The comet in the top left of the photo. A tree in the bottom right.

NEOWISE update

Now that our fine comet friend has shifted so that it is visible in the evenings (~80 minutes after sunset, so ~10:20 p.m. Washington state time), it has been cloudy almost every single night. Yesterday it was cloudy all day too, but when I looked outside during our evening Zoom exercise class, I saw blue sky all of a sudden! After class, Cobalt and I went for a walk to get a better idea of the weather. It was relatively clear above us, but still cloudy to the northwest, where NEOWISE has been hanging out in the evenings. Maybe the clouds would continue to roll away in the two hours before NEOWISE was due to be visible in the sky?

We decided to attempt another comet sighting after dinner. We packed the camera and its tripod and headed off to our favorite area to see things west of us. It’s still in the city, but you have to go through some trees to get there, and then you end up looking across Puget Sound. Anyway, we got there at 10 p.m. but then had to turn around because the site has been closed during the pandemic to keep the number of people in the area down.

We drove north and finally turned down a street with a pretty good view of the northwest. There was one couple with masks and binoculars looking up, so we pulled over.

The viewing conditions were not great. The spot had tall trees blocking our view of the sky. And on either side of the trees were VERY BRIGHT streetlights. Also, other people showed up, driving down the street with their headlights blaring and then taking forever to get out of their cars and turn off all their lights. Everyone was staring at the sky, but no one was having much luck finding NEOWISE.

I was having trouble even setting up the camera. Because everything around us was so bright, I couldn’t find or focus on any stars through the viewfinder. And my glasses, which help me see the crisp pinpoints of light, were getting fogged up thanks to my mask. I was getting frustrated.

I took a break from the camera and pulled out a handy article from Sky and Telescope, which has very specific instructions and diagrams for finding the comet: Find the big dipper, it says, and then count three fists below the dipper. Then move a little to the right. I handed my phone to Cobalt to ask him if he could make sense of the diagrams while I struggled with the camera. “I found it!” he said, and motioned for me to move the camera even MORE underneath one of the streetlights. If I squinted to where he was pointing, I could just barely make out a blur that looked vaguely like the bright comet we had seen last week. Or maybe I was just imagining things.

I pointed my camera in that direction, adjusted the lens to “infinity” focus (no way to focus on something you can’t see… plus that streetlight was REALLY bright) and took a picture. This is what we saw 5 seconds later in my display screen.

The night sky with a comet tail barely visible at the bottom of the photo.
A TAIL! We found the tail!

COBALT HAD FOUND IT! Nice work, Cobalt. All of the other comet-viewers had given up by then, so it was just the two of us discussing how to tweak the camera settings without losing the comet. It’s always fun to photograph something COMPLETELY blind, using the display screen to give us any indication that we’re on the right track. Cobalt mentioned multiple times that we were so lucky to be in this digital photography age. Phew! Here are some more pictures from our adventure.

The comet in the top left of the photo with a small bright blur to the right of it. A tree takes up the bottom right of the photo.
I wonder what is next to NEOWISE in this picture. It shows up in a few of my pictures from around the same time, seemingly making an arc in the sky. Is it the International Space Station?! Someone who knows more about space, please weigh in.

 

The comet tail coming up from the bottom of the photo. You can sort of see the ion tail too coming off the top.
Did you know that comets actually have TWO tails? The main one is all the dust created from the melting ice/debris released when the comet passed the sun. The other is made up of ions released thanks to the solar radiation. I like this picture because I can sorta see the ion tail (it’s on top, kinda blue). Can you see it? :)

These photos were taken with a pretty long exposure (between 1 and 10 seconds) and a really high ISO. As usual, I have MOAR photo ideas that I want to try, but we’ll see if we get to go find the comet again. It is supposedly getting close and closer to Earth (it will be the closest on July 23), but it is also getting dimmer and dimmer. We’re lucky we have a telephoto lens and a camera that lets us take long exposures, but I’m worried that without binoculars, we won’t be able to see it by eye soon. :(

Anyone else have NEOWISE adventures that they want to share?

The comet NEOWISE in the night sky

It’s NEOWISE to meet you

One of these stars is not like the others (hint: it’s a comet)…

Sooo on Friday The Seattle Times had an article about the comet NEOWISE and how we could actually see it from our often-times cloudy city of Seattle — as long as we were willing to be awake just before sunrise, which right now is around 3 a.m. Now you know me and my love of taking pictures of fun objects in the sky (the moon, solar eclipses, etc.), so I said CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

We got up at 2:45 a.m., thoroughly confusing the cat, and headed out in search of the comet. All we knew was that it should be near Venus and in the northeast. We had found a pretty good spot for photographing the moon a few months ago, so we decided to try that. Sure enough we saw Venus poking its head up over the mountains to the east. Then it was time to find the comet. It was relatively easy to see without binoculars — we just looked for a star that looked a little bit fuzzy. Maybe it helped that there was a tree next to us with a branch that was pointed straight at the comet. Here! Here! It’s right here!

We stayed with NEOWISE for about a half an hour, mostly with me furiously clicking away on my camera, trying to get the perfect shot. It was pretty dim, so I had to focus manually. But because it was pretty dim, it was also hard to focus manually. In addition, I wanted to do a long exposure to capture NEOWISE and its brilliant tail, but the longer I left the shutter open, the more everything shifted. So it was a lot of trial and error, but I think I got a pretty good shot or two!

Anyway, at some point the sun had come up enough to make NEOWISE even harder to see, and we were feeling sleepy. So we said good night (good morning?) to the comet and headed back home to bed.

It sounds like NEOWISE should be shifting to the early evening hours a little later this month, so keep an eye out for it! It’s pretty neat! I’ll certainly be looking for it. I have so many more photo ideas that I want to try now that I’m more awake. :)

The comet NEOWISE in the night sky

A larch in front of other larches

Looking for larches

Move over, aspens. There’s a new fall tree in town.

This weekend, Cobalt and I went on an epic hike in search of larches, trees I had never heard about until a few weeks ago. These needley trees look like your typical evergreens during the summer, but then in the fall the needles turn yellow and fall off, like your typical deciduous trees. So cool!

In addition, it’s been two years since Cobalt and I have lived in Colorado, and we missed our fall tradition of seeing the glorious aspens turn yellow against the bright blue Colorado sky.

So when we found out that the Pacific Northwest has larches, we knew we had to go find them.

It’s not exactly easy. Larches in the state of Washington live at high elevation (~5,000 ft) in the northern part of the Cascade mountain range. So we had about a three-hour drive to wiggle northeast to the Cascades and then up.

But it turned out to be a beautiful day for a drive. To get to the Cascades, we drove through tunnels of orange and yellow trees that were shrouded in fog. Perfect for people who love fall and Halloween. Then as we climbed into the mountains, the sun came out and we were surrounded by outstanding views of the craggy mountains in this mountain range. Seriously, it was jaw-dropping.

My co-worker had recommended that we do the Cutthroat Pass trail, because it would definitely get us high enough to see larches (the trailhead is about 4,000 feet), and it would possibly be less crowded than other popular hikes in the area. The weather was too perfect though, so I think half of the state of Washington had the same idea we did.

Anyway, the trail was great! It was coated in snow, which ranged from a little dusting at the beginning to more prominent snow as we climbed. But the sun was out, so we weren’t too cold. We had INCREDIBLE views of the surrounding mountains, and we started to see larches nestled on them as the trail went on. Then suddenly, at about 6,000 feet, we found ourselves surrounded by these beautiful turning-yellow trees…. and all the other humans who had come out to find them.

We found them!!!
Cobalt admiring the view

Cobalt and I wandered around the larches for a while, taking pictures and getting to know them.

Getting up close and personal with a larch….

Their needles are thinner than those of other needled trees I’ve encountered, so they felt feathery and soft. Their softness and the way they were organized on the branches made the branches look like yellow pipe cleaners jutting out of the trunks. For some reason, the twisty nature of the larch branches made me think of skeletons. Not sure why.

Similar to other deciduous trees, each larch needle turns yellow in its own time. It makes for a gorgeous mix of yellow and green on any given tree.
Looks spiky but soooo soft…

After meandering through larches and humans, we found a large rock in the sun and decided to stop for lunch. We enjoyed our excellent views of the larches and the light breeze that swept across the area while we munched on carrots and cheese.

Also part of the lunch view: This neat mushroom!

Then it was time to head back down. :(

These little puffs caught my eye as we headed back down. I like that you can see the larches in the background.

These trees are magical. I can’t wait to go back and visit them again next year — or maybe next week. I miss them already.

Leaving you with some mushrooms and a baby tree!

Nature vs. nurture: a ghost story

Helllooooo friends! I hope you have been enjoying spring (or autumn if I have any southern hemisphere friends). Cobalt and I have been having a good time getting to know our new city. There’s always something fun going on on the weekends. We participated in Independent Bookstore Day one weekend and Free Comic Book Day the next! But while we’ve been having tons of fun with all of that, we really wanted to get out and explore the wilderness too.

So last weekend we went on an adventure to a ghost town with our friend Titanium! This particular ghost town only existed in Washington for ~20 years! It sprung up with a coal mine in 1900 and then it slowly started dying 15 years later when the nearby trains switched away from coal. Then a fire wiped out most of what was left of the town. Yikes. Bad news. So don’t get too excited, the only town-y parts left are a few walls and a foundation here and there. But it was still cool to wander around and wonder what it would have been like to live there.

Also, it was really incredible to see how nature has slowly reclaimed all of the remaining human-made objects in the area. Moss is not deterred, folks. It will grow on anything it seems.

Enough chit chat! Let’s get to the pictures!

This was labeled as a Retaining Wall on the map from the hiking guide I borrowed from my coworker. It was about a mile from the townsite though…

 

The sun was highlighting these leaves in such a way that I saw this as an opportunity for a black and white photo. So here you go.

 

Pretty sure this abandoned car is not from the time of the ghost town. It looks like it’s been there a while though. It’s fun to look at people’s pictures of this car through the ages. It’s definitely becoming part of the forest as time progresses.

 

See what I mean about that moss? Slowly claiming the backseat as its own.

 

Even the railroad pieces are being twisted by nature…

 

Human-made or natural? It’s all starting to blend together!

 

Apparently someone still lives in this town… PS: Look how green this concrete foundation is. I didn’t do anything to the color in Lightroom. Further proof that nature is relentless.

 

Cobalt in what’s left of the schoolhouse. Look at the size of the trees in there!

So green

Hi everyone! Guess what? Cobalt and I moved to the western side of Washington! I got a new job (more on that later), so we packed up all our stuff and drove it + a sad kitty over the Cascades.

We’re finally settling into our place here, so this weekend we decided it was time to go on an adventure. We ended up spending Earth Day at Wallace Falls State Park with our friends Titanium and Iron. It was a gorgeous day and we had ourselves a nice 4.5 mile hike to see some falls.

You guys. It was so beautiful. Everything was green and alive. And it smelled so. good. I also enjoyed feeling my hiking boots squish through the wet dirt as we climbed up and up and up to see the falls and then turned around and went back home.

I brought two cameras so that Titanium and I could play with cameras together. She had my zoom/macro lens and I had my trusty prime (no zoom) 50 mm lens. So even if we took similar shots, they probably look quite different. I can’t wait to see what Titanium captured on her camera!

It was great having another photographer to hike with because Cobalt and Iron went ahead and then Titanium and I took pictures of everything all the way up and all the way down. I was in the moment hunting for things that could be cool to photograph. Usually it’s just me being awkward wanting to photograph stuff but not wanting to slow Cobalt down.

Anyway, that’s enough chatter. Let’s look at some pictures. Oh yeah… one note: I’m still in my tiny-things phase.

So we’ll start with some big things.

This was at the beginning of the trail. Such poky mountains in the distance… I like the way the powerlines draw your eyes to the mountain.
We hiked all the way up to this fall. There was another one even farther up but we were tiiiiiiiired.
Titantium had my wide angle lens on my other camera, so here’s the bottom of the fall from the previous picture. It’s more fun this way anyway. :) I like the mist!

Now we’ll work our way toward smaller and smaller things…

I like that this root looks like a hand. This baby tree is quite literally holding on for dear life. It was cool because it was growing out of an old redwood stump.
Same tree as above. Just different angle. I think this looks like a hand too, but reaching up to the sky!
So many baby trees sprouting out of dead trees. It was kind of magical. Plus I was obsessed with all those little fern-y guys along the bottom.
Ahhhh! So cute!

…until there is only a leaf left.

The great croissant challenge

I was craving croissants.

I really wanted to eat something buttery, crunchy, and flaky. And yet, most croissants that I have found, while delicious, fall short of that description. So I decided to try to make my own!

Now croissants are crazy flaky because they’re made out of puff pastry, which is basically flour and a LOT of butter folded over and over and over onto itself to make those layers we so appreciate. You can buy puff pastry at the store but I wanted to make my own. It takes a while because you have to keep the butter cold. So a typical recipe has you do a fold, then put the dough in the fridge for 30 min to an hour to chill the butter before you fold it again. It’s a lot of waiting. I decided the weekend would be the best time to try it.

Cobalt and I have Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything book so I decided to start there. I spent Saturday evening rolling and folding the dough, as per Bittman’s suggestions. Then I put it in the fridge overnight so I could make toasty croissants for Sunday morning brunch.

On Sunday, I rolled out and shaped the croissants. They looked good. Check it out.

Then I popped them in the oven. After about 25 minutes, they looked golden brown and pretty.


Though they looked pretty, they felt kind of weird. They were heavier than I thought a croissant should be. Could be okay still though. It came down to a taste test.

The inside was a disaster. They were still raw in there! I wonder if I made them too big. But also, they didn’t really taste great.

I went on a mission for a new croissant recipe. And I found this one by The Great British Bake Off’s judge Paul Hollywood.

So I went to the store and gathered some more supplies (these things need a lot of butter). And then I started on the recipe.

Hollywood’s recipe has yeast in it, which I took to be a good sign. Croissants that have risen maybe wouldn’t be as dense as the Bittman ones were.

This recipe was a little more complicated than the Bittman one. First of all, the ingredients were listed in grams instead of our American cups and teaspoons. But that’s okay! I have a kitchen scale. I pretended I was back in the lab: I tared the scale and then weighed out the exact amounts of my ingredients.

The recipe also called for “caster sugar,” which is apparently superfine sugar. Our store had sugar and powdered sugar (which is superfine sugar with cornstarch in it), so I had to make my own caster sugar. I took regular sugar and put it in the food processor. Voila. Superfine!

Then all of Hollywood’s measurements were in centimeters instead of inches. I’m not great at guestimating centimeters, so I borrowed my measuring tape from my sewing kit.

Finally, I had some drama getting the butter the way Hollywood described it. But at last I got the dough to its stopping point and let it rest overnight in the fridge.

On Monday morning, I rolled out the dough and shaped the croissants. Not bad!

You can already see the layers!

These ones were smaller than the Bittman ones but they also had a two-hour rise before I baked them. They puffed up!

And then they puffed up even more even more in the oven. Oh man. They looked and smelled so good. Plus they were light and super flaky!

Okay so they probably won’t win any beauty contest awards (Sorry Paul Hollywood!) but they’re still AMAZING.

Time for a taste test. Looks like Cobalt likes them! Yummmmm….

I really like making puff pastry dough (minus adding the butter to the Hollywood recipe, which made me infuriated). There’s something so relaxing about rolling out and folding this dough. Especially with the Hollywood recipe because it smelled so good. :D

I’m definitely going to have to try this one again. I have to figure out how to perfect that butter part! Also maybe I should mix up the recipe a little. Maybe make some pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants)? Yes please!

I hope you all are enjoying the new lunar year! Year of the Dog! Did anyone make/eat dumplings? :)

Those bad clouds

What happens when you’re super excited about something, and then it doesn’t happen? That energy has to go somewhere, right? Last week, I decided to put my disappointment about missing the lunar eclipse into taking crazy double exposure photos of Tarantula and the moon. It was possibly more challenging than photographing the eclipse itself, AND it made me giggle, which cheered me up.

It all started last Tuesday evening, when I was nerding out about the Super Blue Blood Moon! I love taking pictures of the moon (as y’all know), and lunar eclipses (the “blood moon” part) are especially fun to photograph. Unlike a solar eclipse, you don’t need crazy equipment to keep your eyes and your camera safe. You just point the camera at the moon and click click click click. Yayyyy. Cool moon pictures.

The total eclipse was supposed to start at… 4:50 am on Wednesday morning here in Washington state. My friend K and I planned to get up at 4 am and meet up so we could witness/photograph the wonder together. Great plan!

4 am is quite a bit earlier than I am used to getting up, though, so I decided to pack my camera stuff the night before. That way, I could roll out of bed, grab my fancy new camera bag, and go see the moon!

I was getting everything ready when I looked up and saw the super moon watching me through the window. It was pretty neat. Some trick of the light made a mini reflection of the super moon right underneath the moon itself. I liked it because it was still a pretty detailed reflection. So I took a few photos. But not too many because I thought I would have way cooler ones in the morning.

I love my little blurry mini moon. It almost looks like the mini moon IS the moon and then there’s some crazy bright planet/star lurking behind it!

BUT when I woke up at 4 am, it was CLOUDY. Cobalt, nice husband that he is, even went on a mini walk outside to see if our apartment was blocking the moon. He came back with sad news. No eclipse for me.

I was so grumpy on Wednesday. People were posting such cool photos online. Blood moon over an observatory, blood moon over the ocean, blood moon, blood moon, blood moon! It seemed like everyone saw it! And yet, I had nothing. It’s not like I slept through my alarm, or I forgot to charge my camera battery. It’s just that sometimes, these things happen. It was out of my control.

On Wednesday night, when the moon rose, I glared at it. It was still kind of cloudy, but you could see the moon. It was taunting me. Oh now you decide to show up, moon.

A part of me suggested that maybe I take some full moon pictures anyway. My camera was already prepped for moon photos. So I grudgingly set everything up and took a few photos of the moon from our deck.

Dang. That’s a sweet moon.

Tarantula watched me from the back door. That’s when I got the idea. What if… I took a picture of the moon and then, using the multiple exposure mode on my camera, took a picture of Tarantula so that it looked like she was watching it?

Crazy challenge accepted! Finally all my grumpiness had somewhere to go: This photo was going to require some serious planning.

The way the multiple exposure mode works is that it takes two (or more, depending on what you tell it) consecutive photos and smashes them together into one photo. So I had to take two perfect photos back to back. Which was hard because the moon and the inside of my house are lit quite differently. Also Tarantula is quite a bit closer to my camera than the moon is. ALSO… I had to remember where I framed the moon in the photo and then somehow get my cat to look in that general direction.

It took two different lenses (take picture of moon, switch lens to portrait lens, adjust settings, take picture of cat) and a lot of trial and error.

This was my first attempt. Moon looks good, but T’s not really looking in the right direction. Also I didn’t really like the closet in the background behind her.
Cobalt was on cat-attention duty. He tried: saying KITTY!, snapping his fingers, and getting out her favorite butterfly toy to get her to look where I wanted her to look. This picture happened because she leapt out of the frame for the butterfly. I was going to redo the whole series anyway, so I just snapped a quick second picture of her and the camera smashed the two together. I think it looks like a record cover. What would the title be?

I’m still sad that I didn’t get to see the eclipse. But at least I got to have fun with my camera, which is one of the things I was looking forward to. I’ve been trying to take pictures that tell a story. Sure, a photo of the eclipse would have told a “Potassium got up super early so she could see this sweet lunar phenomenon” story. But these photos tell a pretty neat story too. I mean, how often do cats get to look at a moon in their own living rooms?

Now it’s your turn! Did you see the eclipse? What’s something that’s disappointed you lately? How did you handle your feelings?

In the dark

Today I thought I would share my newest revelation about my current job/life situation. But first we have to talk about cameras. Why? Because I like cameras. And also because this is my blog and I say so.

So let’s start at the top.

My camera has two settings for focusing: auto and manual.

For autofocus, I tell the camera what to focus on and then it controls the lens and brings my subject into view. I use it almost all the time because it’s fast and usually the camera and I agree about what I want it to look at.

Sometimes I can’t use autofocus though. Sometimes the camera and I disagree about what should be drawing the viewer’s eyes. Sometimes, like when it’s dark outside, the camera has a really hard time “seeing” what I see, and it’s easier for me to just switch the camera to manual mode and focus for myself.

It can be a challenge. When I use manual focus, I often second guess myself about what “perfect” focus looks like. I bring my subject in and out of focus as I test the possibilities. It’s even harder when it’s dark and I can’t really see much better than the camera can.

Here are some examples:

Last summer, I noticed a bunch of birds sleeping in a tree by my house. It was so cute to see their little bird butts sticking out of the leaves, and I grabbed my camera to capture the moment. It was 10 pm. The camera said “I see a vague tree-like shape here… ummm… not really sure what you’re going for…” so I switched to manual, which was hard because I could barely see the birds myself! After some trial and error, I finally captured the birds the way I wanted them, and I left them alone to dream.

Why is that one bird on a branch all by itself?

This past weekend, Cobalt’s best friend T was hanging out in Seattle. So we headed “over the hill” and into the city. It was lovely! We talked books with T and his family, we ate an epic brunch with my sister, and then we hung out with my friends from grad school, Titanium and her boyfriend whom we will call “Iron.” Titanium and Iron took us on a ferry so we could go have dinner on Bainbridge Island. On the way back, we spent the majority of the ferry ride in the crazy cold wind outside because we wanted to witness the Seattle skyline draw closer and closer. I brought out my camera to photograph the skyline. That was pretty easy for autofocus: point camera at space needle. Camera sees the lit-up space needle against a dark sky. Camera brings space needle into focus. BAM. Picture.

But then I thought, hrm. How would I capture the fun we are having right now on this ferry? And I decided to take some pictures of Titanium and Iron. The lighting was not ideal for humans. It was 10 pm (again). Titanium and Iron were either backlit from the light inside the ferry or the Seattle skyline and my camera was not finding their faces. So I switched to manual focus. But again, the same problem with the birds popped up – it was hard for me to see when their features were that crisp though the eyepiece either.

This is where the story gets a little different. For the birds, I just used my on-camera flash to illuminate the birds once I got them in focus. This past weekend, however, I decided that since I was manually focusing in the dark, maybe I should play around with some of my camera settings. What would happen if I didn’t use my flash and instead turned the shutter speed waaaaay down (longer exposure=more time for light to illuminate Titanium and Iron)? Well Titanium and Iron would be blurry because we were on a moving boat. But maybe that would be a fun effect. Let’s try it. And so I did. And here are my pictures.

This one looks like I put a stocking over my lens to make the whole picture softer….

I was thinking about these pictures yesterday, and how much I enjoyed the fact that they were not “perfect” and crisp. I loved the blurriness and the crazy Seattle-skyline bokeh around Titanium. And that’s when I realized that this is how I feel about my life right now. I have a lot of education now (PhD, Scicomm certificate, lots of multimedia experience), and I’m not quite sure how I want to use it to make the world better. I have some idea what I want to do and where I want to end up. But it’s all pretty hazy. No real way for a camera to autofocus on it. So instead I’m using manual focus. And then the pictures come out like this – I can just make out my subject there smiling in the future. It’s there! And I’m coming for it.

Self portrait

HOW IS IT ALREADY DECEMBER?!

It feels like the eclipse was just yesterday!

The sun goes down SO EARLY now, guys. You know it’s sad days when you’re in Seattle on the first day of December and you think “Wow! The sun is up so late here!” :-/

Anyway, on Sunday, I was sitting in our office so that the last glimpse of sun hit me in the face. It was great – so warm and bright. Then I looked up and saw that the sun was illuminating my face in a reflection in the window. I decided to try to capture it with my camera. I think it turned out pretty well. I love that you can’t even see the camera. There are just some Potassium eyes hovering there. Wahaaaaa.

In case you wanted to see the self-portrait part even closer – here is a crop.

Creeeeeepyyyyyy. Where’d that Potassium come from?

Apparently it’s a creepy-themed week. On Saturday, Cobalt and I took advantage of the super low hanging fog we had to make some silly monster flicks. Then I made the creepy self portrait. And then, when I tried to photograph this weekend’s super moon, the clouds decided that it needed to be creepy too.

Birthday orcas!

***WARNING: Photo-heavy post. It might take a while for all the photos to load but I think it’s probably worth it.***

EVERYONE. I got to see orcas for my birthday. It was amazing.

For those of you who don’t know, I LOVE orcas (also known as killer whales). My love of orcas actually predates my shark love by at least 15 years, if not more. Plus, Washington state is a great place to see orcas in the wild because we have a bunch of different kinds of orcas that live around here. So ever since I was a wee undergrad in Washington, I have wanted to go and see them. But I never got the chance… until this year when I told Cobalt that all I wanted for my birthday was to see the orcas.

So he and my friend Titanium put together a trip for my birthday. And then my sister (Deoxyribolove), my sister in law (she’s going by Strontium now), and our friends M and P decided they wanted to come too! Yay whale-watching party!

So this is the story of our adventure, complete with tons of pictures. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

We got up super early. Like 6 am. Then we picked up Strontium at her hotel and headed north to Anacortes, WA. There we met Titanium and her bf J and M and P at the ferry terminal! We boarded the ferry and headed to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. It was a beautiful ferry ride. Not too cold, not rainy, just cloudy and cool with mountains jutting out all around us. We spent the majority of the ride outside catching up.

Strontium on the ferry.

Once at Friday Harbor, we stopped for a bite to eat. Then it was time for whales.

It was raining as we walked to the San Juan Safaris shop but it soon stopped and the rain decided to stay away for the rest of the afternoon. We met our two guides who told us about all the animals we could see on our trip: bald eagles, minke whales, orcas, humpback whales, porpoises, seals, sea lions, and more! As they were talking, a bald eagle flew overhead! It was a sign…

Then we loaded onto the boat and headed out into the Salish Sea.

Titanium on the boat. So it was a little windy…
Deoxyribolove was all bundled up and ready to see some whales!!!

To give you an idea of where we were: we had to turn our cell phones to airplane mode because our they might try to pick up Canadian cell towers. So yeah, we were basically as close to Canada as we could be. At one point, we even passed the most northwest lighthouse in the United States.

Anyway, we weren’t out very long when we discovered another bald eagle. So regal up in the tree!

This seagull wanted to be photographed too. We did see other birds besides bald eagles! But most of them were too fast to be captured with my camera!

Not long after that, someone spotted tall black fins sticking up out of the water. ORCAS! Our guides quickly determined that we had found T101 (a transient/Bigg’s killer whale), her two sons (T101A and T101B), and her adopted son (T102). One way to ID an orca is to look at the dorsal fin (the one on the whale’s back). We could easily tell T101 apart from the boys because female orcas have smaller dorsal fins. But it was harder to figure out who we were looking at when it came to the boys. T102 had the biggest fin because he’s the oldest. His fin was huge and kind of wobbly (no bones in these fins!). But unless they were all in a line, it was hard to tell the other two apart.

Mother and adopted son (I think that’s T102)
I think this is T101A, but I’m not sure. He got super close to the boat so I got an up-close picture!

Time for a short killer whale lesson: there are two types of killer whales in this area: residents and transients (or Bigg’s). Residents were named because they were thought to reside only in this one area while the transients were thought to roam up and down the coast. But it turns out that both kinds can be found anywhere between Alaska and Monterey Bay, California, according to our guides. So the names “transient” and “resident” are kind of misleading. Annnnnnnyway – resident killer whales eat Chinook salmon but Bigg’s killer whales, like T101 and her family, eat everything. Especially seals. Which is what they were hunting when we found them.

So killer whales are super smart. And Bigg’s killer whales are super stealthy so they can sneak up on their prey. It was fun watching their crazy shenanigans. The water was pretty dark though so I think we missed out on most of the plotting.

They were doing all sorts of acrobatics. We kept seeing random tails stick up and slap the water.
Look at that floppy fin!

We followed the orcas at a respectful distance, slowing the boat down and/or turning off the motor when we got closer. I loved when that happened because we were drifting in our boat near these giant creatures. We could hear them breathing. It was incredible to be so close to one of my favorite animals. And I got to coexist with them. I was breathing, they were breathing. I was drifting, they were… doing whatever they were doing… It was beautiful.

At some point, we left the orcas to try to find some other critters. We saw a few porpoises but they weren’t interested in hanging out with our boat so they left. It also turns out there was a HUGE sailboat regatta happening on Saturday though so we found a lot of humans out on the water! It was fun to watch them too.

Then we found our orcas again! So we hung out with them more! By this point, we were starting to get pretty cold…

I like that it looks like this orca is hunting the sailboat.

Then it was time to start heading back to land. So we said goodbye to the orcas and tried to cram into the inside part of the boat to get warm. But the tour wasn’t over! On our way back to Friday Harbor, our guides took us past some of the other islands to look for other wildlife. We found more bald eagles, some sheep, deer, and more!

Not sure what this guy is but he looked pretty awesome standing on top of a ridge…

We arrived back at Friday Harbor tired but content after such an amazing day of hanging out with some of Washington’s finest creatures. The ferry ride back to Anacortes was filled with snacks and laughter as everyone looked over their photographs and recounted their favorite parts of the day. Everyone mostly stayed inside this time, which was good because it was SUPER windy outside. I went outside to watch the last of the sun go down and I loved the feeling of the wind on my back. It made eerie tones as it wrapped around the ferry too. It was such a neat ethereal experience to close out the day.

Well. That definitely became one of my top birthdays ever. Now it’s your turn – what’s your favorite picture? What was one of your favorite birthdays? Why was it so amazing? This bald eagle wants to know.