Watching it get dark, during the day

After careful consideration and a moderate amount of planning, we were off to Missouri (with our fingers crossed). The 2017 Great American Eclipse was the final destination, with several natural areas on deck in between. Goal #1 was to experience the greatest of celestial events first hand, but inevitably I spent more time looking at it through the viewfinder than I did with my own eyes. 

Concern was thick in the air as a dense overcast spread down from the north. The eclipse had officially begun, but the clouds built until we could no longer see the sun... A patch of blue sky to the SE was enough to pack everything up and move 15km or so closer to the opening... Our solar glasses revealed the sun to be >50% covered! Thankfully the reduction in solar radiation resulted in decreasing cloud cover, and we enjoyed the awe-inspiring show through little more than a hazy humid sky. 

Photos can't do it justice, and neither will my words. It is an event that must be experienced first hand! The temperature went from sweltering, to pleasant... The world went eerily quiet... Darkness came much swifter than I expected, as a sunset-esque glow appeared on the horizon. And as soon as totality was over, birds and bugs emerged as if it were the dawn. 

Shooting Rainbows out... outside....

Wanted to write a quick post & share two recent images - taken from the end of my driveway... Not a typical bird-photography location, but you've got to take your bird+rainbow chances whenever & wherever you get them!

It was an odd shoot, in that I had maybe ~3-5 minutes to get my camera, get outside & find birds - as the light was fading fast. It was a "sunset rainbow" - so vivid colours, but less light to work with... Swallows were numerous and a cooperative Red-winged Blackbird gave me some chances. I'll spare the details, but I wanted to quickly go over some of the things I noted - while sharing the two best images I was able to make. Given the limited chances to shoot with a rainbow, I thought these notes may be of use in the future! (To you, or me, or whoever!)

- Just finding a bird to fly in front is a challenge
- Then you need to get a suitable pose from said-bird
- the intensity of the rainbow may change (for your camera settings) without being readily obvious as you frantically search for birds. Keep an eye on your settings
- the red-end of the spectrum offers more light than the blue end... Not much you can do about it... I ended up exposing for the reds & therefore the blue/magenta end is harder to see
- one side of the arc is darker than the other... so you'll end up with some over-exposed and some under-exposed shots as the bird passees.... Shooting in RAW will help tidy them up & increase your chances of getting a shot
- speaking of RAW, the camera doesn't seem to understand the colour temperature as readily as other situations - so be prepared to tweak when you're back on the computer... 
- the arc of the rainbow changes your perspective (ie it can be horizontal or vertical depending on where your bird passes)... Makes composition a challenge... 

Overall it was a ton of fun! I can't wait to give it a try next time... 

San Diego Trip - La Jolla

La Jolla!!!!!!!! (la hoya - not la joe-la)... Famed bird photography destination  - the place where you can photograph pacific Brown Pelicans with their beautiful red throat-pouches.... It's everything you've already heard from a photography perspective. I went several times, and Pelicans definitely stole the show - although I  never really had any truly spectacular lighting conditions, there were endless opportunities to be creative. More pelicans:

Whenever I needed a Pelican-break, it was easy to switch over to Gulls or displaying Cormorants (99% Brandt's).


Two of my visits had "high" high tides, so I spent some time on the shorebirds scattered around the rocky shoreline. It is my understanding that there are better rock-piper locations in San Diego, but I was quite happy with my images from La Jolla and ended up skipping more established hotspots for these species. (They weren't terribly tame, but a 600mm and a bit of patience did the trick). 

One last element of the site (that I was able to take advantage of) is the age-old adage of "high volumes of people = tame birds" (unless they're hunters). I spent some time along the coastal trail which runs north of the "traditional Pelican spot" and was rewarded with some of my most obliging opportunities with common species in the area. Check it out: 

Final Rundown:

The good: everything

The bad: not much

The ugly: nothing

I wanted to write these posts to highlight some of the "other" locations I visited in San Diego. La Jolla is thee place to go, so I don't have much to add. I highly recommend it!

San Diego Trip - Tijuana Slough NWR

Nearing the end, and I've been saving the best for last! Another breakdown from the San Diego area. This was the first and last place I visited during my trip (not quite, but close enough). My cheap motel was close, and "a huge NWR" nearly the definition of "my favourite places to visit in the USA". 

My understanding of this site is similar to La Jolla shores - a hot tip on a place I'd never really heard of before... Lots of trails, access points & a decent variety of habitats to explore and (hopefully) shoot! It was the "feel good" destination of my trip... I spent my very first afternoon wandering around in search of passerines but the variety of options/habitats meant you could shoot a decent variety of things. Anyways here's a few songbirds!

I was happy to shoot a new subspecies of White-crowned Sparrow, but needless to say I was happier to get the Say's Phoebe! I never quite connected with any of the Audubon's Wabrlers, Bushtits, etc that were wandering about, but some extended time here would surely result in opportunities.

The marsh was also hopping with neat chances - herons, shorebirds, ducks, rails - usually a little too far away or with a slightly strange light angle, but the chances were there (I also blew a great chance with a tame American Kestrel). 

The majority of my time was around the estuary mouth, walking south along the coast. A consideration of tides, wind, light etc. would probably result in wildly different photos and opportunities. Plus - the estuary mouth was also a great birding spot - with some really neat birds out of photo range (Pacific Golden Plovers!). While they stayed far away, I ended up with the expected "Western Willet photo ops". 

Near the end of my adventure, I was lucky to have gotten shots of most target species. One that I really wanted, but didn't have, was Long-billed Curlew. With beautiful afternoon light, I sat near the estuary mouth and photographed some of the larger shorebirds that were coming and going from the mudflats to the north. The odd LBCU was taking part, but I never quite connected with "the shot" I had wanted - but it was still pretty fun! 

A golden glow gave way to pink skies - and there was more shooting to be done!

Then pink skies gave way to a fiery sunset, and I made some of my favourite images of the trip! (and they were of Willets! If you can believe that...) 

Final rundown:

The good: the tone of this blog post (kid in a candy store style, not a proper review) will hopefully convey the fun I had at this site. IMO - it was the best "birding photographer" or "photographer who also wants some great birding" place during my trip. The birds aren't quite as tame as elsewhere, and it's a bit harder to get around to get the shots, but there are lots of species and lots of chances - so eventually you'll connect! I hardly scratched the surface of what could be done here (imo). 

The bad: endless helicopters? Not a big deal, but it would be even more magical without the added noise! :) 

The ugly: not much. It's a long walk to get to the estuary mouth, and depending on season/light/tides, it's possible you'll go long stretches without a big-time shooting chance. 

I'd highly reccomend visiting this area! 



San Diego Trip - La Jolla Shores

Another breakdown! La Jolla Shores! (not to be confused with the famous La Jolla photography hotspot - this is the beach to the north!) and yes, this site is (apparently) a decent place to get some boring/standard American Crow pictures. Thankfully there was a lot more to be had. 

My understanding of the site came from a few hot tips I received during my visit. The beach proper (I parked at La Jolla Shore  Park) was a good place to get some breeding garb Heermann's Gulls on some sweet sandy beaches - and also - if you walked north - past a large pile of rocks - beneath the beautiful cliffs - you could shore some wicked afternoon photo op's with Whimbrel (and other large shorebirds - if you were lucky). 

The hot tips were 100% correct. My first *proper* shoot was in the afternoon, when I decided that I shouldn't leave SD without getting my first good Whimbrel pics. One has to be mindful of the tides, and I was lucky to hit it bang on - and had some really sporadic-yet-incredible encounters with the Whimbrel! 

That last image - although bland - is one of my favourite from the trip. I also fully realized something during this shoot (that I probably already new, but had never fully noticed) - you DO NOT need to try for Western Willet photos... You might as well try for something else, and sooner or later a Willet is going to plop down in front of you in great light (it might even chase away your intended target). 

I did manage a few Heermann's Gull photos, but they weren't really my primary target. I was also a bit sad to not get any photos of the uber-tame Marbled Godwits on the beach proper - so I planned a second (morning) visit. I quickly topped off my HEEG collection: 


And in similar fashion, I topped up on my Mudwit pics! This group was unbelievably tame - and thankfully quite active - so despite a fairly narrow window of shooting (with decent light between fog and then full sun) - I was able to make some fun images. 

And that's about it! Time for the breakdown:

The Good: I wanted Heermann's Gulls, Whimbrel and Marbled Godwits. I had chances out the waa-zoo! 

The Bad: It's a bit of a haul to the "north" beach, so be prepared. But it's totally worth it. Similar to nearly every other site I visited, the diversity was low, but I didn't care! 

The Ugly: The tides! The fog! Nothing here was "ugly" but i need to write something. Be mindful of the light & tides and you'll clean up.