Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

This is likely to be my last post of 2010, and I wanted to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thank you so much for following my work during this past year. Here's to a beautiful and productive 2011!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Lake Tahoe -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife and Nature Photography

A lone "Christmas Tree" on the shores of Lake Tahoe at Nevada Beach. I don't really have any snowy scenes, so this rainy-day evergreen will have to suffice. (And with the amount of snow the Sierra's have received recently, I'm sure this tree looks very Christmasy now!)

See you in the new year!


2010 Favorites

Inspired by Jim Goldstein's annual blog project, here are my personal favorites from 2010. I had a very productive year, with almost 150 blog posts and images appearing in a few conservation publications. Additionally, I was honored to take second place in the Wildlands category of the 2010 Defender's of Wildlife contest. I also just launched my new portfolio website -- www.patulrichphotography.com -- so please stop by and take a look around.

In no particular order, here's my favorite fifteen of 2010, with a link to the original blog post of each.

Evenly Matched
Our August hike to see the tule elk rut was awesome, capped off by having a front row seat while these two males fought. This image quickly became one of my most viewed on Flickr, and was selected as a weekly pick in the 2010 National Geographic contest.
Photograph of two fighting tule elk in Point Reyes National Seashore

Sleeping Sandpipers
I had a fantastic encounter with a very large flock of peeps along Limantour Spit in Point Reyes in November. I spent a fair amount of time crawling around in the sand with the birds and took a lot of images, but this frame jumped out to me right away as I was going through the shots.
Photograph of sleeping sandpipers in Point Reyes National Seashore

From that same November trip, this was just a small portion of the entire flock of shorebirds. I had a handful of opportunities to photograph the flocks moving up and down the beach, and this was my favorite of the bunch. The light, birds, waves, and bluffs all came together at the right moment.
Photograph of a flock of shorebirds landing on the beach in Point Reyes National Seashore

Calling Plover
This was the first good opportunity I've ever had to get close to a black-bellied plover, and I was happy to come away with a frame of it calling.
Photograph of a plover calling out on the tidal flats in California

Stalking Salmon
One of my favorite trips of the year was an October drive up to Lake Tahoe to see the Kokannee salmon run, and especially the local black bears that feast on it. We were fortunate enough to get to see this cub and its mother catch many salmon in the creek.
Photograph of a black bear cub stalking salmon near Lake Tahoe

Salmon & Bears
This is the mother bear with a fresh caught salmon from the creek. Until about a week before I took this trip, I had no idea that you could see a scene like this in California! Once I found out about it, it was too incredible of an opportunity to miss, and we were there the next weekend.
Photograph of a black bear with a Kokanee salmon in its jaws

A lone western sandpiper separated from a large flock of sanderlings. It can be challenging to compose a striking image from a large flock of birds, but it gets much easier when one bird is separated from the group.
Photograph of one sandpiper isolated from the flock in Point Reyes National Seashore

Too Much Fun
One of my favorite wildlife encounters of the year was getting to spend some time watching this long-tailed weasel play in a cattle grate. It was full of energy, and was very curious about me (and my car) as it bounded in and out of the grate, and snuck closer to me to get a better look.
Photograph of a long-tailed weasel having fun in a cattle grate

Prim & Proper
I had a handful of great quail encounters this spring, and this is one of my favorite shots from them. The creamy backdrop is a hillside across the valley.
Photograph of a prim and proper California quail in Marin County

Another frame from our August hike out Tomales Point to see the tule elk. While seeing a few fights between bulls was the highlight, we spent most of the time watching them feed.
Photograph of a tule elk browsing in Point Reyes National Seashore

Quail in a Sea of Gold
This quail picked a great perch in front of a sea of yellow wildflowers, and was kind enough to hang out on it until I got close enough and at the right position to take this shot.
Photograph of a California quail set against a backdrop of golden wildflowers

Whenever I view this image, I can still feel the stillness and quiet solitude of that morning. I've taken many trips to Limantour Beach under the early morning fog, and this shot really captured the essence the experience.
Photograph of a foggy morning in the estuary at Point Reyes National Seashore

Quail on a Post
I had a good year photographing California quail in 2010, and this image was on my first really nice opportunity. I like how this light and the pose help to highlight the beautiful patterns of the feathers on its neck.
Photograph of a male California quail on a fencepost in Point Reyes

Douglas Iris
I'm not particularly drawn to photographing flowers, but irises have a special place in my heart. I love to find these early spring wildflowers covering the coastal hillsides of Point Reyes National Seashore.
Photograph of a wild Douglas iris in Point Reyes National Seashore

Relaxing on Loser's Beach
My favorite annual event along the coast is the winter arrival of the northern elephant seals. These animals are incredible, and walking among then at Año Nuevo State Reserve really makes you feel like you're in a nature documentary. I can't wait to take my annual pilgrimage there in early January!
Photograph of a northern elephant seal relaxing on the beach

And finally, as a bonus, here is one of my favorite shots that my beautiful wife took of me behind the lens this year. This is from our trip up to Tahoe:
Photograph of Pat Ulrich photographing Lake Tahoe

Monday, December 20, 2010

Shovelers at sunset

Sunset shovelers

Northern shovelers are one of my favorite ducks -- right up there with northern pintails. I think the males have really pretty coloration, and I just love that oversized bill. Here's a male and female in very late light at Radio Road Ponds in Redwood City.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Preening Dunlin

I always enjoy photographing preening shorebirds. One reason is that its a good sign that the birds are comfortable with my presence, since they wouldn't risk taking their eyes off me if they weren't. I never want to add extra stress to the birds that I'm watching, which means approaching really slowly while crawling in the sand, as well as leaving in exactly the same way when I'm done. And since the birds are ok with me being around them, I can get images of their normal behavior. Its wonderful to have a window into their lives.
Preening Dunlin

I also like preening shots since you can get more definition in each individual feather when they have them fluffed out a bit. Its easy to see a bird's plumage as the overall pattern. But when they are cleaning the feathers, you can see the shape and detail in each one, and how they all fit together.
Preening Dunlin 3

Here's a third frame that's pretty similar to the first, but there's a little better light on this angle of its face, and the little western sandpiper has an eye on the scene.
Preening Dunlin 2

Friday, December 17, 2010

One-legged sentinel

Dunlin Sentinel

A dunlin on the outer edge of a large flock, keeping an eye on the approaching photographer. It's interesting how dynamic these group scenes are. The birds were very interested in preening and napping, but the turnover of who was on the outside of the group was pretty high, with other birds constantly moving into the flock and being replaced by others.

Thank you!

Thank you!

A sincere and heartfelt thanks to my "flock" of supporters who took the time to vote for my image in the 2010 National Geographic Viewer's Choice contest. The vote was supposed to close on December 15 (although the voting page appears to still be live, so I'm not sure when exactly its officially done). In the three days from when I first found out about the vote until now, over 550 new votes were tallied for my image. That is so awesome, and I can't thank you all enough!

It's such an honor just to have been selected as one of the weekly choices from the contest submission period, and I still can't quite believe that I have an image on the NG site! I'm humbled and giddily excited! I'll be sure to post a link to the results once they announce the winners -- and if I happen to be among them, that would be incredible. But even in the likely event that I'm not, the quality of images in this contest is amazing and looking through the winners will surely be fun!

So again, thank you all so very, very much!

This shot is of the large flock of western sandpipers, sanderlings, and dunlin I saw cruising the shoreline at Limantour Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. They seemed to really want to find a place to rest, but you know how shorebirds are -- when one bird gets antsy and takes off, they all go!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Northern Pintail Drake

Northern Pintail Drake

I spent Sunday morning hiking around Tennessee Valley, hoping to have a chance to photography a bobcat or coyote. I did see a bobcat, although it was quite far away and in an unreachable meadow. The fog stayed around much heavier than the forecast called for, and I left the park with just a few shots on my memory card of some deer. On a whim, I decided to stop at Bothin Marsh (under the Highway 101 overpass, where it meets with CA-1) to look for birds. The light was awful, the fog was heavy, but the birds were there!

This is an awesome time of year to check out the marsh, which is a very heavily used stretch of Bay Trail, since the Northern Pintails are out in full force. They winter in this marsh, and on a previous visit here a polite birder that I chatted with there told me that it actually serves as a lek (ie, where the females pick a mate for the coming year). That certainly seems to be the case, since the males are constantly preening and trying to look their best, and very often a group of them will follow around a single female. So even with the poor light, I took a ton of shots of these elegant ducks, since its not often you get a chance to be so close to them!

Also, if you haven't heard, one of my images of two male tule elk fighting during the rut at Point Reyes is in the running for the Viewer's Choice award in the 2010 National Geographic photo contest. If you haven't already, I would really appreciate it if you follow this link to the NG site and rate my image as a 10! It's such an honor just to be mentioned in the same line as National Geographic, and its just so cool to have an image anywhere on their site! Thanks to everyone that voted for me yesterday -- a lot of votes came through for my image, and I'm potentially within range of the top spot with another strong turnout today! (Today, Dec. 15, is the last day to vote.)

Shared as part of the World Bird Wednesday meme -- follow this link to check out the other entries for the week!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tule Elk Face Off -- Plus, I Need your votes for the National Geographic Contest

Face Off -- And I need your votes!

So here's another image that has been sitting in my queue, ready to be posted, just waiting for the right moment. Well, today is finally the right time -- and there's a good reason why:

One of my other images from this fight has been selected as a nominee for the Viewer's Choice Award in the 2010 National Geographic Photo Contest. I could really use your help in the voting -- please follow the link below and rate my elk as a 10!

Please follow this link to the National Geographic site and rate my image a 10! The voting ends on December 15.

This is the image in the contest, which I blogged back in August:
Evenly matched

Thanks for voting and please spread the word to anyone that might be interested! These are both shots of a fight between two male tule elk during the rutting season in Point Reyes National Seashore.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Quail in the rain

Quail in the rain

A male California quail watching over his family group near the Bear Valley Visitor's Center in Point Reyes National Seashore. This is a fun time of year to see quail (although they weren't too keen to see me), since the family groups are really quite large. I would guess there were at least 25 birds in this flock that was scouring the grounds near the visitor's center parking lot. As soon as they saw me from across the road though, they disappeared into the shrubs. It was pretty amazing how easily they faded into the landscape that was just in front of me. This lone male was watching over the proceedings from a high perch (a fence post in this case), which I have often seen them do. Perhaps it is a trait of nobility evident in our state bird.

As for the shot, the conditions were clearly not ideal for photography, with heavily overcast skies and even some drizzle. I was happy to get at least this sharp frame out of the bunch though, since I'm a big fan of birds sitting on cool old fenceposts. I also love having some of the drizzle visible in the frame, although my camera may beg to differ. It's interesting to see how far a tiny raindrop can fall in 1/125 of a second!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Semipalmated plover

Semipalmated plover

Before I saw the huge flock of sandpipers flowing along the beach at Limantour Spit in Point Reyes National Seashore, I had a wonderful encounter with 15-20 semipalmated plovers on that same stretch of beach. It was a great time of day for shorebird photography -- mid-morning with a rising tide. All of the shorebirds were more interested in napping and preening than running around and feeding. They likely spent the early hours feeding on the estuarine mudflats during low tide, and then were ready to rest and digest on the beach.

Tucked in

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Photograph of a flock of shorebirds landing on the beach in Point Reyes National Seashore

A group of shorebirds lands while a second wave approaches the runway. This is just a portion of the large flock of western sandpipers, sanderlings, and dunlin that I saw along Limantour Spit in Point Reyes National Seashore this day.

View more photographs of sandpipers.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Late light, tall grass, and a burrowing owl

Late light, tall grass

These shots are from March of this year at Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley. By this late in the spring, the grass had grown high, and the burrowing owls seemed to enjoy the extra cover. Thankfully there was a narrow tunnel through the grass that stretched from the bird to the trail, and I was able to get an unobstructed shot. I've been sitting with the images from this series in my queue for quite some time, and today finally felt like the right day to post some. I'm not sure why I passed them over for so long.

Late light, tall grass

Shared as part of World Bird Wednesday -- click here to check out the other posts for this week

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sleeping sandpipers in Point Reyes National Seashore

For me, there is no greater photographic pleasure than spending a quiet morning with a group of shorebirds. My most recent trip to Limantour Spit in Point Reyes National Seashore was one of my best encounters ever. It included some snowy plovers, a few dozen semipalmated plovers, and the biggest flock of sandpipers I've ever personally seen. I had the opportunity to take some shots of the flock moving in amazing unison, and hopefully at least a few of them will turn out (check back again soon -- hopefully I'll have a chance to get through all of the images in the near future). For now though, I've decided to post one of a more relaxed variety.

Photograph of sleeping sandpipers in Point Reyes National Seashore

Here's a look into a small part of the much larger flock -- a group of western sandpipers gathered around a dunlin. Something about this moment really caught my eye. Perhaps it was the pattern of the smaller birds gathered around the edges, or the fact that all of the westerns had their eyes closed while the dunlin kept watch. And I just love how with seven main birds resting in the frame, there are only seven spindly legs touching the ground.

Monday, December 6, 2010



Two shots of a great egret capturing its prey in a field at the Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility. Watching these birds stalk around fields is always interesting, as they stealthy move forward, very carefully placing each footfall. Then you know when they've spotted something, since they tend to crane their neck for a better view, as well as very carefully move to the perfect striking range.


Before this encounter, I had never seen an egret catch something at this close range before. At the time, it didn't necessarily strike me too much emotionally, it was simply an experience with the necessary components of nature. Predators need to capture and consume prey to survive, and prey species do their best to avoid this fate. When I started reviewing the images though, I couldn't help but feel sad for the rodent. The expression it had while struggling for its life just moments before being eaten certainly struck a chord with me (a cropped version is below).

Too close

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Rainy day, Lake Tahoe

Rainy day, Lake Tahoe

It's raining here again in the Bay Area all weekend long. It feels like we haven't had a dry weekend since October. Its definitely a bummer to be stuck inside again, so in honor of the dreary weather outside, here's a shot from a rainy trip around Lake Tahoe. This is an HDR blend of multiple exposures from the Sand Harbor area of Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side. The storm clouds passing through complement the cold colors of the large boulders that surround the lake. And an extra special thanks to my wife, who was holding the umbrella over me and the camera for these shots!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Perched song sparrow

Perched sparrow

A lovely song sparrow that was singing to me while I walked around the trails of Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility in Petaluma, CA.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving -- Enjoy the Feast!

Happy Thanksgiving -- Enjoy the Feast!

Wishing everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving! This is a special day to spend with our family and friends, and to reflect on the many joys that each of us have in our lives. I wish you all the very best!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Camouflaged peep


A least sandpiper standing in a pile of wrack along the shoreline. This shot is from August of this year, and the bird still has some of its lovely summer plumage. While the striking colors of its feathers certainly stood out against a clean sand backdrop, its easy to see how the patterns really help to break up its shape and hide it against a busier setting, like this wrack. I would guess the same would be true of its preferred breeding habitat on the tundra.

Here's a shot of the same bird picking through the colorful wrack. I like how in this frame you can see all of the little insects it was stirring up while it dug around in the pile.

Picking throug the wrack

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Surprise! The burrowing owls are back!

Surprise!  The owls are back!

Well, its not really a surprise that the western burrowing owls have returned to Cesar Chavez Park at the Berkeley marina, since they are annual winter visitors, but this one sure does look surprised. Actually though, it has such huge eyes since a dog was walking by. They appear to be fairly used to people stopping for a look, but if a dog wanders too close to the fence, they get visibly agitated.

I'm quite impressed with the new permanent fencing that was erected in the off-season to protect the owls from people and dogs getting too close. Instead of that hideous orange plastic netting, there is now a nice permanent fixture with a few cables running between anchors. Its much easier on the eyes, and also would allow for ground level shooting now, assuming that an owl was perched in a place that you could see it from along the trail.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Probing dowitchers

I had forgotten how beautiful Coyote Hills Regional Park is, and I hadn't taken a trip there in a few years. I didn't take many landscape shots while I was there, but I highly recommend taking a trip there if you're in the area. Not only are there gorgeous views of the South Bay from the tops of the hills, but the bird life is great.

Probing dowitcher (2of2)

There was very little water left in the freshwater marsh, but the dowitchers were out in full force making use of what was there. These guys are fascinating to watch as they feed, since they move like a sewing machine in high gear, probing in-and-out, in-and-out in the mud. I'm also fascinated by that wild black and white pattern on the tail.

Probing dowitcher (1of2)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sanderling sprint

Sanderling sprint

Seemingly in constant motion, two sanderlings running in front of the wavefront along Limantour Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. They appear to be glancing back at the photographer -- perhaps becuase the wave chased them closer to me than they hoped, or perhaps because they wanted to see if I would end up with wet feet.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sanderling brunch

A sanderling checking out an arthropod shell along Limantour Beach in Point Reyes. Unfortunately for the bird, there didn't appear to be much edible material left. After picking at it briefly for a short time, it gave up and moved on. These shells are pretty common along the beach, although I'm not sure which species it belongs to (it's a bit more visible in the second shot below).

Sampling brunch

When I saw this shell in a nice place right above the water line with a flock of sanderlings working their way towards me, I decided to set up by it to see if the birds would be interested. A few came close to it but decided not to stop, but then this one curious sanderling spent maybe 30 seconds or so investigating it. I was pretty happy with the potential of the shots like the one below, but when I was reviewing the images the top shot really stood out for me with the out of focus sanderling taking off in the background.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

Driving around the outer peninsula of Point Reyes National Seashore at this time of year is great for finding raptors. Its easy to spot a variety of birds perched along the fencing that runs along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, as they scan the agricultural fields for a meal. I snapped off a few shots of this bird from the car while driving out towards the lighthouse area, and I saw it still there on my way back as well. I also saw what looked like a Cooper's hawk and a handful of kestrels, but they were opposed to having their picture taken.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Willet, focused

Willet, focused

A western willet scanning the mudflats at low tide for a meal. This is not the usual way I display shorebirds, but there's something that really pulls me into this particular straight-on view. I think its the eyes, and how they are unexpectedly focused forward, which is not how we usually see birds. From this perspective, the placement of the eyes makes the willet seem much more predatory than when its viewed in profile. Taken in Pillar Point Harbor during a negative low tide, with plenty of mudflat exposed.