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Sunday, March 20, 2016

J-Pod Visits, Local Bugs and Birds, and a New Look at the San Juans

On March 12, for just the second time this year, I woke up with a strong feeling that orcas would be around. To be fair, the first day I felt this way a few weeks ago no black and whites showed up, but after breakfast while scanning Facebook I saw that a few calls had been faintly heard on the Lime Kiln hydrophones about 15 minutes prior. I tuned in, and after about 10 minutes, I heard a few vocals myself, enough to determine that I was hearing J-Pod. In a flash I was out on the door and we were heading to the west side.

When we got out there we stopped to scan at Land Bank and saw a whole lot of nothing. We kept looking for about half an hour, then decided to go for a short walk before coming back and scanning again. We were just about to head back to town when Jason spotted two dorsal fins! Despite having never seen orcas before, he was an ace spotter, and kept us from just missing the whales. We went down to the rocks at Lime Kiln and, bundled up against the cold, spent two hours watching J-Pod head north.

The first two whales to pass were J16 Slick and J19 Shachi.

J16 Slick
 I lost a bet when one of the leading whales wasn't J2 Granny! But she wasn't far behind (she was third), and closer to shore.

J2 Granny

The biggest highlight was getting to meet the two newest members of J-Pod. Sadly, an encounter by the Center for Whale Research last month found that J55, born to either J14 or J37, hadn't survived. But J53 and J54, who I hadn't met yet, seem to be doing well.

J17 Princess Angeline and J53
J28 Polaris and J54

While some of the whales were way offshore, I did get to identify whales from every matriline to confirm that all of J-Pod was indeed there. And it wasn't just whales going by, either; I had to pause to snap a photo of this handsome pair of harlequin ducks, too.

I've also been carrying the RicohGR around with me in town, which has given me the opportunity to catch some cool macro shots:

And there was also another nice break in the weather which called for another boat trip. In addition to seeing lots of cool birds....

Great blue heron

Long-tailed ducks

Pelagic cormorant

Mew gull

....I was playing with taking Ricoh shots from the water, too. That meant getting an entirely new look at some of the scenery that I've taken countless photos of with the Nikon!

Lime Kiln Lighthouse

Next up, I'm hitting the road again for a month of travel, and will have lots of photos to share. First stop was the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge where the year list got a huge boost, but that post will have to wait as I'm off to Baja for the week to see the gray whales!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Rainy Boat Trip

We've had an incredibly wet and windy start to 2016 here in the San Juan Islands, with storm after storm hitting us here on the coast. That's meant I've been compelled to take advantage of any break in the weather - whether that means a break in the wind or the rain. Today, it was still rainy, but at least the wind finally died down and I took the opportunity to get out on Serenity and check out the wildlife along the north end of San Juan Island.

In Mosquito Pass a couple dozen double-crested and pelagic cormorants were hanging out a dock:

On Spieden Island, many fallow deer and Mouflon sheep were out grazing, despite the rain.

Two male fallow deer

Many of the Mouflon sheep had lambs in tow. This one got a little confused and started following one of the fallow deer instead of its mother:

Mouflon lamb follows fallow deer

Over on Flattop Island, many harbor seals were hauled out, while a few harbor porpoise foraged offshore.

Off Green Point, we went in along the shoreline to look at some oystercatchers....

...and got surprised by a curious Steller sea lion!

A little ways further down the channel, some splashing caught my attention. It was another Steller sea lion consuming some prey. It looked to be a type of flatfish/bottom was orangeish in color, so maybe some type of sole? I'm not very good at fish identification.

Steller sea lion gets ready to scarf down one of the last pieces of flesh from his meal, keeping it away from a mew gull

While in the above photo the sea lion was able to keep his food away from the gulls, they did benefit from his catch. Here a mew gull fends off pursuit from a glaucous-winged gull after snatching a piece of the Steller's bounty:

Back in Mitchell Bay, we enjoyed looking at a lot of the birds taking refuge there, including a pair of western grebes.

 That reminds me, I should update you all on my year list. There's been a single white-winged scoter (90) hanging out in Mitchell Bay for the last few weeks and that was number 90 on my year list. Another boat trip through Mosquito Pass on a breezy day in early March also turned up some long-tailed ducks (91), pigeon guillemots (92), and rhinoceros auklets (93). The same day, March 5th, I went down to American Camp and added western meadowlark (94) and sanderling (95) to the list. Finally, yesterday, while checking on my boat after the latest severe wind storm, I saw one of these western grebes (96) in the distance, and then heard a barred owl (97) on a hike at English Camp.

When will I reach 100 species for the year, and what will that species be? Between spring migration and some more travels coming up in the near future, I have no doubt the 100th species isn't far away!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Something Different: Street Photography

 I've really enjoyed getting into street photography in the last couple of months, and while this is a bit of a shift for a blog post topic for me, I've realized taking candid photos of people is really just the art of capturing urban wildlife! Many of the same techniques come into play; you have to be patient, do lots of exploring, train your eye to look for things other people miss, and in general just be ready for whatever might be around the next corner! I'll continue to focus on wildlife here, but if you want to follow more of my street photography, you can follow my page on 500px.

A friend recently lent me the book Street Photography Now, which has great essays and over 300 photos by world-famous street photographers. Some quotes in the book particularly stood out to me, and captured what street photography is starting to mean to me. I've interspersed them below with some of my favorite photos I've taken over the last few months. All these photos were taken with my Ricoh GR IV.

"At a time when staged narratives and rendered images are popular, I am excited by the fact that life itself offers situations far more strange and beautiful than anything I could set up." - Melanie Einzig

"Above all, street photography communicates empathy. It shows the elegance, and the occasional absurdities, which inhabit the lives of ordinary people." - David Gibson 

"Photographing in public keeps me awake and aware, always looking around, in awe at what we humans are up to." - Melanie Einzig

"To see the complexity of life on the street is for me a kind of meditation." -Sigfried Hansen

"Street photography is like gambling. You get lucky or you get nothing." - Markus Hartel

 "Street photographers never switch off. You have to be constantly on the lookout for the unreal moment in the everyday." - Jesse Marlow

"I believe that the photographer's job is to cut a frame-sized slice out of the world around him, so faithfully and honestly that if he were to put it back, life and the world would begin to move again without a stumble." - Raghu Rai

"My personal pictures don't have to 'do' anything. They don't have to sell in a gallery or sit well beside the ads in a magazine. I don't have to make pictures that are easily categorized. They are not reportage. They are just pictures about life." - Nick Turpin 

"I only know how to approach a place by walking. For what does a street photographer do but walk and watch and wait and talk, and then watch and wait some more, trying to remain confident that the unexpected, the unknown, or the secret heart of the known awaits just around the corner." - Alex Webb