Category Archives: Photographs: Wildlife

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


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

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.

Turkey Vultures

Turkey Vultures
Turkey vultures on coastal rocks, Point Lobos State Reserve

Turkey Vultures. Point Lobos State Reserve, California. May 3, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Turkey vultures on coastal rocks, Point Lobos State Reserve

Let me begin by pointing out that I did not go to this place to shoot turkey vultures. In fact, of all the things that I might have expected to see and photograph here, such critters were at the bottom of the list if they were even on it at all. Point Lobos is one of my local “go to” places when I have a half day or a day to photograph. I’ve been going there for literally decades, and I know many parts of this beautiful little park very well. (On the other hand, I hardly ever fail to discover something new when I visit, even after all of these years.) So I had gone there hoping to photograph things like morning fog, the conduction of rocks and surf, the coastal trees, and so forth.

I pulled into a parking lot along the main road and got out without my camera so that I could just look around a bit. As I scanned my surroundings I was surprised to see some large birds on rocks above the surf, birds that I did not immediately recognize. I soon was even more surprised when I realized that I was looking at a group of five turkey vultures — a bird that I’m more accustomed to seeing airborne, coasting on updrafts along inland coastal hills, and often seen alone. I didn’t have any good photographs of these birds, so I grabbed camera, long lens, and tripod and rectified that commission! In flight, these can be rather impressive birds — they are large and they coast quietly overhead. Yet their heads are a gaudy red color, and generally very wrinkled — this almost seems out of character with the rest of the bird. This group stood still for a few moments before, one by one, they gradually took to the air and departed.


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, 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.
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.

American Avocet, Reflection

American Avocet, Reflection
American Avocet, Reflection

American Avocet, Reflection. San Joaquin Valley, California. February 27, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

American Avocet and reflection, San Joaquin Valley wetlands

I have written before — often! — about the tremendous numbers of birds in California’s Central Valley, especially in the winter when migrating birds overwinter here. It is easy to be most impressed by the birds that are the biggest, the most unusual, those that are found in almost unbelievable numbers, and those whose cries are most striking. Frankly, very few experiences can compete with the sound and fury of many thousands of geese taking to the air at once, the magic of squadrons of cranes gliding in at dusk, the grace and size of the slower-moving egrets and herons, and too many others to list.

I’ve never been the classic “birder” type — the guy with the scope who searches out and identifies any and all birds — though I have become much more sympathetic to the passions of such people as I have spent more time among these remarkable birds! More recently, as I have returned to these places more and more frequently, I have gradually become aware that there are many other birds besides the big, impressive specimens mentioned above. These include individuals such as the hawks and owls, small birds that also live in flocks such as red-winged blackbirds, and a bunch of smaller birds that hang out in and around the water… like the avocet shown here. At one end of a refuge where we frequently photograph there are some quiet ponds along the side of the access road. I rarely see the bigger birds here, but I have recently learned that there is a lot more going on here than initially meets the untrained eye. On one of our recent visits I spent some time photographing avocets against the mostly smooth water in the morning just after the fog had cleared.


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.

Black Necked Stilt Feeding

Black Necked Stilt Feeding
Black Necked Stilt Feeding

Black Necked Stilt Feeding. San Joaquin Valley, California. February 27, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A black necked stilt feeds in a San Joaquin Valley wetland marsh

Something that quickly becomes apparent when you are around a variety of birds, especially those that live in and around water, is the tremendous range of specific adaptations they have made in order to be successful in rather narrow ecological niches. I first recall seeing this when I was much younger and someone, probably a middle school science teacher, pointed out that birds along the San Francisco Bay shoreline often were distributed in water of varying depths that suited the lengths of their beaks and legs. The same sort of thing is visible in these California Central Valley wetlands, where some birds are adapted to dry land, others to hunting in the brush, and others to success in varying depths of water.

The black-necked stilt is a very attractive bird, with its striking white and black plumage, its thin beak, and its tremendously long red legs. It is also a highly adapted bird — those long legs and back let it forage in slightly deeper water. Most often I see them in somewhat shallower water than seen here, where the bird’s legs are visible above the water line. But this one was making maximum good use of its long legs, which are just long enough to keep it out of the water as it feeds. A moment after I made this photograph the bird took off.


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.