Landscape

Great Bear Rainforest - Trip 2

In September of 2018, I spent 3 weeks in the Great Bear Rainforest working as a photographer & naturalist aboard a ship called the Maple Leaf. The Great Bear stretches along BC’s central and north coast and is part of the largest temperate rainforest in the world - 85% of which is now off limits to logging thanks to conservation efforts. From whales and wolves, bears and eagles, and waterfalls and tall granite walls, the region is stunning beyond words. Here are some photos from the second of two 8-day trips we embarked on while there.

Gear: Canon 5D MKIV, 15mm f2.8, 16-35mm f4 IS, 35mm 1.4 II, 24-70mm f4 IS, 100-400 IS L II.

18 Favourite Photos of 2018

2018 shaped up to be yet another busy and exciting year with lots of adventures into new and unique areas. It also saw the release of an award-winning documentary film titled Anthropocene: The Human Epoch that I assisted on, a museum exhibit by Ed Burtynsky and book by Harley Rustad featuring Big Lonely Doug, and media coverage on the old-growth issue across the country and around the world. The highlight experience of my year though would have to have been the three weeks that I spent working as a naturalist and photographer aboard the Maple Leaf in the Great Bear Rainforest. The Great Bear stretches along BC’s central and north coast and is part of the largest temperate rainforest in the world. From whales to wolves, bears to eagles, and waterfalls to tall granite walls, the region is beautiful beyond words. The trip also underscored to me though just how special Vancouver Island and BC’s south coast truly are. Due to the better weather and prime growing conditions, it’s right here, in our own backyard, that one can still find some of the most magnificent ancient forests harbouring some of the world’s largest trees. But unlike the Great Bear, where 85% of the old-growth forests are now off limits to logging thanks to decades of conservation efforts, the ancient forests of the south coast are now highly endangered and still being cut at an alarming rate. So throughout 2018 we again clocked thousands of kilometers on logging roads and hiked through magnificent forests and horrific clearcuts in an effort to expose both the beauty and the destruction taking place. Clearly there is still much work to be done in the coming years to ensure that these incredible ecosystems remain standing for generations to come. For now though, please enjoy what are some of my favourite photos from this past year. If you have a favourite, let me know in the comments below! For the wild, TJ.

Fine art prints of these images and more can be ordered online at: tjwatt.com/prints

WOOOOSHHH!! A humpback whale bursts through the surface just off the bow of our boat in the Great Bear Rainforest. To say this was surprising would be a major understatement. In the hour prior to this moment, we had been floating silently while a group of about 20 whales swam nearby, calmly diving for krill. It was fun trying to guess where they might pop up but you never really knew where it would be and certainly none of us could have predicted a breach! Shocked, I somehow managed to spin around and catch at least one good shot before the giant splash ensued. Humpback numbers are thankfully on the rise today after being nearly hunted to extinction a century ago. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend time with these gentle giants. Listening to the peaceful “pwwossshh” sound of their breath break the silence was something I could listen to forever.

Drawn to the river by the smell of spawning salmon, a Spirit Bear named Warrior pauses momentarily in a sun-dappled creek before chasing after her lunch. Spirit Bears are not an albino but actually a white variant of a black bear and only a few hundred are thought to exist on Earth. Patience, local knowledge, and a lot of luck are the most important ingredients when hoping to view one of the world’s rarest animals. Thankfully, legendary Gitga'at bear guide, Marven Robinson, helped us to fulfill our dreams on this trip.

A bald eagle soars through the Khutze River Valley in the Great Bear Rainforest on BC’s north coast. During the fall salmon run, hundreds of eagles can be seen perched in trees and fishing along the rivers. By carrying the dead salmon off into the woods, the eagles help to fertilize the forest as the decomposing carcasses release nitrogen into the soil. Capturing birds in flight is always a difficult challenge, so I was thrilled to see the eye contact in this image and the beautiful definition in the wings and feathers.

Much of our time in the Great Bear Rainforest was spent floating up and down remote rivers as quietly as we could, hoping to catch a glimpse of local wildlife. Bears were often the main focus but there were many other creatures big and small that we got to see as well, like this kingfisher perched on the roots of an old snag. I really love the balance of elements in this scene and the colours as well. Reminds me somewhat of a painting.

A young male grizzly bear leisurely walks along the banks of the Khutze River looking for salmon. This was my first time seeing a grizzly up close and also the first grizzly we saw upon arriving in the Great Bear! It would also prove to be one of the best photo opportunities over the whole trip. Despite their immense power and potential for ferocity, it was amazing to spend so much time in close proximity to these animals and see just how gentle and playful they can also be.

If the Great Bear Rainforest wasn’t magic enough already, the bioluminescence in the ocean on our first night there was like something out of a sci-fi movie. Stirring the water with a pike pole caused it to light up a bright neon blue. You could see the shapes of fish swimming by, larger things following them, and little sparkles twinkling in all directions that seemed to mirror the stars in the sky. A few of the crew even jumped right in and made ‘glow angles’ with their bodies! Later that night, when it started to rain heavily, the whole bay lit up in a milky glow. It’s something I will never forget!

The view from a few thousand feet over Clayoquot Sound, looking west towards Obstruction and Flores Island. One thing you quickly notice when flying over Vancouver Island is just how pervasive logging roads and clearcuts are. Almost every direction you look, the landscape is scarred or altered. In only a few rare and special places can you can get a glimpse of the island the way it once was - carpeted from coastline to mountain top and back down again in ancient forests of every shade of shimmering green. Thankfully, the local Ahousaht First Nation have a Land Use Vision calling for protection of over 80% of the old-growth forests in their territory. May this view stay looking this way for many generations to come.

Flores Island in Clayoquot Sound is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Located a 45 minute boat ride north of Tofino, the island is home to the incredible Wild Side Trail. The trail winds along 11 kilometers of stunning coastlines and amazing ancient forests before delivering you to the long, sandy beaches of Cow Bay, seen here during an amazing summer sunset. To capture this shot, I was running around barefoot looking for little pools of water to catch the reflection in and then holding my camera just above the sand to create the mirrored effect. I really dig the little trees too - three trees just like the three friends that were on the trip together!

Would you look at these little guys! These psychedelic looking creatures are tiny carnivorous sundews (Drosera rotundifolia), which can be found in the bog forests of Vancouver Island. Rather than make their food through photosynthesis, the sundew supplements its diet by feeding on insects! The sticky dew or “mucilage” on its tentacles helps it to trap and digest its prey for a hearty meal. The plants are so tiny that you could easily walk right by them unless you knew to look for them. For this image, I carefully laid my camera on the ground and used a macro lens to peer into the miniature world. I love the rainbow colours and cartoon-like shapes, which remind me of something from Willy Wonka or Dr. Seuss!

A camas flower awaits its time to bloom in Uplands Park. A fun photographic exercise is to pick only one lens and go for a walk in nature. One of my favorite lenses to do this with is my macro lens. It forces you to slow down and pay attention to the small things. Here, the soft textures and pastel tones of the flower really caught my eye.

A cluster of mushrooms grows in the mossy hollow of old-growth bigleaf maple tree near Lake Cowichan. This would have to be the cutest little colony of fungi I’ve ever seen! I half expected to see a little pixie land on one of them and head through a door into another world.

The hidden sandstone canyon and waterfall at Sombrio Beach is a truly magical place. I never tire of coming here as it always looks a little different depending on the time of day and the season. Aside from the picturesque waterfall, mosses, and ferns, there’s an eye-catching blend of natural curves and lines well.

Reflecting on the Nahmint. Confused? Try turning your head upside down 🙃

The Nahmint River Canyon near Port Alberni is a swimmer’s paradise when out hiking in the hot summer months. The cool, blue waters are flanked by towering cliffs and ancient trees, while the deep pools harbour schools of steelhead salmon. I first visited the Nahmint back in 2006 on one of my very first trips to photograph old-growth forests for conservation. With its exceptional recreational and ecological value, it’s back in the spotlight today as an incredibly important area to save from old-growth logging taking place.

In May of 2018, while on an Ancient Forest Alliance expedition in the Nahmint Valley, we came across an incredible old-growth Douglas-fir tree measuring 10 feet wide and 216 feet tall, making it the 9th widest Douglas-fir tree in the country according to the BC Big Tree Registry and as tall as Big Lonely Doug. It was a truly beautiful, awe-inspiring tree. Two weeks later, it was a stump. Cut down in one of the many clearcuts auctioned off by the BC government’s own logging agency, BC Timber Sales. Under BC’s current forestry model, old-growth forests are a non-renewable resource, as forests are re-logged every 50-70 years, never to become old-growth again. Ecological values aside, a record-sized tree like this one, growing on gentle terrain and next to the main road, can form the basis of an industry based on “big tree tourism”. In this light, trees can be viewed as a renewable resources in that people will come to see them time and time again, generating revenue for local businesses and leaving the forest standing at the same time. However, each time another giant tree or grand grove is cut down, we permanently remove that option from the table. With less than 1% of the original old-growth coastal Douglas-fir trees remaining on BC’s coast, it’s time for the BC government to create a science-based plan that protects these ancient forests and help create a shift to a sustainable, value-added, second-growth forest industry instead.

No other photo of mine created more of a stir this year than this shot of my colleague Andrea Inness walking past a giant old-growth redcedar tree cut down in the Nahmint Valley near Port Alberni. The image sparked outrage from the general public and went viral on social media, garnering hundreds of thousands of views and even making the front page of Reddit World News. ‘How can this still be happening’ people ask? ‘It must be illegal!’ Truth is, old-growth logging in BC is still taking place and at an alarming rate. 10,000 hectares is cut on Vancouver Island each year alone as the companies target the best remaining stands with the biggest trees. The vast majority of the time, this is taking place in very remote areas, far from the public eye. I do my best to bring back images that showcase both the beauty and destruction of our old-growth forests, but it’s still only a sliver of the bigger picture. Lets hope 2019 is the year that we start seeing some real progress on the old-growth conservation front, as time for these forests is quickly running out.

A wave breaks over the rocky shorline of Sombrio Beach. Storm watching is one of my very favourite pastimes and this is one of the best places to chase big waves! I was also impressed by how calmly the cormorants sat atop their precarious perch as well.

Morning mist hangs over the meadows of the San Juan River estuary near Port Renfrew. I enjoy the peace found at this time of day and often go down to the ocean to watch the sunrise or, when I’m in Port Renfrew, come here. The air is still and the sounds of the world waking up can be heard one bird at a time. Some days you’re treated to a fiery sky of pink and orange while others, like this cool, blue winter morning, are shrouded in mist. It often leaves me thinking of this quote from E.B. White “Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savor the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it? In a way, the savoring must come first.”

Hiking the Wild Side Trail on Flores Island

It's been a crazy summer with more adventures than ever and I have quite the backlog of photos to share but to start, here are some pics from a recent hiking trip along the Wild Side Trail on Flores Island - one of the most beautiful places on Earth! If you have 3 days, it's hard to think of a more rewarding place to visit. Located just north of Tofino in Clayoquot Sound, the trail's 11km length winds you along stunning coastlines, through amazing ancient forests, and ends at the long, sandy beaches of Cow Bay. Wildlife such as wolves, cougars, and bears are found here along with the rich cultural history of the Ahousaht First Nation, who still call the island home. You can catch a boat to Flores from Tofino for $20 through this water taxi and support the Ahousaht Nation - who's Land Use Plan Vision declares for more than 80% of their traditional territory to be protected from industrial activity - by paying the small trail and camping fee. Happy hiking!

Snowy Oaks - Summit Park

A brief snowfall here in Victoria created a winter wonderland at Summit Park, one of the city's few remaining Garry oak ecosystems.

'From Above' Aerial Photography Show

Here are some pics from the closing night of 'From Above', an aerial photography show featuring photos from across Vancouver Island shot by Jeremy Koreski Photography, Graeme Owsianski, Christian Coxen, pilot Nick Temos, and myself. A huge thanks goes out to Nick from Pacific Northwest Collective for flying us around to all these rad places (without crashing) and for organizing the printing and framing for the show! Big thanks as well to White Sails Brewing for the delicious beers and for hosting the event + all those who came out and supported the show!

Storm Chasin' at Sombrio Beach

After missing the record breaking waves that hit the coast recently, some friends and I decided to see if we could still catch some storm action over the next weekend. The cove at Sombrio Beach always puts on a good show and this day was no exception. Waves hitting the rocks were blasting 50-60ft in the air and even swallowing the waterfall whole! It's such a natural high being surrounded by the raw and powerful forces of nature.

17 Favourite Photos From 2017

2017 - a year that certainly seems to have had its fair share of ups and downs for many folks, myself included. Throughout it all though we learn valuable lessons, grow stronger, and remember to remain grateful for the simple gift of life itself. I was fortunate enough to be a part of some really amazing projects again this year, such as working with Ed Burtynsky, one of my earliest idols and inspirations in photography; having my photo published in Reader's Digest Magazine; guest judging the British Columbia Magazine Photo Contest; and embarking on a number of trips to explore and document incredible wilderness areas across Vancouver Island and BC. Below is a collection featuring some of my personal favourite photos from 2017. As always, I'm looking forward to what new places and faces this next year has in store. I hope you'll join me on the adventure! TJ. *Prints available here.

Nestled in a stunning stretch of old-growth forest along the Juan de Fuca Trail near Port Renfrew, a series of beautiful waterfalls flow through the sculpted sandstone walls of Payzant Creek. I amazed to see how the bubbles twirling in an eddy were captured in the photo as well. It's a truly magical place to visit and well worth the 6km round trip hike from the Parkinson Creek trailhead.

The little bonsai tree at Fairy Lake near Port Renfrew is one of the most photographed trees around, so it can be hard to capture it in a new or unique way. On this particular day though, the water level was really high and a layer of mist hung over the lake's surface, making the tree (which grows on a log) appear as though it was growing straight out of the water. It was pretty surreal looking and resulted in one of my favourite photos yet.

During a hike through the 'FernGully Grove' near Port Renfrew this winter, the sun was casting heavenly rays through the mist, illuminating the cool blue water and lush green ferns of the forest. It really is all about being in the right place at the right time, but that being said, much is still left up to luck. You can only be outside so much of the time and it always leaves me wondering what stunning sights must appear on a daily basis that only the mountains, trees, and wildlife will ever bear witness to.

I've wished and waited my whole life to see the northern lights and this year, during a summer trip to Prince George, it finally happened. Along the drive into town, we were treated to a dazzling display of dancing green beams that made the whole sky appear to be alive and flowing with energy. By the time we arrived, the show had mellowed out a bit but I still managed to capture a few of the purple and green bands brushed like neon paint across the night sky.

Early in 2017 I got hooked on photographing the beautiful Anna's hummingbirds living in our backyard. It was still winter and their colours stood out in shimmering contrast to the white snow. Since they move at incredible speeds, it was quite a challenge to capture a clear shot of one. But after spending many hours watching them, I began to notice some patterns as to where they would hover or perch on a branch. I set my camera up on a tripod underneath a make-shift blind and pre-focused the lens to the location I thought the birds would be. Then, using a remote live-view shooting feature on my new Canon 5D MKIV, I would trigger the camera from my phone at a distance. The plane of focus on the macro lens was razor thin so I was thrilled when I saw the bird's eyes and bright feathers were in focus. The little snowflakes falling around him topped it all off.

This image was taken one icy morning this winter in an old-growth clearcut near Port Renfrew. The fog floating through felt as though the ghosts of the former forest were hanging around the land they had been taken from. Part of the challenge in conservation photography, I feel, is to find beauty and form amidst the chaos and destruction. Compelling art and imagery works like a bridge, carrying difficult, yet important messages into the sphere of public consciousness. Especially in our digital age, visual communication plays an evermore important role in raising awareness of the many issues facing our planet - and hopefully compelling people to take action and help make a difference.

While hiking along the edge of a recent old-growth clearcut near Port Renfrew, I was struck by the split view created by the trunk of a giant cedar tree. On the left, a window into a timeless grove of rare, valley bottom ancient forest. On the right, a scarred landscape, stripped of its once-grand flora and fauna. In the middle, an ancient tree - half its roots planted in a peaceful world it has known for centuries, the other on the edge of the ever-encroaching industrial world. With less than 10% of our valley bottom old-growth forests left on Vancouver Island, which world will prevail?

While walking along Botanical Beach in Port Renfrew, this beautiful amber-coloured kelp (Costaria costata) caught my eye. The patterns were mesmerizing and, when held up to the sun, it lit up like a work of stained glass art. I love the color amber and it was nice to create something a bit more abstract than my usual work.

Photographing little critters is a tricky endeavor. They tend to run, jump, or hide away before you even get your camera out. So when this red-legged frog hopped up on a log and sat perfectly still in a sunbeam, it seemed like a miracle! Maybe it always wanted to be a model in the frog world. Well, it finally got its chance ;)

The estuary of San Juan River is one of my very favourite places to visit and to photograph. Whether it's the changing tides, seasons, or just time of day, there always seems to be a new and beautiful angle with which to view it. On this particular winter day, the sun broke out and caused the meadow to steam. The small trees adorned with white lichens only added to the mystical feel.

Smoke from the wildfires that raged through BC's interior made its way over to Vancouver Island as well this summer. Seen here is the view of sunset from one of my favourite lookouts in Metchosin, Mt Helmcken, at the top of Neild Rd. The pastel haze created a painterly (albeit ominous) feel across the sky and the rolling landscape of the Sooke Hills.

During this year's solar eclipse, a kind fellow let me connect my camera to his telescope during the peak moment of transit (about 90% when viewed from Victoria). It was a fairly surreal experience seeing the daylight dim down but truthfully, I'm still pretty jealous of those who got to experience totality. Next time!

The style and character of old, weathered Douglas-fir trees is a wonder to behold. There is something so zen-like about the shapes and patterns they take on - like the trees you see in Japanese paintings, shrouded in mist. I came upon this particular Doug-fir during a snowy walk up Mill Hill near Shawnigan Lake. It's amazing what magical moments can be found right in your own backyard.

The start of 2017 delivered the first real winter we've had on Vancouver Island in a long time. Temperatures stayed below zero and heavy snow stuck around for weeks at a time. I went to visit the waterfall at Goldstream Park and arrived to find an icy world formed by the billowing mist. Shooting this photo was like working in a deep freeze. My hands felt like they were being crushed in a vice grip and it took few hours for them to fully warm back up, but I'm happy to have this photo to look back on now from the comforts of my cozy home :)

Slowly evolving over the course of millennia, our ancient forests form a beautiful organic tapestry, woven from the many cycles of life and death. Mother nature truly is the world's greatest artist and this nurse log seen here at the Avatar Grove is one my favourite's of her work.

The true magnificence BC's coastal old-growth forest is something that needs to be experienced in person - that humbling feeling of being dwarfed by monumental trees, while the fog floats through the forest and quiet solitude surrounds you. I feel this image though, from the slopes of Edinburgh Mt near Port Renfrew, conveys some sense of the timeless beauty that can be found here.

The Ancient Forest Alliance embarked on a trip this summer to visit part of BC's Inland Temperate Rainforest near the towns of Prince George and McBride. An area in particular, the Parthenon Grove, was one of the most stunning forests any of us had ever seen. The grove was filled with dense stands of old-growth redcedar trees adorned with golden lichens, giving the forest a fairy tale-like feel. Incredible places like these continually inspire me do everything I can do to help protect our amazing ancient forests...forever.