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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dalls Of Turnagain

A unique springtime wildlife opportunity lies close to the Alaskan gateway of Anchorage

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Dall sheep are a prized wildlife subject for just about any nature photographer, and they can be easier to photograph than you realize. In the early- morning hours of May and June, the sheep come down from their lofty hillside perches and enjoy some of the mineral licks by the roadside. It’s an opportunity to capture impressive up-close, eye-to-eye photos.
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This is a magical place! On average, you’ll have a dozen or so sheep within range you can photograph to your heart’s content. Even though the sheep are eye to eye with you, they’re going about their daily lives as if you didn’t exist. This means that all the biology you might expect, and some you wouldn’t, unfolds right before your eyes and in your viewfinder!

Anytime you’re looking to photograph wildlife, you can only get so close—even when the sheep do come down, a long lens and a steady tripod are your best friends. Having a ballhead on the tripod will help you to recompose quickly as the sheep move around. Be ready for photo ops with the lambs, as well as the rams.
The most common sight during May and June are the spring lambs. They’re with their mother ewes on the cliff and when coming down to the mineral licks. While I’ve only seen it once, they form small lamb groups, which are outstanding photography subjects. They do the things you expect lambs to do—nurse, run up and down the cliffs, and pose and look cute.

Typically, the rams also are present. Most of the time, they’re the three-to five-year-olds—not real large horns, but still worthy of a great photo or two. A number of times, we’ve seen the big boys come down, and they’re always a treat. On our most recent shoots at Windy Point, we had a ram and a number of younger rams come into view. The younger rams were feeling their oats and kept clashing, butting heads with the old man. It was great to hear the huge crash and watch the two have a meeting of the minds.

The lay of the land is such that if you’re lucky, you’ll get the classic shot of the ram on the ridgeline. When the ram hits the skyline, you either have blue sky for the background or the far-off cliff face—either option makes for a dramatic pose and photograph. The more time you have to spend with the sheep, the more opportunities you’ll have to photograph some unique aspect of their biology.


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