Category Archives: Photographs: Birds

Snow Geese In Flight

Snow Geese In Flight
A small group of snow geese in flight against an overcast winter sky

Snow Geese In Flight. © Copyright 2020 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A small group of snow geese in flight against an overcast winter sky,

Photographing winter birds, especially the larger migratory birds and those that flock together, is a special pleasure during this season. All up and down “my” west” coast birds arrive from very distant locations, many from the arctic, and reveal connections between far flung parts of the planet. I’ve photographed them from Southern California all the way up to Washington’s Skagit Valley.

In one way photographing a set of birds like this is a simple thing: just be there with a camera and be ready to photograph when they appear nearby. But the truth is more complicated. Groups of birds in flight are complicated things. Often they are headed the wrong direction, their positions obstruct one another’s heads, foreground stuff gets in the way, the light of the sky overwhelms the scene, and they move fast! This photograph manages to avoid many of those pitfalls — each bird’s head is visible, their arrangement seems interesting and appealing, and the muted light lets us see details.


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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Birds in Winter Dusk Sky

Birds in Winter Dusk Sky
A small flock of birds flies toward the last dusk light on a winter evening.

Birds in Winter Dusk Sky. © Copyright 2020 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A small flock of birds flies toward the last dusk light on a winter evening.

It is easy for me to imagine some viewers of this photograph asking questions like, “That’s not real, is it?” or “You photoshopped that, right?” I can’t blame them — or you — for wondering, so I’ll share a few things about the photograph: how it was made, how it came to look the way it does, and why the colors are so atypical for bird photography. But first, of course it is “photoshopped,” that that probably doesn’t mean quite what people intend to imply when they say or write it. Everything in the image appeared just as you see it, and aside from some color balancing and a few other adjustments, the colors were actually just this unusual. (Almost no one ever presents a photograph that hasn’t been optimized in post-production. Virtually all photographers regard the post-production process to be as integral to achieving the final image as all of the things that take place before the shutter is released.)

So, what is going on here? First, and probably most obviously, I used a relatively long shutter speed that allowed the bird’s motion to blur. I often do this at the very end of the day when photographing birds — rather than fighting diminishing light with high ISO and big apertures I go the other way and embrace the blur! The fact that there was so little light is another clue to the colors. I made the photograph significantly after sunset when the last colorful clouds appeared, and I tracked the birds until they crossed a particularly colorful patch of sky. But why are the birds so blue? The answer is that they actually were this blue — though if you had been there your visual system would have “corrected” and told you that you were looking at white birds. While the distant sky was wildly colorful, the close side of the birds was lit by darker sky that was quite blue. (There’s a lot more that could be said about the way we see color non-objectively, but that will have to wait for another post.)


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.

Northern Harrier Taking Flight

Northern Harrier Taking Flight
A northern harrier lifts its wings as it begins to take off from a fence post on a foggy morning.

Northern Harrier Taking Flight. © Copyright 2020 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A northern harrier lifts its wings as it begins to take off from a fence post on a foggy morning.

We were slowly passing along a gravel road when we spotted this bird perched on a nearby fencepost. Most often when I approach birds like this one they don’t leave immediately — but many times they seem to get nervous and depart if I stop nearby. With that in mind we moved very slowly as we approached. We stopped some distance away and photographed. Then we moved a bit closer and photographed some more. Finally we stopped immediately parallel to the bird and continued to photograph. Somewhat to my surprise, the bird continued to stick around. (Don’t judge my distance from the bird by the photograph — I used a very long lens and have cropped from the original full image.)

We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to observe this beautiful bird up close for several minutes as it stuck around. It looked this way and that, preened a bit, but continued to stand on the pole. Often in a case like this I keep photographing since I know the bird won’t be there long. This time the darned thing posed long enough that I paused my photography. Finally, with little warning, the harrier took flight. Fortunately I already had it in my viewfinder, so I was able to capture this instant as the wings came up in preparation for 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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Links to Articles, Sales and Licensing, my Sierra Nevada Fall Color book, Contact Information.


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

White Pelican In Flight

White Pelican In Flight
A white pelican in flight on a foggy Central Valley morning

White Pelican In Flight. © Copyright 2019 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A white pelican in flight on a foggy Central Valley morning.

From time to time, as you may have realized if you have followed me for a while, I declare some bird to be my favorite. At various times the “favorite” has been the trumpeter swan, one or another type of egret, ibises, geese (snow? Ross’s?), sandhill cranes (they keep returning to the list), bald eagles, water ouzels, and others I am perhaps forgetting. OK, so I’m fickle! This year I’m starting to think that white pelicans may get the nod this year. For a long time I didn’t know about them. Then I recognized them but didn’t realize how common they are around here. Then I became more fascinated by their stand-offish manner, their lumbering flight, and their prehistoric quality.

As I photograph birds I gradually learn more about their behaviors, at least those that affect how I photograph them. I’ve learned of a few places where I can somewhat reliably find these birds on the ground, typically at a distance that is too great to photograph them well. But I’ve also learned that eventually they take flight, and I’ve figured out a few things about their likely trajectory, thus allowing me to place myself in position for a possible fly-over. That’s exactly what happened on this morning when, after watching them on the ground for some time, they took flight away from me (so as to take off into a slight headwind) and then circled back around to cross almost directly over my position.


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 | FacebookEmail

Links to Articles, Sales and Licensing, my Sierra Nevada Fall Color book, Contact Information.


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