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About Swazicar

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    Portland, Oregon
  1. This is too late for Steven, but here's my back-up system, in case anyone is interested in a small, low-cost, but workable option: It's a "Kingston MobileLite Wireless G2." I bought it two years ago for $30. (The more recent version--the G3--is available for $25 from at least one major New York-based photo and video retailer.) It's the size of a cell phone (actually, it's smaller than my phone) and is controlled by a slightly clunky but workable app via a wireless connection with your phone or tablet. How it works: Charge it (it has a 4640 mAh battery) via a USB-to-micro USB cable. Turn it on, and it emits a wi-fi signal; connect via wi-fi from a phone or tablet; once connected, open the MobileLite app on your phone/tablet. Stick in your SD card, which then will become viewable via the app. Stick it your preferred USB-based storage (in my case, I have four 128 GB thumb drives; at least in theory, the device can handle drives of up to 2 TB). Using the "copy" command in the app, select the folder (containing your images) on the SD card that you want to copy; then select the USB drive as the destination for the copied folder. Wait for it to finish copying. Turn it off. If one doesn't like "gadgets," then this probably isn't a good option, in part because figuring out how to connect and use the app can take a few tries; it might be better simply to spend several hundred dollars more for one of the more refined options out there. Likewise, if one uses Compact Flash, then this doesn't help at all. For me, however, it works because I already had USB thumb drives lying around, the device has other uses (its battery can charge your phone or your camera batteries, for example), it's small, and it's cheap. It's got some other uses as well, but those fall more into the "gadget" discussion. It does take a while to copy a full 32 or 64 GB card, but one can just start it before supper and let it go, so that doesn't cramp my style at all. -tom a.
  2. @Julian Or, you could just take an appropriate plug, such as from a cell phone charger, that accepts a USB input. (That said, for a multi-week trip, I'd take at least three chargers, just in case. After all, they're cheap because they're cheaply made.)
  3. Short report on a grizzly in Yellowstone killed (by park officials) after repeatedly attempting to scavenge food from backcountry campsites. The site (Heart Lake) is a place the missus and I backpacked in 2010. Story is here: https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/news/17050.htm Hard to tell from the description the extent to which "bad" behavior by backcountry users contributed to the bear's behavior. Reading between the lines, however, if a party is following the rules, the window of opportunity for a bear to get "all" of a party's food, as in the event immediately preceding the bear's ultimate capture and subsequent killing, is pretty limited (although certainly possible, if a bear came along at just the right time). I certainly don't fault park officials, however.
  4. This is a U.S-based company but, just FYI, they have USB chargers for quite a few camera batteries (scroll toward bottom of page): https://www.voltaicsystems.com/adapters-cables At $10 each, I typically carry two with me, and use them with a combination of solar panels, rechargeable power packs, and mains electricity. -ta
  5. In what country do you and your parents live? (If it's the U.S., do you and your parents live in the same state?)
  6. @Peter Connan You're welcome. (And, if it's any consolation, next year's trip to Zambia will cost me about five times what the entire two weeks--not just the McNeil River portion--of the Alaska trip cost.) @Atravelynn It apparently was a big year for cubs: I think we saw 8-10 cubs of the year. It was nice not having to deal with rain, but I'd have preferred a bit more overcast to help the photography. I won't complain too much, however.
  7. Tools shorter than seven inches in length generally are allowed in carry-on; if longer, they have to be checked. https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring/items/screwdrivers-shorter-7-inches
  8. Great! Another convert to medium format!
  9. Fujifilm has done stuff like this in the past (but not for 50% off the price of a $1,200 - $1,500 camera). One example: https://promo.fuji-offers.com/gb/pages/tradein/home
  10. Okay, let's finish up. After all, how many photos of yet another bear eating yet another salmon can one look at? The answer, of course, is "a few more." I'll jump back and forth with a few unrelated images below, before finishing up with a couple of final thoughts. I mentioned previously the different fishing techniques of different bears. Now, I don't know that the fellow immediately below was the best fisher, but he certainly seemed the most efficient. Meet Brave Heart: Brave Heart's technique was both simple and elegant: Sit down in the middle of the river, facing downstream, such that an eddy formed immediately in front of him. Then, he'd wait until a fish swam into that eddy, and he would scoop it up, moving only his head and front paws. On consecutive days, one of the people in our group kept track of how many fish Brave Heart caught while we were there. The total? Twenty-six each day (just while we were there). Wow. Occasionally, another bear would come along and try to fish in the same eddy, which didn't seem to bother Brave Heart too much. Other bears had identifiably characteristic behavior as well. One of the rangers noted that if two adult males were play sparring, one of them likely would be a bear known as Mask. Immediately below, we have an older, larger bear, known as Aardvark, on the left, and Mask, on the right: In the next image, the smaller Mask works the body of his larger playmate: I think I learned a lot about bear behavior on this trip. I'm still precessing how much of that knowledge is applicable elsewhere, however. When hiking or backpacking in grizzly country, which I've done quite a few times, one of the cardinal rules is: don't come anywhere near a mother and her cubs. At McNeil River, however, one ends up in situations like the following, which is no big deal, at least there: These bears, walking in a constricted area on the edge of the lagoon (there's a rock wall off-screen to the right), are heading straight toward us and now are not more than 10 meters from us. The cubs (referred to as "COY"s, for "cub of the year," meaning they were born earlier this year) are clearly a little wary, as this is their first season, and thus their first season of experience with humans. The mother, however, is quite relaxed and calm; rather than turn around or head out into the water to bypass us, she simply walks ahead, and the cubs follow her. This scenario--running into bears in this constricted section--was raised with us just that morning by the ranger leading the outing. Our tactic?: move as far from water's edge as possible, right up against the rock wall (allowing the bears the option of staying on course or moving out into the water), get out cameras in advance (so as not to be fumbling around as the bears passed us), and wait. We got our shots, the bears moved on, and all was well. This works at McNeil River, but I wouldn't even consider this in the other places I've encountered bears. All round, a fantastic experience, perhaps once in a lifetime. I WILL apply for another permit when I'm again eligible to do so, but who's to say whether I'll win. For me, this experience was right up there with mountain gorillas in Zaire in the mid- and late-80s, albeit somewhat less exotic. For those interested, our per-person costs directly related to the McNeil River portion of the trip were: Nonrefundable permit application fee: $25 Four-day guided permit: $350 for non-Alaskans Roundtrip float plane fare between Homer and McNeil River: $700 ($750-$800 might be more typical) Self-purchased and self-prepared food and drink while camping at McNeil River: $100 (guesstimate) Rental of waders: $25 One also has to get to Alaska, of course, so that would be a major cost for most international visitors (but not so bad for those of us on the west coast of the U.S.). A note on the permit cost: Apparently the cost of the permit has not increased since it was initially established. Revenue from the application fee and permit sales used to fully fund the program; with the passage of time, however, the fees and sales now cover only about half the cost of operating the program. The state is now evaluating costs, and seems likely to approximately double the cost of the permit, to $700 for non-residents. Bear in mind that that would be $700 for four days of guided activities, a bargain by world standards, in my opinion. Happy to answer any questions, if you have them, and I promise not to inflict and more images on you. -tom a. portland, oregon
  11. @pomkiwiI'm no Alaska expert (only been once!), but just a couple of thoughts: August and September generally are the rainiest months in Alaska, I believe. (On the good side, the skeeters may be gone by September.) For a small boat tour out of Seward, we used http://www.alaskasaltwaterlodge.com/alaska_whale_watching.htm . We did see both orcas (four) and humpbacks (two); that likely is very hit-or-miss however. I was more impressed by the glaciers in the fiords than I expected to be, so that is a good one-day trip, in my opinion. However, even if you see whales, don't expect extended, great photo ops. If you're in Katmai, for example, I don't know that I'd add on a trip to Seward simply for a one-day boat trip. That said, if you're a hiker, there's lots of hiking on the Kenai Peninsula, so if you were adding on four or five days (after the bear thing), it would become more reasonable, in my opinion. For bears, if budget is a concern, you might consider camping at Brooks Falls (You can reserve camp sites online here--but not for next year yet: https://www.recreation.gov/wildernessAreaDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=74210 ) If money isn't an issue, there are lots of people who gladly will relieve you of it and shove you in the direction of bears. As others have mentioned, the iconic salmon runs will largely be over by then. If your schedule is flexible, however, I actually think May/June (at least on the coast) is potentially more interesting for bears (bearing mind that I've never seen them in May/June!). Happy planning! -tom a.
  12. It definitely is, particularly if one wants to go in July. However, if you look at the numbers, there's a fair chance of winning a permit (or a standby permit) at other times of the season. In the case of our group of 10 people, fully half had visited at least twice--one had visited four times, and one couple was on its sixth visit. When I'm eligible to apply again (in 2019), I actually will shoot for June, as I think that's a more varied time of year for bear activities. Thank you! Thanks! Keep in mind that this is a pretty unique setting, in which bears have been exposed to up-close human visitors for many years. Do not try this at home! Thanks! Thank you. Yes, initially it's a bit unsettling, but one gets over that quickly. Yes, we were told we got lucky with the weather (no rain at all) and with the chum run, which likely maxed out either with our group or with the next.
  13. So I've mentioned a couple of times that there are few females at the falls. As I understand it, it's only those without cubs that can "afford" to risk a trip there, given the hustle, bustle, and occasional confrontations initiated by the big boys. So where are the other females, those with cubs? Well, in this case, she's a few hundred yards downriver, wondering whether it's such a good idea to come to the falls: And, by looking at her body language, not to mention that of the cubs, it seems clear that they're not quite up for the experiment. I can only think that turning back was a wise decision. Even if they're not at the falls, however, they likely are getting fish, either by fishing the area below the lowest rapids (which we saw several mothers with cubs do), or by scavenging the carcasses of fish that have floated downriver. When returning to camp in the evening, we saw bears with cubs in or around the lagoon every day, like this group: It's amazing to think that one of these cubs could grow into a 1,200-pound bruiser like the biggest of the big boys, but I guess that's how it works. Down at the lagoon, there still are sedges to be had, as well as the occasional fish. Outside the spit that protects most of the lagoon, in McNeil Cove, there's other good stuff to be had. Here, likely the same mother and cubs as above, but on a different day, are headed out into the mud flats at low tide: Like other bears, they're in search of clams, which form another important source of food in the spring and summer: Every day, even before leaving camp, we typically saw more than 10 bears, most of them mothers and cubs, working some combination of the lagoon and the mud flats. But even if they're not out in the open, you can be sure the mothers are out there around the edges, keeping an eye on who is coming and going: I'm told I'm on supper duty for the next couple of evenings, so it may be a while before I can process more images. I can think of a couple of sequences that I hope are presentable, so I'm sure I'll be back
  14. So let me say a few more words about the falls, which may or may not be accurate, of course, but they're my impressions nonetheless. My general impression is that the big boys fish where they damn well WANT to fish. The most favored spot seemed to be the far channel just below the highest falls, this area: If that's accurate, I assume it's because that section had the deepest water, presumably providing more cover for fish, so more fish tried to use that section to mount the falls. (As an aside, during our four days there, we saw two bears miscalculate the force of the water going over the upper falls at the top this section, causing then to get swept over and take undignified rides through the maze of big bears.) A little below this section is what the rangers called "the Teen Center," where these fellows hung out: Now some of these guys were fairly large, but apparently not of sufficient status (or not willing to rumble), so they fished the approach to what appeared to be the big boys' favored spot. Another clearly defined area was the pool section, below the falls nearest the viewing pad, in which large numbers of fish clearly were circling, circling, circling in advance of making an attempt at the falls. The problem for the bears, of course, is that the pool provided nothing in the way of a constriction, so fishing was a bit harder there, often resulting in the "well-if-I-throw-my-huge-ass-body-at-this-swarm-of-fish-maybe-I'll-get-lucky-and-land-on-one" approach: If you look closely at the image above, you can see a ring of clear water immediately around the bear, with a much larger ring of fish circling that clear area. In some cases, I think these may have been inexperienced bears; in other cases, I actually think they were doing it just to have some bear fun. I mentioned earlier that there were only four or five females among the 40 bears we saw at the falls. This is one of them, a bear known as Crisco: Missing one eye (which she lost many years ago), and with a significant (old) scar on her left hind quarter, she still fished the falls. I'm not good at estimating a bear's weight, but I'd be surprised if she weighed more than about 250 pounds (about 115 kg). Nonetheless, she'd been visiting the falls for more than 20 years. (One of the rangers, who has worked at McNeil for, I believe, 19 years, said Crisco was there when he first arrived, so he estimates she's in the neighborhood of 22-25 years old, and that despite her relatively small size, she still has some status with the bear gang.) It's not all life and death at the falls, of course. One of the rangers pointed out that, even though bears are solitary animals, they do have relationships of a sort. There were multiple instances of males play fighting and just generally hanging out together, like these two guys: And after a little fishing and a little play fighting, would could be better than laying down on the warm stones, in the sun, in the summer of your life? When we return, we'll leave those those big old boys up at the falls, and move on to the other 80% of the population.
  15. So the bears are here for one reason, and that reason is the chum (also called dog) salmon: Unlike the sockeye salmon at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park, chum salmon are not known as jumpers, so fishing at McNeil River Falls typically is done just below the water surface. There's clearly a hierarchy involved in who gets which fishing spot, with larger and/or more aggressive bears taking first pick. Brown bears are basically solitary animals, yet they come together in large numbers at places like McNeil River Falls and Brooks Falls. With so many bears present in such confined spaces, the bears (especially those who appear to be lower in the pecking order) seem always to be looking over their shoulders as they go about their fishing. Even bears among the largest tend to have obvious scars, presumably from encounters with other bears. Even a big fellow like this one is susceptible to a stray (or well placed) claw. One of the things that's really interesting to me is how individualized the fishing techniques of different bears seem to be: some fish the pools (perhaps where there's less competition from other bears); some prefer to be right above a set of rapids; still bothers prefer to be just below that same set of rapids. This guy is one of the pool fishers, who spends his time standing, or submerging his head just below the water surface, before leaping. This bear (one of only four or five females among the roughly 40 bears at the falls), prefers to stand in rough water and look immediately downriver, hoping to snag a fish as it slowly struggles against the current, attempting to pass ket another obstacle: In the end, they're all after this: More in the next installment.

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