Thoughts and Ramblings

  • Sun, 09 Aug 2020 15:30:00 +0000

    Alaska Brown Bears - Day 7

     Day 7 – Friday July 31

    The rains had stopped and the weather forecast looked promising for a pretty easy crossing of the straight today and since the captain wanted to get to a harbor tonight that would leave us a short run back to Kodiak tomorrow morning, he told us we needed to pull up anchor and get moving by 9:45.  We had all decided to get up at 6 so that if the weather cooperated, we’d have a few hours to take the last bear photos of the trip and it looks like mother nature was on our side today.

    We got ready and headed to shore one last time, and it turned out that today was going to be a good morning for bears. We could already see a Sow and her three cubs up near the rocks.

    When we first got off the skiff, we had to make our way past two big boars that were standing on the beach in kind of a standoff with each other. They were both holding very still about 100 yards apart, and just watching each other and we kind of approached the beach right in between then.  We stood and watched the one to our right, to see what he was going to do if anything at all and just decided to slowly work our way around him, along the water’s edge.  We moved slow and would stop every time he turned to look at us and then when we went back to watching the other bear we would start moving again.  Just making sure he was okay with us going behind him.   We wanted to get over to where the mama bear was hanging out with her cubs but didn’t want to encroach on this big boy’s territory if he got agitated with us being there.  Turns out he really didn’t seem to care and only watched us with curiosity as we went around him.

    Mama and her cubs as we first arrived

    This might have been the only time they followed her this close all morning

    Getting into the hole for the good stuff

    The mama watched us coming and showed no signs of worry about us either, in fact at one point she changed her position so she could put us between her and the bigger bears on the beach, kind of using us knowing that the boars wouldn’t approach with us between them.

    Her and her cubs were doing some clamming on the beach and doing pretty good at finding food from what we could see. It was really cute to watch these three cubs disappear half way down into the holes their mom was digging and then coming up and crunching on their catch.  We spent about 2 hours hanging out with the 4 of them, moving up the beach and crossing a couple of small streams as they worked their way from left to right in front of us.  The cubs would go from digging for clams with their mom, to watching us out and you could see their fascination with … especially the smallest of the three.  He seemed to watch us much more than the others combined. 

    The funniest part of the morning with them was when it came time to cross the streams and the three cubs would just start complaining non-stop as soon as the mom hit the water….  They didn’t want to have to cross and get wet and made a big stink about it, but they all piled in the water and followed her knowing she wasn’t going to change her mind no matter how much fuss they made.  

    At one point they all moved down the river and it looked like they were going to head back up the river a little further ahead of us, so we hurried to get to the spot where we’d already spent a couple of days watching bears, in the hopes that she would turn back our way eventually.  We had guess right and she did end up coming back up that far stream bead and we got some great close up views of all 4 of them. 

    She made a pass right in front of us with the cubs, and at first looked like she was just going to keep heading up river where we’d lose sight of them… but less than a minute later, she changed her mind and made another pass in front of us, totally ignoring us and just watching the river and looking to see if there were any salmon in there to feast on.  When she didn’t see any fish to chase, she crossed the river one more time with the young’uns in tow and got into the grassy area on the other side and they all started munching on grass instead. 

    Mama and one of the cubs

    Just about time for them to head back for more clams

    Just as it felt like that was the end of the bear sightings for the day, another female popped out of the grass directly in front of us, and slowly walked along the river bank about 10 feet away from us.  She was looking for fish too and did a pretty tight circle around our spot checking the streams in front of us and behind us … before moving down river to the beach to go looking for clams instead. 

    Looking for a morning salmon feast

    It was getting close to the time we have to get back to the boat and head out of here, so we made our way to the shore… and ran into one last bear that came around the corner in front of us.  That made 8 bears this morning.  Not too bad for a 3-hour beach visit.

    We all got back into the boat and out of our chest waders and wet boots, showed and settled in for the long haul back to the real world.  The ride wasn’t too rough and the day got nicer as we headed west. We had another great breakfast and lunch and mostly just talked and hung out and enjoyed the scenery along the way.

    We stopped at a cool island that had a ton of sea otters living on it, and watched them floating in the beds of seaweed, popping up around the boat to watch us and mostly just floating around in the water, and then moved on again until we reached our stopping point for the night.  There was an island that had a lot of puffin nesting on it and we circled around it twice, trying to get some good shots of them, as they tend to be very photogenic birds, but they are a lot harder to photograph than you would think. 

    One of the many curious sea otters on this trip

    Island with Puffin and Gulls nesting together
    Closer look at the puffin

    These Puffin nest in those holes in the hillside

    After than we dropped anchor for the night and just enjoyed the great weather.  Randy and Kevin both flew their drones for a while and got some great footage of the boat from the air, and the water around us…. It was a nice way to spend the last evening.

    Sunset on the last night

    Tomorrow we’d be making the last 4 hour run to Kodiak and then it will be a long day of travel until I get back to Seattle at midnight.
  • Sun, 09 Aug 2020 15:00:00 +0000

    Alaska Brown Bears - Day 6


    Day 6 – Thu July 30

    Woke up to a very rainy day, with very little bear activity in any of the usual places.  The few bears we could see weren’t doing much other than wandering the beach or eating grass so we thought we would hang out on the boat and wait out the rain and keep an eye out on the bears in case anything more exciting started to happen.  After a while we realized it may be a long wait and we all broke out our laptops and started going through photos just to see what we’d gotten so far.  The rain picked up and we were all happy to just hang out telling stories and playing with photos.  That was about the extent of the excitement for the day.

    Rainy day in Geographic Harbor

  • Sat, 08 Aug 2020 15:00:00 +0000

    Alaska Brown Bears - Day 5


    Day 5 – Wed July 29

    Started off the morning, getting up early, as there were already 3 bears on the beach shortly after sunrise.  

    The first bear we saw was a youngster and he left pretty quick after we got there, passing by us and heading in the direction we had just come from.  We could see that there was a sow and cub heading into the main river area and think that maybe the young bear didn't want to deal with a protective mom this early in the morning.

    First bear of the morning but he didn't stick around long

    In just a matter of minutes there were three different mama bears heading our way, each with a single cub tagging along side them. Two of the cubs were spring cubs and the third was at least 2 years old now.  We took our spots along the river again, this time making sure we would have much better light working in our favor than we'd had the afternoon before.

    Each set of bears reached the river and looked around,  but none of the them seemed to be too serious about fishing yet this morning and mostly seemed content with eating grass and wandering up and down the river giving halfhearted attempts at fishing.  We just sat there enjoying the small parade going past us as the bears would slowly head up the river and out of site.  

    The soon to be "bullies" showed up first

    They slowly crossed the river looking around but not really fishing

    They made one last pass before heading up river and out of site for a while

    The second sow and cub of the morning.  She would turn out to be the most dominant

    They were confident as they approached the river

    Mama spent a little time looking for fish, but didn't see any she liked I guess.  The cub was more interested in watching us.

    At one point, a young sow and her cub were just getting to the river to the left of us, when the sow that had passed us earlier with the older cub started coming back downstream.  The two year old cub must have been feeling his oats this morning because he locked eyes with the young mom and cub and started to hurry down the river in their direction, and the young sow and cub got scared to took off running the back the way they came from.  The older cub seemed pretty proud of himself and then him and the mama bear went to check out the area they'd just chased the other two away from.  They spent a lot of time sniffing every rock and blade of grass the other two had touched, and reminded me of how dogs act when they can smell another dog in their area.

    Young sow and her spring cub

    She seemed the most cautious of the three mamas this morning

    She suddenly had to scratch that itch

    The bullie cub saw the sow and her cub as she scratched on the rocks

    After looking like he might chase them, he slowed down and just stared as they ran off

    Now looking back up river, we saw the first sow and her spring cub heading down the river in our direction again.  Now it was the bullies turn to have the tables turned on them.  The bully sow stood on her hind legs staring up the river at the two coming her way and watched them for a few minutes like that.  He cub started to get nervous too and at one point stood up on his hind legs as well, only he was looking everywhere but up river.  LOL  Now these two decided they'd better get out of there and they quickly left the river bank, away from the two they had chased off just 10 minutes before.  It was funny to see how fast the tide had changed and to watch the hierarchy between the bears play out in front of us like that.  It was obvious that out of the three mama bears in the meadow this morning, this one headed our was was the dominant one.

    He come the dominant sow and her cub again
    The bullies suddenly don't seem so sure of themselves

    The smell of victory - or the smell of the scared bears.  Depends on  your perspective.
    The new dominant mama and her very active and brave young’un pranced around, sniffing the grass that the others had just vacated, and then wandered back and forth kind of watching to make sure the area was now theirs…. Not that they did any fishing or anything exciting with it now that everyone had been scared away.  They wandered around for a while and then slowly drifted off into the high grass.

    The mama and cub spent quite a bit of time wandering around, eating grass but never fished

    After a short break of not much happening we then saw a series of individual bears come down the river, walking past us and watching the river but not really seeing any salmon in there, they headed into the meadow to eat grass.   It was only just as we thought we might head back to the boat that a bigger bear started down the river towards us, and then proceeded to fish the river about 10 feet in front of us for the next 30 minutes.  He splashed up and down the deep part of the river in front of us, getting up on his back legs to get a better view of the fish and once again splashing around like crazy trying to catch them.  He managed to finally catch one and took it up on the far bank to devour the entire fish.  The funny part was just as he took his last bite he saw another salmon flash by and he was racing into the river splashing around again trying to grab it before he probably swallowed the last of the first fish.   When he missed, he climbed back out of the river and want over to make sure he had indeed finished the first one off… before getting back in the river and starting the whole dance all over again.  It made for some great photos ops and even got a little video footage of him splashing around.

    Solo bear time

    Watching for fish but didn't see any he liked

    Now this bear has a hankering for some salmon

    He decided he wasn't going to mess around and got busy right away

    See how easy that was?

    Gotta get high to see through the glare of the water
    He saw it, but just didn't catch it

    Once he decided he was tired and wasn’t going to catch anything else… he headed back up the river and we went back to the boat for lunch.

    Went back to the land after a nice break and found 4 bear there…. Two totally sleeping away in the heat of the afternoon.  We watched a couple of other bears come and go right past us, all the while watching the river but not seeing enough fish to catch their interest I guess and on they went.  Not a whole lot happened this evening with the bears….  Although we had a couple of really close passes by younger bears as they just kept moving around us, teasing us with the idea we might get another fishing exhibition.  As the sun went down behind the mountain we decided to call it a day and headed back toward the pick-up spot for the boat… passing 4 bear on the way…. Two sleeping and two just eating grass.   By now that has become so common a site that we barely even paid attention to them.   We’re hoping for cooler weather tomorrow which hopefully will leave the bears with more energy than they showed us today. 

  • Fri, 07 Aug 2020 15:00:00 +0000

    Alaska Brown Bears - Day 4

    Day 4 – Tue July 28 - Geographic Harbor

    The morning started off with being woken up and told there was a wolf walking along the shoreline.  The boat was anchored a little too far into the bay to really get any kind of great photos of the wolf so we all just sat around the table watching as it slowly worked its way along the shore.  It was the first time I think I’ve seen a wolf in the wild so it was kind of exciting to just get to watch it.  After about 20 minutes we noticed that there was a bear in the tall grass ahead of where the wolf was heading and started to wonder what was going to happen when the wolf finally saw it. 

    The wolf eventually noticed the bear as he got a lot closer to it, and it paused for a minute or two trying to decide what to do.  The bear was busy eating grass and had his back to the shore, and I think the wolf decided he could sneak past if he got closer to the water and decided to go for it.  Sadly the wolf must have made just enough noise to catch the bear’s attention and the bear spun around to see what was behind him, and they both froze for a second before the wolf decided he was going to kick it into another gear, which made the bear give chase and the race was on!   Luckily it was early morning and still kind of cold out and the wolf had warmed up with a much longer walk than the bear had taken …. So he was able to speed past and put some distance between the two of them after a short but exciting case to watch.  I really wish we hadn’t been 500 yards away and I could have gotten better photos of it.  Here are a few photos to give you an idea of what it was like though. 


    Wolf on a morning stroll

    Oops, made a bit too much noise

    The chase was on

    Just before the bear gave up

    We could only see two bears in the area we planned to head to so far this morning, so before heading to shore we opted for a skiff ride around the bay and through some of the small rock outcrops.  During the ride we spotted another bear on one of the small islands, at first walking along the rocks but then working his way up the hill to go get some berries. We slowed down and watched the bear for a few minutes before it disappeared out of site and so continued on, passing some very cool scenery.  There were cliff walls that went straight up with trees poking out here and there. It almost had a Jurassic Park kind of feel to it.  We also saw a couple of big sea otters that just refused to pose for photos and then turned a corner to find a rock covered in Gulls.  It actually made for a nice quick photo with the reflections they were casting on the calm water.  After a fun ride in and out of all the side channels, we went back to the boat to get ready to head to shore. 

    Once we had all our gear and put on our chest waders, we headed out and could see that things had already gotten a lot busier around the river.  We picked out a spot that we would camp out on for the morning and headed that way.  As we got closer to that spot we could see a huge bear that was sleeping in the grass just on the other side of the river from us, and saw a smaller bear working its way down stream in our direction.  The smaller bear was watching the big one, who slowly got up and started staring at it intently.  This seemed to make the smaller bear a bit nervous and it would cast its gaze our way and then back at the big bear…. Every once in a while, taking a quick look in the river to see how many salmon might be close by.  You could see that the bear was a little too nervous to dive in with that huge bear so close by, and then it decided it might like to pass by, much closer to us to put as much room between the two of them.  The bear got about 6 feet away as it walked past, and even took a second to look each of us in the eye, sniffing the entire way, before heading off into the meadow behind us.  The big bear just kind of stood there, moving his head side to side to make sure no one else was encroaching on his area before going to get a drink of water and then laying back down in the grass.

    The big bear stood up to let the smaller bear know this was his spot

    She was watching him and the river while making her way towards us
    This was about the time she decided to leave the river to the big boy

    Nothing seemed to happen for a little while other than bears moving around in the meadow, happily grazing on the grass there.  Just when it seemed this big bear might keep all the other bears away from us…. He got up and decided to take a stroll through the river, looked to see if he could see any fish and when there were none, he wandered off into the meadow himself.   No sooner did he clear out than that first bear circled back behind us to take a much closer look at the river.  She didn’t really spot anything from the river’s edge so she climbed down into the river and did a bit of snorkeling, but must not have seen any as she never really gave chase to anything nor came up with a fish in her mouth.   She slowly worked her way up the river to where there was a small waterfall and splashed around up there for a bit.  We couldn’t see well enough to know if she was catching fish but that spot turned out to be very popular with a number of bears as the day wore on.

    Next up was a bigger male working his way towards us.  He would turn out to be the best fishing bear we saw the entire trip.  He certainly didn’t waste too much time jumping into the river and splashing around at everything that moved.  He would spin in circles, swatting at fish, lunging head first into the water and coming up empty, he tried to push them to the side of the pool he was standing in and pin them against the wall…  and at first seemed to really just not have a clue on how to catch one.   It seemed like he carried on like that for at least 20 minutes, coming up empty over and over again, and then finally with a huge lunge, he stuck his head under water and came up with a really nice-looking fish.

    Chasing a salmon

    His first catch

    By this time another group of photographers had shown up and were on the other side of the river from us, and the bear looked at them, and then us, with this big fish hanging in his mouth and them seemed to decide he’s just take the fish to a shallow part of the river and eat it there.  He seemed to inhale that fish and ate the entire thing in 4 of 5 bites and was right back at it with the fishing.  This time he came up with his second fish after about 3 minutes, and once again looked at that other group of photographers and then us, and decided we looked least likely to take his fish so he came up on the shore right in front of us to once again make quick work of the fish.  He was so close you could hear all the bones crunching with every bite he took, which reminded you just how powerful these bears are.

    Once again, he jumped into the river and this time had his next fish in under 2 minutes, or so it seemed.  He didn’t hesitate at all, and came right up on the shore in front of us, moving even further away from the river this time and went to town on his latest catch.  We had an excellent view of just how fast a bear and eat a huge salmon.  Lol

    This time he seemed to take his time before climbing back into the river, and he kind of looked around but didn’t seem nearly as hungry anymore nor as frantic to catch another fish.  He splashed around a little bit, but not with the same energy as earlier, and started to wander up the river now.  I think he decided he was full enough for now and then kind of wandered off.  We were given a great show for sure!

    By the time we were done for the day, we had seen at least 14 bears, and about half of those coming so much closer to us than I had expected before this trip started.  It was a great day but now we were hungry and it was time to head back to the boat for another amazing meal. 

  • Tue, 04 Aug 2020 19:00:00 +0000

    Alaska Brown Bears - Day 3

    Day 3 – Mon July 27, 2020

    The engine fired up at 5:50am and it was time to cross Shelikof Straight. The open ocean was the roughest water of the trip so far, but still nothing compared to the Drake straight on the trip to Antarctica last December.  It was slow going and took us about 5 hours to cross the straight and finally we pulled into Hallo Bay.  This is an area with very unpredictable winds and weather and we were warned that we might not be able to get into the bay, but luck was on our side today, as the weather was beautiful and almost TOO hot really. 

    Hallo Glacier coming down off the mountain made for a very cool backdrop against the beach and open meadows beyond.  There was one other boat in the bay when we pulled in and we spotted a mama bear and 3 cubs down near their boat so we decided to head up the beach away from them and over the berm into the open meadow beyond.  After a short hike, we spotted another mama bear and her cub off in the distance, near a stream that crossed the open area.  When we got to the stream and started to walk along the banks, we passed over a lot of bear track including one set of prints that were easily the size of a big dinner plate.  It was hard to miss that you were certainly in bear country now…. Even if you hadn’t already spotted 5 of them before you’d been on land a couple of minutes.

    We continued walking down the bank of the stream and lost sight of the sow and her cub.  They must have wandered off into the tall grass on the other side of the river to escape the heat.  We kept walking through and as we came to the top of a small hill, we saw yet another mama bear with cubs, this one had three yearlings with her.   A little behind those 4 was also another bear… most likely an adolescent that had been sent off on his own in the last year or so.

    We decided to head down and cross the river and work our way to the far side of the mama bear and her cubs, to get the sun to our back for a better chance at good photos.  This also gave us a chance to make sure all the bears could see us and get used to our presence and we could get a read on how they were going to react to us being there.  It quickly became apparent that the sow and her cubs couldn’t care less that we were there, but the adolescent bear got up and started moving away from us and crossed another stream so it had a little more distance between us.

    We found a good spot and settled in to watch these 4… while keeping an eye on the bear across the river to make sure he didn’t decide to come back our way and squeeze us in between him and the mama bear.  The babies and mama just grazed away in the meadow barely even bothering to look up at us.  It was a hot day and after a while, a couple of cubs decided it was time for a water break and one decided even better, that it was time to just lay in the water for a bit to cool off.   The other cub stuck pretty close to mama the whole time and one of the two more adventurous cubs quickly joined them again, while the third continued to just do his own thing.   The guide told us he was the single boy cub and that the two females tended to stay closer to mom than he did.  

    We got to watch one of the cubs begging to nurse and the mama bear just totally ignoring her, but she was persistent  and the more noise she made about wanting to nurse the closer the other two cubs got as well, and after a while the mama bear gave in, and brought the cubs closer to us before sitting up and looking right at us and then flopping back onto her back only to be pounced on by her cubs.  The three of them only fed for about 5 minutes before we realized all 4 of them had totally fallen asleep... the cubs right on top of mama. 

    After about 20 minutes, mama bear woke up and wanted to get back to eating so she slowly rolled her way from under all that weight and managed to get out from under the cubs without waking them up, and she went back to eating while they just dozed away.   We got some of the best views and photos of her at this point as they were now only about 100-150 feet away from us.  We watched her for a while and then decided it was time to go looking for the other mama bear that had been on the beach with her spring cubs.   There were a few other bears that had also come into the meadow by now, but the 3 little ones would make for better photos.

    We found them pretty much where we’d last seen them. All hanging out on the beach.  The three little cubs were much more playful than the older three we’d been watching for hours and they were running around a bit and playing …. And as mama walked up the beach toward us they had to run to keep up with her.  We didn’t get to watch them up close nearly as long as the other group, but it was still fun to see the smaller cubs and watch how different they were when interacting with each other. 

    They slowly moved away from us and now we could see the other three cubs finally wake up again after about an hour long nap.  We just sat on top of the berm and watched all the bear in the meadow for her for a while before deciding to call it a day and head back to the boat.  

    The bear sightings weren’t over just year though as we crossed paths with one more bear as we walked down the beach.  This one was just sound asleep amongst the drift wood and we almost walked right past without even noticing it.  This one was pretty sleepy from the heat and when hearing us, barely had the energy to lift its head to look at us a couple of times and lay right back down to go back to sleep.

    First view of the meadow after coming over the berm from the beach

    First river we crossed and the view beyond

    Another view of the meadow

    First view of the mama bear and her three cubs we would watch for hours

    Was so hot out, this cub needed to take a dip in the river to cool off

    Three spring cubs tryin to keep up with their mama - you can see the heat shimmering

    Cubs finally caught up to mama
  • Mon, 03 Aug 2020 19:00:00 +0000

    Alaska Brown Bears - Day 2

    Day 2 – Sun July 26

    We get on the boat today, but we’re not due to be picked up until 2pm so we decided to walk to breakfast at one of the only breakfast places open on Kodiak.  The place is called King’s Diner and they actually had a really good breakfast menu.  I went for Pancakes, eggs and sausage which you really can’t go wrong with and it was good breakfast.  On the way back to hotel we spotted a sporting goods shop and each of us needed a couple of things for the trip so we stopped in there really quick.  I bought a mosquito net for my head as I was told they can get really bad in some of the marshland we’ll be visiting and it’s better to have one and not need it, than the other way around for sure!  Now we just had to wait to get picked up so we headed back to the hotel, watched some TV until we had to check out, and then all just sat in the lobby chatting until we were picked up and taken to the boat.  We unloaded all our bag, got a tour and safety talk about the boat and then it was time to get going.  We weren’t going to make it all the way to the first landing spot today but we did have a long way to travel so just sat back, had some snacks and then watched whales, otters and eagles along the way.  It was really smooth sailing and when we made it to the stopping point for the night, the captain anchored the boat and then we were fed what was going to turn out to be the first of many very tasty meals on this trip.  I know I’m going to pay for all the food when I get back home, but for now, I’m just going to enjoy the week and not worry about it.  I know I’ll regret that later. LOL

    The skies looked really good as sunset finally started to get closer, and it looked like there might be an epic sunset, but it just teased us for a while before fizzling out at the last minute.  I still snapped a few shots that I thought looked really nice anyway before everyone called it a night.  Tomorrow morning is going to be an early wake up to try to make it across the straight with the tides in our favor.  I think the captain plans on starting the engines at 5:45am and it will be hard to sleep once that big engine kicks back on.

    First of many fin whales we saw
    Just a view across the water

    Big pod of fin whales moved along with us for a while - might have been 6 or 7 of them

    Here you can see 4 at once

    Stranded Ship on the beach

    The best the sunset got tonight
  • Mon, 03 Aug 2020 04:08:00 +0000

    Alaska Brown Bears - Day 1

    Day 1 – Sat July 25

    Today is a full day of travel, having to catch a flight from Seattle to Anchorage and then after about a 1.5-hour layover, flying from Anchorage to Kodiak.  Before the trip ever got started though, I had to go get a test for COVID in order to be allowed into the state of Alaska without having to quarantine for my entire time there.  The test had to be done within 72 hours of arriving in Alaska and with how slow some of the testing sites have been in getting results back, I was a little nervous that I might run into a roadblock there. Luckily, I found a location that told me they can get rapid results back to me in about 24-48 hours so I went and got tested and then waited to get my results.   I wasn’t too worried since I have been socially isolating since March and really only came into contact with anyone at the grocery store or the gas station.  I got my negative results back on Friday and was good to go!

    The flights were pretty smooth and the only real hiccup on the trip was the process to verify that I’d been tested and my test results were negative.  There was a long line as everyone arriving in Anchorage had to go through this process, and I was a little worried I could miss my next flight since it looked like it was moving super slow.  Luckily one of the people directing everyone where to go, told me she could check me in since I was catching a connecting flight and didn’t have all day to stand in line. 

    The flight to Kodiak was really short. In fact, I think we hit cruising altitude and only stayed up there for 10 minutes before starting our decent into what had to be the smallest airport I’ve ever been to.  The baggage claim is in the same room as the ticket counter and the line for security and everyone was kind of stuffed in there all at one.  Those of us waiting for bags, and people trying to get out of town on the plane we’d just arrived in.  If you’re claustrophobic, you’d not have had a good time waiting for your bags.

    The next problem with a small place like this, is that there is almost no taxi service either.  Getting a cab to go to the hotel took a lot longer than expected since there were only a few cars servicing the island it seemed, but since we weren’t in a rush we just hung out until the owner of the cab company finally came and picked us up himself.  He was a funny guy and kept us entertained all the way into town.

    We got all checked in, and then walked around a bit.  There are only a few places open for food right now, so we grabbed a quick dinner at one of them, and then wandered around one of the marinas before calling it a night.

    Ticket Counter after airport emptied out

    Looking at baggage claim

    View of the airport parking - looking right

    View of the airport parking - looking left
    One of the marinas in town

    Lots of fishing boats here
  • Mon, 30 Dec 2019 18:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 16
    December 13

    Well, it started off a very bittersweet day as the trip has officially come to an end.  I woke up and got the last of my stuff packed and put my bag in the hallway for pick up, and then headed upstairs to watch as we docked and got ready to leave the ship.  As people slowly started to fill the lounge, many of us began exchanging contact information and saying our goodbyes.  There were some great people on this trip and some I really hope to stay in touch with and maybe even meet up with and shoot together again.  We watched as the ship docked and had to wait onboard until customs had come on and cleared the crew and ship.

    There were three busses waiting to take everyone to the airport.  Two were for those people on the first flight out which seemed to be about 2/3 of the group.  It sounded like they actually would be the vast majority of passengers on the first flight out too which was kind of funny.  I was on the third bus with the last 1/3 of the group, most of which were flying out later in the day.  I think there were a handful staying over in Ushuaia at least 1 more day which sounded like a great plan right about then.  We were driven to the parking lot at the end of the pier were we were then able to leave our bags on the bus and get out and wander the town for a few hours until heading back to the bus at 12:30 for the short ride to the airport.  My flight out was at 3:10... and was pretty uneventful. 

    After landing back in Buenos Aires, I was really wishing I had picked a hotel closer to the airport there to stay at for the night.  Not knowing the city well, I thought the smart think would be to cross town and stay at a hotel closer to the International airport where I had to fly out the next night.  That turned out to be a mistake as traffic was horrible getting across town and took well over 90 minutes to get to my hotel.  I was already tired before sitting in traffic all that time, and then discovered that there really isn't much at this end of town to see.  All the best stuff was much closer to the other end of town where I'd landed.  I'm pretty disappointed that I'm going to miss out seeing a lot of the sights on this trip now, but I guess that just means I'll have to find another reason to come back down and explore Buenos Aires a lot more.

    The hotel was nice and quiet when I checked in .... other than an issue with 3 of the four cards for the door not working, check in was smooth and I pretty much collapsed into bed after settling in. Travel days can really just take it out of you, even when all you're doing for most of the day is sitting around in lines waiting to get on the plane, where you just sit some more wishing you had a few more inches of space.  Tomorrow is the long leg of the trip home, so I'm hoping to get as much sleep as possible, knowing I won't get to sleep much for the next 24 hours.

  • Sun, 29 Dec 2019 18:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 14 & 15
    Well, it was time to head back home... and to cross the Drake again.  A few people sounded a bit worried about the crossing but luckily we got even luckier for our trip north than we did on our way south.  The seas were even calmer for the trip, and the winds not nearly as bad.  The ship still rocked and rolled, but nothing like we experienced on the way down.

    That didn't mean there wasn't some drama to the trip, but it's nothing I can really write about here.  I have shared the story with a few of you and maybe I can write a lot more about it soon, but for now, I'll just leave this entry kind of short, and say that the 2 days we had to sail back to Ushuaia was smooth, but took much longer than expected and we barely got back to port in time to disembark as scheduled instead of spending the night before in the Beagle Channel having a nice dinner and good bye party with the crew.

    It's time to get some sleep, and say our goodbyes in the morning and head back to our respective homes.  The trip was amazing, and there will be great memories and hopefully long lasting friendships that came out of this adventure.

    There will be one or two more posts still I think and then I may take a break and work on the rest of the photos and maybe even post a few follow up stories about the trip, some of the photos I got, some of the things I saw, and maybe just a recap and some info in case anyone else out there would really like to do this trip themselves one day. :)

  • Sat, 28 Dec 2019 22:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 13 - Part 2

    With everyone back on the ship, we sailed off to the next and last excursion of the trip. This landing was at Hannah Point in Walker Bay on Livingston Island, South Shetland Islands.  The point was named after a sealer named Hanna who wrecked his ship there on Dec 25 1820. I kept watching for signs of the shipwreck, but if we were supposed to be able to see it here, I totally missed where it was. This landing might have been the least exciting of all the landings we'd had so far but it was our first really good chance to see more than a random Elephant Seal on the beach.  This beach had a pretty good number of them laying around, some in pretty good sized groups and then as you wandered the beach you would run across a random seal here and there laying off on it's own, tucked up in rocks to help cut the wind I guess.  Can I just mention that seals are pretty boring to watch though? They really don't do much of anything and it started to become a running joke among everyone. Heck, we started to comment that there was some huge excitement happening when one would open it's eyes! LOL

    Okay, maybe that's exaggerating things a little bit as there was actually some more excitement than that. We saw a couple of adolescent males do battle a few times. It was fun to watch even if their hearts didn't seem to be totally into it.  It was mostly just a bunch of posturing for the cameras if you ask me. LOL

    There were some that kept trying to climb on top of others to get warm which was usually just met with bellows of what I can only assume meant "hey, get OFF me!".

    The most exciting seal of all though, was one that was doing something that had to be the equivalent of running the 100 yard dash on the beach. This seal was actually great fun to watch as it would get up on it's front flippers and then do something that appeared to be related to the dance known as "The Worm"... only instead of going backwards this guy was moving forward at a really good pace. I was very impressed!  He would "sprint" about 100 feet and then collapse into a heap with a big deep grunt.  After about 30 seconds of rest though, he was ready for his next "sprint" and would get up and go again.  Another 100 feet, another huge collapse in a heap.  He did this about 5 or 6 times and then the couple of us enjoying the show started to notice he was beginning to cheat now.  He wasn't going that full 100 feet any longer and his breaks seemed to be getting longer with each rest.  Hmmmmm... something's up with that.

    I stopped watching when he finally reach a smallish puddle about 200 yards or so down the beach, where he collapsed one last time in what looked like his finally resting spot for the night.  I heard later that he made some pretty funny faces when he reached the pond and that it really did look like he was wiped out. Turns out he did continue on, but by that time I had started to make my way back to the Zodiac as our landing was coming to a close and it was time to head back to the ship.

    More Penguins... well, just because :)

    The final landing of the trip was over now... I really am not ready to head home.  I could easily spend another month down here continuing on as far as the ship could take us.  Heck, if we could circle the entire continent, I'd be up for that trip!

  • Sat, 28 Dec 2019 18:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 13 - Part 1

    This morning the first stop of the day is at a collapsed volcano that harbors a bay that was once used for Whaling until the late 60's. We were told that we should try to get up and be outside around 7:00am to watch as the captain maneuvers the ship into the bay. We'd heard that the entrance into the bay can be a hairy experience and I think most everyone wanted to watch and see what the fuss was all about. The ship needs to pass through a 1300 ft wide gap in the wall of a Caldera known as "Neptune's Bellows" because of the violent winds that sometimes blow across the mouth of the entrance. Those winds have pushed ships up onto the rocks more than a few times from what I understand, so I decided this would be a great time to set up my GoPro to shoot another time-lapse and capture what it looked like putting the ship into the mouth of a collapsed volcano. It was a pretty morning out there but the winds were kicking up a bit and if you watch the video, you'll be able to see how much the ship rocked back and forth on the way toward the caldera.  It wasn't as exciting to watch as I expected it to be, but was very interesting to feel the ship really being blown around until we entered the mouth of the caldera, where the winds and waves really seemed to calm down ... until we moved a little deeper into the opening and then we were hit with very high and super cold blasts of wind as the winds rushed up and over the wall and glacier slamming into the ship. This seemed to be an "easy" sail into the bay, but did make you realize how the area got it's name and made you wonder what that had to be like back in the day without all the sophisticated navigation today's ships have, or even more, if there was a storm brewing while a captain tried to navigate his way in there.

    The wind was really whipping and cold and I think most everyone including me headed back inside. Breakfast was going to be served before we climbed onto the Zodiacs to head to shore, and since I wasn't hungry I just spent the time getting bundled up and looking out the windows to see what I could see.  I was actually kind of excited to see something other than penguins to shoot today. I already saw a number of things to shoot that would be perfect for some abstract type photography this morning. That's much more in my wheelhouse than wildlife has proven to be for sure! LOL

    Wandering around through much of the old Whaler's equipment really made you think about what used to go on here, and to think about how many whales much have been fished here. It was sad to think about, especially after seeing so many of those great animals out in the waters around Antarctica and knowing there would probably have been so many more to see if not for the massive hunting of them over the years. Even with all that in mind I really enjoyed shooting abstracts of the old machinery that was scattered around the bay and even found what looked like a tractor of some kind buried deep in the sands near the beach.

    There were constant reminders that this is a volcano and that there is still activity somewhere deep below us. The smell of sulfur was pretty strong in the air and then all along the beach, there was a constant flow of steam coming up out of the sands. I walked down to the water's edge and twisted my boots back and forth until they were buried in the sand and after a few minutes you could actually feel the warmth work it's way through the thick rubber and warm your feet. It was a very cool experience to feel how warm your feet got even though you were surrounded by all that ice cold water.

    Speaking of ice cold water, there were a handful of people that decided they really wanted to do a polar plunge here before heading back to the ship. I couldn't decide if they were brave or crazy LOL  I didn't stick around to watch as they were all going to be put on the last Zodiac back to the ship, but did later watch the video of all the craziness and was happy I decided against joining in! LOL  My cabin mate and one of the guys I'd been hanging out with for most of the trip did take the plunge and both said that the water was crazy cold!  They did really seem to be happy they did it though.  I mean how many people can say that took a quick swim in Antarctic waters right?
  • Fri, 27 Dec 2019 22:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 12 - Part 2

    We safely got out of the harbor and made our way to our next landing of the day at Paulet Island. While we were underway, lunch was served and it felt really good to be back in the warmth of the ship. I even had a couple of cups of hot chocolate to help warm me up.

    Paulet is a circular island, about 1.0 mile in diameter, lying 3 miles SE of Dundee  Island, off
    the NE end of the Antarctic Peninsula. Paulet is the site of an enormous Adélie penguin
    colony. Paulet consists of a distinct volcanic cone, 1,158 feet high.

    In February 1903  a stone hut was built in  by shipwreck  survivors from the Swedish Antarctic
    Expedition led by Otto Nordenskiöld, together with the grave of an expedition member, and the cairn
    built on the highest point of the island to draw the attention of rescuers, thankfully this story
    ended well with the rescue of the totality of the crew by the  Argentinean  Corbeta  Uruguay.  In 
    1972  this  hut  was  declared  Historic  Site  and Monument # 41 by the Antarctic Treaty System

    This island has been identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) because it supports a large
    breeding colony of about 100,000 pairs of Adelié penguins.

    Here are photos from the day, including a few that show just how many penguins there were here. They stretched on for as far as the eye could see. 

    One funny story from the afternoon is that I was trapped on the beach for close to 20 minutes, I walked up on a group of penguins that were waiting to go into the water and stopped the 10 feet away as required and while I was there waiting for them to decide what to do, another group of penguins came out of the water directly behind me, and then they basically just stood around me preening and shaking the water off, and one even decided to lay down and take a bit of a nap.  Since I couldn't really move without breaking the rule on approaching them, I just took a knee on the beach and enjoyed watching them up close like that.  Other people seemed to get a kick out of me being stuck there as a few later told me they took photos of me trapped there.  LOL

    Here is another collection of Penguin photos and a few Blue-Eyed Shags which also nested here and mixed in with the 100,000 penguins nicely.

    We stayed on the island and watched the Penguins for a couple of hours and then it was time to start to head back to the ship.  Dinner tonight was at 19:00.

    At 20:30 Monika, the expedition leader, gave an introduction on the “History of Whaling in Antarctica” in preparation at tomorrow´s landing at Deception Island.  The weather tonight didn't look like it was going to break enough for there to be any kind of beautiful sunset so I decided i would do my best to get some good sleep tonight for the first time in a week. 

    Watching the ship pull into Deception Island tomorrow is supposed to be something to not miss, so I plan on being up early to set up the GoPro and film the whole thing is possible.

    Weather Conditions
    Wind (direction & force): South East | Light Breeze (4-6 Knots)
    Weather & Sea: Clouded | Smooth

    LAT. 63˚ 34.9’ S, LONG. 55˚ 46.3’ W
  • Fri, 27 Dec 2019 18:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 12 - Part 1

    Breakfast was served at 07:30 again this morning, and once again I decided to skip it because I still can't adjust to eating when my body think's it's 2:30am. LOL

    Our first landing today was at 9:00am at a location called Brown Bluff.  When you see the photo, the name will make perfect sense. :)  Brown  Bluff  is  an  ice-capped,  flat  topped,  745m  high  mountain with a prominent cliff of reddish-brown volcanic rocks. It is part of the northernmost continental extension of the Antarctic Peninsula, and home to thousands of Adelie Penguins, a few hundred Gentoo Penguins  and  a  mix  of  Kelp  Gulls,  Skuas,  Snow  Petrels,  and Pintado Petrels. It is located by the Antarctic Sound to the east of Hope  Bay.

    Today was the first day where the weather finally looked and felt like what I had always Antarctica to be like.  The sky was grey, the wind was blowing pretty hard, and it was cold out there.  In fact, before we headed to the land, we were told that our stay may have to be short because the ice was already beginning to move back in.  The captain said he would stay as long as he could, but if the conditions got much worse, he would blow the ships horn twice and we all needed to get back to the ship ASAP.  

    As we headed to land, things didn't look too bad out in the bay even though you could see a few huge icebergs way off in the distance.  We were met on the shoreline by lots of Adelie Penguins and right away you could see how different their behavior was compared to the Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins we had been seeing up until now.  For one thing, these Penguins were so much faster on land than the others, and they behaved differently as well which became so very entertaining to watch. The first thing I noticed is that ran up and down the beach in single file, and you couldn't help but kind of laugh as the would go running past you or up close to you where they would stop and check you out.

    The other thing that was very different was the way these guys would all gather together at the shoreline. While the Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins would go into the water a few at a time or even by themselves, the Adelie seemed to only work under the assumption that there was safety in numbers.  A few of them might actually go up to the water's edge and appear ready to go in, but they weren't going anywhere any time soon.... as they insisted on waiting for much larger numbers to come join them before even attempting to jump in.  It was so funny...  to see the way they would bunch up and then seem to wait for one brave, or extra hungry member of the group to be the first to jump in, after which the rest would suddenly dive in behind him until yet another penguin in the group would freeze up, causing the penguins behind him to stop as well, and even run away from the water for a second until they realized they should have gone because this one dummy only got cold feet and now they were all stuck again, waiting for the whole process to start over.  LOL

    You can't really see all of that in action  in the photos, but this gives you a little idea what it looked like.  LOL

    As we were all sitting there enjoying watching these silly penguins run up and down the beach, and watch them struggle to decide if they wanted to risk diving in to the water to eat, it started to snow and the wind began to pick up.  We suddenly got the call that we had to get back to the ship right now, and everyone was good and rushed back to the Zodiacs.  I think it might have been the fastest they have ever gotten everybody back on board and as soon as I got up on the ship, I could see why the captain made the call that we had to get moving, and now!

    Where the bay had been fairly free of ice when we first left the ship, this is what it looked like as we got back on board.

    The ice had seriously moved in on us, and the last thing we wanted was to get stuck here in all that ice for who knows how long if it froze up all around the ship. 

    So, the visit to Brown Bluff was cut short, but we finally experienced just how fast the weather and conditions here can change, and we got to feel what the weather in Antarctica probably feels like more often than not.  Up until now we've had spring like temperatures... this was more like it!  :)

    LAT. 63° 32’ 00” S, LONG. 56° 52’ 00” W

    Weather Conditions
    Wind (direction & force): South | Fresh Breeze (17-21 Knots)
    Weather & Sea: Clouded | Smooth
    Temperature: -2ºC | 28.4 ºF

  • Fri, 27 Dec 2019 04:43:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 11

    This morning's first landing was our official first Continental landing, in Neko Harbor.  Neko   Harbor   is   an   inlet   of   the   Antarctic Peninsula  on  Andvord  Bay,  situated  on  the west coast of Graham Land. Was discovered by Belgian  explorer  Adrien  de  Gerlache  during the  early  20th  century.  It  was  named  for  a Scottish   whaling   boat,   the   Neko,   which operated in the area between 1911 and 1924.

    Above the bay there is a is very active, deeply cracked and tilted glacier that frequently fills the bay with ice and produces huge waves that can wash up onto the beach. There is also a Gentoo rookery on the steep slope above the landing site that may total 1000 pair at the peak of the season

    Up until now all of our landings have been on islands just off the Antarctica Peninsula so we've been in Antarctica, but today we officially stepped onto the Continent itself and and I stepped onto my 5th continent.  All I have left is Africa and Australia.

    There were a lot of Penguins around and I took a lot of photos yet again. The biggest things that happened on this stop that are memorable, is I saw my first pair of mating Penguins.

    I saw and photographed a gull stealing a penguin egg to feast on.

    And there was a small avalanche across the bay from where we were all standing that put on a very cool show. I captured most of it in photos, and then was given an actual video clip that captured the whole thing as well.  Here are just a few of the images I shot of that.

    All in all, it was a very fun and memorable stop and fun way to start the day. After a couple of hours here though, it was time to get back on the ship.

    The rest of the day was going to be spent watching the landscape, icebergs, and glaciers pass by as we speed up the Gerlache Strait and through the Errera Channel so we can round the top of the peninsula and make a landing on Brown Bluff tomorrow.  We are going to be visiting a colony of Adelie penguins that has over 100,000 mating pairs, and is a location that many people usually don't get to see as it's usually blocked in by ice.

    The views today were amazing, and the ride east was punctuated with some great whale sightings during the day, including my first real chance to watch a humpback whale breaching over and over again out in the bay.  I was actually lucky enough to get one really good shot of it as it breached as well, which was one of those photos I'd always hoped I'd get a chance to take!

    As the day and evening went on, we saw even more whales, some far away, others so close to the ship it felt like you could have just reached out to touch them if you were at water level.  Since most of the whale shots are just the backs of them coming out of the water a little, and not really all that exciting, I'll share more Penguin photos instead.  I mean, you can't really ever get enough cute penguin photos right?  :)

    And just to finish off the days's photos... here is a photo of one of the many "Penguin Highways" in use:

    And yes, I know this isn't a penguin, but this seal looked right in the camera so I just know he was hoping for a showing on the internet as well.  :)

    Today's Weather Conditions
    Wind (direction & force): South East | Gentle breeze (7-10Knots)
    Weather & Sea: Partly Clouded | Smooth
    Temperature: 5ºC | 41 ºF
  • Mon, 23 Dec 2019 18:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 10

    Today was a very interesting day.  Our first stops of the morning were at Port Lockroy and Jougla Point. 

    The entrance into the harbor was just stunning and might have some of the most beautiful scenery seen so far. Little did I know what I would be seeing later this afternoon.  Here were the views on the way into Port Lockroy.

    This was looking out the back of the ship as we cruised into the harbor.

    And then this was the view looking forward to see where we were heading.

    A Zodiac was sent out to pick up two of the volunteers from Port Lockroy who were going to come and give a talk on the history of the base, and answer any questions people may have about what they do here, what life is like being almost stranded here for months on end, etc.

    Before heading to Port Lockroy though, I went with the first group of people to Jougla Point.

    Jougla Point  lies at  the  southwestern  end  of  Wiencke  Island  and  juts into  the  small
    harbor  of  Port  Lockroy,  a  protected  anchorage  entered  between  Flag  Point  and Lécuyer
    Point. This point is a rocky peninsula indented with small coves, a point forming the west side of
    the entrance to Alice Creek in Port Lockroy, in the Palmer Archipelago. Snow cornices, glaciers and
    extensive, steep, and highly crevassed snowfields surround the Harbour. It was discovered and named by the French Antarctic Expedition, 1903- 1905, under Jean-Baptiste Charcot, who considered it to
    be a peninsula.

    I won't bore you with more Penguin photos but yes, there were more penguins here but not as many as we have seen at some of our other landing spots.  The weather was great and it was just nice to get out and walk around taking it all in while waiting for our turn to head over to the base.

    Port Lockroy at Goudier island was a previous British Base, known as “Base A”, and now designated as Historic Site and Monument #61 under the Antarctic Treaty System. It is operated by the United
    Kingdom as a living museum. In addition to Bransfield House (the main base building), there is a
    boat shed, building foundations and a number of associated artifacts on Goudier Island. It was
    built by the ending of the WWII, to prevent from further nazi settlements.

    It also houses the only operational post office in Antarctica as well as a small souvenir shop. I think everyone on the ship was looking forward to the chance to mail off postcards from here, that would actually come with a stamp that was canceled in Antarctica.  I know I just had to mail a postcard to myself to have something to remember the visit and to keep as a memento.  I also was happy to find out I could keep up my tradition of buying a hoodie from everywhere I've traveled as they actually had a hoodie for sale here.

    You can see the base here in this photo. That really is all there is to it.  A very small island, with no boat, no running water and no plumbing.  Yeah, you read that right and now can imagine how hard life here must be.  :)

    Okay, so I'm going to share a funny story here.. I bought a postcard for myself and one for my daughter and wrote each of us a short little note to mail from here today. I quickly learned that sleep deprivation really does effect brain function as when I went to address the postcard to myself, I honestly could NOT remember my home address!  I sat there totally blank trying to remember it, and to make things even funnier, I forgot I had my wallet in my back pocket which has this little thing inside it called a driver's license.  On that license is my address.  Did I remember that?  Nope! After about 5 minutes the address finally came to me, but I think this was the first sign that I really needed to start getting some sleep on this trip.  LOL

    I thought the view this morning was one of the most beautiful I'd ever seen and couldn't imagine anywhere else on this trip beating it.  Little did I know how wrong I was, and just how short the wait would be to see what might be the most beautiful place on the planet.  And yes, I still think so even now that the trip is over.

    This afternoon, we made our way to the Lemaire Channel, which is a 11km long and 1600 meters wide strait off Antarctica between Kiev Peninsula in the mainland’s Graham Land and Booth Island. It's been nicknamed “Kodak Gap” by some because of its scenic views and once you see it, you'll totally understand why.

    Instead of posting a bunch of photos here to try to give you an idea of just how beautiful this place was, let's try something different, here is a link to a timelapse video on my website that is about 5 minutes long, and kind of let's you get a feel of the experience of sailing a ship through the Lemaire...

    When we get close to the end of the channel, there is a huge iceberg and sheet ice in front of us, blocking the rest of the way through. You can kind of make it out when the ship slows and starts to turn around.  I'd say I was disappointed we didn't get to go the rest of the way through, but I'd be lying because having to turn around, meant we got to witness this beautiful place a second time and have even more opportunities to shoot photos that might hopefully capture it's beauty.

    Today's Weather Conditions
    Weather & Sea: Partly Clouded | Calm
    Temperature: 3ºC | 37.4 ºF
    LAT. 65° 11’ S, LONG. 64° 10’ W

  • Mon, 23 Dec 2019 00:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 9 - Part 2
    December 6, 2019

    After lunch, it was time to kick back a bit in the lounge and share stories with people about the trip so far.  A number of people were working on photos but I was just spending most of my time making 2 full backups of all the shots I'd taken so far.  I wasn't sure if I'd ever get down here again, so wanting to be extra careful and get two copies of everything JUST in case one of my hard drive backups went bad.

    While waiting for my group's turn to get out on the Zodiacs and cruise around Cierva Cove, there was some big excitement, as a group of whales came up really close to the ship and were actively feeding. Until now most whales we'd seen were hundreds of yards away but this group was probably less than 50-75 feet from us.   Everyone grabbed their cameras and rushed to the deck in hopes to get some great shots.

    There was a moment when we all thought we were going to see something extraordinary, when we could see the whales begin to build a bubble net!  I don't know how well you can see it in this photo, but the whales began to circle and blow bubbles which helps them gather their prey into a nice tight group so that they can then swoop up and get more in each mouthful.  If you've ever seen video or photos of a group of whales with their mouths wide open punching through the surface of the water, that's what I thought were were going to see here!

    Everyone had their camera's ready and you could hear the excited voices thinking we were about to get a GREAT show, but sadly this group of whales was just going to tease us, and they ended up feeding just below the surface instead. So we didn't get those amazing shots, but still got a really fun show as the whales just slowly moved back and forth next to the ship, slowly feeding and from time to time showing their dorsal fins, and every once in a while, giving as a quick view of their tails as the would go into a deeper dive for a few minutes.   Here are just a few photos of the whales in action: 

    They stayed right next to us for close to 20 minutes before finally moving on and out of site of the ship. Even though we didn't get the epic type of show, it was still so very cool to watch them up so close to us.

    At 16:00, it was finally time for the second half of us to climb aboard the Zodiacs and head out into the cove.  There was a lot more ice here although much of it was smaller than what we saw yesterday. The Pro that was in our boat had scoped out a very cool area with the first group, and asked our driver to hurry and take us there first to start the ride.  The thinking was it was much further out than most of the other Zodiacs would go so we'd have it all to ourselves, and if we started off as far away as we dared go, we could take our time out there, and then slowly work our way back to the ship.

    Cierva   Cove  lies   at   the   western   side   of   the   Antarctic Peninsula in the northern
    entrance of the Gerlache Strait. In the  vicinity,  there  is  an  Argentinean  station  (Primavera
    Station).  It  is  truly another beautiful  area  surrounded  by  spectacular glaciers and as we headed across the water you could really see just how big those glaciers were!

     The first shot most everyone wanted to take of course, was another photo of the ship from on the water just below it  After that, we were off and running across the bay.

    Here are just some of the views we had once we got to the far end of the bay. It's really hard to judge how tall these glacier walls were, but if I had to guess, I'd say they were about as high as a 6 story building.

    Once we all shot tons of photos in and around those big glaciers, we began to slowly head back toward the ship and pass a number of very interesting looking icebergs.  One cool thing I started to spot on some of them, were these long icicles hanging down from the edges, where you could see that the snow on top had begun to melt during the warm days and as the water ran down and dripped into the sea, it would freeze again at night as the temps dropped.  It was pretty interesting to me...  

    Here is a quick look at a few of the rock formations poking out of all that ice and snow.

    The icebergs here are so seriously blue when the light hits them just right.  Here you can really see that blue and how it almost seems to glow from deep inside.

    Just for fun I'm including a couple of shots with another Zodiac in the photo for scale.  We were cruising around this one berg with a cool arch in it when suddenly another Zodiac pulled in front of the arch on the other side.  We were soon all shooting photos of each other through the arch. LOL

    In this shot, you can see just how full the bay was with all kinds of small chunks of ice.  I'm guessing most of these were from all kinds of small chunks breaking off of the big glaciers from earlier and then those chunks slowly melting and breaking down over time.

    Once back on the ship, it was time to get out of the extra layers and waterproof stuff and into street clothes.  Before dinner was served, there was a quick lightroom class on the Develop module. It's always interesting to me to see and hear how others use Lightroom to edit their photos.

    There was also a quick briefing by the expedition leader about tomorrows activities and then it was off to dinner.   The first few days on the ship, a group of 6 of us had found a nice small and quiet back room to sit and have our meals in.  Turns out the secret was out and when we got in the dining room, our table had been overtaken by another group.  We moved to another table in the room even though it wasn't set up for meals, and the crew was more than happy to bring us what we needed to sit there since they knew we'd used that room every meal until now. 

    After dinner there was one more talk given.  This one was on the mammals of Antarctica and then after that it was everyone to themselves.  Once again, the large majority of people headed off to bed, and the usual suspects kept looking out the window, knowing we could possibly had yet another beautiful sunset ahead of us.  I mean, who can sleep when the weather looks like this?

    Once again we stayed up really late, taking lots of photos, and then when the light stopped changing and we felt satisfied with our photos, it was time to head off to bed to try to get at least a few hours of sleep.

  • Sun, 22 Dec 2019 19:52:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 9 - Part 1
    December 6, 2019

    The wake-up call this morning didn't come until 6:30 which was nice after the super early start yesterday.  Breakfast was served at 07:00 but I wasn't feeling hungry today so I just took my time getting myself ready and packing my camera stuff for the only landing scheduled for today.

    We were doing an 08:30 landing at Hydrurga Rocks which is a small  landing  site  at  the  northern  entrance  of  the  Gerlache Strait.  We were told to expect to see Chinstrap  penguins,  Antarctic  Cormorants and Kelp gulls here, accompanied by snowy sheathbills and Antarctic Brown Skuas. Weddell seals will often haul up on the snow to take naps here too, so we were to keep our eyes open for them as well.

    There was a lot of snow at this landing site and with the warmer temps it was pretty hard to walk through. Falling through the snow up to your thighs was a pretty common occurrence for the day.  I think I found myself thigh deep in the snow at least a dozen times myself.  Any time you got off the small path that had been trampled down, you were almost sure to bury yourself.  lol

    This location is really pretty (which has pretty much been everywhere we've been now, but it still makes you catch your breath) and has a trail that winds up and around a small inlet of water before wrapping around to the back side of the little island.  If you went up and to the left at the top of the hill, you could walk down to a couple of small penguin groups on the rocks, and one that had taken up residence around an old building which I'm missed hearing what it had been used for or maybe if it was still in use.

    When you went to the right, you could see this high rock on the other side of a small water inlet which was covered in penguins and Blue-eyed shag, an Antarctic cormorant. It was funny to see how Penguins work their way so high up on rocks when you know it must take them forever to get up and down from there.  They aren't the swiftest animal on land.

    A pair of snowy sheathbills strutted their way around me for a good 5 minutes, not seeming to care how close they got. They aren't the prettiest birds around for sure.

    I got a little closer to actually getting a face pic of a Weddell seal... this was about as close as I got but I won't give up!

    There were a few Kelp Gulls flying around the area too so we really did see everything they'd told us to watch for.  

    Usually when you see pictures of Penguins, they are fresh out of the water and so nice and clean.  It was pretty interesting to see how that is far from the normal state of these silly creatures.  They are almost always covered in filth because they seen to not mind sliding around mud and their own poo.  Heck this fella looks like he just created some hideous crime somewhere and is making a run for it! LOL  Actually that's just poo I'm sure as most of it is red because of their main diet of Krill.  I know... I just ruined your idea of lovable, cuddly Penguins.  Sorry. Don't worry though, they clean up really well when they hit the water and hunt for food.  They come out looking squeaky clean after a good swim and then you can cuddle away :)

    There were mostly Chinstrap and Gentoo Penguins here but there was one lonely Adelie trying to fit in and not be noticed.  It was funny to watch this guy standing in the middle of a group of other Penguins. He stood there like a statue for a long time almost like he was hoping no one would notice him. LOL

    Maybe the coolest thing I saw this morning was a pretty good sized iceberg that was floating just off the beach, suddenly break in half and roll as it tried to settle into a good balanced position again. This thing was bigger than it looked before it rolled, and then you saw two pieces of ice about the size of  large SUVs spinning around.   I wish I had caught that on video but here is a before and after look of it.

    And yes... that's the same chunk of ice. :)

    Well, at noon it was time to head back to the ship.  Lunch was going to be served at 12:30 today and then we are scheduled for another fun Zodiac cruise today.  This time I'm in group two so I will have some down time before I get to go out there.  The cruise today is going to take place at Cierva Cove.

    Since this entry is getting long again, I'll split it in two like I did with yesterday's blog.  Watch for more later today.  :)

  • Sat, 21 Dec 2019 22:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 8 - Part 2

    After getting back on the ship, it was time for breakfast.  I normally skip breakfast but now that I've been up and trudging through snow for a couple of hours, I worked up an appetite so had to check out the offering.  Breakfast on the ship is buffet style, and they had put out eggs, bacon, toast, fruits, cereal, yogurt, and a few other things I probably missed.

    After breakfast, we suited up again. This time it was going to be for a Zodiac cruise in the waters around Spert Island, an island lying off the west extremity of Trinity Island, in the Palmer Archipielago.  They had to split everyone into two groups in order to get us all on the available Zodiacs for a 90 minute cruise around the bay.  I was in the early group today.

    The water was really smooth and the Zodiac ride was awesome. Just feeling the wind on your face, smelling the fresh air, hearing the water splash around us.. it really felt like you were IN nature now more than just observing it.  The views all around us were amazing but with people on each side of the boat, it was kind of hard to get great shots without someone getting in the way.  It took a little time but we finally figured out a method that seemed to work well.  people on one side would kneel down on the floor while the other side took photos over your head and then we would switch when the views were on the other side of us.

    I was really surprised at just how beautiful the weather was and how warm it was on the Zodiac.  I was so worried about being cold on this trip and so far, I've been anything but. Even on the water like that. :)   Here are a few shots to give an idea of how things looked:

    The first two shots have the Zodiac in them to try to give an idea of scale to the area we were in, and to the size of one of the icebergs that was just sitting behind the ship when we offloaded.

    Here are two more shots looking on each side of us to show you how big this bay is and just how smooth the water is right now. 

    And this shot hopefully gives you at least a little idea of how massive those mountains really are. I felt really small sitting down on the water looking up at them.... heck, just that iceberg in front of the mountain was massive!

    Here is another shot of that iceberg with a Zodiac closer to it, so you can really see the size of it.

    After going around a few icebergs and getting up close to them, we wandered further out and over to this massive rock and channel between them.  There was a big chunk of ice stuck in there that totally blocked our ability to pass the rest of the way through there, but it was fun to get up close to it and just see how wedged in there it was.

    In the photo it looks like that thing might be connected to the rocks, but it was actually fully free floating in there.  When we got up and super close to it, you could watch it just bobbing up and down on the water and it didn't seem possible as that chunk of ice had to be the size of a 2 or 3 story home.  Yet it just bobbed around effortlessly between those huge slabs of stone.

    This was just a quick shot, looking back at the ship to see just how far we've traveled so far, and we were still moving further away when I shot this.

    There was a very cool rock arch hidden way from our view until we got close to it, and then two small caves as well.  We tried to talk the driver into taking us through there, but he wouldn't risk it because he couldn't be sure how safe that would be.

    Here is another decent sized iceberg that has been worn smooth by the seas over however many years it's been out there floating around.

    There was a little bit of a ice jam back here... at least until the winds and tide change again and all that huge ice floats back out into the bay.

    And then totally unexpectedly, we saw our third type of Penguin out there..  this Adelie Penguin was far from home and much further north than they usually travel. No one seemed sure what might have brought him so far north, but for now it was taking a break from swimming and just hanging out up on a rock shelf.  

    The 90 minutes out there went by so very fast. I couldn't believe it was already time to get back to the ship, but there was another group waiting for their turn so back we went.  Here's what it looks like looking up at the ship from down on the water.

    The rest of the day was spend on the ship and was pretty relaxing.  We were served lunch at noon, and then after a short break there were a few lectures again. The first was on the Exposure triangle at 13:30 and then at 15:00 there was the first Critique session where everyone was asked to pick two shots to share with the group and then the Pros would tell you what worked or didn't work with the shot and ways to make them better.  That session was great and it was interesting to see what other's were shooting.

    Then it was dinner at 19:00 and Critique session #2 which mostly covered the photos that the first session didn't get to.  After that, a lot of people headed to their rooms to sleep after getting up so early, but the light outside was looking good and I wanted to stay up and see what came of it, along with a handful of others.  Looks like this might be the regular night owl group as it's the same people again tonight as it was last night.

    The wait paid off as the light was pretty amazing tonight.  Now to find out if I got any great shots out of it.  It's too late to look now... it's almost 1:30am and I need some sleep!

  • Sat, 21 Dec 2019 18:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 8 - Part 1

    There was a very early wake up call this morning.  At 4:00 am the wake up call came across the intercom to get everyone up and moving around and ready to make our second landing of the trip.  This morning's landing was in Mikkelsen Harbor, a small bay on the south side of Trinity Island between Skottsberg Point and Borge Point, in the Palmer Archipelago.

    The weather conditions were actually pretty nice, with a small breeze (17-21Knots) and a Temperature:  of -3ºC | 26.6 ºF at the time of the Zodiac ride across the harbor.  The morning was beautiful and the sunrise that was still happening lit up the area all around us with the most beautiful light. If I hadn't already packed up all my gear into the dry bag, I would have been taking pictures like crazy.  I just hoped we would get to the land before the light went away!

    The Zodiac ride over to the landing spot wasn't very long this morning and the water was much smoother than we had on the ride yesterday.  I don't think there were many big splashes this morning which made me regret not getting my camera out earlier but it's always better to be safe than sorry.  There are still way too many days of photography ahead to risk shorting my camera out now.

    Here is a look back at the ship where you can still see the way the early morning light is just touching the mountains around us.

    The following photo shows how beautiful the light was even more... I just wish the photo could also let you hear how quiet and peaceful it is here!  The penguins are even being quiet this morning compared to the loud group we saw yesterday. It's truly an amazing place.

    The first, huge difference in today's landing is that today we have tons of snow and ice around us compared to that muddy mess we had to walk around in yesterday.  I have to say that the smell today isn't nearly as bad either which was a nice surprise. I think the snow really helps keep everything a little fresher.  I know I certainly enjoyed walking in the snow a lot more!

    One of the first animals I saw was this Skua just laying in the snow near our landing site.  It didn't seem bothered at all by me as I got closer to take it's photo. It just laid there watching me. These are one of the biggest threats to Penguins on land, as they like to feed on Penguin eggs and chicks.  Maybe this one had already gotten its fill of eggs this morning.

    There was also a seal nearby just lounging in the snow down by the water.  I waited and watched it for a while to see if it would move so I could get a better shot, but turns out... seals don't do much of anything once they find a spot to snooze.  I finally gave up and realized this would be the best photo of this seal I was going to get today.

     The penguins here are all taking advantage of the few places without snow, to build their nests and lay their eggs.  There were only a few spots on this island with bare land visible and most all of it was taken up the the mating pairs. I have to say, they sure have some amazing views from their chosen spots!

    There would be these little rock outcrops here and there and on every one of them, you'd see a few more Penguins.  They don't seem to let much open ground go to waste this time of year.  Once again, this nest just has some amazing views. 

    Another thing I've learned is that Penguins aren't the quietest creatures around.  They are constantly squawking and calling out. You can see one of them here doing it.  I think I was able to get some good video footage of them where you can hear what it sounds like. I'll have to post that later when I get a change to go through all my video footage. 

    It was fun wandering around in the snow and just watching these few groups as they woke up to start their day.  They weren't nearly as active right now which made watching them easy, but made getting any kind of interesting photos a lot more difficult.

    When it was time to head back to the ship, I just had to stop and take one last look around.  This entire bay is surrounded by amazing Mountains, with Glaciers and snow packs that have to be seen to be believed. I can't even explain the scale of how big these things are... but hopefully the photos can give you an idea.  Look at the way all of that snow and ice just goes right down to the water's edge!

    Oh, and just for grins, here is a picture of TWO seals that joined the beach party .. and yep, they were just as exciting as the first fella I saw this morning.  I guess they are better at doing rock imitations than they are at looking like active animals.  :)

    This post seems like it's getting pretty long so I'm going to break it into two parts.  Watch for part 2 later today :)
  • Fri, 20 Dec 2019 18:00:00 +0000

    Antarctica - Day 7
    At 4:00 am we crossed what's known as the Antarctic Convergence. The Antarctic Convergence or
    Antarctic Polar Front is a circular current continuously encircling Antarctica, varying in
    latitude seasonally, where cold, northward-flowing Antarctic waters meet the relatively
    warmer waters of the sub Antarctic. Antarctic waters predominantly sink beneath the
    warmer Sub Antarctic waters, while associated zones of mixing and up-welling create a
    zone very high in marine productivity, especially for Antarctic krill.  Were were told this area is usually pretty heavy with marine life, especially whales because of the high concentration of krill here.

    The Antarctic Convergence is a zone approximately 20 – 30 mi wide, 
    extending across the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans between the 48th and 61st
    parallels of south latitude. This line is a natural boundary rather than an artificial one. It
    separates not only two hydro-logical regions, but also areas of distinctive marine life and
    climates. Now we were officially in Antarctica!

    The morning wake up call went out at 7:30 am this morning, with breakfast being served at 8:00 am.  We are supposed to finally see land at some point this afternoon and then have our first landing of the trip at Barrientos Island in the Aitcho Islands Group/South Shetland Islands. This volcanic island is home to Chinstrap and Gentoo penguins.

    Before the landings start, there is going to be a safety briefing on IAATO regulations and on Zodiac operations, going over the process of getting on and off the Zodiacs and then the decontamination process before and after each landing as well.

    The safety talks lasted almost 2 hours but it was nice in that it helped pass the time while we wait to get to shore and off the ship for a bit.  There was lunch at noon and then one more talk about the best ways to carry gear on each landing and what you should and shouldn't do.  I think everyone is just anxious to get off the ship for a while now and to finally get to see some wildlife.  Feels like we've been on the ship for days even though it's only been about 45 hours ... 

    It was finally time to make our first landing of the trip so I headed off to my room to put on a few more layers of clothes.  Not knowing what to expect, I figured I'd play it safe and put on two base layers under a thicker top layer and then my windbreaker / rain coat.  I also put on a smart wool bottom layer under my jeans, followed by a waterproof top layer.  I was instantly too warm on the ship so headed out on to the deck to try to keep cool while waiting to board the Zodiac. 

    The water in the bay was pretty rough and we got hit with a few really big sprays of water on the way too shore. Now I understand the need for a dry bag for the camera gear and the waterproof top layers for out clothing.  It wasn't cold at all on the ride, but when the water hit me in the fact, that was a wee bit chilly. LOL

    As soon as we landed, you could see Penguins on the beach and some had already wandered over just to see all the weird big Penguins on the beach.  LOL  I was surprised to see how little snow there is here and how muddy the ground is. As bad as it smells right now, I'm sure hoping this island isn't made of pure Penguin poo. LOL  This is the nesting season and I can already see Penguins on nests all around.  I think I shot way too many shots on this first stop... just being excited to see all the Penguins so close up.  We got here a bit late so only have an hour to spend taking photos, but it's good to finally be shooting some and to be on solid ground again.  The time went by so fast, but I think I got a few okay shots for my first attempts.

    Chinstrap Penguin
    Gentoo Penguin 
    Gentoo Penguin looking over its shoulder
    Chinstrap Penguin coming right at me to check me out
    Pebble Thieves Get an Earful
    Another Penguin gives up a pebble theft attempt LOL
    Overview of the Penguin Colony
    Another curious Penguin heading my way
    Penguin just getting ready to turn the eggs 
    Another pebble stand-off
    I wasn't sure what this squabble was about but the Chinstrap Penguin seems to be enjoying the show

    We headed back to the ship at our assigned time and then had dinner at 7:30.  After dinner there was an Advanced Lightroom class and most people were looking through all their photos from the island. Everyone seemed really happy and excited by the experience.

    The rest of the night was just spent sharing pictures with each other and talking about the whole experience of watching Penguins building their nests and stealing pebbles from each other. It was a very funny sight to see for sure.
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