Monday, December 31, 2012

Favorite Photographs of 2012

At the end of every year, I look forward to participating in Jim Goldstein's annual blog project. It's a great opportunity to force myself to sit back and evaluate my previous 12 months of photography, and to identify the images that mean the most to me.

This year was a photographic mixed-bag for me. I had many fewer opportunities to get out with my camera than in my previous years in California, as starting my new job at Harvard and adopting a dog over the summer have limited my time to get outside. At one point I actually went over 3 months without even touching my camera, which I followed-up with a blog post about how good it felt to get back out in nature with my camera in hand. That said, I started out my year with some cold-weather photography in the North Shore of Massachusetts (my new favorite local area), I took my first trip to southwestern Florida (including a stop at Ding Darling NWR), and over a year after leaving California, I made my first return trip in September. I was invited to give a talk at the 2012 Annual Photographic Society of America Conference, and I really enjoyed adding a local flavor to the nature presentations. Additionally, it felt great to get back out to the west coast! As most of you who have followed my work for a while probably could have guessed, I was in Point Reyes National Seashore for as much of my limited time on the trip as I could. I didn't see anything remarkable while I was there, but it was great to return to the birthplace of my photographic vision. This year I also added a few more publication credits to my record, including an alumni magazine at Cal, as well as my first book credit in Gary Crabbe's fantastic new book "Photographing California: Vol 1" -- a guide that I wish I had when I started exploring the great state of Northern California. Lastly, I was excited to find out that my image of fighting tule elk is on display at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum as part of a digital presentation of Highly Honored Images from the 2011 Nature's Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards (view the digital presentation).

Even though this year was slower for me than in the past, I still came away with a handful of new images that I am excited about. Without further ado, here are my nine favorite photos from 2012, in no particular order.

Snowy Owl, Sandy Point State Reservation
Snowy owl on sea ice along the beach

The Great Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore
The Great Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore reflecting warm sunset colors

Tranquility at sunset, Dowitcher at Radio Road Ponds
High key image of a dowitcher at sunset

Semipalmated plover at sunset, Sandy Point State Reservation
Semipalmated plover in warm sunset colors at Sandy Point State Reservation

Portrait of an ibis, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Portrait of a white ibis in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Barred owl, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
Barred owl in Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Tricolored heron, Bunche Beach Preserve
Focused tricolored heron in a tidal pool at Bunche Beach

Merlin, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
Portrait of a merlin sitting on a fence railing

Tule elk at sunset, Point Reyes National Seashore Windblown tule elk at sunset, Point Reyes National Seashore

If you're interested in seeing more of my work, here are my Favorite Images of 2011, Favorite Images of 2010, and Favorite Photos of 2009.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Barred owl, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Barred owl in Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

To celebrate my 30th birthday this weekend, my wife and I took a trip up to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island so that I could hopefully find some shorebirds to photograph. I did manage to get myself pretty well-soaked in the cold, wet sand, but the real highlight was photographing this barred owl on the drive out of the park. It was a bit like being in Yellowstone, as we could see a cluster of cars pulled off the road and a slew of tripods all set up with their lenses pointed in one direction. I considered just driving by slowly to see what was there instead of joining the crowd, but I'm glad that my wife convinced me to stop and pull out my gear.

The sun had nearly fully set, so I had to up the ISO to 3200 to try to get a sharp shot, but it was a real delight to spend a few minutes photographing this gorgeous bird. A wonderful birthday surprise for sure!

View more owl photos in my Birds of Prey Gallery.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Caspian terns, Point Reyes National Seashore

Caspian tern touching down in Point Reyes National Seashore

On an overcast morning during the summer of 2011, I found a sizeable flock of Caspian terns relaxing on the exposed mudflats of the Estero de Limantour in Point Reyes National Seashore. In my experience, terns can be somewhat difficult to approach, since they are quick to fly away. However, this flock was amenable to a ground-level approach. As I crawled towards them across the sand, something spooked the flock and they all took flight. Much to my delight, they circled around a few times and landed closer to my position.

View more photos from the Limantour area of Point Reyes National Seashore.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pair of semipalmated plovers, Sandy Point State Reservation

Pair of semipalmated plovers in sunset light at Sandy Point State Reservation

This past weekend, my wife and I took a trip out to Sandy Point State Reservation on the southern tip of Plum Island. The impacts of Hurricane Sandy and the recent Nor'easter were clear. The small dune that I found this flock of plovers taking refuge behind in early October is no longer there, as the beach is now one large flat expanse. It's fascinating to see the power of nature, and this was a prime example of the ephemeral existence of the beach environment.

View more of my photos of plovers.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Great Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore

The Great Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore reflecting warm sunset colors

This image of the Great Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore at sunset was one that I had always intended to make while I was living in California. Somehow though, I never found myself near the lighthouse around sunset -- so I specifically added this shot to my to-do list for my September trip to Point Reyes. This view looking north from the lighthouse parking lot is a very common vantage point for photographers, but the sight of the last rays of the day lighting up the sandstone bluffs is well worth it. Even though I would have worked this scene regardless of the conditions, I was excited to see the wave-like patterns in the sand.

View more landscape photographs of Point Reyes National Seashore.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Semipalmated plover at sunset, Sandy Point State Reservation

Semipalmated plover in warm sunset colors at Sandy Point State Reservation

I had a lovely encounter with a flock of semipalmated plovers at Sandy Point State Reservation on Plum Island a few weekends ago. The late afternoon hours were mostly overcast, but as the sun crept towards the horizon, its last rays lit up the clouds and cast a beautiful golden glow over the birds.

View more photos of plovers.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tranquility at sunset, Dowitcher at Radio Road Ponds

High key image of a dowitcher at sunset

As the sun dropped low in the sky, it slipped behind a nearby building and cast a shadow over this preening dowitcher. In order to the expose for the bird, I had to push the exposure compensation up to +5/3, which left only a bit of the reflected sunset color in the ripples of the water. This high-key exposure worked well to help capture the tranquility of the moment that I shared with this bird along the shoreline.

View more of my shorebird photos.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Feeding dowitcher, Radio Road Ponds

Dowitcher feeding in blue water at Radio Road Ponds

My conference was near SFO, so during an evening dinner break in the program, I headed down to Radio Road Ponds for the sunset. I was greeted by the sight of a large flock of avocets when I got out of the car, and after I sat there for a while watching them, a flock of dowitchers flew in and started feeding close to the shoreline. I have no ideal if this is a long-billed or short-billed, but they were fun to watch at close range!

Browse more photos of dowitchers.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Goldfinch on the fence, Point Reyes National Seashore

Female goldfinch on an old fence rail in Point Reyes National Seashore

While I was preparing for my talk at the PSA conference last month, I spent some time digging through my archives. I have a ton of images from California that were only partially sorted and processed, and it was a lot of fun to relive some of my trips to Point Reyes National Seashore. While there were plenty of images that I passed over for a reason the first time, I came across a handful that I was excited to find again. I typically save any image that is sharp, just because you never know when you'll see the advantage of a new or different composition within the frame. I passed over this image many times before, since in the full frame, the fence dominated the image. Eventually though, the light bulb finally turned on for me, and I saw the potential in using a 20x10 aspect ratio.

This lovely female goldfinch was perched on a lichen-covered fence railing in the Tomales Point parking lot in Point Reyes National Seashore. There's a male sitting just outside the left edge of the frame that she's intentionally ignoring as he tried to court her. It goes against my usual tendency to prefer subjects that are looking into the frame, but for some reason, this "rule-breaker" works for me.

View more of my song bird images.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Coyote on Tomales Point, Point Reyes National Seashore

Coyote on Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore

I had the chance to spend a few brief days in California recently, and it felt great to be back. I was invited to give a talk at the annual Photographic Society of America conference, which was in San Francisco this year, and I enjoyed the chance to share a collection of my favorite wildlife images from my time as a resident of the Golden State. It had been over a year since I had left California, and at first it felt a little weird to be a tourist in the Bay Area. I headed straight for Point Reyes National Seashore on my first evening though, and the feeling of home quickly came rushing back!

This shot is of a friendly coyote I met one morning along the Tomales Point Trail. By friendly, I mean that it didn't directly run down the hill to disappear -- it first gave me about two minutes to get off a shot. Quite a handsome specimen though, and yes, that's a tule elk watching the scene unfold in the background.

View more photos from Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Blackbird on cattails, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

A red-winged blackbird on a cattail in Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

In my post from last evening, I wrote about the experience of getting out with my camera after over three months without using it. I thought I'd follow it up today with a frame from my last outing before my summer hiatus. A few days after I accepted my position at Harvard in May, I took a celebratory trip out to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately, I didn't see much out there except for this gregarious red-winged blackbird bouncing between cattails along the road.

View more photos of blackbirds in my Song Birds Gallery

Monday, September 10, 2012


A semipalmated sandpiper is focused on finding prey

It had been a while since I had touched my camera when I went out on this mid-August trip. Actually, much longer than "a while" -- especially compared to the frequency I became accustomed to in California. It had been over three months since I tried to make a meaningful image. Worse yet, it had been just as long since I was able to be out enjoying and connecting with nature. Throughout my growth as a person and a photographer during the past half-decade, I had really come to rely on these moments of connection with nature to help to re-center myself. So in the end, enough was enough, and I had to prioritize some time to get outside. One weekend evening was all I could take, but it would have to be enough. My wife and I hopped in the car and drove out for the sunset on Plum Island on the North Shore.

I was almost giddy with excitement to be going through my pre-trip rituals of charging batteries, formatting memory cards, and cleaning lens surfaces. Donning my outdoor clothes and hiking shoes gave my heart an extra bounce to its step. All of these things were leading to seeing the ocean, feeling the breeze, and smelling the warm salty air. I could feel it in my soul, and couldn't wait to hit the sand.

When we arrived at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge entrance, I was hit with the sad realization that it was summer in the Northeast and not along the California coast. Lot #1 was recently reopened to the public after the plovers had moved on, and it was packed. Signs along the road warned that there was no parking available at Sandy Point, my ultimate destination. I stuck to my plans though, and figured that 90 minutes before sunset, and very near to dinner time, most cars would be heading home. When we reached the end of the island, we were thankful that someone was pulling out of a spot in the overcrowded lot just when we got there. Soon enough I was pulling out my gear from the back seat.

What a refreshing moment it was to step out of the car and feel the coastal air. As we made our way along the trail, I could see that the beach was packed. There were excited children and loud families everywhere. Quickly, I realized that I may not be able to find that connection with nature that I so desperately sought. Amidst the chaos of a summer's evening along the shore, I spotted a small group of peeps feeding in the sand exposed by the ebbing tide. "Peeps!" I called to my wife, who knew that she'd be on her own to wander the beach for a little while now that my target was sighted. I watched from a distance as a beachwalker strolled right at them, and thankfully the flock parted and they remained in the area.

This was a good sign that these were friendly birds (and most likely naive juveniles), and I made a quicker than usual approach. Soon enough, I was down in the sand seeking an eye-level view. I laid on the shutter and reveled in the rapid fire sound of the birth of new images. Even though it had been a while since I used my camera, the feeling quickly came back, and I lost myself in the world of these small shorebirds feeding in the sand.

After a few minutes, the silence in my mind was disturbed by my own thoughts. How peculiar that I was interrupting myself -- but that's what this particular thought was about. Somewhere in those moments of lying in the sand and framing the birds, the realization came to me that I had actually found the connection I was looking for. It didn't matter that kids were splashing and yelling their shouts of joy around me, because I didn't hear them. It didn't matter that people were looking at this strange guy covered in sand photographing tiny birds that many people don't even notice. What mattered was that I was there, feeling nature -- breathing the air, sensing the pulse of the waves, feeding off the energy of the birds. Every other thought dropped away from my mind, and I was fully in the moment. Focused.

It was, ironically, this trip to a crowded summer beach on the Massachusetts coast that helped to solidify my understanding of the personal connection with nature that I have sought out for so many years. There's just something about being in that moment, completely focused and absorbed by the tiny piece of the world visible through my telephoto lens. While I love to experience nature while hiking, I do find a much deeper connection when I have my camera along. For a long time I've wondered why that was. But now I think it all makes sense to me. When my eye is pressed to the viewfinder, it's not just my vision that's reduced to only what is focused within the frame. For those moments, my mind is singularly focused too. There's no thought of unanswered emails, tasks left unfinished, chores yet to be done, and the rest of my everlasting to-do list. Everything else is gone. My entire being is focused on what I can see in the lens, on feeling the energy of the animal I'm watching, and on working to capture just a tiny piece of the magic of that moment in my images. What a truly meaningful experience it is to have a singular focus, even if it only lasts for the fleeting time of a wildlife encounter. It's no wonder I keep coming back for more. I'm already looking forward to the next time I can bring my eye to the viewfinder and find the quiet solitude that it brings to my mind.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Velvet buck after sunset, Point Reyes National Seashore

Mule deer buck with velvet antlers in tall grass

I typically preferred to do my photography at sunrise in Point Reyes. There's something so special about being out in the cool morning air as the first rays of light break the horizon. Plus, I could very often have most of the park, or at least my trail of interest, more or less to myself if I arrived at dawn. Every now and then though, the promise of the warm sunset colors was a lure enough to keep me from having dinner at home, and instead catching a sunset in the park. On this particular evening in June 2011, I spent a long time hiking in thick fog on Tomales Point during the evening hours (so much for the warm sunset colors!). As I drove out of the park around what would have been sundown, the skies gradually cleared as I neared the Bear Valley Visitor's Center. I decided to take a swing through the parking lot for a quick chance at finding some quail, and I came across a small herd of mule deer grazing in the tall summer grasses on the hillside. After the sun had dropped below the trees, I captured this buck browsing in the glowing grasses of dusk.

View more of my mule deer photos.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Goldfinch through the flowers, Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility

A male goldfinch perched on yellow wildflowers

A view of a male American goldfinch (Spinus tristis) as he briefly perches among the wildflowers surrounding a treatment pond at the Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility in Petaluma, California.

View more photographs of songbirds.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Portrait of an ibis, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

Portrait of a white ibis in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

A curious white ibis (Eudocimus albus) strolls close to the photographer while it searches for prey near the shoreline in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sanderling stands alone, Point Reyes National Seashore

Sanderling stands alone on sand reflecting an overcast sky

A sanderling in transitional breeding plumage stands in the wet sand on an overcast morning last August in Point Reyes National Seashore.

View more photos of sanderlings.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Flock of sandpipers, Point Reyes National Seashore

Flock of sandpipers landing on Limantour Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore

It's been an eventful couple of months since I last posted to my blog (including starting my exciting new job with the Environmental Sciences & Engineering program at Harvard!), and I'm feeling the need to start sharing my creative vision again. While I have had only very limited photographic productivity so far in 2012 (and really, it was just in the first few months of the year), I still have a back log of hundreds of images from California and our trip through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks waiting to be shared. In addition to sitting on some of my favorites from these trips, I've also spent some time over the past few months mining through old folders looking for images that were once overlooked -- like this one of a flock of shorebirds on Limantour Spit in Point Reyes National Seashore. I'm looking forward to getting out again for the fall shorebird migration, but until I have some new images from coastal Massachusetts, I hope you enjoy some travels through my archives.

More photos from Limantour Spit in Point Reyes National Seashore

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Vernal equinox or summer solstice?

Spotted towhee perched in wildflowers in Point Reyes National Seashore

I'm not sure what happened to winter, but it seems like spring has decided to follow suit. On this first day after the vernal equinox, it sure feels an awful lot like summer. The windows are open and we're expecting high temperatures in the low 80s over the next few days in the Boston area. While I might have liked to have a bit more snow for my first winter back in the Northeast, I'm not going to complain about these unseasonably warm temps. It's a nice treat to bring my shorts out of the closet in March, and the warm morning air does make me feel a bit like this happy spotted towhee that I photographed singing among the wildflowers of Point Reyes National Seashore last summer.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Black skimmers at Bunche Beach

Black skimmers

The three bird species that I most wanted to photograph on my trip to Florida were roseate spoonbills, black skimmers, and wood storks. Before my trip I had heard about the large flocks of skimmers that roost on the beaches around Fort Myers and Sanibel, and I was definitely hoping to be able to find them. I'm fascinated by these beautiful and interesting birds, and I had seen them only a few times in northern California (and always at quite a distance). For my first morning of the trip, I headed to Bunche Beach in Fort Myers, and a large flock of skimmers was hanging out on a sand bar out on the tidal flats. They were mostly quiet, with a few going through a morning routine of preening at the edge of the water, but anytime some new birds would approach to land, a loud ruckus broke out. Here in this shot, a skimmer that is out of the frame approached too close to this particular bird's stretch of beach, which gave me a great chance to capture the beauty of its beak.

As for the wood storks, I had a chance to see a pair at Ding Darling NWR, but the conditions only allowed for documentary photographs of them. Unexpectedly, my best look at wood storks came as we were driving back to the airport before I flew out. There were a few of them right along the road, and it was really cool to briefly see them up close as we drove by.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Roseate spoonbills at sunrise, Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge

During my short trip to Florida in February, I had one morning scheduled to be in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge for sunrise. Unfortunately, the weather was not on my side as it was overcast with showers likely throughout the day. For a brief moment though, as I watched this group of roseate spoonbills, the rising sun crossed through a break in the clouds and their bright pink plumage was lit up by the golden light.

Spoonies at sunrise

Spoonbills were one of the species I most wanted to photograph on my trip, and I'm glad that I had the chance to watch them as they went through their morning preening routine. Even in the plain overcast light that dominated the morning, their gorgeous pink colors really stood out. I only wish I would have been able to photograph them at closer range -- but there's always next time!

Roseate spoonbills

This post is part of the World Bird Wednesday blog meme -- follow the link to check out this week's posts!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tricolored heron and white ibis, Bunche Beach

A tricolored heron and a white ibis wade through a tidal pool

I had the chance to spend a few days in Florida over a long weekend to visit my grandparents, and I went out each morning at sunrise to do some photography. Florida is an incredible place for birds, and in the first 5 minutes of the drive from the airport after I arrived, I had seen three new species in the ditches along the roads (anhinga, little blue heron, and white ibis) -- amazing! The tricolored heron was another new bird for me, and I was able to photograph this one, along with the white ibis, feeding in a tidal pool at Bunche Beach. There are interesting birds everywhere there, and I can imagine that a few days of dedicated photography could seriously increase a bird photographer's portfolio! I'm already looking forward to the next time I'm able to wander the beaches and mangroves in Florida again!

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

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dinner for a dunlin, Parker River NWR

A dunlin pulls a small clam from the sand at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

A dunlin pulls a small clam from the sand and washes it off before swallowing it whole for dinner. An extremely low tide at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge last fall exposed a large area of feeding grounds for the shorebirds, and there seemed to be a never ending supply of these clams to eat. The density of prey species in the sand is amazing when you consider how frequently shorebirds pull them up, and how often the birds scour the area.

View more photos of dunlin.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Moose stepping into the light, Grand Teton National Park

A bull moose steps out of the shadows and into the light

After watching this large bull moose move through the harsh lighting of a late-morning forest, he stepped out into a small clearing near the Gros Ventre River in Grand Teton National Park. It was hard to balance the light and shadows while he was among the trees, but for a brief instant his whole head, including those newly cleaned antlers, was in the light.

View more photos of moose in my Moose Gallery.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Great egret hunting in the marsh, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

A great egret hunting in a salt marsh

There's something so elegant about watching an egret or heron hunt, as they gracefully slide through the marsh in search of prey. Their movements are so even and controlled, that is, until they strike out after whatever morsel has caught their eye. It never ceases to amaze me how efficient these birds are at hunting. It seems like they must catch something 8 or 9 times out of 10 attempts.

A great egret flips a fish into its beak

I haven't spent enough time yet around the grasslands and pasture lands in the area to know, but I wonder if the egrets in the Northeast also hunt rodents like the California populations do?

A great egret stands tall while stalking prey in a salt marsh

View more photos of great egrets in my Herons & Egrets Gallery.

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

Monday, January 30, 2012

Pronghorn in profile, Yellowstone National Park

Pronghorn in profile standing in tall grass

A profile view of a pronghorn buck in northern Yellowstone National Park. One could even think it was a unicorn in this view, if not for the slightly different bend to the tip of his horns. This was a large male that we saw traveling with a group of other bachelors through the dry plains just outside of Gardner.

A pronghorn buck stands in dry grass in Yellowstone National Park

View more images of pronghorn in my Pronghorn Gallery.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Common moorhen, Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility

Common Moorehen standing on a branch above a pond covered in duck weed

I had seen the unique-looking Common Moorhen quite often on my summer walks around the Ellis Creek Water Recycling Facility treatment ponds, but it was only really this occasion that I was able to get an unobstructed shot of one before it slipped back into the reeds. The bright color of its bill can really pull the eye in, but it wasn't until I saw this image that I realized how large their feet are! A fascinating bird for sure, and the chicks are really adorable too.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Elephant seal keeping watch, Año Nuevo State Reserve

A bull elephant seal bends backward

The elephant seals of Año Nuevo State Reserve are pretty used to seeing humans in the park, and they are relatively relaxed around us as long as we keep our distance. However, they still like to keep tabs on everyone entering their stretch of beach, and if someone gets too close they get nervous. In this shot, a bull elephant seal has his big round eyes trained on a new group of people that was walking by. Since they kept their distance, he would soon go back to laying down and enjoying the sunset.

View more photos of these impressive animals in my Elephant Seals Gallery.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Northern shoveler drakes, Radio Road Ponds

A pair of northern shoveler drakes, including one flapping its wings

With their handsome plumage patterns, over-sized bills, green heads, and yellow eyes, Northern shovelers are my favorite duck species to watch and photograph. Their numbers increase each winter in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Radio Road Ponds in Redwood City was a great place to have a chance to get close to them. There are also many other duck and shorebird species to see there as well.

View more photos of northern shovelers and other duck species in my Ducks Gallery.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fog rolls over Inverness Ridge, Point Reyes National Seashore

Fog rolls over Inverness Ridge, Point Reyes National Seashore

In my post of a killdeer at sunrise a few days ago, I mentioned that I watched the fog roll over the evergreen forests of Inverness Ridge before continuing to Limantour Beach on my first trip to Point Reyes in 2011. This is some of that fog. It was beautiful to watch, as the rolling motion of the moisture-laden air was clearly visible, and the patterns change by the moment. Even more stunning was that about 20 minutes before I took this photo full of cool morning colors, the sky appeared to be on fire with the first light of the day.

View more images of the scenic beauty of this awesome park in my Point Reyes Landscapes Gallery.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Merlin, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Portrait of a merlin sitting on a fence railing

After photographing a juvenile snowy owl on Plum Island under overcast conditions, I returned a few days later to try my luck at photographing the bird in the golden light of sunset. I parked my car at Beach #7 and walked down around the tip of Plum Island to Sandy Point State Reservation to try to locate the owl again. While I had a very pleasant walk in the winter air, I came up empty in terms of spotting the owl, and I started walking back towards my car as the light started getting better and better. Resigned to having a trip with nothing photographic to show for it, I ascended the wooden stairs to the observation platform that is at the end of the trail to the parking lot. At the top I decided to scan the beach one last time for anything interesting in the pretty light. As I pivoted on the platform I noticed that this gorgeous merlin was watching me from less than 10 yards away. She seemed rather nonplussed about sharing the observation platform with me, and gave me the opportunity to snap off a few shots in both the vertical and horizontal orientations before she took to the air again. Unfortunately, I had already collapsed my tripod before ascending the stairs, so I had to shoot handheld during the encounter, and 500mm on a windy day did not make for many tack-sharp frames -- but this one came out well.

View more raptors in my Birds of Prey Gallery.

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

Monday, January 23, 2012

Killdeer at sunrise, Point Reyes National Seashore

Killdeer in dew covered grass at Point Reyes National Seashore

One of the most fun parts of spending years photographing wildlife in Point Reyes National Seashore was that I never knew what subjects I would find on a given day. Sure, I always came up with a plan of what I would be targeting as I drove through Marin County to arrive at a trailhead before sunrise, but a lot of my best work was from the luck of finding something unexpected along the way. On this particular morning, I had hoped to photograph shorebirds on the beach of Limantour Spit for my first trip to Point Reyes in 2011. Instead, I was treated to an amazingly colorful sunrise over the thick fog blanketing the rest of the park. After spending some time watching the fog roll over Inverness Ridge, I continued on to my targeted destination and pulled into the Limantour Beach parking lot. As I got out of the car into the cool (and so refreshing) early morning air of Point Reyes, I was greeted by the call of two plovers in the dew covered grass nearby. I quickly grabbed my camera out of the car and set to work photographing these beautiful shorebirds in the morning light. As the killdeer eventually started crossing the pavement, I left them behind and headed to the beach with their calls to each other still echoing behind me.

View more photos of one of my favorite areas of Point Reyes National Seashore in my Limantour Beach Gallery.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Snowy owl for a snowy day, Sandy Point State Reservation

Juvenile snowy owl sitting on sea ice

Today is the first significant snowfall of the season for the Boston area, so while I sit watching the flakes drift past my window I thought I'd honor the whitened city landscape by posting a photo of the snowy owl that I saw earlier in the month at Sandy Point State Reservation on Plum Island. There was no snow on the ground that day when I visited the park, but some sea ice had formed in the inlet, which is where I found this beautiful juvenile owl.

View more images of owls in my Birds of Prey Gallery.

Friday, January 20, 2012

American badger, Yellowstone National Park

American badger in Yellowstone National Park

On the final day of our trip to Yellowstone National Park, we decided to take one last morning drive across the northern roads of the park and through the Lamar Valley before continuing on our move east. We didn't see much along this final drive, but we did find an American badger quite close to the road on the way to the Slough Creek Trailhead. My initial sighting of the badger was just a few clouds of dirt being thrown in the air, and I was able to snap off a few frames out of the car window as he dug. We were quite lucky that he was working over a hillside just down from a small parking area that morning, so we were able to park the car and spend about 20 minutes watching him dig and tromp around. The only downside, photographically that is, was that he was in a grassy area, and since badgers are so close to the ground, it was hard to get an unobstructed view of his face in a photo.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Scaups at sunset, San Francisco Bay

Scaup swimming across water reflecting the golden colors of sunset

This time of year is great for a visit to Cesar Chavez Park at the Berkeley Marina, since a small population of burrowing owls takes up residence there each winter. Last year, I took many evening trips to the park to see the owls after work in hopes of photographing them bathed in the golden rays of a setting sun over the Golden Gate. The owls are not the only interesting birds there though, as I have also photographed a great blue heron hunting for rodents in the grass and some ducks like these scaups paddling around the calm waters of the bay.

Scaup on San Francisco Bay

These shots were initially an afterthought on that trip, since I was photographing them from the top of the rocks at the shoreline, and I much prefer to take images much closer to eye level. However, I'm glad that I fired off a few frames, since what really pulled me in was the reflection of the setting sun in the surface of the water. The sunsets over the Golden Gate Bridge are spectacular during the winter with bright rich colors, and from Cesar Chavez Park, the sun slips below the horizon directly behind the bridge.

View more photos of waterfowl in my Ducks Gallery.

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

Monday, January 16, 2012

Overcast snowy plover, Point Reyes National Seashore

Western snowy plover in Point Reyes National Seashore

In keeping with the theme of my previous two posts, here is another shot pulled from the archives of an awesome trip I took to Point Reyes National Seashore in February of last year. This series of images illustrates part of why I love Point Reyes so much -- because I could start out my day being surrounded by a herd of tule elk, then have time to cruise through the park to see a kestrel, a skunk, and a bobcat along the roads, before ending up on Limantour Spit to photograph shorebirds including sanderlings and western snowy plovers like this one. While all of these shots lacked the magic light of the golden hour, Point Reyes taught me to truly appreciate overcast skies for wildlife photography. If the marine layer fog hadn't kept the sky covered throughout the morning, I would have been ready to leave the park after seeing the elk and losing the nice light to ugly blue skies. Instead, this wonderful diffuse light stayed around all morning, and I was able to keep shooting all the way up until it was time to head home in time to have lunch with my wife.

View more photos of these adorable shorebirds in my Plovers Gallery.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tule elk overlooking the ocean, Point Reyes National Seashore

Tule elk overlooking the Pacific Ocean

This shot of a young bull tule elk is from the same trip to Point Reyes National Seashore as my previous post. Since this image was taken in February the rut was long over, but this young bull thought he was king of this large harem of females. I had seen his antlers rise over the hillside first, and waited for him to appear along the hill crest. This image is a great example of one of my favorite aspects of photographing tule elk at Point Reyes -- the ability to include the ocean as the backdrop. Along Drake's Beach, I've even seen elk hoof-prints in the sand, but I was never lucky enough to have a chance to photograph an elk right in front of the breakers.

View more photographs of elk and other wildlife on Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore.