Category Archives: Photographs: Northern California

Photographs from Northern California

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron
A great blue heron stands next to a Sacramento Valley pond

Great Blue Heron. Sacramento Valley, California. January 8, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A great blue heron stands next to a Sacramento Valley pond

As I prepare photographs to share via social media (in my continuing photo-a-day marathon, now perhaps the years old) I often have photographs lined up for posting days or weeks in the future. Occasionally one sits here on the computer for a long time before I finally share it. This photograph of a great blue heron is such a photograph — I made it almost four months ago, way back when we were in the middle of winter!

This past winter I decided to expand the range of my bird photography a bit. I’ve been photographing winter birds in Central California for the past few years, but mostly in a range from roughly Sacramento south. So it was time to connect a few dots on the map and travel out of that area a bit. One of the first extended visits took me a good distance up the Sacramento Valley on a cold winter day when snow topped the mountains to both the east and west. This specimen was hanging out along an irrigation ditch near the edge of a wildlife refuge, and it allowed me to get relatively close (“hidden” inside a vehicle) without taking flight.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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White-Fronted Geese in Flight

White-Fronted Geese in Flight
A small group of white-fronted geese in flight about the Sacramento Valley

White-Fronted Geese in Flight. Central Valley, California. January 8, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A small group of white-fronted geese in flight about the Sacramento Valley

I photographed this group of white-fronted geese on one of my excursion to new California bird photography locations this past winter. It wasn’t that many years ago that I first “discovered” the huge population of migratory birds in California’s Central Valley, on a weekend after a colleague made an off-hand comment about birds as we waited in line at a coffee stand that sent me off to investigate. I went to a place where there were sandhill cranes and, eventually, a sky magnificently full of birds, most of which I could not identify. I was hooked. Soon I went to a location near that spot, and eventually became quite a frequent visitor to several places including one that isn’t too far from where I live.

Last year I started thinking that I should expand my horizons a bit and start to seek out other locations along the Pacific Flyway. I pushed a bit further up the Central Valley and eventually managed to spend time up along the California-Oregon border. I photographed this photogenic group at one of those upper Central Valley areas. Visiting such a place for the first time can be a bit tricky. It takes a while to get to know the rhythms of a place — where and when which birds show up, where the interesting backgrounds are, how far to drive to get a cup of coffee… At this new refuge I had almost no idea what I was doing. I hoped to find one kind of geese, but they were scarce — yet I found other things that I saw less often in my usual haunts: bald eagles, lots of night herons, an occasion tundra swan, and many white-fronted geese. Eventually I found a spot by a pond where huge flocks of geese were coming and going, a mixture of mostly snow geese and white-fronted geese, and I began to feel that I might be able to figure the place out.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Colorful Granite Cliff and Trees

Colorful Granite Cliff and Trees
A colorful High Sierra granite cliff and trees in soft light

Colorful Granite Cliff and Trees. Yosemite National Park, California. September 9, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A colorful High Sierra granite cliff and trees in soft light

Sitting here on a late-winter day, this late September week spent photographing in the Yosemite back-country seems so far away. (At the same time, as I watch the inevitable progress of the seasons, the upcoming summer season seems closer and closer!) Three photographers headed out to a back-country lake, where we set up a base-camp for something like nine days of photography. It might seem like photographing in one tiny area for a week might exhaust its possibilities. In fact, at the start of such a trip I often harbor such fears — but by the end of every one of them I am again reminded that it virtually never works that way. The more time spent looking in such a place, there more there is to see, and at the end of such a trip there are, inevitably, things left to be photographed on the next visit.

Not far from our camp was a rocky area that we often crossed in order to make our way around the perimeter of a nearby lake and to get to areas a bit further away. After climbing slabs the route dropped into the lower extent of a deep gully traveling down from higher terrain, and eventually I began to know these rocks and this gully very well. We had “interesting” weather during our stay, and on the day I made this photograph the light was muted by various factors including clouds and wildfire smoke.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Tundra Swans, Mount Shasta, Winter

Tundra Swans, Mount Shasta, Winter
Tundra swans fly over Klamath Basin and in front of Mount Shasta

Tundra Swans, Mount Shasta, Winter. Klamath Basin, California. February 13, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Tundra swans fly over Klamath Basin and in front of Mount Shasta

Near the conclusion of several days photographing along the Oregon/California border around Klamath Falls I packed up for the last time, loaded my vehicle, and started the long return trip to the San Francisco Bay Area. Since it was a gray and rainy morning I had been lazy, sleeping in until there was some morning light before leaving — it didn’t seem like much of a morning for bird photography, at least not by comparison to the past few days, with their beautiful morning and evening light. I drove through town, picked up my highway, and headed out.

As I drove it was raining lightly and there was mist everywhere. As usually happens, I began to see photographic potential in this winter landscape, and when I saw a cloud-shrouded lake off to one side, I quickly turned onto a side road to investigate. There wasn’t much there to photograph, but I realized that this was the far end of a road along which I had earlier photographed tundra swans. I had no idea how far away they might be, but I wasn’t in a hurry, so I decided to investigate. It turned out that I didn’t have far to go, and too I saw flocks of tundra swans lined up and passing overhead as the rain let up. i turned of this road and onto a gravel track, driving out to an area that appeared to be under the birds’ path, and from there I saw this wintry view of Mount Shasta, with layers of storm clouds stacked above its snow-covered lower slopes — and I waited until a group of the swans passed in front to make this photograph.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Sunrise, Marshland, Birds

Sunrise, Marshland, Birds
Thousands of migratory geese fly above foggy San Joaquin Valley marshland at dawn

Sunrise, Marshland, Birds. San Joaquin Valley, California. February 26, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Thousands of migratory geese fly above foggy San Joaquin Valley marshland at dawn

On this late-February day we arrived at the wetlands well before dawn, slowed by heavy tule fog along the final miles of our route. The fog was thick but not deep, and while our horizontal view was obscured we could see that objects as short as utility poles extended above the fog layer. At our destination we finally stopped, and got out of the vehicle to set up camera equipment and to get the lay of the land.

Almost immediately flocks of geese began erupting from ponds and taking to the sky, thousands at a time. First a group nearby, then one far off to one side, then another at the distant edge of the refuge, and so on until the sky was filled with them. We thought that it was perhaps the greatest bird tumult that we had seen, and we had arrived just in time to see it. (Of course, only a few days later we experienced an even more monumental evening, with tens of thousands of geese and cranes.) At first we simply photographed the birds in the low light, but eventually I turned my attention to the landscape and made a few photographs across the tule ponds toward the first light developing above the Sierra crest far to our east.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Sierra Foothills, Late Winter

Sierra Foothills, Late Winter
First growth of the season brings green to Sierra Nevada foothills in late winter

Sierra Foothills, Late Winter. February 27, 2016. Sierra Nevada Foothills, California. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

First growth of the season brings green to Sierra Nevada foothills in late winter

During late winter many parts of California undergo stunning conversion. During the previous summer the landscape dried out under summer heat. As summer turns to fall the heat does not immediately abate, and the landscape may reach its driest point. Then, in a normal year, the winter rains finally arrive. At first the changes — mud, mostly — don’t speak of spring, but at some point in the middle of winter plants again gain a foothold and begin to sprout everywhere. Short and very greens grasses spring up. Wildflowers begin to appear on the hillsides.

This photograph is of an area that seemed to be starting the late winter transformation. Though some trees are still leafless, the hills are otherwise covered with the first, short grasses. A few flowers have begun to appear on some of the chaparral plants. And beautiful light is everywhere. This begins a short but intense period of wild land growth here. The short grasses turn to lush, thick grasses. Wildflowers take over, and the leafless trees begin to show new colors.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Rocks and Grass, Sierra Foothills

Rocks and Grass, Sierra Foothills
Wildflowers and new grasses begin to sprout in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

Rocks and Grasses, Sierra Foothills. Mariposa County, California. February 28, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Wildflowers and new grasses begin to sprout in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

The “impossible green” season begins early in California. I want to call this a “spring” photograph, but unlike many colder parts of the USA, these colors come to California in late winter. The effect is especially striking in years with good winter rains, and after four years of crushing drought much of California has received between normal and above normal rainfall this year. This past week it seemed like the Sierra foothills were taking advantage of all the moisture and of a recent warm spell.

Over three-day period we spend time in the Central Valley, Yosemite, and in the Sierra foothills. On the first day we were somewhat surprised to see the California Golden Poppies were already blooming in places in Merced Canyon, covering hillsides with a carpet of colorful flowers. Lower down in the foothills the short grasses have turned intensely green and wildflowers are beginning to bloom.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email


All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.