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.
MK and I decided to drive over to Flagler Beach last Sunday. Several whales have been seen recently – one the week before from the pier. We knew the chance we’d spot one was very small, but it’s a pretty place for sunrise and the restaurant on the pier serves a decent breakfast!
Quilted surf sunrise
We set off at “o-dark-thirty” and arrived before dawn. I spent some time making photos on the beach and when it was light enough, we went up on the pier to scout.
We ate breakfast and then drove to a couple more spots on the beach. We knew before we left that day that our chances of seeing whales were slim. But we all know our chances are zero if we never look. And although we came up empty, it sure was a nice morning and worth the drive.
As readers of the Central Florida Photo Ops blog, you might recognize two of the items. MK and I have each contributed one of our whale photos as an 11×14 inch modern metal print with float mount from mpix.com.
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 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. 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!
Sometimes, you can arrive at a “bucket list” location and it’s disappointing when it doesn’t live up to your expectations. So let’s get that out-of-the-way now: That won’t happen at Acadia National Park. It’s an utterly awesome place. If you haven’t been there yet, make sure it’s on your own bucket list.
“The Bubbles” mountains from the southern end of Jordan Pond. I used a polarizing filter for this and I like the way it renders the nearby rocks through the water and the trees on the left. ISO 100, f/16, 1/10 second, at 16mm.
This place on the south shore of Jordan Pond is one of the most iconic views in the park. I looked and was surprised there weren’t any holes worn in the rock from all the tripods over the years. But I didn’t let the fact that everyone takes a photo here stop me – I couldn’t resist making one of my own.
I’ve wanted to go to Acadia for a long time. My friend Kevin M. went last year and raved about it. When Mary Kate suggested I go up with her, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
It’s a landscape photographer’s paradise. I spent almost 6 full days there. I met MK and her coworker Ryan on Friday evening and they left Sunday afternoon. Fellow Photography Interest Group member Tom M. arrived Monday afternoon and we stayed until Thursday morning. It’s brimming with photo ops: rugged shorelines, sandy beaches, granite mountains, calm mirror like ponds, beautiful forests, gnarled trees, lighthouses, fishing villages, whales, birds, and more. It felt like there were photos everywhere I looked.
Acadia is small for a national park (at least compared to some of those out west) but it still covers a very large area. And getting from the Bass Harbor Head Light all the way to the Schoodic Peninsula can take some time, especially with traffic during the peak summer season. This map shows where I made my photos.
You can see I made it to much of the park, but I missed an even larger part of it. Not to mention that I mostly stayed close to the car. I didn’t explore any of the hiking trails and carriage roads. I guess I’ll have to keep it on my bucket list and go back!
I visited several places more than once and the changing light and weather made them look very different. Bubble Pond, Schoodic Point, and Cadillac Mountain were my favorites.
Looking north-west from Otter Creek Drive, with Cadillac Mountain in the distance. A 5 frame panorama, captured in infrared and converted to B&W. ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/160 sec, at 28mm (equivalent focal length).
I found the spot above just driving around, not from a guidebook. The fog in the distance and the lily pads in the nearby pond called out for a photograph.
Schoodic Peninsula is in all the guidebooks and you must go there. We spent hours looking for compositions hidden in the rocks, cliffs and waves. Just make sure you’re careful. The rocks can be slippery and unexpected waves have washed people into the water.
Schoodic Point Waves. I used a Hoya ND400 filter on this to slow my shutter speed. Even though the sun had been up for a while, I could expose at ISO 100, f/16, 4.2 seconds, at 16mm.
Sieur de Monts is in all the guide books too and when I saw photos of the birch forests I knew I had to stop there. Tom and I initially made a wrong turn, but finally found it. And what a wonderful place it was – well worth the walk!
Paper Birch and sedge grass forest, along Jessup’s Path. This is a 6 frame panorama, captured in infrared and converted to B&W. ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/100 sec at 28mm (equivalent focal length).
We saw wildlife too. On Saturday morning, MK and I took the Puffin / Whale tour offered by Bar Harbor Whale Watching. It was a bit foggy, but nice enough and the captain managed to find both Atlantic Puffins and Humpback Whales for us. We also saw several lighthouses that we wouldn’t have spotted otherwise. In addition to the puffins, I photographed four other new life birds: Arctic Terns, Black Guillemots, Great Shearwaters, and Great Black-backed Gulls. And there may have been a few others that I didn’t recognize / identify. Back on land we saw deer a couple of times, and (heard about) a bear. But sadly, no moose.
Two Humpback whales show their tails on the way back down after surfacing. We watched a group of three feeding together. As the boat idled they often came close. Researchers keep track of the whales and ID them from the patterns on their tails and backs. The whale on the left is “Bottleneck.” (HWC #8807) and was first sighted there in 2004. The other whale is “Vee” (HWC # 0372) and it was first sighted there in 1983 and has also been seen in Puerto Rico.
ISO 400, f/8, 1/1000 sec, at 155mm.
After the boat tour, MK and I drove up to Prospect Harbor to visit Janet M. She was Mary’s music teacher in Orlando and retired to Maine. She and her husband Arnold are outstanding tour guides – they drove us around the Schoodic area and showed us many sites from a local’s perspective. And then they shared a delightfully delicious dinner of Maine Lobster Mac and Cheese, salad, and Maine Blueberry pie for desert. What wonderful hosts!
There’s a lot of information available about this area, so I won’t try to write an exhaustive how-to guide, Instead, here are some of the references I used. I bought and read these two books and I’d recommend either one (or both):
The Bar Harbor Whale Watching Puffin / Whale tour posts photos taken on their tours on their Flickr stream.
Finally, I’ll offer these hints that may help when you go:
I brought a full (and heavy) photo backpack and used a lot of the gear. We flew into Bangor on smaller planes so be careful that your photo luggage meets the carry on restrictions. I was very glad I had a wide-angle lens, my IR modified camera, a tripod, and polarizing and ND400 filters. Kevin M. loaned me his 70 – 300mm lens and I used that for whales and puffins.
I filled up my camera memory cards for the first time in a long while. Bring extra, or some way to back them up so you can safely erase them.
Atlantic Puffins are small – and far away from the boat! There’s one tour that actually puts you on the island where they nest inside blinds close to the birds. But I heard that the waiting list is over a year long.
Whales on the other hand are large and sometimes close to the boat. You can get some good photos even with a phone.
Make sure you practice your photography skills before you go. And know your equipment – no new gear right before the trip. You want to know what to do when you get there, not figure it out in real-time.
Guidebooks and research are helpful, but don’t get too focused in on what others have photographed. Photo ops are easy to find and I enjoyed trying to put my spin on some of the well-known locations.
It’s crowded in July and August. Especially Bar Harbor and the main park visitor center. But you can avoid those areas and find places / times where there’s no one else around.
The food (especially seafood) is wonderful – arrive hungry!
I’m from Florida, but the weather was hotter than I thought it would be (highs in the 80s) and the biting bugs were worse than I thought they would be.
The weather varied too. There was some fog / mist and drizzle. I was actually glad, because the coast of Maine is known for that, and it gave us some distinct looks. Bubble Pond looked very different depending on the time of day and the wind and visibility. But fog did spoil one sunrise (after getting up at 3:30 am!) and Tom’s offshore lighthouse tour. So plan on some reduced visibility and stay a few days longer if you can so you can go back to some locations.
Finally, enjoy yourself. Relax – don’t get overwhelmed. Create a lot of memories, not a lot of stress.
Bar Harbor Blue – The town lights at night from Cadillac Mountain. ISO 200, f/8, 25 sec, at 120mm
I thoroughly enjoyed myself and came home exhausted. I took too many photos and spent too much time going through them after I got home. But I like how they turned out – please take a look at the other ones in my Flickr album when you get a chance.
I’ll leave you with a short conversation I overheard on the top of Cadillac Mountain while Tom and I were photographing Bar Harbor after dark.
A little girl, pointing at Tom and I: “What are they doing Daddy?“.
Her father: “Taking pictures with really big cameras.”
Girl: “Do we have one?”
Dad: “No, but Mommy wants one.”
Girl: “Why don’t they use their phones?”
Dad: no answer
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos! And use the biggest camera you can!
Eyes of the tiger – resting in his den and watching visitors at the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Tampa Florida.
Neither place is intended to be a good photo-op (lots of fences and obstructions) – you have to be lucky to get a good image. The geometry and light in the scene above worked well, but it’s the only animal photo I made that day that I like.
Volunteer caring for residents at the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary
So why am I writing about these if they’re not good photo ops? This is supposed to be a blog about photo ops, right? Well, we met several volunteers at each place and learned a great deal from them about wildlife in captivity. If you care about wildlife then there are things about captives that you should know.
Killer whales are captured or bred in captivity and separated from their families. They spend their lives in small tanks performing for audiences.
Seeing wild animals such as whales in their natural habitat is exciting and inspiring. Seeing them in captivity, knowing some of the background on how they’re captured, bred, and kept is depressing. The tiger in the photo above was well cared for and kept in nicer conditions than many others. Although sometimes big cats can be returned to the wild, this tiger will never be released. Wouldn’t it be better if they’d never been captured at all? Places like the Suncoast Primate Sanctuary and the Big Cat Rescue Sanctuary are doing their best to care for large, wild animals that can’t be returned to the wild. But there are so many of these animals that they’ll never be able to keep up.
I know you don’t come to this site for editorials and commentary, but thanks anyway for stopping by and reading this. And if you care about this subject, you should click on the links in this post to learn more.