Muskoxen in Nome, Alaska

Muskox (Ovibos Moschatus) – the bearded one (umingmak)

Woods Cree name “mathimos” means “ugly moose”

Muskox live in herds of 12 to 24 in the winter and 8 to 20 in the summer. Although they do not migrate, they will range about 50 miles between summer and winter. They have a distinctive defensive behavior: when the herd is threatened, the adults will face outward to form a stationary ring or semicircle to surround the calves.

This amazing stocky, long-haired, hoofed mammal with a slight shoulder hump has a life span of between 12 and 20 years. It is noted for its thick coat and for the strong odor emitted by the males during the seasonal rut, from which its name is derived.

Mature bulls can weigh from 600 to 800 pounds while mature cows are between 400 and 500 pounds. Both sexes have a thick skull and horns used for defense, however the horns of the bulls are larger and heavier. Calves are generally born from April to June and grow to 250 pounds in their first 6 months.In modern times, muskoxen were restricted to the Arctic areas of Northern Canada, Greenland and Alaska. By the late 1800s Muskoxen had been over hunted, leaving populations only in Eastern Greenland and Arctic Canada. Through restoration and conservation efforts they are once again found throughout the Arctic.

In Alaska there are now about 4,300. Both male and female muskox have long, curved horns and a small tail that is often concealed under a thick layer of fur. Their coat, a mix of black, gray and brown, includes long guard hairs that almost reach the ground. The wool, called qiuviut, is highly prized for its softness, length and insulation value.

We saw quite a few muskox during our wonderful visit to Nome, Alaska – some near the town but most out on the tundra visible from the “highway” roads we drove each day while exploring the area. What magnificent creatures.

Qiviut or Wool is highly prized for softness, length and insulation factor
Signs of damage to boss (horn base) during battle

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Katmai National Park Annual Fat Bear Competition

Annual Fat Bear Competition

From its humble beginnings as Fat Bear Tuesday in 2014 to more than 800,000 votes cast last year, celebrating fat bears and Katmai National Park’s healthy ecosystem has become a tradition. For bears, fat equals survival. Each winter, bears enter the den where they will not eat or drink until they emerge in spring. During this time, they may lose up to one-third of their body weight as they rely solely on their fat reserves. Survival depends on eating a year’s worth of food in just six months.

At Katmai, bears are drawn to the large number of salmon readily available from roughly late June through September. Salmon have long since been the lifeblood of the area, supporting Katmai’s people, bears and other animals. Fat bears exemplify the richness of this area, a wild region that is home to more brown bears than people and the largest, healthiest runs of sockeye salmon left on the planet.

Otis’s Normal Effective Hunting Technique
Otis Enjoying his Catch

Otis enjoying the

In 2016, we were fortunate to visit Brooks Falls and see Otis (480) demonstrate his relaxed and very successful style which has made him a four time winner of the Fat Bear Contest (2014, 2016, 2017, and 2021). Otis recognizes that patience is a successful strategy. He rarely makes an effort to chase salmon like younger, more energetic bears. Once access to his preferred fishing spots becomes available, he takes advantage of the opportunity while expending little energy. Occasionally Otis appears to be napping or not paying attention, but most of the time he’s focused on the water, and he experiences a relatively high salmon catch rate as a result, eating as many as 42 salmon  in one day.

Otis is a medium-large adult male with a blocky muzzle and a floppy right ear. He has light brown fur in early summer. By autumn, his coat becomes grizzled brown and he sports a patch of blonder fur on his right shoulder. He was first identified in 2001 and thought to be four to six years old. Now at 26-28 years, he is one of the older bears at Brooks River.

Fat Bear Week is an annual October celebration of success. All bears are winners but only one true champion will emerge. Held over the course of seven days and concluding on the Fat Bear Tuesday, people chose which bear to crown in this tournament style bracket where bears are pitted against each other for your vote.

You can track the progress of the 2023 competition this October at

To see Richard’s Grizzly Bear Gallery Click HERE

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Humpback Whales Bubble-net Feeding

A great 8 hour tour in Katmai Fjord National Park out of Seward. Heading to the N W Glacier the captain saw several boats around a location where a group of Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) were Bubble-net feeding in Resurrection Bay.

Humpback whales only feed for six months of the year while they are in the rich seas of Alaska and in particular the Kenai Fjords National Park. For the other six months of a year they go south to warmer waters in order to focus on breeding. In fact once a calf is born the mother feeds it with her rich milk and will not eat herself until she is back in Alaskan waters.

Photograph of Humpback Whales Bubble-net Feeding in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

What is Bubble-net Feeding?

Bubble-net feeding is a hunting strategy requiring close cooperation of the whales in a group for a mass feeding. In the group of whales one calls for the dive. As a group they dive well below a shoal of fish. Another of the group calls for the bubbles. The whales blow bubbles from their blowholes and swim in decreasing circles. The fish are trapped in the centre of the circles and are forced up to the surface by the wall of bubbles and the loud noise made by the bubbles. Yet another whale calls for the feed move whereby the whales swim to the surface in the centre of their bubble-net, with their mouths wide open, catching tons of fish.

Our captain told us to watch the birds. The circling gulls are the first to see where the bubbles are coming to the surface, which tells us where the whales will break surface. He was concerned that the number of boats might be causing stress for the whales so he moved us on to the glacier and planned to revisit the whales on our return. Luckily for us this enabled us to witness a magnificent glacier calving (another blog will deal with that). If we had stayed with the bubble-net feeding we would have missed this.

So this was our return to the Humpback whales and their bubble feeding. This was a particularly inclement and grey day so I have converted the image to black and white in order to add some contrast and maybe historic feel to the image.

Gear: Nikon Z 8, Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S, Nikkor Z TD-1.4x, Delkin Digital Film

#Alaska #KenaiFjords #NationalPark #HumpbackWhales #Bubble-netFeeding #NikonZ8 #NikkorZ100-400 #NikonNoFilter #ZCreators #bw_perfection

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7 Nights, 6 Days in Nome, AK

Photograph of a Summer Home on Taylor Highway in Nome Alaska

Following our enjoyment at this time of year birding in Churchill, MB we decided that as we are in Alaska, visiting Nome would be the equivalent.

Reality is that it blew us away. The scenery was more snow capped mountains than we could dream of and the wildlife……..

Well here is a list of our 6 days of viewing and shooting

  • Aleutian Tern *
  • American Robin
  • American Tree Sparrow *
  • American  Wigeon
  • Arctic Tern
  • Baird’s Sandpiper
  • Bar-tailed Godwit *
  • Barn Swallow
  • Black Scoter
  • Bluethroat *
  • Brandt  
  • Common Eider
  • Common Redpoll *
  • Common Ringed Plover *
  • Fox Sparrow *
  • Golden-crowned Sparrow *
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Gray-cheeked Thrush *
  • Harlequin Duck
  • Hoary Redpoll *
  • Lapland Longspur – male & female gathering nest building material
  • Long-tailed Duck
  • Long-tailed Jaeger *
  • Marbled Godwit
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Northern Waterthrush *
  • Orange-crowned Warbler
  • Pacific Golden Plover *
  • Parasitic Jaeger
  • Pomerine Jaeger *
  • Pintail Duck
  • Red-breasted Merganser
  • Red-necked Phalarope
  • Red-necked Stint *
  • Red-throated Loon
  • Rock Ptarmigan *
  • Rough-legged Hawk
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • Semi-palmated Plover
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Surfbird
  • Swainson’s Thrush *
  • Tree Swallow
  • Trumpeter Swans
  • Wandering Tattler *
  • Western Sandpiper
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Willow Ptarmigan male & female
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Wilson’s Warbler
  • Yellow-bellied Marmot *
  • Yellow Warbler
  • Arctic Ground Squirrel
  • Moose, Cows with calves
  • Muskox *

* means first sighting for us.

Pictures will follow

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Returning to Alaska for Summer 2023

After we spent 5 months in Alaska in 2016, we knew we had to come back. It was so incredible. Finally on May 8, 2023 we headed north from Chilliwack, British Columbia to Haines, Alaska, arriving on May 12, 2023. It feels so good to be back. This first leg of our summer journey took us 5 days (1,873 miles) through some of the most incredible scenery and wildlife – with overnight stops at Quesnel BC, Dawson Creek BC, Toad River BC, and Little Atlin Lake, YT.

Day 1 to Quesnel gave us beautiful and varied scenery along the Fraser and Thompson Rivers on mostly 2 lane highways with well positioned passing lanes. Only minor delays around a few flooded areas and some smoke and haze from the wildfires burning in Alberta. (Sorry about the bugs on the windscreen – we do clean at the end of each day)

Day 2 to Dawson Creek was sunny but the smoke haze continued to build which you can see in some of the photos. We got to see the first of the wildlife – Elk, Mule Deer and nesting Trumpeter Swans but not close enough to photograph.

Day 3 from Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway to Mile 422 at Toad River, BC was beautiful, warm and sunny. Judging by the leaves on the Aspen trees we moved in and out of spring several times. So much more wildlife today including Mule Deer, Black Bear, Caribou, Big Horn Sheep, Beaver and a variety of birds. Encountered some very BIG mosquitoes – fortunately not all were biting yet.

Day 4 to Little Atlin Lake near Jake’s Corner, YT was our longest day of driving – 10 hours. Toad River to Liard is a gorgeous section. The wildlife put on quite a show for us with multiple sightings of most – Big Horn Sheep, Stone Sheep, Porcupine, Caribou, Moose, Black Bear, Wood Bison. The Watson Lake Signpost Forest (Mile 635), started in 1942, has certainly grown since we last saw it.

Day 5 of our drive to Haines, Alaska was from Little Atlin Lake, YT through Haines Junction, YT to the Oceanside RV Campground on the water in Haines. We stopped in Whitehorse at Mac’s Fireweed Books on Main St. for a copy of The Milepost (2023) as we forgot ours and this was the first place that had it in stock since we crossed into Canada in April. Lesson learned: never be without Milepost. What amazing snow capped mountains to Haines Junction and then Haines – one of the most beautiful drives on the continent. Kluane National Park and Reserve is majestic. Fewer bugs on the windscreen, probably because of the intermittent rain.

Oceanside RV Park is our new home, right on the shores of the Lynn Canal, North America’s longest fjord. We have amazing ocean and mountain views right out of our windscreen. Some mornings we wake up to humpback whales and thousands of scoters diving for mussels. Aa few Bald Eagles are always perched nearby. And local fisherman sell us their fresh catches.

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