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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Soft tule elk ears, Point Reyes National Seashore

Portrait of a female tule elk in Point Reyes National Seashore

Earlier this week I took a little time to browse through some unsorted images from a few trips I had taken to Point Reyes National Seashore in early 2011. I had some really great outings during the winter there, and this particular trip was a real highlight. I saw a wide array of wildlife, from shorebirds to kestrels, skunks to bobcats, and of course, tule elk. On this cold morning there was a slight chance for ground level snow in the higher elevations of the Point Reyes peninsula, so I was out there for sunrise in the hope of finding such a rare scene before my lens. It turned out that it had only rained overnight, but the wildlife was incredible in the cool morning air.

I saw a large herd of tule elk near the road on Tomales Point, so I pulled my car off onto the shoulder and sat to watch them. In just a few minutes time, the whole herd had surrounded my car, and I was able to get an intimate view of their daily life. I rolled down all of my windows, and moved from seat to seat in the car for over a half hour before they slipped down a nearby hillside. It's such a privilege to be so close to a group of large animals like this, and I really enjoyed the chance to take some detailed portraits of the elk. In this shot, her head looks so soft and fluffy that I want to reach out and give her a scratch behind the ears (not literally of course, no good would come from trying that).

View many more images of tule elk in Point Reyes National Seashore in my Tule Elk Gallery.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Snowy owl on the beach, Sandy Point State Reservation

Snowy owl on the beach

This juvenile snowy owl was kind enough to give me a couple different settings to photograph it in as it moved between the dunes and sea ice that had formed in the inlet at Sandy Point State Reservation. It's really quite fascinating to see an owl in a beach setting, but since they breed and live on the arctic tundra during the summers, this sort of landscape seems to make sense for them. Lots of low plants, and good visibility. I'm still hoping to return to find and photograph snowy owls in golden light and perhaps during a snow flurry, but we'll have to see if they'll cooperate with me for those.

In other news, if you would like to see some great photography, Jim Goldstein has posted the list for his 2011 Blog Project, which includes a "Best Photos of 2011" post from 289 different photographers that follow his blog! If you have some time and would like to be inspired, I highly recommend browsing the list, and perhaps a good place to start is my own Favorite Photographs of 2011 post.

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

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bellowing northern elephant seal, Año Nuevo State Reserve

Elephant seal beachmaster at Año Nuevo State Reserve

One of the things that I miss most about not being in California for the start of a new year is that I can't take my annual day trip to see the northern elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve. This became a tradition for my wife and me after we took a trip there during our second year in California, and it's just such an amazing place. Throughout my childhood I had been amazed by elephant seals in nature documentaries, and it's so cool to actually walk among them -- and not too many people realize that the largest mainland breeding colony of northern elephant seals in the U.S. is an hour and 15 minutes south of San Francisco. So if you live anywhere in Northern California, and haven't reserved tickets for your Seal Walk at Año Nuevo State Reserve yet, I highly recommend that you do so! To get you started, here's a link to the park's website.

A bull elephant seal bellowing

These two shots are of a large bull northern elephant seal that we watched defending his beach in January of 2011. Just a few minutes prior to these images, we saw a rival seal storm the beach and get chased off by this one. While I snapped stills of the event, my wife caught the encounter on video and you can see it on this blog post from last year. Shooting these beasts was so much fun, and I can't wait until I have another chance to do so. If you've made it to the park sometime this year, please drop me a comment with a link to your photos -- I'd love to see them.

View more of my images of these impressive animals in my Elephant Seal Gallery.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Strolling dunlin, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Dunlin strolling across the tidal flats at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Throughout the fall there were a lot of migrating shorebirds feeding on the beaches of Plum Island, and I was surprised to see that some were still there when I went looking for a snowy owl last Thursday. It was not a huge flock, but maybe 50-75 sanderlings and dunlin were still chasing the waves as they rolled in and out on that cold afternoon. Unfortunately, the light was blah when I saw them, so I just watched them for a bit with the camera at my side.

Browse more photographs of dunlin

Friday, January 6, 2012

Success -- A snowy owl! Sandy Point State Reservation

Snowy owl on sea ice along the beach

As soon as we arrived in Massachusetts last September, I was investigating the nearby parks to find out what wildlife opportunities might exist. I quickly discovered that Plum Island (which contains the Parker River NWR and Sandy Point State Reservation on it) is a terrific place for birds on the Massachusetts coast. Even better news was that it often harbors a wintering population of snowy owls, and it's considered one of the best places in the lower US to find them. I think these birds are stunning, and I immediately added a snowy owl to my mental wish list for this winter. After seeing reports of owls in the area on ebird.org I took a trip there in December, but came back empty handed. On my first outing of 2012 though, I was able to photograph this gorgeous juvenile along the dunes of Sandy Point State Reservation (and in this image, sitting on the ice that formed in the tidal areas). I was there for sunset, but the skies were cloudier than I expected, so I was shooting mostly in fading overcast light -- all the more reason to make a return trip under blue skies as well!

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

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Young moose in the sagebrush, Grand Teton National Park

Curious moose calf standing in sage brush in pre-dawn light

Our encounter with this young moose and his mother was one of the highlights of our September visit to Grand Teton National Park. We found this pair as we took a pre-sunrise drive along the Gros Ventre River, and they were feeding quite close to the road. The young one was perhaps on the verge of being weaned, since we saw him nurse as well as browse on some plants. He (or she?) also had the energy expected of a youngster as he went hopping and tromping around the sagebrush, but never straying too far from mom.

View more images of moose in my Moose Gallery.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Upper Yosemite Fall in the Snow, Yosemite National Park

Upper Yosemite Fall appears to pour out from the fog

This week I'm getting a fast reminder of what it means to be cold. After spending six years in the mild climate of coastal northern California, my blood had definitely thinned, and I was used to wearing the same layers of clothing more or less year round. Winter has finally reached Massachusetts this week though, and as I write this with the warm morning sunlight pouring through my windows, weather.com reports that my local temperature is 12°F! Yikes!

This shot of Upper Yosemite Fall is perhaps the coldest image I have in my files, since it at least includes a dusting of snow. Granted, this snowfall is from a late-season squall in mid-May, and temps in the valley were in the 40s, but still -- it looks kind of cold, right?

View more of my landscape images from Yosemite National Park.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Quail for the new year, Point Reyes National Seashore

Quail on coyote brush with branches behind in Point Reyes National Seashore

On my first photography outing in 2011, I had a nice encounter with a California quail in Point Reyes National Seashore, and it turned out to be a great year of quail images for me. Since I haven't made it out with my camera yet in 2012, I thought I'd post a few shots of a quail in honor of my unofficial "Year of the Quail" last year.

Quail perched on coyote brush near Abbott's Lagoon

These two shots are of the same bird in the same bush just moments apart, and I couldn't decide between them as to which I liked more. I decided to include both as another example of why its a good idea to rotate the lens when you have a cooperative subject. Each image has its own feel -- to me, the vertical frame is more about the bird and the horizontal is more about the quail as part of its environment -- yet they were taken just moments apart.

View more images of California quail in my Quail Gallery.

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