Thursday, September 20, 2018

From Alaska to Africa

Alaska: Land of Bears
Africa: Land of Big Cats
  I feel pretty lucky to be able to work and travel to some of the most photogenic places on earth. I have spent the summer running expeditions through Southeast Alaska's Inside Passage. It has been a wild and wonderful season with some pretty amazing guests, beautiful landscapes, and close encounters with wildlife.

Masaai dance
Tlingit Art and Dress
   Now I'm gearing up for another destination, the fabled savannas of East Africa. I've put together a two week trip that encompasses the best of what Kenya has to offer. I'll try and show my group as much wildlife, and as many different animals as I can. We will visit seven different parks and game reserves throughout our safari.

Glacier in Alaska
Sunset colors over the African plains
   The landscapes will be very different as I'm trading up glacier-filled fjords for sunset bathed open plains. The spruce root woven hats and beaded regalia of the Tlingit will be traded for the red shawls of the Masaai. Yet one thing remains the same...I'll be surrounded by wilderness, a place ruled by animals, and one in which man is just a visitor. Hopefully places like these will continue to exist for our children and theirs.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Last Alaska Trip of the Season
 It is time to say goodbye to Alaska for another season, and it said goodbye to us in epic fashion. The weather was beautiful, the seas were calm, there was a plethora of wildlife, and the adventures ran thick. Our guests were excited and eager to answer the call of the wilderness that only Alaska can provide.

   On Baranof Island along a tranquil rocky stream we watched as 15 different bears spent time chasing salmon, or each other, trying to get their fill. A few times some of the younger bears looked like they were heading out way, but we remained safe and sound ontop of the river bank.
  Back out on the water we had multiple encounters with feeding humpback whales. We watched from the bow of the Quest as the fading light of day backlit the blows of one group. Then the next day we sped off on our small zodiac skiffs to get a closer look at bubble net feeding humpbacks.

   After the bubble netting the guests were sure the experience couldn't be topped. Then we found a group of 20+ whales milling about in one area. It turns out there was a huge concentration of krill. So we jetted off in the skiffs once again and plopped ourselves to drift amongst the whale bonanza. Bright red whale poop floated by from time to time giving us a hint as to their current prey.

  Then as we lay in bed after darkness the call on the microphone from our night deckhand came over the PA to let us know that northern lights, the aurora borealis, could be seen in the night sky. I grabbed my camera, set it for a long exposure, and after 8 seconds this is what I got. Luckily we had a very still night so the movements of the boat were minimal and the reflection off the water was magnificent.
  It turns out September is a great time of year to be here in Southeast Alaska. The whales finally showed up in the masses. I wonder if this means the Hawaii whale season will get a late start as well.

   All of this happened before we even showed the guests a glacier. But that was going to be epic as well. Some of the stillest water conditions ever greeted us near Dawes Glacier in Endicott Arm. We took out skiffs and kayaks to enjoy the mirror-like water and reflections of ice. The ice got thicker and thicker the closer we got to the face of the glacier. These events combined only make up a small amount of the highlights of this trip. It is why Alaska can be such an amazing place to cruise...or better yet, to UnCruise.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Humpback Soup in SE Alaska

Breach of massive proportions
  The humpback whales are here in force right now in Southeast Alaska. Frederick Sound seems to be the place to find them. These past two weeks have seen us skiffing with the giants, as well as getting breaches and bubble net feeding encounters as well.

   It is so much fun to think that I may have seen these 40+ft whales back when they were tiny newborn babies in Hawaii. And by 'tiny' I of course mean the size of a pickup truck. If you like whale watching then August in SE Alaska is a great time and place to do it. 

Bubble Net Feeding
Close encounter on the skiff

Friday, August 31, 2018

Close Up With Hunting Bears

 This week we made a stop on Baranof Island to check out a little creek that I thought might have some salmon in it. Turns out the coho, or silver salmon were returning to the stream in droves. And luckily enough we weren’t the only ones to be drawn to this stream…brown bears were also there. I guess coho is pretty high on their menu because when we first glanced over the stream bank we found ourselves looking down at 12 brown bears.
  The huge bears were so concentrated on catching salmon that we were able to hang out on the bank without disturbing them. Some of our group were taking pictures and movies, while others were just trying to savor the moment with their eyes and ears. Bears were biting into female salmon sending bright red roe arcing out. A few times fights broke out between the bears over who gets the salmon. Usually it wasn’t the bear who actually caught it.

 To have all of this unfold so close to us was a true Alaskan experience.

  To see more of Dai Mar's Alaska wildlife photography click here.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Into the Fog: An Alaskan Kayak Trip

Kayakers starting their trip
  I recently returned to Alaska after some quality family time back East to lead the last few UnCruise expeditions of the season onboard the Safari Quest. I was excited to be in Alaska at this time of year because wildlife in August can really put on a show. The whales are here in mass, their food being at peak bloom, and the salmon are returning to their streams, which means the bears are gorging on an all you can eat buffet. What I quickly realized was that all of the wildlife is really just icing on the cake.

  Just being in Alaska, and getting out into the wilderness is enough to satisfy any adventurer's soul. And today's kayak around the Keku Islands was about as good as it gets...and this was our guests first excursion of the week.

Incredible kayak conditions
  We woke to an all encompassing fog. Standing on the bow in the middle of a cloud it has a way of deadening all noise around you. You are forced to be in the present, in your small bubble of visibility. Usually the sun comes out and burns the fog away by the time we set out for adventure, but not this morning. The fog only got thicker as we lowered kayaks and loaded up our guests. The surface of the water was like a mirror, reflections of the kayakers only distorted by the strokes of their own paddles. 

  There was something quite ethereal about kayaking on the mirror-like surface. Forest covered islands appeared and disappeared out of the fog. Luckily I had been kayaking around these islands before, otherwise a gps might be needed to make our way back to the boat. Although the captain did leave the fog horn on so we could listen for our way home. We felt like we were in our own little Alaskan world.

   The fog started to lift as we neared the end of our kayak trip. I was almost sad to see it go. But with the blue sky also came the thousand different shades of green on the islands. It also gave everyone a better appreciation for just how many islands dotted the landscape here. This incredible adventure was a sign of things to come this week on the Safari Quest.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Bears, Bobcats, and Babies, Oh My!

Young black bear down the driveway, Vermont

   It has been a wild couple of weeks here in Vermont with high temperatures and lots of wildlife. The snakes are out at Stave Island, fawn are running around with spots all over them, a mystery animal on the island, and both monarch butterflies and their caterpillar counterparts have been seen. But the biggest wildlife sightings of the summer have both come within the last few days.

   First we had a young black bear sighting right down the driveway. It was munching away on some of the grass and flower in the meadow before crossing the road and darting off into the trees. We figured it was headed towards the berry bushes that have been prolific this summer. We were pretty excited so we grabbed the trail camera and set it up down near the woods hoping to get a shot of the bear. But when we retrieved the camera the next day we were in for shock.

  We didn't get the bear, but in one night vision video we captured a cat-like creature stalking past the camera. Once the cat comes into full view we immediately recognized the little tail of a bobcat! These are solitary, nocturnal creatures that are almost never seen here. We were thrilled to get a good quality snap shot into the life of this nocturnal predator.

   And through all of this it wasn't just Heidi and myself taking in all the excitement. We had Catalina along for the ride as well! She is six months and going strong. It took me 37 years to get my first bobcat footage.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Revisiting Tadoussac: The Foggy Whale Watch

Near miss in the fog
Minke whale sighted!
  I was pretty skeptical about our chances when we arrived at the harbor and we couldn't even see the boats on the dock. The fog was so intense that we could have played a game of hide-n-seek and the seeker would have had no chance. In reality the visibility was about 50 yards, and with the approach regulations inside the marine park being no closer than 200 yards I figured our chances were pretty much nil. But the crew surprised me and with a little help found us some whales!

Horror Movie villain?
The gang ready to go
  Tadoussac is a tiny town in French Quebec, Canada where the Saguenay Fjord empties into the St Lawrence Sea Way. Its hard to understand how whales are here unless you zoom way out on the globe and see that the whales have an easy opening to the sea. They come here in the summer months for good feeding. 13 different species have been seen here, but I feel pretty lucky to have even seen one of those species on a day like this.

Close encounter
Grey Seal
   About thirty minutes of blasting into the fog we could all start to see that there was no escaping it. The fog wasn't lifting and there were no openings. By this time everyone  had gone from being almost too hot on shore to miserably cold and soaking wet. We were driving through a cloud in an open air zodiac. Luckily we had foul weather gear on but it was still a bit extreme. David and I lucked out with the thicker style jackets but poor Lea and Mom stayed tough. At one point I couldn't even see mom's face as she shielded herself against the elements.

Fog rolling back into Tadoussac
  Our perseverance paid off about two hours into the tour. I spotted a minke whale and pointed the direction out to the captain. The whale surfaced again right where I was pointing. I couldn't believe our luck. It must have been about 30 yards away. We got a few close looks at our first minke whale before it disappeared into the fog.

  After this excitement we started coming across more and more life. Birds would suddenly appear above us, and grey seals would plod along. Everything looked much bigger and closer in the fog. It was an optical illusion that made us mistake the seals for whales almost every time. Then we came across two more minkes. We stopped as they quickly changed directions around us. Two became three as we turned the engine off to enjoy. One of my favorite moments of the trip came next. The three whales were surfacing just outside of the our vision but still close enough where we could hear them breathing. There wasn't a drop of wind so the breathing was easy to hear over the silence. Luckily everyone onboard had the same idea to not talk and just take it in.

  The captain gave us extra time to spend with the whales since it was his only whale watch of the day. Once we were back on shore we soaked up the warm weather and admired the fog from a waterside tavern overlooking the harbor. You never know what to expect when you are out on the ocean but I always think if you bring the right attitude then nature will provide.