Tag

ocean

Our Journey, Photography

The Oregon Coast

The Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast

Brookings is a sleepy little town that stretches along US 101 with a few small off shoots that lead to the shoreline. The true gem of this town, for us at least, was that just five minutes outside of town was a scenic highway with gorgeous sea stacks. Compared to the east coast, where such sights are rare, these jagged rock islands, dotted with occasional trees, are quite impressive. We also enjoyed the intensity of the ocean here. In Virginia, the waves are much tamer and you typically only see comparably sized waves when hurricanes approach. Here however, it was just another day at the beach.

Despite the fortune of being so close to so many places to shoot, we quickly learned that it was not going to be as easy as we thought. While most of the sea stacks were visible at odd angles here and there along the twisting highway, they were nearly inaccessible by foot. This was due to the fact that the highway ran alongside steep cliffs that were covered in an overgrowth of ferns and dense brush. Once you made your way through the brush you were faced with the decision of whether it was worth it to slide down the nearly 90 degree angled muddy embankment to the beach itself. Having spent the past several weeks seeing firsthand the number of mudslides that had damaged the area, we decided that was probably not the best plan and made due with what we could access with reasonable safety.

One of the places that we found to be fairly easy to consistently get to was called Whales Head Beach. Here we found numerous large boulders that were surrounded by shallow tidal pools which, as the sun set, made for beautiful reflections. Despite being aware of the tide tables, there were occasionally rather defiant waves that swept much further up the beach than predictable. One such wave left me quite soaked as the wave crashed into the rock I was standing on before I could make a run for it. We both got a good laugh out of it but I learned my lesson after that incident and kept to higher ground.

Consistently, the biggest problem we faced was the erratic weather along the coast. Every day it would call for rain but it was 50/50 as to whether it would actually amount to anything. On some days you would find thick, dense clouds that would make their way along the coastline, dumping rain continuously as they blew through, and then would suddenly give way to brilliant blue skies. Other days it would do nothing but pour all day long. Needless to say, it made things a bit more challenging.

On one afternoon we decided that the weather looked fairly promising and thought that we would go capture some drone footage of the area. We drove down to a viewpoint with a high angle of visibility for tracking. I will say, that when DJI makes a product, they do an excellent job of it. We flew the drone along the coastline and had the controller suddenly give out on us. We couldn’t see any visual from the drones camera, only the distance away and elevation. We tried desperately to find out where the drone had gone, but to no avail. A passing cloud of rain began pelting us with large rain drops and we feared that after so many adventures with it, we had finally lost our drone. Just when we had started to give up hope, we began to hear a recurring beep that let us know the home function was kicking in as the battery was about to die. I scanned the skies, squinting to try and keep from getting rain in my eyes as I quickly became soaked. Several minutes later and the buzzing of the drones rotors soon became loud and the drone made a delicate landing right back where we had first taken off. We hastily packed it back up and went back to the RV. When we finally got a chance to look at the footage, we were startled to find that the drone had gone from along the coastline directly into the thick forest nearby. By some miracle it had barely avoided hitting trees all around it and had made its way back to us.

At the end of the week, we packed up our things and headed further up the coast to the even smaller town of Bandon. The area is well known to photographers for such rock formations as Face Rock, the Wizard’s Hat and the Cat and Kitten’s Rock. Once we had setup camp we headed down to the state beach area and began to scout ideal locations to shoot from. Along the rocky cliffs you can find small caves worn into the stone as well as countless arches and spires. Just a few hundred feet out into the waves were dozens of jagged sea stacks that the waves hammered on furiously. Compared to the rest of the area which looked rather calm, this area seemed to be teeming with activity and waves. In addition to the choppy seas, there were also a few springs of water that ran off from the cliffs and into the sea. If you stood long enough in the path of these tiny streams your feet would slowly be swallowed up. One of the most appealing characteristics of the area was the amount of light that was reflected back from where these streams met the ocean. Coupled with the golden light of sunset and a set of filters made Brandon quite transfixed with getting as many shots as he could. We were warned though, that minding the tide was crucial throughout the area, as the tide comes in fast, and people have been trapped, and even drowned being caught up in the tides and washed away by “sneaker waves”. It became my task to ensure that while he was focusing on the camera that I give warning whenever the waves got too high. All in all, the first evening we were there we were treated with one of the most intense sunsets of the trip so far.

One afternoon while Brandon was working, I went to visit the nearby West Coast Game Park Safari. It was a small area that had a variety of large cats, wandering deer, goats, sheep, and peacocks. I had the amazing opportunity to pet several of the hand raised creatures during their exhibits. Despite this unique experience, I felt a great sadness here. In my opinion, the cages were much too small for many of the animals. Three foxes were in a cage together and two of them were fighting one another. In the cages with the big cats they were either pacing or just sleeping. They didn’t really have much to stimulate them other than the families calling out and making meowing sounds. When the staff were around customers they were smiling and friendly, but once they alone they looked rather more annoyed at being there. They had two chimps which were frequently disrupted by families harassing them and making them agitated. When I asked a worker about it he said it was fine, but it seemed abundantly clear to me that they were upset. The two snow leopards they had were beautiful, but also were often seen mating, much to the females annoyance. It made me wonder if they were keeping them together to try and promote them to breed in captivity. If you are interested in a chance to pet a lynx or bobcat, it’s a good place to accomplish that, but for those who are generally don’t enjoy the atmosphere of a zoo, I would recommend avoiding it.

Later in the week we decided to visit an area to the north of us known as Cape Arago that boasted a now inaccessible lighthouse. What had once been a part of an outcrop of land where the lighthouse was built, had become an island due to erosion and lack of maintenance. The lighthouse itself was used until 2006 upon which it was decommissioned and as of 2008 was turned over to the Coos tribe which historically had used the site as a burial ground. Despite being more than a mile away, we were still able to fly the drone over to the island to get a better look at the lighthouse. Video coming soon. Afterwards, we visited Simpson Reef which is a known pull out for a large population of sea lions and seals. The tide was high and only a few places had room for the creatures to find land but there were hundreds of them basking in the last light of the day. A local who had also come out to watch the wildlife informed us that if we were really luck, we might catch sight of a female humpback and her calf that often frequented the area. We were not so lucky but we enjoyed a nice chat before we moved on and made our way back to the RV.

The rest of the week was mostly spent indoors as the rain had picked up again. One night we got lucky and were able to get some additional shots from the beach but otherwise that was about as much luck as we could warrant. As the week concluded it was time to head back towards a big city so Brandon could return back to D.C. for a couple of weeks for work. In the meantime, I will be holding down the fort in Silverton.

Also, as an added bonus this week, we have included a link to drone footage taken near Brookings!

Our Journey, Photography

Last Days in California

Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California
Last Days in California

The week went by rather quickly due to a busy work schedule and the numerous outings to watch the sea otters in the evenings. On Thursday, we were able to join the The Sea Goddess Whale Watching Tour and based on the past few days it looked like sightings were plentiful. After a late start getting on the road, we hurried over to Elkhorn Slough Harbor to catch the boat. They had clear rules stating they wouldn’t wait and would leave without you and we didn’t want to be those people. We quickly grabbed our tickets and scurried to the boat just as they were closing up. Only a minute or so after we got on, they began to push off and before long we were out of the harbor and out to sea. With luck, we almost immediately spotted a pair of humpback whales hunting just outside the harbor and rather close to the shore. Our captain was extremely adept at knowing where the whales would pop up next and successfully maneuvered the ship to give us the optimal views of them as they came to the surface, blowing spouts of water high into the air. For all their size, the whales were noticeably graceful creatures. They would come to the surface, take a few deep breaths, lift their tails in a fluke and dive back downwards to hunt for more food. The only trace left behind were small motionless wakes called fluke prints that were created by their massive size. We followed them for a good hour before the captain decided to do a quick exploration further out.

We made a wide sweeping arc across the Monterey Canyon hoping to scout additional whales but with limited luck. Despite the fact there was another ship following a pod of Orcas three miles out, the likelihood of getting there in time was minimal. The Sea Goddess’ speed couldn’t compare to that of an Orca, and we wouldn’t be able to catchup to them. As the sun came out we noticed thousands of Moon Jellies just beneath the surface as well as large schools of anchovies that glittered and shimmered as they swirled past. After some time, the captain decided it was best to turn back and stick with the two humpbacks discovered earlier.

As we neared the whales again, we noticed countless splashes around the whales. Very much like a pack of dogs, sea lions were moving in a large group along the surface and diving down in a synchronized routine as they hunted with the humpbacks. When they burst up to the surface again, it almost always meant that the whales were not far behind. The sea lions traced the movements of the whales which made easy pickings of the anchovies that the whales missed. This clearly proved to be a much easier method of hunting than trying to chase the schools themselves.
Every now and then, the Humpbacks would decide to stay at the surface a bit longer, turning on their sides and raising their fins up out of the water, as a dancer raises their arms in a slow circular arc, before turning and bringing it back down. A friendly wave of sorts to show off for the boat of onlookers. They had no fear of the boat, at one point swimming directly beneath it making everyone aboard seem to run from one end to the next in hopes of catching a closer glimpse of these gentle aquatic giants. Before long, the captain informed us that our tour was over and after watching them surface one last time, we made our way back to the harbor as the humpbacks turned and made their way further out to sea. Even if the tour was three hours long, it didn’t feel like long enough and I sorely wished that we could dedicate a full day to watching these beautiful water dancers.

The next day was our last in the area and due to the rainy weather we decided to spend the evening visiting the Monterey. When we arrived, the downtown area was packed with people hustling about in the drizzle. We made our way down the main street to the aquarium where we found numerous families enjoying their afternoon. Children squealed in delight as a scuba diver fed the multitude of fish and sharks behind one of the larger tanks simulating a kelp forest. The whole aquarium seemed to be geared towards getting younger children involved and interested in marine wildlife. One of my favorite parts was a section that had a variety of tanks full of jellyfish that were floating about, a slight current created to give them movement as they moved in everlasting circles. As much as they terrify and scare me, I can’t help but find them fascinating and beautiful in their own way. Although the whole aquarium is lovely, it seemed like it was had far more to do for kids than adults.

While we were sad to depart California, it was time for us to continue our journey ever northward. The drive from Moss Landing to Bandon Beach was something like out of a dream. When I was younger, I used to imagine rainforests to be a bit like what you see in the Jurassic Park movies. Rich ferns in the undergrowth of moss covered logs, mist seeming to float about between ancient trees. More so than anywhere else I have visited, the coast of northern California and Oregon fulfilled these picturesque imaginings. As we moved further north, we drove through what exists of the remaining stands of coastal redwood trees. Many of which were draped in thick moss and the ground surrounding them was covered a mix of gnarled roots and branches. Eventually, the trees gave way to coastal vistas and the rugged coastline. Waves smashed against giant sea stacks as we passed by craggy beaches littered with countless bleached logs. While it was a simple drive, it was definitely one of the better ones for scenery. When we arrived, the sky was overcast with seemingly ever present clouds to account for the moisture that gave so much life to the forests nearby. We will be spending the next few weeks working our way up the Oregon coast and enjoying the coastal life for a bit.

Our Journey, Photography

Big Sur & Sea Otters

Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters

The drive from Yosemite to Moss Landing was rather long and simple. It was mostly on the same road all the way until the exit where our campground was located. The KOA we stayed at was large but provided easy access to the highway with a couple of small shopping centers nearby. We also were not far from the Moss Landing State Beach, which made day trips out to see the wildlife extremely easy.

Once we had settled in, we took some time to go down to Moss Landing State Beach, and right from the start you could see a raft of sea otters floating about on their backs just by the entrance to Elkhorn Slough. They were absolutely fascinating, flipping about in the water, twirling with stunning grace and dexterity. They would move about easily with a small kick of their webbed feet as they floated on their backs. Some of them would come together and join hands, settling down to grab a quick nap and floating on the gentle tide. Seals were basking on the sand not far from a small marina, quietly sleeping for the most part, but a few were occasionally swimming about not far from the sea otters. They would stick their heads out for a look and make a wailing sound before diving back into the waters. This became our favorite place to haunt and watch the wildlife. Going down to the rocks at an outcrop, you could see thousands of tiny jellyfish bobbing about as the waves moved them. You could also sometimes find massive starfish clinging to the rocks, bigger than your hand, bright red and purple hues surrounded by a tiny army of jellyfish tendrils and pieces of loose kelp. That evening while watching the otters we met another photographer who was also out attempting to capture images of the playful creatures. He gave us a some information about local areas we should check out as well as discussing great places around the world for landscape and wildlife photography. He also informed us of a couple worthwhile tours in the area to increase the odds of seeing wildlife.

The next day after work, we decided to take an excursion along the coast just south of Monterey. The long, winding road over-looking the coastline of Big Sur is a wonderful day drive. It seems as though there are continuous magical views around each and every corner. Sometimes it’s lush pastoral hills rolling towards the ever moving sea, sometimes jagged and harrowing cliff faces with waves crashing against them. It’s a slow, meandering drive but it is varied enough to make it seem like it goes by quite quickly. We made our way down the coast in hopes of reaching McWay Falls while racing the sun looming on the horizon. We took a few stops along the way to admire the bridges that had been built where the land had been eroded away by water and time. Here and there you would spot recent evidence of the rock and mudslides that have caused so many problems of late.

When we finally arrived at McWay Falls, we were sad to see it had also been impacted by the weather. Although the waterfall cascading into the sea inside the little cove was incredible, it was far beyond our reach. Due to a series of landslides, the pathways and boardwalks that had been built to give people a complete view of the falls were blocked off by a fence. Streams of tape proclaiming “CAUTION” fluttered in the breeze and criss crossed over the area where the ground had heaved downwards toward the sea and began pushing the structure away from the base. The only paths that looked even remotely viable for a better vantage point, also looked extremely dangerous and likely would have caused further damage to the site. In the past, people have died trying to reach that picturesque beach with the waterfall, and we had no intention of meeting a similar fate. Footprints on the beach and a peace sign made of rock down below seemed to taunt us of the fact that others had been able to make the journey down, probably before the landslide, but we would not be so lucky.

When we had first pulled up to the view point, a young woman also out to shoot the sunset informed us that the trail we were looking for had been blocked off by fences for restoration areas. She had a rich accent of a Londoner, and we chatted about British humor and traveling. She informed me that she was a bit anxious, as she had hitch hiked her way to the location, and was not sure if she would be able to find a ride home. When we finished our photos she was still there and we gladly offered her a ride. It was getting dark, and we didn’t want her to be stranded along the road trying to find a ride back. As we rode along in the truck she told us a bit more about herself. She was a travel photographer based out of Singapore but had grown up in London, she didn’t like driving, so she hitch hiked almost exclusively. We chatted about places we had both been to, places we recommended, and throughly enjoyed her company.

I was a bit sad to say goodbye when we dropped her off at her hotel, but glad she had made it back safely and we had ample room in our truck to give her a ride back. It reminded me vividly of the couple we had picked up in Grand Staircase Escalante, so desperate for help they had considered riding on the roof of the Jeep we had rented just to get back to their car and out of the heat of the desert. We had squashed into the Jeep and the poor woman half sat in my lap as we jostled about in the cramped space. If we had had our truck back then, it would have been a much more comfortable experience for all parties, but I wouldn’t have turned them away either way. Before we began traveling I never really considered picking up a hitch hiker. Too many horror stories of people slitting your throat after asking for a ride, always being told never to pick someone up from the side of the road. Now that we travel more, I’ve come to appreciate that sometimes it’s ok to take a small risk to help people, particularly in cases where it could mean life or death for those stranded.

A couple days later we were able to arrange a tour of the Elkhorn Slough by boat. The boat was an open topped pontoon, bench covered, and flat, making it ideal for being able to see everything around. A phone call to the owners of Elkhorn Slough Safari and Brandon found out that they had a special seat in the very back for photographers. It gave him the ability to stand up whenever he wished to get shots from either side of the craft. The Captain was a good spirited man who loved to make jokes. Our two naturalists who were on board were knowledgable, and helped create fun activities for the children on board while imparting their information.

As soon as we set out we saw an abundance of sea lions stacked on top of one another like an unceremonious dog-pile upon anything they were able to reach that floated in the Harbor. Some were rather small, which we were told were mostly the females which comprised the harems of the males. The few males we did see however, were massive. Glittering sleek fur, rounded domed heads, hulking bodies, and loud cries that showed rows of large and sharp teeth. A scuffle would churn up the piles of sea lions every now and then and would raise into loud, guttural growls and barks before one of them was driven off their perch and into the water. Very quickly the rest would re-settle into their piles and sleep again. Some of them swam in the water of the harbor, not at all disturbed by the presence of the boat.

Leaving the narrower part of the harbor, the amount of sea lions petered off and a stench immediately smacked into your face from the blowing wind. On abandoned pylons of a once destroyed old pier, were nests holding Brandt’s cormorants. It was the middle of breeding season and dozens of nests holding females were to be found on the tops of every pole. We were told that the smell was because the nests primary building component was actually their poop. It made for a very fishy, pungent aroma. The males were finding materials by diving into the waters and pulling up chunks of kelp to present to their mates. If the female approved, she would take his building material and add it to the nest. The male would puff up his throat, a vibrant teal blue patch just under his beak, and show his pride at having brought back his prize for her and providing for their future offspring. Brandt’s cormorants are not the most consciences birds though, as a good majority of the material found in the nest is found to have been stolen from neighboring nests. The males seemed almost to pose for the camera as they puffed up and preened themselves readily and eagerly at their audience.

Once we had drifted past the pylons, the naturalists pointed out the group of sea otters we had been photographing and visiting over the past few days and gave us some more information about them. The raft we had been observing was apparently known as the Bachelor Raft, consisting almost entirely of males. As we passed under the bridge into Elkhorn Slough proper, we were greeted by the sight of female sea otters tending to tiny fuzzy balls of fur that were their pups. The pups we were told, are rather helpless until they get to be older. Their fur is so buoyant when they are young, that the only thing they can do is float, they can’t swim, or dive beneath the water, leaving them rather helpless without their mother. Their mother will drag them along trying to teach them to swim, how to tend their fur, grooming and caring for their fur till they can do it themselves, and feed them. More often than not the baby sits upon its mothers belly as she swims about on her back. When the mother leaves them to hunt, they make tiny wailing cries which we heard to a round sound of “Aww” and happy squeals from the onlookers. The naturalists said that because of this they call them “wailers” as they float about, sometimes wrapped up in kelp so mother can find them again. The males do not take part in raising the pups, instead they will actually ‘kidnap’ a pup, holding it ransom until mother returns, and only give the pup back if she will give up whatever food she has hunted for. The mothers we saw were never far from their pups, and would hold them tightly as we passed by. One mother was struggling with an older pup who had learned to swim and would rather play then pay attention to anything else, much to the mothers agitation from what we could see as she struggled to keep herself above water between her offsprings pounces.

As our journey took us further inland the shore became dotted with numerous seals. We learned that the reason there were such large seals was because it was time for the female seals to give birth, and so they would swim into the safer waters of Elkhorn Slough to give birth. We saw a few of the swollen mothers basking on the shore for a rest as well as a few that had already given birth. Their pups were small, fuzzy, wrinkled, and pudgy little things. We had the luck to see one suckling milk from their mother as we passed by. The mother watched us closely but made no move as it might disturb the feeding pup, and we kept a safe distance so as not to upset them.

Towards the end of the journey they had a few more activities for the kids, cookies, hot chocolate and coffee as we headed back towards the marina. The naturalists pointing out birds and a restoration project to help replace land that had been washed away by erosion to make sure the wildlife would continue to have a safe spot to breed and raise pups. Overall it was an extremely pleasant tour and I would highly recommend it to anyone who goes out that way looking for a chance to get up close shots of the wildlife.

Later in the week we will be participating in a whale tour before heading up to San Francisco and eventually to the Oregon coast.

Photography

Chamonix & Manarola

Chamonix & Manarola
Chamonix & Manarola
Chamonix & Manarola
Chamonix & Manarola
Chamonix & Manarola
Chamonix & Manarola
Chamonix & Manarola
Chamonix & Manarola

Finally getting around to going through photos from our trip in Europe last year. Here’s a batch from Chamonix, France and Manarola, Italy.

Our Journey, Photography

Tybee Island

Tybee Island
Tybee Island
Tybee Island
Tybee Island
Tybee Island
Tybee Island
Tybee Island

Here are a few long exposure shots we took at Tybee Island pier yesterday morning. Also included a few stills from the drone footage of the Cockspur Island lighthouse. Very surprised that the osprey on the lighthouse was patient enough to let us fly around it without being bothered.