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