December has been a busy end to a busy year. It is nice to have a few days over Christmas to spend time at home with my family. I hope you are able to do the things that make for a great holiday for you and yours. Merry Christmas!
When we were in Cabo San Lucas the first week of December, Bobbi and I both went out on whale watching trips. Whales found Bobbi less than a mile out of the Cabo San Lucas Marina while I had a longer travel along the Pacific coastline before sighting one active Humpback. We both had long encounters with these magnificent animals. Our children had enjoyed the dolphin swim the day before but were not excited about the whale watching. So one parent went out while the other patrolled the kids at the pool and beach.
While we went on separate excursions, we went with the same operator and were both similarly impressed. Whale Watch Cabo runs their tours on Panga boats, low to the water and great sight lines for everyone on board. Every tour they run is led by a marine biologist and a local captain. It was nice to hear more information about whales and other local ocean wildlife during the trip.
We enjoyed a close look of the Sea Lion colony and the groups of birds around Land’s End. Then headed out onto the open ocean up the coastline of western Baja. On my tour, we found an energetic whale and it was incredible to watch three separate breaches and numerous airborne tails. Bobbi and I both had great times and thank Janneke and Peter, the owners of Whale Watch Cabo, for making our trips very memorable.
When we were in Los Cabos last week, we stayed just off the water near Punta Cabeza De Ballena which is east of Cabo San Lucas. Facing east, the sun rose out of the Sea of Cortez every morning. With my wife’s graceful blessing, I was on the beach before dawn almost every day. These are a few of the different faces the coast presented over the week.
We started our stay in Mexico with a new moon, a week later this thin crescent met us on our last night. I love the deep shadows cast by her craters when the moon has just started waxing.
Water sprays off a whale’s tail as it begins a dive in the Pacific Ocean west of Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. This Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) was very active with some great tail lifts and breaches before settling into a steady swim just under the surface which we used as our queue to part company. It is amazing just to see them and for it share some of its out of the water action was very fun to watch.
Bobbi and I are in Cabo san Lucas with our children for a nice break from winter. We left just before a heavy blizzard so we were lucky with the timing. The mornings have been spectacular here as we are located on a lovely stretch of sand where the sun climbs out of the Sea of Cortez right in front of us. On this morning the silhouette of a fellow sunrise watcher tied the glowing pastels in the sky ahead of dawn to the rippled reflections and the beach.
Fuji X100S: 1/30 of a second at f/8 on ISO 800
I couldn’t help but think of the carnival ground food staple when I was photographing at dawn a couple of days ago.
The Plus 15 walkways which are ~5 metres above Calgary’s street level connect the majority of buildings downtown. This allows people to avoid going outside during cold winter days and provides a great vantage point for watching the bright, orderly retreat of workers from their offices to their homes.
Fuji X100s + 23mm lens: 1/4 of a second at f/5.6 on ISO 3200
I played around with longer exposures (wishing I had a way to counter the slight bounce in the skybridge due to my fellow Plus 15 pedestrians) and had a moment to appreciate a benefit of the early sunsets that come with the winter months and daylight savings time.
This is a collection of a my favourite landscape photographs from the past couple of years. Locations include North America’s Rocky Mountains, the Prairies, and the island of Kaua’i. If you are interested in having a look, please click on this link or on the image above.
We have several woodpeckers who use our backyard as their home base. There are a couple of Downy Woodpeckers and up to five Hairy Woodpeckers that hammer the tree trunks throughout the day. A couple of days ago, this male, denoted by the red stripe, Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) was working away at this jagged tree top and was unconcerned about being photographed.
Their tongues are really long but, unlike a dog’s tongue on a hot day, are not long in sight. It was a nice bit of luck to get a couple of images with the tongue visible. Above, his tongue was pretty close to full extension. Well suited to catching insects hiding under the bark and in the crevices.
He worked his way up the tree (though it looks more like a branch) and having exhausted the supply of critters that suited his palate, he flew on to one of the larger aspens across the yard. I liked this crouching pose I caught just before he launched.
We are just coming out of a long cold snap here on the eastern flanks of the Rockies. Temperatures started out around -10°C (14°F) last week and then dropped to -25°C (-13°F) a couple of days ago and have stayed there. This image is from a stretch of the Elbow River just a couple hundred meters from my home in Redwood Meadows (west of Calgary). Most of the river there is now iced over but I haven’t been back at dawn to photograph the difference.
Apparently we start climbing upwards later today and should be just below freezing by the weekend. That will feel balmy – I hope the forecasts hold! I love the winter landscapes but this year when the temperature fell below about -15 my enthusiasm for the season fell too. Maybe some powder skiing on the weekend will remind me of the upside of winter.
A skein of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) broke from the standard V formation as they navigated through the Bow Valley corridor. It may have been wind shear out of the mountains that pushed the birds around but as I watched them rise over a forested hill and bank around a massive peak, I had a notion they were playing as they flew along. Very likely just my imagination having a bit of a run but I enjoyed watching the constantly changing pattern created by their silhouettes against the Banff National Park’s early winter landscape.
Thank you to those who have served and those who continue to serve. May you enjoy every day afterward, they are well-earned.
On a personal note, to those in my family that served and who I never had the chance to know, I remember everyday.
The four days I spent in the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary in August were incredible. I’ve posted a number of images, bears and other wildlife, frequently over the two and half months since returning. From a productive photography perspective, the trip was a success by any measure. Alongside the images I came back with are the memories of individual encounters, the surprise of a seal popping up beside the boat as well of a pod of orcas transiting by at a distance and good deal more. I’ve saved my favourite bear encounter for the last.
After a couple of days of heavy rain, the third day in the inlet was cold but clear. Not long after dawn broke we were in the zodiac floating at the mouth of a creek where the salmon were running up. Along with a mixed flock of gulls, we were waiting in the hopes that a bear would materialize out of the rainforest and start fishing. A bit restless, I let my eyes wander along the shoreline across the water. On one sweep of the kelp covered rocks exposed during the low tide, I caught a bit of movement. Through a lens, I could make out an adult padding along eastwards towards the estuary. Drawing closer, we saw a second bear skip out of the dark shadows the forest still held on to.
This ball of fur was a cub, a first year, and for the next hour we paralleled their passage over rock, under tree and across stony beaches.
The mother was cautious when she heard the boat but Dan Wakeman, the captain of the Sun Chaser and our guide, has been in the inlet for the past thirty-five summers and as we pulled within twenty-five yards of the shoreline, she recognized her fellow resident and carried on with few second glances thereafter.
The cub was far more curious about us than its parent was. A few times it pulled up, stared in the zodiac’s direction and huffed. Mom’s only notice of the behaviour came the times when there was too much huffing and not enough walking. At those times, she would huff and the little one would scurry back in step.
They weren’t racing along the shore but it did seem that she had a place she wanted to be. Presumably it was the easy fishing grounds of the estuary at low tide. There was still time to stop and snack on berries in a heavily wooded chute.
Mom may not have been worried about us but she was on alert for other bears. The boars can attack a mother and her cubs at any time so she would stop and have a listen, a sniff and a look now and again.
There was no trail that they were following as this shoreline spends half the time underwater. The wet kelp, rocks and edge grass would have seen me sliding all over the place if I was covering the same ground. With their padded feet and surprising agility, these Grizzlies had few slips and little trouble navigating the terrain.
They reached the estuary and moved down onto the beach above. From there they strode away towards the channels where the river was channeled with the tide out. Salmon were surely on the menu. We crossed the inlet and there was already an understanding that this had been a very special encounter. This is a small glimpse into the magic and majesty of the Khutzeymateen Inlet. I will be returning in June to see the bears as they’ve emerged from hibernation and are busy eating the sedge grass, raising cubs and coupling up – I honestly can’t wait.
Canon 5DII camera with a Canon 24-105mm lens at 73mm: 0.5 seconds at f/16 on ISO 200
An image of the colourful bark of a Rainbow Eucalyptus tree I photographed on the island of Kaua’i in Hawaii is the Picture of the Week on the Science Friday website. They produce great web, video and audio content with their goal for SciFri to be brain fun for curious people. I agree and certainly found the article that they wrote about Rainbow Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus deglupta) very interesting. It was fun to collaborate a little bit with their team. Thanks Becky and Andrew!
I was walking along a forested stream that runs parallel with the Elbow River where they run under Highway 8 near Discovery Ridge on the western edge of Calgary on Saturday morning. When the snow started to fall, it took very little time for the flakes to grow in both size and frequency.
The trees were soon cloaked in white, leaving the water alone to provide a little colour in the landscape.
It was quiet with only the sound of the snow falling. And a serene walk along this tributary to the Elbow River among the trees that edge its length.
Near the end of the walk, a raven flew overhead – the snow visible between us.
(click on any image to open a page with a larger version)
A Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) watches one of the bird feeders from a perch in the boughs of one of the evergreens in the backyard. The Chickadees are particularly curious and when I’m out on the deck photographing they flyby to see what’s going on. Following the storm, the next day was beautiful and the birds flew in close when I went outside for a little while. While the lone Grosbeak was aloof, the smaller birds were chattering nearby and landing in the branches a few feet away.
Here a Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli) flits around in the same tree scavenging for edible bits. Note the white stripe above the eye that distinguishes them from their Black-capped cousins.
While the little birds are still finding seeds and other things to eat in the forest, winter is at the doorstep so I returned our bird feeders to service a few days before the snow flew. I wanted to let the resident Nuthatches and Chickadees return to the winter feeding pattern before the weather threw them a winter curveball. Within a day there were a couple of birds who found the feeders and by the storm we were happy to see much of the congregation flying around the backyard again.
The Chickadees, Bluejays and Nuthatches in our backyard stay year round. For some of the other birds, the heavy snowstorm on Sunday and the cold temperatures left behind have prompted discussion about overwintering or heading for the south. This Evening Grosbeak seemed to be weighing his options as he nibbled on twigs while perched in the bushes above the pond.
With the cold and the snow, I will not blame him if he takes flight soon.
Living in Alberta, I do not get to photograph seals very often. When I spent a couple of days in the Khutzeymateen, Harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) were often nearby and I was really taken by their curiosity and the challenge of getting good images of them. Some seals I’ve been around will lounge close-by but not do too much. These ones were wary but it seemed like their interest in seeing who was about and what we were up to drew them in. When I say nearby usually that meant no closer than a hundred metres or so – long lenses were quite handy here.
The challenge came that the seals in the inlet would usually pop their heads out for a second and then submerge again only to resurface in a different spot. While waiting for bears, it became a game trying to anticipate where these creatures would come up next. Usually, I would see them a long ways off and then they would go under and come up a few seconds later much further away.
A notable exception to this behaviour was when they would float upside down at the surface!
It was a strange sight and I was glad that our captain had an explanation for this behaviour: they watch the fish from the high vantage point. Remaining pretty motionless, the fish come pretty close and the seals can then lunge after them. It would be incredible to be underwater and photograph that action. Maybe next year!
When I returned to Prince Rupert I was eating lunch on the deck of a restaurant, Breakers Pub (great food and friendly staff), when a couple of seals swam into the marina. The deck is perched on the rocks above the marina so I had a great view of them swimming around. It was the first time that trip that I was able to see and photograph their entire body. The light was a bit harsh but a polarizer cut the reflection off the water. I was told by our waitress that these three seals had been frequent visitors to the marina for a couple of months so they didn’t duck and surface like their cousins in the Khutzeymateen.