Good morning and greetings, Arctic Circle fans. I have always been fascinated by animals, nature and quantum physics. In our home growing up, we had a menagerie of critters, including frogs, turtles, gerbils, hamsters, parakeets, snakes, lawyers and a drug-sniffing golden retriever. So when we speak of wildlife photography, we’re now talking about catching these exotic creatures of the wild in action, whether it’s kung-fu fighting, candlelight dining, first-class flying or just watching Letterman’s stupid pet tricks.
So today, sports fans, we are once again going to the guest mode, as we are featuring the work of photographer Judy Bingham, who I met at a local art show and has been stalking me ever since. Judy, who taught for 35 years at Los Gatos High School, yet never graded a paper, started shooting wildlife back in 1996, as her passion over the years has taken her to Africa, Antarctica and South America. In 2007, she spent five days in the Dominican Republic snorkeling and photographing humpback whales and their calves while planning a small military coup.
Since January, my newest best digital friend has photo safaried to Yellowstone Park to shoot bisons, wolves, coyotes and big horn sheep, Montreal to shoot snowy owls and Yosemite to shoot the sunset at Horsetail Falls. This is in comparison to yours truly, who’s been to Safeway, CVS and Bank of America, and that was just to shoot the breeze.
So here are the bear facts. I’ve lived in Santa Cruz for 24 years and have yet to record a bear sighting. I had a friend who was a Chicago Bear’s fan, and you should have seen his face light up when we served poached salmon. Anyway, last February, Judy traveled to Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, to photograph polar bears and their cubs leaving their dens and coming out of hibernation. They should not be confused with the Chicago Cubs, who barely came out of hibernation all of last season.
On this trip to northern Canada, Judy, who much like myself, only travels first-class, stayed in a tundra buggy, which is a lodge on wheels. They hook a series of these buggys together to form a train that features a dining car, lounge, two bunk houses and a spa with aromatherapy and yogurt face masks. From here, they journey out to shoot the bears and collect frostbite.
Now all this photog action takes place in Wapufk National Park. The mother bears come off the melting ice in July and head south onto the land and their denning area in Churchill. Here they mate before going into hibernation. The mothers give birth in December and then dig out of their caves. Much like my Uncle Al, the cubs have no fur when they are born. From the time when they leave the the ice through the birthing process, the mothers eat nothing except for Slim Fast and some snow cones.
The cubs emerge in February and now the family must travel north to Hudson Bay to feed on seals and shrimp cocktail. It’s a sixty-mile trek, as Judy photographed the cubs while at rest stops along the way. As she says, “Seeing the bears in the wild is so incredible. And what would we do if we had to go without food from June thru November?” First, I would buy a new belt. And if I were a bear, I’d find a good take-out place that delivers near the Arctic Circle.
Judy photographed a mother and her three triplets, which are featured in photos #1-3. The look on the mother’s face as she is nursing in photo #2 is just classic. And the bonding we see in photo #3 bears watching. As Judy says, “When you stand out in the snow and ice in minus 38 degree weather and you focus on one den, it’s exciting when they emerge.” It’s the same excitement I would sense when some feeling and circulation returned to my fingers and toes.
We then move the puck from gold medal winning Canada to the silver medal winning USA. For our next three shots, Judy journeyed to Alaska and Katmai National Park, which is southwest of Anchorage and a place from where Sarah Palin can see Russia. The brown bears are there from July thru August, as they hang out and dine as long as the salmon are running. The salmon are on their way to spawn, which I’ve found along with a Swedish massage is always a relaxing way end a journey.
Much like my Hawaiian ancestors, these Alaskan brown bears spend the summer catching fish, and then try and gain back the weight they lost during hibernation. They sometimes lose up to 30%, which once happened to me during a Yom Kippur fast. As for Judy, the excitement is “just being there with them seeing them in the raw. Can you imagine opening your cabin door and seeing a Mom and two cubs?” Sure, if they were bringing me breakfast with a copy of the New York Times.
These pictures are just fantastic, as we view six bears hanging by the falls and then some open mouth fishing before seeing the cub stealing the surprised salmon from the adults. Or as Rodney Dangerfield said to Ted Knight’s wife in Caddyshack, “The last time I saw a mouth like that, it had a hook in it.” Judy shot these from a platform alongside the falls, that also doubles as a information kiosk and tanning booth.
Now Judy had sent me shots of otters, owls and politicians, but the bears stole the show. Due to Judy’s pleading and as a special bonus, I have included a shot of two polar bears ice dancing and a bald eagle swooping down for a macadamia nut crusted salmon dinner.
This final shot was taken in Haines, Alaska. When the last of the chinook salmon lay their eggs and finish spawning, they die. More than 1,000 eagles, not including Joe Walsh, Don Henley or Glen Frey, gathered there last November for this steak and filet feast.
Eagles are majestic scavengers, who much like the upper echelon teams in the NBA, like to dine on the dead. According to Judy, the excitement is “the interaction among the eagles. They’re fighting over dead carcasses. And just seeing so many of them, to be able to look them right in the eye and see how intense they are, it’s incredible.” Sounds like my last visit to the Oakland Raiderette tryouts.
On to some humor from the late night. “President Obama met with the Republicans for seven hours. “Being politicians you know, they all got to sharing their personal stories. Obama talked about his mother’s battle with cancer. And Harry Reid talked about a kid with a cleft palate. And John McCain’s told how he once carried a brain dead woman through an entire campaign.” –Bill Maher “And over the weekend, President Bush said that he is writing a book about how he made decisions while he was president. We have an advanced copy of it here. It’s called ‘What Would Dick Cheney Do?’” –Jay Leno “President Obama had his annual physical checkup. The physical went well, until a couple of uninvited guests showed up for the colonoscopy.” –David Letterman
“The weather in L.A. is unbelievable. Today I had to dig my car out from under 18 inches of sunshine. The whole East Coast is covered in snow right now. Millions of people are unable to get to where they used to work. The Winter Olympics ended on Sunday and even our weather is beating Canada. We’re completely out-snowing them.” –Jimmy Kimmel “I love the biathlon. That’s the sport that involves skiing and shooting the rifle. Or as Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd, call it, ‘date night.’” –Jay Leno “Weren’t the Winter Olympics fantastic? The U.S. won a gold medal in downhill economy.” –David Letterman
“Hey, did you hear about this story today? This is pretty wild. The FAA is investigating why a child was allowed to direct air traffic at John F. Kennedy airport. Authorities say they got suspicious when five of the planes landed at a Toys ‘R’ Us parking lot.” –Jay Leno “Did you hear that Rush Limbaugh’s Manhattan penthouse is on the market for $14 million? It’s an amazing property. Over 4,000 square feet. And that’s just the medicine cabinet.” –Craig Ferguson “It’s a bad day for General Motors. They’re shutting down the Hummer. The Chinese were going to buy it, but after careful consideration, the Chinese decided they don’t want it. You know you’re in pretty bad shape when you can’t even give away a Hummer.” –Craig Ferguson
So I hoped you enjoyed our guest photographer’s photos. As you can see, Judy is as passionate as a baby harp seal about her work. To view more of her work, check out her blog at firstname.lastname@example.org or her photos at www.gallerysaratoga.com. I’ve got a feeling we’ll be seeing more of Judy’s work on this site, particularly if she comes up with the big bucks she promised me for this first appearance.
So that’s our bear market report. Coming up next week we’ll return to the skies of Monterey Bay. So enjoy the calm before the college basketball storm and we’ll catch you in the low box. Aloha, mahalo and later, Tyreke Evans fans.