Time flys…

Well, it is probably time to post an update. The last post was made just before I got sick. I’ve been feeling better for a while now and I’ve been taking pictures, so I probably should have posted something sooner, but…

Anyway, I recently made a road trip up to eastern Oregon, I am heading up there again in a couple of weeks for the solar eclipse and wanted to an idea of what I am going to encounter then. It was a good trip, with three new bird species and lots of shots of basalt flows. Here is a sampling:

Lazuli Bunting
Lazuli Bunting, a new bird for me.

American Dipper
American Dipper, the first one I have seen in about 10 years.

Columnar Basalts
Columnar basalts

Douglas Squirell
Douglas Squirrel

WhaleFest Photos

Two of my photos were selected for an exhibit at the Museum of Monterey from November 15 to December 31, 2014. The photos will be raffled off on January 25, 2015 during WhaleFest 2015, with the proceeds benefiting both the Museum and WhaleFest.

The two photos are a couple of my recent favorites. The first is a harbor sea and pup in a distinctly “hallmark” moment.

Harbor Seals
Harbor Seal and Pup, Point Lobos State Reserve – April 2010

The second photo is from last year when some anchovies got trapped at Monastery Beach. Gulls, cormorants and pelicans descended in droves. The shot has 4 pelicans at various stages of their dives.

Pelicans diving
Pelicans diving, Carmel River State Beach – October 2013

So if your in the area in from Thanksgiving through December, check out the WhaleFest exhibit.

Recent additions

So far 2014 has been a good year for me in birding and shooting birds at Point Lobos. I have spotted four new species for me and been able to photo a number of rare visitors. You can see some of these on the birds page.

The primary reason for this success is persistence. There is a strong correlation to the number of bird species I spot in the Reserve to the number of hours I spend in the Reserve, go figure.

Harlequin Duck
Male Harlequin Duck, Point Lobos State Reserve – 2014

The good fortunes started in February when I arrived at the Reserve early and spotted two male Harlequin Ducks at Weston Beach. I had seen a female Harlequin in the past, but the males were definitely a treat.

Summer Tanager
Summer Tanager, Point Lobos State Reserve – 2014

And then the other day, I spotted a young male Summer Tanager, a new bird for me. Of course I didn’t have my camera with me and attempts to shoot it with my iPhone were less than successful (15 shots and only 1 with the bird in it). So I hoofed it back to the truck, then returned hoping that the bird hadn’t moved on.

The bird was still there, but stayed down in the brush. Finally after about 20 minutes of walking back and forth to spot it, it flew up on to a branch in plain view. Persistence is a good thing.

Condors of the Columbia

Condors of the Columbia is as a new exhibit that is scheduled to open at the Oregon Zoo in Portland this spring. The Oregon Zoo is one of three zoos and a wildlife center that is raising California Condors for release in the wild. Starting with six breeding pairs in 2003, the zoo currently has 40 to 50 birds and has released 20 birds into the wild.

The new exhibit will provide a large aviary for unreleasable Condors along with information about Condors and the recovery program. One of the photos in the new exhibit is one that I took last year in Garapata State Park south of Carmel, California. It is of Condor #231 “Wild 1” feeding on a road-kill deer.

California Condor

Condor #231 was hatched in the Los Angeles Zoo in 2000 and was released along the Big Sur coast in 2001. She was the first Condor to lay a fertile egg and raise the chick (#477) on the Big Sur coast.

You can find the story on the trip here. I am pleased that my photo will help raise awareness of the Condor recovery program and the Oregon Zoo’s active participation in it.

Top shots in 2013

For some reason, I don’t think that 2013 was a particularly good year. It seems like I only had a few good days of shooting and the rest were pedestrian. That’s not really how you want to introduce a post like this. But since this is an exercise that I have done the last few years, I feel the need to continue it, you know tradition, habit, addiction…

As always these are in no particular order and my top ten goes to eleven.

Black Oystercatcher

I should probably do a full post on oystercatchers, they have provided wonderful shots over the years.

Orca in Monterey Bay

I think that this one is going to slip in as number 11. I’m not entirely wild about the shot, but it is my best shot of wild Orca.

Checkerspot butterfly

Continuing my tradition of getting nice shots containing invasive plants, a Checkerspot butterfly on Poison hemlock.


The Osprey recently returned to the Reserve.

Rock and water

You kind of had to figure that this one might show up. Waves exploding on rocks, I can never get too much of that.

Townsend's Warbler

A Townsend’s Warbler in flight with a termite.

Pelicans diving

Just a few Brown Pelicans feeding at Monastery Beach.


Anthopleura elegantissima in Whalers Cove.

Great Horned Owl

When an owl calls out to you, you have to stop and find him.

Golden waves

Waves on Gibson Beach, taking advantage of smoke from the Big Sur Blaze.

Nesting night herons

Nesting Black-crowned Night Herons.

Two new birds

Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Pacific-slope Flycatcher

I recently got shots of two “new” birds. I say that because I have probably seen them before, but just never taken the the time to ID them. There are lots of little grayish-brown birds that reside in this group. But as I try to learn more of the birds around Point Lobos, I find that I need to spend some extra time to get these IDs.

So I present the Pacific-slope Flycatcher, a bird that I list as heard more than seen. And true to that listing, I hear them all the time in the Reserve, but have only seen them twice. Fortunately a pair has been nesting near the Reserve entrance and allowed me to get this shot.

 Western Wood-Pewee
Western Wood-Pewee

The second bird was a bit harder to ID because it was flitting about in the top of a big sycamore tree. It was showing obvious flycatcher behavior, so managed to stay at the limits of my auto-focus and move every time the focus got close. I took over 50 shots and and spent 20 minutes on this one bird.

And after all of that, I still didn’t have a no-doubt-about-it shot. So I went through all of my shots, what I could remember of the call, the likely suspects and came up with a Western Wood-Pewee.

A new bird

Lawrence's Goldfinch

Hi, my name is Tom and I am a birder.

I am not the crazy, over-the-top birder that you might have seen in movies or on TV. But when there is an opportunity to see a bird that I haven’t seen or photographed before, I get a little bit itchy.

When the report came in a week ago that a Lawrence’s Goldfinch was spotted in the Reserve, I thought “Great, that is wonderful that you saw this bird, my chance of seeing it is nil”. Before that moment I had never heard of a Lawrence’s Goldfinch. I knew the American and Lesser Goldfinch and had seen both in the Reserve, but this was a new one for me. I figured it was a migrant and would be on its way shortly, and far too shortly for me drag the camera out.

Then came a second report and a third. Now the itch is strong, time to scratch. I go out to see what I can see. House finches and American Goldfinches, no Lawrence’s. Just what I suspected, it was here and moved on. Then a fourth report, with photos. Ok, It is a mission now and I will both spot the bird and get a photo.

Friday morning, I went out to Granite Point and circled the point three times. The first circle spotted and confirmed the goldfinch was there, The second circle grabbed a shot, the third circle nailed the shot.

So now I have a new bird on my life list and a new photo in my Monterey Birds set.

Itch scratched.

Condor feeding

California Condor

Over the last few years, I have had good luck spotting and shooting California Condors along the Big Sur coast. Given that there are less than 200 California Condors in the wild and less than 20 along the Big Sur coast, my luck has been extremely good. So I wasn’t surprised when it appeared that my luck had run out. We took a drive down to Pfeifer Burns State Park, hoping to see condors along the way. When we didn’t see any there, I was hoping to spot some soaring above the park. Again not much luck.

I did spot a couple soaring way up at the top of the canyon, but I couldn’t confirm that they were condors. And the images certainly weren’t anything to write about.

But on the trip home, as we past Soberanes Canyon in Garapata State Park, I got a glimpse of a big bird with a bright yellow tag. “That was a condor!”

Our driver asked me if she should turn around, “Oh yes!” We went back and saw the condor waiting on a fence post above a road kill deer. Another u-turn and we parked on the opposite side of the road about 50 ft from the condor.

 After a few minutes she hopped off the fence and went over to feed on the deer.

California Condor

California Condor

I think my luck is still holding.

Two birds, two waves, and a cat

That’s my submission to the Carmel Art Institute’s “The Magic of Point Lobos” competition and exhibition. All five were accepted and will be on display from September 28 to October 18.

Let’s start with the birds. They are similar shots, a Black-crowned Night Heron and a Snowy Egret, both are tense and searching for food.

Black-crowned Night Heron

The primary difference is that the night heron is on a rock and the egret is on floating kelp. That and the egret is a striking white.

Snowy Egret

The wave shots capture the magnitude of a big wave day at the Reserve. These are days when you feel and smell the waves as you drive in. The first stop is Sea Lion Point, where a few young sea lions missed the memo about getting off the rocks.

Sea Lion Point

Down at Bird Island the waves can get so big that they climb up to join the clouds and generate water falls where they don’t exist.

Big waves

And we finish with the cat. A bobcat in Mound Meadow to be exact, looking very regal like his cousins in Kenya.

Bobcat at Point Lobos

Shooting Peeps

Dunlin with SanderlingsDunlin with Sanderlings – 2011

On occasion, I realize that I am more interested in taking pictures of birds than identifying them and adding them to my life list. While I carry a field guide and pair of binoculars with me, I am somewhat loath to pull them out and spend the time figuring out what I am seeing.

I would much rather catch them in a provocative pose that I can sell than figure out if they are consenting adults or first-offense juveniles.

Least SandpiperLeast Sandpiper – 2011

Nowhere is this ambivalence clearer then when I am shooting peeps, those little shorebirds that never quite let me get close enough to ID them. Perhaps if I were more patient and had a steadier hand, I could define the niceties of plumage to identify a 8″ bird at 100′.

But no, I can only discern gross differences in size and color at 100′. So I use my camera to capture the details. The shape of the bill, the color of the legs, whether the breast is spotted or white. All of the little things a good birder picks up, I let my camera grab.

Yes, you might say that I am lazy.

Spotted SandpiperSpotted Sandpiper – 2011

Except for the fact that I then spend hours going over the photos, wading through field guides, discerning the subtleties, and narrowing everything down to an ID.

Because in the end, no matter what I said at the outset of this post, identifying the birds that I shoot is important to me. I really want to know what peep I saw at the beach today.