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Entries about wildlife

The Best Day in Glacier Bay National Park

The John Hopkins Glacier, Sea Scapes, South Marble Island, and Sunset

sunny 72 °F

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The day began innocently enough. When I stepped into the daylight, my first sight was that of the Margerie glacier. It was a good first look at the world, its jagged ice face holding fast in the early morning light. It was beautiful, but not in a picturesque way. It was beautiful to stand in the cold open air looking at the glacier still deep in shadow holding absolutely still, in muted pale blues of early mountain light. It was like standing alone in a beautiful ice temple, or standing knee deep in a forest watching the snowfall; it left me feeling good about everything.
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The day only improved from there. We motored across to look at the John Hopkins Glacier, which is one of the few glaciers in the world that is actually expanding. This was the first time I saw the John Hopkins, as thick sea ice blocked our passage earlier in the summer. The John Hopkins is connected to the eastern edge of the Gilman Glacier. The faces of the glaciers were lit up in bright morning sun, while the hanging glaciers high above them were still in cloud.
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The combination of sun, swirling mountain clouds, glaciers, mountains, and sea were a dynamic force to reckon with this day, and though I didn’t know it at the time, it was a reoccurring vision that made me very happy to be alive. This is my last trip into Glacier Bay for the year. The landscape and seascapes combined with the variety of wildlife made this among the best days I’ve ever had in Alaska. It was a splendid farewell, a final reminder to come back and explore again sometime, that Alaska is still wild and will forever be.
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Now, before I get lost into trying to weave poetic justice to the indescribable beauty I hold in my memory, I’m going to let my images speak for me. The point is, it was a beautiful day, and I’m glad I was there to live it. If I never see Alaska again, I’ll still have this trip to Glacier Bay National Park to hold dear.
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I saw four different glaciers. The Marjorie, the John Hopkins, the Gilman and the Hoonah. The Hoonah was probably my favorite, as it was high up nestled under the shoulder of a high mountain. The swirling clouds were sunlit white behind the piles of jagged ice. It was an easy composition and one of my favorites.
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As we cruised along, we saw a brown bear and a wolf sharing the same beach. They were both poking along the waterfront looking for food, or looking for fun, who knows? I focused my lens on the wolf, as this was the only wolf I’ve seen all year, anywhere. It was though it wanted to pose for me, and he walked out to the end of a small spit of rocks and held still, looking off into the distance, before poking around some more and disappearing into the woods.
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The sky was putting on a fantastic show of its own with playful variations on cloud, color and light. The sky would change its dynamic every twenty minutes, bending light through the heavy clouds, creating a masterpiece of living art. In every direction I looked, another seascape demanded my attention. I was in my element, in the elements, and loving every second.
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In the late afternoon, we sailed up to South Marble Island, and I don’t think it’s ever looked better. I’ve talked about the Marble islands in past entries (June 10th to August 6th), but my last views were my favorite. I loved seeing the crowded, noisy and stinky sea lion covered rocks and pastel skies one last time. The birds were still living there, the puffins, cormorants, gulls, jaegers, among many others flying in groups through many of the photos I captured. As we left, the sun came out, backlighting the most southerly outcrops in glinting sunlight, offsetting the heavy cloud cover off to the west. Intense sunrays burned through the gaps in the clouds giving the scenes even more layering than I though one scene could handle. In a word, gorgeous.
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Then as we traveled further south in the setting sun, the Orca showed themselves and we were able to match their pace as we cruised south. A male and female were traveling as a pair through the placid light blue water and with evening sun behind me, the whale and spruce covered island made for good memories.
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We docked into Bartlett cove for a couple of hours, and I took the time to finish my day with a little exercise. My buddy Luke had his slack line, so I borrowed it and set it up on the dock. We took turns practicing our craft, focusing on balance in the cold night air. Balance is the correct term, for as we walked the line, the sky turned golden orange in the west, the strong afterglow of the sunset. In the east, just peaking above the tops of the dark spruce trees was the pale yellow moon rising through the dark indigo sky.
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It was one of the best days I’ve ever had in Alaska, a cornucopia of landscapes, wildlife, oceans, visions, photography, and life. It had it all, and I hope there are more days like these in my future.
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Posted by Rhombus 20:30 Archived in USA Tagged wildlife whales ice alaska clouds glaciers photography portland wolves Comments (0)

Puffin Flight, Jelly Fish and Unbeatable Mornings

How to Kayak, Thom Style. On Loveable Birds, and Jaw Dropping Scenery

semi-overcast 64 °F

Kayaking with Jelly Fish

I was sitting on the far side of an island I don’t remember the name of anymore. It’s not important to this story, and perhaps the only important part of this story consists of three elements: Whales blowing and breathing far off in the distance, a small lion’s mane jelly fish puffing just underneath the surface of the water, and the fact I was happily rafted in a thick mat of bull kelp sitting semi-comfortably in a big yellow kayak.

I rafted myself in kelp for a couple of reasons. For one, I didn’t feel like paddling. I just wanted to chill and listen to the sound of the whales blowing and taking in air. Secondly, I know that sea otters often raft up and hang out in the kelp, lounging on their backs and eating clams on the half shell. I’ve been known to imitate animals and the sea otters aren’t a bad animal to ape. Thirdly, I could see a bald eagle in the tree above me, looking for an easy meal. I could also hear the roaring belches of distant stellar sea lions, which I have described in detail in past posts. In short, it was a good place to hang out and be at one with the world. I let my senses free to explore as they will. Since I had been up for almost 20 hours straight, it was easy to zone out and let my thoughts and interests wander. It was kind of like being high, yet much healthier. I’ve only been high on morphine, but that’s another long story for another time. It involved skateboards, emergency rooms and odd memories.

As I gunk holed and relaxed, I looked down and saw a beautiful jellyfish just below the surface of the water. It’s head was perhaps six inches around. It was orange, partly translucent, and happily puffing along. I thought it was beautiful. The contrasted coloring against the dark blue green of the water was fantastic, and I took the portrait you see here.
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It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon. I’m starting to really like kayaking.

Puffin Flight

Puffins aren’t gifted flyers. When landing, they tend to crash land into the water instead of gracefully “skiing” in as some of their cousins do. Perhaps that’s part of their charm. They are klutzy beauties of the sea. Here are a few facts about puffins. Puffins are particular about what they eat. What puffins lack in flying ability, they make up for in swimming ability, and they catch their food by diving underwater and nabbing it with their beaks.
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They live and nest in areas where they find their food supply, usually high up on small island cliffs that rise steeply out of the water. Two Islands that I know of that are home to puffins are the Marble Islands in Glacier Bay Nat’l Park, and St. Lazarius, a National Wildlife Refuge located roughly 20 miles west of Sitka, Alaska. I surmise that they like the view, the protection, and they like easy take offs, and short flights to their food that these islands provide.
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When puffins take off from the water, they have to take off into the wind. They aren’t aerodynamic enough to fly other directions. They start by winding up their wings and flapping hard. They start padding along the water with their feet, running hard and flapping hard, until they finally get airborne. Then they continue to flap hard, to keep themselves aloft until they crash land once again into their desired location.

Puffins are charming, awkward and cute. If you have the chance to watch puffins for awhile, I’d recommend you take the time to watch these marvelous creatures.

Misty Mornings
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Alaskan mornings are some of the finest I’ve experienced. There are so many dimensions and depths of layers to the land and seascapes. We had been experiencing heavy fog for the better part of the night. In fact, it was kind of like looking at the world through a white plastic bag. We had our foghorn running, and extra watch on the bridge long after the sun had come up. I was working on the aft of the ship when the fog began to break. It started slowly. I looked up and realized I could see the tip of a mountain and scattered blue skies. Then I could see the whole mountain, and watched the swirling mists curl around the spruce trees. With the mirror quality of the water, fantastic patters began to emerge. They held briefly to allow me to appreciate their beauty before transforming themselves once again. The scenes you see here lasted for the better part of a half hour before it had almost completely lifted. During that time, I was transfixed, hypnotized by the swirling mists and captivating landscape.
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Fishing
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Alaskan Fishermen enjoy some of the most dramatic scenery while catching fish for a living.

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Alaska will probably haunt me in my dreams forever.

Posted by Rhombus 15:13 Archived in USA Tagged birds islands fishing wildlife alaska clouds kayaking mist photography puffins mornings Comments (0)

An Alaskan Visual Feast

Some of My Favorite Memories of July in Alaska

semi-overcast 69 °F

For this week's entry, I'm going to let the scenery do the talking. Alaska is an amazingly wild place, that I've been fortunate enough to explore with my eyes and camera. Here are a few of my favorite shots of the last two weeks. Enjoy!

Glacier Bay National Park

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Waterfalls and Brown Bears
Near this waterfall we saw six bears foraging in the grasses.
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Near George Island
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Humpback
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Scenery Cove
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Fjord!
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Sunrise to Sunset
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Leaf
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I have three more weeks of work before I begin my next adventures. In august I'm hoping to explore Denali, Yosemite, and Isle Royale National Parks...

Posted by Rhombus 17:25 Archived in USA Tagged trees birds sunset wildlife alaska sunrise oceans glaciers photography forests Comments (2)

Highlights Of An Alaskan Summer

Wildflowers, Stellar Sea Lions, Zodiacs and Glacier Bay National Park

semi-overcast 63 °F

This past week I’ve spent some time exploring the greater Alaskan landscapes by zodiac and by foot. I enjoyed getting out, and the weather has been fantastic. There hasn’t been much rain, and there has been good lighting, and phenomenal sunsets. Summer is all about us, and the days are Loooonnnnggg. Sunrise around three and sets around ten or so at night. There is plenty of light to enjoy the sights.

On Alaskan Wildflowers
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The other day I went on a long hike with a small group of our guests and it was led by one of our interpretive biologists. Now, not all biologists are created equal. I’ve listen to some drone on about whatever they happen to be interested in dodecahedrons or some other jibber jabber. However, some of them can be quite entertaining, and such was the case with David. He not only explained some of the intricate features of the coastal rainforest, but also challenged us, quizzed us, teased us when we didn’t know Latin, mocked our ignorance, and made us laugh. Go for a walk in the woods with a good biologist. You can learn more in three hours than you could read twelve books.
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I was struck by the different types of wildflowers, and their unique designs. Some smelled of cinnamon and spices, others like urine soaked road kill. I enjoyed the different forms and colors they take on to make themselves propagate. In the flower business, it’s all about how to attract pollinators (bees, insects, and birds). They must be doing fairly well for themselves, as I was very much attracted to their color display and scent. Perhaps, I was an unwitting pollinator myself.
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Stellar Sea Lions
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We arrived at the Inian islands under a cloudless, brilliant blue sky. I had finished my night shift, and decided to have one of my deck partners save me breakfast while I went on the zodiac cruise. I love breakfast. This is one of my favorite ways of setting up my morning: I work all night, head out and explore for a couple of hours and come back to a giant heart attack breakfast before going to bed. I know it sounds weird and unhealthy, but the fact remains, I burn a lot of calories running around this ship, and I can pretty much eat what I want without gaining much weight. At least that’s what I tell myself… It’s amazing what we can justify to ourselves.
Anyway, the cruise was good. The naturalist, tittered around like a bird from subject to subject, and I soon lost interest in what she was droning on about. I know a lot about Alaskan wildlife myself, having lived and worked up here for three summers now, and I entertained myself with taking some photos of the pigeon guillemots, river otters (which do quite well in the sea), sea otters, bald eagles, sea gulls, pelagic cormorants, shearwaters, and kelp.

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I smelled the sea lions before I saw them. You can tell you are near sea lions, because of the strong odor of shit that exudes from any place they dwell, usually low lying rock “haul outs“. Along with their pleasant aroma, they also add a chorus of horrible barfing noises that they use for everyday communication. I’m serious. Stellar Sea Lions sound as though they are dry heaving putrid piles of sewer waste, which considering they eat a lot of raw fish (mostly salmon), I’m probably not that far off. Considering adult sea lions weigh well over 500 pounds, the din they make is tremendous.

The big bull males rule the roost and take the top of the rock. The females appreciate a man with a lot of property and lie about the alpha males as a harem. The males spend their days bellowing at one another, shitting, mating, and eating salmon. They are not unlike Alaskan human males actually…

On Positioning Zodiacs
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There are days on the boat where it makes sense to drive the zodiacs to the next island instead of raising them to the top of the ship before moving two miles only to have to drop them back down. On those days, our bosun usually asks me if I want to reposition the zodiac. She doesn’t even need to ask anymore. Hell Yes! I want to reposition a zodiac! So away we go, and I find myself grinning from ear to ear as I zip over the water in an inflatable boat through the amazing Alaskan waters. There are mountains, islands, seascapes, landscapes, clouds, and wildlife all around me. It these moments when I realize I’m being paid for this. I’m a happy man.
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There are usually three boats to position, so after awhile I’ll meet up with the others and shoot the breeze while we wait for the ship to arrive.

Glacier Bay National Park

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Glacier Bay has a lot going for it. I’m continually amazed by it’s wildlife, mountains, glaciers, seascapes, icebergs, and massive scale. It’s a good representative of wild Alaska if there ever was one. John Muir explored this amazing bay by canoe, way back when, and since then it has become a protected jewel in Alaska’s crown. These selected shots are from the marble islands, and are mostly of one of my favorite birds: Puffins! Enjoy!
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June has been good to me up here in Alaska. There are times when I just sit still and take it all in. Life is good. Go play outside!
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Posted by Rhombus 15:03 Archived in USA Tagged mountains birds boats islands flowers wildlife alaska oceans wild photography sealions Comments (0)

Southeast Alaska in June

Whales in the Night, Trees, The Devil's Thumb, and Returning to Tracy Arm.

overcast 60 °F

AN ALASKAN WELCOME
The Alaskan Inside Passage Welcoming Committee consisted of several pods of actively feeding humpback whales. In fact, we were surrounded by them. I counted ten, in three different pods. Humpbacks migrate to Alaska in the summer months to feed before returning to warmer southern waters to repopulate themselves. They don’t eat when down south (a fact I’m skeptical about) and to me it’s understandable that they might be a tad bit hungry by the time they get back to Alaska.

It was getting late, but in mid-June in Alaska, there is still enough light to see several hundred yards away. To the southwest the water was bright like polished silver. A smattering of stars were dully poking out through broken gray clouds, the islands were a black outline of fir trees and impassive mountains.

The whales were tail slapping the surface of the water in order to stun their food. They would then lunge through the collected ball of fish mash with their mouths agape breaking through the surface of the water to salute the stars before clamping their big mouths shut. Humpbacks are baleen whales which strain the fish from seawater using a baleen. A baleen runs lengthwise along the top of a humpbacks mouth in a long series of combs designed to catch the fish, but allow the seawater to pass through.

I watched this amazing behavior through the high powered bridge binoculars. As the whales broke through the surface with a giant mouth full of fish, I swore I saw them smile. Then they would quietly sink back into the water.

TREES
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We were sailing south through Glacier Bay National Park, and were exploring a small bay in hopes of seeing some wildlife. The sun was at a perfect height in the southwest to brilliantly highlight the foothill forest that surrounded the mountains. The deciduous trees have a healthy full coverage of leaves now, though their season is a lot shorter then other parts of the country. Summer has taken hold of Alaska. The forest was a good mix of brightly lit deciduous and very dark fir trees. The contrast between the light and the dark made both types of tree stand out.
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“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.” ~Chinese Proverb

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“I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.” ~Willa Cather, 1913

THE DEVIL’S THUMB

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This monolith was first climbed by Krakauer. It sits high above the small island community of Petersburg, and is seen best on brilliant blue sky days that happen occasionally here in the inside passage.

TRACY ARM

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Tracy Arm never disappoints. Today I saw two harbor seals lounging peacefully on an ice flow. They watched the boat, but sensed no harm in the dozen of us that were taking photographs.
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Look at the amazing layering and color of this glacial iceberg. This is a color found only in glacial ice and I find myself watching it for long periods of time. I don’t know why I’m so drawn to it, but it’s hypnotizing.
I wish my eyes were this color; I could get away with anything I wanted to.
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Posted by Rhombus 08:58 Archived in USA Tagged trees wildlife travel fjords whales ice alaska oceans glaciers photography foliage icebergs writing Comments (0)

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