Sunday, February 27, 2011

Frosty sparrow, Tennessee Valley

With the extra cold weather this weekend in the Bay Area, I figured I'd take a walk in Tennessee Valley with the hope of seeing some wildlife in the frosted meadows. Unfortunately, nothing was stirring in the early morning light except for some sparrows along the trail.

Frosty sparrow

Perhaps it was singing about how cold its feet were!

Singing about the cold

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Bobcat among the branches, Tennessee Valley

Bobcat in stride, Tennessee Valley - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

When this bobcat decided to go off trail for a bit, it made the photography a little more challenging, since it was wandering through an area with a lot of dead vegetation. But I stayed patient and waiting for the moments that its head was in a clearing to try to get an unobstructed view of its eyes. It's amazing how much of the clutter in an image your mind will ignore if you can get contact with a clean set of eyes.

Lynx rufus among the branches - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

It was cruising along when it heard something in the undergrowth. It just happened to stop right in a clear line of sight for me, and even gave me a glance before continuing its walk.

Focused bobcat - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Friday, February 25, 2011

Great horned owl in Tennessee Valley

We spotted this great horned owl sitting along the trail watching the hikers go by near the lagoon in Tennessee Valley. It really blended in quite well with the rocks, so it's easy to see why it selected what could otherwise have been a conspicuous perch.

Great horned owl in Tennessee Valley - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Great horned owls seem to be pretty common in the park, and I guess that's no surprise since there are plenty of rodents in the meadows. It's a lot of fun if you plan to be walking the trail around sunset, since they really start to make a racket in both the eucalyptus trees and the willows. We even saw a pair mating as we were walking out that evening! We heard two hoots coming right after another from the same location, and as we searched for the source, it was pretty easy to find once the feathers started fluttering!

Great horned owl - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

We watched this one for a while, and pointed it out to many hikers who were curious about what my big lens was pointed at. I was happy also to get some frames of it preening. My wife laughed and said that most people would be more excited to get it with its head showing, but I like to capture their everyday behaviour as well.

Owl preening - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bobcat in the bushes, Tennessee Valley

Three shots from our weekend encounter with this lovely bobcat in Tennessee Valley. After finishing its meal and strolling down the trail for a bit, the bobcat decided to take a break in the bushes just off of the trail. There were a lot of branches around, but thankfully it picked a spot where I could shoot over the coyote brush to get an unobstructed view of its face.

Wild cat eye contact

They are such beautiful animals, and they seem to carry themselves as if they know it. This one looked quite regal, even with its eyes closed.

Bobcat at rest - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

The cat was eventually brought out of its restful trance by a small white dog following its master down the trail. The shot below is of it eyeing up the dog as it passed -- we were able to watch it turn its head to follow the progress of the fluffy canine. I'm not even sure that the owner knew there was a cat in the bushes, but you could tell that the cat was contemplating if it was worth taking a run at it.

Bobcat stare - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Western snowy plover, Point Reyes National Seashore

Snowy plovers are one of my favorite subjects to photograph, and Limantour Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore is a great place to find them. I took this series of images under a heavily overcast sky, but by dialing in some extra exposure, it almost looks like they were in a snowy landscape.

Western snowy plover, Point Reyes National Seashore - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

I like the attitude this bird is showing in this shot, with that foot raised while its calling out. I also thought that the straight on view is an interesting way to see them.

Calling snowy plover, Point Reyes National Seashore - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

The next two shots unfortunately didn't come out sharp, but I thought the captured behavior was interesting enough to share. In this shot it's preparing for a strike at an unseen prey item.

Looking for a snack, Point Reyes - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

And in this frame, it lunged through my plane of focus (you can see the tail feathers are sharp) to catch a small critter for lunch.

Snowy plover with prey, Point Reyes - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Female American Kestrel, Point Reyes National Seashore

Female American Kestrel - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

I had an amazing trip to Point Reyes National Seashore on Saturday. When I went to sleep the night before, the forecast was calling for 30% chance of rain, but by the time I woke up at 5:25 am, it had been increased to 50%. I was too excited about actually getting out in the morning to be deterred, but I quickly thought it might have been a mistake as it started pouring just as I was driving into the park. Thankfully though, the worst of the rain lasted for only the first hour after sunrise, and a nice overcast sky was left behind for the rest of the morning.

American Kestrel in Point Reyes National Seashore - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

While I didn't really see any wildlife while it was raining, I saw a lot of species after it stopped. I guess it was the first time that it was dry for a few days, and the animals were ready to find a meal. I found this lovely female kestrel on a fence post along Pierce Point Road as I was driving back from the Tule Elk Reserve on Tomales Point. I love to see these small and gorgeous birds of prey, but I've never really had a good look at one, since they always fly off long before I get close, and certainly before I can get my lens on one. This particular bird was feeling generous though, and gave me at least 5 good minutes of her time before heading off to a fencepost that was further back in the landscape.

Kestrel showing talons - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

What a treat to get to photograph this lovely bird at such close range! This post has a selection of shots from the perch she took where I had the sky as a backdrop, and I have a few others to put up in another post with a green hillside as the background.

Submitted to the World Bird Wednesday blog meme -- follow the link to check out this week's submissions!

Monday, February 21, 2011

My wife's first bobcat encounter, Tennessee Valley

Bobcat in Tennessee Valley - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

After many hikes in the Bay Area looking for bobcats, my wife finally had her first encounter yesterday! I've been fortunate to see them on a handful of occasions, but only ever on trips that I had taken alone (including a brief view of one in Point Reyes National Seashore on Saturday). My wife has really wanted to see one, and she finally got her chance in Tennessee Valley. We had a fantastic encounter, including watching it finish eating a rodent then take a pounce at another, as well as cleaning itself after the meal and wandering through the brush. A nice first experience for sure! Strangely enough, her first sight of one in the wild came on the 1st anniversary of my first bobcat sighting. Since she was quite excited about seeing this beautiful cat, I let her pick which image I should post first. She thought this one was funny with the cat sticking its tongue out at us :)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Female tule elk, Point Reyes National Seashore

Tule elk in Point Reyes National Seashore - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Yesterday was one of the best trips to Point Reyes National Seashore I've had in a while. The park never ceases to surprise me, and even though the day started slow with a lot of rain for the first hour after sunrise, I left the park later that afternoon with a ton of images to sort through. One of the highlights of the trip was spending some time in the middle of a very large herd of tule elk up on Tomales Point. I've had great experiences with the elk before, but never in a group this large. Perhaps in the winter some of the smaller herds form together into a larger one. Anyway, this is one of my favorite shots from my first glance though the trip. There's just something about the way this beautiful female is glancing out of the frame that just pulls me in.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Southern sea otters at Moss Landing State Beach

Southern sea otters at Moss Landing - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Southern sea otters are such a charasmatic species. They always look like they're having a good time, and those faces are adorable. Moss Landing State Beach on Monterey Bay is one of the best places to see them, since there's almost always a raft of them floating in the estuary right by the breakwall. Here are two shots from a recent trip down to see them.

Relaxed southern sea otters - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Monday, February 14, 2011

Snuggle up to your Sweetheart -- Happy Valentine's Day!

I figured the most appropriate thing to post for today is a pair of pintails. Here's a male and female snuggling up together on the water. Hope you all have a fun Valentine's!

Nothern pintail couple - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

This lucky duck has her choice of suitors, since all the drakes are lining up to impress her!

Pintail hen has choice of drakes - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sunrise over Point Reyes National Seashore

Sunrise on Limantour Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore

Landscapes are certainly not my strength, although I'm making an effort to get better at them. It can be tricky though since I almost always have my wildlife lens (ie, 200-500mm zoom) on the camera to make sure that I'm ready if an interesting animal appears. But even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, and it was hard to pass up an opportunity to shoot the gorgeous sunrise light falling on the sandstone cliffs of Drake's Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore in early January. This particular sunrise was one of the most amazing I've ever seen, since most of the park had a fog bank hovering above it, except for the area I was in.

Here's a second view, taken a few minutes earlier from the parking lot area (looking in the opposite direction).

Sunrise over fog, Point Reyes National Seashore

Friday, February 11, 2011

Preening Northern Pintail

I love to photograph northern pintails, and I think the drake's can look especially stunning when they show off those patterns as they preen. So in honor of Valentine's Day coming up on Monday, here's a few shots of this handsome fella getting himself ready to impress the ladies.

Northern pintail with reflection - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography


To the tip of the tail feathers - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography



Northern pintail getting ready for Valentine's - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography


Preening northern pintail - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Elephant seal display at sunset, Año Nuevo State Reserve

Bull elephant seal displaying at sunset - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Two images of this male northern elephant seal displaying on the beach at Año Nuevo State Reserve. Not only did we find this lively seal to photograph, but we were also treated to a beautiful California sunset on this early January day as well.

Bull northern elephant seal - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

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View more of these powerful animals in my elephant seals gallery.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Northern pintail drake at Bothin Marsh

Northern pintail drake - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

One of my favorite duck species to photograph, I think that northern pintails are just so beautiful. They have wonderful lines to their slender shape, and such great patterns in their plumage. Here's a shot of a drake swimming across the flooded marsh channel at low tide in Bothin Marsh.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Feeding avocet in winter plumage

Feeding American avocet - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

American avocets have to be among the most beautiful shorebirds anywhere in the world. They have a really elegant form, and their summer color is just awesome. But even in winter, they still stand out. I took these shots on a heavily overcast day, which made for really drab lighting, but the conditions were pretty nice for reflections in the shallow pool of water covering the marsh at low-tide.

Avocet with head underwater - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

I'm on the fence about this third image from the series. I like the pose, the water drop on the bill, the impressionistic reflection, and the head came out pretty sharp even under these less than ideal conditions. However, I'm not crazy about where the line between the water and mud is in the frame, since it bisects the body, and I find the motion-blurred leg to be a distraction. So for those reasons it's here at the bottom of the post.

American avocet - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Submitted to World Bird Wednesday -- Follow the link to check out this week's submissions!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Burrowing Owl at the Berkeley Marina

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

Another shot of a wintering burrowing owl at the Berkeley Marina. One of the great things about these guys is that when they find a burrow they like, they'll keep it for a while -- which means that they are reliably easy to find once you know where they are. I'm still waiting for a nice shot of one of the birds that is in the grassy area for this season. I have plenty of shots of it more than halfway in its burrow, but I'd like one with a bit more owl showing. However, this owl hangs out on top of a rock quite frequently, which means you can see the whole bird.

Owl glance

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Out of the breakers, Año Nuevo State Reserve

Elephant seal storming the beach - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A male northern elephant seal coming out of the waves on onto the beach at Año Nuevo State Reserve. This guy took a slow and calculated approach to the beach, as he sized up the resident bull he was going to challenge. I included a video of their encounter on my post for yesterday, so check it out if you haven't already.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Elephant seal standoff -- with video! Año Nuevo State Reserve

One of the coolest wildlife encounters we've had occured last weekend with the northern elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve. After a drizzly afternoon spent watching the seals on the beach, we had decided to just sit and relax and watch the ocean for a while. Just as we were considering heading home, since it looked like we were going to get fogged out of a sunset, we noticed that a male elephant seal was in the water along the shore. We watched his progress, and it looked like he was going to attempt to haul out on the same stretch of beach where a large bull was already situated. It's been a dream of mine to photograph an elephant seal battle, so we quickly moved into position to watch the action. The encounter was fantastic, but unforutnately there was no fight. Once the two males squared up, the challenger decided it wasn't worth fighting, and made a hasty retreat back to the water.

I have a series of images with some descriptions from the encounter below, and then at the bottom of this post is the video that my wonderful wife took of the event. You definitely should watch the video, its really awesome to see them in action!

The start of it all - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

The above image is of the dominant seal as he displayed his might to the newcomer that just came out of the waves. Up to this point, this bull had been pretty quiet all day -- occasionally displaying and making his gurgling sound, but not really interested in moving around all that much. But when he saw the challenger come out of the water, he became much more animated and quickly turned to face the water and pulled up in this fighting posture. Then he took off down the beach, charging at the challenger.

Dominant elephant seal at high speed - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

It was really amazing how quickly they moved. When you see these giant slug-like creatures on the beach, you wonder how they could possible move as fast as the rangers tell you. The rule is to stay 25 feet away from the seals at all times in the reserve, and the docents tell you that's because a seal can run faster than you for the first 12.5 feet. I'm sure there's a bit of hyperbole in there, but after witnessing this, it doesn't seem too far fetched.

Aggressive display by the beachmaster - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

The dominant bull pulled up in the middle of his sprint (after closign about half of the distance to the challenger) and he again took up an aggressive posture. This is the battle position, where they stand up tall and are ready to swing their necks at each other and bite and tear with those large front teeth. This kind of fighting is how they form those very large chest-shields of scar tissue that you see on the males.

Elephant seal moving fast - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

After this mid-sprint display, he again took off and continued charging. One interesting thing that showed up in the still images that we didn't notice in person, is how they really push their entire weight up on their "fingertips." It looks like they are actually doing a pushup with those front flippers, which is pretty amazing since the largest bulls can weight up to 5000 pounds!

Northern elephant seal standoff - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

This shot is when the two met in the middle. In fact, the challenger did not approach at all during the charge, he just waited for the beachmaster to come to him. They got this close (just far enough away that they couldn't bite) and each bull exhaled a breath of hot air that you can see in the image as they sized each other up. Then, after just a short moment like this, the challenger turned on his tail and ran for the ocean. Their battles are notoriously viscious, and it's no wonder that he didn't want to fight. This is not prime real estate, as there are no females on this beach to take into your harem if you win. This standoff occured on Loser's Beach.

Chasing the challenging seal - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

They both moved really fast during this portion of the chase (pretty cool to see in the video!), and in this very unsharp frame, you can see just how high the beachmaster was able to push his body off the ground during his mad dash.

Elephant seal retreat - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

The dominant male pulled up once he was sure that the other was on his way off the beach, and as you can see in the video, he seemed to celebrate with an air of "This is my beach -- anyone else want to mess with me?" The challenging male didn't stop running until he hit the water, and then he slowly moved off over the next 5 minutes or so.

Retreating into the waves

And now, what you've all been waiting for, a video of the action. It took the challenger a short while to come out of the waves and onto the sand, at which point the current beachmaster charged at him. I've shown an abbreviated version of the challenger's approach in the video. After each short burst of motion in his advancement, he would flop back to the ground and wait for a few minutes before starting to move again. It seemed like he didn't want to waste extra energy, but also to size up the bull he was challenging. Enjoy the video, and watch for the dive-bombing pelican in the background at around 5 seconds in!



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See more images of these awesome marine mammals in my elephant seals gallery.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Eye contact, Año Nuevo State Reserve

Elephant seal eye contact - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A large bull elephant seal glancing my way at Año Nuevo State Reserve. This big bloke didn't seem to mind us being on the beach with him, which is no surprise since he received a steady stream of visitors, but he periodically wanted to check where we were. For these shots, he was turned to face the trail that came down to the beach, and was displaying as new visitors arrived around the bend (I suppose he wanted to make it clear that he's the owner of this territory). After showing off for them, he often would glance back our way to make sure that he knew where we were. There was one time when my wife had gone a bit further down the beach to check out the really cool fossil-filled rocks there, and he glanced over backwards like this in my direction. When he saw only me, he noticeably started scanning the beach until his gaze found her location, and then he put his head down and closed his eyes again. Just keeping tabs on the visitors in his domain, I suppose.

Watchful elephant seal - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

It's fascinating to see such a large animal like this (the northern elephant seal is the second largest seal species in the world, smaller than only the southern elephant seal) be so flexible. It's not so surprising to see the much smaller harbor seal contort its back, or certainly a California seal lion, but it's pretty incredible to see one of these brutes bend over backwards.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Elephant Seal Beachmaster -- My 200th Blog Post!

How time flies when you're having fun! This is a special occasion post, and not just because it's for Groundhog's Day! This is post number 200 on the blog! The first one stretches back to October 2009, when I wasn't really sure what to do with a blog or why I should make one. But it's been a really fun ride since I started, and I look forward to the next 200 to come. Thanks to everyone who has kept up with my photography over the past few years, and I hope you've enjoyed seeing what I have to share!

In honor of this special round-number occasion, I figured I should go with my favorite winter subjects, the northern elephant seals of Año Nuevo State Reserve. This large male is rejoicing in the fact that he has kept his throne as the beachmaster of Loser's Beach. Just a few minutes prior we watched a rival male come out of the waves and onto the beach, and we had the pleasure of watching the standoff that followed. I have some images of the event, and even more interestingly, my wife took some video with her pocket cam -- and I hope to have all of that on the blog in the next few days, so stay tuned!

Photograph of an elephant seal beachmaster at Año Nuevo State Reserve

By the time I was taking these photographs, the sun had dipped below the marine layer for the night, leaving behind a world of pastel colors. While I enjoy taking the detailed shots of these guys displaying, I couldn't resist zooming out and placing him in his gorgeous domain. The cliffs along the beach here have the classic San Mateo Coastline look, and sure do make for a beautiful backdrop for the seals.

Photograph of a bull elephant seal in its environment

View more photographs of elephant seals in Año Nuevo State Reserve.