Monday, December 26, 2011

Field Trip: 15 January 2012

By Invitation only!    January 15, 2012

Otters, Birds, Bees, Sea Lions – …oh my
Field Trip along the CA Coast

December 2011 Hummingbirds

Winter along the California coast is clear and beautiful.

Judy and I are offering a field trip along the coast to capture some exciting wildlife:  in search for otters, birds, hummingbirds, monarch butterflies (maybe), bees and sea lions, and whatever the coast has to offer.  We will also practice fast action photography by watching and photographing the wind surfers - if there is wind and waves.  For those of you who have photographed hummingbirds with us in our workshops, this is a perfect opportunity to use the wildlife skills in the field.  This is a day trip with diverse photo opportunities.

This is a field trip and a lot of what we see will depend on the weather conditions - and remember the 'wild' in wildlife which does not guarantee sightings!

We will gather in Moss Landing at 10am across from “The Whole Enchilada” Mexican Restaurant at the harbor to watch the otters and grebes, go to the other side of Elkhorn Slough to see the sea lions.  Then we proceed to Pacific Grove for a special place along the water where the hummingbirds drink nectar from a coastal plant.

Pacific Grove also has a Monarch Sanctuary.  We will stop by there in the warm early afternoon hours when the butterflies are active.

By 4pm, we will head home.

Date:  Sunday, January 15, 2012; 10am – 4pm
Meeting Location:  Moss Landing, Harbor (across from “The Whole Enchilada” Mexican Restaurant); car pooling is recommended, we will help find partners.
What to bring:
  1. DSLR camera with wide to tele lenses (~300mm recommended, handhold); tripod, lots of memory cards and battery power.  If you have a macro lens, please add it to your pack.
  2. Camera Manual,
  3. sack lunch and water, snacks
  4. Layered clothing since the coast can be cold in the morning and balm as the day progresses,
  5. … and patience and willingness to explore, and a sense of adventure.  It will be a fun day with a small group of photographers.  Remember, wildlife is unpredictable!
Tricks and tips for wildlife photography, help with your camera gear, review of histogram and its information to create accurate exposure; help with using aperture or shutter priority, automatic or manual settings, one-on-one help with equipment and photography techniques.

Not included:
Meals and transportation

Cost:  80.-
(payable by check – pl mail to M. Raeder, 2812 Waverley St, Palo Alto, CA 94306)

Please call 650-326-4570 or email to be part of the fun!

Also, since the weather is unpredictable in January, please call a day ahead.  Rain will cancel the field trip with full refund.

Blazing Skies

How can Christmas be celebrated more than being out in nature along the fabulous California Coast!

Winter on the coast is a great time with clear skies and crisp air.  After meandering south to Big Sur stopping for otters and hummingbirds and monarch butterflies along the way, my friend Judy with her dog Anna and I made our last stop at Big Sur Beach

The coastline with massive rocks in the water offers an arch and in the wintertime, sunlight filters through just when the sun sets over the ocean.  So we set up our tripods with Anna faithfully at Judy’s feet and waited.

Photography has taught me patience and today, we were richly rewarded!

Til next time, go out and enjoy nature!

:  Join me for the next great photo opportunity 

to "Seeing the Elephants" in March 2-4, 2012!  (a few spaces still available!)

To see all workshops and photo travel opportunities 
offered by M. Raeder - Photography, please click here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Holidays

As this year nears its end, I want to thank you for staying with me, for your friendship, for encouraging me to share my stories and my images, for cheering me on and for enjoying with me the natural beauty all around near and far.   

I look forward to a new year full of discovery and learning, to more travel adventures as I follow my passion.  I hope you will join me along the way for some of the photo adventures.

To a Great New Year 2012!

There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth…
not going all the way, and not starting. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Incredible Rescue

December 10, 2011

Some fishing stories are a little hard to believe, but this guy has pictures to prove his story... Tom Satre told the Sitka Gazette that he was out with a charter group on his 62-foot fishing vessel when four juvenile black-tailed deer swam directly toward his boat. "Once the deer reached the boat, the four began to circle the boat, looking directly at us. We could tell right away that the young bucks were distressed. I opened up my back gate and we helped the typically skittish and absolutely wild animals onto the boat. In all my years fishing, I've never seen anything quite like it! 

“Once on-board, they collapsed with exhaustion, shivering. We headed for Taku Harbor. Once we reached the dock, the first buck that we had been pulled from the water hopped onto the dock, looked back as if to say 'thank you' and disappeared into the forest.” After a bit of prodding and assistance, two more followed, but the smallest deer needed a little more help (that’s him in the wheelbarrow). My daughter, Anna, and son, Tim, helped the last buck to its feet. We didn't know how long they had been in the icy waters or if there had been others who did not survive. 

My daughter later told me that the experience was something that she would never forget, and I suspect the deer felt the same way as well!"

You can read about it in the Alaska Quest Charter Newsletter [}

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Lunar Eclipse

10 Dec 2011: Lunar Eclipse  -  observed in the high country of Yosemite National Park

On a frosty morning, my friend Lynda and I left the warm room at the Yosemite Lodge at 3am to drive to the high country to observe the lunar eclipse.  The web had provided us with a ton of useful materials, specifically the science site and so we knew that the eclipse would start shortly after 4am and the moon would totally be in Earth shadow around 6am just before setting behind the horizon.  We had scouted a place along highway 41 where we were not surrounded by mountains.  We planned to use the Interval Timer Shooting for a series of images and had studied up on it last evening - I'll describe this in another blog.  It is a great way to photograph a series of images in fixed time intervals.  When we arrived at our location, the full moon illuminated the landscape and we set up our tripods and cameras to capture the event starting at 4am until the moon set behind the horizon at 6:30a.  We took a bracketed image every 10 minutes (which proved to be a too long an interval) and used a wide angle lens to capture the whole path of the moon.  I also took images with a tele lens (300mm) and the above image was taken when the moon was 2/3 eclipsed and in the shadow of Earth.

I will talk more about the techniques and will have more images on a future blog.  I hope some of you had a chance to go out and observed a very special moon event.  For me it was the first time that I saw the moon eclipse and it was great to see the whole event -- even though by the end my hands and feet were quite frozen but my many layers of down had otherwise kept me warm.  The nights here are below freezing and the wind was blowing over the high country of the Sierra.

As today is full moon, go out and enjoy the moon tonight.

Til next time, 

New:  Join me for the next great photo opportunity 
to "See the Elephants" in March 2-4, 2012!
To see all workshops and photo travel opportunities 
offered by M. Raeder - Photography, please click here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Travel TidBits: Desert Sunrise

Sunrise over the Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India

After experiencing the sunset in the Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India, we decided to go back the next morning for an early sunrise.  We were staying at a tented camp in Osian on the Western end of Rajasthan, a very rural area with small villages dotted along the road.  This area is close to the Pakistani border.  Although this is a desert that heavily depends on the monsoon rains once a year, it is also known as a ‘green desert’ due to the abundance of farmland and animal husbandry.  If not cultivated the desert supports typical low shrubs and acacia trees favored by the camels as it is favored by giraffes in Africa.  Between the desert landscape and cultivated fields are sand dunes raising up 100-150 feet from the flats.  

We had ridden up to such a sand dune on our camels the evening before and then marveled at the view towards wide horizon all around.

The next morning by 5:30am, we were up and getting ready to jump into the 4-wheel jeep to meet the sunrise on one of the sand dunes.  Our driver, a young Rajasthani, took us half-way up and then it was on us to climb the remainder in the darkness.

We each selected a favorite spot and with my camera on the tripod, I waited for the sun to crest over the far horizon.

It is amazing to see how the camels purse their lips to just take the leaves without poking themselves on the heavy and pointed thorns!  The Acacia leaves must taste very good since the camel drivers always tried to lead the animals far from these trees lest they were ready to stop and see them munching away.

As the sun rose and the light came up, the red soil of the desert dotted with the yellow desert blooms offered another beautiful view towards the West.

Now ready for breakfast, we joint our driver and jeep at the bottom of the sand dune for the ride back to camp.  Later we would come back a village not far from the sand dunes for a great opportunity to observe the village life – but that is another story for next time.

Til then,

New:  Join me for the next great photo opportunity 
to "See the Elephants" in March 2-4, 2012!
To see all workshops and photo travel opportunities 
offered by M. Raeder - Photography, please click here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Travel TidBits: Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese

... and then I saw them!

After traveling to far away places, I was eager to get back to wildlife photography and exploring what our local environment had to offer.  Winter is the time for migrating birds and California offers some stunning photo opps since the West Pacific Flyway passes through, and California has restored important wetlands that attract sand hill cranes and snow geese as they travel from the arctic to their southern winter places.

I took off armed with my long lens (Nikon 200-400mm) and tripod, and on a grey day headed for Lodi in the Central Valley.  This being Black Friday after Thanksgiving and with everyone focusing on shopping, the ~100 miles drive was easy.  Lodi is probably more known for its budding vineyards than the sandhill cranes.  Before going out to the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve, I checked out the West Landing campground right on the Delta since I had packed my car to be self sufficient.

Years ago I had been in the Delta Region for the sandhill cranes and marveled at their grace.  Migratory subspecies of sandhill cranes breed in the Northern U.S., Canada, Alaska, and Siberia.  Each winter they undertake long southern journeys to wintering grounds in Florida, Texas, Utah, Mexico, and CaliforniaWhat attracts them to our area are the harvested grain fields that provide enough ‘spilled’ grain to provide winter feeding as well as the flooded fields that serve as protection from predators.  They are opportunistic eaters that enjoy plants, grains, mice, snakes, insects, or worms.  The season begins with the arrival of the sandhill cranes into the Delta and Central Valley in about late September, where they will spend the fall and winter months.  During the day they forage in the fields but at sunset they descent by the hundreds onto the flooded fields since the islands in the shallow water hinder foxes and coyotes from predating during the night.

Arriving on Woodbridge road, I spotted several groups of cranes in a field not far from the road.  They were peacefully feeding, and occasionally their call sounded over the valley.  Cranes ‘dance’, run, leap high in the air and otherwise cavort around—not only during mating but all year long.  During mating, pairs vocalize in a behavior known as "unison calling." They throw their heads back and unleash a passionate duet—an extended litany of coordinated song.

At sunset I proceeded to the wetlands where a small group of people has assembled to watch the nightly show:  Sunset was not as colorful as I had hoped for but as the light fell, I first heard them – their distinctive call announcing their arrival.  The sky was full of birds descending onto the wet lands.  What a spectable!  

I stayed well beyond into the evening until it was dark – well beyond the ability of my camera to capture the beautiful grace as the cranes landed and hopped a bit to find a place for the night.  There was lots of greeting among the birds – a community that had formed in the preceding weeks where everyone was welcomed.  And that allowed us to observe nature in action.

The cranes arrived at the last light.

The sandhill cranes settled on the protected islands in the shallow water 
where coyotes and fox wouldn't reach them during the night.

Fog covered the central valley the next morning as I emerged outside.  

A quick McDonalds coffee wakened me – I had left the Starbucks country some miles ago! – and I was off driving north in search for snow geese.  One benefit of a McDonalds McCafe in the morning is that the refills all along the way are free – I discovered this years ago when on an overland trip – you just stop at the next McDonalds and voila a fresh cup of coffee awaits you! 

Two hours later I stopped in Williams, a very small central Valley farm town with a sign indicating that about ~5000 people live and till here.  Driving through town in search of a place to have breakfast I discovered that Williams is a food ‘desert’.  A Burger Kind and a McDonalds were the only choices besides El Torrito, a small Mexican market.  So, McDonalds it was with a fresh cup of coffee.

Leaving the highway heading for Colusa National Wildlife Reserve (NRW) I was in search of the snow geese over-wintering here in the wetlands.  This reserve offers a car loop – no foot traffic allowed – an advantage for observing the birds and wildlife from car window.  As I later learned outside the reserve, birds can be very shy and elusive since they have learned that man are hunters.  

Approaching the NRW, I had heard gun shots and seen hunters with dogs in the fields (left) leading up to the Colusa NRW.  No wonder the birds are shy of man.

It was early enough that mine was the only car slowly driving the loop.  The early fog had lifted and the sun tried to peak through the clouds.  The dew from the night still clung to the grasses.

On the wetlands, American coots and lots of ducks enjoyed the morning.  Raptors were gliding overhead.  I saw lots of red tail hawks and a kestrel but even from the car window it was difficult to ‘catch’ them.  Blue herons and white egrets fished in the shallow waters.  But the snow geese were nowhere to be seen.

I continued to the small town of Colusa.  What I noticed is that all the small towns that I passed through seemed to be struggling.  Lots of boarded storefronts, lots of signs for lease, closed coffee shops, motels and restaurants.  Larger towns were dominated by strip malls and the ‘downtown’ character seemed to be lost.  From the town of Colusa I spoke to my friend Judy who had been here several times telling her of the absence of the snow geese.  She felt it was too early in the winter season.  So I continued east from Colusa to Yuba City since I had never roamed in this area. 

And then I saw them:  in a wetland next to the highway, hundreds and hundreds of white snow geese. 

Turning into a muddy farm road, I had to get closer to them.  Armed with my big lens on the tripod, my shoes sinking more and more into the mug under foot, I approached along the ponds.  All of the sudden amidst lots of bird calls it appeared the pond was awash in clouds of ascending birds.  Wave after wave they flew up only to settle back at the far end of the wetland. 

Was my solitary figure walking along the wetland frightening them?  We were outside the protected wildlife reserve and I can only surmise that lots of hunting is going on in these wetlands.  It is so sad.  I observed a pair of geese that had not flown away only to discover that one of them had a broken wing and as much as it tried to get airborne it could not. The wing would just not stretch and just flop uselessly.  Its mate – lots of birds mate for life – was first coming back through the water calling its mate, then flying overhead calling and calling.  Will the one with the broken wind survive the night?  I’ll never know.

I walked along the wetland and stationed myself under a tree – hoping for camouflage – and waited.  Earlier, these birds were happily feeding at this side of the wetland, why not come back.  An hour passed and the birds were slowly, very slowly swimming towards the middle of the wetlands but by no means closer to me.  So what is a photographer to do?  I shouldered my tripod and slowly walked towards the white mass of birds covering the water.  I had only walked maybe 100m when I heard the familiar sounds and clapping of wings – they again receded to the far end of the wetland in large flocks overhead.  

So here I had my answer:  they did not have anything to do with me – hunter, gun or not – they did not differentiate me as a friendly photographer.   So I extracted myself out of the mug, and marched back to my car about a mile away happy that I had been able to observe these beautiful white birds with their black wingtips, their graceful flight and characteristic songs.  Sadly, they were not calling out for me but rather saying ‘stay away from these humans”.  Well, survival depends on learning and these birds had learned well.  It’s probably incorporated into their DNA.  As I drove on I was still happy that the snow geese had made it back to the Central Valley and found a place to winter, to feed, and rest for their long flight back north in the spring.

Til next time,

To see all workshops and photo travel opportunities 
offered by M. Raeder - Photography, please click here.
Join me for the next great outing to photograph the elephant seals and 
their newborn pups in January 2012!