Pacific Northwest Signs of Spring

Our time in the Pacific Northwest has been heavy with family and the brand new babies as our previous posts will attest. However we have managed an outing with our old friend and fellow birder Paula Johnson who lives in the area. Paula was kind enough to guide us to a couple of birding hotspots in the region one day this past week. They are the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in southern Washington near the Columbia River and also the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge near Olympia.

We got on the road long before dawn, were blessed with some decent spring weather (read no rain) and were rewarded with some excellent sightings of the areas wildlife feeling the urgings of spring.

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Bald Eagle

 

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Tree Swallows were in abundance on their way north to breed

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Nisqually NWR

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A pair of river otters frolic

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A Pair of Cinnamon Teals

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Newly fledged Bald Eagle watching

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Hooded Merganser pair

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Hooded Merganser pair

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A family of raccoons

Dowitchers yellowlegs

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A pair of Wood Ducks

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A Yellow -rumped warbler migrant just showing up at NIsqually NWR on its way north

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Cinnamon Teal Drake preening

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Red winged Blackbird displaying his colors proudly hoping to attract a mate

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A pair of Northern Shovelers

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Read more.. Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Addendum to Sperm Whale Heaven

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JJK up close and personal with young male sperm whale known to researchers as “Routine”. We nicknamed this fellow “Tonto” because he faithfully surfaced near us on successive days and he had two feather like scratches on his flukes.

Our friend and guide Ted Cheeseman took the above images of us swimming with members of the “R” group as we tracked them on the surface off of Dominica. You too can follow the science conducted by Pernell Francis in cooperation with Dr Shane Gero of The Dominican Sperm Whale Project. Like them on Facebook for current reports

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PSK getting checked out by a female calf.

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Brown boobies

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Our friend – “Tonto”

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Spotted Dolphins off the bow. Amazing!

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Blue-headed Hummingbird

The Blue-headed Hummingbird is a species of hummingbird in the Trochilidae family. It is found only in Dominica and Martinique. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and heavily degraded former forest. JJK_1441JJK_1462

Read more.. Friday, April 18th, 2014

Through the Looking Glass

JJK_4459JJK_4471 Spring is in the air in the Pacific Northwest of North America and one may enjoy the cherry blossoms and early azaleas as they bloom heralding the increase in sunlight. New life is popping up everywhere. We arrived here in Seattle after only a brief stop at our home on Cape Cod to change our laundry after two weeks in the Arctic, anxious to witness the birth of the new little Kings and we were just in time.Moon & Mia

It has now been a week since we transitioned into that sacred nether world of grandparent-hood. This report will be an honest attempt to account for the change to those of you who have followed this blog over the past several years especially but please be forewarned. Words will be insufficient to cover the topic accurately….but bear with us. To set this up one might refer back to our visit to Peru in  June 2013 which chronicles our unexpected experience in near Machu Picchu in the Sacred Valley…see our post regarding Mother Earth in December 2013 http://blog.commonflat.com/2013/12/12/peru-high-up-with-mother-earth/. We were blessed with the news that both of our children were expecting their own children…. and on the same day! Nine months went by while we processed this news and imagined a new world. Since we spend a great of time traveling to far away wild places the  time passed quickly.

Imagine our joy as we returned to Seattle several days after both mothers’ planned due date to find them both still heavy with child. A week of walks and waiting ensued before our grandchildren decided it was time to come out. And of course life will never be the same…..for any of us. WP_20140401_003 copy

IMG_2663 Karina#2smallMoon and Baby KarinaAngelsmallBaby Karina #3WP_20140405_017Mia and AJ

Baby boy Angel Joseph came into the world on April 5 at the civilized time of 2049 hrs. and Little girl Karina Dolly arrived 4 days later on April 9 at 1255hrs in the early morning. These little star cousins begin life living just a few miles from each other with the promise of growing up together amongst the adventurous King clan stationed in Seattle. Life is good.

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Angel Joseph “AJ” Mlekarov with Momma Mia

 

Baby Karina aged 8 days

Karina Dolly King aged 8 days

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Pami & AJ age 2 weeks

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Pops & Pami with the newborns

 

Read more.. Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Polar Migrations

The Barents Sea region well north of the Arctic Circle encompasses territory from Russia, Norway, Sweden and Finland. The area is uniquely wild and is home to one of the last truly nomadic herding cultures on earth, the reindeer herding Sami people.

We had an opportunity to travel to the Norwegian region of Finnmark in Norway’s far north to observe this remarkable landscape first hand in the waning days of winter. Gearing up for an expedition like this meant shifting to our cold weather kit. After three weeks in the Caribbean swimming with whales this presented some challenges.  The temperatures were cold with averages during the day of – 10 degrees C and as low as -30 degrees C at night. One of the most beautiful spectacles in nature, the aurora borealis or “northern lights”, are often visible at this latitude on cold clear evenings. We ventured out a few evenings and braved the cold to witness this. During this expedition we also explored the rocky, treeless coast and ventured far into the frozen river system that separates Norway from Russia in the land of brown bear and wolverine. We traveled by snowshoe, snow mobile and dog sled into the birch forest areas where reindeer graze for the winter before they make a spring migration back to the coast – a trip they have been making for thousands of years with the indigenous Sami people. The people were warm and welcoming and the landscapes were dramatic as you can see. In another post we will report more about the region’s political organization formerly known as Lapland and now known as Samiland.

Here are a few images recorded along the way. We have included a few examples of artwork by indigenous artists we found in special places on our journey to help tell the story. Huge thanks go to Kevin Clement of Zegrahm Expeditions who lead our trip and also to Kaare Tannvik, our mentor and guide for this journey. They lead us back in time into places that most people will never see. And our traveling companions from South Africa and the USA were wonderful to be with for this extraordinary adventure.

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Steller’s Eider Drake

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Long tailed duck drake

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Magnificent King Eiders in flight

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A Painting by Nils-Aslak Valkeapaa

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Read more.. Saturday, March 29th, 2014

In the Cathedral of North Atlantic Humpbacks

Thinking of these magnificent creatures making their way on the long journey from summer feeding grounds some females heavy with calves makes a visit to the Silver Bank off the north coast of the Dominican Republic very special. This was our third trip to be with Tom Conlin and his brilliant crew of Aquatic Adventures on the Silver Bank. Weather conditions on the Bank had been a little breezy with the afternoon trade winds blowing up to 25 kts for a few days presenting some cloudy underwater conditions for many locations but the interactions were absolutely remarkable. For months we have been training to increase wind and build flexibility to be lithe and supple in the water and to be able to stay underwater for longer periods while being a passive observer of the delicate mother and calf bonding and feeding activity.

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Tom Conlin got this magical image of JJK while the youngster nursed by its mother. All rights reserved – Tom Conlin

 

11 year old Estela was impressed with the young calf and “nicknamed” her Racci

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Check out the blog post prepared by Lisa LaPointe of Aquatic Adventures describing our week with them.

http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Aquatic-Adventures–Whale-Tales-S24-W6—Updated-weekly-from-the-Silver-Bank-.html?soid=1107080557940&aid=NyEpvrHwW4w

Read more.. Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Sperm Whale Heaven

_JJK0003Once again we were fortunate to travel to the island of Dominica to observe the population of sperm whales that inhabit the waters surrounding the island. This expedition was organized by Ted Cheeseman of Cheeseman’s Ecological Safaris and was conducted under a special permit from the Dominican government. Over the nine days we spent on the island we were extremely fortunate to witness some incredible interactions with these whales including the seldom seen entry of a large bull sperm whale into the area which made for some terrific observations of social behavior among the females. We were also treated to sightings of Spotted dolphins and Fraser’s dolphins and many seabirds._JJK0062_JJK0011_JJK9401_JJK9648_JJK9750_JJK9899_JJK9910JJK_1093JJK_1479

Read more.. Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Winter

We are still sifting through the images and savoring the experience of our recent trek down Sandy Neck here on a frozen Cape Cod but this has not stopped us from continuing to get outside in the frigid but beautiful winter landscapes here to find the wild things. The weather is forecast to change and warmer temperatures with lots of rain and wind are expected shortly….so we thought we would post some of the images we have recorded in the past week including a host of beautiful raptors and some uncommon waterfowl. We also have had a few additional snowy owl encounters and a sighting of a White Fronted Goose among the Canada Geese on a local golf course.

This will likely be our last report for awhile as we head south to Caribbean waters to be with our friends the Sperm whales of Dominica and the Humpback whales of the Silver Bank near the Dominican Republic. Check back for these reports in a few weeks.

White fronted goose (right) - A rare Cape Cod visitor

Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge - Chatham

Snowy Owl in flight

North Chatham overlooking Tern Island toward the Outer Beach

Northern Harrier in flight - Fort Hill, Eastham

Great Blue Heron in flight - Fort Hill

Northern Shoveler (male)

Northern Harrier

Hooded Mergansers in flight - Eastham

Fort Hill view of Nauset Beach

Hooded Mergansers in flight

White fronted goose in flight (left)

Peregrine Falcon overlooks the frozen turf at Eastward Ho!- Chatham

Red Tailed Hawk - Chatham

Surf Scoter - Morris Island, Chatham

Common Goldeneye - Morris Island, Chatham

Read more.. Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

In the Kingdom of the Snowy Owl

Our winter explorations of the wilderness areas of Cape Cod were taken to a new level this past week. Working with expert tracker and Cape Cod Naturalist Todd Kelley we embarked on an epic hike out on to a wintery and frozen Sandy Neck with the goal of walking all the way to the point and returning. Walking along the frozen edges of Barnstable marsh and into the beautiful maritime forests of red cedar, pine and even a few wild holly trees interspersed with the  tundra-like feel of desolation and dunes was an awesome backdrop to search for the magnificent snowy owls that have been reported over the pat 50 days out there. The frigid temps on this day did not deter  the Neck’s predator population of raptors from scouring the snow and ice for rodents and small birds. Amazingly we had 7 separate snowy owl sightings (probably three different birds), and also had great views of red tailed hawk, merlin, northern harrier, sharp shinned hawk and even a short eared owl! Our days walk covered an exhausting 17 miles and was made even more challenging as we had to break our own trail through 5 – 7 inches of crusty snow on top of the frozen sand. Absolutely a day of “mindblowing” wonder…and after a few days of recovery the day will go down as one of the best we have ever experienced on Cape Cod at any time of year. See what you think. A few images follow.

Female merlin

At the point

The Point....at the half way mark. Lovin' it!

Incredible look at the amount of insulation in feathers that these owls possess.

Short eared owl in flight

Northern Harrier hunts the dunes (a female)

Down the home stretch

Short eared owl perched in the distance

Read more.. Sunday, February 9th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Winter

One of the benefits of the continuous storm track we have seen on Cape Cod this winter is the incredible “post storm” landscapes that are left once the snow stops and the system’s move up into the Canadian Maritime Provinces. One needs to bundle up but the results are worth it. In particular the magnificent snowy owl has been easier to find and shoot! Check out our latest images here.

Morris Island, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, Chatham

Morris Island, Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, Chatham

Read more.. Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Winter

Brandt Geese forage on seaweed at the shore's edge

A pair of Hooded mergansers

The magnificent Snowy Owl. A juvenile

Young Red Tailed Hawk a bit annoyed by my interest in its meal

Mouth of the Swan River at dusk

West Dennis Beach

Near the mouth of Bass River

Red Breatested mergansers (3 females) with Hooded merganser pair

Perseverance has finally paid off in our quest to find the snowy owl and capture some images. There are still reliable reports of these beauties hunting on Sandy Neck (2), West Dennis Beach, Gray’s Beach, Nauset Beach, Coast Guard Beach in Eastham, High Head (2), Race Point, and the West End dunes in Provincetown (2). We finally caught up with this fellow late one afternoon at West Dennis Beach. For those who don’t know West Dennis Beach lies at the southern terminus of Bass River as it empties into Nantucket Sound, is easily accessible and offers an impressive winter landscape right now. In addition to the snowy owl we also found some other natural happenings including a young Red Tailed hawk who appeared to be devouring a small waterfowl, some hooded mergansers and of course Brandt geese and juvenile Herring gulls seemingly impervious to the winter chill. On this winter day the temperature was mighty cold and we had to take special care with the cameras. Air temp was approximately 10 degrees F and with windchill (SW winds of 15 kts) the temp felt like minus 10 degrees F (that is -23 degrees C)! Have not felt those temps since we returned from the Himalayas!

Read more.. Sunday, February 2nd, 2014