Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Fly Me to the Moon

Turkey Vulture -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, Oakland, CA
It's the end of the year.  I hope it was a good one for you, and here's looking forward to 2015!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Red-throated Loon

Red-throated Loon -- Arrowhead Marsh, Oakland, CA
Canon EOS Rebel T5i, EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II, 1/2000s, f/5.6, ISO: 500
This is the first red-throated loon I've seen in the estuary.  I almost missed it.  At first glance I thought it was a cormorant and it was a little too far out to try to shoot it.  It seemed a little off, though, perhaps it was a little too small and a little too light in color and riding a little too low in the water.  One or all of these things must have caused me to take a second look.  Sure enough, it wasn't a cormorant.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Coming in for a Landing

Greater White-fronted Goose -- Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, CA
Canon EOS Rebel T5i, EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II, 1/2000s, f/5.6, ISO: 500
I like this picture for a couple of reasons.  First, these geese look a little awkward descending for a landing, which I find amusing.  Most birds know how to make landing effortless.  Not so with geese, though, they sometimes look like they've never actually done it before.  Second, all the birds in the background give an indication to how crowded this refuge can get.  In fact, anyone who has been to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in the winter can vouch for the fact that the population in the photo is actually sparse.  This photo was taken in the middle of the day.  I think a good percentage of the birds were out foraging for food.

To be fair, this was a tricky landing these geese were making.  For whatever reason they decided to plop themselves right down into a group of snow geese.  I think I'd have been annoyed if I was one of the geese on the ground given all the open water available to the incoming geese.  Silly birds.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Snow Geese & Friends

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, CA
Canon EOS Rebel T5i, EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II, 1/1600s, f/5.6, ISO: 320
I stopped at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge on my way up to Oregon this weekend.  It's always more fun to go here with Pongo because he enjoys seeing all the wildlife as much as I do, but this was not a good trip to bring him along.  Just as well, my parents were cat sitting my sister's two new kittens.  Pongo and kittens would not be a good mix.

I think I hit the refuge at a bad time of day.  There were plenty of birds to see, but I've seen the refuge packed a lot tighter with birds than on this particular day.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Peeking Over the Clouds

Mount Shasta, CA
Canon EOS Rebel T5i, Canon EF-S 17-40mm f/4L Lens, 1/320s, f/4.0, ISO: 100
I drove up to Oregon yesterday for a funeral.  There's a spot near Weed where I like to stop to take pictures of Mount Shasta if its visible.  It kind of was.  It looks like it has a nice dusting of snow on it.  That's good, but Shasta Lake is still very low.  There's a long way to go before California  has really recovered from the drought.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Signal Mountain

Signal Mountain, Grand Teton National Park, WY
Canon PowerShot SD770 IS, 1/125s, f/8.0, ISO: 80
I'll grant you this isn't the most exciting picture I've ever posted.  It is, however, the most exciting picture numbered 207 in my collection.

This photo is of a meadow just off the road to the top of Signal Mountain in Grand Teton National Park.  I like the greens of the grass and trees.  There's a pond to the right of this scene where moose are often spotted.  We didn't see any on this trip.  I have yet to see a moose in the wild.  It's high on my list of animals I want to see.  Mountain lion tops that list.  Can you imagine?

Photo selection inspired by Geogypsy's Photo Friday Fun #91, photo #207.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

Sequoia National Park, CA
Canon PowerShot SX40 HS, 1/160s, f/4.0, ISO: 200
The General Grant is the third largest tree on the planet.  It's a giant sequoia in Kings Canyon National Park in the California Sierras.  President Calvin Coolidge declared it to be America's Christmas Tree.  I thought it would be appropriate to a use a picture of it for today's post.

There's just one problem.

I don't have any pictures of the General Grant.  I've never even seen that tree.  By the time I get to that section of the Sequoia/Kings Canyon parks I'm always big tree'd out and I don't feel like making the short hike for one more picture of an orange tree trunk.  Mind you, hiking through the sequoias is a fantastic way to spend a day, and for those who believe in that sort of thing it might even be a mystical experience.  It's just that if you work the parks South to North (which seems to be the normal thing to do) then the General Grant tree is likely to be one of the last stops before heading home, and at least in my experience it suffers accordingly.

So, I give you instead the General Sherman.  It's the largest living tree in the world (based on trunk volume).  It's not the big tree in the foreground of the picture, it's the big tree in the center of the background.  It's 36 feet wide and 275 feet tall.  That's a big tree.

Interestingly enough, the emergence of the Sequoia as the largest living tree is a relatively recent phenomenon.  One hundred years ago the award would have gone to a coastal redwood.  The Crannell Creek Giant was 17% larger in volume than the General Sherman.  It was cut down for lumber in 1926.  There are records of other redwoods from the turn of the century that also eclipsed the General Sherman in volume.  They are all gone, of course.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What the . . . ?

Anna's Hummingbird -- Alameda, CA
Canon EOS Rebel T5i, EF-S 55-250mm Zoom Lens, 1/2000s, f/5.6, ISO: 800
I caught this little bird a couple of days ago looking for a meal in the neighbor's Christmas decorations.  I'm guessing that didn't work out.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Who Are You?

Burrowing Owl -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, Oakland, CA
Canon EOS Rebel T5i, EF-S 55-250mm Zoom Lens, 1/320s, f/6.3, ISO: 800
I took this picture yesterday on my way to work, and while it only captures a small part of the appearance of the bird, I think it also captures a lot of the spirit of the burrowing owl.  I always look out for these potato-shaped birds on the mornings I stop by the shoreline, and it's been over a month since I last saw one.  Last time I saw an owl it had to duck into its hole to avoid being nabbed by a cooper's hawk.  I was afraid the hawk had gotten it.  Maybe it did?  This could be a different bird, I guess.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Muir Woods

Muir Woods National Monument, CA
Canon EOS Rebel T5i, EF 17-40 f/4L USM Zoom Lens, 1/10s, f/4.0, ISO: 800
I spent Sunday afternoon at Muir Woods.  It was crowded but the people were fairly quiet for the most part.  In my experience, seeing wildlife there is a rarity.  I heard exactly one bird on the entire hike and I never saw that one.  There's too many people in too small of a place, I think.  Still, it is a pretty walk and it provides some unique challenges for photography.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Botta's Pocket Gopher

Botta's Pocket Gopher -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, Oakland, CA
Canon EOS Rebel T5i, EF-S 55-250mm Zoom Lens, 1/500s, f/5.6, ISO:800
A large population of California ground squirrels live at the MLK Shoreline in Oakland.  They aren't the only burrowers there, though.  I was taking pictures on Friday and noticed movement on the ground to the left.  I turned and saw this little guy shoving dirt out of its hole.  I'm sure it would be safe to say that in my life I've seen thousands of gopher holes, but until this year I'd never actually seen a gopher.  I saw the first at Golden Gate Park in the Spring, then I saw this one.  Two in one year?  Crazy.  This one hung out for a while and listened to my Caddyshack quotes with an air of great patience.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Northern Pintail

Northern Pintail -- Arrowhead Marsh, Oakland, CA
Canon EOS Rebel T5i, EF-S 55-250mm Zoom Lens, 1/500s, f/6.3, ISO:200
Pintails come and go over the course of the winter at Arrowhead Marsh.  They number in the thousands at the Central Valley refuges, while at the estuary we seem to get a handful of lost souls every now and then.  They are pretty birds that photograph well.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Great Pretender

Northern Mockingbird -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
Canon EOS Rebel T5i, EF-S 55-250mm Zoom Lens, 1/1600s, f/5.6, ISO: 160
There are a couple of places near Arrowhead Marsh where mockingbirds can be seen at any time of the year, it seems.  There is a particular bush near the entrance and a certain section of fence along the road that the birds frequent.  It's rare that a bird isn't at one of those two spots on any given morning, or so that's been my experience.

Mockingbirds are truly fascinating in spite of their drab gray appearance.  As I've become more familiar with bird song, I can now sometimes tell if it's a mockingbird I'm hearing or something else.  Even if I don't recognize the particular calls, mockingbirds are all over the place.  They seem to sing the songs they've heard that they like with no discernible reason as to why other than perhaps they think the songs are pretty.  I can appreciate a bird like that.

Photo selection inspired by GeoGypsy's Photo Fun Friday page, photo #1555.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Grand Canyon of Yellowstone

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone -- Yellowstone National Park, CA
Canon PowerShot SD770 IS, 1/250s, f/8.0, ISO: 80
I've been using this as the background for this blog, but it's never fully visible so I thought I'd post it as today's photo.  This is one of the pictures that got me into digital photography.

They say even cheap cameras are capable of nice photos and I think this picture bears that out.  It's one of my favorite shots and I got it with one of those little PowerShot cameras that easily fit into a pants' pocket.  Now, there's a reason people spend thousands of dollars on camera equipment, so there's a certain level of bullshit to the idea that  it's all about the person behind the camera rather than the camera itself, but yeah, cheap cameras can take very nice pictures.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, CA
Canon EOS Rebel T5i, EF-S 55-250mm Zoom Lens, 1/400s, f/7.1, ISO: 100
It's hard to go wrong with snowy egret photos.  From a technical level the birds can be difficult to photograph because their bright white feathers tend to wash out (as you can see in a few areas of this picture).  So often, though, that ends up being just a minor distraction from what is otherwise a very pleasing photo.  That's how it works for my eye, at least.  I like this shot.  I even like the twigs in the foreground.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Another Bobcat Photo

Bobcat -- Pinnacles National Park, CA
Canon EOS Rebel T5i, EF-S 55-250mm Zoom Lens, 1/2000s, f/5.6, ISO: 2000
My camera had to work pretty hard for this shot.  I was shooting through my passenger side window and between two wooden fence beams.  You can see the bottom of the upper beam as the dark area in the top right side of the picture.  The fence and the tough angle led to the awkward framing of the picture.  The tall grass and the fact that the cat was in the shade didn't help matters.  This is another of the pictures of the bobcat I took on Sunday.

Monday, December 15, 2014


Bobcat -- Pinnacles National Park, CA
Canon EOS Rebel T5i, EF-S 55-250mm Zoom Lens, 1/400s, f/5.6, ISO: 800 
Pongo loves going to Pinnacles.  He loves seeing the cows near the park and he loves seeing the deer in the park.  He's also a little frightened of the cows and deer unless the deer turn and run, then he wants to give chase.

We've camped at Pinnacles, but usually we just go for a day visit.  Either way, Pongo isn't allowed on the hiking trails so we normally take a walk around the campground and perhaps another walk along the road.  Winter is the best time for us to visit because the campground is empty of people and teeming with wildlife.  The highlight of yesterday's trip, though, came on the road to Bear Gulch where I saw a bobcat.  He was in the road as we rounded a corner but moved up into the grass beneath a tree as we pulled up.  Pongo never saw him, which is probably good because I suspect he'd have tried to lunge out of the window if he had.  Just as well.  I watched the cat for about ten minutes and took a ton of pictures.  The lighting and tall grass made it difficult but I was able to get a few quality shots.  A lot the photos that weren't technically good are still interesting to look at, or at least I think so.  This is probably my favorite shot.  A condor or bobcat sighting at Pinnacles means a day well spent in my book.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Greater White-fronted Goose

Greater White-fronted Goose -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline, Oakland, CA
Canon EOS Rebel T5i, 1/250s, f/6.3, ISO: 200
I don't consider myself a birder, although I do some things that a birder would do and I feel like I understand what they enjoy about birding.  I have an account on eBird, for instance.  I don't use my real name there and I mostly track birds I've photographed rather than birds I've seen or heard.  My life list is at 187 birds, which I think is pretty good considering the list goes back less that two years, but to put it in perspective the top eBird birder for this year is at 662.  Last year Neil Hayward got 740 birds on eBird.  He wrote a very entertaining blog about the experience, and on the blog he notes seeing 747 species and three provisionals, which is the ABA single year record.  He was at 187 somewhere in the middle of January of that year.

While I enjoy seeing a new bird, I don't seek them out.  A lot of my favorite species to photograph are quite common.  Greater white-fronted geese, for instance, are easily seen by the thousands at many of the Central Valley wildlife refuges.  Occasionally they'll wander a little too far West and will find themselves having to spend the night with the gaggle of Canada geese that are often found on the lawn near Arrowhead Marsh.  I've taken my best photos of these geese at the park.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter -- Arrowhead Marsh, Oakland, CA
Canon EOS Rebel T51, 1/250s, f/6.3, ISO: 200
Surf Scoters are common near my house in winter.  They spend their time in the estuary about a block from my house.  I took this picture a few days ago at Arrowhead Marsh, which is near the Oakland Airport.  There are often a lot of birds there.  It's not too often I get a shot of a scoter swimming toward me.  Usually they swim away, but this time I sat down in an area where I wouldn't be conspicuous against the skyline and eventually a number of scoters and scaups returned to the area they'd been feeding directly in front of me.  I like the look on this guy's face, he seems quite determined about something.  I'm not sure what, exactly.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Tule Elk

Tule Elk -- Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
Canon PowerShot SX40 HS, 1/320s. f/4.5, ISO: 125
One of my favorite hikes close to home is out to Tomales Point at Point Reyes.  The trail is four and a half miles one way from the parking lot to the point.  The entire trail runs through a tule elk reserve.  Close encounters with these fantastic animals are almost guaranteed.

I photographed these elk shortly after the government shutdown ended last fall.  I remember because the shutdown forced me to put off my visit and by the time I made it the harems had pretty much sorted themselves out.

It's not only elk out on the point.  There are plenty of deer and birds as well.  On my last visit we had a coyote pass us on the trail, coming within a few feet of us and not even giving us a nod.

Photo selection inspired by Geogypsy's Foto Friday Fun page, photo #4852.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

American Bison

American Bison -- Yellowstone National Park, WY
Canon PowerShot SD770 IS, 1/125s, f/4.9, ISO 300
I thought I'd start off this blog with a photograph that kicked off my interest in exploring and photographing the wilderness of the American West.  I took a two week road trip to Colorado and Wyoming a couple of years ago with my friend Jim.  I'd never been to a National Park before aside from driving down 101 a couple of times which runs through Redwood National Park.  I was amazed by the sights of the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, and I found that really enjoyed trying to capture the essence of what I was seeing in photos.  I've since upgraded cameras a couple of times and I try to get out into the wilderness--or at least close to it-- as much as possible.  This blog will be focused on the animals I've seen on those outings.

We spent one day in Yellowstone driving around the South Loop.  We saw a few small herds of buffalo toward the end of the day.  This guy wasn't with a herd.  I got this shot from inside the car after we pulled over to the side of the road.  It's not a great picture, but it seems like the right way to kick off this little blog.