Thursday, October 11, 2018

Tips for Whale Watching in Monterey Bay!

Yesterday morning I headed out on a whale watching tour in Monterey Bay. Now that I am a resident of this incredible area, I felt it was time I indulged myself in something people travel thousands of miles to see, which is literally on my doorstep!

I chose Monterey Bay Whale Watching as I often see their boats heading out they have excellent reviews. I also like the double level viewing platforms, which makes the vessel seem less crowded when it is packed to the gills! This allowed me more maneuverability on the lower level, which I tend to prefer.

Heading over to an area between Marina and Moss Landing, we were treated to several awesome humpback whale sightings which included pectoral fin slapping, lunge feeding and breaching!  We also encountered a large number of dolphins including Risso's and Pacific White-Sided dolphins.

ISO 640, f/7.1 @ 1/2500s, 300mm

Here are some useful tips for going out whale watching, particularly if you are susceptible to sea sickness! There were several people on this trip that did not fair too well and being out on the water for 4 hours feeling like absolute crap is not fun at all.  I have been there and done that on more than one occasion and it is only through my annual trips to the polar regions that I have finally found a solution.

First off, I recommend taking medication "the night prior" to your whale watching trip and NOT half an hour before boarding. This not only gets the medication into your system several hours prior, it helps you get a good night's sleep as many of these medications also cause drowsiness. I also take another tablet the morning of the trip, about an hour or two prior. I personally think the "recommended" half an hour prior is way too late because once you feel sick, the medication is not going to have an impact.

I eat a good breakfast consisting of tea, toast and a bowl of oatmeal. I avoid greasy food and also skip the coffee. Going out on a boat on an empty stomach is asking for trouble. I also bring saltine crackers and ginger ale on the boat to nibble on an sip throughout.

I avoid sitting inside the boat or at the rear where the diesel fumes tend to be more noticeable. I occasionally watch the horizon and make sure I have fresh air in my face. I will put the camera down every so often, as looking through a view finder for long periods can lead to feeling queasy.

This is the ONLY method that works for me.  It might not work for you, but I think it is worth trying if you are not having much success?

ISO 640, f/7.1 @ 1/2000s, 300mm
From a photography perspective, bringing a zoom with a wide range is going to cover a variety of situations as yesterday I failed to do this and regretted it.  I only brought my Nikon 300mm f/4 PF ED VR lens and a 1:4 teleconverter and was very limited in what I could ultimately capture.  With a breaching humpback calf so very close to the boat, I missed out on some awesome shots.  Lesson learned!!!

Capturing a breaching whale involves shooting at a high shutter speed and in continuous drive mode. Paying attention to the behavior and where it might potentially emerge from the water also helps. I will focus roughly in the area where I think it might happen and scan back and forth with my other eye open, so I can quickly reacquire focus on the whale if and when it happens!

As for clothing, wrap up with several layers as a sunny day out on Monterey Bay can be very deceiving.  I found myself switching from a cap to a warm beanie and adding another layer as the wind picked up.

I hope these tips will both help and inspire you to also get out there give whale watching a try, whether that is in Monterey Bay or some other location around the globe!

ISO 720, f/8 @ 1/2000s, 300mm

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Arctic Highlights - Part Two

I always make sure I bring my GoPro on all the expedition tours I take, as I find it is fantastic for capturing time lapse footage. I generally set it up on the top deck of the ship and include the front of the bow to convey a sense of scale, particularly while traversing through areas with large icebergs!  I also include footage from other parts of the ship and on this most recent trip, I tested out the view looking back on both the port and starboard sides.

Here is a video I compiled using a combination of short clips, primarily as we traversed the stunning fjords of east Greenland. 

The GoPro version I use is the Hero4 Silver Edition. I particularly love the touch screen back, which makes it very easy to adjust settings quickly and I use the open back protective casing allowing easy access. If I was to put the GoPro under water, I would switch the back for the full protective casing. I learned my lesson the hard way last year by putting the GoPro in the water, not realizing I had not switched and it was completely ruined.

I use the GoPro Jaws Flex Clamp, which allows me to clip the camera onto a variety of spots around the ship. I have found this to be the most sturdy and versatile attachment after trying a variety of other options including the Jobu Gorillapod, which I would wrap around a pipe only for it to slip down due to the vibration from the ship's engine, whereas the Jaws Flex Clamp stays firmly in place.

Settings are as follows:

Mode: Time Lapse Video
Interval: 5 Seconds
Resolution: 4K

I prefer the Time Lapse Video mode as opposed to the Time Lapse Photo mode simply because the video is compiled "in-camera. If I wanted stills from the video, I would go with the latter.  Note however, in the Time Lapse Video mode there is no option as far as the field of view i.e.: Wide, Medium, Narrow.

I compile the video using the now obsolete "GoPro Studio", which I thankfully have on my laptop and desktop computers. I have heard the new "GoPro Quik" is lacking many of the previous features, which makes very little sense to me.  Otherwise I would go with iMovie as an alternative.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Arctic Highlights - Part One

I have just returned from an amazing three week trip to the Arctic, two of which were in my role as Photographer in Residence with G Adventures on their Arctic Highlights" tour. This is the final tour of the season beginning with three days exploring Svalbard, before heading east to Greenland. The remainder of the tour centers around the fjords of east Greenland before heading south, another two day journey and finishing up in Reykjavik, Iceland."

This is my third season in the Arctic, but my first time on this particular tour and I have to say, it totally blew my mind! Greenland, the largest island on the planet did not disappoint, providing us with jaw dropping scenery, amazing wildlife sightings and two aurora borealis displays!

Although the majority of the tour explores uninhabited areas, we did however visit the remote Inuit community of Ittoqqortoormiit, which I found to be both fascinating and somewhat sad. Climate change is having an impact on their livelihood, particularly hunting, which is an essential part of life in this harsh, unforgiving land. The day we were there is was raining and we heard this seems to be a far more common occurrence.

Ittoqqortoormiit is the remotest inhabited community in the western hemisphere, home to
approximately 450 inhabitants. It lies south of the Northeast Greenland national park and north of Scoresby Sund, the largest national park and fjord on earth! Although the Inuit have inhabited this part of the world for centuries, the colony was only established in 1924 by the Dane, Ejnar Mikkelsen, as a means to ensure the Danish flag would be flying before the Norwegians, who had already secured Spitsbergen in 1920 and were showing an interest in northeast Greenland.

Prior to landing, I had heard from members of the expedition staff that a highlight of the visit is to see and play with the east Greenland husky puppies which wander the town. They are intentionally allowed to do this, but once they become "working" dogs, they are chained up and we were understandably not allowed to go near them. I subsequently learned that this is because they become territorial and can potentially bite. If someone is bitten, they are then shot...not fair to either the dog, or to its owner.

Yet how I loved seeing the puppies as they eagerly sought our attention and even though we were all soaking wet, it was an experience I will treasure.

Stay tuned as I share more about this incredible part of the world, from the stunning color and beauty of the Arctic tundra; massive, blue icebergs and a surprising seven polar bear sightings!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Point Lobos Native Plant Patrol

Another morning at Point Lobos removing invasive plants and on this occasion, collecting seeds!  We walked along the coastal trail towards Weston Beach stopping at an area which has been successfully replanted with beautiful, flowering native plants!

Point Lobos Native Plant Patrol Volunteer Jeff
The success of this particular area is due to the addition of a mesh layer preventing the non-native plants from getting through and taking over. We removed the odd invasive, but nothing to be concerned about and boy, what a sight to behold!  Simply stunning!

We also collected seeds from native plants, which will then be used to restore other areas around the park. They are brought to a greenhouse, potted and grown to the size of a seedling before replanting.

Thriving native plants protected by mesh layer

If you are interested in learning more and participating, here is some more information from the Point Lobos Foundation website:

Pearly Everlasting
(Anaphalis margaritacea) Seeds

Point Lobos Native Plant Patrol crew welcome you to join our team the 1st and 3rd Friday of every month to help restore the beautiful Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.  Restoration work activities include: weeding, seed collection, and planting! No experience is necessary to join in, everyone is welcome! Please bring water and wear clothing that will protect against poison oak, weather and ticks (long pants and long sleeved shirt). Gloves, additional white protective outer layer and a snack will be provided. Native Plant Patrol crew will meet from 9am -1pm, however may end early if weather conditions are difficult.  Please contact to RSVP and for more information.

I have found this to date to be a fun, rewarding experience in an absolutely stunning location!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Getting involved in local conservation

With my recent move down to Monterey, California, I wanted to involve myself pretty quickly in local conservation efforts. I find it is a great way to do my part in the community in addition to networking and potentially connecting with organizations or individuals who are in need of photography.

Volunteering is a great way meet new people and I signed up to participate in a bi-weekly native plant patrol at beautiful Point Lobos State National Reserve, just south of Carmel. This reserve is an absolute gem with incredible scenery bordering a turquoise ocean and an abundance of birds and wildlife. It is considered the "the crown jewel of California's 280 state parks and a photographer's dream!

Invasive plants have been introduced over the years and our job was to remove a variety of fast growing grasses and succulents and although beautiful, are detrimental to the native plants and wildlife. The area we would be working in was thick with poison oak and notorious for ticks, so we dressed in a protective,"unflattering" outer layer which I was very glad of.

We spent the morning digging, pulling and bagging in a area overlooking Whaler's Cove.  It is thought some of these plants were introduced from overseas during the days of whaling and other commercial activities including shipping, granite quarrying and abalone harvesting.

To learn more about Point Lobos and volunteer opportunities, you can visit the Point Lobos Foundation.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Farewell "Luckier"!

With my move out of the bay area this week, this morning I paid a final visit to the bald eagles in Milpitas, California. "Luckier" is extending it's flight range further afield and was perched on top of a residential rooftop when I arrived with mother close by.  Mother left and Luckier flew to the small pedestrian bridge near a neighboring pond where I managed to get this portrait.

It then took off and vanished from sight for a couple of hours only to return to another roof.  The hope was the mother would return to feed Luckier in the large field adjacent to the school, but it did not happen. She arrived with a fish which she ate atop a pylon. Nature does not always cooperate as we would like.  

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"Luckier" Fledges!

I returned early this morning to Curtner Elementary School in Milpitas after a nine day hiatus to find the second eaglet, now named "Luckier" had fledged. A small group of the regular photographers had gathered and were watching the bird as it sat on the roof of the school waiting for a parent to bring food.

The bird took flight and landed in the adjoining field where it walked around and flapped it wings.

It took flight again and my 500mm was just way too much lens as the bird flew in my direction and completely filled the frame.  This is when I wished I had my versatile 200 - 500mm zoom on hand.

We are not sure the sex of "Luckier", but we are guessing also possibly a female.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

"Lucky" Rescued!

The now named juvenile bald eagle "Lucky" which fell to the ground on Sunday morning, was finally rescued yesterday evening and brought to The Lindsay Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Walnut Creek, CA.

Here is a link to the story by the Mercury News, although I think the media are in part to blame for generating the large numbers of onlookers, only adding to the unnecessary stress inflicted on the bird.  I am glad it is no longer in that situation.

Monday, June 18, 2018


Early this morning I headed up to the bald eagles in Milpitas only to find the front area of Curtner Elementary School sealed off in order to protect one of the juvenile bald eagles which had fallen to the ground yesterday morning. The mayor of Milpitas was there and I spoke with him briefly. He was concerned about the welfare of the bird and was planning on checking back periodically. He told me animal services are also keeping an eye should it need rescuing.

However, because this latest event was "broadcast"on Channel 7 news this morning, it is now drawing large numbers of people and I honestly don't see how the bird will be able to receive food from the parents with so many onlookers. This morning the bird was in the shade of one of the trees and I left for an hour or so to go photograph elsewhere.

I dropped by again on my way back, but this time it was behind a low bush up against the wall.

This bothered me, so when I got home, I contacted the Mayor of the City of Milpitas expressing my concern. I also contacted my friends at the San Francisco Bay Bird Observatory.  As I was writing this however, I learned that the Department of Fish and Game are in the process of sealing off the entire area, so the parents can feel safe and comfortable enough to continue with their feeding until it is ready to finally take to the skies!

Photography is not always about getting the shot and the safety and welfare of the wildlife we are so eager to capture must always take precedence.

This is a prime example of learning to conduct ourselves in an ethical and responsible manner.

Let's just hope people respect this decision and put their self interests aside for the sake of this beautiful bald eagle family!!! 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Bald Eagle Family of Milpitas, California!

A pair of bald eagles have been nesting the past couple of years in a redwood tree located on the ground of an elementary school in Milpitas, California.  The news has been drawing both birders and photographers en masse!

Last year was the first time I visited and the parents successfully raised one chick. This year, they have managed to produce and raise two which are now close to fledging.  It is the first time I have visited this year and I am excited to potentially see these amazing birds take their first flight!

Here is a short clip I took of the siblings in the nest. Watch their behavior as a gull passes by!

Juvenile Bald Eagles - Milpitas, California 2018 from Jacqueline Deely on Vimeo.