then continued on to Anchorage. As our plane dropped below the clouds the view of the lush rainforest below was overwhelming. Stands of deep green forests covered the mountain range as far as the eye could see, dotted by vast, blue lakes. After a brief transfer we took off for Alaska! Upon arrival we checked into the historic Hotel Captain Cook to rest and relax before our charter flight the next day. The hotel offers views of neighboring Cook Inlet and the Chugach Mountains from any one of their 546 rooms and suites. The Hotel Captain Cook is Alaska’s only member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, making it far beyond the ordinary. It was the perfect resting place for the group on our first night together. The hotel was recently inducted into Historic Hotels of America by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. This organization founded Historic Hotels of America in 1989 with 32 charter members for historic preservation. Since that time, only 275 hotels and resorts across America have been awarded this prestigious honor for preserving and maintaining their historic integrity, architecture and ambiance. The Hotel Captain Cook being one of those recognized. The hotel offers four distinctive restaurants within the building as well as gifts and unique souvenirs for sale in their 12 shops. After a pleasant evening meal together we all turned in for the night.

The stunning view from one of the hotel’s impressive ‘Crow’s Nest’ suites.

A BIRDS EYE VIEW

The following morning we enjoyed a pleasant breakfast before heading to the airport for our charter flight that transferred us to Lake Clark National Park. We were fortunate to have clear skies, but high winds delayed our departure for a couple hours. While we waited for the winds to subside we spent time chatting about the upcoming adventure, sharing our mutual excitement. Finally the call came through from the Lodge and we were cleared for takeoff. The plane was loaded quickly and we climbed in, eager to reach our intended destination. We took to the skies and headed towards Lake Clark National Park. I have flown over many beautiful landscapes, including Iceland and Africa, but this flight was exceptional! Despite the light mist that we flew through, the views were incredible. A myriad of patterns played out on the forest floor below us. Rivers and streams made fascinating shapes as they chased out to the wide open ocean. Intricate, abstract patterns in the sand could be seen along the shoreline, left behind by the changing tides. As we drew closer to our destination massive waterfalls could be seen flowing off the cliff faces and plugging to the ground beneath… It was magical! Our pilot welcomed us to talk to one another through the headsets during the flight to the Lodge, but it seemed we were all lost in our own thoughts as we passed over this breathtaking landscape. As a result, most of the trip was completed in silence with us staring out in awe at the Alaskan wilderness.

Our chariot awaiting to take us to the remote Alaskan wilderness!

The view from the skies just outside of Anchorage.

Amazing patterns in the sand where large rivers flow into the open ocean.

Fascinating shapes in the tidal rivers below us.

One of the guides from the Lodge greets the incoming plane and the new guests as they arrive on the beach against the backdrop of a dramatic sunrise.

WALKING IN THEIR FOOTSTEPS

We were greeted by the friendly faces of the Lodge staff as we touched down on the beach. Landing on a sand beach is one of the most incredible experiences and only added to the amazing journey we were on. Stepping out of the charter plane signs of the bears were evident if you looked closely. Scanning the sand you could see their gigantic footprints along the shore. The smell of the salt air mixed with the strong aroma of the conifer forest surrounding us was a welcome greeting. We were quickly shuttled up to our accommodations and given an opportunity to settle in before meeting at the Lodge for a warm mid-day meal.

The Lodge here in Lake Clark National Park affords photographers a completely unique experience with bears, allowing us to photograph them free of viewing platforms and crowds of noisy tourists. All the guests visiting this Lodge are there to view the bears and they do so in a respectful, considerate manner. As the bears walked we would stay back, always giving them their space. The guides from the Lodge do an amazing job ensuring that the guests never restrict the bear’s movements or encroach on them. Our first session shooting the bears was very memorable and set high expectations for the group! We started off photographing a couple of bear cubs with their mother on the beach. Eventually we followed them back into one of the expansive meadows for more photo opportunities of them grazing. The bears, though certainly aware of our presence, behaved as though we didn’t exist and passed by our group as we hunkered down behind our lenses. Listening to their grunts as they communicated with one another was unforgettable. At times we were close enough to hear them munching on the grass. One of the local raptors perched in a nearby tree repeatedly put on a show for us, flying out over the field and hovering in place as it hunted for its next meal. A light rain was falling on and off, giving the bears great texture in their fur. Every so often one of the bear cubs would shake, sending a shower of spray everywhere. The expression on their faces are priceless as their bodies wiggle in three different directions!

A first year cub shaking the water from its fur after a rain shower.

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A BEAR CUB

Over the next five days my workshop group would experience and photograph incredible scenes and unforgettable moments beyond their greatest expectations. The Lodge is situated along a river that flows into the ocean and provides the perfect feeding opportunity for the bears and their cubs. They fish for salmon in the river mouth, dig for clams at low tide on the mud flats and graze in the meadows on the grasses. During the workshop there were about half a dozen mother bears with cubs. Watching the young cubs interacting with their mother and each other is very entertaining! The cubs would often try to hunt for fish in the river without success. However, when one of them was lucky enough to catch a salmon that was spawned out or a morsel of one left behind by their mother they would become rabidly aggressive in protecting the fish from towards their sibling and mother. This was when you’d really see the personality differences between the cubs, it was fascinating to watch. When a cub did manage to catch a fish or secure a stray piece you almost wanted to stand up and cheer for them!

An experienced mother bear showing her two small cubs how to hunt for salmon at the river mouth.

A yearling cub races off frantically from its mother and sibling with a chunk of salmon in order to eat it without sharing. These moments were hilarious!

The smaller of the two siblings sits dejected in the surf after missing out on the last fish caught. Its larger counterpart affectionately approaches and comforts junior bear.

Apparently forgiven, the junior bear cub returns the affection of its larger sibling with kisses on the end of the nose.

One of the favorite places for the mother bears to feed their young cubs was on the tender clover blossoms that grew thick on the mowed lawns of the Lodge. Getting down low offered an excellent perspective to capture these images.

About half way through the workshop we got to witness and photograph a mother bear nursing her two cubs. This was one of the many highlights on the trip and a memory that we all will treasure. There were a few times when we were photographing the mother with her cubs that we anticipated this happening, but it never did. When we finally got to witness this behavior it made it extra special for my group. The mother bear purrs to her cubs as they nurse, sounding like an overgrown cat!

After fishing all their bellies were full and they would settle down into a giant heap of bears and dose off in the warm sunlight.

Photographing the sleeping bears from the shoreline of Cook Inlet.

The weather wasn’t sunny all of the time, but the mists and rain provided whole different look and feel to the surrounding landscape. I loved these days.

FISHING LESSONS

Perhaps the most exciting part of the workshop is witnessing the bears hunting for salmon in the river. This is an adrenalin filled experience as these apex predators charge through the surf at top speed, tracking a fish as it swims. You realize the incredible strength and power of these animals and it leaves you in awe. The bear’s sense of smell is exceptionally keen, aiding them in locating and capturing the fish. The average dog is said to have a sense of smell 100 times better than humans. The bloodhound is in exclusive company with a sensitivity 300 times better than that of humans. Estimates of the sensitivity of a bear’s nose vary widely, but many say bears beat all the competition boasting the ability to smell 7 times better than a bloodhound. I’ll do the math for you, if true, that means a bear can smell 2,100 times better than you and I can! When you watch them fishing you easily accept that as fact, despite how crazy it sounds.

Sometimes while the bears were fishing they would chase a salmon in the general direction of where our group was set up. Watching this drama unfold through the viewfinder on your camera makes these moments all the more intense, as it can appear that the bear has nearly reached you when looking through a 600mm lens! However their sole focus is on catching as many fish as possible and they rarely even afford us a passing glance while we are out photographing them. The Lodge has been established here so long the bears simply treat the people as part of the landscape.

Full Tilt | Alaskan Brown Bear

Chasing Fish Tails | Alaskan Brown Bear

Missed Opportunities | Alaskan Brown Bear

The Pursuit | Alaskan Brown Bears

The River Of Life | Alaskan Brown Bear

Catch Of The Day | Alaskan Brown Bear

The Plunge | Alaskan Brown Bear

The Trophy | Alaskan Brown Bear

An Alaskan Brown Bear casually strolls past a group of bear watchers as it heads into the river to hunt for salmon.

LAKE CLARK, A HAVEN FOR WILDLIFE

Though the bears in Alaska are one of the biggest attractions, my workshop participants were treated to a wide variety of other subjects. For the past couple seasons a few Wolves have been frequenting the region and they were hanging around while we were there. Regrettably we didn’t get any pictures of the wolves, but we did find some of their giant tracks in the sand on the beach. The presence of these wolves just further lends to the attractiveness of this Lodge for nature photographers. We also spent time photographing Trumpeter Swans, Red Foxes, Sandhill Cranes, Bald Eagles and other Birds of Prey. All of the other subjects were a nice bonus and provided diversity to the images the workshop participants captured for their portfolios. It was an incredibly rewarding trip and my guests all produced exceptional images. We watched the forecast for the aurora borealis each night, but unfortunately it didn’t peak while we were there.

Massive Wolf Tracks In The Sand

The Long Road Home | Sandhill Cranes

Newton’s Law | Gull and Sea Shell

Potential For Mischief | Red Fox

The snow capped top of Iliamna Volcano is an impressive sight on a clear day when you can see the steam rising up from the volcano’s mouth.

Heading South | Trumpeter Swans

A Jellyfish stranded on the sand, waiting for the incoming tide to wash it back out to sea.

Lord Of The Skies | Bald Eagle

Nathaniel offering instruction to the workshop participants in the field.

Paradise Found | Alaskan Brown Bear

FIRST CLASS STAFF AND GOURMET MEALS

My workshop participants enjoy the relaxed atmosphere of life in the wilderness, detached from their own daily schedules and demands. You may not travel to a remote region of Alaska expecting to experience culinary delights, but we looked forward to our meals in the Lodge as much as we did photographing the wildlife each day! The Lodge is world renowned for the delicious food that they serve. The daily, personalized touches by the staff were greatly appreciated. Fern was our own dedicated server at meals, by the completion of the first day at the Lodge she had memorized all of our dietary preferences and ensured everything we desired at our place setting before we walked into the dining room!

The Lodge chef, in his element.

My workshop group posing with Fern, our incredibly competent server. This photo shows the incredible view from the second floor deck outside the dining area.

My workshop group posing with our knowledgeable and friendly guide under the Lodge’s giant bear sculpture.

The best Alaskan Brown Bear photography location in Alaska… Lake Clark National Park.

Our group had a fantastic time sharing this amazing trip together and collectively built memories that we will treasure forever. The fun didn’t stop with the photography either, we spent our spare time relaxing around the outdoor fire pit or editing our images together in the lounge. The time we spent eating meals together were just as special, and the view from the second floor dining room is epic! We often watched bears stroll by while we were up eating our meals and a Red Fox also paid us a visit. There simply is no substitute for this unique location. If you want to truly experience photographing Alaskan Brown Bears the only place to do it is in the Land of the Ggagga!

I’ll be returning to Alaska again this year in September to lead my Wonders Of Alaska Photo Workshop. There are currently only two spots left, you can find more information about the workshop here at this link.

If you’d like to see a collection of images from our recent trip please visit my Alaska Portfolio.

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. ~ Nathaniel

Until we meet again…

 

How The West Was Won

 
The American Southwest, a land of raw elements and rugged terrain, a place where only the hardiest wildlife and plants survive. This corner of the world has captivated the imaginations of people for centuries. Once known as the great frontier, it drew settlers them from all corners of the world seeking to make it their home. Today we read in history books about ‘How the West was won’, but my recent travels throughout Arizona and Utah would indicate that the wild west is anything but tamed. While crowds of tourists surely pour down its main highways in the summer months, just over the distant hills remains a land of unexplored beauty and silence. There the sun rises and sets over a stunning landscape, painting shadows in the corners that act as a supporting cast to the elaborate sandstone formations.
This was the first year since moving to Arizona in 2007 that I have not been in some remote corner of the world for the season of Spring. I took full advantage of this opportunity and spent the past three months chasing the light throughout the American Southwest and filling out my portfolio in those areas of the state.
My adventures of the season took me to countless iconic destinations across the gorgeous Arizona landscape. Monument Valley has long been known as the back yard playground of some of Hollywood’s greatest actors, most notably John Wayne. Standing there overlooking the vista dominated by towering rock buttes that are illuminated by the setting sun, one quickly realizes why many have been so easily drawn to this magical place.
The beauty of this region extends below the earth’s surface as well, deep into narrow slot canyons that have been forged by flood waters rushing over the sandstone for centuries. These powerful torrents carry rocks, logs and other debris with such force that they carve out fantastic underworld realms that are incredible places to explore and even better to photograph! During the Spring and Summer months sunbeams occasionally make it down through the top of the canyon painting the walls with light and revealing their amazing textures and patterns. Walking through the chasm one can often hear the call of a Raven perched by the top echoing through through the passage, or that of a Great Horned Owl if you’re lucky!

The plant life in the Southwest is unlike anywhere else in the United States. Gigantic Saguaros and other varieties of cactus decorate certain sections of the landscape while other parts support species that dominate a specific region, as is the case in Joshua Tree National Park. I happened to be there when these ancient trees bloom and found some wonderful subjects. This image of one bowing down to the earth, burdened by the weight of time, was one of my favorites due to its unique shape.

I would be remiss if I didn’t share one of the wonderful shots I captured of the Grand Canyon during this adventure. Here is a place that is impossible to put into words or offer an image that does justice to the majesty and glory of gazing out at one of the seven wonders of the world. When the sun cuts across the ridge line at sunset and casts beams across the vast opening it is truly breathtaking.

Another location that I photographed during this whirlwind tour was the beautiful Canyon de Chelly. Here a towering sandstone spire rises up 750 feet from the canyon floor reaching to the sky. The Navajo Nation has a fantastic legend about Spider Woman surrounding this formation that would impress even the most dedicated comic book enthusiast. Sunset overlooking this valley is unforgettable.

No trip in the American Southwest would be complete without walking around under the cover of darkness in the shadow of ancient rock formations, so I returned to do just that last weekend. My travels took me north where there is limited light pollution in order to photograph the Milky Way. Here in the wee hours of the morning the galaxy explodes above and leaves one feeling incredibly small. It is therapeutic, it puts life in context and heals your tattered soul. The adrenaline that courses through you standing there can not be duplicated. What a wonderful world.

The simple reality I discovered is that the West will never be won, it is a wild and free land for those who are willing to go out and seek its raw dimensions. If you would like more information on my upcoming Arizona workshops you can find complete details at this link. I can’t wait to return to these exceptional destinations next year with my workshop groups and look forward to sharing our images with you at that time. I am now off to lead my Ultimate African Adventure Safari, I’ll put together an in depth trip report from our experiences once we return. Thanks for reading!

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. – Nathaniel

Magee Marsh – An Avian Kingdom

Chronicles of Nature

Seeds Of Spring | Northen Parula WarblerBirds were my first love. I became captivated by the avian world at the tender age of eight. Growing up in Maine I was in the great outdoors at every chance watching these masters of flight and identifying new ones to add to my life list. Today birding has become a far more main stream hobby than it was back then.

Sunset Salute | Great Blue HeronIn those days the bird watching field trips that I went on were attended by elderly birders – and me. I didn’t care though, those folks thought it was great to see someone from the younger generation as passionate as they were and they eagerly shared their knowledge. I studied everything about my feathered friends and was inspired to draw pictures and even wrote some poems about them.

As I became more serious about my artwork I wanted to ensure that my drawings were my own rendering from start to finish. So I saved my money for a few years and bought myself a Pentax K-1000 camera and a Sigma 500mm mirror lens which allowed me to capture an image of my subjects to draw from. During the next couple years my love of photography continued to grow, eventually overtaking my interest in drawing. I had hopes of one day embracing this hobby as a career and in time I set aside my sketch pad altogether and jumped into my new found passion feet first.

Fast forward a few decades and my love for birds is still as strong as ever. I‘ve since realized those childhood dreams of becoming a full time nature photographer. These two factors led me to visit Magee Marsh this spring during The Biggest Week In American Birding  to participate in one of the largest birding events in the world  and in hopes of expanding my portfolio with some of these colorful songsters. I returned home two weeks ago and the very thought of this place brings a smile to my face. Known as one of the birding meccas in North America, Magee Marsh covers a vast area on the shores of Lake Erie and is the perfect combination of marsh, wooded areas and open water, with a variety of fringe habitats that attracts songbirds by the thousands. The neo-tropical migrants (some from as far as South America) stop there to feed and rest up, awaiting the ideal weather conditions so that they can finish their journey across the vast expanse of Lake Erie up into Canada.

Songs Of Spring | American RedstartThe variety of species is astounding and bird lovers come from all corners of the world to witness them, particularly the warblers. It was quite a spectacle. As a photographer I prefer to shoot alone most of the time, but I have to say that it was an incredible experience being surrounded by hundreds of other people that all shared the same passion and appreciation for birds that I do. We all automatically had our love for birds in common and conversations flowed naturally and easily between complete strangers. At any time I could easily find solitude by walking off onto one of the quieter trails, and often did so, those  locations yielded some of my best images from my trip.

During my visit I met a number of other photographers and bird enthusiasts that I am connected with online, but had not yet met in person. I also had the honor of exchanging a few words with Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman. Kenn is universally known as one of the world’s most renowned bird experts and his wife Kimberly is the Executive Director of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory . The Black Swamp Bird Observatory works through research and education to promote bird conservation, is responsible for organizing  The Biggest Week In American Birding  and conducts regular bird banding sessions. I’m proud to call them both friends and greatly respect their talents and efforts. They were both wonderful event hosts.

I still remember my first experience of a warbler migration in my youth all those years ago in Maine, it was wonderful… this was spectacular. There were birds absolutely everywhere you looked. I would arrive each morning before dawn and not leave the Marsh until after sunset, back at my hotel room the songs of the birds would still be echoing in my ears until long after dark.

Pools Of Sunshine | Prothonotary WarblerIf you wish to experience the thrill of the Spring songbird migration I encourage you to add this destination to your future travel plans. I intend to return again next year, until then I’ll enjoy reliving my time there as I continue to process more image files from Magee Marsh. Be sure to watch my Newest Images Portfolio  for additional photos from this trip.

Happy Birding!

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome.

– Nathaniel

 

* Natural subjects in their natural habitat – All of these photos were taken in the wild on natural perches, none of the birds were called or fed.

A moment with Kenn & Kimberly Kaufman

A moment with Kenn & Kimberly Kaufman at Magee Marsh