by Robert Berdan January 1, 2016
Group of photographers and support staff at the 2015 Arctic Adventure Workshop on the beach at Point Lake in front of Peterson's Point Lake Lodge in the Northwest Territories, September 3, 2015.
Like in previous years I drove to Yellowknife from Calgary leaving on August 22nd. It's a two day drive which I enjoy. Along the drive I often encounter Bison and other wildlife including cranes, moose, black bears and deer. My first stop over is in High Level where I arrived at dinner time. After dinner I scout out potential locations to take aurora photographs. I settled at the Airport until about 12:30 am but the Aurora was faint on my first night out. Next day at 6:00 am I drove to Yellowknife stopping to photograph some fire weed that had grown in a fire burned forest beside the highway and some bison along the road. There are three scenic waterfalls along the route but as I had already photographed them many times I didn't stop this time.
Bison frequent the highway north of Fort Providence and I usually stop a couple of times to photograph them.
Fire weed and other wildflowers growing among burnt trees from a previous year forst fire.
I arrived in Yellowknife around 6 pm, picked up some groceries and gas and headed out to the Country Cabins next to Prelude Territorial Park. I like to arrive a few days the workshop begins to photograph the aurora Borealis and scout for wildlife and mushrooms. I also brought along my Alto saxophone so I could practice in the middle of the day when the light tends to be flat. I visited my old friend Bruce Davidson who manages Prelude Territorial park. While filling up for gas I met interesting Yellowknifer who had an amazing tatoo of the aurora on his arm (see below).
Yellowknifer at the local Gas Bar with amazing tatoo of the Aurora Borealis tatooed onto his arm.
My first few nights were cloud covered though the aurora forecast was good. Some of the workshop folks arrived a day early and Margaret Peterson asked if I would join them at a cabin at Cassidy point. The full moon made for a bright sky but we still managed to take a few nice aurora photographs. The aurora got better later in the evening but and was best after the moonset. See photo of the group below just as the aurora began to appear round 9:30 pm.
About 11:30 pm the aurora and full moon was visible - Cassidy point outside Yellowknife.
Although not everyone had arrived in Yellowknife yet, the first night served as a good introduction to night sky photography. Setting up the camera in the dark and focusing on the stars can be a bit tricky. I was still staying out at Prelude lake, so after I dropped some of our guests at the Explorer hotel, I drove back out the Ingraham trail to Prelude lake and stopped to take a few more pictures along the way back after the moon had set about 2:30 am (see below).
Aurora after the moon set the aurora appeared brighter, photo taken near Pontoon lake on the Ingraham trail.
Aurora about 3:30 am at Pontoon lake. The aurora displays were nice but not spectacular compared to what I have seen in previous years - compare with my aurora gallery photographs.
The next day we met to take a tour of Yellowknife bay which included a stop on an outer island to view eagles, catch a few pike, and enjoy a fish fry (see below). The boat trip is dependent on the weather so we are not always able to make this boat trip in which case we hike to Cameron falls.
Fish fry on one of the outer Islands near Yellowknife.
After touring Yellowknife and the bay, we headed to Aurora village around 6 pm for dinner. The restaurant at Aurora village is first class and arriving early allowed everyone to check out the terrain and souvenir stores. We were assigned a tepee with a hot stove, coffee and hot chocolate. We waited for the aurora, but unlike previous years where we had a spectacular aurra displays, the aurora only put on a faint display. While the aurora is present 95% of the time in the evenings, sometimes clouds can hide the display and the aurora also varies in intensity depending on solar activity and fluctuations in the earth's Magnetic field. I had purchased new boots, but when I ventured into the small lake in front of the tipis I sunk up to my knees in mud and was lucky to get out with my camera and both boots. Warning don't venture into the lake in front of the tipis unless the ground is frozen!
Heading down the Ingraham trail to Aurora village at dusk with the group we stopped at several places along the way to view Sandhill Cranes fly overhead. The photographers brought out their big guns (telephoto lenses) - we saw a few cranes flying off in the distance.
Sandhill cranes flying over the Ingraham Trail at Dusk
Sandhill Crane photographed next to the highway on one of my previous drives to Yellowknife.
This was the best display we were able to see the one night we visited Aurora Village, usually its spectacular.
The next day we took the group to the float plane base, Air Tindi. From here we fly 350 km further north to the center of the tundra along the Caribou migration route where Peterson's point lake lodge is located.
The tundra from above covered in red vegetation and dotted with thousands of small lakes. When we arrived at the cabins the tundra we could examine the colourful vegetation up close. Guests were assigned cabins and we met shortly after to take a short hike. The tundra is spongy and wet in places and on this hike there a few pesky black flies as the temperature was higher then normal - about 20°C (68° F)or even warmer. Most of our guests came prepared for the bugs with various types of insect netting. Insect netting is also available for sale at the lodge. Usually an overnight frost kills most of the biting insects in late summer and fall.
The vegetation around Peterson's Point Lake Lodge was kodachrome coloured.
View of the inside one of the cabins shows how luxurious it is for being at such remote location on the tundra. There is a heater, sink, bottled water, card table and solar powered lighting. The cabins also have a porch that is netted so that if biting insects are out when its warm visitors can still sit and enjoy the view of Point Lake.
Porch in front of one of the cabins allows you to comfortably view Point Lake and the surround tundra in comfort.
Two of our guests from Hong Kong explore the area around the cabins - note the rubber boots.
Above - Main lodge, dining room, kitchen and a lounge area that features a small library of books and a gift store.
This particular season there was an unusual number of mushrooms on the tundra and around the cabins and we spent some time taking macrophotograps. The read leaves are bearberry and one of the reasons the ground is so colourful.
Bearberry mixed with black tripe and several other types of lichen.
Caribou sightings were not as frequent as they have been in previous years and below are the best pictures I was able to take this particular year. The first picture was taken from one of our boats and the other two pictures were taken of Caribou migrating near the cabins. I used my 500 mm + 1.4X teleconverter lens for these photos.
This Caribou was off in the distance and photographed from one of the small boats we used to tour the lake. One of the Guides (Chad) spotted a moose by eye alone to my amazement and yet I was just able to see him with binoculars - a little to far out of range to photograph.
Single bull caribou on the hillside behind our cabins strolled by one morning.
Small group of Caribou walked by the cabins one morning. One of the bucks' antlers was blood red having shed its velvet recently. There was a light snowfall - winter was on its way. The red and yellow colours of the tundra are from the dwarf birch and willow.
One morning we woke to see Point lake completely smooth with mirror like reflections. The lake normally isn't this calm, but we took advantage and travelled by boat to several remote locations in search of Caribou and Grizzly bears.
Above on one of our stops we found some Caribou antlers.
On another day we took a boat ride to Esker Bay, named because of the long Esker in the background. Eskers consist largely of gravel from ancient rivers that form under Glaciers as they melt. I like to hike this route because it offers great views of the valley below with caribou, wolverine and on this occasion a Grizzly bear (see below).
Grizzly bear photographed with 500 mm + 2X teleconverter. The bear was aware of our presence but for the most part ignored us. We kept a safe distance and watched with binoculars before heading back to the cabins.
Rainbow across the lake and several ravens in front of the cabin one evening.
While enjoying a fish fry we were visited by this Raven who was begging for food.
On the other side of the lake we encountered two peregrine falcons nesting in the cliffs.
Two of our guests look out onto the tundra at Caribou bay, one of my favourite spots to stop for lunch and take the group for a short hike.
Some friendly faces of our visitors and guides at the lodge.
Two of our guests pose for me at Caribou bay. The typical appearance of the tundra with boulders and coloured vegetation makes for great landscape photography opportunities.
Top left - guide preparing lake trout fish fillets. Top right - cooking and serving fresh lake trout. Bottom left: group of photographers from Hong Kong with Hong Kong flag in the background. One of the guests was from Texas hence the Texas flag. Bottom right: riding an all-train vehicle is head guide Chad Peterson pulling up boats up from the lake.
Self portrait with my Alto saxophone in front of the full moon and aurora - Yellowknife Bay.
Aurora and full moon over Yellowknife bay and boathouses
On the last day I arrived back in Yellowknife around 3 pm a little too late to start driving back to Calgar so I decided to stay over one more night and in the evening I headed down to Yellowknife bay. There is a small park from which I watched and photographed the aurora which was proably the best aurora display we had on this trip. For fun I pulled out my saxophone and took this self portrait with the moon and aurora. Next morning I had a quick breakfast at McDonalds and started my trip back to Calgary stopping to take a few photographs on the way.
Early morning light and frost on the Boreal forest about 50 Km outside of Yellowknife.
If you are interested in joining us next summer to photograph the aurora, caribou and colourful tundra see the workshop section of this web site or if you want to see pictures from previous trips click on the links below. RB
Links to previous Arctic Adventures Articles
Arctic Adventure 2014
Arctic Adventure 2013
Arctic Adventure 2012
Arctic Adventure 2011
Arctic Adventure 2010
Virtual Tour of the Northwest Territories
What to bring to an Arctic Adventure Workshop
Aurora Borealis Gallery Showing my Favourite Pictures
For information about our Arctic Adventure Workshop see the Workshop page - we only take 10 foks per year
Robert Berdan is a professional nature photographer living in Calgary, AB specializing in nature, wildlife and science photography. Robert offers photo guiding and private instruction in all aspects of nature photography and Adobe Photoshop training.
Email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site: www.canadiannaturephotographer.com
Phone: MST 9am -7 pm (403) 247-2457.
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