Monday, January 31, 2011

Perched Red-tailed Hawk, Point Reyes National Seashore

Red-tailed hawk, Point Reyes National Seashore - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A red-tailed hawk perched on a fence post along Sir Francis Drake Blvd in Point Reyes National Seashore. My wife came along for this trip a few weeks ago, and our mantra of the outing was "Skunked Again" as the fog kept moving around and seemingly leaving me with terrible light every time we saw something interesting. After checking out the elk up at Tomales Point, we decided to drive over to Drake's Beach to take a look at the bull elephant seals that have been hauling out there. It's almost always a given that you'll see raptors perched along the agricultural fences on the way (or at least quail or maybe some song-birds) but we saw absolutely nothing on the way there (skunked again!). Then after enjoying some time sitting on the beach with some shorebirds (and awful high-contrast mid morning light) we decided to head out. Then, thankfully, to ensure that I didn't leave the park empty handed, this hawk graciously posed on its perch along the roadside.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sunrise Watchman, Point Reyes National Seashore

Sunrise watchman, Point Reyes National Seashore - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A raptor surveys its domain at sunrise from the top of a tall pine tree. This shot was taken at a pull out along Limatour Road in Point Reyes National Seashore.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Resting shorebirds, Point Reyes National Seashore

Resting shorebirds, Point Reyes National Seashore - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A small formation of dunlin and a solo western sandpiper relax on the beach at Limantour Spit in Point Reyes National Seashore. This is another frame from my encounter with this large flock of peeps that I saw there back in November. You can see a line of sanderlings out of focus in the backdrop as well. I also think its interesting in shots like these when you can so clearly see the width of the focal plane. If you look in the sand you can see the focus fade in and out, and its width must only be an inch or two (this is f/11 at 400mm).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Look into my eyes... Western Burrowing Owl at the Berkeley Marina

A western burrowing owl at the Berkeley Marina. A small colony of these cute little guys spend the winter in Cesar Chavez Park. This one decided to settle outside of the fenced in area designated for the owls, and instead picked a burrow in the rocks along the shoreline.

Western burrowing owl at the Berkeley Marina - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Owls have such amazing eyes, and I find it nearly impossible to look away from them in images. The striking yellow color really stands out from their camouflaged plumage, and it's a hypnotic stare. Thankfully, this guy was much more worried about what was going on up along the trail (ie, dogs) than in me, but it definitely makes for more interesting images when he glanced my way and stared into my soul ;-)

Western burrowing owl watching the trail - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Calling killdeer, morning light, Point Reyes National Seashore

Calling killdeer, morning light

On my first hike of the new year (to Point Reyes National Seashore, of course!) I was greeted by a pair of killdeer right in the grassy area just off of the parking lot at the Limantour Trailhead. As I watched, the two of them wandered in opposite directions (with this one staying closer to me) while they foraged for breakfast, but they stayed in constant communication with eachother. They fell into a real rythm in the timing and pattern of their calls to each other, so it became easier to guess when to press the shutter to get this bird in action.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Año Nuevo Sunset

Año Nuevo Sunset -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

The sky was gorgeous during our trip to Año Nuevo State Reserve earlier this month to see the elephant seals, and this shot doesn't do it justice at all. As the sun dropped to the horizon we had a nice mix of diffuse light and golden rays falling on the elephant seals of Loser's Beach.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Great blue heron at sunset

Great blue heron at Sunset -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

We were looking to stretch our legs a bit last evening, but it was too late to go anywhere interesting in Marin, so we decided to check in on the burrowing owls at the Berkeley Marina. We saw two owls, and some other people that we talked to there said that there are as many as four reported in the park. However, right when we got to the park, this great blue heron was hunting rodents in the middle of the playing fields, and I ended up spending most of the good light left in the day on it.

Focused hunter -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

The bird was pretty easy to approach since it was focused on the many gopher holes that cover the fields. We found a nice position and sat down in the grass with it. A handful of times it became very focused on a certain spot and appeared to get ready to strike, but the rodents were lucky this time, since we didn't get to see it catch anything. Eventually, it was spooked by the firing of a bottle rocket and it flew away.

Sunset heron -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

I was excited about the potential of the setting, since the grass is starting to get some height to it. That meant that if I lowered the tripod so that the camera was maybe 6-8 inches off the ground, I could capture a bit of the sea of green around the heron. In the bottom two shots, I really like how the out of focus grass took on a painted quality, with the bunches looking a bit like brush strokes.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Elephant seal silhouette, Año Nuevo State Reserve

Elephant seal silhouette -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

The backlit shape of a male northern elephant seal at sunset. This is certainly not my traditional style of photography, but they have a wonderful form when they are reared up like this, and I couldn't help but to snap off a few frames when the opportunity arose.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Quail on a Fence Post, Point Reyes National Seashore

Here's a quick break from the steady stream of elephant seals I've been posting lately. This is a handsome California quail perched on a fence post along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Point Reyes National Seashore.

Coy California quail -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

I find these birds to be so strikingly beautiful, with an amazing array of patterns on their body. They're quite common to find along the main road, and I took these shots out of an open car window. I have had success getting out of the car without spooking quail before, but I decided not to try my luck this time. I might have preferred a better backdrop than just the overcast sky, but at least it doesn't distract the eye from the details of their plumage.

Quail standing tall -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Enjoying the sunset, Año Nuevo State Reserve

A quieter moment on the beach compared with my previous post of this guy. Even though they are huge, I still think they can have the cute expression of a friendly dog -- and I swear I can see him smiling in this one while he enjoys the sunset!

Elephant seal enjoying the sunset -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Monday, January 17, 2011

The sounds of the northern elephant seal, Año Nuevo State Reserve

Posturing bull northern elephant seal -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

One of the most fun parts of watching the northern elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve is when a large bull decides to make his presence known on the beach. We stopped by this bull around sunset, since he was really going at it. In addition to pulling up into the posture that they use for fighting -- they get into some serious fights over dominance by pulling up like this and swinging their necks at each other, then when they make contact, they bite and tear with those big teeth -- they make a unique vocalization that can be heard from quite a distance away. It's sort of like a burping/gurgling sound, but thanks to my wife I don't have to try to describe it better, since she took a video clip while we were on the beach.

As you saw in the video, once they are done displaying, they'll flop back to the ground and look rather peaceful again. This makes for some interesting poses as they come back towards the sand, and I think they look kind of cute with that droopy face.

Coming down -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Resting beauty, Año Nuevo State Reserve

Resting northern elephant seal -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Two shots of a male northern elephant seal resting on the beach at sunset in Año Nuevo State Reserve. Its fun to watch them display and make their very unique vocalizations, but most of the time they are just relaxing in the sand.

The whole elephant seal -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Here come the elephant seals, Año Nuevo State Reserve

Last weekend was our annual trip to Año Nuevo State Reserve to see the northern elephant seals. We had a terrific trip, and I came home with some images that I'm pretty excited about. Thus, there will likely be a lot of big marine mammals on the blog this week. I'm just so fascinated by these awesome creatures!

Nothern elephant seal, Año Nuevo State Reserve -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Here are two shots to get things started while I work my way through the pile. This is a bull on Loser's Beach making his presence known around sunset. I like the first image slightly more since the eye is a bit more visible, but the second one shows him stretched a bit taller with the nose a tad more prominent (I know, pretty subtle differences). This guy was no where near the largest of the bulls we saw, but he was the most photogenic.

Bull northern elephant seal, Año Nuevo State Reserve -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

And since making-of images are always fun, here's a shot taken by my wife of me behind the lens photographing this male. The rule at the reserve is to stay at least 25 feet away from the seals at all times, but I'm not sure that I would ever want to get that close!

Elephant seal making of

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Three sanderlings?

Three sanderlings? -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife and Nature Photography

When I was flipping through the files I had already processed from this trip to pick one to upload for today, something new caught my eye in this frame. The tail feathers off to the side of the left-most sanderling actually belong to a second bird behind it. Other than a slight tilt in angle towards me, the front bird could have completely blocked out the back bird. Now I'll have to look through my archives again to see if I have a frame where this is the case. This shot is from an awesome morning spent at Limantour Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore with a huge flock of sandpipers.

I also wanted to mention that Jim Goldstein posted the results for his annual blog project of 2010 Favorites. Over 160 of his readers submitted their personal favorite images of the past year (myself included) and he put together a list with a link to each one. If you have some time and want to see some great images, its definitely worth checking them out!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Resting peeps

Group shots of shorebirds can be challenging, as you need to find an interesting subject to frame, and also a pleasing formation of birds to make up the rest of the image. Here are two shots that I haven't decided yet where I stand with them -- they both had potential, but also have some flaws.

Resting peeps -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife and Nature Photography

In the first shot, I like how the birds are arranged and overall I like the composition. However, the front-most western sandpiper is just outside of the focus, which can be a bit distracting compared to the sharp sanderling that is the focal point for my eyes.

Resting sandpipers -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife and Nature Photography

For the second shot I changed the apeture to increase the depth of field (f/8 to f/11) so that the front western sandpiper is now in focus enough to be less of a distraction. However, I don't quite like the arrangement of the birds as much from this vantage point. I do like the depth provided by the crowd in the background of this shot, though.

What do you think?

Submitted as part of the World Bird Wednesday blog meme -- Follow the link to check out the entries for this week!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Feeding avocet, reflected

Avocet, reflected -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife and Nature Photography

Under very heavy fog on a December morning, I had the pleasure of watching a group of avocets feed on the newly exposed mudflats in Bothin Marsh in Marin County. I enjoy shooting in overcast light, but on this day it was almost too dreary, even for me. But when I have a chance to spend time with elegant birds like these, I just can't help myself and I continued to watch and fire off frames. While I wish this one came out just a bit sharper (challenging to do in bad light since they feed by swinging their bills side to side through the mud), I really liked the reflection. The distoration from the disturbed water almost makes it look like a second bird is angrily looking back at the first.

As an aside, this trail can be a fun place to shoot, since its a really heavily used section of the Bay Trail. That means that the birds are used to people passing by so they're fairly willing to stay close, but also, its fun to see how people react to seeing someone lying in the dirt along the trail photographing birds. During my time with the avocets and pintails on this day, I had a handful of people looking on at various points when I glanced back over my shoulder. Some of them would quickly glance away and start walking, likely pretending that they weren't that interested in what I was doing. Many, though, gave me a smile or an occasional wave -- the kind that you know they are chuckling in their heads at the crazy guy sitting in the mud!

Resting elephant seal, Año Nuevo State Reserve

One more shot from the archives of my 2010 trip to Año Nuevo State Reserve. This is another male northern elephant seal resting on Loser's Beach in the reserve. You can see an additional male in the backdrop of this image, its the brownish blob near the cliff base.

Male northern elephant seal -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife and Nature Photography

In February I posted a portrait of this particular seal, which is one of my favorite shots of these guys. As I mentioned at the time, they are often regarded as loud, aggressive beasts (which they can be at times), but I like to show off their more relaxed side, since they spend a lot of their time resting.

Sleeping giant -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife and Nature Photography

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Año Nuevo Beach Scene

How many pups do you see? Northern elephant seals -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife and Nature Photography

The density of elephant seals in the breeding colony at Año Nuevo State Reserve is pretty interesting. Here you can see a group of mothers with their pups (the cute little black ones) together on the beach. They more or less stay about one biting-distance away from each other, and we saw a few arguments break out between females that got too close to another one's pup. Likely there would be one beachmaster bull that has control of this harem, although other bulls will stay around the edges to take advantage of an opportunity, should it arise. This likely also accounts for when the seals stay so close, since the male will herd the females together into his territory on the beach. The pups are awfully cute when they are born, and soon enough they'll be over 300 pounds! I wrote a short post about their amazing first few months with some close-up shots of the pups in a previous post, if you are interested.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Elephant seal season, Año Nuevo State Reserve

That time of year again. Northern elephant seals -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife and Nature Photography

Happy 2011, everyone! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season. I had a great trip to visit with my family, but it never seems to last long enough. One redeeming thing about the end of the holiday season though, is that I'm due for my annual pilgrimage to Año Nuevo State Reserve to see the elephant seals. Since I hope to get down there soon, I've flipped through my trip from last year and found a few shots that I never posted. This shot is of a fairly large bull relaxing on Loser's Beach (where the non-dominant bulls go to rest away from the crowd).