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.
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.
I often photograph out in Redwood Shores, CA, a town within Redwood City that juts out into the San Francisco Bay. It is a suburb consisting of homes and townhouses built around a network of man-made water channels, offering many backyards direct water access. All that water also attracts a great variety of birds.
A little while ago I was tracking a bird down at the edge of one of the water channels. I was about ten feet below the bay trail, out of sight of any passerbys. As I was looking through my lens, I heard a soft “sploosh” very close to me. I could tell something big had disturbed the water to my left. At first I though that maybe someone was throwing rocks into the channel, but then I realized the sound was too gentle to have been caused by a rock. I looked up and scanned the water, but all I saw were concentric rings emanating from a spot about fifteen feet from shore.
Then, suddenly a large head emerged not far from that spot – big eyes staring into mine.
I was surprised to see a harbor seal pop up and investigate me. We sat there for a while, just looking at each other as the sun set and everything fell silent. He obliged while I swung my camera around to photograph him. Then he submerged and over the next ten or fifteen minutes, he appeared at various distances, each time looking in my direction.
Afterward, I learned that he was an off and on regular in this neighborhood. Apparently he got through one or more water control gates that lead out into the bay. Either he is very smart and can return to these channels at will, or he is stuck here, fishing the shallow channels. Whatever the case, he seems to be thriving. I have seen him since on several other occasions (assuming it is the same harbor seal of course). The next time I see a large mysterious shadow passing just below the surface of the water, I’ll know who it is.
Recently I spent a morning photographing the sea life in Moss Landing, California. The harbor at Moss Landing boasts a great variety of sea birds and mammals, and is favorite spot for many sea otters. I woke early and arrived at the harbor at dawn, hoping to catch some of the wildlife in early morning light. Most of the usual suspects were there, including the common loon.
Also seen cruising around the harbor, occasionally diving for food were several surf scoters. A male, resplendent with his colorful beak came close, probably to see if I was one of those fishermen who might have some bait to spare.
And then of course, there were the sea otters, probably the most popular attraction at the harbor. I saw about twenty to thirty of them all floating together, either diving and eating, playfully wresting each other in the water, or just floating on their backs, taking a bit of a nap. One otter in particular had an entertaining way of grooming himself. First, he would lick one paw while rubbing the back of his head with his other paw. Then he’d switch paws, slowly cleaning the back and sides of his head.
After repeating this behavior for several minutes, it was time for the face massage. Opening his mouth, he’d lightly rub his cheeks in small circles. After a while, he really got into what he was doing, opening and closing his mouth and sticking out his tongue occasionally. Abruptly he stopped, and went back to licking his paws and cleaning his head.
Sea lions and harbor seals were also in attendance at the harbor. Most of the sea lions were crowded on a pier waiting for fishing boats to return and share their left-overs. Unfortunately, the time of day did not cooperate with the only angle of approach I had, and all of my photos were severely back lit. The harbor seals however were busy traveling to and fro, so I had better opportunities with them.
As the morning stretched on, more tourists arrived and the harbor started to get crowded. I was happy to have woken early and arrived at dawn, giving me plenty of time in relative solitude with the animals. Pretty soon it was time to leave. The sun was high overhead, most of the wildlife had scattered, and the otters had settled in for a nice long lazy day in the waves.
Last week I spent a few days at Salt Point State Park, along the California coast just north of Jenner. The state park encompasses over six miles of shoreline, as well as miles of interior trails through coastal forest. This portion of the coast is one of the most dynamic in the state, made so by acres of sandstone, shaped over time by the strong waves and stronger wind, creating an alien landscape of stone and water.
Although the sky was clear and the sun was out, the temperature never topped 60 degrees. Windy conditions persuaded most people to stay away, entrusting the entire length of coastline to me alone. By early evening, the wind really picked up with gusts between 30 – 40 mph. I had a hard enough time just staying on my feet much less keeping my tripod steady. The wind was only outdone by the strength of the massive waves breaking against the rocky shore.
In the mornings, the wind from the night before had subsided, but the ten to fifteen foot waves were no less fierce.
The variety of the landscape was impressive. I found myself walking through fields of recently bloomed wildflowers, back-dropped by sheer cliffs plunging to an azure ocean. At low tide, pools appeared among newly uncovered rock, offering a glimpse into the lives of the sea dwellers who live there.
The park was home to a variety of wildlife, from song and shore birds to seals, lizards, and an abundance of healthy looking deer. Ultimately it was a brief few days, but a welcome respite from the bustle of the Bay Area. There was much more to see at Salt Point than time allowed, and I know I’ll be going back there in the future.