Gozo: The Isle of Calypso

April 29, 2015
Inland Sea | Gozo, Malta

Inland Sea

      A couple of weeks ago I finally got a chance to make it to the island of Gozo for some diving. For those unfamiliar with Gozo, it is one of the three inhabited Maltese Islands, which are situated in the southern Mediterranean Sea 300km north of Africa. Only accessible from the main island by ferry, Gozo has avoided overdevelopment and retained a lot more of its natural beauty both above and below sea level than it’s parent island, Malta.
Boat at Inland Sea Tunnel, Inland Sea | Gozo, Malta

Inland Sea Tunnel

The islands have been home to many feature films such as Gladiator, Troy, and Alexander; as well as scenes from the T.V. series Game of Thrones. Furthermore, it was exciting to learn that recently Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were filming the movie, By the Sea, in the same picturesque bay, Mgarr ix-Xini, that I explored underwater.

Snorkeler at the Blue Hole | Gozo, Malta

Snorkeler at Blue Hole

The geography topside consists of a hilly, terraced landscape which in April is littered with a colourful array of wildflowers. Olive, citrus, and pine trees thrive on the rocky, limestone earth. Grape vines also seem to fare well here as the sun can be relied on to shine 300 days of the year. Vast cave systems can be explored topside as well as underwater. And as you can see from the images the topography is rather magnificent. Diving through the many underwater tunnels was certainly a highlight for me.

Xlendi Tunnel, Xlendi Bay | Gozo, Malta

Xlendi Tunnel, Xlendi Bay

My partner and I arrived in Gozo during the second week of April with the plan to spend the next seven days becoming familiar with our new dry suits.  We positioned ourselves in the charming nook of Xlendi Bay, just ten minutes from the capital, Victoria. Xlendi Bay is the type of place I could easily find myself relocating to one day. It’s quaint yet visually stunning, intimate yet breathtakingly expansive. In fact, that’s exactly how Neil and Sally, the owners of Utina Diving College felt when they took over their dive shop in this seaside town.

Xlendi Tunnel, Xlendi Bay | Gozo, Malta

My Zen Place | Xlendi Tunnel

We couldn’t have been more pleased with the time we spent diving with Utina, and were certainly very well looked after while we got acclimated to our new Santi dry suits. Learning to dive in a drysuit truly is like learning to dive all over again and they were more than patient with us. Adding my camera to the mix after only three dives certainly increased the learning curve. While I am happy with the shots I took I know they could have been a whole lot better had I felt more confident diving. I suppose good old fashioned practice is the only way to improve! With diving plans for cold water lakes in Austria and Norway, and open water dives in Iceland, the practice will certainly need to continue to re-master the art of buoyancy control to the point of instinct.

Exit of Xlendi Tunnel, Xlendi Bay | Gozo, Malta

Xlendi Tunnel, Xlendi Bay

Mggar-ix-Xini | Gozo, Malta

Mggar-ix-Xini | The movie, By the Sea, was Shot in this Bay

Octopus | Gozo, Malta

On the Last Dive of the Trip, and Moments Away from Surfacing this Huge Octopus Appeared out of Nowhere in Front of Me

Note: I should point out that while we wore our drysuits for our personal and training reasons, others managed with 5-7mm wetsuits. The Spring in Malta is a little chilly underwater although temperatures only ranged between 15 and 18 degrees centigrade while we were there. Not too bad! Of course with the strength of the sun the water warms quite quickly and only a few weeks from now most divers will be wearing wetsuits.

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Snow Geese Migration

April 6, 2015

Snow Geese

A few weeks ago, on what had to be one of the windiest days of the year, I was crazy enough to attempt photographing seabirds along the New Jersey coast. Armed with some new telephoto equipment, I was adamant about shooting some birds. But as I was trying to steady myself in the violent wind, I began to question the sanity of this endeavor. At that same moment, a car pulled up directly in my line of sight. I recognized the driver as we ​had spoken casually several times along the trail; however, this time she had something interesting to share with me. Devastated by wind chill factor, I listened to her explain how her husband, an avid birder,​ had driven five hours west of where we were standing to see an enormous migration of snow geese. Roughly 110,000 in fact! On their way home to the Arctic tundra to breed, the snow geese had apparently stopped to take a breather in Middle Creek, Pennsylvania and it sounded like quite a spectacle to behold.

Snow Geese Migration

Grateful for this piece of information, I made the swift decision to put my camera away and do some quick research. As I surfed the web, I became exhilarated by the idea of a hundred thousand birds as I realized I had never seen so many in my life. I grew increasingly eager at the prospect of witnessing such an event. However, by the time I was able to make it to Middle Creek (two days later), the park rangers informed me that the snow geese population had decreased by half. Eventually more would arrive from the south but I only had the one afternoon so 55,000 geese and a few thousand tundra swan would have to suffice.

Snow Geese in Cornfield

I arrived by early afternoon and the air was a bit frigid. Despite the cold, it was lovely to find a large group of birders, photographers, and families just as excited about the migration as I was. Everyone had gathered around the edge of Middle Creek Lake where they waited patiently for any sign of activity from the napping geese. I looked for a spot to get set up but prime real estate was difficult to secure. As I got situated and pulled out my new gear, I noticed a bit of commotion out on the lake. What started with the honking of a few geese quickly grew into a chorus and eventually a magnificent blanket of white peeling off the frozen earth and into flight. I found myself awe-struck and only half-heartedly took a few shots as my concentration was elsewhere. With an eye glued to my viewfinder, I could only see a fraction of the scene. It felt as though I were inside a giant snow globe and the snowflakes dancing all around me were in fact snow geese.

Snow Geese

I spent the better part of the afternoon and early evening at the water’s edge playing around with my new equipment and chatting it up with some locals. From time to time small flocks of geese would fly north, however their exits were not nearly as grand as the first one I had encountered. As the sun inched its way towards the horizon, luckily I got one final chance to witness another mass flight exodus which was at least as impressive as the first. With just a small population of geese left on the lake, I was easily tempted to tag along with another photographer to a cornfield north of the lake. Very happy with the decision to leave the lake, I was able to get within ten feet of thousands of snow geese eating their dinner in a beautiful, rolling field as the sun set behind me. This final close encounter kissed by dapple sunlight made for the most special part of a special day providing a wonderful swan song for my avian afternoon.

*All images taken on a Canon 5D MKIII  

An Adoption Story: African Penguins

February 22, 2015

The idea to adopt an African penguin came to me after visiting two wild penguin colonies in South Africa – the first at Boulder’s Beach (False Bay) and the other at Stony Point (Betty’s Bay). It was my first time witnessing penguins in their natural habitat and I loved every second of it. After learning that their population has gone from a staggering four million in the early 1900’s to just 21,000 breeding pairs left in the wild today (South Africa & Namibia) I felt compelled to help.

African penguins are interesting little creatures to watch and photograph, each with their own distinct personality. But I noticed a common theme amongst the colonies. Nervousness. These are astutely aware creatures. Perhaps, they are even cognisant of their declining population and endangered status.

Penguin AdoptionPenguin Adoption

So in lieu of chocolates, and a romantic dinner for two, this year my partner and I opted for a rather unorthodox Valentine’s Day gift to one another. As I wrote about in my last post, African penguins are a monogamous species. Usually, male and female penguins mate for life and for this reason (among others) I thought adopting a pair would be a much more appropriate way to celebrate the day.

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Adopt an Endangered African Penguin (for your valentine)

February 10, 2015

To commemorate Valentine’s Day this year, I thought it would be appropriate to post about the endangered African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus), or as I like to call them: lovebirds! These flightless birds, are as you may know, monogamous; with a startling 80-90% of couples remaining together for their entire lives! Can you imagine? That percentage is far higher than us homo sapiens!
South African Penguins - Boulder's Beach, South Africa
South African Penguins “Lovebirds”

A FEW FACTS ABOUT AFRICAN PENGUINS

The breeding season is mostly between the months of March and May, however, it seems you can find a few couples in some stage of the breeding cycle throughout the year. Apparently this is quite different from most other bird species.

These lovebirds begin mating around the age of four and usually results in the creation of two eggs, one for each parent (the perfect size family). During the incubation period, which usually lasts about 40 days, the pair takes equal turns caring for the eggs.

Their habitat ranges from Port Elizabeth, South Africa up the western coast of the country and into Namibia. However, due to habitat destruction, declining food sources, domestic pets/animals, and global warming their numbers are quickly dwindling. At the moment there are just a mere 18,683 breeding pairs left in the wild in South Africa, just a fraction of what it used to be.

Located very close to Simons Town, South Africa this particular colony of African penguins is situated on Boulders Beach and as a result they have been given the name: Boulders Penguin Colony

Boulder's Beach, South AfricaHOW YOU CAN HELP

While I was in South Africa, I came across an amazing organisation, SANCCOB, working very hard to protect African penguins and other seabirds in the region. At the moment, and in honour of Valentine’s Day, they are offering a very special way to help an endangered species while at the same time providing one of the most unique gifts to your special someone.

For 500 Rand (South African Currency) or $42.27 USD, you can adopt two African penguins for the price you would normally pay for just one.

Better yet, you will get to name the penguins (perhaps, after your partner and yourself ;o) and you’ll receive a photograph of the penguins that have been meticulously cared for before they release them back into the wild South African landscape.

Here are two links for more information. The first is their home page and the second will take you directly to the adoption page:

1) http://www.sanccob.co.za/?view=featured

2) Valentine’s 2 for 1 Special – Adopt an African Penguin:

http://www.sanccob.co.za/you-can-help/adopt-a-penguin/adopt-a-penguin-detail

DID YOU KNOW?

Americans spend roughly 20 billion dollars on Valentine’s Day each year?! Why not spend on something charitable this year?Stony Point, Betty's Bay - South Africa

Juvenile Male Penguins at Betty’s Bay, South Africa

To learn more about how to visit the African penguins for your next trip to South Africa, check out:

http://www.sanparks.org/parks/table_mountain/tourism/attractions.php

And of course, HAPPY VALENTINES DAY TO ALL THE LOVEBIRDS OUT THERE!

J-

Seal Island, South Africa: Cape Fur Seals

February 1, 2015

If you ever have the opportunity to visit South Africa, I’d strongly encourage you to make your way to Seal Island in False Bay. Less than an hour from Cape Town and only eight nautical miles out to sea you will find yourself immersed in a raw and foreign environment where survival of the fittest can be witnessed daily. The waters around this island are patrolled by dozens, if not hundreds of Great White Sharks, making life extremely precarious for the boisterous group of seabirds and seals which call the island home.

Seal Island, South Africa

Seal Island – Home to 60,000 Cape Fur Seals

Seal Island, South Africa

Playing in the shallow pools close to the island is quite safe as the sharks prefer deeper depths

Seal  Island, South Africa

However, once the seals leave the safety of the shallow pools to find food they become vulnerable

Cape Fur Seal

A Cape Fur Seal swimming for its life from a Great White Shark – not sure he made it home

Seal Island, South Africa

Finding myself in the midst of a clamorous Cape Fur Seal Colony off of South Africa’s southern coast was really icing on the cake after a spectacular great white cage diving experience. I love wildlife (in case that isn’t obvious) and can never seem to get enough of it. To come face to face with a colony of seals 60,000 strong shortly after looking into the eyes of one of the oceans greatest predators was an wholly satisfying experience that I cannot recommend enough. If cage diving with great whites isn’t your cup of tea, no worries! The topside action is worth the trip on its own. You can learn more about cage diving in South Africa and the best times visit here.

Simon's Town, South Africa

Simon’s Town, South Africa – Departures to Seal Island leave from this beautiful seaside town

Have you ever seen so many seals in one place?
If so, I would love to hear about it!