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 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.