Sunday Profile: Photographer captures where wild things are
Wildlife photographer Ken Krehbiel of Carbondale has a new favorite subject this winter.
Back in November, while hiking a ridge just west of town he noticed a curious rock outcropping and decided to investigate. As he got closer, he observed the tell-tale signs of a bear’s den and took a peek inside.
Sure enough, curled up within plain view was a bear all settled in for the winter. Krehbiel took a few quick pictures with his regular Nikon digital camera, being careful not to rouse the bear, and went on his way.
But the discovery led to a new photo documentary project over the past couple of months that sheds some light on what exactly bears do during the winter, besides sleep.
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It’s been quite surprising, says Krehbiel, who specializes in the use of carefully placed, battery-powered cameras that use motion sensors to capture wildlife movement without having to physically be there to do it.
After hiding some of his special cameras outside the den, Krehbiel said he has captured close to 200 images per week of the bear’s activities, which include occasionally poking its head out, licking the air, eating snow, and gathering up grass and tree bark for its bed, but never straying far.
“We always think of bears being in this deep sleep all winter, but that’s not the case,” Krehbiel said. “It’s pretty amazing how active this particular bear is.”
Krehbiel isn’t sure if the bear is a female or male, but he’s hoping it’s the former and is especially hopeful there might be some cub activity to document this spring.
“It’s always exciting, because I never know what I’m going to find on those cards when I go to check the cameras,” said Krehbiel, an avid big game hunter who has been experimenting with the motion cameras in some of his hunting destinations and all around the backcountry for about 10 years now.
CLOSE TO HOME
“I constantly have cameras going somewhere,” he said of the five cameras he rotates among different locations.
One of the cameras is mounted on a tree just outside his house overlooking the Crystal River. The cameras can also equipped with a special infrared filter to capture nighttime images without using a flash, which can spook the wildlife.
The infrared images, which are in black and white, are sometimes the most compelling pictures he gets.
Right in his own back yard Krehbiel has gotten pictures of bears, mountain lions, fox, raccoons, skunks and other nocturnal beasts, as well as numerous ducks and other waterfowl on the river.
“It’s amazing what passes right by your house each day and night,” he said.
Krehbiel lives in Carbondale with his wife, Sue, a longtime local musician, and their daughter Katelyn. The Krehbiels own and operate the Signature Picture Framing shop in the Basalt Trade Center.
Ken Krehbiel grew up in Morrison, Colorado, and came to the Roaring Fork Valley in the late 1980s to attend Colorado Mountain College, where he earned a degree in photography.
“I first came to the area to go fishing and just fell in love with the valley and kept saying to myself I had to find a way to come back out here,” he said.
He met Sue while she was managing a framing shop in Aspen, and they opened their own shop together about 16 years ago. He also taught in the Colorado Outward Bound program in Marble for five years, an extension of his passion for the outdoors that he developed early in life.
Krehbiel shares his wildlife photography passion with his brother, Robert, who lives in Twin Lakes, and recalls that they both enjoyed anything to do with wildlife and the outdoors while growing up in Morrison.
“We’re constantly sending pictures back and forth,” Krehbiel said, equating it to catch-and-release fishing. “I’m kind of on a quest to see how many different species I can catch.”
He and his brother have also been working with friends in Costa Rica on a project to document endangered panthers and other wildlife there.
USING HIS CAMERA EYE
Back home, in addition to his bear den project, Krehbiel has been setting cameras up above Grizzly Creek in Glenwood Canyon to capture images of the bighorn sheep that frequent that area.
“I’m always thinking about composition, especially in the canyon and trying to get picture of the sheep with dramatic views of the cliffs in the background,” he said. “You have to watch your backgrounds, and make sure you don’t have houses or power lines in the way, or any grass or branches in the foreground.
“The camera angle is also important, and you have to think about what kind of animal you will be shooting and set it up accordingly,” Krehbiel said.
Many of his images have come from his favorite hunting in the Flat Tops, up Avalanche Creek and near Four Mile Park. Sometimes, he will point the camera at a stripped elk or deer carcass that he has left behind to see what all comes in for the leftovers.
“I’ll come back in one or two week’s time and there will be nothing but the teeth left,” he said of the aftermath left by scavengers large and small.
Bears in particular can be curious about the cameras, and will nudge and even break them if they can reach them. So, Krehbiel has started concealing them in bear-proof metal boxes.
Krehbiel typically uses an Ambush model Cudde Back digital camera, which are relatively inexpensive at just a couple hundred dollars. The cameras are often used by hunters to scout out certain areas, and by wildlife officials to document wildlife migration patterns and activity.
Locally, they have been used extensively along the Catherine Bridge to Rock Bottom Ranch section of the Rio Grande Trail during the wintertime closure to document the wintering habits of wildlife there.
“People are using them for a lot of different reasons now, even home security,” Krehbiel said, adding he likes the fun he has using them to photograph wildlife.
“Everybody I show the pictures to is just fascinated,” he said. “Sooner or later people are going to capture some new or rare species. And if there really is a bigfoot …”
A variety of elusive species that frequent the central Rocky Mountains are still on Krehbiel’s bucket list to capture images of, including lynx, bobcat and moose.
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A leading critic of the Basalt shooting range contends Colorado Parks and Wildlife hasn’t done enough to make the public facility “fire safe.” CPW officials counter they have bolstered fire safety since the 2018 Lake Christine Fire and continue to eye improvements.