Tag Archives: wildlife

Badlands of South Dakota

Continuing our trek out to Wisconsin along I-90 and across South Dakota, we visited and hiked around a bit in the Badlands National Park and encountered some bighorn sheep.  The park campgrounds were full but we found dispersed camping (with lots of other folks) just outside the northwest entrance.

We weren’t able to visit some of the other interesting sites in the nearby Black Hills area (like Jewel Cave or Wind Cave National Park) because a severe thunderstorm and hail warning drove us north out of the way.  The next day I dropped Darlene off at the Rapid City airport so she could fly home to make her doctor’s appointment (she’s currently on medical leave due to a hip injury).

I continued on with Pan and Hera and visited the Minuteman Historic National Monument, which was well worth the stop.

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A Close Encounter with Devils Tower

After stopping over in Portland to visit Glenn and Michele and make a couple of repairs (as well as visit Outside Van), we finally turned east to truly head for Wisconsin.  Two of the few tourist stops we made along the way was the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana and the Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming.  The Museum of the Rockies has a few rotating exhibits but its showcase is its dinosaur collection which includes “some thirty-five thousand specimens, including the world’s largest collection of Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops, along with America’s largest collection of dinosaur eggs, embryos, and babies”.

Continuing on but before we came upon Devils Tower, I had to sit Darlene down the night before our arrival to watch “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.  We arrived early the next morning (before 7 am) to beat the crowds.  (Apparently it gets crazy busy there everyday from 10 am to late in the afternoon.)  Darlene slept in on the early morning drive and awoke to this view out the campervan window:

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Backpacking in the Enchantments

Leprechaun Lake (6875 ft) in the Enchantments core zone

The Enchantments is a popular backpacking destination in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area of central Washington state.  It’s popular enough that you have to submit an application via a lottery system many months in advance (much like the Mt. Whitney trailhead).  We managed to score a permit for the “Snow Lakes Zone” and I was able to join Glenn and Michele and several of their friends (John, Kyle and Fritz) last week in Leavenworth to start our four-day adventure.  Unfortunately, Darlene had to bow out for a work-related conflict but we were able to make another backpacking trip to the High Sierra the week before.

It was looking sketchy with all the smoke from the wildfires across the northwest this summer, including a small wildfire burning in another part of the Enchantments area (closing off the other half), but we lucked out with some not-completely-unbreathable air the week we were there and even a remarkably clear day on our second day.

Ready for a nice long climb from the Snow Lakes trailhead

On our first day, we hiked from the Snow Lakes trailhead at about 1400 ft and climbed about 4000 ft over eight or nine miles to the far side of Snow Lakes.  It’s a lot of elevation but it’s spread out fairly well and, except for a couple of large rockfalls, the trail is in good condition and there’s plenty of opportunities to get water.  Part of Snow Lakes is used as a reservoir and it was down some 20-30 ft when we arrived – apparently drained like a bathtub by an underground aqueduct that shoots a huge jet of water out the side of the mountain above Nada Lake.   We camped alongside some of the exposed beach of Snow Lakes for two nights.

Working through the rockfalls between Snow Lakes and Nada Lake

Glenn and Fritz “volunteered to keep watch” over our campsite the second day as the rest of us headed up over the western ridge from Snow Lakes to the “core zone” of the Enchantments area.  That turned out to be not so much a trail as a rocky mountain goat path, scrambling up over granite outcroppings.  It was hard to picture carrying a full 40-pound pack over that but many people do the Enchantments as a 18+ mile through hike.  The craziness of that trail aside, the many lakes of the core zone were lovely, though we only went as far as the shore of Perfection Lake (while looking for mountain goats) before making our return to our camp.

Climbing the pass from Snow Lakes up over the ridge

On our third day, we packed up camp late in the morning and headed down the short distance through the rockfalls to Nada Lake, with a brief sojourn to the more natural looking half of Snow Lakes – where we stumbled into a small herd of deer who were remarkably unconcerned with our presence.  We camped along Nada Lake at the base of a huge rockfall of massive boulders that extended all the way up the mountain.  And on our last day, we got a close encounter with a family of mountain goats as we made a leisurely hike all the way back down to the trailhead.

Camped at Nada Lake (4900 ft)

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Flying Over Humpbacks

I saw this news article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel this morning talking about how active the humpback whales have been near shore off of Santa Cruz and Aptos these past few weeks.  So Darlene and I grabbed the drone and dashed down to Seacliff State Beach.  I’ve been wanting to try flying the drone to get nice, aerial views of the whales.  (A lot of the coastline is protected via the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary but flying in this area is allowed.)

There were probably a dozen of them near shore – you could see them popping up every which way!  The lighting wasn’t great (completely overcast) as the marine layer had yet to burn off but it was still very fun to hang around with the drone waiting for them to appear.

It’s quite the challenge to find them and stay with them using the narrow view of the drone’s camera – even when you can easily see them from shore.  Darlene was helping by watching the feed with the goggles because it’s also hard to see small/distant details on the iPhone or iPad screen, particularly when you’re outside. It’s much easier to see with the goggles but then of course all you can see is what the drone sees.

It was hard tracking them too because once they go under it’s hard to predict where to be looking when they come back up. You want to get closer for more detail but if you’re too close you won’t see them at all when they resurface off camera (which happened repeatedly) – and of course not so close as to harass them.  I should point out that the limited view angle of the drone’s camera makes them appear closer than they really are and yet I still had to heavily crop every one of these clips to make the whales appear large enough in the frame – even in the most distant shots.

I did put a polarizer on the drone camera to try to cut through the reflection of the water surface but it didn’t work that well with the diffuse overcast light so it might work better in directed sunlight.

Need more practice! ;-)

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Two More Bobcats

I heard a strange, low moaning/growl from the scrub behind the house.  It definitely got Pan and Hera’s attention.  It sounded like a noise a calf might make – but when I waited around to see if whatever it was would emerge, it turned out to be a pair of juvenile bobcats growling at each other:

Video footage of two bobcats hanging out behind the house (2:31, 51 MB)

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Hoan and Quyen’s Family Visit

Hoan and Quyen returned with their kids to visit over the 4th of July weekend.  This time we visited the surfers and sea lions along Cliff Drive, the juvenile elephant seals out at Año Nuevo, the lighthouse at Pigeon Point, the sea cliffs near Pescadero Beach, the whale skeletons at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center and the crabs and sea stars in the tide pools near Natural Bridges State Park.

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Cindy and Travis Visit

Darlene brought over Cindy and Travis to visit for the weekend again in late May.  We played around with the drone, visited Seacliff State Beach in Capitola, went out to Año Nuevo to see what the elephant seals were up to and found a hidden park nearby on the edge of Scotts Valley while geocaching.

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A Week in O’ahu

As much as I’ve enjoyed the rest of Hawaii, I had yet to visit O’ahu and was always put off by pictures of busy Honolulu and Waikiki.  However, as part of Darlene’s “birthday month”, off we went – and while it doesn’t compare to Kauai or the Big Island, it was still quite enjoyable!

A short video montage of our week in O’ahu (under six minutes, 119 MB)

We rented a condo in Waikiki for four nights and then spent the remaining two nights at a place on the north shore.  We walked the length of Waikiki (and up to the top of Diamond Head and back), snorkeled at Hanauma Bay, spent a rainy day at the Pearl Harbor exhibits, visited some of the south and eastern shoreline, navigated Dole’s “world’s largest pineapple maze”and enjoyed more snorkeling in the north bay.

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Tracking Coyotes

I’ve had a few chances to try using my drone to track the coyotes that are often in the neighborhood.  They don’t seem too disturbed by the Mavic but I keep it back aways and zoom in and crop to get some decent footage.  One of them even came running over to investigate when I had it hovering some 20 ft off the ground in the nearby field:

Spying on coyotes from a drone (2:19, 47 MB)

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A Gray Whale Threesome

Darlene and her mom and I took a whale watching tour out of Santa Cruz on March 23rd with Stagnaro Charters.  (I didn’t know whale tours were available out of town here in Santa Cruz – super convenient as opposed to driving down to Monterey.)  We were very lucky to get to first come across a threesome of gray whales in the midst of their courtship/mating – something that apparently gray whales do in groups of three or more:

What appears to be mating, however, is simply an elaborate courtship in which two males can be seen attempting to mate with a female.

Christopher Fitzsimmons, an education specialist at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, explained that mating in pods of three, with two males and a female, is entirely common among gray whales.

“This rolling and rubbing we see is believed to be the whales familiarizing themselves with one another and making sure the female is receptive to mating,” said Fitzsimmons.

Gray whales engage in often elaborate courtship practices before mating. Males will use their pectoral fins to coerce and align females into mating positions. Females have even been observed avoiding the attempts of males for days.

And then later we came across four more gray whales, one of whom did several breaches in front of us. All very cool!

    

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