Finding the Last Dragons: Great Whites in South Australia

Apologies to those of you who regularly check in on this blog. We have been remiss in posting for many weeks. Lots to catch up on. For most of the last few months we were exploring some of the wilder and remote parts of Australia by car, ship and plane in their autumn. In total we were among the wonderful Aussies for about six weeks. Because the experience is fresh and now back on Cape Cod will post some impressions of our last stop in South Australia at small but prosperous fishing village called Port Lincoln. This town of less than 15,000 boasts one of the most successful fishing fleets in all of Australia targeting such high value species like blue fin tuna, yellowtail kingfish, abalone, mussels, oysters and experimental farming in seahorses and spiny lobsters. It is also the jumping off point to the Neptune Islands  a few rocky islets about 15 miles off the coast a seasonal home to a population of New Zealand fur seals and for much of the year, feeding great white sharks. We teamed up with the people at Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions for an eight day expedition aboard their live aboard dive boat the Princess II to attempt to find and photograph great whites from the relative safety of a cage at the ocean floor. Owner and fellow shark conservationist Andrew Fox led the expedition and has been diving in these waters for over thirty five years together with his father, Rodney Fox.

Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 9.05.12 AM

Together Rodney and Andrew have more experience observing white sharks underwater than anyone else in the world. Rodney was featured in the legendary documentary Blue Water, White Death made by Peter Gimbel and others in 1971. Andrew is active in white shark research projects in Australia and a renown underwater photographer. The Neptune Islands are the only location in all of Australia where cage diving and related chumming is allowed. A strict code of conduct is in force and only two operators have permits. Fox, however has a unique permit which allows he an his clients to plunge a cage down 60 – 70+ feet to the bottom to observe a habitat of sand, kelp and rock formations where white sharks often forage on abundant resident sting rays. This is the only place in the world where one can see white sharks at significant bottom depths and we were keen to try it. Weather conditions in the late fall are often a challenge and we climbed on board the Princess II just after a major storm had passed through leaving behind significant ocean swell and some turbidity making excellent photography a challenge bt nothing could have prepared us for the kind of action we were to experience among these massive predators who Andrew Fox calls – the earth’s last dragons. In 7 1/2 days among the islands we made 15 dives to the bottom in freezing a** cold water (about 50 degrees F) in wetsuits. Each dive lasting about 45 – 50 minutes depending on depth and conditions. What we witnessed was absolutely incredible. Heart stopping action watching the earth’s last dragons in their winter lairs Down Under.

Neptune Is 5 meter female (1)

This massive female (below) was estimated to be over 5 meters in length and weigh in excess of 3,000 lbs.

Neptune Islands45

Neptune Islands44

This 14 foot male (1300 lbs) below, was one of several very aggressive sharks that resolutely tried to invade our cage through openings that were too small for them and caused us to keep the sliding doors for photography closed during this dive. We literally had three sharks with their heads in the cage all at once! Adrenalin was flowing.

Neptune Islands30

Neptune Islands37

Neptune Islands39

Neptune Islands23

 

Neptune Islands24

Neptune Islands40

Neptune Islands29

Neptune Islands36

12 O’clock high..This fellow came in hard and with my spotter’s help just barely able to turn him away with a push from my camera dome. Yikes!

Neptune Islands15

Strobes failed to fire but you get the idea. ….Camera door open.

After several days one of the very large females that sometime visit the area at this time of year made an appearance at the bottom. At 65 feet she boldly approached the cage at the top lodging herself between the bridle harnessing the cage to the surface and the roof of the cage. Unable to move forward this behemoth started to thrash its body violently in an attempt to back out of her predicament. In the process she tossed the cage with four of us inside in scuba with the force of a centrifuge turning the cage completely on one side then the other  side causing us to divers to pile up inside like cord wood in tanks.. A truly scary moment. The shark eventually freed herself and swam away only to return to investigate the bait we were carrying inside. Once we returned to the surface we realized that the cage’s emergency assent tank had been damaged in the process by the shark’s violence and had our surface cable severed we would have been in very deep doo doo.

Neptune Islands

Neptune Islands12

Baby fur seals barely 4 moths old and just learning to swim are the main attraction for the sharks at this time of year.

Neptune Islands13

Neptune Islands21

WP_20150522_006

Neptune Islands43

Neptune Islands5

Some incredible looks at seabirds including this Black browed Albatross.

Neptune Islands32

Neptune Islands33

Neptune Islands42

Neptune Islands35

Neptune Islands26

Port Lincoln

Neptune Is cage (1)

Neptune Islands41

Heading down to the bottom.

Neptune Is cage

Neptune Is cage (2)

Dramatic setting sun as we headed in after an amazing week. Wow!

Neptune Islands47

 

 

 

 

Read more.. Sunday, June 7th, 2015

Djibouti & the Horn of Africa

Continuing our 9 week African odyssey in East Africa we had the opportunity to explore Djibouti with our great friends and amazing wildlife guides Jonathan Rossouw and Giovanna Fasanelli. Of course we took it! You never know what you might see unless you try and man were we surprised by the dramatic contrasts and beauty of this somewhat forgotten corner of the African continent. Unique and wonderful wildlife and culture were in store for us….and no pirates!

Whale Shark

 

From Wikipedia, “Djibouti is strategically located near the world’s busiest shipping lanes, controlling access to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. It serves as a key refueling and transshipment center, and is the principal maritime port for imports to and exports from neighboring Ethiopia. A burgeoning commercial hub, the nation is the site of various foreign military bases, including Camp Lemonniera, a United States Naval Expeditionary Base. Djibouti is situated in the Horn of Africa on the Gulf of Aden and the Bab-el Mandeb at the southern entrance to the Red Sea. It lies between latitudes 10° and 13°N, and longitudes 41° and 44°E. The country’s coastline stretches 195 miles, with terrain consisting mainly of plateau, plains and highlands.”

Our main objective in visiting was to locate and photograph the seasonal visit of whale sharks. As you will see – we were very fortunate to get some good looks in beautifully clear water thanks to folks at Dolphin Diving Services, Djibouti City. .Another memory was etched in our brains as we trekked in a 4×4 Toyota pick up truck for some five hour into the desert wastes in search of Lake Abba. Near sunset we finally reached our destination among the volcanic fumaroles and parched rocky landscape. The light and the landscape images were breathtaking. And we also came upon some herders tending mostly goats who moved slowly in the searing late afternoon heat. It was unclear where these shepherds would be spending the night. We were dozens of miles off of the main road.

Lastly we visited  Lake Assal which is located in the middle of Djibouti, in a closed depression at the northern end of the Great Rift Valley. Situated in the Danakil Desert, it is bounded by hills on the western region. The lake lies at an altitude of 155 m (509 ft) below sea level, making it the lowest point of Africa. The lake is characterized by two parts. The dry part of the lake, resulting from evaporation of the lake waters, is a white plain dry lake bed on the west/northwest side, which is a large expanse of salt (now being mined by a Chinese company). The second part is the highly saline water body.  The watershed area of the lake is 350 sq miles. Floating in the lake was exhilarating as it was impossible not stay high in the water like a cork though when we got out we were caked in salt which we were desperate to wash off. 

Enjoy these images of a relatively unknown country on Africa’s horn and the fringe of rich, warm tropical waters with excellent scuba diving, in close proximity to Somali pirates but western military might. Djibouti is safe and definitely worth a visit.

Eastward Ho talk (3)

 Lake Abbe

JJK_7857

Djibouti (5)

IMG_4436

JJK_7838

Eastward Ho talk (100)

Whale Sharks (5)

Whale Shark #3

Whale Shark, Djibouti (1)

Eastward Ho talk (109)

Whale Shark Djibouti

Whale Shark 4

IMG_4495

IMG_4665

Floating in Lake Assal, the saltiest body of water in Africa and the lowest at -150 meters below sea level.

JJK_7711

Djibouti (5)

EAfrica

JJK_7644

JJK_8083

Djibouti (1)

Sand Grouse Djibouti

Djibouti (2)

Eastward Ho talk (103)

Greater Flamingos at Lake Abba

 

IMG_4555

JJK_8130

Djibouti (1)

 

Read more.. Sunday, March 8th, 2015

North Atlantic Humpbacks in Winter

JJK  2015 Silver Bank3

For the 4th consecutive year we made our way south out of the frigid New England winter to spend time with our friends at Aquatic Adventures who run expeditions from the Dominican Republic to the Silver Bank to observe North Atlantic humpback whales in their winter habitat. As many of you are aware 2015 is showing the northeast portion of the US and Canada some of the coldest temperatures ever recorded in addition to record amounts of snowfall. The Boston area, near where we live on Cape Cod, had already recorded more than 2 meters of snowfall by the time of our departure (in mid February) and more was on the way.  And we were also very excited to join whale researcher Jenn Tackaberry from the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, MA for our week on the Silver Bank. Jenn has studied Gulf of Maine whales for a decade but this was her first chance to observe humpback whale mothers and young calves (3 – 5 weeks old) as they learn the ways of the ocean in safe Caribbean waters without predators.

We made the 10 hour passage (80 miles off shore) from Puerto Plata out to the Silver Bank in relatively calm waters. However for the following five days we had strong winds and choppy seas to deal with making underwater photography a challenge. And the weather did not dampen the excitement of the expedition team as we observed these beautiful mammals conducting the child rearing and mating rituals that they have been doing here for 100’s of millennia.

Here are just a few images from the experience and once again it was unforgettable. For more information about these expeditions and to learn more about the partnership between Aquatic Adventures and the Center for Coastal Studies AND how you can help – please check this site. www.coastalstudies.org/aquaticadventures

JJK  2015 Silver Bank (5)

Check out this short video we have just posted. It was inspired by one of our fellow travelers.

JJK Silver Bank

JJK Silver Bank (2)

JJK  2015 Silver Bank (3)

JJK  2015 Silver Bank (17)

JJK  2015 Silver Bank (13)

JJK  2015 Silver Bank

JJK  2015 Silver Bank (4)

JJK  2015 Silver Bank (6)

JJK  2015 Silver Bank (19)

JJK  2015 Silver Bank (14)

JJK  2015 Silver Bank (16)

JJK  2015 Silver Bank (1)

JJK  2015 Silver Bank (15)

JJK  2015 Silver Bank (2)

JJK Silver Bank (1)

JJK  2015 Silver Bank (20)

JJK  2015 Silver Bank (21)

Read more.. Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Report from East Africa: Lake Tanganyika

Our African Odyssey continued in Tanzania as we ventured by small plane south and west to the shores of Lake Tanganyika and the Mahale National Park. Our friends at Africa Easy http://www.africaeasy.com/ had suggested we make this visit off the usual safari path to Greystoke Mahale Camp on the shores of this crystal clear African Great Lake. Lake Tanganyika is the second largest fresh water lake in the world by volume, and the second deepest, in both cases, after only Lake Baikal in Siberia and it is also the world’s longest freshwater lake.  The lake is divided among four countries – Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Zambia. In truth, most of the Lake, because it is long and skinny, borders  Tanzania  and the DRC which was clearly visible from the Tanzania side.  The water flows out of the Lake into the Congo River system and ultimately into the Atlantic Ocean. This jewel of fresh water in the middle of the Albertine Rift Valley is remarkably pristine and home to more than 325 fish species many of which are endemic to the area. Visitors who like to fish or even snorkel will not be disappointed however when we asked about the snorkeling opportunities we were presented with a formidable release of all liabilities form due to the presence of crocodiles! We decided to stay out of the water this time.

Upon landing at the airstrip on the lake’s edge we linked up with our guides from Greystoke Mahale who trundled us aboard a basic dhow called Wolfe for the 90 minute ride south to the camp. We spent the next four amazing days in this special hideaway. And because we were traveling off season we had the camp practically to ourselves.

Mahale (8)

Mahale Wolfe

Mahale Camp (5)

Mahale NP

Mahale (9)

Palm Vultures over the Mahale Mountains

Mahale (4)

As we arrived at Greystoke Mahale we were greeted by a gregarious white pelican who is known locally as “Big bird”. It was only later that we learned he is a big internet star having been “retained” by the folks that make GoPro cameras to be a celebrity “stuntbird”. You may have seen Big bird during the holiday season at stores that carry GoPros. His Learning to Fly video was featured on YouTube and every department store kiosk in the world. You can check it out here if you haven’t seen it.

Mahale Big Bird

“Big bird” meets “The Gorilla guy”.

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 11.45.22 AM

We spotted this vessel on the second day of our stay. Wow what a story. The M/V Liemba is an affectionately known icon of Lake Tanganyika. She has been chugging up and down its waters for over eighty years. The ferry departs from Tanzania’s border town of Kigoma on the north of the lake each Wednesday afternoon. She stops in at a number of small Tanzanian lakeside villages before reaching Zambia’s Mpulungu town two days later where she turns around and heads back up.  Originally known as the Graf von Gotzen, the old steamship was built in Papenburg, Germany in 1913. She was disassembled in Germany and shipped to Dar es Salaam. From there she was transported in pieces by rail to the Kigoma shipyard. At that stage the Dar es Salaam– Kigoma railway had not yet been completed and so the Liemba was carried in pieces by porters on the final stretch to Kigoma. Yikes!

She was used to transport cargo and armed troops for the German army until 1916. That year, following the British take over of the Central Line Railway, she was sunk by her German crew who would rather have her at the bottom of the lake than fall to the victorious British army.AND THEN she remained underwater for eight years until 1924 when the British retrieved her from the lake floor, rechristened her the M/V Liemba and reinstated her as a cargo and passenger vessel. Today she transports some 600 passengers and their goods up and down the length of the lake, providing a vital life-line along its route. Amazing but true!

Mahale Primus

“Primus”, the alpha male of the Chimpanzee troop at Mahale

The main attraction at Mahale is the opportunity to track and spend time with a group of chimpanzees that have been habituated to the presence of humans. Meet “Primus”, the alpha male of the troop of 264 chimpanzees that live in the Mahale Mts. above the camp. If his demeanor looks tough that is because he is a brute. Primus rules this troop of chimps like a tyrant – with fear and intimidation. We learned from the local guide that this is not unknown in chimpanzee culture. According to the local naturalists Primus took over the colony just a few years ago by assassinating his predecessor in a bloody coup d’etat with the aid of some co-conspirators. And Primus must defend his supremacy every single day including the right to breed with all of the mature females by constantly harassing and physically abusing potential challenging males with force. Hence his scarred face and attitude that radiates “I am a bully”. He is a dictator and feared by all. The pattern repeats itself down the line of successor dominant males who each know where they are in the troops’ pecking order. We were surprised to observe this kind of behavior from our closest living primate relatives…but then again after thinking about this a bit…we understood more clearly.

Darwin

Male chimp known as Darwin

Mahale Christmas (1)

Mahale6

Mahale Pels Fishing Owl

Very rare sighting of Pels Fishing Owl!

Mahale (13)

Mahale (7)

Collared Sunbird

Mahale Camp (4)

This beautiful fish became dinner

Mahale Camp (2)

Mahale (10)

African Fish Eagle on the hunt

Mahale Camp (3)

Sunset over the DRC

Mahale Camp

Greystoke Mahale Camp

Greystoke Mahale Camp (owned by Nomad) is a true gem and away from the usual safari destinations. Flights arrive just a couple times a week so stays are for a minimum of 4 nights. Chimpanzee trekking,  can take much of the day as with guides visitors search in the Mahale Mts to find chimps. We were very fortunate and in three days of trekking we never had to walk longer than 90 minutes to catch up with the chimp trackers. Once found we spent the 1 hour (regulation controlled) observing troop behavior and then still had lots of opportunities to observe and experience the beautiful lakefront forest and the birds and animals that live there. Cam and Kate, Camp Managers were delightful and fun. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and highly recommend a visit if you are considering remote destinations in East Africa.

 

Read more.. Thursday, February 12th, 2015

Report from East Africa: Tanzania

After spending more than 17 days exploring The Seychelles and Aldabra Atoll we disembarked in  Zanzibar, the island gateway to East Africa. Zanzibar City sits on the west side of the island of Unguja in the Zanzibar Archipelago and its charming Stone Town holds a great deal of historical significance into the shaping of the region. We spent a couple of nights here on our way into the wilds of Tanzania. Here are a just a few impressions from a very brief stopover.

Dhows Zanzibar

Stone Town is a fine example of the Swahili coastal trading towns of East Africa. It retains its urban fabric and townscape virtually intact and contains many fine buildings that reflect its particular culture, which has brought together and homogenized disparate elements of the cultures of Africa, the Arab region, India, and Europe over more than a millennium. The ruling Islamic dynasty of Zanzibar and its foreign merchants became very rich and embellished the Stone Town with palaces and fine mansions. These were built in a variety of styles and traditions, which were amalgamated and homogenized into a characteristic Swahili architecture. In addition the east African slave trade, started by the Portuguese, assumed large proportions in the 18th century, when slaves were required in large numbers especially for the French sugar plantations in the islands of the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean. We visited the oldsite where the Slave Market took place as it has been preserved almost exactly. Quite a moving experience to imagine the horrors that took place here.

Zanzibar (2)

Zanzibar

Zanzibar (1)

During our short stay on Zanzibar we made a surgical strike outside the city to search for a rare primate that is only found here – the Zanzibar red colobus monkey. …and we got lucky with some up close views.

Red Colubus Zanzibar

From Zanzibar we ventured westward by small plane to Arusha, the gateway to beautiful wild areas in the north and western parts of Tanzania. We were met by our guide for the next two days and then drove (on rough roads) for about 3 hours into The Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA), a conservation area and a UNESCO World Heritage Site located 110 mi west of Arusha in the Crater Highlands.  Our destination was the Ngorongoro Crater, a large volcanic caldera within the area, is recognized by one private organization as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. It is  the world’s largest inactive, intact, and unfilled volcanic caldera. The crater, which formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago, is 2,000 feet deep and its floor covers 100 square miles Estimates of the height of the original volcano range from 14,800 to 19,000 feet high and the elevation of the crater floor is 5,900 feet above sea level. We were fortunate to visit in the short rainy season time when few tourists are present an we organized our game drive to begin at sunrise to among the first to venture down into the crater from our lodge on the rim.  We were greeted with a beautiful green landscape and lots of relaxed animal and bird residents just waking up. It was wonderful!

Ngorongoro Crater (3)

Ngorongoro Crater (5)

Ngorongoro Crater (6)

Ngorongoro Crater (7)

Ngorongoro Crater (9)

Ngorogoron Crater Ngorogoron Crater (1) Nogorogoron Crater2 Nogorogoron Crater4

Nogorogoron Crater5

Nogorogoron Crater

We were thoroughly enamored with our visit down to the crater. The vistas were impressive and for the most of the day we were all alone with Nature!

 

 

 

 

Read more.. Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

Report from Africa: Ultimate Aldabra

Destination Aldabra (2)

Destination Aldabra (1)

A few weeks ago we foretold of our long anticipated expedition into a remote island group off the African east coast in the southern hemisphere. Aldabra is officially part of The Seychelles but lies 700 miles southwest of the main Seychelles group and capital Mahe. Designated a World Heritage site for the protection of its unique and magnificent biodiversity Aldabra is very seldom visited by anyone outside of the research and conservation communities. Most visitors arrive by private yachts seeking the absolute beauty and solitude among an ocean ecosystem few will ever see. We were fortunate to join a group on a small ship in Mahe and made the long journey comfortably visiting and exploring a few of the granitic Seychelles on our way to the Aldabra Group.

Upon arrival at Aldabra Atoll we coordinated our activities with the research team stationed there to take advantage of unusually calm weather to explore the atoll’s lagoon with mask and snorkel when the daily tides permitted. The Atoll itself was immense measuring more than 23 miles across making it impossible to see the outer edges of the lagoon from our entry points on the atoll’s west side channels. These incredible channels were accessible only by shallow draft inflatable boats  a few hours a day when the incoming tide flooded the scorched sandy shallow seabed which goes dry at low tide every 12 hours or so. Our amazing experiences included performing fantastic ‘drift” snorkels where one floats into the lagoon with swift moving currents running at 2 – 3 knots along with fish, rays, sharks, turtles of all shapes and sizes as they make the journey into the lagoon to feed on the high tide pools of life that flood in. Because fishing activity is illegal and the conservation zone is protected around Atoll many very large fish and sharks are present and show no fear of human presence given the protection they have enjoyed for more than 40 years.  The sights were absolutely magical.

Aldabra Lagoon 8 JJK

Aldabra Lagoon 9 JJK

Common dolphins outside the Aldabra Lagoon

 

Aldabra Lagoon 6 JJK

Aldabra Lagoon 10 JJK

 

Aldabra Group25

Spotted Eagle Rays

Aldabra Group

Aldabra Group2

Brown Booby

 

Aldabra Group8

Green Turtle leaving the Lagoon on a falling tide

 

Aldabra Group7

Red Footed Booby

Aldabra Group15

Crab Plovers, Aldabra Atoll

Aldabra Group22

A school of Jacks

Aldabra Group24

Anemone and Clownfish

Seychelles (3)

Island of Mahe, The Seychelles (Granitic Isl)

Seychelles (1)

Island of Mahe, The Seychelles (Granitic Isl)

Seychelles

Fairy Terns, Aride Is.

Aldabra Group11

The Wall, Astove Island, Aldabra Group

Aldabra Reef JJK

Rare gathering of 40 large Sting Rays – Aldabra Lagoon

Aldabra Group19

Black tipped reef Shark, Aldabra Lagoon

Aldabra Rail

Aldabra Rail, A Rare Endemic

Giant Tortoise - Aldabra

Aldabra Giant Tortoise, This fella is likely more than 250 years old!

Longliner off Zanzibar

Longliner off Zanzibar

Aldabra Atoll West End

Chart of the west end of Aldabra Atoll

Land Crab - Aldabra

Land Crab – Aldabra

Seychelles (5)

Aldabra Mangroves

Island Sky

Island Sky, Off of Aride Is. The Seychelles

 

Astove Wall

Astove Wall (1)

The Wall, Astove Island, Aldabra Group

 

Mangroves at Aldabra

Read more.. Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

African Odyssey Unfolds

We have just wrapped up our field work on Cape Cod working with the Massachusetts White Shark Team as the cold winds of winter start to blow and the leaves are falling. Our boats are now stored for the North American winter. Just in time to launch into our next wild adventure which will take us back to Africa for the 7th time since 2009. And believe it or not we are barely past scratching the surface in exploring this amazing continent. Our focus once again is on wild life and wild places, most of which will be new territory. We will plunge into the onset of equatorial summer on our first stop in The Seychelles with a particular interest in diving in the southwestern portion of the archipelago , a world heritage site called Aldabra Atoll. From Wikipedia we learn that, “Sir David Attenborough called the south western atoll of Aldabra “one of the wonders of the world”, and it is also known as one of “crown jewels” of the Indian Ocean. Aside from its vast population of tortoises, it is also the largest raised coral reef in the world with an elevation of 26 feet (7.9 m);  a habitat for the biggest crab, the cocunut crab; and habitat for the Indian Ocean’s Aldabra rail, the only surviving flightless bird species of its kind in the world.” We are particularly excited because Aldabra is uninhabited, extremely isolated,  and is virtually untouched by humans. Not many places in the world so fortunate. Quite ironically it has been months since we have actually been in the water so we are looking forward to being a fish again in warm clear water.

Armed with tons of camera gear for above and below the water we hope we can capture the spirit of the place. Here are some beautiful images from other explorers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Destination Aldabra

IMG_9982_OttoWhitehead-13-45-00-301

Our journey will continue with a visit to Zanzibar where we will begin our first encounters in Tanzania. We are extremely excited to travel all the way west into a remote area on Lake Tanganyika where we will spend time with a wild troop of chimpanzees. This region is where Dr. Jane Goodall did her field work. We will then venture into the Serengeti for our first visit into this savannah to discover the summer activity of the great wildebeest migration. Should be pretty green as it is still part of the rainy season. This region is now being seriously threatened by Government plans to put a major paved road into the area which, according to friends, would destroy the Serengeti as we know it forever. Will hope to better understand what is happening here. Ever since I read Peter Matthiessen’s Sand Rivers, I have wanted to see this. From here we will camp (comfortably) in the Ngorogoro Crater before we re-load and proceed to our second home in Cape Town, South Africa to be with many friends and get the chance to view this beautiful country in their summer and yes we be diving with hopes of glimpses of apex predators. So pleased to be spending a warm Christmas among friends there. After several weeks in the Western Cape of South Africa we will again re-load and venture northeast to the Horn of Africa for some exploration of Djibouti on the Red Sea (back in the water) and finally we will spend nearly three weeks exploring Ethiopia, an area so rich in unique culture and fantastic wildlife I will leave the description to a later post.

We will be traveling for 9 weeks. Yikes!! But we are sure the time will pass quickly. It usually does when you are in the wild. And we will try our very best to post reports as internet access allows.

 

 

Read more.. Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Down East at the Autumnal Equinox

We took a few days off from our work with the Massachusetts White Shark Research team to travel to Down East Maine and embrace the onset of Autumn in the New England north country. We were eager to explore a new destination in the mid coast region well known to birders especially in the fall migration. Our target was Monhegan Island , a tiny wooded rock pile about ten miles off the Maine coast. The island is well visited in the fall as it is a famous stop-over for southbound migrants that get blown off the coast in certain weather conditions. Among these visitors are various warblers, other song birds and the raptors who feast on them in these confined island habitats. The island was settled some 400 years ago by English colonists and has been home to fishing families ever since. In the early Twentieth Century a private land trust was set up by a generous benefactor to set aside most of the island as natural woodlands with maintained trails. The result is a beautifully wooded natural preserve of conifers and deciduous trees which at the fall time can harbor some exotic migrant birds who found there way to Monhegan as the last refuge before getting blown out over the Atlantic Ocean. While we were on the island we observed Merlins and Peregrine Falcons constantly in pursuit of the visiting song birds. Warbler highlights included a Cape May warbler, Nashville warbler, Black throated Green warbler, Black throated Blue warbler and many Myrtles. Pam spotted a Scarlet Tanager male and the star bird of the few days was a Yellow headed Blackbird that was way out of its range usually seen west of the Rockies… Pretty amazing sight, though no photos were acquired of this bird.

Meanwhile the islanders were busy getting lobster traps rigged for the big October 1st opening. They were very friendly and knowledgeable about the birding that was going on all around them. We were privileged to join a group of experienced birders which included ornithologist Dr. Trevor Lloyd-Evans from the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. The weather was magnificent and Monhegan is truly a magical place at this time of year and we look forward to returning!

Monhegan Is (24)

Monhegan Is (19)

Down East Maine Fall 2014 (11)

Down East Maine Fall 2014 (5)

Down East Maine Fall 2014 (13)

Monhegan Is#2 (13)

Monhegan Is#2 (14)

Monhegan Is#2 (15)

Monhegan Is#2 (16)

Down East Maine Fall 2014 (3)

Down East Maine Fall 2014 (8)

Down East Maine Fall 2014 (7)

Down East Maine Fall 2014 (1)

Monhegan Is#2 (6)

Nashville Warbler Fall 2014

Monhegan Is#2 (5)

Monhegan Is#2 (10)

Monhegan Is#2 (12)

Down East Maine Fall 2014 (22)

Monhegan Is (4)

Monhegan Is (23)

Monhegan Is (20)

Monhegan Is (17)

Monhegan Is (21)

Monhegan Is (22)

Monhegan Is (10)

Monhegan Is#2 (2)

Monhegan Is#2 (1)

Monhegan Is#2 (3)

Monhegan Is#2 (4)

Monhegan Is#2

Monhegan Is#2 (7)

Raven in the lower foreground

Monhegan Is#2 (9)

Monhegan Is#2 (11)

Monhegan Harbormaster – Shermie Stanley receives his surprise gift. The photograph is of a school of Blue-fin tuna “Giants” taken by legendary spotter pilot and photographer Wayne Davis in celebration of their time fishing together years ago.

Read more.. Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

British Columbia: The Rugged Coast

We are overdue in reporting on some of the details behind our recent journey to the Pacific Northwest. As mentioned in a previous post, our goal was to restock our freezers with a stock of salmon, halibut, ling cod and hopefully have a chance to record some of the truly wonderful wildlife that is resident at this time of year there. Our trip took us north by plane to Bella Bella, a village on the coast well north in BC on the famous cruising grounds known as the Inside Passage. Bella Bella is primarily a First Nations community depending on  commercial fishing as a primary livelihood for residents. From there we caught a ride by water about 20 miles to the south and west to a mobile fish camp anchored in a protected cove for the summer sport fishing season. The camp caters to return visitors who have frequented the beautiful Hakai Pass recreational area before and are comfortable getting around safely in their 17 ft custom fit out for fishing Boston whalers. Accompanied by son Spencer we were eager to get fishing as soon as we arrived. Our perseverance paid off over the 4 days we were on the grounds and managed to return with more than 100 lbs of frozen fish filets to restock our larders. Also sent a few choice pieces to the Smoke house as well. Following are few of the memories. We had a couple of days of dense fog which made it a challenge to get around but when it did clear is was beautiful. And the prize of the trip was a great one hour encounter with a small pod of Transient killer whales.

 

Hakai (3)

Hakai (5)

Black turnstones join a small flock of Surfbirds

Hakai (4)

Hakai 2014 (2)

Gulls and auk-lets intensely feed on a herring bait ball

Hakai Pass 2014 (4)

Female matriarch of the pod…did this surface “spy – hop likely to check us out.

Hakai Pass 2014 (8)

Hakai Pass 2014 (10)

A young member of the pod did a complete breach just before this frame was taken

Hakai Pass 2014 (9)

Hakai Pass 2014

This male had a very distinctly deformed dorsal fin. Likely son of the female above

Hakai Pass 2014 (2)

Hakai Pass 2014 (3)

Hakai Pass 2014 (1)

Hakai Orca

Hakai Pass 2014 (6)

Hakai (2)

Hakai (1)

Rhinoceros auk-let

Hakai Pass 2014 (11)

Hakai Pass 2014 (5)

Hakai 2014 (1)

Ceremonial native canoes from as far away as Alaska and Washington State were visiting

Hakai 2014

Hakai 2014 (3)

Pacific oystercatchers

 

 

Read more.. Sunday, August 10th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Offshore with Blues

Summer brings with it many changes to the marine environment in and around Cape Cod and surrounding islands. As the ocean currents slowly bring warmer currents from the south the water temperatures rise and some of our migrating fishes return to New England waters along with seabirds who also feast on the bounty that the ocean yields at this time of year. We have longed to hook up with shark conservation legend and filmmaker Joe Romeiro to go offshore to find and swim with Blue sharks in their natural wide open ocean hopefully in clear green and blue water. There is also a chance that a mako shark might bolt into the situation just to liven things up. To accomplish this goal we ventured to Rhode Island to Point Judith for an early departure on board with Pelagic Expeditions, an adventure shark diving operation run by Joe and Brian Raymond. These guys really know their stuff and even though we set out to find clear water in dense fog this Sunday morning – their confidence and experience paid off as we finally broke out of the fog to a sunny flat calm day in the Atlantic ocean. Humpback whales and Minke whales surfaced lazily around us and we waited while our chum slick sent out a call to the ocean scavengers that might be within a few miles of our position. We were also blessed with some close up views of the Wilson Storm Petrel another ocean voyager that makes it’s way to our waters seasonally from deep in the Southern Atlantic, some 9000 miles away. Here are a few shots that tell some of the tale of the day. In case you are wondering we had an absolute blast doing this. Check out Pelagic Expeditions in Rhode Island for more information on how to get in on this local action.

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (11)

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (18)

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (9)

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (17)

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (2)

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (1)

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (5)

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (4)

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (14)

https://www.facebook.com/PelagicExpeditions

Blue Sharks with Joe Romeiro (15)

Wilson’s Storm Petrel gets in on the feeding

Read more.. Tuesday, July 1st, 2014