Monday, July 11, 2016

Bears in Sequoia NP

Searching for Black Bears in the Sequoia National Park!

The last week, I had the chance to join Photographer Brent Paull ( at the Sequoia National Park in search for black bears.  Brent knows the park very well and has photographed bears in the park many times.  So I had high hopes to see and capture bears, maybe even a sow with cubs.  We set out early in the morning with first light and made the 1-hour track into the park on Generals Highway – including 50 switchbacks and an impressive elevation gain - up to the Crescent Meadow area.  Setting out with camera, long lenses and tripod, we started hiking in this lovely area dotted with green meadows.  Although the California hills are pretty golden with dried grassland at this time of the year, it was astounding to find these meadows full of lush grass and colorful spring flowers, a perfect setting for bears searching for food.  I wondered how these meadows stay green even in the summer’s heat?   

                 Early Morning under the giants (Sequoia Trees)

Scanning the landscape, the granite rocks form ‘bowls’ surrounded by higher ridge, and when the winter’s snow melts the water collects in the ‘bowls’.  Over the years sufficient sediments collected to give enough ground for the meadows to establish.  With no outlets for the water other than evaporation, these areas stay moist all summer long providing great areas for grass, flowers and berry bushes to flourish.  It’s not only the black bears who find juicy grass in the spring, pine cones in the summer and berries in the early fall to satisfy their hunger, but these meadows are also great for seeing marmots, chipmunks and other small critters, deer as well as a rich bird life.  In some of the meadows, small ponds form at the lowest points offering bears who love to swim a place to cool off in the summer’s heat.

Purple flower at the edge of the small pond

Hiking in the higher elevations of the park, these meadows can be reached by hiking over the ridges through the open pine and sequoia forest. 
During my 2 days in the park, we visited 4 different meadows, one prettier than the next.  Starting out early at sunrise, we were the first day hikers and were surrounded by quiet only broken by bird calls and the sound of crunching sticks and needles under our boots.
Reaching the second meadow on the first day, Brent stopped and in a hushed voice pointed to a bear in the meadow.  With the grass quite high and the bear in quite some distance, only its head and ears reaching over the meadow’s green.  We watched for a while how his head dipped up and down in a peaceful rhythm, eventually disappearing into the forest.  I love being out in nature, being able and privileged to witness wildlife away from the hustle and buzzle of daily life.

At the edge of a meadows, the roots of fallen trees make perfect dens and lookouts for marmots.  This young marmot enjoyed the warmth of the early sunshine eyeing us with little interest.

Very well camouflaged, a doe rested in the root base of an enormous sequoia tree.

Around another bend we found a cinnamon black bear deep in the grassy meadow much closer to where we were hiking at the forest edge.

She looked at us and quickly moved on into the deeper meadow ….

Leopard Lillly

Visitor searching for nectar in the little purple flowers

The next day, again setting out at sunrise, another bear crossed our path, looked up and - unfortunately for us - very quickly disappeared into to the forest.

But birds, marmots and flowers offered rich photo opportunities:

Western Tanager in breeding colors (orange head colors)

Adult marmot on the lookout

Marmot warming in the morning sunshine

Tiny but beautiful - flower on the forest floor

Valley and Ridges - structures of the pine tree bark

Afternoon in the Meadows and Forest

The days at the Sequoia National Park proved again how fortunate I am living in California, a state with so much natural beauty from the ocean to the mountains to the desert, such a diverse natural landscape rich in flora and fauna – a photographer’s paradise.

I hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into just one corner of our lovely state.

Til next time,

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

State of North American Birds

Great Horned Owl

A new report reveals that of the 1154 native bird species that occur in continental North America, one third require urgent conservation action. This report was published on the 100th anniversary of the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds between the US and Canada, and it is the first assessment of its kind showing an alarming state of North American migratory birds.

New report shows alarming state of North-American birds

Since the seventies, millions of North American birds have disappeared and a third of species are now of high regional conservation concern, a new report reveals.

Experts agree that their long-term conservation will only be achieved by building transnational partnerships and involving local communities in citizen science projects.

Migratory birds connect the North American continent as millions of birds move across the US, Canada and Mexico every year. An estimated 350 North American bird species share their distribution across more than 2 countries, underlining the importance of coordinated action to protect them.

The greater sage grouse faces pressure from fragmented habitat resulting from 
development across the West. (Photo by Stephen Ting)

Until now, the vulnerability score of over a thousand native North-American bird species was incomplete. ‘”The State of North America’s Birds’’ fills the gaps. Published on the 100th anniversary of the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds between the US and Canada, it is the first assessment of its kind.

The report reveals that of the 1154 native bird species that occur in continental North America, one third require urgent conservation action. The species in need of most urgent action are those that depend on oceans and tropical forests.

Specifically, the most regionally endangered group are seabirds – more than half of them are of high conservation concern and affected by a mix of pollution, overfishing, impacts from energy extraction, predation by invasive species in islands and climate change. The seabirds with the highest concern score are the Black-capped Petrel Pterodroma hasitata, Black Petrel Procellaria parkinsoni and Townsend’s Shearwater Puffinus auricularis.

The situation is not much better for tropical birds. Canada’s migratory songbirds winter in Mexico’s tropical forests and stopover in the US, which is why the impact of deforestation in Mexico has such a huge impact throughout the continent (see Photo 2). Other tropical birds with high concern scores are Azure-rumped Tanager Tangara cabanisi, Bearded Wood-Partridge Dendrortyx barbatus and Belted Flycatcher Xenotriccus callizonus.

Magnolia Warblers rely on an area of tropical forest in Mexico for the winter. 
The map is based on complex computer models, making use of millions of Citizen Science 
records contributed to eBird. Infographic by BSC Andrew Couturier

This unprecedented continent-wide analysis also reveals how grassland birds are facing some of the steepest population regional declines of any group because of changes in land use.

In recent years the vast prairies of North America have mostly been turned into agricultural land or developed. Only a few islands of original land remain, making it very difficult for wildlife to survive.
Some of the grassland species with the highest concern score include Sierra Madre Sparrow Xenospiza baileyi, Worthen’s Sparrow Spizella wortheni and Lesser Prairie-chicken Tympanuchus pallidicinctus.

Bird Studies Canada (BSC) President Steven Price explains some of the outcomes of the study in this interview.
“Our research and conservation work is supported by countless generous bird lovers. This report reflects the contributions of tens of thousands of dedicated volunteer Citizen Scientists” said BSC President Steven Price.

The report was put together by the North American Conservation Initiative and was built using data collected by volunteers and citizen scientists across the continent.

Despite the alarming findings, the report demonstrates how the power of many can help us understand conservation needs and drive positive change. The results are a call to action to public and private sectors to come together to save migratory birds.

Three BirdLife Partners, Bird Studies Canada, Nature Canada and the Audubon Society, were among the North American Bird Conservation Initiative partners who collaborated on the new report. View the report online at

 Prairie Falcon

Cactus Wren

Northern Pintail

Til Next Time,

Friday, February 5, 2016


Field Observation of a Wild Bobcat

Bobcat with Quail in a Dead Tree

In January, I spent 2 gorgeous days in and around Pinnacles National Park in search of bobcats.  For this exploration, I had signed up with Photographer Brent Paull [], who knows the area very well and has had many great encounters with bobcats and other wildlife that he shares on his website. 

I met up with Brent early in the morning of the first day and not only did we have 8 bobcat encounters on the first day and 3 more on the second, Brent did all the driving in his very comfortable truck.  Thank you, Brent!

Our destination was Pinnacles National Park in San Benito County but we also drove wonderful small country roads in the back country where due to the plentiful rain this winter the hills were lush green with the early mustard just about to bloom.  Besides the wildlife, it is a great area to photograph landscape with old barns and gnarly black oak trees – but that was not the focus of our exploration.

In my story today, I want to describe our first encounter with a bobcat that depicted true wildlife field observation of nature in action.  Due to the distance to the bobcat, this was not the greatest photo opportunity but I loved every minute of observing these shy and elusive cats in their natural habitat, doing what they do every day:  scouting their territory and hunting for their next meal.  As I saw later, the bobcat was successfully hunting for a quail.

I am showing the images as they were taken, with the bobcat in a distance – small even with a long tele lens.  The images were taken with a Nikon D750, Nikon 200-500mm lens, using the car as a blind and photographing out of the window.
We spotted a bobcat in a distance in a shrubbery horse pasture as it moved along an unpaved country road.

All of a sudden the cat’s interested became focused:

… and in a blink of an eye it traversed the road and pounced on something in the shrubbery.

Next moment it ran towards the riparian area and climbed up a tree – closer to the road from where we were observing.

Moments later, a coyote emerged from the thicket under the tree.  It appeared it was the presence of the coyote that forced the cat up the tree to protect his kill.  Knowing that he couldn’t reach the bobcat with the quail, the coyote trotted away - only dreaming of his easy breakfast [I know, I know, this a bit of anthropomorphing  -:)].

Coyote, looking back to where he lost the bobcat in the Tree

In the meantime up in the tree, the branch with the bobcat began to crackle and it broke while the cat jumped and scrambled further up the branches with its prey securely in his mouth.

With the coyote further away, turning around with all these dry branches was fascinating to observe as the bobcat appeared again facing us on his way down all the while not letting go of his precious prey.

 Bobcat in the Tree holding on to its Prey, a Quail

Jumping down at last and disappearing into the brushes, we lost track of him.  There he finally was able to enjoy his morning meal.

During the day and next, we had numerous other encounters with bobcats but none was as exciting as this one as it gave me a glimpse into the life of the bobcat and its interactions with a coyote, as the 2 wild animal species path crossed. 

During the remainder of the 2 days, we were fortunate to encounter 10 more bobcats, observed a family of coyotes [2 adults, male and female, and a youngster] the next day in the same horse pasture roaming and playing, as well as captured [photographically speaking] numerous raptors, quails, woodpeckers and other birds.

As I reflect on this trip, I am happy to have relatively easy access to the wide-open landscape and nature here in California that allows me to observe and capture beautiful wildlife.
It makes my heart sing.

Til next time,

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Point Bonita Lighthouse

Point Bonita Lighthouse – After the Rain Stopped

The wind was blowing hard and it had rained on and off – but the hourly weather forecast indicated a mostly dry afternoon later on, so I ventured out north to explore a not so well known lighthouse on the Western tip of San Francisco Bay.  On my way to Marine County, I had the windshield wipers going intermittently, the wind was hauling when crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and questioned myself whether my plans were foolish?  But nothing ventured, nothing gained – and so I drove on.  As I was parking at Battery Alexander in the Golden Gate National Recreation area close to Point Bonita, another squall came through and I quickly went back into the car to stay dry.  After the rain stopped and bundled up in a heavy rain jacket and wool hat against the wind, I grabbed my camera bag and tripod and ventured out.

Point Bonita is a narrow promontory on the western tip of the Marine Headlands, and is part of the largest urban national park in the United States, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.  A secret jewel of the Bay Area, the Point Bonita Lighthouse, built in 1855, was the third lighthouse built on the West Coast and help shepherd ships through the treacherous Golden Gate straights.  The waters are treacherous and many ships did not survive the stormy waters.  The small museum at the lighthouse shows a map of around 15 that went down in the 19th century.

Today, the lighthouse is still active and is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.  The National Park Service provides access to visitors.  Point Bonita Lighthouse is reached by a half mile trail that is very steep in parts and leads through a tunnel and over a bridge to gain access to the small lighthouse, built on a very narrow rocky outcrop. 

Most impressively, the gale winds were whipping up the ocean, forcing me to hold on to, and steady my tripod as I was capturing the boiling waves below.  

As photographer I know that the time after a storm can be rewarding with beautiful cloud formations in the sky.  And I was not disappointed as the sky varied form minute to minute with occasional sun peaking through.  

I often say, there is no bad weather when properly prepared.  My multi-layers kept me warm and dry, and the weather provided beautiful photos that I am sharing with all of you here.

The Lighthouse Promontory breaking the Waves

View to the Northern Coast

Boiling Sea

Bridge to the Lighthouse

More Rain to the North

One last look at the lighthouse with the the Cliff House and Seal Rock on the far side of the San Francisco channel int he mist.

My further exploration of some of the World War II structures will be the topic of my next story. This last image of the lighthouse was captured from Battery Alexander, one of the many batteries sitting high on the Marine Headland, built for the protection of the entry of San Francisco Bay.

For now,
and til next time,

Friday, January 8, 2016


Red-Tail Hawks

From Arctic tundra to South American wetlands - passing through California

Every autumn and winter, California’s Central Valley is visited by a myriad of birds that migrate along the Pacific Flyway.

The Pacific Flyway

The birds of the Pacific Flyway depend on a diverse chain of habitats, from Arctic tundra and northwestern rain forest to tropical beaches and mangroves.  Each year at least a billion birds are on the move along the Pacific Flyway, but today these birds are only a fraction of those that used the flyway a century ago.  Habitat loss, water shortages, diminishing food sources, and climate change all threaten the birds of the Pacific Flyway.

Along the Pacific Flyway, there are many key rest stops where birds of many species gather, sometimes in the millions, to feed and regain their strength before continuing.  Some species may remain in these rest stops for the entire season, but most stay a few days before moving on.
The Sacramento Valley and Central Valley represent the single most important wintering area for these waterfowl along the Pacific Flyway.  The San Luis National Wildlife Refuge Complex  and the .  Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex  consist of several wildlife refuges in the northern Central Valley of California.  In addition, the greater Bay Area provides further habitat for winter migratory birds at the Suisun Marsh, next to the exit of the inverted Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, has protected portions, the San Francisco Bay, protected estuaries and mountain open space preserves, and the Coyote Valley, a semi-developed section of the Santa Clara Valley with one of the highest recorded bird species richness and nesting densities in the nation.

In the Central Valley, beyond the National Refuges private landowners compliment the efforts by providing winter rice decomposition-waterfowl-habitat by flooding the harvested rice fields with water providing wildlife enhancement during the time of year when the fields are not being worked.
But not only the migratory birds rely on this region, the wildlife refuges also offers habitat to waterfowl, raptors, shorebirds year-round.

During the last years, I have visited some of the Wildlife Refuges in the winter time and enjoyed observing and listening to the sounds of nature.

On a recent visit to the Merced Wildlife Refuge arriving with flooded fields full of waterfowl just after sunrise, I had a fantastic encounter with a family of hawks gathered for ‘breakfast’.  I noticed 3-4 hawks in a clump of trees.  As I looked around, 4-5 more were on the ground surrounding one raptor preying on an American Coots which must have been caught just moments before.  Feathers flying, the raptor was starting his meal with 3-4 other hawks and juveniles sitting nearby waiting their turn.  With so many raptors around, anyone of them had only several minutes to eat his or her fill, followed by being chased off the prey by another.  There was fierce interactions as each bird wanted to have a part of the kill.  The juveniles seem to hang back not strong enough yet to get into the middle action.  As the feeding went on, bits and pieces became available for the juveniles who grabbed the food eagerly, and there seemed to be ample food for the juveniles after the adults had satisfied their hunger. 

[Should the video link not work, please click on the  YouTube link:]

As I observed, car served as the blind so to not disturb the wildlife.  It allowed me to photograph out of the window using the window frame as my tripod.  The early hours with an overcast sky were rather dark posing a challenge for photography.  I used my Nikon D750 with a Nikon 200-500mm lens at high ISO with or without a 1.4 teleconverter.

As I watched, I found it amazing and had never seen this before: As the hawks kicked each other off the prey, the one currently on the prey often was pushed on its back with talons showing.and wings wide open as to soften the fall.  They would quickly get back on their feet either hopping away or taking off.

I had come to the wildlife refuge in search of over-wintering snow geese, but in nature one never knows what surprises await.  At this particular refuge, there were no snow geese but I was rewarded with an amazing nature show which I am happy to share with you.

Happy New Year! ... and may 2016 be a successful year for you with laughter, happiness and health!

2016 Til next time