Swimming with the Great Whales

Links below to two new videos we have just posted to provide some more “color” on these experiences. One compiled from our expedition to Dominica in February 2014 followed by another compiled from footage shot during one incredible day on the Silver Bank – 80 miles north of the Dominican Republic in early March. Please check them both out below.

Sperm Whale Heaven





Spotted Dolphins off the bow. Amazing!


Young male sperm whale checks us out with a close approach to our boat



Estela – our fellow adventurer on the Silver Bank who inspired the vid “Sanctuary” in this post

Read more.. Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Cetaceans on the Outer Cape

The month of May is fast moving to a close and the spring migration continues to be an adventure. Launching our boat , Aleutian Dream into the water this past weekend finally enabled us to get out in the Atlantic and off shore to investigate reports of massive schools of sand eels and voraciously feeding Humpback Whales. We were joined by friend Ted Cheeseman a Conservation Biologist and whale naturalist visiting from California and scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute who were all “off duty” and keen to see some cetacean action. And action we found!

Leaving Chatham Harbor in the slate grey of a cool spring morning to calm seas we ventured south a few miles to examine the condition of the South Beach cuts of 2013 & 2014 and to assess the haulouts of Gray seals gathered along the Monomoy side of these inlets. An ocean swell from the previous days Northeast winds was causing a significant line of breakers across both inlets even at high tide. This does not bode well for navigating this short cut to Nantucket Sound for mariners this summer season. We observed seals well off the beach about a mile and in numbers suggesting that as yet the apex predator white sharks may not yet have arrived. We understand that the listening buoys are to be deployed in the next days so real data may soon be available on the presence of white sharks.

But since our target for the day was whales we quickly assessed that there were no Humpbacks feeding in the immediate Chatham Harbor area out 3 miles so we decided to head north to check out the action reported heavily in the vicinity of Race Point near Provincetown. We were rewarded for the long run up from Chatham with confirmed sightings of four different cetaceans!Stellwagen (35)

A Fin Whale feeding off of Race Point

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Common dolphins

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Minke Whale feeding on Stellwagen

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The spectacular behavior of Humpbacks known as Bubble netting is one of the most amazing sights to witness in natural history among whales. This is cooperative feeding among 1 – many whales working together to efficiently feed. Here are a few images we made.

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Whale watchers look on in amazement.

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Ventesca by Tim Vorheis3

Photo by Tim Vorheis – Humpback “Ventesca” bubble netting (taken offshore about 2005)

Bubble netting as mentioned is very special to see. Thanks very much to Tuna spotter pilot and photographer Tim Vorheis who nailed this image some years ago so you can see what is happening…and this is just one whale working. A helpful article describing this feeding behavior is here.  http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/news/press/2013/pr092613.html

A few other shots of “bubble netting taken off of Chatham last November.

Humpbacks off ChathamHumpbacks off Chatham (1)Humpbacks off Chatham (2)Humpbacks off Chatham (3)

Read more.. Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Of Warblers and Whales in the Provincelands



Among the birding community there is great pleasure in tracking, spotting and identifying migrating warblers and other song birds each spring and fall as they pass through on their yearly migrations to and from the Canadian arboreal forests. Cape Cod is a target refueling stop as it is one of the very easterly most pieces of land drawing birds in when the southerly winds shift to the west thus pushing flocks of high flying birds to the east and out over the ocean. One favorite spot for the birding community on Cape Cod is found up in the Provincelands; a stand of trees known as the Beech Forest.

Recently we have made several trips up to the Provincelands (pictured above at the very northerly tip of Cape Cod mainly to try a catch a few of the warblers passing through. We found some pictured here . We also captured a few of the birds that arrive and stay on the Cape for most of the summer and into the fall and even a few of the resident birds that live here throughout most years. They all come alive in the spring.

And to make life even more interesting a mere stones throw from the Beech Forest is Race Point and one of the finest viewing points any where in the world to observe whales. We found three different species in one afternoon in early May! See at the end of this post.

Beech Forest Eastern Tohwee

Eastern Towhee (male)

Beech Forest Eastern phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Beech Forest Blackburnian warbler

Blackburnian warbler

Beech Forest Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles (2 males in a stand off around territory)

Beech Forest (16)

White Crowned Sparrow ( a migrant passing through)

Beech Forest (13)

Downy Woodpecker (likely resident) (male)

Beech Forest (12)

Northern Parula (warbler)

Beech Forest (10)

(Possible) Tree Sparrow

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Black throated Blue warbler

Chestnut sided warbler (2)

Bay breasted warbler

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow


Pine warbler

Black and white warbler

Black and white warbler

Beech Forest (4)

White breasted nuthatch

Beech Forest (8)

Northern Cardinal

Beech Forest Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Beech Forest Yellow rumped warbler

Yellow rumped warbler

Beech Forest Red bellied woodpecker

Red bellied woodpecker

Backyard birding in Chatham (4)

Indigo Bunting (rarely seen on the outer Cape but more common inland)

Yellow warbler

Beautiful singing Yellow warbler

Ruby crowned kinglet

Ruby crowned kinglet

Snowy Egret

Snowy egret

Tufted titmouse

Tufted titmouse

Ruby throated hummingbird

Ruby throated hummingbird (male)

Red winged Blackbird

Red winged Blackbird

Goldfinch in flight

Goldfinch in flight

Ruby throated hummingbird #2

Ruby throated hummingbird male at rest

Pair of red tailed hawks

Pair of red tailed hawks

Catbird #2

Catbird singing

Beech forest

We managed to get a scope on some whale activity at Race Point and again at the Pilgrim Heights Lookout. It is truly amazing what you can see form the beaches in the Provincelands if you just take the time to look.

Race Point

Race Point, Provincelands

Pilgrim Heights Lookout

Race Point fin whale watch

Fin whale passing Race Point

Race Point minke whale watch

Minke Whale feeding off Race Point

Race Point right whale watch (1)

Fin Whales at Race Point (Note large straight spout)

Race Point whale watch (1)

Breaching Northern Right Whale near Race Point

Race Point right whale watch

Northern Right Whale dives

Read more.. Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Spring

We have been back home on Cape Cod for three weeks  and enjoying the onset of the late maritime spring here. This is the first of two posts we will make. May has been a month to witness and follow the arrival of many species of migrants who make chance refueling stops here on the their northerly annual migration. From tiny shorebirds and song birds like the many and varied warblers to larger birds like raptors such as Broad winged hawks and Turkey Vultures. Ospreys actually nest here and are highly visible in their courtship and nesting during the spring. When wind and weather conditions are right these birds can be found in the forested areas all over the Cape. One just has to look for them. As reported in several previous posts, including last year at this time, one of Cape Cod’s most unique wild spots is the incredible Sandy Neck in Barnstable. When our good friend Jose Schmidt visited us recently from Costa Rica we took the opportunity to show him a closer look at wild Cape Cod in spring with a walk down Sandy Neck. Here are some of the highlights of the walk, which Jose calculated was more than 20 kilometers and took the full day.

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Sandy neck (3)

Sandy Neck


The shorebird migration is gaining momentum with many birds touching down on Cape Cod to refuel on their way north to Arctic tundra. Some like this American Oystercatcher will stay and likely nest the barrier beaches like Sandy Neck here on Cape Cod. A beautiful sight to see and hear them return.

Oystercatcher Sandy Neck

The majestic osprey are back too nesting on the great marsh here on Sandy Neck.

Chatham in Spring (2)

Tree swallow - Sandy Neck

Tree Swallows are back and nesting in boxes long provided.

Great horned owl - Sandy Neck

Great Horned Owl under siege from a mob of American Crows but unfazed

Sandy Neck May 2014 (7)

Our good friend Jose Schmidt is visiting from Costa Rica and was keen to see the wilder parts of Cape Cod.

Dunlin Sandy Neck

Migrating Dunlin in breeding plumage

Lesser Yellowlegs - Sandy Neck (1)

Lesser yellow legs on the Great Marsh

Merlin - Sandy Neck (1)

Merlin in flight and calling

Diamondback terrapins are among the most variable turtle species in North America and no two individuals are exactly alike in coloration and pattern. The feet are strongly webbed; the hind feet are especially large and flat. These large webbed feet and muscular legs enable terrapins to be strong swimmers, an ability needed when living in an environment with daily tidal changes and strong currents. Mating takes place in the early spring, with nesting extending through mid-summer. Females lay two to three clutches of eggs annually. Clutch size ranges from four to 23 eggs, and varies throughout the terrapin’s range. This little fella might be just hours old! We found him walking own the path looking to get to salt water where we ended up placing him not far away.

Terrapin - Sandy NeckTerrapin - Sandy Neck (1)

Terrapin - Sandy Neck (3)

Backyard birding (3) copy

Hunting Red Tailed Hawk

Otter tracks Sandy Neck

River Otter Tracks

Pine warbler Sandy Neck

Pine Warbler in the forest

Sandy Neck (2)

We noted the Eastern coyote tracks or “coywolf” that some naturalist have come to refer to the coyotes in our area. This track was placed on top of our own tracks from earlier in the day indicating that the coyotes were very close by as we passed but we did not see them. The critters are about the size of a German Shepard dog and weigh 50 – 60 lbs. Very successful scavengers. See below image taken at a different time and place (Chatham) so you can see them.


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A beautiful female Merlin was hunting as we trekked by the scrub pines.

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After 10 hours and more than 20 kilometers we finally reached the last resting spot …a rock which I had pointed out at the beginning of the hike. A beautiful day in wild Cape Cod. Love the spring here!

Sandy Neck May 2014 (13)

Read more.. Saturday, May 24th, 2014

Through the Looking Glass: Addendum

Spring is now in full bloom in the Pacific Northwest. It is beautiful but our time here is drawing to a close. We have  witnessed the miracle of the births of two beautiful grandchildren and experienced the joy of knowing that our own children have adapted to their new roles as parents remarkably well. There might not be a greater joy for a parent.

There has been time for a few noteworthy family adventures to commemorate the births. One very special gathering happened with Pam’s family where we recorded four generations of the Smith Family all on one couch. Ranging in ages from 86 years to 17 days!

KubotaKubota gardens

JJK&PSK with BabiespK & KarinaPops & AJ#2JJK & Babies #4Mi& VAsilMia & Vasil with AjSpencer & Karina

Moon & Karina

Moon & Karina

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Spencer & Karina (photo by Tony Grue)

Great grandparents

Gene & Sharon with Family

Four Generations of Smiths! – Gene & Sharon Smith with Children Gordon, Pam with spouse John, & Jim; Grandchildren Spencer & Mia with spouses Moon & Vasil and great grandchildren Angel Joseph & Karina Dolly

AJ's first M's GAme

Mariners Win! Aj is batting 1.000

AJ's first game

AJ’s first Major League baseball game with Dr. Joe, Uncle Charlie, Pops John, Uncle Spencer, Momma Mia and Pami!


King Babies#2

Cousins AJ and Karina sharing first impressions of the World

We managed to stop by and visit with our old friend Rick Kirsten, owner of the Kirsten Galleries in Seattle. His late father Richard Kirsten-Daiensai had passed on since our last visit and we were treated to a look at the beautiful memorial wall of photos and tributes posted in the gallery in Daiensai’s honor. We own and treasure a couple of Daiensai’s amazing paintings and thought of one in particular as we thought of all that has happened in the past year. This painting waits for us when we return home to Chatham.



Many Blessings and much to be thankful for. We love the springtime!


Read more.. Monday, April 28th, 2014

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.


Nisqually NWR

Nisqually 2

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

Blog Bird PNW2

Cinnamon Teal Drake preening

Blog Bird PNW1

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

Blog Bird PNW

A pair of Northern Shovelers

Blog Bird PNW5

Read more.. Saturday, April 19th, 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.

IMG_0204King Babies


Angel Joseph “AJ” Mlekarov with Momma Mia


Baby Karina aged 8 days

Karina Dolly King aged 8 days

Pami & AJ#4

Pami & AJ age 2 weeks


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.


Steller’s Eider Drake


Long tailed duck drake


Magnificent King Eiders in flight


A Painting by Nils-Aslak Valkeapaa

JJK_3508 JJK_3013JJK_3620IMG_2430JJK_3072JJK_2918JJK_3603JJK_3955IMG_2337JJK_3540JJK_3353IMG_2577JJK_3947IMG_2466JJK_4037JJK_3728JJK_3314_JJK1299JJK_3262Samiland 2014 (7)JJK_4040JJK_3818JJK_3875JJK_3506 JJK_3688IMG_2522JJK_3559IMG_2408 JJK_4260

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.

JJK by TConlin 2014

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


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


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