Return from the moose

Home at last after what seems like an eternity away  – in all it was 7 weeks away with 6 days at home at the halfway point, just enough time to really screw up my body clock. This was the second shoot for a major BBC series about the wildlife of Alaska, the shopping list consisted of rutting moose, hoarding squirrels, and glorious autumnal scenics. We scored 2 out of three.

The first half of the shoot was spent carrying 60lbs of camera kit through the Chugach Mountains outside Anchorage in search of rutting moose. I was working with old friend and ex Fish & Game biologist Rick Sinnott, no one better to be with in the field, especially if you don’t mind having multiple heart attacks per day trying to keep up with him. We were pretty successful, it’s a real challenge to work with moose in this kind of habitat, but we filmed more behaviour that I thought we might manage; fighting, posturing, mating … and a lot of sleeping.

What was really great was that we managed to find, and work with, the same bull on several consecutive days; a really impressive old chap with an injured leg, which didn’t seem to stop him seeing off all-comers and finally getting the girl – which made for a really strong story. It was pretty physical, sometimes cold, sometimes wet, sometimes cold and wet. Rick calculated we probably walked 10 miles or so on some days – up and down hills though marshes, knee deep willow and impenetrable hemlock. It was all strangely addictive though; great scenery, wildlife and company, and the weirdly therapeutic process of trudging around with a heavy pack for 10 hours a day.

BBC film guys e[1]

A member of the public took this of us filming, figured out who we were, and sent it to me, very kind indeed. Rather embarrassingly it looks like we haven’t spotted the moose right behind us, we were actually watching a Golden Eagle, really.

Here is an article Rick wrote for the Alaska Dispatch about our adventures, and the increasingly common issue of sharing the wild with utterly clueless photographers.

I was also hoping to film squirrels hoarding pine cones. Squirrels collect cones and pile them up into huge middens to feed on during the winter, these middens can be several feet deep and several decades old, they are passed on from generation to generation. We found some really good midden sites, one in particular seemed to be owned by a squirrel with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – the cones were neatly stored according to size and colour, and all seemed set. I was then faced with pretty much two weeks of torrential rain and high winds. I spent one day sitting in my hide next to the midden and got completely soaked, it never got light enough to film, and the squirrel hardly appeared.

The forecast was then so cruddy that I had to quickly shift emphasis to filming the autumn colours for a seasonal transition sequence before all the leaves got blown from the trees. There then followed a very frustrating 10 days of travelling to locations and waiting for the rain to stop, or spending hours setting up complex tracking timelapses only for the heavens to open. I think I still got some really nice material but it was a real struggle.

I did get a chance to do some proper photography for once, here are a few landscapes from in between the showers:






For the technically inclined these were taken with the Nikon D800E with a 24mm tilt-shift lens – small jpegs in a blog don’t do them justice, with proper technique the resolution of this camera is incredible.

While I was away Max’s Witney RFC U9’s reached the semi finals of the country championships, narrowly beaten by the eventual winners, a great performance again.