Bears, Bald Eagles, Beavers and boats in BC…

Since I wrote about collecting an award and presenting a talk at the International Conservation Photography Awards in Seattle in June, I have been based further north in Canada photographing the wildlife of Vancouver Island. I came with plans of capturing images of bears, eagles and whales but, barring the research I had done beforehand, little first-hand knowledge of how I was going to guarantee access to the opportunities I needed.

In my experience, social media is all well and good but face-to-face networking is essential to succeeding as a professional photographer. That being my weapon of choice, I turned up in Seattle ready to absorb the advice and tips any ICPAwards winners and judges would be willing to part with. Through his personal efforts to gain protection for Vancouver Island’s remaining old-growth forests with the Ancient Forest Alliance, fellow winning photographer TJ Watt pointed me in the direction of his home town – Port Renfrew.

Port Renfrew turned out to be way more than just a starting point and a location to find big old trees. The location of the town away from the busy east coast of the island makes it a quiet spot to seek out the wildlife that thrives in and around the port. Hikes into the forest to photograph the groves of giant red cedar and Douglas fir trees were sandwiched by early morning shoots at the rockpools of Botanical Beach and sessions staking-out a local lake to photograph beavers. I hadn’t packed in preparation to sit half-submerged in a mosquito-infested swamp waiting for nocturnal aquatic rodents to wake up but it wasn’t an opportunity I was going to let pass. After the lakeside fishermen finally slipped off home, the beavers rewarded my efforts and came to feed right in front of me.

Just when I thought that crouching in a swampy reedbed for four hours deciding whether to pee or not to pee was going to be the most uncomfortable shoot of the trip…a friendly fisherman called Doug showed up. Doug’s invitation to join him on his boat to photograph bald eagles hunting from the cliffs north of Port Renfrew was too good an opportunity to pass up – even for a photographer with no sea legs. The swells of the Pacific made sure I moved regularly between a doubled-over position on the edge of the boat and a prostrate position on the floor of the cabin – all of which made me even more satisfied with the shots I managed to fire off as the hunting birds came overhead.

Earlier this week, the wilder north of the island called me away from Port Renfrew with promises of cetaceans, bears and otters…and it did not disappoint. My first afternoon outside Telegraph Cove delivered my first real opportunity to photograph a black bear. This first opportunity was quickly followed by a second as a mother brought her two cubs out to feed in the late evening light.

As things often go, it wasn’t even bears that I was in Telegraph Cove to find and the next morning I was seeking out orcas and humpback whales with Stubbs Island. This whale watching operator came highly recommended and I’m proud to pass on that recommendation. Despite the resident orcas going AWOL, close (very close) sightings of humpback whales, flat-calm waters and an excellent guided experience made for a great morning on the Johnstone Strait.

In my short time remaining on Vancouver Island I’ll be concentrating on finding and photographing grizzly bears and heading into the forests in an attempt to capture evocative scenes showing the effects of logging and deforestation on the island. Hopefully my time in the forests will also give me the chance to find and photograph some more of the island’s forest species too. Safe travels…

See more on my website conservationphotojournalism.com

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4 Responses to “Bears, Bald Eagles, Beavers and boats in BC…”

  1. Absolutely brilliant pictures as always Neil – the looking up through the tall trees was very different bears. In that part of the world I have real good connections with Pacific Wild

    • Neil Aldridge Says:

      Thank you so much Phillip. Your comments are really appreciated. The best shots came in the last few days though and are yet to be processed but they’re worth taking time over. I got some pics I’m genuinely excited about. We tried to get further north and hook up with Pacific Wild but things didn’t work out logistically. I’ll be returning to BC many times for sure though. I already can’t wait…

  2. Hey Neil!

    Great to hear you made it up there! I spoke to a few people in town that ran into you guys and by the sounds of it, you had a successful trip! I’d love to catch up sometime on how everything went. My hike on the West Coast Trail was fantastic to say the least. I’ve put some of my favorite shots up here: http://utopiaphoto.ca/blog/?p=825
    Great to have met you and Sam! Safe travels.

    • Neil Aldridge Says:

      Hi TJ.

      Great to hear from you. I can’t thank you enough for all of your help and advice. Port Renfrew was a real find for us and we ended up staying much longer than we expected. I will drop you an email with a longer account of our experience. In the meantime, please do thank your dad once again for saving us and do check out the online gallery of the shots on my website here.

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