We just got back from our first photography expedition of the 2018 season. Tiger sharks and Great Hammerheads off the Northern Bahamas. The adventures begin!
Our December Tiger Shark trip has been a crazy, scary, fun ride so far. It is only day 3 and I have had several gut checks. The tigers have been on fire. This morning we had 6 players come in. Emma, Freckles, Maui, Tequila, a new big shark we haven't named yet and of course our freaking pain in the ass, Jitterbug.
Jitterbug is turning out to be a real nightmare of a shark. I was hoping she would of settled down by now, but she hasn’t. The thing is, she is not just a jerk to the feeders, she is also a pain to the other tigers and lemons. Today she bit one of the lemons on the dorsal fin and I watched the lemon turn and slam her on her side, pushing JB, up and away. I am Hopeful as she gets older, she will settle down. But, I highly doubt it... She is just a crazy shark.
It has been a great week for species. When we arrived at Fish Tales yesterday, we had 4 bull sharks hanging around, which is a new thing. We normally do not have bull sharks here. But the way these sharks are behaving, it looks like the bulls are here to stay. So we will see what that turns into. Often when a few bulls show up, it won’t be long before they invite a bunch of their friends here and long term, that will be a bad thing.
We also had Patches the great hammerhead show up here today. Which was awesome. She is one of the Bimini hammerheads, but has decided she likes it here at TB, so she has returned again for second season. I do hope she stays, it always makes for better dives. If she decides to hang out permanently, and with the addition of bull sharks, Tiger Beach will have easily become, the all time greatest shark dive in the world. 3 marquee species on one dive... Just incredible.
We finished up the trip with time spent at Bimini, seeking out great hammerheads. Over a three day period we had five different hammerheads visit us. Two of them I recognized from previous trips, the others were new to me. One of the hammerheads had a badly broken jaw (fishermen). It did a quick pass, so I didn’t get a really good look at it. The only thing I could confirm was that it was a male shark. I was hoping it was not Spartacus, a shark I have known for a while. It was hard to tell from the distance, but it had dark brown skin, like Spartacus. The other male we frequently see here, Anchor, has more of a buck skin color to him.
Over all, it was an amazing trip and an amazing way to end the 2017 season. I was excited to see my old friends, Emma and Tequila back at Tiger Beach. They safely made it through another season. We still have not seen Princess or Hook yet, which makes me worry, they are really late to arrive. If they show up together in January, it will sort of reinforce my theory that tigers travel in twos, and that Hook and Princess are travel partners. More importantly than that, I just want to know these two beauties make it back safely to Tiger Beach.
It is always a nerve racking thing organizing pelagic expeditions, because you have no idea what to expect. You plan it during a time of year when you know the animals normally run through the area, but ultimately, it is left up to nature and the ocean what you will see out there. For this trip, we were after marlin feeding on baitballs. We were also hoping to see other open oceans animals like; whales, mola molas, turtles, sharks and the big O! There is a resident pod of orcas that frequently visits the area and we were hoping for a shot at seeing them as well.
During the month of November the pelagic activity is extremely good around Puerto San Carlos off Baja, Mexico. And after a few years of watching and waiting, I pulled the trigger in February of this year and organized our first trip out to the area to find those fish…at least I hoped we would.
A week before we arrived, there were reports of marlin baitball activity. That’s exactly what you hope to hear, marlin was our main goal of this trip. But that was a week before our trip. Anything can happen in a week. I was a nervous wreck. Which is typical of me on any trip I run.
On the first day of the expedition, expectations were high. We headed out to the area where they had been seeing the baitballs…and nothing! There was no bird activity, which is what helps us find the baitballs. No birds, meant, no sardines and sadly no marlin. We searched the area for a couple of hours. We found a small school of young mahi mahi that we jumped in with for a few minutes. But other than that we had zero signs of life, so we opted for plan B. Plan B was to cut the motors, drop some chum and hang baits and wait for sharks to show up. After 3 hours, we decided to call it a day. No sharks either. Day one was a bust. I was worried but not gutted, We still had 4 more days to find them. Which is why you plan these types of expeditions over several days, to give you the best opportunities to succeed.
We finished the day with a visit to the shark fishing camp. It is never fun, but it is always good to see what is happening out there. After seeing all the sharks they brought in, it was not hard to wonder why our chum slick was left unanswered.
When we got back, we heard reports that the marlin had moved on to another area, which was about 45 miles away from where they originally were. The following morning, we woke to clear and sunny skies. The weather was favoring us, and so we buckled in for a long ride out to the area where they had been spotting them.
As we were heading out, we spotted some porpoising dolphins in the bay. The dolphins were feeding on sardines and they were joined by tens of thousands of pelican, sea gulls and cormorants. This was easily one of the coolest natural predation events I have ever witnessed. The pelicans were dive bombing the ocean, Gulls were trying to steal away the sardines, the cormorants were diving down to prey on the sardines. We were surrounded by birds. It was an insane spectacle.
We left the birds and continued to motor out. After a couple hours we found the spot. There was several sport fishing boats in the area, some with marlin on their lines. But still no birds? The marlin were here, but we had no visible signs of birds trying to feed on the sardines that the marlin round up. I was worried that we were in for a second day of skunking.
We motored around for a little while with no luck. Finally we ran into one of our captain Gabino’s local fishing buddy. He asked if they had seen any baitballs. They said, “oh yea, there are thousands of them over there.” Pointing to an area about a half mile away. We motored over to the area, scanning the skies but still no birds. However as we looked at the ocean’s surface it was boiling over with activity. There were marlin jumping, chasing sardines all over the place. We found an oasis! Strangely there was no birds out there taking advantage of these baitballs, so we had to find them the old fashion way, which is normally really hard to do. Thankfully, because there were so many baitballs everywhere, that made it easy to do.
We jumped in, photographed and filmed baitball after batiball. It was insane. The marlin were on fire and so were we. We even had some bottlenose dolphin join in for a couple of passes. It was such a great day and everything we had hoped for. During the ride home, I sat back with a huge relief washing through me. I was grateful the fishermen were out there, it would of been very hard for us to find them without there help. It was so weird that there were no birds. Frigate birds are how we normally find these types of feeding activities. Yet, they were not around?
Day three. We headed out for more marlin. This time the frigate birds were around, making it much easier to find the baitballs. Again, we spent an amazing day with the marlin.
Towards the end we were all pretty tired, to the point where we skipped turns in the water. We were about to call it a day, when a brydes whale broke the surface nearby to catch a breath of air. We motored over to where we saw it drop. We cut the motors and scanned the area. It broke the surface about fifty yards away from our boat and was swimming in our direction. We geared up as quickly as we could and silently slid in the water for a shot at seeing the whale. It was diving down and I swam toward it snapping away. There is no greater feeling in the world than when you get to share the water with one of these animals. They are just massive and so breathtakingly beautiful.
Sadly the weather changed and for our last two days, we were not able to get out to the area where the marlins were, so we stayed local to see what we could find. We chummed again, but no sharks showed up. We ended up spending some time in the bay, checking out the bird action. There are so many birds here, it is unreal. We also set up a photo session with the pelicans which was a lot of fun.
The trip ended for us and I am so damn happy to report that everyone left happy. The marlin performed like rock stars and if the weather hadn’t turned on us, we would of been able to spend all week with them. We only spent two days with them, but it was enough time for everyone to leave the trip satisfied with the week they spent here in San Carlos. For me the trip was amazing. The ocean life, the birds, the people. It is everything I want from an adventure. I am already excited about next season and the unknown surprises it will bring us. Hopefully, it will be with more marlin, more whales, more birds, lots of sharks and that pod of orcas we so dreamily hope to encounter?
Trip Photo Gallery
Birding Images from the Trip
October 30 - So I am taking you all on my wildlife journey with me. I know, I was supposed to video blog my entire 2017 dive travel season, but damn - that become really hard to do, when you are a one man band. By one man band, I am referring to; shooting video and stills, recording blogs, editing stills for social media, editing the videos for our video channels. All the while, hosting our friends, managing trips, as well as, marketing and planning for future trips. It just got really hard to do. Maybe one day, I will have the budget to get it done proper, but until that day comes…going to continue to wear the different hats to keep the circus going.
Also, right now, I am on a big wildlife photography kick. I truly enjoy shooting stills. For the past 10 years my entire focus has been shooting video, but I think burn out set in and somewhere in 2014 I started trying to shoot less video and more stills. The bug hit me hard this year and I am on a full on kick right now, trying to improve my photography. I still shoot video, because I believe that video tells a way better story. But it is not my main focus. I am enjoying the process right now and this journey that I am on. So videos and video blogs will be few and far between.
For those of you that have been following my story, (I have been writing blogs since 2005), my journey is always ever evolving. Maybe that is due to my ADD mind set, along with my addictive personality? I don’t really know. But so far it has been a lot of fun, even with all the bump and bruises along the way. Anyway, on to my latest blog and what I have been up too...
We just returned from Tiger Beach (Oct. 21 -27). This was our first SDM trip of the winter tiger season. It was an amazing trip with a lot of really great people. I was on fire to get back there. I had not been there since January of this year, so it was long over due and I was anxious to get there and check on my friends.
October has always been a great time of year to visit Tiger Beach because that is when all our big tigers return to these waters. They normally leave during the summer months and go off to different parts of the world. Some of the tagged TB tigers have been reported off the coast of Cuba, some Florida. Others up the Atlantic towards New York. So crazy how far some of them travel.
Of course it worries the hell out of me because once the tigers leave the Bahamas, they are no longer protected. Bahamas is a shark sanctuary, but the rest of the Atlantic and waters beyond are not. SO, when my tigers migrate off during the summer, I am always worried some damn fishermen will find them. Especially Hook and Emma, the jaws on these massive tigers would make some dirtbag fisherman, a dream trophy for their wall. I have been working with a few of these tigers for a lot of years now and it would kill me if anything ever happened to them.
Normally my girls, Hook, Emma, Princess and Tequila are here in October. This year, they were a no-show. We had a few others there; Maui, Freckles, Jitterbug and Zena spent the week with us, but not my main girls. So I am starting out this season a bit on edge. Where the hell are they? One year, Hook showed up with a bullet wound in her. So yes, I am always worried until I seem them safely back in the Bahamas.
On the positive side of things, the waters at Tiger Beach are still very warm, so I am hoping that is what is causing our big tiger shark aggregation delay this season. I will thankfully be back there the first week of December, and hopefully there will be a nice reunion waiting for us when we get there. I will for sure keep you posted.
Here are a few images from our October trip. I didn’t take them, my partner in crime, Maritza did. I was busy feeding and keeping everyone safe, so I didn’t have a chance to shoot.
Of course that does make sense when you read the first part of my blog and I am talking about my photography journey, then show case Mari’s work. Well, when I started writing this blog, I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to say...so I just started writing. Plus, I had just finished editing some images of wild deer, my Sophia and I went to photograph yesterday evening. We make it a point to seek out wildlife to photograph everyday when I am home. Most of the time it is birds, but when we find wild mammals to photograph, we are all over it. So here are a few pics from our evening session the other night.
We went at dusk to try and catch the golden light that the setting sun gives off. I have seen so many amazing images from world class photographers when they catch wildlife with this light and the images are just epic. So I have been trying to mimic some of those shots I have seen. I still have a lot of work to do to try and capture that perfect golden moment, but I am slowly on my way…
Thank you for reading...Next adventure report...Pelagics off Baja!
The boat slowly approached two mating anacondas. The boys quickly and as silently as possible threw on their gear. One by one they slid off the boat and into the water. The snakes, aware of their presence, broke off their courtship and swam in different directions. The boys chose the biggest of the pair to follow, an 18 foot long beauty. They filmed and photographed the snake as it silently swam away from them. The encounter was brief but everything we all had hoped it would be. This moment was exactly what I had been dreaming about since I first learned that it was possible to swim with anacondas in Brazil. A dream come true! This was also just the first encounter of a perfect week of diving... Sadly, I was NOT there for any of it!
September 22 - San Fransisco International Airport. I arrived at the airport late for my flight. I screwed up on my departure time, so a nice final breakfast with Maritza, Sophia and our buddy Larisa, turned into a mad race towards the airport in an effort of getting me on my flight for Brazil. I made it with seconds to spare. HOWEVER, when I was checking in for my flight, the airline attendant asked me for my travel visa... My heart sank. My eye's wide with fear, I responded, "What do you mean travel visa?" She then told me that for americans to fly to Brazil, a travel visa was required. I told her I didn't have one. She looked at me, handed back my passport and said, "Sorry, you are NOT going to Brazil today."
I was stunned. I have never needed a tourist visa for any of the countries I have visited in the past, so that caught me completely off guard. I started scrambling, trying to see if I could get one in a hurry. It turns out, that I needed to get it through the Brazilian Consulate. However, they wouldn't be able to get it until Monday, because they are closed over the weekend, ( today was Friday ). That meant I wouldn't get it in my hands until Tuesday. Which meant I couldn't fly till Wednesday, and I wouldn't get to my group until Friday. Which was the final day of the trip.
I.. freaking.. screwed.. up.. badly! I sat down, head in my hands, just devastated. I missed the window for my trip, I disappointed our friends who joined us. This trip was one that I had been dreaming about for a very long time. I was gutted.
Thankfully, my good friend Jorge Cervera Hauser, who was joining us on this trip picked up the reins and led the group. The week would of been so much harder without his help. And I am happy to report that the Brazil trip was a smashing success. They had 3 days with an 18 foot anaconda, mating anacondas, jaguars, caiman, river otters, families of capybaras. Just everything we had hoped the trip would be. Of course, I wasn’t there to see it this season, but that is the price I paid for my American vanity and stupidity. Everyday, the boys updated me with the trip and how it was going. I received image after image, of an epic wildlife adventure. I was extremely excited for them and so damn happy that the trip was a huge success. But I was also dying inside, wanting desperately to be there with them, to experience it all. For that, I will forever regret.
The trip ended and everyone one went safely home. I was ever grateful that the boys had the adventure of a lifetime. The images I am sharing from the trip are all Jorge's pics… and they are all just stunning! We are of course planning our trip for next season already and I can say this with confidence, I won’t make that same epic mistake next season... and I WILL be there for all of it!
Images by Jorge Cervera Hauser
You just never know what to expect from Guadalupe Island. Of course it is almost guaranteed you will see great whites, even though I hate to use that word when it comes to wild animal encounters, because there is never any guarantees. But with the amount of white sharks in the area during this time of year, the chances of encounters are very high. Plus, that is why I always choose September for the month we visit Guadalupe. The sharks are in full force.
Of course the big question is always, how many sharks will we see? I have had some lean seasons out there, where we only saw a few white sharks, during our three day trip. Don't get me wrong, having the chance to see even one white shark is still an honor. Because any trip where you have great whites hanging around is always a great thing. But when you have experienced 15 plus white sharks on an expedition, you realize how special this place can be. And that is what I want for everyone, opportunities for our friends who travel with us to see as many white sharks as possible in the short time that we are there.
Well this season, we had an EPIC trip. It was an amazing group of people, and we had white shark, after white shark, show up to our boat. In fact, today I got the email from the observers/researchers that were aboard our boat. They recorded 24 different white sharks that had visited us this season. 24 is a new record high for us. 24 WHITE SHARKS! That is a lot of white sharks during a three day period.
Last season we had 21 different white sharks visit us. Which was a new record for us then. Sadly, it was only two days, we lost the third to a hurricane barreling down on us. Who knows what that extra day would of brought? Of course we will never know, but it is nice knowing there are a lot of white sharks in the area.
So back to this season. Upon arrival, we had sharks within minutes of dropping our anchor. Once the sharks arrived it was non-stop all day, the sharks were on fire. They were breaching on the hang baits all day, with a lot of close passes by the cages, which was great for everyone. Those encounters provided a lot of opportunities for every type of photo and video our friends were hoping to capture. Face shots, side shots, multiple sharks, breaching shots. Most were half breaches, but there were a few full breaches as well. A bonus added to the shark action was; the seas were calm, the sun was out and the visibility was amazing. It was a dream.
I even had time to break out the drone and record the whites breaching on the hang baits as well. It was crazy. Guadalupe Island delivered this season and the encounters were everything that we all hoped for. I guess it is good that you never know what you are going to get when you show up to a place, because, surprise is the spice of life. Makes me anxious to find out what is in store for us next season?
White Shark Photo Gallery
I apologize for the long waits for my blogs. When I committed to my goal of blogging my entire season, I knew it was going to to be a tough goal to accomplish. But damn, I didnt realize how hard and exhausting it really is to do. Especially while trying to accomplish everything else as well. You know, marketing, email writing, hosting, editing images and videos and spending time with my family.
Of course I admit, it was easier when all I did was record videos. But I have gotten deeply into photography as well. Something I had not concentrated on for a very long time. But I fell in love with it again and I have been enjoying my time behind a shutter. The thing is, I am not just shooting underwater wildlife, but also topside animals as well.
Which is why I changed the name of my blog from "Notes from a Shark Junkies Journal." to "Notes from a wildlife junkies journal." Because I am shooting everything now. Every type of animal that flies, runs, crawls, swims and hops. I haven't quite gotten into bugs yet... but if they are birds, reptiles or mammals, I want to shoot it. Of course my true passion is the ocean and everything in it, especially sharks. But I am enjoying the land life as well.
This new direction is exhausting though. Because of my addictive personality I am shooting all the time now. When I set off on a dive trip, I shoot all day in the water. Then when I return to port, I clean up, refresh the batteries and cards, change lenses and set off to find more animals to shoot. It is fun as hell, but it has been physically taxing.
Anyway, on to my blog...for two months I have been on the road; traveling, shooting and diving with the SDM crew. I haven't done anything like this since we filmed Summer of the Sharks back in 2006. That was a road trip doco I filmed with my bro, Andy Murch. However this time I did it with my loves, which was amazing. The trip was full of fun, craziness and of course headaches because yup, you're traveling with your loves. So here is a quick recap of what I did during my time on the road;
I started my adventure on June 17 in Mexico, where I took a group of happy crazies, to swim with American crocodiles off Banco Chinchorro. This is an annual trip we run through SDM diving every summer. As usual, when I bring people to a place, I am always a mess, worrying about whether the animals we advertise will show up. Thankfully, I didn't have to worry for very long. Upon our arrival, we had crocs swimming up to our boat. And when they arrived, it was on. They stayed the entire two days we were there. (we lost our third day to a storm that rolled in.)
We also visited the island to check out the ranger station. This was a great opportunity to check out the wildlife on the island. The island is pretty much just a huge mangrove. It is thick with marshes, small estuaries and trees. Here I found a few different bird species, two iguana species and some mating land crabs to photograph.
When the trip ended I hooked up with my family (June 22), and spent the following two weeks (on a mini photography vacation), hanging out in Playa del Carmen with my son David, who lives and works there, seeking out loggerhead sea turtles to photograph. I didn't score any though. We shot an Atlantic green and a bunch of hawksbill sea turtles, but no loggers. I have photographed one before, but I am not happy with how those images came out, so I really want to reshoot it.
During our time, me and the SDM crew, (my wife Maritza, Sophia C. and my boy Gabriel), rented a car, (a small little box car, we dubbed the Red Ruby), and went on a road trip through the Yucatan. We visited Rio Lagartos, Coba, Punta Lagua and Tulum. We were in search of birds, monkeys and Mayan ruins. It was a lot of fun and we photographed a lot of animals.
Rio Lagartos was an amazing place to visit. We hired a boat and went out birding. This place is a birders paradise. It is also known for it's Pink lakes. These lakes are where flamingos get their color from. The salty minerals turn the plankton and the shrimp pink. The birds eat the shrimp and that is how they get their color. Pretty wild. The lake itself is beautiful and the wildlife here is all time.
Birding in the Yucatan
The highlight of this road trip was visiting the wildlife preserve to seek out spider monkeys and howler monkeys. These animals roam free throughout the forest. The best time to visit the reserve is at dawn and dusk. That is when the spider monkeys are easiest to find. Many of the fruit trees they enjoy are close to the reserve entrance. So we found them pretty quickly. The howler monkeys however are not. It took us two hours to find them. When we did, it was unreal
The howler monkeys have this crazy loud roar. If I was walking through the forest and I heard that roar and I didnt know what animal made it. It would scare the crap out of me. It is loud. The howlers are small but thick. They look like mini gorillas. Beautiful little guys.
When our time in Playa ran out, we said goodbye to my son David and made our way to Isla Mujeres (July 7), for our annual whale shark expedition. We have been bringing people to swim with whale sharks here since 2005. I have experienced some amazing moments with these sharks and this year was no exception. The sharks were on fire. We arrived at the right time and had hundreds of sharks all around us. Always an amazing time. Thankfully the governing body that manages the whale sharks gave out less permits to the operators and there was not as many boats out there. Which is so much better for the sharks. So many of these sharks have been cut and banged up by boat propellers. You would think they would require all boats to have prop guards. But sadly, so far nothing.
Whale Shark Gallery
After we said goodbye, we headed home (July 14). I was only there for less than 24 hours, then I boarded a plane and was off to Churchill Canada (July 15), for our annual beluga and polar bear expedition. It was an amazing trip, the water visibility was not the greatest due to a colder than normal winter with record snow fall. The snow melt mucked up the river. But despite the poor vis, we did find some areas with decent visibility , plus we had hundreds of belugas and that always makes for an amazing time.
Everyday we went out in search of polar bears and other wildlife. (the birding in Churchill is insane). We were driving around for hours trying to find bears. Sadly, we didn't find any while driving, it was a bit early in the season for them, but we did find one while out on the boat. Seeing that one polar bear made everyone's trip. He was a big battle scarred male, with blood on his face. It looked like he just got into a major scrap. Bears are just freaking awesome. Next season, when we go back to Churchill, I am going to spend a few more days with them. I want some quality bear time.
Beluga Whale Expedition
The trip ended and I reluctantly left Churchill. I took an early morning flight to LA (July 23), and met up with my wife, Maritza and my girl Sophia. We hooked up and jumped on a plane (July 24), bound for Fiji and Tonga. 12 hours of flying is tough to deal with but so worth it when you climb out of the plane and your in Fiji.
We spent a couple of days exploring Fiji. We rented a car and drove around the island. The birding is great here, which I loved, but I really wanted to photograph a fruit bat. They are commonly seen here and are huge animals. They have been nicknamed the flying fox. After a couple days of seeing the land and scanning the skies for birds and bats, we flew to Tonga (July 28), for a week of humpback whales. I was able to photograph a lot of bird species in Fiji, but sadly no bats.
Birding in Fiji
Tonga was epic. There are so many whales here it is crazy. I have been to other places for humpbacks; Salt Cay, Baja, but really there is no comparison. Don't get me wrong, Salt Cay and Baja are really good and very special places. But Tonga is mind blowing. There were so many whales, lots of moms and very friendly calves. And that is because we arrived early in the season, the big migration of whales had not arrived yet. I also added a new shark species to my seen it life list. The zebra shark. I have seen one in an aquarium , but that was a captive shark and it does not count.
The main reason we went was to see if we wanted to add Tonga humpback whales as a destination for us to take our friends to...and hell yea it is! The whales are unreal with great visibility, the reefs are beautiful and the island just rocks. This is a new home away from home for us. I can't wait to get back there.
A huge highlight for me on the Tonga trip was watching my Sophia in the water with these beautiful whales. She is so much fun to hang out with and dive with. Every moment with her is a privilege. She was a total mermaid on this trip. She never wanted to get out of the water. She was trying hard to improve her free diving skills and set a personal record of 6 meters. Which was insane to see. I was on fire!
On our final night in Tonga, they took me to a small island to see is I could find fruit bats. Our host Darren swore they see fruit bats fly from the island at dusk. So we walked around the entire island without seeing a single bat. However right at dusk, fruit bats began emerging from the interior of the island. hundreds of them began flying around. I was not prepared for it and I did not have lights to photograph the few bats that came close to us in the failing light, so I took a few proof of life pictures. I am more determined for next season to bring lights to get some good images of these big beautiful bats.
We ended our time on Tonga and headed back to Fiji (Aug. 5), for a few days to hang out with Mike and the crew from BAD divers. It was time to introduce Mari and Sophia to the Fiji bull sharks. This was my Sophie's first real shark dive. She was blown away. She was super cold, so she only did one dive but she rocked it. She was very comfortable around the sharks and blew everyone's mind. She is the youngest diver they have ever taken on their shark dive, which was really cool. Another nice little personal memory for her (and us).
Fiji Dive Gallery
We ended our trip on the other side of the world and jumped on our plane bound for California (Aug. 9). We scheduled a few more days in California to visit with friends and my Cali. cousins before we flew home back to Texas (Aug. 14) to relax, catch up on emails, work and more importantly spend time with our families.
As I write this and post the images and videos, I am finding it hard to believe this all happened in a two month period. It feels like a weird dream. Everyday was amazing and special, and crazy, and hard, and frustrating all in its own special way. I am very happy the two months are over, but also sad that they are over. I have been home for a week now and I have already forgotten how exhausting the travel life is. All I can think about is dropping everything, packing up my gear again and getting back out there to seek out more craziness with my crew. September looks like a good month to make that happen... So why the hell not?
Thank you all for reading.
I am on a three month long adventure right now. Mexico, Canada, Fiji, Tonga and California. It is going to be a wild roller coaster ride. Totally looking forward to the run. I officially kicked it off in Mexico; I arrived on June 17 to take our group of adventure divers to Xcalak Mexico for our annual crocodile expedition off Banco Chinchorro, MX. Of course, we got there and received the news all divers hate to hear. Storms blowing in and the port is closed. So we all silently kicked and screamed, and begged the weather gods for a break. The forecast for our week was not looking good. We had a storm front that had stalled and was causing hell over the caribbean. It was not looking good for our week of crocodile diving.
When we woke the following morning however, the weather was beautiful. The port was still closed, but the sea was flat, the sun was shining, and there was only a slight breeze. We tried to get the port master to open up the port but they stubbornly refused. So we all sat there, looking out into a perfect ocean, not quite understanding why we were not allowed to go to Banco Chinchorro. They finally allowed us to go out and do some local diving, but the crossing to Banco (which is two hours by boat) was still forbidden. But thankfully that changed.
Somehow in the middle of the second night, the storm that was threatening to end our week of croc diving was gone. The prayers to the weather gods seemed to have worked. The port master also cleared us to motor over to Banco Chinchorro for our crocodile trip.
The crossing was amazingly smooth, and we got over to Banco Chinchorro in record time. As we were unloading the boat at our fishing cabin, the first crocodile swam in and it was game on. Over the next two days we had 12 different crocodiles come and visit us. Of course the star of Banco Chinchorro is Gambit. He is a 9 foot crocodile and a solid player. He knows the game and is so well behaved. Such an amazing animal. It took a while but he finally graced us with his presence.
We had two good days of weather and crocodiles all day long. Banco Chinchorro was on fire. However the weather gods decided that enough was enough and on the evening of our final night, the winds and the rain hit us. It blew hard all night and when we woke up in the morning, it was still blowing. We decided that it would be best to pack up and head home. We knew the ride back was going to be rough, the wind was picking up and the swells were building. So instead of spending one more day with the crocs, we said goodbye to Banco Chinchorro for another season. Despite only having two days with the crocs it was an amazing trip. The crocodiles performed like rock stars for us. It was an amazing show.
I also took advantage of my time at Banco and we visited the ranger station on the island. I was able to photograph three new species of birds to add to our birding photo portfolio as well.
My time in Mexico continues on…Next blog, my days spent at Xcalak, photographing wildlife and my hunt for the loggerhead sea turtle.
Confession time…I have become a Birder. I know, I know, it sounds like a terrible thing for me to say. But it is true. I am officially a Birder. Not exactly the blog people expected on a shark diving page, especially after such a long break from posting blogs. I was supposed to write up a blog about our kick ass Socorro trip, and our Bimini dolphin trip, from back in April…which I haven't done. But those are coming (I think?). For now, this is the why and how I have morphed into a self-professed Birder.
When I got back from our last two trips, we had just sold our house and had to move into our studio apartment. We down-sized from a 3,500 sq. foot home, to a 700. We decided to change our lifestyle completely, into a travel more, buy less friendly lifestyle ( more on that crazy downsizing later). Anyway, that was a huge undertaking and a big freaking pain. So I had to take a break from traveling / blogging to do what I had to do, - move my family and stuff from point A to point B.
Well, the dust of that has settled, and I got back into the mind set of documenting the journey…however, I was finding it difficult to write about my last experiences. The reason is, I am always moving forward, so it was hard to sit down and go back to those moments and share what I was feeling when I was on those trips. I have shared some images and short videos on our FB and Instagram pages, but I haven't written anything about them. And they were both such amazingly great trips. But like I said, it is hard to go back because I am so zoned out on what I am doing right now.
The month of May was a blur. I have been home here in Texas. No diving, just moving and lots of unpacking. The no diving part kills me. However, I made the most of it… during my 'no traveling' down time, I have been helping my 11 year old daughter, Sophia C. with her photography. She has decided she wants to be a wildlife photographer when she grows up. Specializing in underwater wildlife, of course. So I used this time to help improve here photography skills (and mine). So every morning, we visit our local wildlife and birding centers to seek out animals to shoot.
It was during this time that I found out something extremely special about my hometown area. We live in one of the greatest birding hotspots in the world. I always knew birders loved visiting the Rio Grande Valley. What I never realized was how special this place really is. There has been over 600 species of birds documented in the state of Texas. Of those 600, more than 500 can be found here in the RGV.
So with this new information, me and my Sophia have decided that we want to photograph as many of them as possible, in between trips, when I am home. So we set a goal of photographing 500 LRGV (Lower Rio Grande Valley) bird species. This is something that will take us many years to accomplish. But this is a great project that me and my Sophie can do together… it will help my Sophie (and me) with learning how to shoot wildlife better, and the best part, I get to hang out with my girl all the time.
So there it is, I have officially become a birder. We will be documenting this journey as well. Both me and Sophia will be co-writing in a new LRGV Bird Blog we are starting. Sharing the images, videos and more importantly the journey, of our own Big Year. Here we will share, her progress as a wildlife photographer and the countdown from one to 500 birds of the LRGV. Hope you guys will enjoy, again sorry for the long break in between blogs - and thanks again for following along on my ever evolving craziness of a life.
March 11, 2017 - Three weeks of HIGH, High’s and LOW, low’s. Salt Cay is a one of a kind place. It truly was a learning experience for me, when it comes to patience and dealing with the ocean, wind and wildlife. I love this place; experiencing and learning that, no matter how big an animal is, if they do not want to interact with you, they will not.
It is crazy, when I arrived on Salt Cay, I had these high expectations and dreams about what I thought was going to happen, but of course when you are dealing with wild life, everything you think or hope happens, goes directly out the window. But it's what makes these encounters and moments so special when they happen. Because if it was easy, the magic would completely disappear and it would just be a zoo, and there is NOTHING special or magical about zoos'. So we took what the gentle giant gave.
Of course the weather played a huge factor in our time here. Every week the winds would kick up and kill our chances of seeing whales, or getting to areas where the whales would hang out the most. So we had to make due with searching for whales in areas where the sightings were few and far between. This is course was completely out of our control, but when you have people with you, all seeking out top encounters, you hurt for them.
I had an amazing time here. In fact, I am really going to miss this place when I leave. I am going to miss the pace; donkeys in the streets roaming free, magical sunsets, starry nights, great friends, locals just making it through their days with a smile, and doors that never had to be locked, which is such a rarity in today's world. Salt Cay is amazing and whales are magical animals and when they allow you into their world, there is no greater feeling... I am more than sure, I have found a new addiction.