Thursday, January 28, 2010

Further up the trail, Cataract Falls

A few more shots from further up the trail along Cataract Falls in Marin County. There is just something magic to me about the water flowing past those lush green covered stones -- especially in the middle of January!

Cataract Falls

The following two shots were from the falls near the top of the trail before it levels out. Again I couldn't decide between a horizontal or vertical composition, so I went for both.

Further up the trail

I think the scene would not have been quite as compelling for me in the vertical if it wasn't for the redwood right beside the trail.

Further up the trail

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cascade along Cataract Falls

Small cascade, Cataract Falls (1of2)

This weekend I really wanted to find some waterfalls since we've had so much rain in the Bay Area lately, and Cataract Falls on the western slopes of Mount Tamalpais has been on my list for quite some time. We picked an awesome day to see it for the first time, as the water was really flowing, and the overcast skies helped to bring out the awesome green colors of moss and ferns found all over the wet rocks. It almost had a feeling of walking through a tropical rain forest, although with the occasional redwood tree sprinkled in.

Here's a vertical take on the same scene that I liked as well, with the lifting fog in the background.
Small cascade, Cataract Falls (2of2)

This was a relatively easy hike, although it is fairly steep as you follow the creek vertically past a number of large waterfalls. It's a hike well worth taking with all of the wet weather we've had, although I suggest getting there early, since there is only limited parking along the roadside, and it fills up quick. This seems to be the place to be though -- as I've seen this set of falls featured on and on one of the local news channels here.

This last shot is of a tiny creek that was flowing into Alpine Lake Reservoir, before we even made it to the real falls.
Redwoods and Waterfalls

Friday, January 22, 2010

Elk with a view


There are many places along the California coast where I'm just in awe of the view that the cows seem to get! Driving down CA-1 from San Francisco to Morro Bay, I'm not sure how many awesome pastures we passed right on the coast. The same is true for the tule elk in the Reserve on Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore -- although, I must say that this seems much more fitting! There are of course spectacular views of both the Pacific Ocean and Tomales Bay over the whole trip out to the end of the peninsula, and about 2/3 of the way there we encountered a herd of elk that were taking in some really nice views across Tomales Bay. Well, I'm not sure if they were taking in the views -- but it was nice to try to get some of the dunes and beach behind them.


From the looks along the hike, that looks like a beach I would like to check out sometime -- nice large beach area and beautiful dunes.


The area was becoming developed though, as you can see with a bit of a house in this shot -- it's not nearly as distracting as the pickup trucks and port-a-potties I got in the backdrop of some other shots though!


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Scent on the wind

Scent on the wind (1of2)

A bull tule elk taking in the smells in the air -- as you may have expected, his nose took him right to a female. From our hike out the Tomales Point Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore. This is the same bull as in a previous post, who was the dominant male in the first group of elk that we found along the trail. While he was certainly a fine specimen, he did not appear to be the biggest or have the largest set of antlers out of all of the bulls we saw that day, but he must have made up for it with his fighting skills. It was interesting to see the dynamics of the herds we saw, as there was always one large male within the main harem and typically a smaller group consisting of what must have been the losing males hanging out on the outskirts. They were usually within eyesight, but never venturing close enough to warrant attention from the big guy (at least at this time of year).

While this shot is similar to the first (minus how I framed the image), what I really liked about it is how you can see how symmetric his rack really is. Definitely not something I would want to tangle with.
Scent on the wind

After sniffing the air for a while, he followed his nose right to this relaxing cow, who was not all that happy to see him and quickly got up after this shot was taken, and strolled down the hillside.
Scent on the wind (2of2)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Grazing tule elk

Grazing female (1of2)

This lovely female was a member of the first group of tule elk that we found along Tomales Point Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore. She was fairly close to the trail which allowed for some great viewing, as well as the chance for some shots of her going about her morning routine. She was quite interested in her breakfast, and really didn't pay much attention to us as she browsed. Occasionally we would shift further up the trail to get a new angle on the scene, and she would raise her head to watch us in motion, but as soon as we stopped she went back to feeding.

Grazing female (2of2)

Since we started this hike early, there was still some fog in the air when we encountered this group on one of the higher ridgelines on the trail, and the speed at which the density changed was really something. One moment you could just make out their shapes in the grass, and then right before your eyes the details would emerge. These two shots came from one of the nicest breaks in the fog we got while watching this group, and in my haste to get off the shots with the new lighting, I nearly clipped off her ears. Fortunately, they just fit, even if I would have preferred a bit more space.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bull tule elk along Tomales Point Trail

Hiking the full lenght of the Tomales Point Trail (listed as 4.7 miles one-way) in Point Reyes National Seashore is something that had been on our list since moving to the Bay Area. This is a beautiful trail that stretches through coastal scrub and grasslands all the way to the the tip of Tomales Point with Tomales Bay on the east side of the peninsula, and the Pacific Ocean on the west. Perhaps the biggest attraction though, is that the trail runs through the Tule Elk Reserve, which hosts a reintroduced herd of tule elk, which now numbers ~440 elk. We attempted it once when we had family in town, but it was raining and fairly miserable, so after we saw a few tule elk far off the trail we decided to turn around only a few miles into it. However, two weekends ago the conditions looked great with a forecast of overcast skies and no rain, so we decided to attempt it again.

The bull emerges

As per my usual, we arrived right around sunrise and were the first car in the parking lot, meaning we were the first feet (of the human sort) on the trail. We had to go probably around 2 miles before we saw our first elk, and unfortunately it was at the top of a ridge that just happened to have fog rolling across it. However, we kept going a bit further and made it right into the heart of a herd of ~20 animals. While the females were quite beautiful, it was really the male who kept drawing our eyes -- and the shot of him above is from when he first came over the hillside and into view.

He doesn't look quite as tough though, with his tongue sticking out!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Elephant seal flippers

Flipper abstraction

While on the beach with these guys, I spent a fair amount of time at the longest range of my zoom trying to work for some intimate portraits. Mostly I was focused on the faces of the old males and their wonderful big nose and textured chest shields. However, their flippers have always intrigued me as well.


They have five fingers within their flipper and each ends in a tiny little "flipper-nail" (for lack of a better term). While at first glance it seems to beg the question of why they would still evolutionarily need nails at the end, it does appear that they are good for scratching an itch upon occasion (although, one would think there might be a better reason as well).

Scratch that itch

It's really interesting to watch them use their flipper, as you can see that their bone structure really must be similar to ours, where there are multiple knuckles in their "fingers".

Friday, January 15, 2010

Relaxing on the beach

A quick post for this shot of another smaller male elephant seal taking a break on the much quieter Cove Beach of Ano Nuevo State Reserve. This beach is outside of the official wildlife protection area, meaning that for the seals its much quieter since there are only a few of them, and for the humans, it means that you can go to this beach without a guide. On the times we've gone in the past two years, there have been a handful of males, most of them smaller than the beachmasters ruling the harems in the official area, that appear to be happy to have a quiet beach to themselves.

Photograph of a northern elephant seal relaxing on the beach

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Protecting the Harem

An elephant seal beachmaster defends his harem at Ano Nuevo State Reserve.

Chasing down the challenger

This was probably the largest alpha male that we saw on this trip, and he was a real brute. You can see how the chest shield of scar tissue that forms during their brutal battles extends nearly around the back of his neck, which means that he has done some serious fighting throughout his life. His reward for this is to be the chief protector and only mate of a harem of ladies.

In the above shot, he is moving at full tilt to fend off another male intruder. One of the females in the harem was calling loudly for a few minutes to alert the alpha male that she was uncomfortable with this newcomer, and once he decided to respond he moved quite quickly through the harem. The challenger was behind the dune from where we were standing, but apparently backed down since we didn't get to see a fight, and the alpha male then settled down for a nap where he stopped. Watching him move his huge mass so quickly was really awesome, he is surely a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, he was moving too fast for my shutter speed in the overcast light, and this was the only sharp frame I got of his burst.

King among his harem

This is a more traditional shot of the beachmaster, and why they call them elephant seals. It really shows off his long proboscis which is covered in scars from his battles and his serious chest shield. It is truly an awesome experience to be in their presence, and especially on the beach with them. A trip to Ano Nuevo State Reserve is a must for any wildlife lover in the area!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Elephant seal after dusk

Elephant seal at dusk

I'll begin my series of elephant seals from our weekend trip to Ano Nuevo State Reserve with a few shots that were taken right at the end of our terrific trip. After our late afternoon tour we went back down to "Losers Beach" to spend the final minutes of light with some big brutes that usually camp out there. We had a chance to watch a younger guy displaying his toughness for a while, and as the last bit of light slipped out from behind the clouds and below the horizon I took a few final shots of this beast who was right near the stairs from the beach.

Elephant seal after sunset

My wife had a lens with a wider zoom range, and she took some wonderful shots of the seals as part of their environment. Here's one of my favorites, with the last sliver of sunset included.

Last sliver of light

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Great weekend for wildlife

I had a fantastic weekend for experiencing and photographing wildlife. We took a hike out to the end of Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore, which goes through the Tule Elk Reserve there. We must have seen at least 100 elk along the trail! Then we also took our annual trip to Ano Nuevo State Reserve to see the elephant seals and their breeding season antics. As you can see here, this image is neither an elk or seal, but it was a shot that I had already processed and was just waiting to be uploaded. So since I have a few thousand shots to go through from this weekend and haven't had the time to do so yet, this is what I've got for now.

In the meantime, a sparrow

This shot was taken in a small dog park along the Bay Trail in Marin County near Bothin Marsh on Richardson Bay. I had used up the good morning light in the marsh but decided to wander up the trail to see if there was anything else interesting around. I wasn't expecting much, but a group of these little guys were playing in the shadows of some trees that hadn't yet seen the light of morning. This gave me some nice even lighting instead of the harshness that was in the rest of the park.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Birds from the San Diego Zoo -- Part 4

There were a ton of aviaries within the three parks we visited (San Diego Zoo, The San Diego Zoo Wild Animal Park, and Sea World), which made for some great opportunities to photograph birds up close.
Birds -- SD Zoo Part 4

It felt like there were flamingos (both African and Caribbean) everywhere, and it was hard to pick just one shot to include.

This spoonbill was in the first exhibit we visited (of course it would be an aviary if I'm leading the way!) and you can see the sparkle of the early morning light in its eye.

I'm not sure what kind of bird this is, but I love that beautiful teal color
Pretty teal bird

The penguin exhibit at SeaWorld was really cool -- they had both Emperor penguins (pictured) and King penguins, which are the two largest species.
Emperor Penguins

If you enjoyed these images, please view more of my bird photographs in my Birds Galleries.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Out of Africa -- San Diego Zoo, Part 3

Out of Africa -- SD Zoo Part 3

Another post in my San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park series from our December trip there. To try to have some logical grouping of the photos I wanted to share, I've picked a handful of species that come from the African continent.

We took the tram tour through the Wild Animal Park, which was themed to be the African plains, and was quite nice, although its not included in the general admission price, and is the only way to see a large part of the park. We got to see a variety of antelope, the only species of African deer, multiple rhino species, as well as this sleepy young giraffe.
Sleepy giraffe

When I was young, warthogs were one of my favorite animals (which my mom still laughs about), but as I've gotten older, I think the Red River Hog has replaced them on my list. These guys are just a bit more charismatic, and you have to love that gorgeous color.
Red River Hog with Swamp Monkey

The hippo exhibit was really great with the large underwater viewing area. The first time we stopped by, the hippo pair was on its way out of the water and went into the back where you couldn't really see them. We were disappointed and decided to come back later -- and we just happened to pick the perfect time to do so, as it was just when they were coming back into the water. This male took a lap around the tank then came over to check me out eye-to-eye (photo by my wife).
Friendly hippo

This cute little klipspringer was in the African Kopje (Rock Outcrop) exhibit. They had really interesting hooves that looked as if they stood on their tip toes. I suspect it was to help it keep its grip on its world of jumping between rocks. It rained a lot while we were in the park, but this is one of the few shots where I brought the camera out -- and I liked how the drops showed up with the longer shutter speeds.
Klipspringer in the rain

Here's another zebra shot, since they put on a nice show for us

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Happy New Year & Favorites of 2009

I'm back in Northern California after our very busy but great holiday travels, and I wanted to wish you all a (belated) Happy New Year! I still have a handful of images from late 2009 that I haven't had the chance to post yet (including probably two more sets from the San Diego Zoo), but I thought I would start off a new year with a recap of my favorite photos that I took in 2009 (as inspired by Jim Goldstein's annual Blog Project). Last year was a really fun year for me photographically, as I had some of the best wildlife encounters I've ever experienced, as well as upgrades to both a longer lens and a new camera.

In no particular order, here's my Fine Fifteen from 2009.

Without a doubt this was one of my favorite shots from last year -- it even appeared as an editor's choice in the Autumn Issue of The Nature Conservancy's magazine.
Photograph of light streaming through a foggy forest in Tomales Bay State Park

When I went to Ano Nuevo State Reserve in January, we opted for a late day tour, since we had done an early one the previous year. It turned out that we were always facing into the sun when viewing the elephant seals, which made for poor photo conditions. However, we luckily decided to walk one of the other beaches in the park for the sunset, and were treated to great light on three spectacular giants.
Photograph of a northern elephant seal posturing at Ano Nuevo State Reserve

As I wrote about when I posted this one, I am still searching for my 'perfect' shot of the bridge in the fog, but this one did turn out nicely.
Photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge draped in fog at sunrise

My Halloween outing to Point Reyes was one of my favorite wildlife experiences I've ever had (posted as a four part series, see part one here). I had never before spent time with a wild coyote up close, and the deer gave some great poses too. This was one of those times that the experience makes the images better in my mind than they may actually be, and I had to limit myself to picking just two.
Photograph of a mule deer doe on the alert

Spending this much time with a coyote is something I won't soon forget.
Photograph of a coyote on a foggy morning in Point Reyes National Seashore

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to get a nice series of this willet in the overcast early morning light.
Photograph of a friendly willet in Point Reyes National Seashore

This shot was an attempt on my part to make the conscious effort to get out of my comfort zone and take images that were not wildlife based. There was something attractive to me about this tumbleweed shape in the sands of Point Reyes.
Photograph of beach tumbleweed in Point Reyes

A classic pose of a dowitcher preening from the ponds at Radio Road.
Photograph of a dowitcher standing tall while preening

This was the closest I've ever been able to get to oystercatchers, as a trio of them were quite relaxed along the rocks at Point Lobos State Reserve. The overcast skies made for some dreary scenery, but also for a great exposure of their black plumage against the sandstone.
Photographic portrait of a black oystercatcher at Point Lobos State Reserve

Taking a friendly charge from this guy was quite a thrill, and he gave me this awesome pose as my prize for not ducking under the bench I was sitting on.
Mule deer buck in Point Reyes National Seashore

I'm a sucker for both preening birds and Northern Shovelers -- so put them together, and this had to be one of my favorites.
Photograph of a northern shoveler drake preening

This great blue heron was kind enough to allow me to work my way in quite close for some full-frame portraits.
Photographic portrait of a great blue heron

After finding very few birds along the beach at Limantour Spit, this sparrow was waiting for me in the parking lot when I returned to the car.
White-crowned sparrow in Point Reyes National Seashore

It was a pleasure to watch a small group of godwits feeding in the surf at Drake's Beach in Point Reyes.
Photograph of three marbled godwits in Point Reyes

A small waterfall on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands, WA.
Photograph of a waterfall along Cascade Creek

Here's to hoping that 2010 gives all of us even more memories, and some stunning photos too.