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!
Pacific Whale Foundation is a 501(c)(3) IRS tax-exempt charitable organization dedicated to protecting our oceans through science and advocacy. MK and I both strongly believe it deserves our support. If you get a chance, please check out the auctions and consider bidding on these two prints to help out this worthy cause!
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 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. 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!
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.
[singlepic id=143 w= h= float=center] 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!
[singlepic id=141 w= h= float=center] 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.
[singlepic id=142 w= h= float=center]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.
[singlepic id=156 w= h= float=center]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.
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.
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.
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).
When we exited Glacier Bay, we headed for Juneau where we also visited Mendenhal Glacier, among other things.
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:
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!
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.
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 a bit of time on the balcony and were rewarded on occasion with whale sightings, like this killer whale.
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; 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.
Humpback whale calf breeching; NIKON D90,300 mm,1/1250 sec at f / 5.6
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?
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:
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.