Editors note: Here’s another post from our roving correspondent MaryKate – this time from right here in Central Florida. She was kind enough to write this for us which let me have Father’s Day off from the blog. Enjoy her post!
Happy Father’s Day to all Dads far and wide!
To celebrate, I thought I’d share some recent photos of a new swan family at Lake Cherokee in downtown Orlando. I noticed a single swan in Lake Cherokee, and locals tell me (s)he has been alone for quite some time. We were worried that something might have happened to its mate.
Lake Cherokee Mute Swan
However, last weekend, the mystery was solved. Turns out the swan couple was fine after all and had been up to some FOWL play. They showed up together with their swan babies!
Lake Cherokee Mute Swan Family
Mom and Dad are proud parents to three baby swans, two white ones and one grey. Apparently Mute Swans can be grey or white when they’re young, and then their feathers all turn white as they grow. My favorite is the grey one.
Mute Swan Cygnets Close-Up
Especially today, it’s touching to see this swan Dad (and Mom!) taking such good care of their family. I’m glad they found their cygnet-ficant others before Father’s Day!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Hope all fathers out there (especially my Dad and brother) have a very Happy Father’s Day! Now go make some photos!
Editors note: Here’s another wonderful post from our roving correspondent MaryKate. This one features photos from her trip to Hawaii in February – enjoy!
Being on Maui in February during peak whale watching season is like nothing else! Each year between November and May, humpback whales migrate from their summer feeding grounds in Alaska down to Maui to mate and give birth, with January to March being the best months for abundant whale watching.
While there are so many whales you can see them from shore (sometimes causing traffic jams as people watch a whale breach!), I highly recommend going out with Pacific Whale Foundation for a more intimate experience. My favorite cruise is their Sunday Whale Photo Safari out of Lahaina on Ocean Spirit, a luxury sailing catamaran**.
Fluke of a Shot
I’ve been ‘whaley’ obsessed with working on my whale photography skills between trips to Alaska and Hawaii. As I make more photos, I’ve tried to find different perspectives and refine my skills. This trip, I was happy to catch some behaviors and situations I haven’t seen before – so I’ll focus on those photos in the rest of today’s blog.
Keeping My Eye On You
This image above is the first time where I can see the humpback whale’s eye (the round bump at the right)! This humpback was slapping its pectoral fin on the water, perhaps to communicate with other whales nearby. While we watched this whale, (s)he was watching nearby kayakers the entire time to make sure that they didn’t get too close.
Another new situation for me was this next photo of Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins. I’ve seen one or two at a time before. This pod started out as three or four dolphins surfacing by our boat and then erupted into a large pod of 30-40! This many dolphins together is a breathtaking experience!
Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin Pod
We also had some very active humpback calves, and they treated us to a few baby breaches (also known as “flying pickles” because of the way they look when flying through the air). This calf below was just coming out of the water to breach – look how tiny he is compared to his mother nearby.
Humpback Whale Calf Breaching
I’m also working to improve my compositions (although the captain of the boat sure controls a lot of that!). I really like this image of a mother and calf double blow. Including the Maui shoreline in Lahaina adds interest and context to the photo.
Humpback Whale Mother & Calf Double Blow
I had great luck on this trip with weather and whales – too much to fit into one post! Check out the rest of my photos in the album here.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go see things through a different set of eyes and make some photos!
**DISCLAIMER: I’m biased – I love PWF and their mission to protect the ocean through science and advocacy and to inspire environmental stewardship so much, that I recently joined their board of directors.
Editors note: Today we have an update from our roving correspondent MaryKate. This post features some new friends she made on her Alaska visit back in September – enjoy!
I wrote a post awhile back about my Labor Day trip to Alaska and the majestic Orcas we observed in Seward with Seward Ocean Excursions. But there was so much amazing wildlife on the other stops of our trip that it deserves another post.
After Seward, we drove three hours down to Homer. I was excited to visit Homer since I’ve only been there once, and it was so foggy that I didn’t really get to “see” Homer. This time though, our weather was simply beautiful!
iPhone Panoramic View from our Rental (Homer Spit is in the distance to the left)
While in Homer, we ferried from Homer down to Seldovia on a 7 hour Seldovia Wildlife Tour aboard Rainbow Tours. While it was towards the end of the tourist season in Seldovia, it was worth the trip just for the wildlife and views from the ferry, and there were plenty of photography opportunities.
Sea Otter in Kelp
My favorite photo from the trip was this Sea Otter in Kelp. Sea otters sometimes wrap themselves in kelp like this to anchor themselves and relax a little. While sea otters are very common in Alaska, and friendly enough that they make great photography subjects, I thought that the composition of this shot made for an especially interesting photo. If you click-through to the Flickr album, you can see the progression of the sea otter unwinding himself from the kelp to swim away.
Sea Otter Floating Away
When we were almost back to Homer, we saw a raft of otters. I’d seen several of these on our trip, but all were too far away to photograph, so I was glad to catch these guys.
Raft of Otters
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog post. Now – go be amazed by wildlife and you otter make some photos!
Editors note: Today we have another awesome report from our roving correspondent MaryKate. She’s back in Alaska, this time in Seward. Just looking at this gives me some relief from our still hot Central Florida weather – enjoy!
Thanks for having me for my 10th blog post at CFPO, and for a recap of my 6th visit to the majestic state of Alaska! Over Labor Day weekend, I visited Monette for Emergency Birthday Seven (our annual tradition of a last-minute birthday adventure, almost always involving a road trip, wildlife, eating and shopping). We met in Anchorage, and road tripped down to Seward and Homer.
In Seward, we went on a 6-hour wildlife watching boat tour. This time we opted for a smaller boat instead of going with one of the larger companies like we had in the past, and we were really luck that we found Bix from Seward Ocean Excursions to take us out on Missing Lynx!
Orca in front of Bear Glacier
We headed out on the tour, but about an hour out, Captain Bix received word that a pod of Orcas was nearby, so we turned around to hopefully sneak a glimpse of these magical creatures. That’s the great thing about being on a boat with only six passengers – the Captain is flexible and takes you where you want to go to see what you want to see. Sure enough, we found the Orcas!
Orca Coming to Check Us Out
Captain Bix was careful to follow the Whale Sense responsible whale watching guidelines, so we approached the pod slowly and stopped 100 yards away. We observed a pod of 2-3 adults and a baby. The Orcas were very curious, and every time they noticed a new boat, they would swim over to check it out – including ours! It was surreal watching these giant mammals swim towards us, underneath, and around the boat, getting so close that they made eye contact!
Up-close Orca Encounter
The baby in the pod was a bit of a show off, and not quite coordinated yet. It was in a playful mood, practicing fluke slaps and exploring. I did manage to get a fluke photo, but unfortunately missed a shot of one of his elders breaching!
Baby Fluke Slap
The Orca Whale pod we observed were residents, meaning they eat mostly fish (likely salmon here) vs. transient Orca Whales that feast on mammals like seals, sea lions, and even baby whales (i.e. Humpbacks and Greys). Resident and transient Orcas look the same though, so it wasn’t surprising that while the Orcas were out, we didn’t see any seals or sea lions in their normal resting spots. But these seagulls were very interested in piggybacking on the Orca fishing party!
Resident Orca Fishing with Seagulls
Interested in learning more about whales? I recommend a book I got for my birthday: Spying on Whales. It’s a very quick read for a science book, and talks about the past, present and future of these captivating cetaceans in a digestible way.
After observing the Orca pod, we moved on and enjoyed Alaska’s beauty for the rest of the tour, seeing plenty of Puffins, some Harbor Seals, and a Sea Lion. More photos can be found in the album here.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go be amazed by wild whales and make some photos!
Editors note: Today we have another post from our roving correspondent MaryKate. She’s back in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but this time on Maui – enjoy!
I recently took the trip of a lifetime to Maui during whale watching season. While I’ve been fortunate enough to whale watch in places like Alaska, Channel Islands National Park and Maine, I have never seen anything like the whales in Maui in February. Each year around December/January through about March/April, North Pacific Humpback Whales migrate down from Alaska (bye, Monette!) to Hawaii to mate, give birth, and let their babies bulk up before the long journey back north. These whales love the waters around Maui, and I’ve never been to a place where you can sit on the beach or at a restaurant on the coast and watch these amazing creatures from land.
Tails from Maui
But you can get an even better view from the water! I did two whale watching cruises, both with the Pacific Whale Foundation. I’d highly recommend any cruise with PWF (and check out their amazing gift shop while you’re there!), because the money from your cruise goes to protect our oceans through research, education and conservation programs. While all of their cruises are great experiences, if you have the time and the money and are an early bird like me, your best option is to go on a smaller boat as early in the day as possible. We took the larger Ocean Discovery on a Saturday afternoon at 2 pm and there was plenty of whale watching, but it was nothing like the intimate photo safari experience on Sunday morning at 7 am aboard the Ocean Spirit catamaran. With a smaller, quieter boat, we could turn off the engine when we got 100 yards away from the whales, and sometimes they would come closer to us. This humpback whale was curious and “spy hopped” right by our boat, poking its head up to check us out!
Humpback Whale “Spy Hopping”
We were lucky to see many mom and baby pairs, which are easy to spot when you know what to look for: more frequent and smaller blows (the babies need to breathe a lot more often than the grownups), and a floating protective Mom beside them (Mom is always nearby!).
Baby (left) and Mom (right) Humpback Whales
I really enjoyed the photo ops on this whale watch. There was a photographer on board if you had any questions, and I was able to see and photograph whales in a way I never had before. Fun fact – did you know Humpback Whales (and all baleen whales) have two blowholes side by side (kind of like a human nose) vs. toothed whales that only have one?
Humpback Whale – Two Blows Up!
We also saw Maui by air via a Maverick Helicopter Tour. It’s a lot tougher to get good photos from a helo, but it was really amazing to see whales from such a different perspective! Below, a mom and baby (on the right) are “escorted” by a male (not the baby’s daddy!).
Humpback Whales by Air: (From right to Left) Mom, Baby, and Male Escort
Editors note 2: Thanks again MK – it was wonderful to read about your trip and see your photos. Hawaii is still on my bucket list!Also readers, if you’re going to visit, you might want to take a look at the Hawaii category on my on-line friend Jeff Stamer’s blog. He’s been there several times and has some amazing photos and tips.
Editors note: Today we have another wonderful post from our roving correspondent MaryKate. Her report includes beautifully surreal landscape images as well as excellent wildlife watching tips and photographs. It’s well worth clicking the link at the end to view the rest of her photos. Enjoy!
In late September, I had the pleasure of visiting Monette and Jesse in Anchorage, AK for Emergency Birthday Six (our annual tradition of a last-minute birthday adventure). It was the second-to-last weekend of the tourist season, so we were excited to find a company still doing day cruises: Phillips Cruises & Tours 26 Glacier Cruise out of Whittier, Alaska.
To get from Anchorage to Whittier (population 214 people), we drove along the Seward Highway, one of my absolute favorite views ever. We saw two Beluga Whales fishing along the shore at Beluga Point – and reported them to the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Photo-ID Project! I’ve looked for the Belugas every time I drive along this beautiful road, and this was my first time finally seeing them (unfortunately the only picture I have is the memory in my mind). From Beluga Point, give yourself plenty of time to get through the 2.5 mile Whittier Tunnel – the longest highway tunnel in North America!
View from Seward Highway
The 26 Glacier Cruise, as promised, delivered many stunning glacier views. Due to weather, we took an alternate route that the on-board Park Ranger told us he had only done several times in his career and got up close to some amazing glaciers.
View from Glacier Cruise
While the first few hours of the cruise was mostly scenic views, we began to see much more wildlife towards the end of the cruise including Sea Otters, Sea Lions, Bald Eagles, and this Seal floating by on an iceberg.
Along for the Ride
But my breath was taken away in the last 30 minutes, when we were on our way back to shore, and the captain spotted a pair of Orca Whales! It’s always magical seeing these friends in the wild.
Male and Female Orca Whale Couple
I can’t wait to go visit Monette and Jesse again – in addition to being great friends, they live in an absolutely beautiful state, and I always enjoy exploring Alaska with them!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. More photos can be found in the album here. Now – go be amazed by wildlife and make some photos!
Editors note: Today we have another post from our roving correspondent MaryKate. This time from the middle of the Pacific Ocean – enjoy!
Back in May, I (willingly) kidnapped my youngest cousin Annie and took her to one of my bucket-list destinations and remaining states to visit: Hawaii! We were there for 5 days and 4 nights, so we stayed on Oahu the entire time (vs. island hopping) – which was a different and enjoyable experience for me since I’m usually on the go! We shared amazing outdoor experiences like snorkeling, reflected at somber memorials like Pearl Harbor, and discovered captivating views while exploring the island on the drive of a lifetime.
The most memorable experience was snorkeling off of Waianae. If you’ve read any of my past blog posts, you know I have a passion for wildlife, especially dolphins and whales. While we visited at the wrong time of the year to see humpback whales, I was really excited to see Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins in the wild.
Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin
While snorkeling, we saw five Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins, green sea turtles, and even a baby hammerhead shark. The tour company was respectful about keeping our distance, being quiet and still, and not harassing the wildlife.
However, while in Hawaii, I found the book The Lives of Hawaii’s Dolphins and Whales by Robin W. Baird, and was saddened to read that “because spinners do all of their feeding at night and all of their resting during the day…exposure to vessel traffic and swimmers may disrupt their resting patterns or cause them to leave the relative safety of their traditional resting areas. A recent study off Kona showed that spinner dolphins were exposed to humans, boaters, and/or swimmers within 100 yards of them about 82 percent of their time during the day.” Because of this, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is considering new regulations “to prohibit swimming with and approaching a Hawaiian spinner dolphin within 50 yards.” Knowledge is power, so I will cherish the memories I have from this experience and instead watch them from afar in the future – even if the rules don’t change. Pacific Whale Foundation has a great PDF with more information on how to Be Dolphin Wise.
Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin
If you make it to Oahu, definitely follow my brother Mike’s advice to rent a car and drive the island. We got a better feel for the place by seeing so much more of it. From Waikiki, we drove north up the middle of the island (stopping at the obligatory tourist stop: Dole Plantation), then to the north shore for some shave ice, lunch at the famous Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck, scenic views, and a tour at the Kualoa Ranch where movies like Jurassic Park and TV shows like Lost were filmed (can’t you just imagine a T-Rex popping out of the shot below?). The drive and the views are the destination, so take your time and enjoy the ride!
Kualoa Ranch – Home of Jurassic Park (if it’s a good photo you’re raptor, come here!)
Editors note 2: Thanks so much MK – it was wonderful to read about your trip. Hawaii is still on my bucket list! Also readers, if you’re going to visit, you might want to take a look at the Hawaii category on my on-line friend Jeff Stamer’s blog. He’s been to there several times and has some amazing photos and tips.
You can click on any of these photos to see a much higher res version on Flickr. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go be amazed by wildlife and make some photos!
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.
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.
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 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!).
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!
And there’s plenty of wildlife on the side of the road. Like this Bald Eagle couple…
Bald Eagle Couple
Or this grazing moose…
AlMOOSEt done with this blog post
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:
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go be amazed by wildlife and make some photos!
I was lucky to have some downtime in Seattle before a recent business trip to Vancouver, so one of my best friends – Jessica – popped up from San Francisco to join me for some National Park adventures and whale watching! I love exploring our National Park system and its jewels – and we packed a lot of them into one weekend.
Our first stop was Mt. Rainier National Park – America’s fifth oldest national park. Blessed with amazingly perfect sunny weather, we spent Saturday driving through the park and stopping along the way to appreciate its beauty. The Nisqually Entrance is open year round, and with an SUV its an easy drive through the park with lots of scenic overlooks. But winter at Mt. Rainier means renting chains to carry in your car – even if you’re not required to put them on – or you’ll have to turn around and drive to the nearest rental place (like we did!). Plan time to stop at the Longmire and Paradise Visitors Centers to learn more about the park’s history, ask a ranger questions, or get a souvenir!
On Sunday, we took a 4-5 hour whale watching trip with Island Adventures out of downtown Seattle – I’d highly recommend this company, and Tyson our naturalist was very knowledgeable! While January isn’t peak whale watching season, they still run a trip everyday and have luck spotting resident orcas or a humpback here and there. While the first few hours of our trip were pretty quiet and peaceful, we were excited to find Speckles the Humpback Whale – a juvenile humpback that has been spending a lot of time in the area. Named Speckles for his distinguishing marks on his back and tail, this little guy gave us a show for about an hour fishing, surfacing, and even blowing his whale stench in our direction (quite a smell if you’ve never experienced it!).
Speckles and his Speckles
Speckles really gave the two guys on this boat a close encounter!
Speckles the Humpback Whale
We finished the weekend with a scenic drive through the Western part of North Cascades National Park. While there were many breathtaking views, it was mostly closed for the season (or for Martin Luther King Day) – so we’ll have to come another time when its warmer. It was still worth taking the longer loop back to the airport (vs. the interstate) for views like this:
North Cascades National Park
More photos from my trip can be found in my album here, or check out Ed’s previous post with additional whale photos.
Thanks for reading about my whale of a trip. Now go make some photos!
While technically outside of the Central Florida Photo Ops area, this week’s post comes to you from the Loggerhead Marinelife Center down in Juno Beach, FL. The Center is a turtley awesome 12,000 square foot non-profit education and ocean conservation facility with a veterinary hospital, exhibit, outdoor classroom, research lab, resource center, and – my favorite – a really great gift shop (you don’t have to feel guilty leaving with souvenirs, it’s all for a great cause!).
Loggerhead Marinelife Center facility
For the second year in a row (now a tradition!), some of the family headed down to meet Pumpkin, the green sea turtle patient I adopted this Christmas for my sister-in-law Sara. Pumpkin was stranded at Palm Beach, FL and arrived to the Marinelife Center on November 2. The victim of a net entanglement, Pumpkin has an injury to its left front flipper and hasn’t been eating well. However, Pumpkin seemed active and in good spirits when we visited, and we can keep tabs on his progress (and hopefully eventual release date) through his patient page on the Center website.
Pumpkin, Sara’s green sea turtle adoptee
The main section of the facility has six large glass-front tanks where you can watch the turtles from the top or get a “fish eye” view from the front. We really flipped out over our two new friends: Squash and Nicklen were really shelling it out for the cameras!
Heros In A Half Shell: Turtle Power!
Squash was squishing against the glass to see us!
You can also watch the vet staff interact with and treat the turtles. In the picture below, they were draining the water in Waffle’s tank for a disinfectant treatment on its flipper. The Loggerhead Marinelife Center is great with education and makes the turtles very accessible to watch and learn about – you can also watch the vet staff in the turtle hospital through their large front windows.
Waffle prepares for his disinfectant treatment
The Center is a wonderful place for kids and adults alike – whether you visit in person, attend a turtle release, or check out their Turtle Cam, there are lots of ways to learn about these gentle giants. And if you’re looking for a last-minute 2016 charitable deduction, then consider donating or even adopting your own! You can help the Loggerhead Marinelife Center rehabilitate and release even more endangered sea turtles.