Category Archives: Alaska

Alaska

Wildlife Tails: Seward, Alaska

Editors note:  Today we have another post from our roving correspondent MaryKate.  Her report includes some excellent wildlife watching tips and photographs. Enjoy!

In April, I escaped the Florida heat and visited my friends Monette and Jesse in their new home of Seward, Alaska.  This was my third Alaskan adventure with Monette, and while we stayed in one place for the duration of the trip (a rarity for our travels!), I enjoyed the beautiful vast views and wildlife that Seward, Alaska has to offer.

Alaska MoonriseAlaska Moonrise

While in Seward, Monette, Jesse and I went whale watching.  This was my second trip with Kenai Fjords and I’d highly recommend them.  Their boats are comfortable, there’s plenty of room for running around to view wildlife, the crew is very knowledgeable, they serve great snacks and refreshments (wine!), and they had awesome limited-edition Grey Whale Tour 2017 T-Shirts.

Humpback WhaleHumpback Whale

We were lucky enough to see Dall’s Porpoise, Sea Lions, Sea Otters, a Humpback Whale, and the first Gray Whales of the season returning to Seward!  Pacific Gray Whales migrate all the way up from Baja to Alaska every Spring, the longest migration of any mammal – quite remarkable!  You can tell Gray Whales and Humpback Whales apart based on their blow.  While Humpback Whales have a tall blow, Gray Whales have a shorter, thicker heart-shaped blow due to their double blow hole.

Gray Whale

Gray Whale Blow (short and puffy/heart-shaped)

Keep your eyes open when whale watching – constantly scan the horizon back and forth to look for blows.  You don’t want to miss any of these amazing creatures, and it’s really exciting being the first to spot them (as Jesse often does!).

Gray Whale

First Gray Whales of the season!

Once back on shore, we saw some other wildlife friends too, like this Sea Otter – who was anything but shy and really hammed it up for the “otterazzi” of cameras!
Sea Otter

Synchronized Swimmer

And there’s plenty of wildlife on the side of the road.  Like this Bald Eagle couple…Bald Eagle Couple

Bald Eagle Couple

Or this grazing moose…Moose

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Finally, I recommend swinging by the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in nearby Girdwood, Alaska – this group is “dedicated to preserving Alaska’s wildlife through conservation, education, and quality animal care” and you can see many residents up close.  The Center takes in orphans and lost babies – this resident Black Bear is Kuma (or Uli?), and is unable to return to the wild:Bear Necessities

Bear Necessities

Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go be amazed by wildlife and make some photos!

©2017, MK Rosack and Ed Rosack. All rights reserved

Kodiak, Alaska

Editors note:  Today we have a special treat.  MaryKate has agreed to write a guest blog post about her recent trip to Kodiak Island, Alaska.   Sit back ,relax, and enjoy your vacation from my writing!


Five years ago, my birthday snuck up on me. A week or so before the big day, I called my good friend Monette and said “It’s a birthday emergency! I have no plans!” We booked a last-minute cruise, and ever since, our annual Emergency Birthday Trip has become a tradition I look forward to every year – exploring places as close by as the Florida Keys, and as far away as Oregon and Alaska. The trips always involve spontaneity, road tripping, shopping, National Parks (or the outdoors), wildlife, shopping, eating, shopping and exploring. This year, I returned to Alaska to visit Monette in her current location: Kodiak, the country’s second largest island.


These Boots Were Made For Traveling (Courtesy of Monette)

I take a lot of iPhone photos. But for this trip, my Dad let me borrow one of his many cameras since photo opportunities would be plentiful and I knew I might want to enlarge and print some wildlife pictures. He added an all in one 28 to 240mm equivalent lens to his Olympus E-M1 camera and programmed it with an iAuto setting (for fast-moving wildlife) and a P setting (for “Pretty much everything else”). While we had some rare Kodiak sunshine, the lighting was generally overcast and difficult. But with my Dad’s processing, I got some great shots!


Near Reflections: Boat harbor on Near Island

Saturday morning, we drove the Island road system and saw everything from a herd of wild buffalo to majestic mountains and mud flats. Monette said a lot of the vegetation had changed over the last week or so from bright and blooming to brown. I thought this picture eloquently captured the end of a season.

The End of Fall

That night we took an intimate dinner cruise with Galley Gourmet. Marty and Marion Owen were amazing hosts on board the Sea Breaze, where Marion made a from-scratch dinner with fresh ingredients from her garden and Marty steered the boat towards captivating wildlife like Stellar Sea Lions, Horned and Tufted Puffins and Sea Otters. I would highly recommend this dinner cruise for anyone in the area!

Marty said they hadn’t seen whales in a week or two, but sure enough, it was a Birthday Miracle and we found some Humpback Whales to watch and enjoy for about 30 minutes. I have some Humpback pictures from when my Dad and I were in Maine, but I’ve never been able to catch the illusive Puffin (which fly faster than I zoom through an airport!). I found that the P setting on the camera worked a little better.

Puffin Zone

We enjoyed watching this pair of baby Stellar Sea Lions play (the two smaller, darker ones near the middle). To our entertainment – but to the annoyance of the older residents – the babies kept jumping and splashing in and out of the water.

Stellar Viewing

It was an amazing trip filled with beautiful views and memories. And like all Emergency Birthday trips, I’m already counting down the days until next year.

You Otter Be Here

Here are more photos from the trip.  Click on any of the thumbnails to see them larger.


Thanks for stopping by and reading MaryKate’s blog post.  Now, go make some photos!

©2016, MaryKate and Monette. All rights reserved.

Our Alaskan vacation – Ch. 2: Glaciers

This is the second installment of our Alaskan adventure, where I’ll show you the glaciers we visited. Chapter One is here and describes the wildlife we saw on our trip.

Our ship, the MS Westerdam left Seattle on Sunday, September 6th and headed north to Glacier Bay National Park where we arrived on Tuesday.  Glacier Bay was one of the main reasons that we picked this itinerary and we were looking forward to seeing it.  The morning started out beautifully, with a very nice sunrise.

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While cruising in Glacier Bay, we visited Lamplugh, Johns Hopkins, and Marjorie glaciers.  Several cruise ships had been unable to reach the Johns Hopkins glacier this season due to ice, so apparently we were lucky.  Here’s a panorama I made from the 4th deck of the Westerdam at Johns Hopkins glacier.

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One of the first things we noticed is that the color of the water close to the glaciers is a very distinct greenish blue.  According to this article on wired.com (which also has some stunning photos of glaciers taken from space) the color is due to the very fine silt that is ground away from the valley walls by the glacier and deposited in the water.  This “glacial flour” can be very reflective and turns the water this color.

At Marjorie glacier, I was in the right place at the right time to photograph the ice calving.  Here’s the middle photo of a three photo sequence (you can see the others when you visit the gallery for this post).

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When we exited Glacier Bay, we headed for Juneau where we also visited Mendenhal Glacier, among other things.

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When we were back on board in Juneau, the captain made an announcement about gale force winds and 40 foot seas that were expected off of Sitka, which was supposed to be our next stop.  To avoid this weather he decided instead to cruise through Tracy Arm fjord, where we spent all of the next day (Thursday, September 10th).  Tracy Arm is a truly spectacular place that isn’t often visited by cruise ships as large as the MS Westerdam.  We were able to get in there since our Alaskan waters pilot was very familiar with the place.  It was amazing to watch the ship maneuver in such tight waters — at times we were within 30 yards or so of cliff walls and we must have seen hundreds of waterfalls.  There was quite a bit of fog and haze, which made photography difficult, but I did manage to get some good shots.  Here’s one example of the scenery:

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I also put my Canon G9 on a Gorillapod, mounted it to the balcony rail and made some movies. Here’s a time lapse video (one frame per second) that I made in Tracy Arm. It has a sequence of clouds forming and moving along with the ship.  We saw this same phenomenon several times that day.  Was it perhaps the great spirit of the northwest accompanying us on our tour?

That night after exiting Tracy Arm fjord, our course carried us back into the Pacific Ocean in order to get to Ketchikan.  It was still pretty rough with about 25 foot seas.  We had a great view of the ocean from the second deck during dinner.  It was like eating on a roller coaster!  The next morning, when we arrived in Ketchikan, we had seaweed on our 6th deck balcony!

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You can view the rest of my glacier photos in two places.  I added a set of glacier photos here in my photo galleries.   You can also look at all of our Alaska photos together in a single time ordered set here on Flickr.  Clicking on one of the photos above will also take you to Flickr, where if you click on the “all sizes” button, you can see the photo in a higher res version.

Coming next:  “North to Alaska, Ch. 3: Miscellaneous photos.  I’ll also probably wrap up with a Chapter 4: Photo hints.

©2009, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

North to Alaska, Ch. 1: Intro and Wildlife

Lynn and I have talked for a long time about taking a cruise to Alaska.  Since we’re celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary this year, we finally decided to book on Holland America’s MS Westerdam.  We did this early in the year and it seemed like forever before we departed Seattle on September 6th for Glacier Bay, Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria.  We spent some time before boarding with our good friends, the Sullivans who cruised with us in the next stateroom with a shared balcony.

It was our first visit to the US northwest and Alaska, and we saw spectacular things that we’ve never seen before except on TV.  Coming up with words to do justice to what we experienced will be hard.  We came home already talking about plans for our next trip. I hope I’ll be able to share some of the feelings of being there through the photographs I made.  Although far away and expensive, this vacation most definitely qualifies for the “Must do list” .

Instead of a day by day description, I’ll break this up into subjects.  This will help me organize my editing efforts.  I’ll talk first about the wildlife.  We spent quite a bit of time on the balcony and were rewarded on occasion with whale sightings, like this killer whale.

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North Pacific Killer whale from the MS Westerdam; NIKON D90,300 mm,1/320 sec at f / 5.6

We also saw humpback whales and I was grateful that Chuck loaned me his 80 – 400mm lens, since these were quite a distance away – every millimeter helped.

In Juneau, Sully and I went on a “Photo Safari by Land and Sea”, which was a guided whale encounter and glacier trek run by Gastineau Guiding. Our guide  Rick, and boat captain Gary, were both extremely knowledgeable and helpful in finding whales, seals, and sea lions.  Also eagles were quite abundant, feasting on the remains of the salmon run, which was still ongoing although according to locals slower than it had been.  Here’s a few photos:

Breaching humpback whale near Juneau
Breaching humpback; In the full res version, the two white dots in tree to the upper left, behind the whale are bald eagles.; NIKON D90,300 mm,1/1600 sec at f / 5.6

The whale in the first photo is an adult female. Her calf was also with her.  He/she seemed to jump upside down or do barrel rolls most of the time. It’s hard for me to imagine they were not having fun doing this.

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Humpback whale calf breeching; NIKON D90,300 mm,1/1250 sec at f / 5.6

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Humbolt Sea lion and gull watch two male Sea Lions arguing; NIKON D90,300 mm,1/1250 sec at f / 5.6

Rick also took us to Mendenhal Glacier in Juneau, where there were reports of black bear sightings.  Sure enough, as we descended to the lake by the glacier, a bear was seen napping under a bush.  I didn’t get a good photo, but here’s one that Sully made.  The bear had more sense than us.  It was sheltered from the rain taking a nap.  We were out in the rain trying to make pictures of it.  When we got back to the ship, another couple we ate lunch with told us about encountering bears on a different path than the one we took at Mendenhal.  I wonder how common they are?

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Bear in the bushes (photo by Martin Sullivan); Canon EOS 40D,135 mm,1/30 sec at f / 5.6

Clicking on one of the photos above will take you to Flickr, where you can see it in a higher res version. I made many more photos than will fit on a blog page and I’ll post them two different ways.  You can look at them all together as a time ordered single set here on Flickr.  I’ll also post them as galleries on my website, organized by subject:

  • Alaska wildlife photos are here.
  • Alaska glacier photos are here.
  • Alaska other photos are here.

Coming next:  “North to Alaska, Ch. 2: Glaciers.”  I’ll also collect my hints for fellow Alaskan vacation photographers into a single post to follow.

©2009, Ed Rosack and Martin Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Back home from Alaska

Lynn and I are so fortunate.  We’re home again after a wonderful vacation! Round trip, we traveled 5,092 statute miles by air to / from Seattle and 1930 nautical miles by ship, as far as Glacier Bay, Alaska.

Along the way we visited our good friends, the Sullivans. We saw beautiful sunsets and sunrises, glaciers, mountain vistas, humpback and killer whales, sea lions, harbor seals, otters, many birds including bald eagles, a bear blob, and several types of fish including spawning salmon. We saw the sites and shopped in Seattle, Juneau, Ketchikan, and Victoria, panned for gold and went to salmon bake dinners. The Holland America MS Westerdam is a superb ship, with a fine crew, although we were also thrilled by roller coaster like rides through gale force winds and 25+ foot seas.

Photography wise, it was a target rich environment, but the weather was mostly overcast with fog, low clouds and frequent rain. I took too much photo gear, but since I had it with me, I used most of it. I made thousands of photographs and my friend Sully made thousands more. Many of these are bracketed or panorama sets. I plan to go through them, choose the selects, and post process them as time permits. Hopefully there will be a few that are worth sharing here on this blog and in some galleries. I think that the next three or four of my posts will all be Alaska related. I also want to go through and create a photo book about our trip.

But we just got home, we’re tired, and we have to go to work tomorrow. For now, here’s one photo I really like.  We saw this rainbow on our first day at sea, about an hour after leaving Seattle.

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