DELTA, Alaska - Tracks of animals are in the snow are everywhere. The other day while on snowmachine, I followed the trail of a fox and then eventually caught up with him. He sat under a spruce tree and did not mind that I had shut off my machine and was staring at him motionless only 20 yards away. I heard the ruckus a squirrel makes when it’s stranded up a tree and figured the fox might have been looking for dinner. At one point, he made a few steps towards me before sticking his nose in the air and returning to his spot under the tree. Then, just like a dog, he made a few rounds in place before lying down.
These chance encounters with wildlife are always cool, which got me thinking about how, when these things happen, it seems I’m never prepared to capture it on film or video. Here in Delta, we are lucky to have many outstanding photographers who contribute their photos to the Delta News Web. This website provides all kinds of information about what’s happening, what’s for sale, who died, who got married, who won the basketball game and anything else that you may or may not want to know about our area. What I love the most about this website are the photos. Every day there’s a photo of the day, and many times it showcases the abundant wildlife we are privileged to enjoy here.
One of those photographers whose work is regularly showcased on the Delta News Web is Steve Thomas, a former Deltoid who now lives in Denali. I called him to see if he could offer any advice on getting those great wildlife shots. I especially wanted to know how he gets so close to his subjects, besides using a zoom lens.
I was surprised at his answer: Stay in your car. He said that animals are much more used to cars than people, especially in Denali. By staying in his car, he is able to get much closer and the animals are more relaxed while he photographs them.
I had to laugh when he mentioned using his van as cover. A few years ago, I was on an early morning prowl with my video camera and spotted a beautiful bull moose in a field with the sun just rising and an awesome fog-mist surrounding the scene. You know, a real show-stopper moment in the making.
Then I saw him. Yep, there was Steve, shooting this beautiful scene with this massive bull moose from his van. He scooped me! I, of course, kept on driving and muttered under my breath how good he was, or something like that.
He recalled one time when a lynx crossed his path and then continued to parallel the road as he slowly drove alongside. He said he would speed up and then wait for the lynx to catch up to him. He said he eventually saw that lynx catch a vole and he got some really great photos.
As far as great places to get photos of wildlife, he listed the Delta area as tops. He said he gets more good photos there on a consistent basis than anywhere else in Alaska. Of course, being in Denali has its perks. He said the opportunity to photograph bears, sheep and wolves is greater there.
So what animal in Alaska is the hardest to film? Steve said it’s the wolverine. He has yet to get one on film and hopes to devote time just for getting that shot next summer.
Above all, Steve’s advice to those who want to photograph wildlife is to have patience and time. He spends hundreds of hours in the field every year doing what he loves and has gotten very good at it. If you want to check out some of his photos on the Delta News Web, go to www.deltanewsweb.com and under the photo of the day click on any month of the archives to see his photos randomly dispersed. He is not actively selling his prints but would if the chance arose. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Brookelyn Bellinger is an independent filmmaker and author of the book “The Frozen Toe Guide to Real Alaskan Livin’.” Send your questions to email@example.com