Story and photos by Alyce Bender
Early morning, when the roads were still frosted over and there were more deer than people awake, I rolled out my warm hotel on the eastern coast of Hokkaido to visit a place I had never been. This is par for the course with me, but this was a bit of a different situation as I was heading for a relatively unheard of location that a new friend told me about. She had promised there would be Steller’s sea eagles and White-tailed eagles feeding on the leftover fish guts that ice fishermen discard on a frozen lake. Too good a potential photography opportunity for me to pass up, so I made the hour-long drive along the coast on a cold, wintery morning. It could not have been a better choice!
The shooting location is on private property, so I paid the nominal fee for an all-day photography pass and set up just as the fishermen were leaving their ice holes. The scene was surreal. White on white, with snow-covered thick ice. All was quiet apart from the minor squabbles coming from the now gathering eagles and the occasional low murmur from the handful of Japanese photographers present.
I should have expected that this sort of free food would draw more than just the eagles. Within an hour or so of the fishermen vacating the area, the ice was filled with a large gathering of raptors. Not only were Steller’s sea eagles and white-tail eagles there in mass, but black kites and large-billed crows had joined the fray.
Then came the foxes. These beautiful creatures are one of my favorite subjects to photograph, especially in winter when their red coats contrast so brightly against the white environment. The Ezo red fox (Vulpes vulpes schrencki) in this area have little fear of humans and can often be seen in and around the small villages and farms of Eastern Hokkaido. That being said, they are leery of the eagles with good reason. The eagles are almost twice their size and would not hesitate to attack a fox that tries to take their food. Several foxes came in, drawn by the smells of what was might be an easy meal. Some tried more direct methods than others with various results. As the scraps became scarcer, the various animals started dispersing a bit. One particularly stately fox decided to patrol the snow banks where the lake meets the land during other seasons. It was then, after I moved off my tripod so as to move with the subject, that I captured this image. Moving slowly but deliberately, the fox was a perfect model as it made its way along the bank. Compositionally, I loved being able to use the reeds in the upper third to draw the viewer’s eye down while still giving more depth to the environment than just a snowy background. It was only after the fact that I realized that the reeds and the fox were so close in color.
Gear: Nikon D500, Tamron 150-600mm G2, and lots of layers of Columbia clothing and snow outerwear
Often a solo adventuress, Alyce Bender roams the globe, exploring Earth’s natural beauty. Her images have been featured in galleries from New York to Florida and she currently has an active exhibit in Las Vegas, NV, while her work as an international artist has been recognized from Japan to the U.K.
Bender is happiest in the field and passionate about sharing unique animals and environments from around the world in hopes of connecting people to the planet through imagery. She believes that connection is key to promoting environmental awareness and protecting vulnerable species and their habitats.