Category Archives: Photographs: Flight

Ross’s Geese, Evening Sky

Ross's Geese, Evening Sky
Ross’s Geese, Evening Sky

Ross’s Geese, Evening Sky. San Joaquin Valley, California. March 1, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A flock of Ross’s geese head west against the clouds of a winter evening sky

This may well end up being one of my final migratory bird photographs of the 2014-15 season. It seemed to wind down early this year, at least from what I saw. I suspect that this probably has something to do with the very unusual weather this winter in California. The temperatures were far above normal. In some places there averaged ten degrees higher than usual during the first three months of the year. Precipitation has also been way out of whack. There were some early indications of a possible wet year, then things seemed to be put on hold… until some serious rain (at my elevation) in December, which brought back memories of what winter used to be like in California. Then the tap seemed to be shut off with the new year, and where I live we went nearly 50 days with no rainfall whatsoever at what should be the wettest time of the year. It finally rained again, but not much. More troubling, the Sierra experience roughly 10% of typical precipitation levels, and this is the fourth year of below normal precipitation.

Despite the climate challenges, the season did produce some truly wonderful days of bird photography in the Central Valley. One thing that helped was a long period of tule fog in the Valley, which I find picturesque. Eventually the birds showed up, and we had a great stretch of geese and cranes and more up through the middle of February. At the end of the month we headed to the Sierra for an exhibit at the Yosemite Renaissance, stopping on the way to visit the birds. We didn’t see many at all, and when we stopped again on the way back things hadn’t changed much. Late in the day we did find a group of Ross’s geese on a pond, and I caught groups of them as they departed to the south and west.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist 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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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Ross’s Geese, Clouds

Ross's Geese, Clouds
Ross’s Geese, Clouds

Ross’s Geese, Clouds. San Joaquin Valley, California. March 1. 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A flock of Ross’s geese against a clearing winter sky above the San Joaquin Valley.

On a late-winter afternoon we visited one of the places where we frequently photograph migratory birds in the San Joaquin Valley of California. We had been in Yosemite for a few days, and we arranged our departure from there so that we would have time for this stop on the way home to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Perhaps it is due to the unusual winter we are having in the West this year, but the numbers of birds had declined considerably since our previous visit a few weeks earlier. We were surprised to see almost no sandhill cranes at all. There were Ross’s geese, but in smaller number. We found one decent sized group settled in on a pond, and shortly after we arrived they began to depart in small groups like this one, passing in front of the clouds from a dissipating storm as they headed toward the west.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist 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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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Cranes and Geese, Winter Fog

Cranes and Geese, Winter Fog
Cranes and Geese, Winter Fog

Cranes and Geese, Winter Fog. San Joaquin Valley, California. February 13, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A foggy San Joaquin Valley winter landscape filled with geese and cranes

This photograph comes for exactly two weeks ago, when we took a detour through a favorite migratory bird area on our way to Yosemite for the opening reception of a show. Driving into the San Joaquin from the west it looked like most of the fog was gone — and I wanted fog! — but we took a chance and headed out into this area, which seems to be one of the most consistently foggy around. And luck was with us — we drove into the tule fog just before out goal. And when we arrived we found stupendous conditions of fog and birds.

A very large bunch of birds had settled in on a recently cleared field this is very close to the access road. Among there were a few egrets, more white-fronted geese, yet more sandhill cranes (as many as I’ve seen here at one time), and then thousands and thousands of Ross’s geese. Within minutes the fog began to thin and areas of light began to move among the birds. The birds were in constant motion, with one or another group taking of at every moment. At times something would cause them to go on alert (note the heads held straight up) and then, quite often, to suddenly take to the air in wild, flapping clouds of birds.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist 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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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Black and White, Cranes and Geese

Black and White, Cranes and Geese
Black and White, Cranes and Geese

Black and White, Cranes and Geese. San Joaquin Valley, California. February 13, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Masses of sandhill cranes and Ross’s geese take to the air in foggy winter skies about the San Joaquin Valley

A few years ago I may a photograph in the Skagit Valley of Washington that I described as a “snow goose maelstrom” — a scene utterly packed with those geese in flight. The scene we arrived to on this winter morning in the San Joaquin Valley was also such a maelstrom, except there were even more kinds of birds. While the description of this photograph refers to “sandhill cranes and Ross’s geese,” there are other birds here, too. In fact, it isn’t hard to spot a couple of white-fronted geese, and I know there were egrets lurking in this mass of birds, too. Who knows… it is even possible that a few snow geese might have shown up.

We arrived to a favorite kind of atmospheric condition. There was very dense tule fog — so dense that you can see the more distant airborne birds in the photo almost disappear behind its veil. But the fog was shallow and beginning to thin, and the sun was making it glow with intense brightness. I describe this effect as the fog glowing so brightly that it can almost be hard to look directly into it. I chose to go with a relatively high key interpretation of this scene to evoke that feeling. At the moment that I made the photograph, something had disturbed the flock and the various kinds of birds on the ground were beginning to lift into the sky to join those that were already airborne.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist 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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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Geese in Blue Sky

Geese in Blue Sky
Geese in Blue Sky

Geese in Blue Sky. San Joaquin Valley, California. February 13, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Thousands of Ross’s Geese in the San Joaquin Valley winter sky

And, yes, another photograph of thousands of geese wheeling overhead in the San Joaquin Valley sky. They tend to do that this time of year. The cause of this eruption of geese was a bit different from the usual. Typically, when they are flocking in pastures and similar areas, something sets them off — a predator, a low flying plane, who knows what else — and an entire flock will suddenly take to the air en masse, in a maelstrom of flapping wings and noise. We had stopped near a large group in a field, from which smaller groups were constantly coming and going, when another vehicle pulled up behind us. Out hopped a half-dozen young girls who proceed to run down the road, setting of the geese. (For the record, you aren’t supposed to do this. They are young. They will learn. :-)

Because the flock was so close, the first photographs I made mostly featured close up walls of geese. But eventually they widened the circle of their flight, looping round beyond this little brushy grove out in the flatlands. I zoomed out to see if I could get a larger view, and although I was shooting a 100-400mm lens, 100mm was “wide” enough to take in thousands of geese, the landscape, and the gradient of color in the sky as it transitioned from the lighter colors of the foggy atmosphere near the ground to the deeper blue of winter sky far above.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email

Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Geese in Flight, Dusk

Geese in Flight, Dusk
Geese in Flight, Dusk

Geese in Flight, Dusk. San Joaquin Valley, California. January 25, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Flocks of Ross’s geese in flight in the winter evening sky above the San Joaquin Valley

It was near the end of a full late-January day of winter bird photography in California’s San Joaquin Valley. After seeing fewer birds (Ross’s geese, sandhill cranes, and more) than we expected earlier in the season, the new year had brought increased numbers that reminded me of previous years. We started this day before sunrise and kept at it almost all day, taking only a short break for a visit to a nearby area before returning to again photograph the birds in the late afternoon. As the afternoon wore on we began to look for a likely spot to photograph the birds at the end of the day. They could end up anywhere, but this time they congregated in an accessible spot along the edge of a gravel access road. Several of us parked along this road, positioning ourselves so that a large flock of Ross’s geese that had collected there would be between us and the sunset light on clouds.

The giant flock of Ross’s geese gradually edged to the east, and we moved several times in order to keep them positioned for best light and background. There was some continuous coming and going as birds flew off to other groups or flew in to join this one, but for the most part things were rather calm. Then, for no clear reason (an eagle flying overhead? Something else?) the entire flock lifted off suddenly right in front of us. This moment, which I have seen before, is unforgettable, not just for the huge clouds of birds turning and gradually spreading in the sky, but also for the sound — wild cries as the birds lift off, and the rushing noise of thousands of wings suddenly beating.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email

Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Sandhill Cranes, Blue Sky

Sandhill Cranes, Blue Sky
Sandhill Cranes, Blue Sky

Sandhill Cranes, Blue Sky. San Joaquin Valley, California. January 1, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A trio of sandhill cranes against the blue winter sky over the San Joaquin Valley

Today’s photograph is a plain, straight-up bird photograph of three sandhill cranes flying above me against the blue winter sky in California’s San Joaquin Valley. It is another of my New Year’s Day photographs, for our trip to this area to greet the dawn of the new year and share the experience with a few photographer friends and a few thousand feathered friends!

The day began, as it usually does out here in the winter, in fog. We photographed the sun rising through the fog and then moved on to photograph the frosty landscape and other birds along the gravel road that we traveled. This was not a tremendously foggy day, and eventually the fog gave way to hazy sunlight and later on to beautiful blue skies. The cranes were plentiful on New Year’s Day, and we had several good opportunities to photograph them.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email

Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.