Category Archives: Photographs: Wildlife

Sleeping Elephant Seal

Sleeping Elephant Seal
An elephant seal sleeps among its kin on a California beach

Sleeping Elephant Seal. California Coast. July 20, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

An elephant seal sleeps among its kin on a California beach

Traveling up and down the California coast, it is hard to avoid eventually encountering the elephant seals. Historically they were once very common along this coastline, and their numbers have recovered considerably in recent decades. There are now several places where they are very accessible, and in large numbers — if you ever do the Big Sur Pacific Coast Highway you will certainly encounter at least one such area. In fact, that’s what we were doing on this July trip. We were mainly there to photograph landscapes and seascapes, but that didn’t prevent us from making a photographic detour to photograph these animals.

Here the coast highway comes very close to an elephant seal rookery, and the animals are more accessible than in any other location that I’m aware of. (At others you must walk long distances, and in some places they have hauled up on beaches so isolated that you can only watch from a great distance.) At first I was fascinated by their sparring and other more active things they do. The more I have photographed them, the more I have looked for and sometimes found ways to photograph them even when they are not active — and this specimen, sleeping among others of its herd, is anything but active!


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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The Landing

The Landing
A brown pelican joins the flock on a rock along the Pacific coast of California

The Landing. California Coast. July 212, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A brown pelican joins the flock on a rock along the Pacific coast of California

This photograph has appeared here at my website and in subsequent social media posts already, but merely as an example in a post I shared about some slightly technical matters related to a camera I use. (More on that in a moment.) Since I feel like the photograph stands not only as an example of how a lens and a camera work, but also as a photograph, this time I’m sharing it for the latter reason. We had spent a couple of days in the Monterey and Big Sur area, photographing along that spectacular coastline, and now we were headed home. We decided to work our say north along the coast, eventually turning inland just south of San Francisco.

Just before that homeward turn we passed a small, rocky island just a few yards off the actual coast, and I realized that it was covered with many scores of brown pelicans. I love photographing these birds, and it is somewhat unusual to see so many in one place, so we stopped and walked out to the bluff to make some photographs. The light was challenging since it was coming from almost directly behind the birds — but in this case that worked well as there is a light fringe around the bird, some light comes through its wing feathers, and additional light reflects back up from surf and rocks as this pelican lands. Oh, and that technical article? I made this photograph with a pretty unusual “birding” setup — the 50.6MP Canon EOS 5Ds R with a 100-400mm zoom lens with a 1.4x teleconverter attached!


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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The Landing

The Landing
A brown pelican joins the flock on a rock along the Pacific coast of California

The Landing. California Coast. July 21, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A brown pelican joins the flock on a rock along the Pacific coast of California

California’s brown pelicans are probably my favorite coastal birds, and I love to photograph them — from bluff tops which they pass as the coast along on Pacific winds, to the ocean as they skim just above the water, to places where they can be found resting between flights. These are large birds, with an almost prehistoric appearance, especially when a group of them floats by in a row, sometimes hardly moving at all. We spent a couple of days on the coast in mid-July, and on the last day as we headed home we passed a small, rocky island just of the shoreline. When we saw that it was covered with scores of these birds, so many that some had to land nearby instead of on the island, we grabbed our equipment and spent some time photographing them. I had tracked this pelican on its inbound flight. Most of them came from my right, passed the island, then turned to face into the wind before landing.

This photo also serves as a bit of a technical test, too. I made the photograph with my new Canon 5Ds R, using the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-f/5.6L IS II lens. To get a bit more “reach,” I added a 1.4x tele-extender, which made the longest focal length 560mm. Since this wasn’t possible on my previous camera (which could only autofocus at f/5.6, not the f/8 aperture produced by using the converter), I was interested to see how well this would work — would image quality be sharp enough and would the lens/extender combination focus quickly and accurately enough. In fact, it did work. Quite well, actually.


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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Tern in Flight

Tern in Flight
A tern in flight over Monterey Bay in sunset light

Tern in Flight. Monterey Bay, California. July 28, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A tern in flight over Monterey Bay in sunset light

I have had this photograph sitting here waiting to be posted for many weeks now, but somehow it got continually supplanted by other images. Time to get it posted! For one thing, it may be my only photograph of a at this point, and I want to have it in my online archive.

The photograph comes from a memorably evening nearly a year ago when we went to the Moss Landing area of Monterey Bay after hearing that friends had seen whales very close to the shoreline here. Although I have lived in this area for decades and I regularly pass by this area, I had never actually been out to the beach here. The first thing that surprised us when we arrived was the truly astonishing number of sea birds — I had never seen so many in one place before. I surmise that they must have been drawn here by the same fish or other food that drew the whales. With so many birds around I used the conditions to focus on various birds that were extremely close. Here the bird was a tern — not an easy bird to photograph in flight, and they don’t exactly fly in slow, straight lines. I also photographed a big group of pelicans that was settled in very close to the shoreline. And eventually the whales did show up, rising up out of the water a short distance from the beach.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email


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Brown Pelican in Flight, Blue Sky

Brown Pelican in Flight, Blue Sky
Brown Pelican in flight above Moss Landing, California

Brown Pelican in Flight, Blue Sky. Moss Landing, California. July 28, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Brown Pelican in flight above Moss Landing, California

Here we have (yet) another in the continuing quest to get the exactly right pelican photograph. Actually, I’m joking — I don’t know what “the” right photograph would be, and I do know that there are almost infinite variations in these birds and the ways that they can be seen. Each individual looks at least a bit different, and they appear in all sorts of different surroundings: against the sky, against the water, close up or far away, overhead, at my level, below me when photographed from bluffs, midday or golden hour light, how the bird is orientated relative the light source, and on it goes.

This is another of the big group I photographed at Monterey Bay last summer, when the promise of whales surfacing near the shoreline took us there on short notice. Indeed, the whales were there and they were remarkably close to the shoreline. But nearly as remarkable was the absolutely huge number of birds that also showed up, including the pelicans.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. 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.

Departing Pelican, Blue Sky

Departing Pelican, Blue Sky
A brown pelican flies past and continues over the Monterey Bay

Departing Pelican, Blue Sky. Monterey Bay, California. July 28, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A brown pelican flies past and continues over the Monterey Bay

Brown pelicans are a common sight along the California coastline, though the numbers fluctuate from season to season and year to year. I often photograph them along the immediate coast, where they may be spotted skimming just above the surf, usually in small groups flying in a line. Sometimes they fly along top edges of coastal bluffs, apparently riding the updrafts from the Pacific onshore winds. From what I’ve seen, their numbers have varied a great deal in this strange California weather year. Last summer, when I made this photograph, there seemed to be a lot of them, but by this past winter the numbers had decreased significantly.

I photograph this pelican and a bunch of its kin near Moss Landing in Monterey Bay. We had gone there after hearing reports of whales surfacing just off the beach here, and sure enough, that’s what we found when we arrived. I have seen whales along the California coast for years, but I had no idea that they would come into a bay and then come so close to a beach. Whatever attracted the whales also attracted huge numbers of birds, including one of the largest collections of pelicans that I recall seeing. Photographing them was almost easy — I simply picked a spot near where a creek emptied into the bay and waited, and soon a nearly steady stream of the birds passed right over me in the warm evening light.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email


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Cormorants, Coastal Rocks

Cormorants, Coastal Rocks
Cormorants nesting on rugged coastal rocks at Point Lobos State Reserve, California

Cormorants, Coastal Rocks. Point Lobos State Reserve, California. May 3, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Cormorants nesting on rugged coastal rocks at Point Lobos State Reserve, California

Following a significant bit of photography near the end of April and the beginning of May, I had hardly picked up my camera for nearly a month — and I was itching to get out and make new photographs. Time was still tight, but I found a free day and headed off to the coastal areas of the Monterey Peninsula and the northern reaches of the Big Sur coastline, ending up at Point Lobos. Frankly, as much as I wanted to make photographs, I also simply wanted to get outside for a bit, and a morning of hiking and photographing here fit the bill perfectly.

The rock in the distance on which some cormorants are nesting is actually an island — an island that at some times of year is covered with many hundreds of all kinds of shore birds. This time there were far fewer. It could have been a seasonal thing, or it might be related to the changes in ocean temperature that have caused harm to marine mammals this season. In any case, I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose the small group of black birds with a landscape of rugged rock, so I wandered a bit until I found this camera position that put nothing but rocks between me and the island.


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.