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!
What’s Momma doing? Sand Hill Crane and chick foraging at Viera Wetlands. The chick’s concentration is fascinating.
And Great Blew Heron families (Pun intended – Windy day? Blew? Blue? ):
Breezy Blue and baby – Mom guards the nest and chicks
And caught a brief glimpse of a family of River Otters before they disappeared into the reeds:
River Otter family – 3 or 4 of them ran across the road and into the water
I have one more photo to show you. Since I started using the Olympus E-M1 II camera, I’ve been on a quest to apply its ‘pro-capture’ mode to photograph a Red-winged Blackbird in flight. Their shoulders are pretty and you can’t see them very well when they’re perched. This is my best attempt so far. I like it, but I’m going to keep trying. I’d like to catch one in a little better light and it’d be nice to have the bird facing more toward the camera. While we’re wishing, a catch light in the eyes would be wonderful too!
Red-winged Blackbird in flight –
We also looked for a different sunrise spot and stopped by a pasture on the way to Viera. Unfortunately, nature didn’t cooperate – I ended with a few uninspiring photos. You can look at one (if you must) on Flickr at this link.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some spring time 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.
I enjoyed Viera Wetlands so much the last time I visited, that when my friend Robert Wilson suggested we meet there I was more than willing to go again. Here are three more photos showing some of what you can find there.
It’s not easy being green – A Pig Frog. Believe it or not, these aren’t too hard to spot once you know what to look for.
Least Bittern – Most of the time they hide down deep in the reeds. This one hung out at the top for a bit. It’s a little better look than the last one I posted.
A pair of otters – We enjoyed watching these two take their morning dust bath on the dirt road. I’ve seen them do this several times at Viera Wetlands. The one on the right seems to have an injury to its mouth. Robert thinks it might be a cleft palate.
I had a great time exploring Viera with Robert. By the way, he’s an excellent photographer and really into digiscoping. He explains what it is and shows some wonderful examples of his photos in this article he wrote on the Photography World site. Well worth a look!
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
My friend Tom M. wanted to go out photographing last week. And I was ready – I hadn’t clicked the shutter since last year! When he mentioned that he wasn’t very familiar with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, I jumped at the chance to show him around.
Our first stop was along the causeway to watch the gulls and Black Skimmers that often gather there.
Black Skimmer – Along the causeway headed into the Refuge
Then we drove through Gator Creek Road and Blackpoint Wildlife Drive.
Roseate Spoonbill (BPWD)- This bird was foraging near the shore and ignored me as I crouched down and framed my shot. When it heard the shutter clicking, it stopped and stared right at me for a few seconds and then continued feeding.
River Otter (BPWD) – I stopped the car when I spotted two Otters in the water next to the road. They swam by and kept going as we got out to try to make a photo. We followed for a bit – but they were going quicker than our fast walk. One of them surprised me when it crossed the road and of course I was too slow to get a good photo of that. This is the best image I managed.
We also stopped by the Bairs Cove Boat ramp at Haulover Canal to visit the manatees there and then drove by the Great Horned Owl nest (near 402 and SR 3). Our last stop was the visitor center to see if the painted buntings were around ( no, but they had been).
Whether you’re familiar with the area or not, this would be a very good half day route to see the highlights at MINWR. And this is a wonderful time to go – there’s a lot of birds and other wildlife around, and the weather’s great. Maybe I’ll see you over there!
Happy Holidays! I hope that all of you, your families, and your friends have a joyful and happy holiday season!
The end of the year is a good time to review results and contemplate how to improve any endeavor, and photography is no exception. I’ve put together these “Favorite photos of the year” posts since 2009. This is a hard process for any photographer. For me, it’s difficult to separate my opinion about a photograph from emotional connections that I might have with the subject, scene, or situation. But making this effort is important and part of the learning process. I don’t claim to be objective – these are simply the photos that I like best. Feel free to disagree, but I hope you’ll enjoy looking at the ones I’ve picked.
I made many photos that I like during my first visit to Chicago last September. This one is my favorite from that trip. See this post for more info.
My number 3 favorite photo of 2013:
Partial eclipse of the sun; Cocoa Beach Pier, Florida; November.
I almost didn’t get to make this photo since I was late finding out about the eclipse. It’s a bit different from most sunrise photos I make because I used a long telephoto lens to emphasize the sun instead of a wide-angle lens. The three people watching with me from the end of the pier were a bonus. See this post for more info.
My number 4 favorite photo of 2013:
You otter not interrupt me; Viera Wetlands, Florida; November.
This river otter was having a morning dust bath on the dirt road through Viera Wetlands. It stopped and watched me for a bit when I got out of my car to make this photo, but then ignored me and finished before sliding back into the water.
My number 5 favorite photo of 2013:
Storm clouds over the Everglades; Everglades National Park, Florida; April.
We had a wonderful expedition to the Keys, Everglades, and Dry Tortugas in April. This photo of a pine tree and grass reflecting from the inches deep water in the Everglades “river of grass” is my favorite landscape from that trip. See this post for more info.
My number 6 favorite photo of 2013:
Reading; St. Augustine, Florida; August.
St. Augustine is full of photo ops. I really liked the symmetry of the columns in this scene and how they led my eye towards the man reading on the bench. See this post for more info.
My number 7 favorite photo of 2013:
Sea oats; Howard Park, Tarpon Springs, Florida; August
I noticed this scene while wandering around not expecting to find anything to photograph. Another lesson in “keep your eyes open”.
My number 8 favorite photo of 2013:
Resting behind mom; Lowry Park Zoo, Tampa, Florida; March.
We spent time in “Primate World” watching the family of Orangutans. The young one (I think this is RanDee, born in August 2008) was full of energy, swinging all around on the platforms and ropes. The adults watched her with very human-like ”where does she get the energy” looks. Finally, RanDee rested for a bit behind her mom (DeeDee) and I was able to make this photo. See this post for more info.
My number 9 favorite photo of 2013:
The Chapel on the Rock (Saint Catherine of Siena Chapel); Allenspark, Colorado; July.
This is south along Route 7 out of Estes Park on the grounds of the Saint Malo Retreat. We had no idea it was there, but when we drove by and saw the scene, I had to stop and photograph it. It’s a multi-photo, hand-held panorama processed in Photoshop and Lightroom. See this post for more info.
My number 10 favorite photo of 2013:
Not sleeping; Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary, Tampa, Florida; August.
To me, this photo symbolizes what we learned about the plight of captive large cats and primates while visiting two rescue organizations near Tampa. See this post for more info.
If you’d like to see my favorite photos from earlier years, click on these links: 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.
I hadn’t been to the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford, Florida since early 2007 and Tom M. had some new gear he wanted to try – so we decided to visit this week. Here’s a few photos I made along with some photo hints.
The River Otter exhibit was fun. If you’re patient and the otter’s in the mood, you can make a nice image of it swimming. Up your ISO to get a fast shutter speed and get close to the glass to block reflections. Then press the button right before “the moment”.
Macaw – Many zoos have these very photogenic birds around. They’re good posers!
Photography at this zoo can be challenging. Many of the animals are behind glass or wire mesh fences, and far away or in bad light. You’ll need to look for situations where you have a clear view of the animals and if you’re patient they’ll often come closer. You can also try the standard techniques i.e. Use wide open apertures to blur the fencing; Hold your lens close to the glass or use your hands to block reflections; etc.
Snake eyes – Albino Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. The “herpetarium” is dark. I didn’t bring a flash, but If I had, I might have tried using it (held out to the side to avoid reflections). The snakes don’t normally move fast – in this case I braced my camera so I could use a slow shutter speed (I also didn’t bring a tripod).
Busy Bee – There are a lot of pretty plantings and flowers at the zoo. I made this photo in the Butterfly Garden area.
And one last photo – we went by the marina in Sanford before going to breakfast and then the zoo. It’s a nice place for sunrise.
Most people just call the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands near Viera, Florida “Viera Wetlands”, although I’m sure they mean no disrespect to Mr. Grissom. I hadn’t been there in a while, and since it’s one of my favorite places I took a trip down to check on things last week – it didn’t disappoint.
On the way, I stopped by Kelly Park in Merritt Island for sunrise. I’m not sure if this Great Blue Heron was really getting ready to fish, or just enjoying the beautiful, pre-sunrise light, but I was glad it waded into my photo.
The early birds get the fish – Looking east over the Banana River from Kelly Park in Cocoa, just before dawn.
At Viera Wetlands, I got to watch this otter’s antics as it enjoyed a dirt bath in the road:
River Otter dust bath – I watched it rolling around in the dirt on the road for a while. When it had enough, it stood up, shook itself off, and moved back into the water.
I also watched this scene and although I felt badly for the frog, I guess I should feel good for the bird:
Hooded Merganser catches frog at Viera Wetlands – This doesn’t end well for the frog.
I don’t see Green Herons as often as some of the other herons and egrets, so it was nice to watch a number of them in the reeds along the sides of the berms. This pose is typical of one of their hunting techniques. They’ll perch frozen on the water’s edge and wait for prey to come within striking distance. Green Herons are reportedly one of the smartest birds. I haven’t seen the behavior, but they’re said to drop small bits of food or insects onto the water to attract fish.
Concentration – A Green Heron stalks its prey.
Viera is a great place to see Great Blue Herons courting, nesting, and raising young and there are several pairs active now. I saw one nest with very small chicks already hatched. I also saw many of the regulars there including alligators, Great Egrets, Tri-color Herons, Scaups, Coots, Red-winged Blackbirds, and others. On the way out I also took a turn around the Click ponds, but didn’t notice anything I hadn’t already found in the main areas. A great trip and well worth the time!
Click on the photos to go to Flickr, where you can see larger versions (the otter photo especially where you can see all the dirt it’s flung around) . You can also see more photos from Viera Wetlands in this set on Flickr. And I have many older posts about Viera Wetlands – you can look through them from this link.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!
I’m coming down with another cold and wasn’t very enthusiastic about going to Viera Wetlands yesterday. Actually, “not very enthusiastic” is a big understatement. I almost didn’t get out of bed – but now I’m glad I did.
We had to leave at “O dark thirty” to get to the west side of the wetlands just before sunrise. I wanted to try the D7000 out on landscapes and it performed very well. The image below is a single exposure of the sunrise. I don’t care too much for silhouettes – I like to have some detail and color in the shadows. For this one, I exposed at -2 EV to prevent blowing out the sky and then brought up the shadows in post processing. The D7000 recorded a very broad dynamic range and has remarkably little noise in the shadows at base ISO, even when under exposed. This real world example, along with the the results from the recent DxOMark test of the D7000 indicate it’s going to be a very fine landscape camera. The only problem is that I don’t have a very wide lens for it.
Sunrise at Viera Wetlands, D7000, ISO 100, 1/100 sec. @ f/11, 16 mm
As we were photographing the sunrise, an otter swam by right in front of us just past those reeds (about 8 – 10 feet away). That’s the closest one’s ever come to me in the wild. Of course, I didn’t have the right camera set up so I didn’t get a photo. I think the otter knew that, and swam by just to tease us. We saw it a couple more times but could never get a shot off. Those things are quick. And black. And hard to photograph.
After the sun was up, we drove around the wetlands and came up on this:
Bald Eagle on dead tree, D7000, ISO 320, 1/500sec. @ f/8, 500 mm
This eagle was just surveying the area. I did get a few images when it flew off, but none blog worthy. I need more Birds in Flight practice, especially at 500mm!
The sun was up, but still low in the sky as we saw some cormorants sitting on a viewing platform. The light was hitting this one just right to show off the detail in his dark feathers.
Cormorant, D7000, ISO 220, 1/500 sec. @ f/8, 500 mm
Here’s one more photo I want to show you. This little fellow was digging around in the reeds along with several birds. I’m not sure what they were after, but it might have been snails – we saw a lot of them yesterday. This image is a good example of the D7000 at ISO 1600. Very usable with minimal noise.
Rocky Raccoon, D7000, ISO 1600, 1/500sec. @ f/9, 500 mm
Today I feel a bit worse, so I’m glad I went out yesterday. Hopefully I’ll start feeling better tomorrow.
I had heard about Orlando Wetlands Park and finally decided to go see it one morning. The park is near Christmas, Florida off of highway 50 east of Orlando.
I got there right at dawn and hiked along the dike through the park. I took several bracketed landscape sequences to combine into HDR photos. There were quite a few birds, and a pair of bellowing alligators courting in the swamp. Near the end of my hike, I came across a family of river otters. I was quite surprised (they were too) and they were moving pretty fast, so my handheld 300 mm shot is a bit blurry – sorry.