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Best of 2016

February 23, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

It’s been a while since I’ve done my year in review, but seems like I should take stock of how far I’ve come in my photography career.

Each year, I learn a little more and have added a few new pieces of equipment to my camera bag, and 2016 was no exception. The addition of my Nikkor 200-500mm lens in January 2016 certainly changed the way I looked at the world around me, and while Hawaii may be known for its amazing landscape, I spent most of 2016 taking a closer look at everything from waves to lava to the wildlife around me.

I started out with a rental of the 200-500mm from Hawaii Camera, just to see how I liked it in real shooting situations. A trip to Kauai seemed like a great way to test it, from the waves at Ke’e Beach to the birds at Kilauea, and on my last morning on Kauai, a juvenile Hawaiian Monk Seal hauled out on the tiny stretch of sand in Poipu and let me get a shot of his afternoon snooze.

G22G22A juvenile Hawaiian monk seal takes an afternoon snooze on a beach in Poipu.
Back on Oahu, I decided the new lens I had in the bag was for the birds… literally. A “wandering tattler” or ‘Ulili, a golden plover, and, of course, the beautiful Laysan albatross out at Ka’ena Point.
'Ulili'UliliAn 'Ulili, or "Wandering Tattler" fishes a tidal pool on Oahu's North Shore. Golden PloverGolden PloverA Golden Plover in sunset light on the hike back from Ka'ena Point. Albatross ChickAlbatross ChickA Laysan albatross chick scans the sky for an adult bird bringing a meal.
My volunteer role with the Hawaiian monk seals was made just a touch easier… the detail I am able to capture allows me to see the fur around a monk seal’s eyes (or get a good picture of their tags for a positive I.D.), so I took this portrait of Aukai while at Ka’ena point as well.
AukaiAukaiAukai napping at Ka'ena Point... amazing detail of the fur of around her eyes, or her eyelids themselves.
Next up were the waves… I may have gone up to Waimea Bay when the Eddie… didn’t go, and missed it when they actually ran it about a week later, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t find a beautiful Shorebreak to photograph.

ShorebreakShorebreakA shorebreak wave on Oahu's North Shore.
In March, my wife and I went to the Big Island with her sister and boyfriend and visited the Waimea area for an opportunity to photograph their resident pueo.

Big Island PueoBig Island PueoThe pueo, or Hawaiian owl, hunts in the forests and grasslands throughout Hawaii, and is one of the most well-known of the ‘aumākua, or ancestor spirits, in Hawaiian culture.
During the pupping season for the Hawaiian monk seals, I really put in some work, getting portraits of the new baby monk seals born on Oahu, and then again as each of Ka’ale, Kawena and Lei Ola reached the weaner stage.

Ka'aleKa'aleA three week old Hawaiian monk seal at the water’s edge. His nickname means open ocean swell, which is where we hope he will be found for years to come. KawenaKawenaNew weaner Kawena rolls over after a nap and takes a look around at her surroundings. Lei OlaLei OlaLei Ola, her first day as a weaner, exploring on her own. Ka'aleKa'aleKa'ale wakes from an afternoon nap on Oahu's North Shore to find the paparazzi taking photos.
In July, I spent an afternoon volunteering with the Malama Na Honu team at Laniakea Beach, and added a portrait of Oakley splashing a little water and throwing a little sand on his shell to the portfolio of Honu in my wildlife album.

OakleyOakleyOne of the regulars at Laniakea Beach on Oahu’s North Shore, nicknamed Oakley. While basking, many Honu will throw sand, or splash water on their backs, as Oakley is doing here.
As the summer wound down, and the lava was flowing on the Big Island, we made our second trip of the year to watch the formation of new beaches as the lava met the ocean.

Lava DripLava DripThe ocean entry is always amazing to witness.
My wife and I decided to visit another island, this time on the other side of the world, with almost two weeks spent on the Emerald Isle, Ireland and we enjoyed exploring the castles and the Wild Atlantic Way, including a beautiful sunset at the Cliffs of Moher.

Cliffs of MoherCliffs of MoherIreland's famous Cliffs of Moher.
I shot the moon in November, again, literally with the Super Moon hanging above Oahu.

Super MoonSuper MoonThe Super Moon over Oahu.
For December, it was back to where I started the year, sitting on Ke’e Beach at the end of the road, watching the amazing waves crash into the cliffs down the Napali Coast. I have spent so many hours on this beach, watching the waves fan as they collide and the colors of the sunset trapped in the rain in a valley in the distance. This trip, however, the newest tool in my camera bag helped me cover the distance to where all the action was happening, and I captured this Ke’e Tower image to wrap up another amazing year living here in Hawaii.

Ke'e TowerKe'e TowerA towering fan wave forms off the Na Pali coast as waves rushing back from the cliffs collide with the next set coming in. I'm looking forward to the year ahead, and continuing to build on the images I share with you.


Best of 2013

January 05, 2014  •  2 Comments

Ever since I arrived in Hawaii, I have been fascinated by the lava flows on the Big Island, and I have been looking forward to the opportunity to photograph the ocean entry. I had seen the surface flows on a few occasions, and attempted to hike out to the ocean entry in December 2012... but before my trip arrived, the ocean entry had stopped, allowing an epic night of witnessing the surface flow, but no ocean entry.

In January, I scheduled myself to head to Maui for a week of whale watching... still chasing my "white whale" of a whale breach shot. As I got ready to go, I heard that the lava flow on the Big Island was once again reaching the ocean. I jumped at the chance to go and get another shot at witnessing the lava making the ocean entry, and I booked a guided tour with Kalapana Cultural Tours. With a change to my flight itinerary, I was now set up with flights from Honolulu to Hilo and then from Hilo to Kahului.

A few hours of hiking out with Andrew from Kalapana Cultural Tours, and we were rewarded with a beautiful new coastline of black sand beach, with molten lava reaching the ocean. The photo below was my favorite from the trip, titled simply Lava Flow.

Lava FlowLava Flow

After a night camping at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, exhausted from the hike but excited about everything I'd gotten to see and photograph, I woke up early and caught my flight to Maui to start chasing my whale breach. I was greated with A Whale's Aloha on an early morning whale watch, and was off to a great start for my week.

I finished my first few days of whale watching with a "Maui Mugging" when a pair of humpback whales swam within 25 yards of our boat while we were idled, listening to the hydrophone playing whale song. With the close proximity, and the late afternoon light, I was able to capture Sunset Tail.

Sunset TailSunset Tail

Another shot I've always wanted to do was a long exposure of some of the beautiful waterfalls along the Road to Hana. I headed down for a weekend of hiking and camping, and stopped in the late afternoon with ideal conditions for a long exposure of Waikani Falls. It was a bit of fun minimizing the water droplets on my lens, at the base of a waterfall, but I think my patience was rewarded.

I have always had a love of lizards, and while visiting Buster at Sandys Beach, I got to see this Jackson chameleon.

While Jackson chameleons aren't native to Hawaii, they were introduced through the exotic pet trade in the 70s. Whether escaped pets, or released into the wild, they have established themselves in the Hawaii environment, and can be found when hiking local trails.

This guy fell out of a tree and onto a rock, where he was picked up by some hikers and brought down to Sandys beach. I definitely enjoyed the chance to hold him, and actually photographed him while he was clinging to my arm.

Speaking of Buster, he had been a regular at Sandys Beach for several days, so I decided to go give him the full portrait package, capturing this image of a wave breaking on the sand behind him, as he snoozed the afternoon away. It was actually featured on Hawaii News Now, by Guy Hagi, as he introduced the evening's weather.

For June, I managed to capture this beautiful shot of Ha'o Coming Ashore at Laniakea Beach on Oahu's North Shore. It has always been a favorite place to take my guests, or just spend a few hours on an afternoon watching the numerous Honu swimming just off the beach, and frequently finding some of these beautiful creatures napping on the sand. Hawaii is the only place in the world where green sea turtles come ashore to nap, and while it isn't known exactly why they do so, I don't think it is a coincidence that they choose the beautiful beaches of Hawaii.

Coming AshoreComing AshoreHao'okanaka is named in memory of Hawaii surfing legend Andy Irons. She can be recognized due to the paw print scale design behind her eye. Each Honu has a unique shape and pattern to their facial scales, which can be used to identify them.

In July, I met Kea, who was born on the Fourth of July. While he no longer has his black baby fur, he is still easy to recognize by virtue of the distinctive bleach marking on his front and rear flippers, as well as the spot on his armpit seen in this image. He is roaming a bit from his birthing beach, but usually is within a few miles of it. I'm sure he'll continue to expand his travels as he gets older.

July: Kea, OahuJuly: Kea, Oahu

2013 really became my Year of the Seal when I started volunteering with the Monk Seal Foundation, and spent many of my mornings watching Luana and her mother, R912, up at Mokuleia. She was born in August, with a tropical storm bearing down on the island. My first opportunity to photograph her, at just one day old, I managed to capture the pair lit by the setting sun on her birthing beach, with this beautiful rainbow spreading overhead.

One of the mornings I was scheduled to watch Luana, I was asked to take a hike out to Ka'ena Point to look for Rip, a male seal that had been observed with fishing line tangled around him. Somehow, in all the years I've lived here, I'd never hiked Ka'ena Point, but I figured this was a good reason to give it a try.

Hiking from the Mokuleia side, it really isn't that tough a hike, about four miles round trip. However, when I got to Ka'ena Point, I didn't find Rip and instead found another large seal. That's when the real journey started...

Some other hikers had come from the Waianae side, and told me they had seen a seal on the hike out from Yokohama, and that he'd had a marking on his back (where Rip had been wearing a transponder). Since this was likely the seal I was looking for, I hiked back with them "about a mile"... except that as we continued, it was clear to them that he'd been much further back than they remembered, and we kept hiking.

Alls well that ends well, right? Rip was snoozing in a tide pool, with no fishing line tangled around him and never even opened his eyes when I verified his tag numbers from a safe distance, and took pictures to be sure he didn't have any injuries.
November: Rip, Kaena PointNovember: Rip, Kaena PointRip, sleeping away the afternoon, in a tide pool along the trail to Kaena Point. While traveling to Kauai in September, I set my sights on some bird shots out at Kilauea Lighthouse. I was focused on the larger 'Iwa birds, an albatross, the Nene wandering the lighthouse lawn, but at the end of the day, it was a much smaller bird that caught my attention for my favorite shot. This Hawaiian Cardinal perched in the green bushes at the point, with the ocean and rocky island behind him offered a chance for some detail, and contrasting colors that I really liked.

Hawaiian CardinalHawaiian CardinalThe Hawaiian Cardinal is also known as the Brazilian Cardinal, introduced to Hawaii from South America in the 1930s. Beautifully striking birds, this one posed on the vegetation, snacking on berries, with the rocky island of the point at Kilauea behind him.

Another trip to Laniakea Beach on my birthday found a Honu on the reef. Feasting Honu was selected by the fans on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/JasonORourkePhotography) to anchor my 2014 Calendar for the month of December.

Feasting HonuFeasting HonuA Hawaiian green sea turtle, or Honu, pauses from a snack to cast a wary eye at me, as the waves roll across the reef.

A return to Kauai in October was timed with some big waves on the North Shore, which made watching the sunset at Ke'e Beach a top priority. I spent hours watching and photographing the waves crashing in on the reef and the cliffs of the Na Pali coastline, but the colors of the setting sun on the misty spray in the air, with this wave curling up was by far my favorite.

Ke'e WavesKe'e WavesA trip to Kauai during a high surf warning for the north shore meant the show at Ke'e Beach was spectacular. I spent hours watching and photographing the waves crashing in on the reef and the cliffs of the Na Pali coastline, and captured the color here in the fading afternoon light.

Of course, as I said... 2013 was my Year of the Seal, so it seems only appropriate to wrap up this year's edition of my favorite photos with this image of R313. She had actually taken a break from the raging surf at Ke'e Beach photographed above, and was napping on the shore. As the sun poked beneath the clouds, she woke up and took a good look at me. She seemed a little curious about that big camera I was carrying, but after posing for this shot, headed back out to the sea.

January: R313, KauaiJanuary: R313, Kauai

I hope you've enjoyed my Best of 2013 as much as I have enjoyed shooting them. Look forward to many more photos in 2014, and more to share this time next year!


Best of 2012

January 05, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Looking back at 2012, my "white whale" search was for a humpback whale breach photo. I was determined that I would capture a breach photo last year and I certainly had some opportunities along the way.  Of course, 2012 wound up being a year of wildlife shots, from start to finish, so my Best of 2012 ultimately will be my top 10 wildlife captures of the year.

In March, I made my first trip of the year to Maui with the goal of capturing a whale breach from the deck of a whale watching vessel off Lahaina. While whales can be seen from all of the Hawaiian islands during whale season, and we'd already seen them in January from Kilauea Lighthouse on Kauai, Maui is the best place to go whale watching. I had a few long distance breach shots from the shores of Kauai from January, as well as Maui and Big Island, and even took a whale watch out of Kona in 2011 where we spotted a few whales, but no breach.

This year, I really wanted the up close and personal version. Our whale watch in March provided my first opportunity. We found ourselves in the middle of a competition pod, "mugging" the boat. Hawaii has a number of state laws to protect these endangered animals, and require boats to stay a safe distance away. However, the whales are unpredictable and often approach the boat much closer than that distance, known locally as a "Maui mugging," and state law requires the captain to keep the boat in idle until the whales move away. As a whale watch goes, this is a great opportunity to observe them up close and personal.

With the competition pod circling the boat, we were treated to tail slaps, head pops, pectoral fins waving and even an eye to eye look at the humpback whales as they swam within a few feet of the boat. And, yes, there was a whale breach within this 100 yard distance, and it was an amazing sight to see. Unfortunately, I was caught completely by surprise and missed getting the photo I was searching for. I did, however, manage to capture this close up shot of the whale coming up a second time with a head slap, and it was one of my early favorites.

Charging In April, I went back to give it another try. This time, we managed to find another competition pod swimming in close to the shore, and once again were able to watch a variety of activity. However, the whales were swimming in fairly shallow water and the tail slapping was the most activity we were able to witness, and no breaching was observed. It wasn't a total loss, however, as I managed to capture a beautiful fluke as a whale dove for deeper water.

A Whale's Tail That would be my last opportunity of the spring whale season, and I would be left to wait for the winter for the whale's to return to try again. Not to say there weren't plenty of other opportunities to capture pictures of Hawaii's wildlife. Our last day of this trip kicked off what was my best year ever for finding and photographing the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal. As we were checking out of our hotel, we took a few minutes to visit this beautiful (and massive) female monk seal napping on the sand of Ka'anapali Beach, mostly ignoring the crowd of spectators that had gathered to see her.

Chin Scratcher Of course, I couldn't do a blog of my favorite photos of 2012 without including the gecko. While not originally native to Hawaii, these colorful geckos can be found throughout the islands, and are sometimes hidden in plain view. Other times, they stand out in the sun, like this "Climbing Mo'o" taken at Waimea Valley on Oahu last June.

Mo'o Climbing

I barely managed a single photo before the gecko disappeared over the backside of the plant, and I started to walk away. However, movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention and I found the gecko was peeking out to see whether it was safe to return. Not sure if he thought he was camouflaged among the flower petals, but his attempt to hide among them made it an instant favorite for me.

Peekaboo In August, I needed a very specific Honu shot, so I went to Laniakea Beach on Oahu's North Shore, also known as "Turtle Beach," in the hopes that I'd find what I was looking for. I definitely did. This beautiful female endangered Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle was perched on the reef, but facing away from the sun, so I needed to wait for her to turn. It seemed every time she would get partway turned into the light, she'd end up spun away again. As the waves rolled over the reef, I sat photographing her for several hours and finally got the image I was looking for, and I even got a little more than I hoped for. This image, currently a Finalist in Digital Photo magazine's "Your Best Shot" contest, is my favorite of 2012.

Laniakea Honu

On a drive around the east shore in October, I saw Irma napping on the beach she's named for, so I thought I'd stop and take a few photos of her. It was early afternoon light, with the waves breaking on the reef in the distance, and lapping the sand several feet from where she slept, nice and dry. It was pretty obvious that she was safely above the wave line on the sand, until... she wasn't.

Splash Having discovered that Irma is a regular along this shoreline, I spent a few afternoons shooting more photos of her, and caught the attention of one of the many volunteers that help keep these endangered animals safe by roping them off while they nap, so they won't be disturbed. While talking with Kimo, he showed me the photos he'd taken of a baby seal hanging out on a North Shore beach and provided me the directions on the group of spots she'd been frequenting since being born up there this past summer.

When I arrived at the spot, two volunteers were standing guard, with the small cove where she was napping carefully roped off. At first, I couldn't distinguish her light gray fur from the rocks she was hiding among. However, I did finally spot her and realized she was perfectly placed to prevent me from getting a great photo of her sleeping. All that was left to do was wait, and when a wave splashed over the rocks around her and woke her up, she looked around to find me aiming my lens for this photo.

Spotted Me So, we get back to my original quest... the breach shot of the Humpback whale. Well, it was November and with my family visiting Maui from the mainland, it seemed like a good opportunity to take another whale watch. Unfortunately, it was a little too early in the season and while there was some activity already, there wasn't enough to be confident that a whale watch would bring the photo I was looking for. However, there are plenty of other opportunities on Maui, like yet another gecko photo. A few years ago, I captured almost by accident, a gecko within the leaves of a plant on Oahu's North Shore. My favorite photo of the group, however, wasn't focused quite right, and I've been looking for an opportunity to try again. Geckos rarely sit still for extended photo sessions, but this one was very cooperative.

Ka'anapali Gecko So, does that mean I missed my 2012 goal? Does my "white whale" quest carry over into 2013? Well, I certainly will continue to try to capture more whale shots this year, but I did make one last attempt in 2012 to get the breach shot I've been looking for. I went over for the first day of whale season, December 15th, and signed up for multiple whale watches. My first whale watch had some great activity, but... no breach to photograph. When we got back to port, I joked with the staff about whether they needed me to disembark and stand in line again so they could include me in their count, and they were surprised to find me boarding again just a few minutes later. Like I said, I was determined to get this photo.

Early on in the whale watch, we found a juvenile female Humpback whale that was very active, with tail slaps that allowed me to take my time capturing her beautiful, and very rare from what the naturalists told us, all black fluke. She lingered at the surface performing for nearly an hour, and when she slipped beneath the surface with just a bit of the telltale hump that gets these whale their names, there was no fluke to indicate that she'd gone for a deeper dive.

When she breached shortly later, it was a surprise to everyone on board. However, I had learned my lesson in March and I had my camera in my hands, and watched as she came out of the water. My first photograph, in my excitement, was of the ocean itself as I brought the lens up to focus on the beautiful whale leaping into the air.

Such an amazing sight to witness in person, and I cannot wait to go on my next whale watch soon.


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