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.
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.
First, I want to wish all readers of this humble photo blog a very
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Second, this year your devoted author has decided to join the growing tradition where photo blogs post a collection of their favorite photos from the year.
To accomplish this, I’ve gone through the photos I made in 2009 and used Lightroom to rate them from 0 through 5 stars. The rating system I’ve adopted is as follows:
1 star – The photo is interesting
2 stars – The photo is worth showing to others
3 stars – The photo is the best of (or one of the best of ) a given shoot
4 stars – My favorite photo of a year
5 stars – My favorite photo (ever)
Photos without stars are seconds or not so good versions of other photos. I’ll keep them, but they probably won’t get any more attention. Since adopting this rating system, I’ve tried to use it consistently. Before this I would rate images, but the meaning of the ratings would vary. As far as what they mean now, it’s all subjective and my opinion only. Feel free to disagree, but I hope you’ll enjoy looking at the ones I’ve chosen.
I was really blessed in 2009 with a huge number of photo opportunities. On my hard drive in my 2009 folder, I have about 16,000 images, taking up 164GB of space (I shoot mostly in RAW). Of these:
3804 of the images have been cataloged in Lightroom. Many of the remainder are source images for multi-shot panoramas or HDRs, or high rate bursts that I selected from.
1084 are rated 1 star or higher
692 are 2 star or higher
75 are 3 star or higher
1 is 4 star, and
None are 5 star (I’m not done taking photos yet!)
Of the 692 that are 2 star or higher, I’ve selected 44 (mostly 3 star) images to include in a gallery of my favorite 2009 photos. You’ve seen many of these photos in this blog, already. But where it made sense, I re-processed them to try and improve them. Here are the top ten. You can click on each of these to go to Flickr, where you can see a larger version.
My #10 favorite photo is: Great Blue Heron in flight. This heron didn’t like me aiming my camera at it. It’s making a lot of noise as it leaves the area. I was able to pan with its motion to get a sharp shot.
My #9 favorite photo is: Ketchikan harbor. The trawler Isis, a house in the background, and the parked float plane are very representative of Alaska.
My #7 favorite photo is: Glacier Bay Sunrise, A dawn panorama heading in to Glacier Bay National Park.
My #6 favorite photo is: Black-bellied Whistling-Duck in flight. We saw this unusual and photogenic duck at Orlando Wetlands Park.
My #5 favorite photo is: Lake Lily Park tree and bird at dawn. Sometimes you go out specifically to photograph. Other times you go out just carrying your camera. It’s exciting to me when I find a photo like this one while I’m just out carrying my camera. The light on this Cyprus tree caught my eye as we walked around the Lily Lake one Saturday morning looking at their flea market. The bird in the middle distance was a bonus.
My #4 favorite photo is: Blackpoint Wildlife Drive: Wide angle, winter dawn. On this particular morning, it was hard coming up with any good photo inspiration for the sunrise. There were no clouds, not much color in the sky, not a lot of interesting landscape detail, no cooperating wildlife, the wind was blowing pretty hard, etc. This palm tree had an interesting vine growing in it that was pointing back toward the road, so I made it the subject of the picture and violated all the composition rules by putting it way off too one side. To me, the road leading past the tree could represent the last part of the long journey of exploration and learning that led to being able to make this photo in this place at this time. The road is empty because each person’s journey is unique. Oh, and BPWD just happens to be a one way road – toward the photographer. The somewhat surreal colors come from a program called “Photomatix” that will “tone map” multiple, bracketed exposures. Anyway, I liked it too.
My #3 favorite photo is: Gorilla watching people, Pangani Forest Exploration Trail, Disney’s Wild Kingdom.
My #2 favorite photo is: Breaching humpback, off shore from Juneau, Alaska. In the full res version, the two white dots in tree to the upper left behind the whale are bald eagles.
And … my #1 favorite photo of the year is: Ship, water, glacier, rock. A multiple shot panorama showing Johns Hopkins Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park from the cruise ship MS Westerdam. The full res version of this photo is 7747 x 4716 pixels = 36.5 megapixels.
I’ve posted a gallery of all 44 images on my website at www.edrosack.com/BO09. I’ve also uploaded them to this Flickr set, and you can click this link to watch a slide show at Flickr. When you watch the show, you might want to click the “show info” link.
Lynn and I have talked for a long time about taking a cruise to Alaska. Since we’re celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary this year, we finally decided to book on Holland America’s MS Westerdam. We did this early in the year and it seemed like forever before we departed Seattle on September 6th for Glacier Bay, Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria. We spent some time before boarding with our good friends, the Sullivans who cruised with us in the next stateroom with a shared balcony.
It was our first visit to the US northwest and Alaska, and we saw spectacular things that we’ve never seen before except on TV. Coming up with words to do justice to what we experienced will be hard. We came home already talking about plans for our next trip. I hope I’ll be able to share some of the feelings of being there through the photographs I made. Although far away and expensive, this vacation most definitely qualifies for the “Must do list” .
Instead of a day by day description, I’ll break this up into subjects. This will help me organize my editing efforts. I’ll talk first about the wildlife. We spent quite a bit of time on the balcony and were rewarded on occasion with whale sightings, like this killer whale.
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: