Bird-Filled Dusk Sky, Central Valley. San Joaquin Valley, California. February 8, 2012. © Copyright 2012 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.
The edge of a huge flock of geese fills the dusk sky above seasonal winter ponds in California’s Central Valley.
I continue to learn the cycles of the migratory winter birds over the Central Valley of California. Early in February I twice visited a wildlife refuge in the area roughly between Merced and Los Banos in the evening. On the first visit, we arrived to find white flocks of Ross’s geese settled into ponds and hour or two before sunset. As the day came to an end the geese started to lift off and fly away in groups and by sunset there were almost non of these birds left at “our pond.” I began to think that the show was over for the night, and I switched from photographs centered on wildlife to working with the trees and ponds and fields as landscape instead. Then, well along into the dusk hour, we heard a sound to the south that signaled the presence of a large number of migratory birds, and a moment later rank after rank of them appeared and crossed above our position on their way to settle in nearby.
Less than a week later I was back in the same area. Again, we arrived to find the Ross’s geese settled in on a pond, though this time there were far more of them and they were closer to our position. Again, during the hour before sunset they began to lift off and fly away. And again, there was a quiet point right around sunset when it seemed that the migratory birds had all left and only a few smaller birds remained. But this time we had our eyes on the sky, and before long we spotted a small, moving cloud far to the west against the shadow of the coast range mountains, and we recognized it as a “flock” of birds. Soon we realized this was not just another small flock – it was a veritable cloud of birds that grew in size as it approached, became louder, and then quickly filled the sky above us with the sound and sight of thousands of wheeling birds.
The photograph shows just the far edge of this “cloud,” as the rest of the birds had just passed across our position and were mostly behind and to either side. Because I had a long zoom lens on the camera, I was just able to move toward its widest setting and quickly compose a photograph that included a bit of the pond, some trees and the far hills, and enough of the flock to suggest its size.
G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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