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

Sperm Whale Heaven

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Wow! Off the water and now cooling our heels with friends in San Juan, PR after 9 amazing days in an around the waters off of Dominica. Our objective was to return once more to work with our contacts at the Dominica Sperm Whale Project. Under special permits we were allowed to get in the water and swim with the population of sperm whales that hunt in local waters there. Using photo ID s of the whale flukes we were able to visually identify more than 15 whales during our time there working with local researcher Pernell Francis. Some whales we observed multiple times.

It is truly difficult to describe how moved we were to swim alongside these incredible gentle giants with the largest brain in the animal kingdom. But hopefully these images will help to transmit the emotion. Rather than spoil the moment with lots of technical explanation about what is going on we thought we’d just let the images speak for themselves. But trust us in this…it was absolutely magical.

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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

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: Winter

Orleans - Nauset Beach

We have spent a few days hiking the beaches on the Outer  Cape as well as on Barnstable’s  Sandy Neck enjoying the winter landscapes. Largely desolate and dramatic we have also been hoping for good views of one of the many Snowy Owls that have been visiting Cape Cod from the Canadian Arctic the past month. Though we have been fortunate with a couple of nice long distance sightings we continue to look for better images. As our search continues please get outside and  check out and appreciate the beauty of winter on Cape Cod.

Sandy Neck - Cape Cod Bay side

Sandy Neck - Great Marsh side

Wellfleet - LeCount Hollow

Eastham - Coast Guard Beach

Orleans - Nauset Beach

Truro - Ballston Beach

Eastham - Coast Guard Beach

Read more.. Sunday, January 12th, 2014

Ecuador: In the Cloud Forest

Capitalizing on our time in South America we continued our exploration of wildlife by journeying north to Ecuador. Yet another country set in the Andean Highlands and exceptionally bio-diverse especially in the bird world we were eager to spend a few days here before we ventured out to the Galapagos. From Quito,the capital city we journeyed north and west to a beautiful private reserve that had been rescued by an entrepreneur and restored with a superior lodge to allow visitors to enjoy a very special area of unique wildlife, Here is a description by the owners of the lodge – “The wonders waiting at Mashpi Lodge will delight the worldliest nature lover. Perched at 900 m (3,116 feet) above sea level and surrounded by lower montane rainforest and cloud forest, the Lodge is surrounded by a profusion of plant species, from ferns and bromeliads to hundreds of orchid species, many newly-discovered. A staggering 500 species of bird – including some 36 endemics – are estimated to inhabit the forest, fluttering through the canopy. Monkeys, peccaries and even puma make their homes inside the Reserve crisscrossed with waterfalls between dramatic, verdant hills.”

Read more.. Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Wild Cape Cod: 2013 Rewind

It is time to look back on 2013 and remember some of the wonderful experiences and sights we have witnessed on Cape Cod this past year.

Read more.. Friday, December 13th, 2013

Whales Seeking Support

MEET PIANO!

This beautiful humpback whale was born in 2009 down in Caribbean waters and has returned to Cape Cod in each of the last four years. Her mother is called Springboard. PIANO has survived a ship strike (2011) a disentanglement from fishing gear (2012) and likely other predatory threats in her young life. How do we know all this? Dedicated researchers at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Massachusetts have been performing research on humpback whales for decades and particularly studying our population known as Gulf of Maine humpbacks. Long-term studies of individual humpback whales provide an important window into this amazing species. Whales like PIANO are not only well-loved by whale watchers but also key to their understanding of humpback whale biology, ecology and threats. Thanks to more than three decades of research by CCS and their collaborators, the Gulf of Maine humpback whale population is the most well-studied in the world. The results of their research here have been applied to studies of humpback whales world-wide, and new techniques for studying large whales are routinely developed and ground-truthed with their extensive data sets. The knowledge that they share with managers helps to guide protection measures for this endangered species.

Please consider supporting this critically important research on the Gulf of Maine population of Humpback Whales currently underway at the Center for Coastal Studies on Cape Cod.

Consider joining us in supporting this work with a donation by accessing the link below.

http://www.razoo.com/story/Support-Humpback-Whale-Research

Read more.. Thursday, December 12th, 2013