Sunday, December 29, 2013

Post Christmas Cheer

This holiday week sure went fast!  I worked Monday then had Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the day after off work, which was very nice.  I even managed to get some gifts wrapped before the 24th, a new record for me, as usually I'm spending Christmas Eve with paper, scissors, and ribbon. 

The large printed bags at the base of the tree in green and red have been recycled yearly for at least 10 years!  It has become a family joke that I carefully remove the staples and fold them up for another year each Christmas.   We had no children in the house on Christmas morning for the first time ever--Erica was house/dog sitting for someone and of course our married daughter Elaine and our son Nick don't live here.  Our present opening was delayed a bit but by noon we were all gathered and enjoying spending time together and opening our gifts.  Later we all met up again at my parents' house where 26 of us dined on filet Mignon, potatoes, salad, and homemade bread, followed by a large number of homemade candies, cookies, and pies.  Yum!

It was great not to have to go to work on the day after Christmas and leisurely start the cleanup.  Lucy the cat helped by climbing under all the tissue paper piled on the chair and knocking it down :)  The only post-Christmas shopping I did was at the fabric store with my sister and sister-in-law. 

Saturday there was a special trip planned--one my sister Kathy has done nearly every year she's come to California but I have never done--a whale watching trip. We drove up to Santa Barbara to catch the Condor Express, taking our two nieces and nephew plus Kathy's daughter, who flew in on Friday.  It was a gorgeous day weather wise as we set out for the Channel Islands, 11 miles from the coast.

 Leaving the Santa Barbara Harbor. 

Stearn's Wharf, Santa Barbara, and the Santa Ynez Mountains in the background. 

 The captain first stopped the boat just a few miles from the harbor, when these two Dall's porpoises were spotted.  These porpoises look like mini Killer Whales (Orca).  Though they jumped and swam about the boat for a minute or two, they were very hard to catch with a camera!  We headed on further to the west end of Santa Cruz Island.  It was very windy and moderately choppy, which made the search for whale spouts more difficult, but I kept looking to the port side, sure they would show up, and they did!

These are California Gray Whales, which are baleen whales, on their yearly migration to breeding grounds in Baja Mexico.  There were at least three whales, and up to five.  We followed them along the island for some time, getting lots of chances for good photos as they came up every 3-5 minutes from feeding dives.  

 Loved the spouts!

A final parting tail fin shot was our goodbye.  I took dozens of photos :)  Then we turned back west and learned more about the Channel Islands.  These islands were never part of the mainland, having been formed volcanically, and about 20 million years ago they were much further south, somewhere near San Diego.  Because they were formed independent of the mainland, they have endemic flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world. 

The Chumash Indians inhabited these islands for thousands of years.  They called this Painted Cave due to colorful walls formed naturally from the volcanic makeup leaching out.  It is one of the largest sea caves known in the world--over 1200 feet in length.  The naturalist on the boat pointed out the right turn the cave makes and said there is a beach inside where sea lions like to rest at times.  Kayakers can enter the cave.

Taking a photo on a bobbing boat is difficult but I did get this halfway decent shot of a what the naturalist called a periwinkle, though I could not find any further information on-line about it.  Not finding any further whales or other wildlife on the far end of the island, and encountering a lot of choppy waves and wind, we turned back towards the Santa Barbara Channel on the hunt for more whales and sea life, but nothing was sighted for about half an hour.  Just as my sister was lamenting that we had yet to see any dolphins, the captain announced we were approaching a huge pod. 

These small common dolphins (about 5' long) are very very fast and hard to catch with the camera, but you can see splashes far out in the photo, indicating hundreds of dolphins.  We passed through the pod, then turned and caught up with them again.  The estimate was 500+ dolphins.
They were all around the boat and all the passengers were thrilled.

It was a really fun experience watching them leap and play about the boat.  They were practically at our feet.  Two little girls next to me kept reaching out their hands through the railing to feel the spray :)


Sleek and speedy!  As it was getting late, the captain reluctantly let the dolphins outpace us and then he turned toward the coastline again.  Not minutes later, the captain again stopped the boat for an additional sighting of gray whales.  These two juvenile males were very cagey, however, and I did not get any photos of them.  The last sight of them was a beautiful tail fluke which raised "Oohhhs" all over the boat :)  We were over half an hour late getting back to the harbor but no one cared.  It was a great time!  Many thanks to my brother Ted and my sister in law Laura for giving us this gift! 


Janet O. said...

Got a giggle from the gift bag story.
Wow, the whale watching excursion looks very cool!

Mary said...

I love watching dolphins play. Thanks for sharing all these photos!

Stephanie said...

I have always wanted to whale watch. I love your spout and tail photos. What an amazing gift and trip. I love the lull after Christmas. Happy New Year!!!

Libby said...

What a great excursion. I hope to see whales one day. Terrible motion sickness means it will be from shore. We do see dolphins regularly. Love watching them.

Shay said...

Fabulous photos of nature at her best. We live not too far(a couple of hours) from the migration path of whales , but Ive never done that trip ...must put it on my to do list!

Marg said...

It's been a few years since I went on a whale watching tour. It was really good, but you seem to have hit the jackpot with the number of sightings. Our whale migration time is between August and November. So I'll have to wait quite a while before I can go again.

Cherie in St Louis said...

Wow, Annie, what an awesome trip you all had!! A superb way to end the year :)

Kate said...

What a great Christmas present. Great photos! We tried a whale watching trip a few years ago when we were in Oregon. Found out that I get dreadfully sea sick!

Sarah said...

That's a cool present to receive. I haven't sighted a whale, but we do get lots if dolphins in waters around South Australia. The like to swim alongside Dads boat when he's sailing. Interestingly today it is warmer in LA in winter than it is in Adelaide in summer! It's 20C here and 24C there.