An Afternoon In Redwood Shores

A green heron perches next to still water, reflecting fall colors, Redwood Shores, CA.

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.

A greater yellowlegs stalks in shallow water, Redwood Shores, CA.
A greater yellowlegs stalks in shallow water, Redwood Shores, CA.

First to show his face was a greater yellowlegs stalking along the edge of a slough. The still water provided a faint reflection.

A gadwall swims through shallow, calm water, Redwood Shores, CA.
A gadwall swims through shallow, calm water, Redwood Shores, CA.

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.

A tiny bushtit perches briefly on an ornamental bush, Redwood Shores, CA.
A tiny bushtit perches briefly on an ornamental bush, Redwood Shores, CA.

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.

A green heron perches next to still water, reflecting fall colors, Redwood Shores, CA.
A green heron perches next to still water, reflecting fall colors, Redwood Shores, CA.

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.

A double-crested cormorant perches on a small rock, reflected in still water, Redwood Shores, CA.
A double-crested cormorant perches on a small rock, reflected in still water, Redwood Shores, CA.

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.

Gear I used to create the photos in this post:

2013 Round-up – Top 40 photos of the year

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:

Click the photo above to see the top picks from 2013!
Click the photo above to see the top picks from 2013!

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.


Hank’s Picks 2013 – Images by Hank Christensen

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

Fall Season Hoodies

A male hooded merganser swim through calm water reflecting the colors of fall
A male hooded merganser swim through calm water reflecting the colors of fall

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.

A female hooded merganser sleep on the surface of calm water reflecting the colors of fall
A female hooded merganser sleep on the surface of calm water reflecting the colors of fall

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.

A female hooded merganser sleep on the surface of calm water reflecting the colors of fall
A female hooded merganser sleep on the surface of calm water reflecting the colors of fall

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.

A male hooded merganser swim through calm water reflecting the colors of fall
A male hooded merganser swim through calm water reflecting the colors of fall

At any angle, and in almost any light, these are beautiful birds. For more photos, be sure to check out an older merganser post.

Dreaming of spring

A mallard duckling swims close to its mother, who keeps a close eye on her chick
A mallard duckling swims close to its mother, who keeps a close eye on her chick

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.