Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Queen of the Valley of Geysers!

Originally posted by  at Доброе утро из Кроноцкого заповедника!

Good morning from Kronotsky Nature Reserve!

This is Temnolapka (eng. Dark Paw) - the legendary female bear, the Queen of the Valley of Geysers. Take a closer look at the picture, there is an antenna visible on the back of her neck. In 2006-2007 this bear was wearing a satellite collar by which she made her contribution to the human knowledge about bears' life.

But she was not only famous for this collar! During her life Temnolapka managed to ride a helicopter and to meet renowned astronauts, generals and prime-ministers. She was adored by important people from different countries. And for hundreds, and maybe even thousands, of others she was the first bear that they saw in their life.

As for me, Temnolapka became the first bear that knew me by sight, she recognized my voice when I talked to her. (Also, it was her, who first chased me and forced to climb a tree for safety:)). Two summer seasons I lived next to her while working as a park ranger in the Valley of Geysers. In the future I plan to share with you more stories about Temnolapka's life accompanied by many photos.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Looking to the East...

Originally posted at Доброе утро из Кроноцкого заповедника!

Good morning from Kronotsky Nature Reserve!

This is the areal view of the tundra to the East of my station, in the direction of the Pacific ocean. This is the Hryukinka river right under the helicopter, and farther away - the Kronotskaya river, and then the Pacific ocean.  

Friday, July 29, 2011

"The White Silence"

Originally posted at Доброе утро из Кроноцкого заповедника!

Good morning from Kronotsky Nature Reserve!

This is another "cold" photo for the hot summer day. The Kronotsky Peninsula looks like this in winter: the white silence.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How about this wild reindeer as a neighbor?

Good morning from Kronotsky Nature Reserve!

This beautiful reindeer male has been my neighbor for almost a month (technically I am his guest, since the reserve is the wildlife home, and we - humans - are just visitors here). This animal is used to me, not scared much, and sometimes he comes up to me on distances around 50 yards. Every day I notice how he changes: his winter coat is almost gone and he is gaining weight on rich summer grass (this year the grass is very good - volcanic ash served as fertilizer).

Also this individual completely ignores bears, he often is grazing right next to them. But I'm most amazed by the size of his growing antlers. Kamchatkan wild reindeer is the largest subspecies of wild reindeer of Palearctic ecozone. And this is a giant among giants with giant antlers. By the way, the local reindeer population is considered to have the largest antlers in the world.

By September, when the mating season starts, my Neighbor needs to be in perfect shape: he will need to work hard on restoring the reindeer population. Last winter was very hard due to the Kizimen volcano eruption, so only the strongest survived. Let's hope that the next generation will also be the strongest!

Originally posted by at Доброе утро из Кроноцкого заповедника!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Let's remember the cold!

Originally posted  at Доброе утро из Кроноцкого заповедника!

This is a panorama of icebound Kronotsky Lake, and behind it you can see Valahinsky mountain ridge. Unfrozen blue patch of water on the picture is the Kronotskaya River head, it does not freeze even during the coldest winter nights. The tiny houses on the right is the ranger station "Istok" (meaning River-head in Russian). It is the closest human house to my station, 20 miles away: another park ranger is living there.

A couple of months ago I would not pay much attention to this photo, but today, when I'm forced to stay inside avoiding humidity, heat and mosquitoes, winter scenery looks appealing.

Monday, July 25, 2011

It is officially nap time!

Originally posted by  at Доброе утро из Кроноцкого заповедника!

Now the bears are eating so much salmon, so they don’t wander around as much anymore, and spend most of their “spare” time sleeping. Today I came up very close to one serious “gentleman” sleeping soundly on the beach under the thundering of the breakers. For a long time I could not determine whether he was alive or dead, until the animal slighly moved in his sleep.

I remembered the story told by a zoologist Vladimir Mosolov, deputy director of science at Kronotsky Nature Reserve: “I was walking along the Pacific Ocean beach once, and saw a bear laying near the water line. I carefully examined him through my binoculars and concluded that he is, indeed, dead. I came closer to him and took necessary measurements. On his body I did not notice any external injuries.

So I continued walking. But in couple hundred yards I saw another bear laying on the beach. Two dead bears in a row looks abnormal. Could it be an epidemic – I thought to myself. So I came up the second bear, and, just when I was about to turn him upside down, he lifted his head. Frankly speaking, at this moment everything dropped inside me – I was too close to him to protect myself. But I was lucky – the ocean was roaring and the wind was in my direction. So the bear, apparently, did not sence my presence and went back to sleep on the sand…”

Sunday, July 24, 2011

First berries have ripen!

Originally posted at Доброе утро из Кроноцкого заповедника!

Even though the summer has started here in Kamchatka, it is very modest and "unobtrusive". Today was the second clear day this month that we saw sunlight and nearby volcanoes. Despite the news there is nothing unusual happening to Kizimen volcano, it looks like it continues emiting the volcanic ash in moderate amounts.

Also, on the moss marshes, the cranberries are in blossom (the top photo) and the crowberries have ripen, the clowdberry is almost there too. The flocks of woodcock-berry-pickers have started to appear, this is what people call curlews that are migrating south now.

Clowdberry is almost ripe.

Dog rose blossom - this is a phenological indication of start of summer.

Hunchback salmon shoals are coming higher and higher upstream of Kronotskaya river, and the bears are following them. 

I found out that crowberries has ripen from the bear's dropping. 

First mushrooms appeared in nearby tundra, but I only recognize brown cap boletus and russules among the eatable species. For example, I am not sure how are these mushrooms called.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

In a fight for survival!

Originally posted at Доброе утро из Кроноцкого заповедника!

Every time I pass this Erman's birch grove - which first meets furious gale-strength winds often with rain and snow, coming from the Pacific ocean - I understand why this region, 300 miles of beautiful scenic coastal line from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to Ust-Kamchatsk, is practically unpopulated. It is the kingdom of true wilderness. But nature doesn't reign here in leisure, on the contrary survival requires so much strain and effort that it creates the outstanding forms of life, strong and powerful.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sea lions of Kamchatka

Originally posted at Доброе утро из Кроноцкого заповедника!

These pictures are taken in the vicinity of cape Kozlov in the Kronotsky peninsula couple of years ago. The only breeding ground of sea lions in Kamchatka is located here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Kronotsky diamonds.

Originally posted at Доброе утро из Кроноцкого заповедника!

Good Morning from Kronotsky Nature Reserve!
(All photos are taken with D7000 and 60mm/f2.8; the last one - with D7000 and 300mm/f2.8)


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

This morning Mr. Sneaky Evildoer has passed away...

When I arrived at the estuary this morning at the sunrise and came to the hiding of Mr. Sneaky in a river bank I saw that the his life was fading away. At 9am he was gone...

His widow, Mrs. Evildoer, seems to cope with the growing cubs. The yougsters are well-nourished and are playing with sevearl large fish near their burrow. There is so much hunchback salmon entered the estuary for spawning, that this summer foxes, bears and Steller's Sea Eagles should not have any shortages of food.

Originally posted at Cегодня утром Злодея Злодеевича не стало...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mr. Evildoer is in serious danger!

Misfortune never comes alone. Now the life of Mr. Sneaky Evildoer depends on s hair…

The day before yesterday I was walking along the ocean shore with my family (my wife and two youngest sons came to visit me at the ranger station for the summer). Near the Kronotskaya river estuary I noticed strange animal tracks on the wet sand. It looked like a fox was dragging something extremely heavy.

We followed the traks and in hundred yards we found a fragment of fishing net that trapped a fox. I did not recongize Mr. Sneaky Evildoer the dying animal in the beginning, his eyes were so different, they were lacking his usual life energy. Poor fellow's face was swollen, and his yes were filled with dry sand.

Judging from his tracks his battle with this fishing net was going on for several hours, and little fox did not have any energy to continue. But he did the most important thing, he dragged himself out from the tidal zone, but the rest was too much fo him. A thin rope has gripped his neck very tightly. It is a miracle that none of the bears around has found him: we have seen eight of them fishing and grazing within half a mile around.

We carefully cut the rope from around his neck holding the poor animal by its legs and his head. But dear Evildoer could not even get up right away after we freed him. For half an hour he was laying as if in coma, and only then he made several attempts to get up and crawl to the fresh water source to drink some. He finally managed to drink some and even though it made him vomit he seems to feel a little better. At this time one of the surrounding bears got interested and started to approach us. We could see that the fox was very worried about the bear because he could barely move.

With my family we decided to try to back up a little from the bear, but Mr. Sneaky could not follow us, so we had to shot a flare to scare the bear away. We were protecting the suffering fox for the next two hours, until it got dark. At that point we had to go back to the ranger station since it would be too risky to maneuver on the boat 15 km up the river in the complete darkness and likewise it was to dangerous to stay for the night unprepared in tundra with kids.

It was hard to leave Mr. Evildoer behind, but there is no medical personnel or equipment on my ranger station, so there was no point of taking him with us causing more stress. He followed us to the boat and hid in tall grass.

First thing next morning I came back to the estuary and looked for my friend for half a day with no luck. In the afternoon I had to go back to the station, where not only my family, but also the reserve scientists were waiting for me for my park ranger duties as a guide. But in the evening, as soon as I can I went back and by miracle found Mr. Sneaky. He was hiding under tall river bank in the grass, not far from the place I've seen him the previous day. With a lot of difficulty he came out to greet me: his neck was seemed to be unnaturally stiff and his back legs were not listening to him, I could almost feel his pain.

My ranger station is located in one of the most wild and remote locations in the world, and all the land around is strictly protected from human activity and exploration by the law. But even here the wild animals can be so defenceless. Long hands of ecological irresposibility can reach even here, being brought by the ocean. Every time during my patrolling trips along the coast I collect and burn the nets that I find, but every time the ocean brings more... There are intensive fishing regions not far from Kronotsky Nature Reserve. People know the approximate number of the marine animals that get trapped in drifting nets in the open ocean and killed. But it turns out that those nets can kill on land too.

Our planet, our big cities and small towns, our land and especially oceans has a lot of garbage problems. We are suffering ourselves, our pets are suffering, our nature is suffering along with the wild animals. We have to be more responsible, we should learn how to live with no waste, it is not impossible. We can learn to clean after ourselves wherever we go, and, if needed, after other. To explain and encourage those, who don't notice the problem, and maybe even force those, who resist.

And also, let's hope that Mr. Sneaky Evildoer will get better...

(Photos are made by my son, Andrey Shpilenok)

PS In the next post you can read about Mr. Sneaky's fate... But I wanted to explain something due to the comments I received about controversy of helping the wild animal. Of course I tried to feed him - a fox is not a bear, and there is nothing dangerous about a little fox becoming tame. But he was in such a condition, that he could not even drink water, not to mention the food. And about medical help - please look at the map of the neighboring area. There is at least 60 miles to the nearest dirt road from here, it is about a week of hiking one way across tundra and mountains. The cost of helicopter ride from the nearest city is enormous, and moreover, the weather does not often permits flying, for example during past week it there was no flying weather. I have serious doubts that even a human would have a chance to get urgent medical attention, if something happens here unless there a ship happens to pass by with doctors on board. Of course I could have brought the poor animal to die at the ranger station - but transportation could have caused him additional stress and pain. I saw no point in doing so since there were no medics or medical equipment at home. Instead, I was protecting him from bears as much as I could every day in his familiar environment where he grew up and lived all his life and hoping for the best...

Originally posted by  at Злодей Злодеевич в большой беде.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Reindeer's pride!

Good morning from Kronotsky Nature reserve!

One of the comment to my previous post said: "You've got so many bears there, that they seem to be present on all the photos. I have a feeling that even if you'll post a picture of a butterfly or an ant, there will be a bear on the background". My friend was right! Today a bear was interfering when I photographed this majestic male reindeer.

Russian version.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The herd was hiding in the fog!

I finally found the reindeer herd today, not far from my ranger station. They were hiding in the fog from me:))

You can view the Russian version here..

Friday, July 15, 2011

Interacting with an "alien".

Early this morning I was looking for the disappeared reindeer herd again, but with no luck. Even the powerful binoculars did not help.

On my way I laid on the ground to look at the tiny starflowers. As I was adjusting the focus of my macro lens, I suddenly saw that there was a tiniest pair of black curious eyes watching me from under the white flower leaf. The flower diameter is less than 1 cm, so the Creature’s size was about 1 mm! The mosquitoes were giants next to him. I crawled around the flower and the Creature was turning to follow my movements, probably thinking what to expect from me.

For a long time we were communicating in this manner, looking in each other’s eyes, and I felt so much happiness... I felt much happier than if I’d found my herd of reindeer or photographed a “herd” of bears. I felt as if I was interacting with an alien…

You can view the Russian version here..

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Searching for reindeer herd!

Both yesterday and today I spent looking for the reindeer on a maritime tundra – my task as a ranger is to observe their summer herd condition. But I guess I’m not a very good reindeer specialist – I did not find a single one for two days :(

However during my search I have had lots of frights from these serious “gentlemen”… At one point I saw ten of them, grazing like reindeer on the best pastures. No females or youth, I’ve noticed only large and very “serious” males.

You can view the Russian version here..

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fisherman's Day celebration!

The other day we celebrated Fisherman's Day! But fishing isn’t going well yet anyways. There is a lot of fish around - hunchback salmon is actively going up the river for spawning. All the bears see it, but only super-professionals can get it – those who can dive deep and get the weakened fish from the bottom. Only few bears can do it. Others are waiting for the water level to drop so the fish is more accessible.

You can view the Russian version here..

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Update on Mr. Sneaky Evildoer housing situation. Happy end so far...

Estuary shore looks like a three lane highway these days, with a separate lane for each animal species.

I was in a thick fog of the estuary by the sunrise this morning. Every now and then I was hearing the bears roar and the sound of their footsteps on the water. First of all I discovered that the new burrow was also digged up, and there were no foxes in it. I went back to the old burrow (that I've shown yesterday) and noticed some fresh fox paw prints on a soft ground. So I stayed in a hide from 6 to 10am and only saw one cub peeked from one of the burrow branches that was partially undestroyed.

The morning was marvellous, after 9 am the fog cleared and the panoramic view of volanos with their snow caps was astohishing. But I could not really enjoy it. I almost lost hope and went back to my station...

At home I felt restless... And in the afternoon I went back to the estuary. I was tying up my boat to the willow tree at the shore not far from the old burrow when I suddenly saw Mr Evildoer himself through the thick bushes!! He looked at me displeased with the wet dirt all over him. Let's skip my emotions... In two minutes I found a new burrow that he was busy making under the roots of the inclined willow tree.

It looks like the foxes decided to expand the abandoned or temporary otter burrow. And based on my paw-steps observations the cubs are hiding in the remains of both burrows. I quickly went back to the boat to spare the foxes from unnessesary stress of my presence. But as I was rowing away I saw Mrs. Evildoer that was dragging a large salmon to the new burrow. I do not know for sure if all of the young ones survived, but it is already a Happy end!

You can view the Russian version here..

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mr. Sneaky Evildoer is in trouble...

Over a week I did not visit the family of Evildoers because the grass around their burrow grew too big to see or photograph them without disturbing.

And this is what happened meanwhile: a bear has destroyed their home. At least six cubs and a mother, Mrs. Evildoer, managed to survive (their burrow had 4 exits). I found them in their researve burrow half a mile away from the destroyed one. I was watching their activity for several hours, but did not see the father of the family. That makes me really worried about Mr. Sneaky Evildoer.

Now there is a high concentration of bears at the estuary (I spotted over a dozen). They are attracted by the salmon activity, but cannot catch any since the water level in the estuary is unusually high for this time of year. That fact makes animals more aggressive. Not only Mr. Evildoer’s burrow was razed to the ground. One of the bears has broken all windows and doors in the human cabin nearby; he also destroyed everything possible inside.

I am planning to go to the estuary again tomorrow...

You can view the Russian version here..

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Flowers and foxes under summer rain.

Andromeda flower is only around 5mm (0.2in) in diameter.
D7000, 60mm f/2.8D AF Micro-Nikkor

It is raining for the third day over here. The temperature is +54F (12C). The same is forecasted for tomorrow. This is my favorite weather in Kamchatka, the best for photography, especially if there is a cabin nearby to dry your clothes and gear several times per day.

I started to recieve a lot of questions about what lenses and camera I use for every particular shot, so from now on, whenever time permits I'll post this information below the image. I hope that it will not distract anyone from enjoying the pictures.

D7000, 60mm f/2.8D AF Micro-Nikkor

D7000, 60mm f/2.8D AF Micro-Nikkor

D7000, 60mm f/2.8D AF Micro-Nikkor

Alisa under the rain.
D7000, 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II

You can view the Russian version here..

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My little local mink-"alarm-clock".

Mink on land and in water.

This little animal has made his home just outside my cabin. Thanks to him I never missed a sunrise - right around 3:50am every day this little mink starts his morning routine making a gentle noise around. Just enough to wake me up. It is slightly too early, but on the other hand the early bird catches the worm!

You can view the Russian version here..

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The red-colored "poachers".

From far away I noticed that Mr. Sneaky Evildoer was carrying a duckling that he caught in the Kronotsky nature reserve. So I quietly sat on the sand and ceased to move, hoping to photograph him “red-handed”. But this old “poacher” is hard to trick! He sensed me too, carefully hid his prey in the grass and came out in the open “with clean hands”. Three times he passed me with his honest eyes as if saying: “Here, take as many pictures of me as you wish!”. And only after I left he went back to his hidden duck. Such a sly fox!

But my naïve and open-hearted neighbor, Alisa, was caught on camera today with the undisputable evidence!

Alisa was carrying a mouthful of nestlings together with the nest.

And this skillful fox managed to catch a big salmon in the shallow part of estuary.

You can view the Russian version here..