Monday, June 6, 2016

Spearfishing class | FII

Yesterday I took the Spearfishing Class taught by John Dornellas through FII - Freediving Instructors International. (The other big competing freediving company is PFI, which is where I got my Level I Freediving certification last summer. Remember?)

There were five other guys in the class with varying degrees of experience, two incredible instructors, and me. Two of the students were Navy veterans, another a very accomplished spearo looking to gain information to eventually teach the class himself, and the others were talented freedivers looking to apply their breath-holding to the art of spearfishing. It was a group of inspiring people with varied backgrounds, all of whom obviously love the ocean and adventure.

This spearfishing class takes your freediving training and applies it practically to spearfishing, which coincidentally can also be applied in large part to underwater animal photography. I don't have footage of myself with the guns or doing my bad-ass rescues (I saved lives! in practice, anyway) NOR do I have footage of me stalking my pretend prey on the bottom of the pool or performing an ambush. I felt it might be "frowned upon" to try to film myself while also holding a gun underwater. This gives you an idea, though, of some of the handling of the spearguns and the float lines:

While I had retained all of the invaluable rescue techniques learned in the Level I Freediving class, after a year of not having had to apply them I was happy for the refresher. I was also very intrigued by the spearguns, particularly the simple pole spear. You can check them out yourself at the premiere spearfishing shop James & Joseph.

The view of downtown San Diego from outside James & Joseph

The technical details about the guns are fascinating, especially when you consider the physics of firing a projectile under water. Obviously the density of water makes shooting a straight object with any force very challenging. So the guns employ these incredibly strong rubber bands. You didn't think they used gun powder, did you? If so, don't ever admit it.

A Euro Gun in the back, bands unloaded. Drawing of a fish to show humane kill spot.

We also learned that when you're hunting a fish, you're not supposed to look at them directly in the eye. Apparently they look at your eyes to gauge your intent, which is why some manufacturers make masks with mirrored lenses - so fish can't read the intent in your eyes while you hunt them. (Those masks are highly discouraged, incidentally, because then you and your buddy can't communicate underwater with your eyes.) 

This was fascinating to me! 

I was stalking our "pretend" fish like you might stalk a bird you're hunting, and I was pretty strongly corrected: our second instructor, Nick, explained that a fish would see that stare as very intimidating... much like sea lions, gorillas (surely you've heard that one before?), and yes - people - do. I have employed that bashfulness for years in my dives with sea lions and seals, so this really made sense to me. Here is my latest interaction, from last week, and I can tell you that I did not get this little girl to stick around by squaring off my shoulders to her and having an underwater faceoff!

Not to get too deep into the ethics of hunting and my personal belief that it is a very important part of who we are as animals, but I will say that there were some kindred spirits in that class. People who look at those fish (and many other marine species) with awe and respect. You have to love animals to devote this kind of time to putting yourself in the water with them so frequently. Do yourself a favor and take a look at the video my instructor's brother made of a particular grouper interaction: 

This class is highly recommended by me: it not only satisfies any curiosity you might have about spearfishing and how spearguns and hunting underwater works, but much of the knowledge transfers quite nicely to simple underwater photography. Message me with any questions.

Happy diving!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Cat leash training at Lake Poway | Observing horseback hikers + a trout-feeding osprey

After testing the waters walking the kittens behind our local veterinary clinic by myself and then taking the kids and the cats to our neighborhood park, we thought we'd really test them today by taking them to Lake Poway.

While Gretel the Savannah (right, below) was much more skittish than Ginger the Bengal, which is her usual MO, she let her curiosity get the better of her and faced down a few dogs (from afar), and seemed to really enjoy much of the hike.

Check out how fast they can go when they're not putzing around in the bushes:

The old man was even there to wrangle a cat or carry the occasional cat carrier.

Willa's really my co-pilot on the walking front though. Here you see her walking Ginger, who has much less fear than Gretel does. They are pros at this.

Look at them in action!

Ginger also tolerates the occasional snuggle very well.

But the most exciting event happened when we saw some horses navigating a steep downhill. The kittens had never seen horses before.

Then the next very exciting thing happened. Our cats came upon this apparent raw meat:

I said that it looked like something had just eaten something else and discarded that part. We literally looked up and saw this:

A beautiful osprey. Read more about our local ospreys in a fantastic article in the Union Tribune here.

But wait - it had a gorgeous trout in its talons still as it flew away!

The kids couldn't believe it - they had never seen anything like it in real life. Enjoy your sushi, flying friend. I will continue to eat mine with white rice and soy sauce, thanks.

Happy Sunday, and thanks for looking!


Friday, January 15, 2016

Caravan Safari + Cheetah Run | San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Last month we embarked on a local adventure that I've always wanted to experience: a Caravan Safari at the San Diego Zoo's Safari Park, followed by a close-up view of the famed Cheetah Run.

We're huge fans of the Tram ride typically included with admission, which takes you on a 45-minute tour of Asian and African enclosures for animals that would naturally share a habitat in the wild.

The sweeping Escondido versions closely mimic the savannas of the Serengeti and India in both flora and fauna, and the driving sun with occasional wet-season downpours approximate the animals' native climate. Pretty much.

The Caravan Safari will get you closer to the animals than the Tram will, though. You'll get the opportunity to interact with - and feed - giraffes and rhinos. But don't think you'll be able to just get out and run around petting everything because you won't!

Do you ever have an idea about how an animal will behave from either watching specials on it, or from observing it from afar? We fed the giraffes once at the edge of their enclosure at the Zoo so I already knew that they were incredibly graceful and gentle, despite their size and power.

I'm also of the opinion, after visiting the Oasis Camel Dairy out in East County, that giraffes and camels seem similar in temperament. If you are some kind of animal expert who strongly disagrees with me, I will probably treat your disagreement with skepticism.

Here's some video of a feeding:

Adults are just as charmed by them as children are. Are the giraffes as charmed by us? Meh.

They look, and feel, like they are covered in velveteen.

They are truly magnificent! If only they gave giraffe rides. Kidding!

But there are so many other stunning animals to see.

The African Crowned Crane delivers its own splendor right alongside the giraffe. It might even pick a fight with a giraffe if you're lucky! I'd be lying if I told you that we witnessed such a fight, but you would probably love that lie for its entertainment value.

The Cranes are not the only hams. What are these guys below called again? I'm a terrible blogger because I don't remember... I was busy taking photos, oohing and ahhing over the animals and chit-chatting with my neighbors. But rest assured, these little guys will amuse you with their over-the-top courtship displays.

*Editor's Note: I guess these are called Indian Blackbuck Antelope. Someone in the Know corrected me. :)

There are nursing Indian Blackbuck Antelope mothers and their calves...

 And in graceful herds with cute, furry little white "follow-me" butts.

A single, noble wildebeest surveys its territory. If you have already gotten emotionally attached to the cute look in the eyes of this creature, don't click on this video of one getting taken down by a crocodile and a leopard.

Most of the animals feel free enough from any threat of predation that they recline on the ground, whether alone or in their herd. So don't tell me about how you feel sorry for these animals because they are not in the wild. This place is no Seaworld!

But the real high point of the Caravan Safari is the interaction you can have with these beauties:

Look at the baby! Who can stand it???

So I always assumed that rhinos were dangerous given their potential to charge, and given that they always physically reminded me of hippos - in size, body-type, vegetarianism, and being territorial in nature. Plus, I figured that they have those intimidating horns for a reason. And NO, not for holding onto while riding one!

But it turns out that they are gentle giants.

When our guide told us that we could touch "any part of them that we could reach," I couldn't believe it. Then she gave us apples to feed them. Don't they look like they eat pizzas by the pie? Wrong, they eat tiny slices of apple, and blades of grass.

The kids enjoyed feeding them so much.

This is a small clip of video we took during feeding. Being able to feed rhinos makes people crazy:

It's difficult to describe just how gentle they were when you're looking at those huge chompers in their mouth, but they were even more gentle than the giraffes were.

We finally ran out of apples and had to head back.

Our drive back took us past a number of enclosures that were off-limits to personal touring given that they housed predators... but we still had a better view of the animals than we usually would on the Tram ride. Look at this cute little boy! He was holding his tongue out like that for no reason... at least no reason I'd like to think about.

After arriving back, we hiked over to the Cheetah Run. We've struggled through the crowds to watch this event before and it's well worth it. This is a slow-motion video of one such Run:

I'm not ashamed to say that I took selfies with Amara like she was a celebrity, because to me she is.

This is a gorgeous non-camera-phone shot of the beautiful Amara. She frequently stars in the cheetah runs, and did on this day that we took advantage of the VIP seating for the event. To say that she could outrun you is an understatement, so don't even try to make a case or imagine scenarios where it could happen.

In addition to Amara, we also got a visit from Ruuxa.

Ruuxa, you may remember (if you are a stalker of all the cheetahs at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park like I am), had a condition in his forelimbs requiring surgery. He looks and moves very well today.

All in all, the Caravan Safari and Cheetah Run experiences at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park are among the greatest family experiences in San Diego.

Thanks for looking! xo

Friday, December 4, 2015

Hybrid cats | Savannah + Bengal breeds

We've got two new kittens! Presenting Ginger Ramona, an SBT Bengal cat on the left, and Gretel Catalina, an F5 SBT Savannah on the right.

We originally wanted a dog or two for accompanying us on hikes and around town, but we were reluctant to adopt an animal who would spend any time outdoors alone considering the attack of our beloved cat Cairo by coyotes in our fenced backyard.

I've always said that pound for pound, cats are the best pets out there. But how can you marry the independent easiness of a cat with the dog-like ability to leash-train and safely adventure outside?

Answer: the hybrid cat! And by hybrid I mean either (or both, in our case) a Bengal cat or a Savannah cat.

Bengal cats are hybrids of the Asian Leopard Cat and domestic cat, and they are known for their moxie on leash and in the water. This is a chatty, highly-intelligent cat that will not be afraid of venturing outdoors with you. You can watch a brief but lively video about the breed on Animal Planet's website here.

Savannahs, on the other hand, are a mix of Serval and domestic cat. They commonly possess the same qualities the Bengal breed is prized for: high intelligence, trainability, love of water and the ability to be trained to walk on leash. See more about Savannahs on Animal Planet here.

While these breeds offer the flexibility of cat ownership with the confidence and outdoor-loving qualities of a dog, they also possess certain challenges: their high intelligence requires that they get regular playtime and exercise of both their mind and body. We felt that with young, very active children and also with me being an enthusiastic owner of cats in the past, we would have this covered - in fact when we met cats who were very shy or timid, we quickly evaluated them to be poor fits for this family of people who would be constantly competing with each other for the cats' attention.

They've been so much fun to have in our family. When Ginger first joined us, she played until she fell asleep sitting up!

We also learned that their wild ancestry leads to funny playtime growling... we hadn't heard that since having a dog.

And sure enough, they have learned to walk on leash very quickly. Aside from food time and turkey treats, I think it's their favorite part of the day.

And best of all, they have each other. They are constantly play-fighting or cat-napping together.

These cats have brought our home so much joy. Please write me with questions on the breeds - I'm happy to share the knowledge we are rapidly gaining on these two dynamic animals!

Thanks for looking :) xo