Harbor Seals At Pescadero State Beach

A harbor seal looks toward the beach from an offshore rock outcropping, Pescadero State Beach, California.

I always enjoy photo locations that offer more than one possibility for a successful photo. Such was the case on a recent morning I spent at Pescadero State Beach for a sunrise landscape shoot. Being along the coast, I knew that chances for wildlife were high, and so I lugged my wildlife/bird lens along with me, even though I was hoping for a magical coastal sunrise shot.

Arriving about 45 minutes before dawn, I hiked up to a vantage point overlooking sea stacks just offshore. By shooting due south, I was hoping to get some wave action around the stacks, with a colorful backdrop of winter sunrise colors. Unfortunately, the weather conditions were not with me, and I got a dull glow to the east and suddenly it was daytime. No sunrise colors, no landscape keepers, nothing.

Harbor seals compete for lounging space on an offshore rock, Pescadero State Beach, California.
Harbor seals compete for lounging space on an offshore rock, Pescadero State Beach, California.

As it got lighter, I scanned the offshore rocks and saw several groups of harbor seals clustered away from the roaring ocean. Getting these guys on camera was only a quick walk back to the car to retrieve my wildlife gear. Once re-set up, I waited for another 15 minutes until it got light enough to really start in earnest.

A harbor seal looks toward the beach from an offshore rock outcropping, Pescadero State Beach, California.
A harbor seal looks toward the beach from an offshore rock outcropping, Pescadero State Beach, California.

Fifteen minutes later I was done and moved on to look for interesting coastal birds. As it was a quiet morning, I soon moved on to more important activities, namely breakfast!

Gear I used to create the photos in this post:

Puerto Vallarta Wading Birds

A wllet wades through shallow water, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Every time I go to a new place, I try to have at least basic photography gear with me in order to explore the area photographically. For a location as beautiful as a Mexican beach, there are opportunities for both landscape and wildlife (in this case, birds). Due to the necessity to travel light, I left my 800mm behemoth at home and opted instead for the (comparatively) compact 100-400mm zoom lens.

A whimbrel struts across a sandy beach, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A whimbrel struts across a sandy beach, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Given that I was still in North America, most of the shorebirds along the beach were the usual suspects. The ever-present whimbrel was strutting around through the breaking waves, poking at exposed treats in the sand.

A black skimmer stands in shallow water along the shore, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A black skimmer stands in shallow water along the shore, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

One of the stranger looking birds in my usual list is the black skimmer. When seen on land, they look slightly off balance, with a long protruding lower beak. It is not until they take flight until you realize the grace of their build. Skimming low across the surface of the ocean, they dip their lower beak into the water, scooping up food while in flight. Seeing a group of ten or more doing this is a remarkable sight.

A willet wades through shallow water, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A willet wades through shallow water, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

The willet is one of the blander looking birds of the bunch, and is similar is size to the whimbrel. Here I caught a slight reflection in the shallow water, which were few and far between on this blustery morning.

A laughing gull stands just off shore in the shallow water, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A laughing gull stands just off shore in the shallow water, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I was happy to see this laughing gull, as I don’t see those very often close to home. The black eye ring is a give away here for identification. I typically find gull species hard to differentiate from one another, given the species similarity, and the great plumage variance depending on the bird’s age.

A semipalmated plover stands on small bits of exposed sand, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A semipalmated plover stands on small bits of exposed sand, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Finally, I snagged some photos of a semipalmated plover among the lesser sandpipers. I am a big fan of plovers, and am always excited to find them hiding among the masses.

If you are interested in casual bird photography while traveling, I highly recommend a lens like the 100-400mm zoom. With some careful stalking, you can usually get close enough for some good photos, and it is very easy to travel with. Also, you can leave the tripod at home, as it is easily handheld.

Great-tailed Grackle

A great-tailed grackle picks food items out of the washed-up seaweed, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A great-tailed grackle struts along the sand with its head in the air, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A great-tailed grackle struts along the sand with its head in the air, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

The great-tailed grackle is an interesting blackbird. Look to quickly and you might mistake it for a common crow. However, once you glimpse that long tail, you’ll know this is an entirely different beast. Even better, if you see it in this strange strutting behavior with its neck thrust up into the air, you’ll really wonder what’s going on. This is usually an indication of the male breeding display, and can be quite entertaining to watch.

A great-tailed grackle picks food items out of the washed-up seaweed, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A great-tailed grackle picks food items out of the washed-up seaweed, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I found a colony of grackles along a beach in western Mexico. Originally from Central and South America, the great-tailed grackle has expanded its range into North America as far north as Oregon. They can often be seen in agricultural areas, where food can be more plentiful.

2015 Round-up – Top 40 Photos Of The Year

The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon

I recently finished compiling my top 40 picks from the last 12 months. The gallery is an assortment of my various trips and outings, including trips to India, Mexico and Canada. As always, there is a mixture of bird, wildlife and landscape, including some previously unpublished.

Please enjoy the gallery below. For best viewing (especially if viewing on a mobile device), please click on the following photo:

The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon
The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon

To view the gallery, click here to see individual photos.


If you are interested in compilations from previous years, please see the 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 lists.