Saturday, March 10, 2018

Mule deer behind the dunes, Point Reyes National Seashore

Female mule deer standing in dune grass, Point Reyes National Seashore

The short road to the North Beach parking lot in Point Reyes National Seashore always feels to me like it has a lot of potential. There's nice tall grasses on the backside of the dunes, with splashes of color from the abundant wildflowers. I've seen a fair number of raptors there, occasionally a coyote, but the most likely find are the abundant mule deer in the area. This doe was browsing among the dune grass under the thick morning fog. She gave me a couple of curious glances before sauntering across the road to the other side.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Tule elk in wild radish, Point Reyes National Seashore

Tule elk standing in a field or wild radish in Point Reyes National Seashore

While the peak of the tule elk rut in Point Reyes National Seashore is generally in late August and into September, this handsome bull was keeping track of his harem in early July. It made for some nice photographic opportunities as the herd grazed among the late summer wildflowers (predominantly wild radish) on the hillside along the road to Drake's Beach. From this vantage point he was keeping track of the other bulls bugling in the area. In the top frame, he's listening carefully as a rival bull sounds out across the valley, and in the bottom frame he's responding with his own call (through a mouth full of grass!).

Bull tule elk bugling in wildflowers in Point Reyes National Seashore

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Curious American avocet, Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge

Curious American avocet at sunrise in Don Edwards NWR

The travel itinerary of my 2016 trip to California include a few nights in the South Bay, which meant I was in a great position to look for American avocets. In my opinion, these are by far the most elegant shorebird species, and I greatly miss having the chance to find them here in the Northeast. They're especially photogenic in their breeding colors, and it was a treat to encounter salt ponds filled with them at Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge. This location was one of my early favorites on San Francisco Bay, and I had a handful of spectacular trips there when I was learning the ropes of shorebird photography a decade ago. The park can be a little tough for eye-level photography since the trails are on elevated dikes around the ponds, but on this day the water level was down far enough that I was able to get low in the mud at a few places. This curious avocet waded fairly close to where I was set up, and the old degrading pilings were an interesting setting to contrast the elegance of the bird.

Shared with Wild Bird Wednesday -- follow the link to see this week's posts.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Magic of Point Reyes National Seashore

Last light across the valleys of Point Reyes National Seashore

During the two years that I let the blog go dormant in 2016-2017 I actually had a couple of really nice photographic outings. I was even able to return to California for about a week in the summer of 2016, which included a couple of days spent in Point Reyes National Seashore. It wasn't the most productive trip photographically, but it felt so great to be back in my old footsteps on those well-trodden trails. For those of you that have followed my work, you already know that Point Reyes National Seashore holds a special place in my heart -- and in some ways I can't believe it's taken me this long to share some some images from the trip.

July isn't necessary the best time to be in the park for photography, I personally think that the fall is ideal with the shorebird migrations and tule elk rut, but I was treated to some spectacular fog-less summer sunsets on this trip. While living in California, I most often visited the park for sunrise, which usually involved a heavy cover the marine layer fog, so it was a treat to have the warm colors of sunset on multiple evenings (although I almost didn't know what to do with the light!).

While driving out Sir Francis Drake Boulevard on so many prior trips to the park, my eye had often been drawn to the gorgeous rolling agricultural valleys. On many occasions I pulled the car over, swapped on my landscape lens and attempted to capture some of what had caught my eye. I was never really able to do the scene justice though, especially since so many of my trips were under the coastal fog. I love overcast light for wildlife, but it really left the landscapes feeling flat and far less interesting than then actually were. I was driving around the park on this summer evening while the light was absolutely spectacular, and hoping to find something to photograph before it was gone. I struck out on sighting any wildlife in the golden glow, but as I passed this valley, I was completely drawn in. The last rays were fading fast, and I knew I wouldn't have time to set up my tripod before it was gone. So I rolled the window down, leaned across the passenger seat and fired off a few frames. I love that the low hanging sun left a tiny sliver of "alpenglow" across the top of the coastal hillside. That's part of the magic of Point Reyes National Seashore -- it's given me fleeting moments that are so special and unexpected on so many visits.

While I was taking the photograph above, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that I could see myself in the passenger-side mirror. Being a solo trip into the park, I didn't have any other photographs of myself there, so I took advantage of the opportunity to make an unorthodox selfie from this unexpected scene in one of my favorite places.

Selfie of landscape photography from a car in Point Reyes National Seashore

After spending the night in Inverness Park, I set out for a sunrise hike at Abbotts Lagoon. Just like old times, I began the day as the first car in the parking lot as the daylight was just beginning to break. It was wonderful to breathe in the cool coastal air, and to be invigorated by the feeling of the warm rising sun under clear skies. This is a wonderful place to look for quail and not too far from the parking lot I found a handsome male keeping an eye on his covey from an old scrag of coyote brush (which I posted yesterday for my 500th blog post). I slowly worked my way closer, trying to get clean shot of the quail who was glowing in the warm sunrise light. In the meantime a second car arrived at the trailhead and another photographer set off down the trail behind me. As he approached, he politely waited to pass until the quail had decided to hop from its perch and head into the brush. Further down the trail, at the bridge between the freshwater and brackish lagoons, I encountered the photographer again. We chatted briefly, and he shared his new found love for the park. It seemed that this amazing landscape had recently cast a spell on him, the same as it had on me nearly a decade ago. He was now regularly driving up from the East Bay on the weekends to search for wildlife -- which sounded awfully familiar to my ears! We chatted briefly about the gravitational pull of the park, and neither of us could easily express a specific reason for why it captured our creative imagination so strongly over all of the other great places in the Bay Area. But perhaps the vague mystery of that deep-felt love for that beautiful peninsula is part of the magic all the same.

A summer lupine is bathed in the warm glow of sunset at Abbotts Lagoon in Point Reyes National Seashore

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Post #500: California quail in Point Reyes National Seashore

A male California quail on a branch at sunrise in Point Reyes National Seashore

In the fall of 2009, I started this blog with my first post of semipalmated plovers at Point Reyes National Seashore. At this time, I was in the middle of graduate school and had found that escaping to the coast with my camera on the weekends was critical to managing my stress levels. I had taken my first nature photographs over two years before that, and was regularly sharing pictures on Flickr, but decided that it would be nice to branch out into my own corner of the web. I didn't really know what I had intended to do with a blog, but I was inspired by the work of others like John Wall who was blogging about his explorations of similar places in the Bay Area, and myriad other California photographers (like Jim Goldstein, Gary Crabbe, G Dan Mitchell, and so many others) that were sharing their work on the web.

When I started this blog, posting a photo while I ate breakfast was a pretty regular part of my daily routine, and over the first few years, I added about 150 posts per year. At that rate, I figured I'd reach 500 posts in no time! But a move to Massachusetts and start of my career reduced my rate to about a third of that for a while, and over the last two years almost to zero. Yet I still find myself drawn to sharing my work through this venue.

Over the past few weeks, I've read back through each of my 499 previous posts, which brings up a cacophony of feelings -- from bittersweet nostalgia for my favorite places in California and being able to visit them regularly, to joy of remembering some amazing wildlife encounters (some that I vividly remember, and others that I had almost forgotten), to relative embarrassment of the quality of some of my earlier pictures. I was getting out with my camera so much more regularly during the first few years, which led to a more temporal aspect to my blogging, and it's fun to now have a narrated log of my weekend trips from that time period of my life.

As I roll through the beginning of my tenth calendar year of photo blogging, finally reaching the round number milestone of 500 posts, I guess I still don't know what I'm really trying to accomplish. I've long since passed the naive dream of being read by a huge number of subscribers, but still feel drawn to have a place to share my experiences with the incredible natural world around me. Seeking a connection with nature is one of the major things that drives me as a person, and I want to continue to seek out these experiences for my own self-interest. But beyond that, I like to share these small glimpses with anyone else who cares to find them. I know from personal experience how photographs have the power to connect people with our natural world, to cause them to care, and allow a window to share in a joint experience even if the observer wasn't physically present. I wish deeply for others to care about our environment and the amazing creatures that inhabit it, and any small thing I can do to spread that connection is worth it to me.

As I think about what it means to move forward, I'm sure that my opportunities for serious photography will continue to be limited. However, I know that even a decade after I first picked up a camera with the intent of photographing the natural world, I still find that when the cacophony of noise that is modern life becomes overwhelming, my mind yearns for the simplicity of a shared moment with a wild animal from behind my lens. Wildlife photography is meditation for me, and I hope that having a place to share my artistic expression of these experiences (even if really only for myself) will continue to drive my pursuit of seeking out those powerful moments, no matter how frequent or infrequent the opportunities arise.