Tag Archives: valley

Cottonwood Trees, Autumn

Cottonwood Trees, Autumn
Cottonwood Trees, Autumn

Cottonwood Trees, Autumn. Southern Utah. October 26, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A grove of autumn cottonwood trees in Utah red rock country

After a few days “in the field” in a remote southern Utah location with a group of friends, I left our camp and headed back out to what passes for civilization in this part of Utah. Truth be told, by the end of the day I arrived in a quite civilized place! After driving a bit I ended up in the town of Boulder, where I was to meet my cousin and her husband to share dinner and conversation. But I arrived a bit early, so I decide to explore a bit first.

I headed right on through Boulder and onto the Burr Trail route, following it for a few miles to an overlook where the road descends into a long canyon. I arrived at close to the perfect date to see brilliant colors from autumn cottonwood trees in this valley — although the color peak may have come a few days earlier, I like the combination of colorful trees and the skeletal shapes of partially bare trees. This little valley has a flat bottom, and the trees grew across its width and right up the red rock cliff on the opposite side.


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.
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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.

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.
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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.

Meadow Grass and Frost

Meadow Grass and Frost
Meadow Grass and Frost

Meadow Grass and Frost. Yosemite Valley, California. March 1, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Early morning frost on dormant winter grasses in a Yosemite Valley meadow

On a late-winter morning like this one there could be snow in Yosemite Valley, and even without new snow there is likely to be a bit of it lying around in shady areas. But not this winter. This has been the fourth of a series of very dry years in California, and this year was especially unkind to the Sierra. By the end of the season the snow pack looks to be barely 10% of what it would be in a typical year, and the situation is even more dire since this is only the latest in a string of such years. So it was not surprise to find this meadow snow free, with only a bit of frost suggesting the season.

We arose early on this morning and headed out close to sunrise looking for a meadow with the common winter low fog. We finally found a bit of it in this meadow, though it was dissipating quickly. Before it went away we headed out into the meadow to see what photographic possibilities we could find. I first focused on the frost itself and on some of the winter-dormant brush and bushes around the meadow’s edge. Then I moved back into the main part of the meadow, where these bent over and dried grasses reminded me of the patterns I might find in flowing water.


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, Pasture, Dusk

Geese, Pasture, Dusk
Geese, Pasture, Dusk

Geese, Pasture, Dusk. San Joaquin Valley, California. March 1, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A small group of Ross’s geese feed in a San Joaquin Valley pasture as dusk arrives

As a winter afternoon begins to turn into evening in the San Joaquin Valley on a day of photographing migratory birds, a familiar ritual begins, with variations depending on various factors — the weather, the month, and which birds are about. Not long before it becomes too dark to photograph I begin to seek out a place to be at the end of the day. The ideal locations includes some combination of interesting birds, a compelling sky, and a location that lets me combine the two.

This was a rather quiet evening, and it had the feeling of being late in the winter season. The numbers of birds had diminished quite a bit, even compared to only a couple of weeks earlier. High clouds and haze filled the sky and began to take on the colors of evening. We went to one likely bird spot, found few birds, spotted a fly-in some distance away, and headed over to this spot where a group of Ross’s geese was on the ground, feeding in a pasture. As the last light angled across the birds, I made this photograph of mostly sky, one of the last of the day.


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.

Cottonwood Leaf, Dry Grass, Winter

Cottonwood Leaf, Dry Grass, Winter
Cottonwood Leaf, Dry Grass, Winter

Cottonwood Leaf, Dry Grass, Winter. Yosemite Valley, California. March 1, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A single cottonwood tree lies among dry winter grasses in a Yosemite Valley meadow.

This has been and continues to be a historically dry year in California and especially in the Sierra. More concerning, it is the third such year in a row. In a more typical year — and may those return soon! — the location where I made this photograph would be very wet and perhaps even snow-covered on a day like the one when I visited.

We headed out into the Valley very early on this morning. It was the sort of day when you might hope to find some ground fog in the Valley meadows. We had no luck at the first two meadows we checked, but the third did have a very tenuous and shallow layer of fog, so we stopped. I wandered out into the dry and slightly frosty meadow, and as I did the last of the fog dissipated. As I looked for compositions among the waves of dormant grasses I began to notice that here and there were reddish-brown heart-shaped leaves left over from the autumn cottonwoods.


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.

Yosemite Fall, Winter Mist

Yosemite Fall, Winter Mist
Yosemite Fall, Winter Mist

Yosemite Fall, Winter Mist. Yosemite Valley, California. February 28, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Upper Yosemite Fall briefly appears through the mist on a winter morning

In Yosemite Valley for a few days at the end of February, I had the opportunity to wake up early and wander off into meadows before most of the Valley had awakened. The overnight forecast had included a small chance of some snow flurries and continuing snow in the morning, so I wanted to be “out in it” when and if it arrived. Around dawn I got up and walked out into the meadow near the swinging bridge. There was the tiniest bit of snow from the night before — so little that its faint trace was only to be seen in hollows and protected areas. As I walked through the meadow the sun began to rise and there was a five-minute snow shower as I set up my tripod and camera.

From where I stood I had an open view upwards toward the Valley cliffs, but I couldn’t see much. Heavy mists were floating along the upper reaches near the Valley rim, and for the most part I only was able to see bits and pieces of the formations through momentary windows in the clouds as they drifted by. One moment a ridge line or a pinnacle would briefly appear, only to be swallowed up again in the clouds. From where I stood I knew that Upper Yosemite Fall should be visible, so I pointed my camera that way, hoping for a muted and obscured view of the thing if the clouds cleared enough. And they momentarily thinned enough that I could see the upper rim of the Valley, the cleft where the fall leaps into space, and a section of its downward path behind the scrim of clouds.


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.