We had a wonderful time this weekend participating in the LL Bean/ Maine Audubon Birding Festival, which included bird walks, lectures, displays and some hands on bird sketching taught by Michael Boardman (that’s me!) Our sketchers did a fantastic job, as you can see from their handiwork here. Big thank you to Maine Audubon for the loan of the bird mounts. We’ll be doing more sketching workshops, so sign up on our mailing list for details and locations!
The nutrient rich waters of Glacier Bay support a large population of the endangered humpback whale, and today I am going out to help identify some of these whales with park biologist Chris Gabriele. Glacier Bay has the longest running humpback whale monitoring program, they have been identifying individual whales and behavior since 1985. Most of these whales migrate 2500 miles to Hawaii every winter and Southeast Alaska is where they feed on krill and small schooling fish to bulk up for the trip back and forth. The study of returning individual whales and calves , their feeding behavior and human interactions, as well as their acoustic environment, is helpful in enacting policies to protect these magnificent creatures. Because they return and feed in specific areas of the park, rules involving boat speed and travel help avoid whale/ship collisions.
Our transport today is the Sand Lance, at 19′ it is half the size of an adult humpback whale. My job is to help record data about the whales we encounter. Chris takes photos of their backs, dorsal fins and flukes to accurately ID each individual.
After a short search we encounter a sizable group of whales feeding off Point Adolphus, it looks to be 10 or more whales. We’re excited because this group has not yet been seen this year in its entirety, and it includes the matriarch Gertrude, who is a regular resident of the bay. As we cut the engine to record vocalizations under water, the whales start to move closer to the boat. I’m sketching on the foredeck, and soon several whales are coming up thrillingly close. It would not take much of them to upend our boat, but they seem carefully aware of our presence and we back off slowly. As the whales dive we see a line of tail flukes, 5 or 6 all together, break the water’s surface. Another incredible day.
This is a short video on the whale research in the park, featuring Chris.
I’d like to introduce you all to my new favorite bird, the marbled murrelet.
I had no idea this bird existed before my trip to Glacier Bay. It needs old growth rainforest to nest in, which is 40+ miles away in Juneau. So it flies, several times a day, at speeds of 100 miles an hour, back and forth from Glacier Bay to Juneau, to feed it’s chicks in the nest fish caught in the bay. It’s appearance is that of a unassuming brown torpedo. Why doesn’t glacier bay have old growth rainforest? Because 200 years ago the entire bay was filled with a gigantic glacier, and it’s rapid retreat has created this world heritage site.
It’s a foggy, drizzling morning as I meet Emma Johnson, interpretive ranger and coordinator for my residency, at the boat dock for a visit to South Marble Island. Our craft today is the Serac, which delivers the rangers to the 2 daily giant cruise ships which come into the west arm of Glacier Bay. The rangers help the ship passengers experience the nature and wonder of this amazing national park. As we leave the dock we spot 2 orcas once again in Barlett Cove, and a call is put in to Dena so she can try and identify these whales.
South Marble is in the upper reaches of the bay and as we draw closer the unmistakable sounds of barking and snorting stellar’s sea lions can heard. They haul up on rocky tidal outcrops in large piles, usually with a bull sea lion at the topmost point. The social noise of the sea lions is quite entertaining, but the fishy odor is not, so we continue up to the island.
This island is unique in it’s geography and plant habitat and supports huge numbers of nesting kittiwakes, pigeon guillemots, murres and tufted puffins. There are flocks of birds all over, kittiwakes and gulls in the air, murres and puffins in the water, it’s an awe inspiring diversity of life.
We do notice a lack of the usual sea otters that frequent the island, so a quick detour to the kelp beds close by reveals their whereabouts. Literally hundreds of otters are floating in the kelp here, and they all pop up at our approach to see what’s going on. After their first view they make a hasty retreat, but curiosity gets the best of them and they pop back up again for another look. Several humpback whales surface on the way back, rounding out this truly amazing wildlife spectacle. What an honor to be here!
After an exhausting 14 hour travel day to get from North Yarmouth, Maine to Gustavus, Alaska I am finally here to start exploring, I awaken at my campsite, it’s 4:30 AM and the sun is just coming up. East coast time serves me well as I gather my sketching supplies to greet this glorious, not raining day in Southeast Alaska
I make my way to Halibut Point, near my Bartlett Cove ( Park headquarters) campsite. Morning sun carves away the clouds, opening up a landscape of mountains and snow. I see several ravens on the way to the beach, and oyster catchers are searching the tide line. No one else is up, I have the bay to myself. The mountains form themselves in my sketchbook as I quickly move the brush around the page. Some splashing catches my ear, and as I look to the left several sea otters appear, floating in the kelp and grooming. I start to add them to my book when a raft of stellar’s sea lions work their way across the point and into the cove. As they swim away, silence settles back in, but then I hear explosive breaths from the opposite side of the cove. My binoculars show 3 orcas, one a large male by the size of the dorsal fin, swimming out to sea. The light catches their fins and they disappear.
Later that morning head to the pier to meet Dena Matkin, orca researcher and my first guide into the bay. We board the Kingfisher to search the upper part of Glacier Bay for orcas. Dena is interested in my account of the early morning orcas I saw at Barlett cove. These were a transient pod of whales, who hunt marine mammals and range over a larger area than the resident orca pods, who feed on fish. I was interested to hear that there are physical differences between these separate populations, and the transient males tend to have larger dorsal fins.
Although my day started with wildlife sightings galore, we couldn’t finding orcas to observe during our time, although we saw sea otters, breaching humpback whales and experienced a wonderful sunny day exploring the upper bay. In the distance I can see the glaciers I hope to visit later in my time here.
I am having a solo exhibit of portraits and field sketches of birds of prey at the Gilslsand Farm Audubon Center in Falmouth, Maine. There’s an opening reception Thurs May 21st from 5-7, and the show runs through June 26th. I’ll also be sketching live birds at LL Bean on Sat the 22nd at 1pm as part of their birding weekend.
I just learned I’ve been selected to be this year’s artist in residence at Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. I’ll be there for 2 weeks in late July/early August, working with research scientists to observe and record through my art how different species adapt to the shifting climate of Glacier Bay. This is an amazing honor and I’m humbled to be chosen for this opportunity. 22 years ago my wife Linda and I spent a week kayaking in Glacier Bay, where we got engaged.
I have 3 pieces in the group show Coyote Connections at the UNE Gallery in Portland.
It’s a great concept, having select artists work with a specific species to raise awareness and hope fully change attitudes. Nice write up in the Portland Press Herald:
The University of New England Gallery is hosting a show of paintings featured in the new Art of Katahdin book. I have 2 paintings in the show, Sleeping Giant and Cloud Gatherer, hanging with the likes of Marsden Hartley, James Fitzgerald and Carl Sprinchorn. The show runs through Oct 27th, and has gotten a great review in the Sunday arts section: http://www.pressherald.com/life/audience/at-une-a-mountain-of-a-show_2013-08-11.html including very positive mentions of both my pieces!