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:

Roosevelt Elk At Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

A male Roosevelt elk ruts in the grass, pulling straw onto his antlers, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.

Earlier this fall, my wife Kerry and I took a trip up to Redwood National and State Parks in northern California. As we got up to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, we stopped at Elk Meadow, a popular spot to see one of the few herds of Roosevelt Elk that survive in and around the Redwood parks.

A male Roosevelt elk ruts in the grass, pulling straw onto his antlers, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.
A male Roosevelt elk ruts in the grass, pulling straw onto his antlers, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.

As it was fall, we were treated to witnessing rutting season, the time of year where bull elks assert their dominance in the quest for female attention. It was readily apparent who the big, dominant bull was, decoratively adorned with straw hanging from his antlers. The regularity of his bugles told us that he had a high opinion of himself!

A male Roosevelt elk ruts in the grass, pulling straw onto his antlers, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.
A male Roosevelt elk ruts in the grass, pulling straw onto his antlers, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.

After a while he realized his vocalizations were having no effect on his fellow elk. Obviously, he needed more straw! He quickly set about redecorating himself.

A male Roosevelt elk sits in a pile to hay, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.
A male Roosevelt elk sits in a pile to hay, Elk Meadow, Orick, CA.

Exhausted from his efforts of showing off, he took a bit of a snooze in the grass.

Roosevelt elk is the largest of the four surviving subspecies of elk in North America. Today Roosevelt elk in California persist only in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, and western Siskiyou County. Seven elk herds call Redwood National and State Parks home, although at times these herds become loose aggregations of smaller groups. Although this is a pretty easy large mammal to see in North America, I always delight at their antics, whether it is during the fall rut or the spring calving season.

Gear I used to create the photos in this post:

Bird On A Wire – Birds Of Ontario

On a trip to Ontario Canada a while back, I was able to spend some time photographing some of the area’s local birds, knowing that many of what I found there would be new species to me. I quickly found a few local residents, but as my time was short, I wasn’t able to get all of them without man-made elements in the frame.

An eastern kingbird perches on a wire fence, Wolf Island, Ontario, Canada.

The first such local was an eastern kingbird. He was perched right next to a country road, at perfect eye level with my lens, which was resting on a bean bag sitting in an open window. Often bean bags are the best supports from which to shoot from a vehicle, especially if you want the opportunity to shoot out both sides of the car. Often Kerry is kind enough to drive slowly (and as quietly as possible) down country roads while I keep the back seat to myself and move back and forth between the rear windows as required.

I usually try to capture birds in more natural environments, but there were no trees nearby, there was a perfect distant background, and I had no time to wait for a better perch.

A female bobolink perches on a wire fence, Wolf Island, Ontario, Canada.

The second bird I photographed in the same area (and yes, perched on a similar wire fence to the first bird) was a female bobolink. I saw several males in the area as well, but they stayed farther from the road and I didn’t get any worthwhile photos of them. It is always difficult identifying female species as the coloring can be quite different than the males. Since males typically have more differentiating colors, species are usually described using the males’ attributes instead of the females. To identify female birds, I often troll through hundreds of photos after guessing at the species, or at least narrowing down the family of bird.

A mute swan swims through calm water in a wetland, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

I also got some decent photos of a mute swan, and finally without distracting “hand of man” elements! Mute swans are native to Europe and Asia, but have established sizable populations in the coastal areas of the Great Lakes. I felt lucky to see one in the wild, as I’d never find one on the west coast of the US.

An osprey flies with wings stretched, Wolf Island, Ontario, Canada.

My last bird for the day was not a new species for me, but who can’t marvel at a beautiful osprey in flight? The local area had erected several nesting towers to encourage the birds to raise their young here. This osprey had chicks in the nest, and gave me lots of great flight shots as it flew to and from the nest.

An osprey perches on the edge of a man-made nest tower, Wolf Island, Ontario, Canada.

Here the osprey is perched at the edge of its nesting tower, looking majestic.

It is always fun to travel to new areas for nature photography. While landscape photography dictates that you continually visit new areas, bird and wildlife photography can often be done closer to home. Closer to home, you often have much more time with an animal, but with traveling, nothing beats the thrill of seeing what’s around the next corner.

Gear I used to create the photos in this post:

The Peacock – The National Bird Of India

An indian peacock struts along a forest floor, Tamil Nadu, India.

On my last trip to India, I was fortunate enough to have some great sightings of India’s national bird, the peacock (or rather more correctly, the Indian Peafowl (to be fair to both sexes))! In the United States, these birds are often relegated to free roaming status in zoos, so it was nice to see some in their natural habitat.

An indian peacock perches in a tree, tail feathers trailing below, Tamil Nadu, India.
An indian peacock perches in a tree, tail feathers trailing below, Tamil Nadu, India.

While feathers from the peacock are sought after due to their amazing colors and iridescence, I saw peahens showing off as well.

An indian peahen perches atop a stone pillar, Tamil Nadu, India.
An indian peahen perches atop a stone pillar, Tamil Nadu, India.

One thing that became apparent as soon as I started photographing was that these wild peacocks were extremely skittish and agitated. Any time I tried to approach on foot, they would scamper off into the jungle.

An indian peacock struts along a forest floor, Tamil Nadu, India.
An indian peacock struts along a forest floor, Tamil Nadu, India.

Only by shooting from the window of a car was I able to get close. The “mobile blind” technique often works well with many types of wildlife, though it is essential to have an experienced driver who knows how to slowly creep up on the subject without spooking it.

An indian peacock struts along a forest floor, Tamil Nadu, India.
An indian peacock struts along a forest floor, Tamil Nadu, India.

When you can catch the peacock feathers in the right light, the brilliant colors almost glow. Here you have to be careful about light angles, because at the wrong angle, you can get unwanted glare from the reflective surface of these iridescent feathers.

An indian peacock perches atop a wooden fencepost, Tamil Nadu, India.
An indian peacock perches atop a wooden fencepost, Tamil Nadu, India.

I looked for opportunities like the shot above to showcase peacocks off the ground. Here the males can let the full glory of their tail feathers hang to the ground. This was taken at a meditation center in southern Tamil Nadu that doubled as a sanctuary for these wild birds.

An indian peacock struts along open ground looking for food, Tamil Nadu, India.
An indian peacock struts along open ground looking for food, Tamil Nadu, India.

While I photographed many peacocks over the course of three days, one shot I wanted but didn’t get was that of a male displaying to female. I did see this display in action, but wasn’t able to photograph it well as the birds were stationed behind a wire fence. I figure its always good to want more – all the more reason to keep me coming back in the future!

Gear I used to create the photos in this post: