Fall Birds Along The San Francisco Bay

A bewick's wren perches on a narrow branch, Redwood Shores, CA.

Winter is coming to the SF Bay Area, and so are the wonderful variety of wintering birds. I set out on a recent afternoon to see what the winds have brought in, and to capture some of these winged denizens in beautiful golden light. Looking back through the day’s photos though, I realized that most of what I saw were year-round birds. Oh well, even if I didn’t see a typical winter’s variety, the winter months always tend to be a bit more “birdy” around here.

A european starling perches on the top of an ornamental bush, Redwood Shores, CA.
A european starling perches on the top of an ornamental bush, Redwood Shores, CA.

First up on the list was a young European starling. Yes, I know, some consider this more or less a garbage bird, but if you see a good specimen in nice light, it can make a rather pleasent photo.

A double-crested cormorant swims through still water, Redwood Shores, CA.
A double-crested cormorant swims through still water, Redwood Shores, CA.

The next bird I spent time with is a very popular one along the bay – the double-crested cormorant. I got some nice close-up shots has this one swam back and forth, diving for food.

A double-crested cormorant flies low over the water, Redwood Shores, CA.
A double-crested cormorant flies low over the water, Redwood Shores, CA.

My patience with this commoner was rewarded with some decent take-off and flight shots. Birds in flight are more than a little difficult to shoot with my 800mm beast. So I always give a thank you to those who take off slowly, giving my ample time to track them with autofocus.

A green heron stands in iceplant next to a water channel, Redwood Shores, CA.
A green heron stands in iceplant next to a water channel, Redwood Shores, CA.

Green herons are pretty common around my house, but are usually seen only by the most avid birders. You wouldn’t think it from the photograph, but these guys can really blend into the rocks and vegetation surrounding the water channels. If they aren’t moving, they are very hard to spot, even when scanning a shoreline with a scope. Therefore, it is always a treat when I do see one and can get close enough for decent photographs.

A sooty fox sparrow perches on a small branch, Redwood Shores, CA.
A sooty fox sparrow perches on a small branch, Redwood Shores, CA.

Fox sparrows have a wide range, which includes both breeding and wintering in the Bay Area. However, I’ve seen them more commonly in the winter. These guys are definitely more rare than some of the most common sparrows, and I was happy to catch one on camera as it stopped for a few quick seconds on a branch.

A bewick's wren perches on a narrow branch, Redwood Shores, CA.
A bewick’s wren perches on a narrow branch, Redwood Shores, CA.

I’m always happy to see these wrens flitting about. They are uncommon enough to warrant excitement, and it was nice to capture one in a natural environment. I have a family of Bewick’s wrens that visit my front yard, but photographs of bird feeders are relegated to my stock collection.

A white-crowned sparrow perches on the top of a bush, Redwood Shores, CA.
A white-crowned sparrow perches on the top of a bush, Redwood Shores, CA.

White-crowned sparrows are very common during the winter along the bay, but are not seen here in the summer months. However, they are year round residents just over the hill along the coast. Seeing white-crowned sparrows often reminds me of the diversity of San Mateo county and how you can see an entirely different ecosystem of birds by traveling a few short miles.

A great egret stands next to a water channel, looking for fish, Redwood Shores, CA.
A great egret stands next to a water channel, looking for fish, Redwood Shores, CA.

Finally, I rounded out my afternoon with the big daddy of the marsh, the great egret. They are very common, but also beautiful. Here I found a nice looking specimen so I spent a little time photographing him. Overall, it was a pretty birdy afternoon – I’m looking forward to the influx of wintering waterfowl that will bring great visual variety to the area.

Gear I used to create the photos in this post:

2016 Round-up – Top 100 Photos Of The Year

In years past, I’ve curated a list of my best 40 photos of the past year. However, with trips in 2016 to India and Africa, I couldn’t whittle down the set to just 40. So here is the best 100 photos of 2016, many of which are previously unpublished. As always, there is a mixture of bird, wildlife and landscape, but this year includes much more wildlife than usual.

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

The endangered african wild dog has a hunting success rate of 80% due to its pack hunting and ability to chase large prey to exhaustion, reaching speeds of over 40 miles per hour for 5 – 10 minutes.

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, 2014, and 2015 lists.

Red-headed Finch

A male red-headed finch carries nesting material, Windhoek, Namibia.

Red-headed finches are a medium sized finch with a beautiful feather pattern on the body. The males display a bright red head, while the females have a grayish head with slightly duller body colors.

I came across a wild colony in Windhoek, Namibia, where it appears that they took over a set of old nests abandoned by some kind of weaver.

A male red-headed finch perches on a nest, Windhoek, Namibia.

The nests were hanging from the branches of a tree, with a small entrance on the underside. This species is known to take over and retrofit nests of other species, though they also build their own.

A female red-headed finch perches on a thick branch, Windhoek, Namibia.

I was not able to find much information on this bird, other than to read that they are occasionally bred as caged birds.

A male red-headed finch perches on a thick branch, Windhoek, Namibia.

It is birds like this that makes traveling to other parts of the world so much fun for me. When I arrive in a new area, even the most common species are new and interesting.

Gear I used to create the photos in this post:

Southern Masked Weaver

A non-breeding male lacks the black face and beak of a male in breeding colors, Windhoek, Namibia.

On my very first morning in Namibia, I woke early to photograph any song birds that happened to visit the garden of the bed and breakfast in which I was staying. I was quickly rewarded with sightings of both male and female southern masked weavers. In general, female birds are usually harder to identify than males, which tend to display more color and distinct markings. This identification was made more difficult by the fact that even the male that I saw was in non-breeding colors, looking much more like the female.

A non-breeding male lacks the black face and beak of a male in breeding colors, Windhoek, Namibia.

The first two photos here are of a male, while the last is a female. Although the male’s colors are similar to the female, it is distinguished by its red eye. In breeding season, the male has a black face and beak (giving the species its name), looking very different.

A female southern masked weaver lacks the black face of the male, Windhoek, Namibia.

These weavers did not hang around for long. I had a total of about 30 seconds with the male (which is why cameras with high frame rates are vital with bird photography!). The female perched for a few brief seconds before she was off to the next spot.

Gear I used to create the photos in this post: