Wings of an Egret

Posted on 21 January 2015 | Comment

Wings of an Egret

Wings of an Egret

Wings of an Egret. San Joaquin Valley, California. January 16, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

An egret spreads its wings as it takes to the air above San Joaquin Valley wetlands

The great egret is an impressive and fascinating bird. They are found in many places here in California — along creeks and drainage ditches, near wetlands, along parts of the seashore. A few years ago there was one that lived at a small pond at a place where I regularly hiked and photographed, and I could count on finding it almost every time I went there. Their striking white appearance draws attention on the winter landscape, where they stand out against darker background and against California’s winter green. They are, perhaps surprisingly for such beautiful and graceful things, skillful hunters.

I first noticed them quite a few years ago in creek beds of urban areas in northern California, and eventually learned that they are found all over the place. They often stand almost completely still, though if you watch them a bit you’ll frequently figure out that they are hunting, observing and then slowly moving toward their prey. Because they seem so still, they look like they would perhaps allow a close approach, but they seem to usually have boundaries — get too close and they take off suddenly, displaying their large and beautiful wings and more than most birds they really do seem to float on the air. Photographing them on the ground isn’t too hard, though getting the in interesting poses can take some patience — but photographing them in flight is quite tricky. They take off suddenly, and I find it hard to be precisely ready for the liftoff when it comes. They tend to fly at very low heights, often flying along ditches and behind plants. And they are most often flying away from you. When I came upon this one I remained in my vehicle but got ready to photograph it if took flight, and when it did I have a tiny moment to fire of a small number of shot, one of which framed the beautiful wings fully spread and against a darker background.


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.

Dancing Cranes

Posted on 20 January 2015 | Comment

Dancing Cranes

Dancing Cranes

Dancing Cranes. San Joaquin Valley, California. January 16, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A group of sandhill cranes perform a courtship “dance.”

The sandhill cranes hold a special place for me in the list of San Joaquin Valley birds. Many years ago, I recall reading the work of the great American conservationist Aldo Leopold in a college class. As a young “Sierra Guy” I registered that this was supposed to be important, but my passions were with Muir and the Sierra and I was skeptical that some guy writing about some birds I had never seen could have much of interest to say about such things. To be honest, most of it didn’t sink in at the time — but as so often happens with college experiences, the seed was planted and it finally took root and grew much later. A second story: I was not at all interested in photographing birds until a chance encounter with a colleague while waiting in the espresso stand line one morning at the college. While we were standing there chatting, my friend Pauline mentioned her passion for birding and described a place further north in the Central Valley. I was going to photograph that weekend but didn’t have specific plans, so I more or less figured, “what the heck, might as well go check out this bird place.” The embarrassing fact is that I had lived decades in California with (almost) no idea of the astonishing numbers of migratory birds that make their homes here. One visit to this place my friend mentioned and I was hooked.

While the geese are my primary excuse to go photograph birds, over time I’ve become more and more fascinated by the cranes. There is nothing like arriving before dawn where they hang out and hearing their haunting cry carrying over the wetlands, unless it is the sight of a nearly perfect line of them, wings moving slowly, as they follow their level trajectories above the landscape, especially when it is a bit foggy. During the day they often seem to collect in groups, quietly feeding on pasture land. In the evening (and occasionally during the day) vast numbers of them coast in to land. And then there is “the dance.” Among a seemingly quiet group of cranes, mayhem erupts as small groups collect together and take turns jumping into the air in what I understand to be a courtship ritual.


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.

Egret and Heron

Posted on 19 January 2015 | Comment

Egret and Heron

Egret and Heron

Egret and Heron. San Joaquin Valley, California. January 19, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A great egret and a blue heron in low-level flight

Recently I’ve been thinking about how to make my wildlife photography more efficient. Sometimes I return from a day of photographing birds and other fast-moving critters to find that I have many hundreds or even more than a thousand photographs to sort through. There is a limited supply of pixels in the world, and don’t want to be the one responsible of using them all up. Today it occurred to me that it is wasteful to photograph only a single species in each frame, so I’ve decided to double my efficiency as a photographer and strive to capture two in each shot.

Extracting tongue from cheek… on this trip to photograph San Joaquin Valley migratory birds and other subjects I encountered several of these odd pairings of a single egret and a single heron hanging out together. This was the first pair, and it was quite a surprise. We were creeping along a dirt levee road very slowly in our vehicle, keeping an eye out for interesting birds, and I half expected to see the egret. I had my camera sitting across my lap as I drove, and I probably would have stopped for a(nother) close who of an egret in flight. But right on the heels (tail feathers?) of the egret, a beautiful blue heron followed it across he road — and almost without thinking I quickly grabbed my camera and tracked the two of them as they flew to the left of the vehicle, managing to make a short string of exposures including the two of them together.


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.

Tule Fog, Marsh

Posted on 19 January 2015 | Comment

Tule Fog, Marsh

Tule Fog, Marsh

Tule Fog, Marsh. San Joaquin Valley, California. January 16, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Thick tule fog obscures the view of a central California marsh

These conditions are among my favorites out in the Central California wetlands — silent except for the calls of birds, almost nothing moving, fog so thick that details quickly disappear, and a gentle glow from sun above the shallow fog layer. Mornings like this one remind me that the photography is about something deeper than getting a clear shot of another bird — it is about somehow trying for that merging of capturing and evoking the mood of such a place, and about personally experiencing the thing.

Subtle and uncontrollable things come into play. I have to slow down a lot and look for compositions in place that are not at all obvious, and the subjects from which I can select are limited to those that are very close. Some elements of the composition exist almost on the very edge of visibility — in this photograph there is a further extent of the tules that is barely visible at all. Focus isn’t easy, and I may choose to “go with the softness,” as I did here. And the bird, suddenly appearing at the lower left, turns out to be utterly unpredictable yet important to the overall effect of the image.


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.

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