Sunday, 21 October 2012

Swapping the Thames for beautiful British Columbia

We've been on holiday for some time and therefore have no new images of local wildlife to show.  Instead, since photographing wildlife is my passion, I thought I'd showcase a small selection of images taken while in Canada.  It would be difficult to describe, without resorting to superlatives, the stunning scenery, beauty, vast open spaces and impressive wildlife that we enjoyed daily while there.  Alberta was wonderful and British Columbia rightly lives up to its title - Beautiful British Columbia.

With the exception of a couple of days we were blessed with the sunniest and warmest autumn weather since records began.  The night skies were incredible because there was no light pollution and the silence was profound.  Part of the holiday, shared with three good friends, involved an eight day private charter through a small section of the Inside Passage.

My main objective was to see the Kermode (Spirit) Bear, a rare white subspecies of the black bear.  We had also hoped to see a wolf in the wild and whales and sea otters were also on our wish list.  Years ago we drove the Alaska Highway and were fortunate enough to see dozens of grizzly bears at close quarters but we never saw any black bears so they, too, were on our list.  We saw everything and more and had the holiday of a lifetime.  Something tells me that this won't be our last visit to Canada where we met with nothing but courtesy, kindness and exhilarating experiences.

Humpback whales in the distance

We'd been promised whales and we were not disappointed!  These humpbacks were in the process of bubble net feeding and, as we got closer to them, we could see the circle of bubbles rising to the surface of the water just before the whales rose up with gaping mouths to 'catch' the fish they'd herded into their circle of bubbles.

Whale rises up to feed within its circle of bubbles

One of the two humpbacks can be seen above within the bubble circle the pair created.  We watched them hunt like this for about half an hour, spouting, diving, blowing bubbles and then lunging up through the school of fish trapped within the circle to take their fill.

Whale with its jaws wide open to filter the fish

The tails of two humpback whales

Before the whales brought the show to an end they swam under our 54ft boat and then gave us a farewell wave of their tales.  In addition to their magnificent performance they also left us with more than a whiff of whale breath, a pungent smell of stale fish, better remembered rather than bottled!

Just one example of the beauty surrounding us

The scenery really is breathtaking, even during the two days of typical rainforest weather - dark clouds and swirling mists rather than warm sunshine and clear blue skies.  I have never seen so many waterfalls, many of them dramatic, and while we were moored the only sounds were natural ones, the torrent of a waterfall, the sound of water lapping the hull, the high pitched sound made by eagles, the warning calls of ravens or the blowing of nearby humpback whales.

A lazy seal refuses to budge from the comfort of his haul out rocks

We saw plenty of seals, most of which seemed quite curious about us and kept us under observation but didn't get too close to our boat.  This one just took us in his stride, not bothering to take to the water like the majority of them.  We were even fortunate enough to see several sea otters.  They were hunted for their valuable fur and very few remained but now, at last, a few are returning to these waters.

An immature bald eage

We didn't see as many eagles as we'd expected to but we had been spoiled, some years back, when we visited Haines, Alaska, during the fall and saw large numbers of them enjoying a 'salmon fest' following the return of the salmon to their spawning grounds.  Here, an immature bald eagle poses on a log close to an inlet where salmon were waiting for their chance to travel upstream to spawn.  In the background is one of the many waterfalls we saw during our eight day passage.

Kermode bear

More than anything I had hoped to catch a glimpse of a spirit bear and we were thrilled when one suddenly appeared across the river from us on a VERY wet Sunday.  Nothing could dampen our spirits after our first sighting, only twenty minutes after arriving at the river bank, and we waited (in vain) another seven hours in the cold and wet in the hope of seeing other bears, including the much more common black ones.  It was worth the discomfort and we still had fun chatting in whispers among ourselves, but as the river rose with the sheer volume of rainwater, I realised that the water had risen too high for a bear to be able to wade in and catch fish.  We did, however, enjoy watching dippers in the calmer waters at the edge, and a pine marten also put in a brief appearance.

A young male grizzly bear heads our way

Later in the trip we reached grizzly country and were also fortunate enough to see a female black bear with three young cubs.  The young grizzly, above, came almost too close for comfort while we were in our zodiac watching the 'interplay' between a grizzly mum with three cubs, across the water from us, and this young bear.  He showed a great deal of interest in the female and kept looking wistfully in her direction but she saw him only as a threat to her cubs.  When he attempted to swim across to her she 'charged' him and sent him scurrying.

Young grizzly cub enjoys a rest while his mum seeks out more salmon

This was one of two cubs that wandered along the shoreline with their mum and picked up scraps of dead/dying salmon.  I loved the way he just sat on the log having a gentle scratch.  Later on we saw a mother with a much smaller cub.  She tried to get it to swim across to where the salmon were more prolific but it couldn't keep up with her and was struggling against the tide and crying out in distress so, in the end, she swam back to it and they returned to shore.

A tender moment between a mother grizzly and one of her cubs

We saw so much interaction between a number of different grizzly families and lone males.  The mothers were nearly always cautious and would give ground rather than risk confrontation.  I watched one cub having a game with its mum, standing up on its hind legs and batting her with its paws.  She responded by gently nuzzling it and mock biting its shoulder.

To be surrounded by these magnificent creatures and to see so many other truly awesome sights was an immense pleasure and we shall always remember these experiences.  Even the fleeting glimpse of a lone wolf made an impression and we felt privileged to witness nature in such unspoilt surroundings.  We ended our trip with three days of 'rehabilitation to civilisation' in Vancouver, a beautiful, vibrant city.  The Syliva Hotel was the perfect place to end a perfect holiday.