Friday, March 18, 2016

Winter in the San Juan Islands

It's always great to spend time in the San Juan Islands. Two days out on the water + many great birds + a red fox = a successful weekend! I have lots of exciting photos to share in this post, be sure to view them all. As always, feel free to click on them to view them larger.

I saw a female Bufflehead before we even left the harbor. They're small waterfowl that are common winter residents in Washington.

One of the highlights was seeing a Peregrine Falcon up close. This one flew into this branch just as we arrived.

The same Peregrine Falcon as before. These birds can fly over 200 mph when they dive down to hunt. Like the Bald Eagle, they became endangered because of the pesticide DDT, which thinned out their eggs. This photo was actually a complete accident, and is a good example of why it's always a good idea to have a camera ready. The falcon was flying in under the blue sky, then dove down near the dark rocky cliff. I quickly changed my exposure settings, not sure if I would get anything. If in doubt, take pictures anyways and ask questions later! I wish it was flying more in my direction, but with a Peregrine in flight, anything that is sharp makes a good keeper!

Soon after spotting the Peregrine Falcon, we found a Bald Eagle. While fairly common in our area now, I'm still always excited to see one!

A Harlequin Duck. These stunning birds winter in the Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, but breed in mountain streams in the summer. 

Cormorant nests, currently unoccupied. When the spring and summer months come around, you'll find cormorants nesting here. It's always a sad reminder when I see just how much humans have polluted our planet. You can see discarded ropes and plastic pieces making up the nests, in addition to the natural sticks. If you see garbage floating in the water, and if it's safe to do so it's always nice to clean it up and dispose of it properly.

What is this wild looking bird, you ask? It's a Black Oystercatcher! These charismatic birds are one of the many different shorebirds found in Washington.

Another photo of a Black Oystercatcher. 

Mount Baker, as seen from the San Juan Islands.

Harbor seals resting on a small rocky island. 

Marbled Murrelet. These birds nest in large trees in coastal forests, sometimes up to 45 miles from shore. They're threatened from deforestation.

Mouflon Sheep and an interesting tree. These sheep aren't native here, they were introduced in the 1900's. 

A juvenile Bald eagle sitting on a grassy hillside. Bald Eagles don't get their white heads until they're 5 years old.

 More Mouflon Sheep.

A Bald Eagle and Mouflon Sheep. Soon after this photo, the sheep chased the several Bald Eagles around off the island and away from the young sheep.

 A red fox looking out over the hillside.

"Even with all our technological accomplishments and urban sophistication we consider ourselves blessed, healed in some manner, forgiven and for a moment transported into some other world, when we catch a glimpse of an animal in the wild" - Thomas Berry. One of my favorite quotes, and it perfectly describes my encounter with this fox.

There were plenty of rabbits on San Juan Island. 

A Bald Eagle nest on San Juan Island. It is said that the San Juan Islands contain one of the largest breeding populations of Bald Eagles in the continental United States. 

The ferry landing on Orcas Island. It was nice to stop at some of the other islands on the way back.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Best of 2015

2015 was a great year for me, as I continued to develop both my passion for wildlife photography as well as dramatically improve my photography skills. One of my biggest accomplishments this past year was finally understanding how to successfully take BIF's (short for birds-in-flight) photos.

2015 was also filled with many wonderful adventures. There are some photos that I couldn't include, because, well, then there wouldn't be 15 photos for the year '15!!! It should be easier when I post 16 photos next year... :)

15 Favorite from 2015...

 1. A starry night in Iceland. This photo was actually a complete accident! We went out with a small tour group to see the northern lights. Instead, our van got stuck in the snow and the aurora never showed up. I took this photo of the stars over a mountain pass while our van driver got the van out of the snow. This turned out to be one of my favorite photos from the trip!

 2. Right as I was walking back to my car this short eared owl showed up on a post in front of me. Just look at those sharp talons of his and his bright yellow eyes! I'm so glad I'm not a mouse or a vole!

 3. A northern pygmy owl that I saw last February. These small yet fierce owls can catch small songbirds in flight! A good day not to be a sparrow....

 4. Heart-shaped aurora borealis from Fairbanks, Alaska. You can see some light cloud cover here, but I think it adds an extra dimension to the photo.

 5. While on the San Juan Island ferry this past spring, I noticed a bald eagle off in the distance on a foggy forested hillside.

 6. A Washington state ferry in front of Mount Baker. One of those iconic only in Washington State moments...

 7. I saw my first (and only!) red fox San Juan Island this past spring. I'm really hoping to spend some more time with these animals in 2016.

 8. Mallard ducklings swimming past me in some gorgeous evening light. I was laying flat on a dock to get this shot. The low point of view combined with a wide aperture gave me a reflection of all the ducks and reduced the background clutter.

 9. An opsrey fishing over the Pacific Ocean in Lincoln City, Oregon.

 10. I found this least sandpiper in the mud on the Edmonds beach. I had to lay down in the mud and seaweed to get this shot, but it was so worth it to be surrounded by these little shorebirds!

 11. September's super blood moon over Seattle University's Chapel of St. Ignatius and the Immaculate Conception Church in downtown Seattle. This is a single exposure!

 12. One of our new Southern Resident Killer Whales, L-122, with L-91 Muncher! New orcas don't get their names until they're a year old. I was so fortunate to be on one of the first boats to see this new orca calf!

 13. Star trails over San Juan Island. This is a composite of 186 photos, hand-blended to get the comet-like fading star trail effect.

 14. A bald eagle landing with a fish it just caught from Lake Washington.

15. A gecko almost escapes from the egret that caught it for lunch. Read my previous blog post to hear all about that story!

Thank you all for following my photographic adventures in 2015. I'm looking to expand my audience, so please feel free to share my blog and my Facebook page with your friends! I would love to hear your feedback about my blog. What articles do you want to see this year? Tutorials, field notes, video tutorials,... Anything else you wish to see? If you're in the Puget Sound region, feel free to also follow Whale Scout on Facebook. Whenever there are whales in the area they'll let you know where you can see them with one of their land-based naturalists!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Never play with your food...

I'm sure you've heard the classic phrase, "don't play with your food". I recently returned from Kauai and thought I would share some photos showing why it's a bad idea to play with your food. If you still don't think playing with your food is a bad idea, hopefully this will change your mind!

This hungry cattle egret just caught a gecko. Apparently it enjoys playing with its food...

 The gecko somehow escaped... If only the egret ate it the first time around...

I wish I had asked the gecko why it decided to jump back towards the egret. Probably not the smartest decision for this gecko. 

Gecko: 1. Egret: 0. The gecko is safe, at least for now! 

If only the gecko could travel faster! The hungry egret managed to catch it again. 

"What am I supposed to do with this gecko now???"

One bite left! 

All done! Now, are there any more geckos around? 

No more geckos, but I think the egret needs to clean its beak! 

So next time you think about playing with your food, think twice, because it might escape! Fortunately for this egret, it managed to catch its gecko again.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Orca Whales in the San Juan Islands, Part Two!

Last month I visited San Juan Island to go whale watching, and of course to do my favorite thing - wildlife photography! In part one I posted a collection of our Southern Resident Killer Whales. Today I'll post some photos of our Transient Killer Whales. While the residents eat salmon (mainly Chinook) the transients eat other marine mammals, such as seals.

If you missed part one here's the link:

 A transient orca "spyhopping" to look around. Their eyesight is comparable to ours.

 A group of transients traveling together.

Nothing quite like a slap in the face, by another orca!

 Some high-speed porpoising.

 An upside-down orca, playing around after a successful hunt.

 Rolling over.

 Madrona trees are beautiful, but are actually not native to the San Juan Islands.

 Fall in Friday Harbor!

 The golden light of the sunset reflecting off Mount Baker.

 A contemplative seagull...