Everyone loves a cool dip in the hot summer. Birds, and especially hummingbirds, are drawn to water. It’s not only the adorable Bushtits that flock to the fountain in my garden. Almost every morning I see one or more of the Anna’s Hummingbirds bathing there too. This young hummer plopped itself down in the cool water and splashed. Nikon D6, Nikkor 500mm PF.
So much for social distancing with the Bushtits! Sunday morning it looked like a rugby scrum on the fountain. They kept piling on top of one another for their bath. I counted a dozen at one point all tangled together. There are ten visible in this shot, nine in the scrum.
Because you just can’t have too many cameras, I am now the proud owner of six Nikons, three DSLR and three mirrorless cameras. The newest member of my collection is the tiny Nikon Z50, a mirrorless crop sensor camera with a 16-50mm lens, the equivalent of a 24-70mm in a full frame camera. For years, I carried my Nikon D800 and 24-70mm lens with me everywhere. It was a heavy combination but I got used to it. My camera bag became my purse and my friends joked that my purse needed its own chair when we went to a restaurant. I loved having the camera with me at all times because I often got shots I never would have had otherwise. But, as the years passed and my photography evolved more toward wildlife photography, my main camera body and lenses were very much heavier and it wasn’t convenient to carry a camera with me 24/7. And, with my focus now on photographing birds and wildlife, I didn’t feel the need to have a camera with me when I wasn’t on a designated photography mission. Still, I discovered that there were times that I wished I’d had a camera with me other than my smart phone. Fast forward to the introduction of Nikon’s mirrorless Z cameras. Smaller, compact, and lighter than the hefty full frame cameras I thought perhaps I would begin to carry a camera with me again. But the Z and its lenses while much smaller than the D6, are not particularly light weight or compact. Enter the Nikon Z50 mirrorless crop sensor camera. It is tiny, and coupled with the 16-50 mm lens is small, light weight, fits into my purse, no camera bag required, and, once again, I will have it with me. Saturday morning while running errands, I came across acres of sunflower fields in full bloom. I pulled over, took a few shots, and was able to continue on my way, with the satisfaction of knowing that I hadn’t missed something.
Improvements in Nikon’s autofocusing system in the D6 include enhancements to the 3D Auto Focus Feature. It allows the shooter to select the starting point for the autofocus which so far to me seems like a great feature. I tried it out in my backyard when the adorable Bushtits were heading down to the fountain for a bath. They congregate on the leafy twigs and branches behind the fountain as they make their way to the water. The 3D system picked out this Bushtit in the midst of lots of leaves because I had the starting point just to the left and slightly up of center. So far I am pleased with how quickly it reacts and maintains focus once it latches on. Nikon D6, Nikkor 500mm PF.
Sea Otter pups depend on their mothers for survival. They stay with their mothers until they develop their own survival skills and that can be as long as six months. It is so fascinating to watch the pups with their mothers. They lay on her stomach or float next to her. They don’t sink. Their fur is so dense they can’t dive until they get their adult fur.
The Northern Sea Otters in Kachemak Bay seemed just as curious about us as we were about them. When Captain Jim maneuvered the barge to give us the best viewing angle for photographing them, the otters watched us, keeping their eyes on us as we turned and as they floated by. There’s something irresistible about that face.
I’m reading a book called Return of the Sea Otter by Todd McLeish that describes the importance of Sea Otters to the health of the Pacific coastal ecosystem. Sea Otters feed on sea urchins, mollusks, crabs, and other shellfish. When otter numbers diminish, the shellfish that feed on the kelp, especially sea urchins, increase to the devastation and eventual deforestation of the ecosystem. Without kelp, the coastal waters quickly become an ocean desert. The kelp forests, home to countless species in the Pacific Coastal waters, thrive because of the Sea Otters. And, Sea Otters sometimes use kelp, especially Giant Kelp, to tie themselves so they don’t float away while they’re sleeping. I’m not sure what this Sea Otter was doing with a fistful of kelp but it looks like it had some purpose in mind.
The hummers are acclimating to the new features on my patio, the new perches, the new plants, the new layout. The biggest hit is a perch I positioned a few weeks ago but with the new arrangement of plants, it is getting more use. This juvenile male Anna’s Hummingbird is getting used to me outside and he will perch on the twig for quite a while I photograph him before he decides he’s had it with me and flies off. Nikon D6, Nikkor 300mm PF, Nikon TC-14EIII.
Saturday I potted some new plants to attract hummingbirds. And, they do! So, kudos to KUDOS RED, a compact, upright dwarf hybrid hyssop, also known as hummingbird mint, that blooms from mid-summer through early fall. First thing Sunday morning the hummers were checking it out. The pot is on a table on the patio and the plant is full of blooms so this Anna’s spent quite a while checking out the flowers while I stood nearby and photographed him. Nikon D6, Nikkor 300mm PF, Nikon TC-14EIII.
Kachemak Bay in Alaska is home to an abundant number of bird species in the spring. Last week as we traversed the bay on our transport barge, we saw mostly Glaucous Gulls, Black-footed Kittiwakes, Black Guillemots, a few Tufted Puffins, Bald Eagles, and huge rafts of Common Murres. Thousands of them paddled in large groups. This one paddled away from the crowd briefly and I was able to isolate it from the others with my Nikon D6 and 500mm PF lens.
On Kachemak Bay near Homer, Alaska, Northern Sea Otters have such adorable expressions they are irresistibly cute.
We went to Alaska last week to photograph Northern Sea Otters and their pups. It was the perfect time of year to do this. And in what I can only assume is the otter equivalent of New Mom Meet-up Groups, we came across rafts of mother Sea Otters and their pups. Most of the pups we saw were getting pretty big and squirmy. This was the smallest pup I saw and it was content to lay in its mother’s arms and sleep. This little one is adorable.
There are lots of Bald Eagles in the Homer, Alaska area. This mature adult claimed his spot on this crag of Sixty Foot Rock in Kachemak Bay from an immature Bald Eagle that quickly conceded his perch when the adult arrived.
Northern Sea Otter pups ride on the safety of their mother’s belly while she paddles around. As they grow, and learn to swim and dive, they start to get squirmy. They become quite a handful (pawful?) for mom when they get bigger as this pup is. The pup appears to be almost as big as mom while still riding on her belly but squirming to get free. Mom’s strong paws keep the pup in tow.
“Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation. “
—Second Continental Congress, Philadelphia, June 14, 1777
“You’re a grand old flag
You’re a high-flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave
You’re the emblem of
The land I love
The home of the free and the brave”
—George M. Cohan, 1906
Four days on Kachemak Bay near Homer, Alaska watching Northern Sea Otters left a lasting impression on me. Of course the adorable, cuddly, teddy bear of the sea usually comes to mind when one thinks of Sea Otters. They are curious and watched us as much as we watched them giving us lots of opportunity to capture those adorable faces. However, observing mating activity which was to me unexpectedly violent, made me realize that as much as we wish to anthropromorphise Sea Otters and think of them as cuddly and cute, they are, after all wild with behaviors that are wild. During mating, which can last for ten to thirty minutes, otters engage in both playful and aggressive behavior. The male Sea Otter grasps the female’s snout in his teeth and drags her under water. This female looked at us shortly after mating, her nose bloodied and showing the lasting impression of that earlier encounter.
It is no wonder that Northern Sea Otters are known as the teddy bears of the sea. They can be adorable, with an irresistible, wide-eyed expression that makes them so appealing. This otter bobbed sleepily on top of the water as we photographed him for quite a while as he drifted around our Transport Barge photo platform and Captain Jim maneuvered the vessel to give us the best photographic advantage.
These past few days traveling on a landing barge on Kachemak Bay in Alaska to photograph Sea Otters have been quite the experience. The Sea Otters have been abundant and we’ve witnessed lots of Otter behavior. We’ve watched them floating on their backs methodically pounding whelks and mussels with barnacle encrusted rocks to release the tasty morsels within for their meals. We’ve witnessed shockingly violent mating behavior. Soundly sleeping Sea Otters have drifted by our vessel oblivious to us. Large groups of Sea Otters, called rafts, floated in the swells with majestic Mount McKinley looming in the distance. But to me, the most charming behavior is that of the mother Sea Otters grasping their young pups as they paddle about and the desperate squeals that the young pups make if mom separates from them briefly. The pups have so much fur that they appear to be dry even though they spend most of their time in the water. This pup seems pretty secure in mom’s arms as he glances in our direction. Nikon D6, Nikkor 500mm PF.
A day in the sun by Sixty Foot Rock in the middle of Kachemak Bay south of the Homer Spit in Alaska is a sublime experience. This Alaskan Sea Otter was enjoying the sun at Sixty Foot Rock, blissfully snoozing as she bobbed on the bay. To me, the experience of being on the water photographing Alaskan Sea Otters renewed my soul and my spirit after three months of sheltering in place in almost total isolation. The trip was not a certainty even as we packed to fly to Anchorage on Saturday. Alaska’s mandates for interstate travel were revised only hours before our scheduled departures. Upon landing in Anchorage, we were required to present evidence of a negative Covid19 test taken within 72 hours prior of boarding the flight. I had not received my results when I boarded my flight. To my great relief, my test results were delivered to my mailbox while I was in flight and I was allowed to enter Alaska without further testing or sheltering in place. I felt such relief and joy to be free, without restrictions, on a boat on a pristine bay in Alaska, and doing what I love most. Nikon D6, Nikkor 500mm PF.
Another photograph from the archives, a Cassin’s Finch photographed about a year ago in the Eastern Sierra. Nikon D5, 500mm PF.