Photographing the Kittiwakes in Glacier Bay

Margarie Glacier in Tarr Inlet. David B Small Ship Photography Cruise
Calm morning at anchor in Tarr Inlet with Margarie and Grand Pacific Glaciers.

One day in May we anchored the David B in Tarr Inlet. We were in the middle of our Glacier Bay Photography Cruise. It was a beautiful, clear, sunny day with both the Grand Pacific Glacier and Marjorie Glacier in view. Marjorie had been active. The floating ice that had calved off was scattered all around the inlet. Most of it was of small bits of brash with the largest icebergs about the size of a city bus. On both large and small chunks of ice were little gulls called black-legged kittiwakes — my favorite bird of the moment. Not far from our anchorage there was a cliff with hundreds more, some on nests, some circling in the air, making the cliff face a distant bee-hive of activity.

Several flew past the David B making their distinctive “ki-ti-waak” call. The call is how they got their name. They frequent places like Glacier Bay to nest during the summer months then spend their winters off-shore.

Kittiwakes nesting in Glacier Bay Alaska
Kittiwakes nesting in Glacier Bay

Not long after the anchor was down we all got into the skiff with our cameras and favorite lenses to skiff over to Marjorie Glacier. On the way we made a special side trip to the cliff with the kittiwakes. With our lenses pointed up and with stiff necks, we shot photos. From my sea-level vantage some of their nests seem to cling precariously to the cliff. We listened to the chatty colony. In the skiff, we were lost in our own photos, watching, listening and concentrating on our own individual birds. We checked exposures, and asked the instructors questions while we took in the dramas that were unfolding in front of us. There was the thrill of wondering what was going to happen next.

Phtographing kittiwakes in Glacier Bay on a small ship cruise
Two Kittiwakes in a mid-air fight

Occasionally two kittiwakes would engage in an aerial dogfight. The combatants would lock beaks and come tumbling and cartwheeling out of the sky, sometimes hitting the ground or water, or even tumbling down the cliff and landing in the fjord. At one point a bald eagle flew towards the colony. Would the eagle steal a chick, or would it just perch? How would the colony respond? We trained our lenses, and talked about what was happening. The eagle circled a few times, to the great displeasure of the kittiwakes. Their cries were almost deafening, then finally it perched on a ledge away from the colony. It kept to itself and sadly was too distant for a good picture even with my zoom.

With all the excitement, I kind of lost track of time, so I’m not sure how long we spent at the cliff before moving on to Margarie Glacier, but it long enough that we got to enjoy watching, photographing, and chronicling a tiny snapshot of life in a black-legged kittiwake colony. I came away with a deeper love for these birds and the lives they live, and I’m sure the others in the skiff with me came away with their own interpretations and appreciations.

Kittiwakes resting on ice in Tarr Inlet, Glacier Bay. David B Small Ship Photography Cruise
Kittiwakes resting on ice in Tarr Inlet

As I go through my photos from this year’s Glacier Bay Photography Cruise I can’t help but feel the growing excitement that we’ll be back again next spring for two more Photography Cruises in Alaska with instructors John D’onofrio and Alan Sanders. One in Glacier Bay and the other in Tracy Arm / Fords Terror Wilderness and the Admiralty Island / Kootznoowoo wilderness. I’m excited because it’s a chance to get out in the wilderness, use my camera, see nature, and learn more about taking better pictures. If you’d like to know more, visit our Glacier Bay Photography and Alaska Photography pages and our schedule page for dates and availability, or contact us.

-Christine

Trip #295 Recap – Glacier Bay Photography Class – May 22-29, 2017

Trip #295 Glacier Bay Photography Class – Trip Recap

Glacier Bay is really, really amazing.

When we left for “the Bay” a week ago, I had this feeling that I always have as we depart — what will we find on this adventure? It’s not about the things that we see on almost every trip, like the whales or the glaciers. It’s the new things: the places we haven’t seen before, the wildlife we find that isn’t on our other trips, and the guests, many of whom we’ve never met before.

The best part is, we found lots of new things. We got a great tip from the rangers at Bartlett Cove who suggested we anchor near the McBride Glacier and walk the beach at low tide amongst the grounded icebergs. It was beautiful. It was a sculpture garden of ice, pieces as small as a baseball to pieces as large as a truck. The photography possibilities were absolutely endless, and it was a photography trip, of course.

The McBride glacier calves bergs into a narrow river that flows out to Muir inlet, but just at the confluence, the river narrows and shallows and the bergs get stuck. More and more come down the river and crash into the already grounded ones. Then, as the tide goes out, you can walk around them on the beach as they lay at all sorts of crazy angles, waiting for the next tide to float them free again. One of the photography experts and trip leaders, John D’Onofrio, thought it was the most beautiful place he’d ever been.

Instructor, John D’Onofrio dwarfed by Reid Glacier
Along the way there were classes on photography and post-processing of images, light and color and lots more. Alan Sanders, our other trip leader, taught along with John, and no one lacked for good subject matter. It was everywhere. The evenings were full of photo critiques and wonderful meals.

A few days later, having spent the night in front of a receding glacier, we went to the entrance to Johns Hopkins Inlet and stepped up the amazement level again. The glacier is tucked back into the Fairweather range and has almost vertical snow covered sides extending 5 miles back to the glacier front, and the valley goes miles beyond, as the glacier swoops out of sight into the mountains. We even witnessed a thousand foot avalanche beside the glacier.

This was almost too much, and even John had to call for a mid-day break. Everyone need some time to absorb the amazement and the wonder of the place. It was indescribable. Of course, never wanting to back off the pace for a moment, when people awoke I loaded them in the skiff and we went for a 2 hour ride (in the sun) to watch another glacier, the Margerie glacier calve.

It was just amazing, And it really was “almost too much…”

New Glacier Bay Photography Cruise

Small Cruise Ship in Glacier BayThis is really exciting! We are teaming up with AdventuresNW Magazine editor John D’Onofrio, and Quicksliver Photo Lab’s Digital Imaging Specialist and instructor, Alan Sanders for an 8-Day Photography Cruise in Glacier Bay.We’ve been working with John and Alan over the last several months to develop a special cruise for photographers that combines all the excitement of our Alaska trips with hands-on intensive instruction, new techniques for photography, and nightly constructive critique sessions.

If you’ve been on the David B before, you know I’m a complete and total Shutter Bug and having a chance to have two great instructors aboard the David B makes me absolutely giddy! I’m looking forward to this trip as a way to share the beauty and magnificence of Glacier Bay with you, as well as, having the opportunity to learn a whole lot more about how to take great photographs!

If you’d like to join us on this special cruise, visit our website for more information or give Sarah a call at 877-670-7863 or send her an email.

Glacier Bay Photography Cruise
Trip Number: 295
Dates: May 22-29, 2017
Boards/Returns: Auke Bay (Juneau)
Rates Per Person: $5600 (Special Introductory Pricing – $300 off 2017 rates!)

In the meantime, please enjoy the little video below I made from a trip we did last summer to Glacier Bay with Captain Jeffrey’s family and a couple of our good friends.

Fair Winds,
Christine