Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Song sparrow sings a spring tune, Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility

There are many more Yosemite landscapes waiting to be processed, but for today I'll switch back to wildlife with a song sparrow singing in the yellow wildflowers that line the ponds at Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility in Petaluma, CA.

Singing song sparrow in yellow flowers - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Taking a moment to catch it's breath in between solos on the wildflower stage.

Song sparrow in flowers - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Back to belting out that wonderful spring song!

Song sparrow sings in wildflowers - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Visit my Song Birds Gallery.

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

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Yosemite Falls in Fog, Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Falls and reflection - Pat Ulrich Nature Photography

Yosemite Falls is a beautiful waterfall, and when all of the individual falls are considered together, it's considered the 5th tallest waterfall in the world. In these images, the Upper and Lower Falls are visible, as seen from across the valley floor. With the high water flows this spring, there are some nice seasonal pools forming on the valley floor, which can make for great reflections as well. These images are both HDR blends of 3 exposures.

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls - Pat Ulrich Nature Photography

See more in my Yosemite National Park Gallery.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

El Capitan and Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

El Capitan and Half Dome - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Two iconic rock faces in Yosemite National Park -- El Capitan on the left and Half Dome on the right. Our only views of an unobstructed Half Dome came on our drive into the park on the first day, and after this, it remained covered in clouds.

See more in my Yosemite Landscapes Gallery.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tunnel View during spring storm, Yosemite National Park

Tunnel View during spring storm, Yosemite National Park

A classic view of Yosemite National Park from Tunnel View. The weather during this quick trip was fantastic with a mix of sun, rain, and late season snow, and this shot was taken just as a hailstorm opened up above us and moved across the valley. For those curious about the technical aspects of this image, it's an HDR blend of 4 exposures.

View more of my landscape images.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Feeding short-billed dowitchers, Pillar Point Harbor

Feeding short-billed dowitcher - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A short-billed dowitcher in breeding plumage feeding in the sands of Pillar Point Harbor. While these shots are pretty similar, the slight tilt to the head gives it a different feeling to me. In the top shot, the bird makes good eye contact with the viewer, and that can pull me in a bit. But in the second shot, I like that the dowitcher seems much more focused on the task at hand. And if you've ever watched dowitchers feed, they are quite intense as they rapid probe the sand in sewing-machine fashion.

Short-billed dowitcher in breeding plumage - Pat Ulrich Photography

As I was photographing the feeding dowitchers a group of western sandpipers came running through the frame, so I refocused and snapped of a few shots with the dowitchers in the background.

Sandpiper and dowitchers - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

More of these lovely shorebirds with extra long bills in my Dowitchers Gallery.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Evening quail, Point Reyes National Seashore

Quail glance - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Here is a series of images of our state bird, the California quail, taken at the Tomales Point Trailhead in Point Reyes National Seashore. As I mentioned in a previous post, the sun was just dropping below the horizon as I walked back to the parking lot and found this group of quail. Since the light was mostly gone, I upped the ISO to 1600, locked in the ballhead, and hoped for the best.

Ruffled California quail - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

I was quite pleased to have a few images come out pretty sharp under these conditions, especially with that nice warm evening light. It was great to hear him call as well, a sound I haven't heard since last summer. Unfortunately, the conditions just weren't great for a sharp shot of a bird in motion as it vocalized, so I was left with left with a bunch of disappointing images that lacked enough sharpness for my taste. Maybe next time!

Quail song - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

More images of these beautifully marked birds are available in my Quail Gallery.

This post submitted to World Bird Wednesday -- follow the link to check out the great posts for this week!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ruddy turnstone, Pillar Point Harbor

Ruddy turnstone on wet sand - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A ruddy turnstone in breeding colors at Pillar Point Harbor. Here the bird is running across an exposed area of sand between the rocky formations that it seemed more comfortable near. These shorebirds have such a stocky shape to them, right down to their thick legs. Their feet are pretty interested too, seemingly larger than other birds their size. Between these two shots, I like that the feet came out sharp in the bottom frame, but the head angle in the top frame makes it a stronger image, in my opinion, even though I clipped off the edge of the tail feathers.

Running ruddy turnstone - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

View more in my Turnstones Gallery

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Strolling western sandpiper, and photographing shorebirds in sand

Strolling western sandpiper - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A western sandpiper in transitional plumage takes a stroll along the water's edge at Pillar Point Harbor. I've had a few comments recently that have asked about my strategy for photographing shorebirds at eye level in sandy environments. In terms of approaching birds, the further away you start belly-crawling from the better. However, since they don't always stay in the same spot for too long, you need to balance where you start with the time it will take you to get to where you want to go. I find it helpful to watch an area for a while so see where there is a lot of activity. Then I'll try to crawl into a position where I expect the birds will be heading next. For example, if they are working their way up the beach while feeding, I'll get ahead of them, pick a spot in the sand and lay down to wait for them to come to me. If they do come all the way to your spot, then you can get great close encounters since they've approached you on their terms, but sometimes I'll guess wrong and they'll head in a different direction before making it to me. But when I pick the right spots, I'll stay on the ground for as long as the birds hang around me (sometimes for as much as an hour in one place).

It's also really important to move slowly, both while getting into the prone position as well as while crawling to the birds. While I feel a little strange dropping into a kneeling position in super-slow motion, if you move normally from standing to kneeling, the birds will often take flight. So it's a slow-motion drop to my knees, then putting the tripod flat on the ground, and then a slow-motion drop to laying in the sand. At that point, the birds are much less wary, so I'll take a minute or two to assess the scene again before starting to crawl to my next location. I find it particularly helpful to crawl forward only a few yards at a time, then stop for a few minutes before proceeding. Once you've spent a good 10-15 minutes in the sand with birds, they'll often stop paying much attention to you, and then the fun really begins!

In terms of protecting my gear, I always have my camera on the tripod, with the legs spread out flat on the ground. This keeps the camera itself a few inches off of the sand. My tripod has taken a real beating this way, with plenty of sand ground into the joints, but it still works! Then I try to make a conscious effort to not touch the sand with my hands while crawling or getting up. This is especially important since my entire body will more or less be covered with sand by the time I stand up again, so there aren't too many places to wipe off my fingers. On windy days, I'll pull out my Vortex Storm Jacket camera cover, which works great for keeping the blowing sand off of the camera, as well as rain. It's inevitable that I'll get sand somewhere that I don't want it, but for the most part I can wipe it off when I'm done with no real damage incurred.

Shooting shorebirds from eye-level at the beach is one of my favorite activities, adn there are plenty more images of peeps in my Shorebirds Galleries.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Plover watching for worms, Pillar Point Harbor

Black-bellied plover watching for worms - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A black-bellied plover in breeding plumage studies the surface of the sand for signs of a meal below. Image taken at Pillar Point Harbor on Half Moon Bay.

See more in my Plover's Gallery.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ruddy turnstone in summer colors, Pillar Point Harbor

Ruddy turnstone in summer colors - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A ruddy turnstone strolls through the sand in Pillar Point Harbor near Half Moon Bay, California. These birds are so stunning in their summer colors, and it was a treat to have a few unexpectedly stroll in front of my lens while I was laying in the sand photographing other shorebirds.

View more in my Turnstones Gallery.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Quail after sunset, Point Reyes National Seashore

Quail after sunset

I just love to watch and photograph California quail. Other than shorebirds, they are quite possibly my favorite subjects. The arrival of spring means that they become a bit less secretive, as the males like to perch on tall objects and call out to let the ladies know they are there. It's wonderful to be serenaded by their song as you walk through the coastal scrub. After taking a late afternoon hike out the Tomales Point Trail to find some elk with velvet antlers, I arrived back at the trailhead right as the sun was dropping below the horizon. Much to my delight, I was greeted by a group of around a dozen quail strolling along the far side of the parking lot. It was getting fairly dark already, so I upped the ISO to 1600 and hoped that the birds would stand fairly still. Thankfully, this male obliged as he stood on a lichen-covered fence post.

See more of the state bird of California in my Quail Gallery.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Got Him! A plover catches a worm at Pillar Point Harbor

A five-frame series of this black-bellied plover pulling a segmented worm from the exposed sand of Pillar Point Harbor on Half Moon Bay. I've watched black-bellied plovers pull many of these worms from the sand, but this is the first time my photographs left me reasonably (although not fully) satisfied. The birds will stalk around looking for a tip of the worm in the sand, then freeze, stare at it for a moment or two, and then strike.

Early plover catches the worm - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

As it starts to pull the worm from the ground, I often marvel at how long these critters are, and how many there must be just underfoot.

Plover pulling up a worm - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Most of the time the worm seems to pop out of the hole by the time the plover is back to full-height, but this particular meal was longer than expected.

Got him!

The plover pulled, and pulled, and seemed to be preparing for the worm to come popping out of the sand. It's eye was half closed, and I can't help but wonder if it expected the worm to come flying at it like a rubber-band that snaps under tension.

Worm pulled taut by plover - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

For the last frame the plover pulled even further out of my plane of focus, but yet the worm still hung onto its burrow. Moments later the plover took its prize, and it was fun to watch it attempt to eat it like a long string of spaghetti.

Long stretched worm - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

View more images of these charismatic shorebirds in my Plovers Gallery.

Submitted to World Bird Wednesday -- Follow the link to see this week's posts!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Western sandpiper in summer colors, Pillar Point Harbor

Western sandpiper in breeding plumage - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A western sandpiper feeding in Pillar Point Harbor on Half Moon Bay. It's a wonderful time of year to be out looking for shorebirds, since they are all transitioning into their breeding colors. This means that normally drab brown and grey birds show splashes of bright colors as they prepare to migrate north to breed on the tundra.

View more shorebirds in my Sandpipers Gallery.