I came across the following birds on a recent afternoon in Redwood Shores, California. Located right along San Francisco Bay with lots of calm water channels and sloughs, there are usually good opportunities to get close to these wetland species.
I came across quite a few gadwall, a winter specialist in the bay area. During the summer, they disappear to the north, so it is always nice to see these understated drakes bobbing along the surface. Look closely and you will see the beautiful interplay of buff, gray and black.
Bushtits are year round residents, but notoriously difficult to find and photograph. They travel in flocks, often spending less than 30 seconds on a set of bushes before flying off to the next. The best way to find them is listen for their signature peeping and then scramble to find the source of the sound. Here I managed to capture a brief look from a striking female before she moved on to find more food.
I always feel lucky to find green herons considering how much they can blend in. This one I followed down a water channel until I could get a nice backdrop of reflected fall colors. Whenever I can, I seek out simple, clean backgrounds as it greatly accentuates the main subject.
Just before sunset, I found this double-crested cormorant perched on a tiny rock out in the calm water. Although the light was fading, I found the posture of this bird interesting. After a few moments, he spread his wings and flew off somewhere to roost.
I am a little late this year, but finally, here are my favorite images from the previous 12 months. This year I only had one major photography focused trip to the northern California coast, capturing the delicate rhododendrons amongst the fog of the coastal redwoods. I also had a truncated attempt at the John Muir Trail (got completely rained out after only three days) and a wonderful trip to Kauai to celebrate ten years with my beautiful wife.
Photos from all of these trips plus a wide variety of birds made my top 40 list this year. Please enjoy the gallery below. For best viewing (especially if viewing on a mobile device), please click on the following photo:
Or, just enjoy the gallery here on the page. To view larger photos in the embedded gallery below, be sure to click the icon in the lower right corner to enter full screen mode.
No, this is not a Gap or Old Navy ad – I’m talking about Hooded Mergansers in colorful fall color reflections! Hooded Mergansers are one of my all time favorite ducks (and those who know me know how much I love ducks!) I photographed this mating pair recently as they swam through a narrow channel bordered by deciduous trees, their leaves turning red and gold.
One difficulty photographing in this kind of light is making sure the main subject (the ducks) and the surroundings (water reflections) are well balanced in brightness. Especially difficult with Hooded Mergansers is the male’s bright white head feathers contrasting with its black face. Trying to capture details in the black feathers while holding detail in the white takes not only the perfect exposure, but also the right amount of front lighting. This is one species that doesn’t do well in backlighting.
As usual, I tried to photograph at a very small angle of declination to the water surface. However in this particular channel, the slope to the water is very steep, and impossible to place the lens only inches above the waterline, which is my preference. (And no, I didn’t want to climb into the water!) Therefore, I had to raise the rig high enough so that I could sit behind it and see through the viewfinder. It is times like these that I think about getting a right angle viewer for my camera. That would allow be to sit above my camera on a slope, instead of behind it, bringing the lens closer to the level of the water.
As I sit here in the pre-dawn morning, I can’t help but think of longer (and warmer) days. Although winter is a fantastic time for birds (at least around the SF Bay Area), I get tired of gearing up for the cold every time I want to go out for photos. This is the time of year that demands real dedication. The time of year that only sees the most dedicated of their fields up and outside in the cold darkness.
Soon enough however, buds will be forming, light will stay later, and little ones like this hatchling will start gracing us with their presence.