My Top 10 Photos from the Summer that Wasn’t

Glacier Bay Sunset Long Exposure

For most Americans, summertime is all about backyard barbeques, baseball games on hot evenings, lazy afternoons at the swimming pool and a vacation roadtrip to the mountains or beach. My summers in isolated Glacier Bay National Park have always been a little bit different, since I live in a rainforest on an island cut off from the world. Make no mistake, I usually love my summers in the frontier, but this summer was different for the simple fact that we didn’t actually have summer.

Glacier Bay is in a rain forest, but the summer months are typically the dry-ish season when you can count on a few days of glorious sunshine each week. When the sun shines in Alaska, there is no better place to be. However, this “summer” the sky was permantanly bruised with clouds and rain fell daily. Even longtime residents of the area marveled at the dreariness, saying it was one of the worst summers in 30 years.

As a result, I didn’t take as many photos as usual, hence my extended blogging hiatus. When the sun was out, I made sure to go out and hike, take photos and go on boat tours. The few sunny days were a gift from heaven, and everyone’s mood was lifted the few times the clouds parted.

My Top 10 Photos from Glacier Bay

1. Bubble Net Feeding
Bubble net feeding

The highlight of my summer was getting to watch bubble net feeding by a pod of humpback whales for about four hours aboard the MV Taz. To bubble net feed, one whale swims in a circle around a school of fish while blowing bubbles and making loud screaming noises. The bubbles work to corral the fish and the other whales swim up under the school and emerge from the water with a huge mouthful of fish. As this happens, seagulls flock to the spot to eat scraps of fish left by the leviathans and camera shutters click like machine guns on tour boats.

2. Halibut Point CloudsSunset at Halibut point

Although I am happy with the photo above, had I been there a bit earlier when the clouds were bright white I think I could have made a truly stunning photo. Since this was the first day to see the sun in about two weeks, I wasn’t complaining.

3. Salmon RiverSalmon River Gustavus

The Salmon River flows through the middle of Gustavus, the gateway town to Glacier Bay National Park. On this day at high tide it was completely calm, a rare sight.

4. Long Exposure Sunset Glacier Bay Sunset Long Exposure

I only have about two places to go in the front country to watch a sunset, which is a good and bad thing. I have been out to this spot dozens of times which means I’ve had many opportunities to get photos under different circumstances, but I also get a little bored of seeing the same thing. As a result, I used a neutral density filter and made a lot of long exposure shots this summer, which smoothes out the water, blurs the clouds and enhances the color. This photo was made with a one minute and six second exposure.

5. Glacier Bay Sunrise
Glacier Bay Sunrise

I almost never wake up for the sunrise in Alaska since it happens at 4am during the summer, but this one was different – I found myself up late and just stayed awake for it. As the first rays of light illuminated the Fairweather Range, a flock of birds came by which made everything a bit more dynamic.

6. Dramatic Oyster CatcherOyster Catcher

Oyster catchers keep their eggs and chicks in nests in the grass and are aggressively protective. I have been nearly attacked on a few occasions as I was innocently walking along and came too close to a hidden nest. On this day, I was keeping a respectful distance and using a 300mm lens. The guard bird was laying on the rock, aware of me but unconcerned. The bird’s spouse returned to the nest and squawked angrily at the guard bird, as if to say, “Why are you not scaring away that human!” The guard bird in the photo then turned and yelled at me, but we both understood he was doing it to keep his spouse happy and not to be rude. I moved away to give them some space and restore their marital bliss.

7. Fireweed SunsetGlacier Bay Fireweed Sunset

One of my favorite places on the entire planet is the beach and meadows in Gustavus. In the summer, the fields are filled with assorted wildflowers, with fireweed growing tall in July. Due to the craptastic weather I only made it here a few times, but on this day I was welcomed by a beautiful sunset and glowing fireweed.

8. Fairweathers and Tour BoatBoat in Glacier Bay in front of Mount Fairweather

The Fairweather Mountains, named ironically since it snows 12 months a year on the peaks, are the tallest coastal mountains in the world, rising up 15,325 feet (4671 meters) from the sea. This continuus snow is the source of the massive glaciers that carved out Glacier Bay.

9. The Curious Sea LionGustavus Alaska Sea Lion

The town of Gustavus is a fishing mecca, and each day charters return to the pier laden with halibut and salmon. This sea lion hangs out at the docks looking for scraps from the fisherman and is a bit of a celebrity since photographers can reliably take his photo.

10. Bubble Net Part IIBubble Net Feeding

I had to include one more bubble net feeding photo in my top 10. Did I mention that the whales worked in a circle all afternoon, popping up on different sides of the boat as we watched? As a result, I got photos of whales in all different angles of light, a photographers dream. On the downside, once they swam right up to the boat and I got sprayed with whale snot, which I can say smells like a mixture of briny morning breath and fermented salmon.


Thanks for looking at my 10 favorite photos of the summer. Do you have a favorite? I’d love to hear your feedback.

 

44 Comments on “My Top 10 Photos from the Summer that Wasn’t

    • I’ve been in Alaska 13 summers, and this ranked as one of the most spectacular things I’ve seen. In fact, it was probably the most spectacular wildlife experience. The tour boat operator gave us buttons that said we got snotted on and I wore it with pride!

  1. Welcome back Jeff! Every shot a beauty. If I were to pick a favourite it would about 5 or 6 of them. I like the second bubble net better than the first. I remember Yukon summers that were all rain brrrrr, and others that were all sun!
    Alison

  2. Every photo here looks beautiful but my personal favourite are the ones with the whales as I’ve never seen this in action before..but the sunrise is also a favourite of mine…or the clouds? I think it’s all of them…haha…thanks for sharing the photos and stories behind each one…👍😄😆

    • Thank you Sha. The whales are so unique that I think they are most interesting. It is a rare occurrence to see that behavior where we are.

      • Then it’s wonderful that you got to capture the moment so beautifully. It was really lovely to know about it too…so thanks for looking out! Hahaha 🙂

  3. It is nice to have you back 🙂 fabulous photos, difficult to pick a favourite. But if I can only choose one it would be number 10…awesome

  4. So happy you’ve returned to the blogging world! I’ve missed your lovely images and humor filled musings. I think 3 or 4 is my favorite. It’s been hot and dry here in Texas, but we are loving our new freedom. We’ve applied for 2 different Alaskan jobs for next summer. One right outside of Denali and the other on the Kenai. We’d take either!

    • Awesome! Most people start hiring in January. Let me know where you have applied – you can email me at planetbell1@gmail.com and maybe I can help.

      I like 4 a lot also because of the calm mood of the photo. Thanks for commenting.

  5. So nice to see you and your pictures back Jeff! I’d been wondering where you were. All your photos are amazing and totally make me want to go to Glacier Bay National Park. The Salmon River and final whale shot are my favourites.Sorry to hear about the weather. We had a glorious summer in Vancouver. Cheers, Caroline

    • I think my first two summers in Glacier Bay were unseasonably warm and sunny, so I got paid back! Thanks for your feedback on the photos.

  6. Well, as a huge fan of sunrises/sunsets myself, I can’t help but love the long-exposure pic… on the other hand, the oystercatcher is superb, would have been perfect if it had been a tad closer to the left edge of the shot 🙂
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Thanks Samuel. I like the long exposure shot too. I don’t like the blurred boat in the top right of the oyster catcher frame either, but I was afraid I’d be attacked if I moved any more! Thanks for commenting.

  7. We had a similar summer here in southern Ontario although this past week it appears summer had only just arrived with high temperature & sun, sun, sun! Back to more normal temperatures today but the sun is still shining. An incredible Top 10 Jeff!

  8. Jeff they are all great shots and your captions each wonderful geographic lessons. My favorite might be the oyster catcher as you captured his personality! I have missed your blog.

  9. Jeff! You’re back!!

    Yes, it was a craptastic summer in the east too, but you obviously didn’t let the weather deter you from capturing stunning photos as usual.
    I can’t pick a favourite … they’re all wonderful for different reasons.

    Whale snot makes the best story, but the image I keep going back to has the clouds at Halibut Point. It has a dramatic feel to it like the earth and sky are coming together. Love it!

    • Those clouds were really amazing. It was the last day of the tourist season and the sky was so dramatic. Had I been there about 20 minutes earlier when the clouds were still white, I think it would have been incredible. Alas, we were happy it wasn’t raining!

  10. Amazing pics. I really liked salmon river and Fairweathers. Summer is my least favorite season and it basically lasted 5 months here in Austin, but I get how it would be a bit depressing to go without sunshine most of the summer. You already lack it during the other seasons in Alaska so I’m sorry it wasn’t so good this year.

  11. VERY tough to pick favorites here, let alone a single one. I’m going to be an outlier and vote for Glacier Bay Sunrise and Fireweed Sunset. Great to see you back here!

  12. Amazing pictures, Jeff! They definitely raise my curiosity and push me to get out of my place and continue taking pictures. Such a wonderful nature in this world 🙂

    • Yes, it does have a bit of an abstract quality. I’lm posting more photos soon, some in B&W because they are a little more abstract. Thanks for the comments.

  13. Despite the unusually dreary weather, you could watch those humpback whales feeding which is of course something a lot of people can only dream of seeing. Welcome back, Jeff! Any plans to return to hot countries?

    • The trade off for being in dreary weather is being in Alaska, which is a reward on its own. I’ll be heading back to Bangkok in 5 days! My wife is already there and has adopted a cat so I’m excited. Maybe this year we will make it to Jakarta or you’ll be in Bangkok at some point.

  14. I think you are very lucky where you live, much better than being in a city. I hope to get to Alaska next year but probably on a cruise though.

    • A cruise isn’t a bad way to see Alaska, but if you can get spend some time on land it is all the better. Remote Alaska is great, but I spend my winters in Bangkok! Big city for the next 6 months.

    • You might be surprised. I thought I”d have trouble living there too, but there is quite a bit to do, and Juneau is a short flight away if you get desperate.

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