The blue whales in the Sea of Cortez (see the previous post) was a neat experience but the grey whale encounters on the Pacific side of the Baja Penisula were breathtaking. Often female grey whales with calves will come up alongside the boat and occasionally let you touch and rub them. This is the experience we had. Grey whales can reach 15 metres (50 feet), weigh about 35 tonnes (75,000 pounds) and live approximately 60 years.
Each winter the whales migrate from Canada and Alaska south to The Baja Peninsula traveling up to 11,000 kilometres. There are a number of bays and lagoons along the Pacific (western side) where the pregnant mothers deliver their babies. At birth, the calves are about 4 meters (13 feet) long and weigh approximately 800 kg (1,764 pounds)! The babies are often playful and occasionally bring their heads out of the water making interesting photographs.
We were hoping to get some good underwater shots with our underwater cameras to get a different perspective of them as most people see then only from the surface. The water, however, is very green filled with phytoplankton and visibility was maybe 10 feet. Therefore, it proved difficult to get any good photographs but we have included a few to give a different perspective.
If someone is wanting a wonderful whale experience for themselves or for their family then we would highly recommend the grey whales at the fishing town of Adolfo Lopez Mateos, Magdelena Bay, Baja California Sur, Mexico. We were there towards the end of February.
Blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) are the largest whales in the world reaching lengths approaching 30 metres (100 feet) and weighs up to 180 tonnes (400,000 pounds). They start arriving in the Loreto Bay National Marine Park, Mexico in February each year. There seems to be a sweet spot called the blue triangle where they are regularly seen. Danzante Island, Del Carmen Island and Monserrate Island make up this blue triangle in the Sea of Cortez. Some whales like humpbacks with their spectacular breaches, or grey whales that come next to your boat are more photogenic. However, blue whales just break the surface of the water to exhale, take in more air and descend.
On our way to our dive site, we saw some large waterspouts caused by the exhaling blue whales off in the distance so a detour was in order. Marine park rules dictate that you keep your boat a specific distance away from the whales. The way it works is that you see the blue whale in the distance, you move the boat towards them but by then they have descended again. The boat captain guesses where he thinks they will come back up (usually 6-9 minutes later) hoping they will surface closer to the boat. We played this game about 8 times and each time they came up a long distance from the boat. Great experience but now it was time to go to our dive site so off we went. Unexpectedly, the whale surfaced about 30-40 metres (100-130 feet) away from the boat which was close enough to get these photographs!
Every day we walk the arid canyons and hills around Danzante Bay along the Sea of Cortez. The sparse vegetation has many cacti and some flowering shrubs. Surprisingly, we see hummingbirds out here on a regular basis which we did not expect.
At Villa Del Palmar where we are staying, they have flowering plants that attract the hummingbirds on a regular basis. There are two species that we have identified. The Xantus’ and the Costa’s hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds proved difficult to photograph as they don’t stay still for very long. To get closeup shots we shot at 600mm with our 150-600mm lens. With such a narrow field of view, it takes time to find the hummingbirds. After you find it the next step is to focus on the bird but most of the time the hummingbird has decided to move to the next flower. They zip around from flower to flower in a very irregular pattern.
The key to getting these photos was patience and taking lots of photos (most of them were discarded). Hopefully, you will enjoy these beautiful little birds.
Okay, we know everyone thinks of lions, elephants, rhinos, hippos, giraffes and leopards: the big animals. While working on our animal photos it became apparent that there were lots of bird photographs. 29 different species to be exact! Of course we want to give the illusion we are intelligent so onto the internet we go to find bird names 🙂 Three of the species below we could not find a matching photograph anywhere. Enjoy the birds and if you see we have labelled a species incorrectly or know the species we have as unknown, then let us know in the comments section.
When compared to animals that we are familiar with in North America, it is safe to say that there are some unusual animals on the African continent. During our 4 day safari in the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater we came across numerous examples of odd looking birds and animals including some downright ugly ones. It seems however, that every species, regardless of looks, always produce cute babies. Perhaps it is their size & shape, their looks or their playful nature that draw us to this conclusion. Just like the female leopard we saw whose small cub eventually made an appearance, so did two small hyena cubs eventually come out of the den. The pups are very dark and I may not have identified them as hyenas if I saw them without the mother as a reference. Very cute however!
Hyenas are scavengers and predators. They will often steal the prey from other hunters like cheetahs or come in after big predators like lions have had there fill and moved on. However, they are capable of killing larger prey such as wildebeest and antelope but will resort to eating insects. We came across this group that were getting away from the heat and flies by laying in the mud puddles created by the recent rain. They didn’t mind our vehicle but eventually decided to get up and move on. Notice one carrying the skull!
This last photo captures the more classic look of a hyena on the Serengeti with its typical grasslands and sparsely scattered trees. This is how we think of the African plains – vast & beautiful!
The wildebeest are famous for their epic migrations from the Maasai Mara in Kenya into the Serengeti in Tanzania. The migration had started while we were there and we saw 10,000 plus wildebeest at times: sometimes as far as the eye could see! There are an estimated 1.5 million that follow the rains with each migration and this produces new grass growth for food and a source of drinking water. However, other animals are part of this great migration including 200,000 zebra and 500,000 Thompson’s gazelle. The zebra and wildebeest are commonly found in mixed groups.
Wildebeest, also known as gnus, are interesting looking. They are a type of antelope but their body proportions seem odd compared to other antelope.
Zebras look like a horse with black and white stripes and each pattern is unique to that zebra similar to a fingerprint. Although the reason for the pattern is unknown most believe that in relates to camouflage against predators, helps with temperature control and repels insects.
This group of wildebeest interrupted their migration for a quick drink. They are a bit skittish during these times as they are vulnerable to lions when they put their heads down to drink. However, the need to drink outweighs their fear.
Many of the zebra had small foals with them. We noticed that many were still nursing from their mothers. The younger the foals, the more brown they have in their coats.
While driving we came across a cheetah mother and her single cub. Probably she had more cubs but as so often the case, cubs get killed by predators such as hyena, lions and leopards. Without siblings the mother has to interact more with her cub and of course the cub, who is wanting to always play, keeps jumping on the mom. We have 150-600mm telephoto lenses on our cameras so it makes the photos look like we are relatively close to them even though we are a long distance away from them. Because of the extreme distance the quality of the shots is not great but it was such a touching series that we decided to include them anyway. You can view our earlier cheetah post to see quality images of cheetahs. Enjoy this mother and cub interaction.
After a bit of play time and some tender moments the mother cheetah moves to a termite mound where she can look over the savannah to keep an eye out for danger.