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Hello - Welcome to my Blog. This Blog suppliments my website to provide a diary of my experiences photographing wildlife and nature throughout Australia and abroad. I hope you find the Blog interesting and the content and images cause you to reflect on how important it is preserve natural places and their inhabitants.

For me photography of the natural world is more than just pretty settings and cuddly animal photos. It's a concern for the environment and the earth all living creatures must share.

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Entries in California (20)

Saturday
Feb062010

Northern Elephant Seals, California

I have always been fascinated  of Elephant Seals and welcome any opportunity to observe them in their natural habitat.  This is the second time I have visited this seal haul out and as with other visits I wasn’t disappointed.  The first visit was in January when the seals were well into their breeding cycle and the bull seals were fighting other rival bull seals for mating rights.  During this time the haul out area was in constant flux with seals everywhere doing seal things. 

LEFT: Northern Elephant Seals practice fighting while juvenile look on carefully.

This visit was in early November and there wasn’t nearly as much “action” as during the breeding season.  Females were lolling about catching the rays and sleep appeared to be high on the agenda of many of the seals.  Although there was some fighting, most of the bulls were adolescent males under 5 years of age gaining their training teeth; the season was too early for any “real” fighting to take place as the Alpha males had yet to visit the haul out to claim mating privileges.

LEFT:  Female Northern Elephant Seals sleep in early morning sun.

I arrived on site just after dusk and did a quick reconnoiter of the site to determine the best shooting positions and angles for the following morning.  The following day was an early wake up as I wanted to be on-site and ready to shoot as the first rays broke the horizon.  I always like spending time with animals in the early morning; the air is usually crisp and the animals are interesting to watch as they transition from sleeping to being more active.  Also, the early morning usually provides ideal photographic opportunities with soft golden light. 

 LEFT:  Adolescent Northern Elephant Seal scratches whiskers.

Seals, especially females and pups, seem to engender what most people fall in love with; the big round eyes and the slight tilt of the head all suggest a loveable and benign creature that just beckons to be petted.  Indeed, there has been more than one incidence of well-meaning people collecting seal pups and taking them home in backpacks!  What these people were thinking at the time is beyond me; a seal pup does not eat puppy dog food!  However, like any wild creature seals deserve respect.  If you approach too closely they will try and bite you, and I’ve observed instances when a seal has chased a person at an alarming fast rate across the beach.  Therefore, when photographing seals, especially elephant seals that do not tolerate closeness, it’s normally a good idea to use a longer focal length lens such as a 300mm or 500mm lens. 

GENERAL INFORMATION

Elephant seals take their name from the large proboscis of the adult males (bulls), which resembles an elephant's trunk.  The bull's proboscis is used in producing extraordinarily loud roaring noises, especially during the mating season. More importantly, the nose acts as a sort of rebreather, filled with cavities designed to reabsorb moisture from the animal’s exhalations. This is important during the mating season when the male seals rarely leave the beach to feed and therefore must conserve body moisture, as they have no incoming source of water.

The seals can spend upwards of 80 percent of their lives in the ocean and can hold their breath longer than 120 minutes – well over any other marine mammal (excluding whales). The depth these seals dive to is very impressive and seals have been recorded at 2000 feet searching for their favorite prey which is stingray, octopus, squid, small sharks, eels, and in the southern ocean, penguins.  While excellent swimmers, elephant seals are no slouch on land and can move faster than the average person for short distances.

Check out the Northern Elephant Seals video.



Wednesday
Feb032010

Open Field Coursing, California

Recently when I was in the United States, a friend of mine asked if I attend and photograph an open field coursing event.  At first, thoughts of a red fox being chased by mounted riders in red jackets came to mind; I had no idea exactly what an American coursing event was.  I was quickly put on the straight and narrow by Patrick who informed me that he was a “Hunt Master” – basically a formal name for the person who leads the coursing event and ensures that all the rules are complied with.  I was sceptical about attending, as hunting is not exactly what I do -  but photography is photography, and I didn’t want to disappoint my friend by not attending the event.

An early start from Los Angeles left us speeding crazily up towards the central valley area where we met a dozen and a half other “coursers”.  You could identify them easily as they all attended to their animals with the utmost care and devotion; some courser vehicles almost doubled as modern hotel rooms for dogs  - offering food, water, air conditioning and plush carpets for the owner’s four legged companions.  The first thing that struck me was the keenness of these people – some had travelled many hundreds of miles to attend the day and all were keen to get out into the hot California desert sun and dust to show of the prowess of their hounds (coursers refer to their dogs as hounds & I was constantly in trouble for referring to hounds as dogs).

Without getting into a lot of detail, a coursing event  involves several hounds leashed to their owners who patrol, in line abreast, the desert shrub in the hope of flushing out their quarry (the American Jack Rabbit).  If a jack rabbit is sighted, the coursing master yells “Tally Ho” and two coursers release their hounds.  The hounds are exceptionally fast and chase the jack rabbit for up to half a mile.  The owners and hounds are then cycled so every person has the opportunity of being in the lead action group to take advantage of a “tally ho”.  The event begins just after dawn and goes non stop until just before dusk with the hounds being ranked on their performance by a roving "judge" in a pickup truck.  During this time the hounds may get 2 or 3 opportunities to chase jack rabbits (assuming the coursing master spots the jack rabbit himself).  I was relieved that during my day with the coursers, although a few jack rabbits were chased, none were actually captured or killed by the hounds.

I was very surprised as I had always thought of greyhounds, salukies and whippets as animals bread for the track, however, these hounds were friendly, obedient, and exceptionally playful – all had excellent dispositions. The hounds were some of the most beautiful and well kept companion animals I have seen.  Although I am certainly not a courser, and probably don’t 100% agree in the sport of coursing, it was an interesting day spent with people who love their animals.

Please note that I was asked to photograph the hounds during this coursing event.  Publishing this post does not indicate that I support coursing or hunting in anyway.

Thursday
Dec242009

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) - California

In November, I was in Los Angeles, California visiting with a good friend and was inviting to a "coursing" event.  I went along to photograph the dogs which were pure breed greyhounds.  I'll post a note about this shortly. 

The coursing event was an all day affair and was run on a property some 150 mile north west of LA.  The dogs and hunters covered a lot of ground on what I would call arid land; there was a lot of dirt and a heck of a lot of dust.  The day was warm and temperatures hovered around the 90 degree F mark.  As the day progressed I would troll after the dogs photographing the events as they transpired. 

What really excited me was when I observed this Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) in his/her burrow with only its head protruding.  I waited outside the burrow for about an hour lying in the dust and dirt with my camera at the ready.  Eventually, the owl became curious, came out of the burrow and "pranced about" in front of my camera for about 30 minutes or so.  It was rare treat and one I thoroughly enjoyed.  At one stage the owl was so close to me that my 70-200 f2.8 lens would not focus!

To make things even better, all this happened relaytively late in the afternoon approaching "golden hour" when the environment is lit by a beautful golden glow.

ABOVE:  Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) stands in front of burrow.

Friday
Dec182009

Photographing the Defining Moment

Many attributes make a good photograph - technically prowess, composition, background and even to a certain extent the subject itself.  Whilst these factors are very important, what makes an image move up a level of excellence is when the photographer captures a defining moment. 

For instance, when I photographed this sea otter in California, I shot several images of the otter doing its thing, however, only one photograph captured the defining moment -  which was the act of the otter with mouth open about to bite into the clam. 

ABOVE:  California Sea Otter (Enhydra lutris nereis) feeding on clam shell.

On this day, I lay on the front of a small landing craft-type platform, almost at sea level and waited.  The otter dived and came to the surface several times with clams.  Observing the otter's diving patterns enabled me to roughly know where the animal would surface.  It's all about patience and playing the waiting game .  I was rewarded for my patience with this photograph when the otter surfaced.

Next time your out and about shooting wildlife, instead of merrily clicking away taking several dozen images of more or less the same image - wait and search for that particular moment that makes your subject unique - then depress the shutter!  The time and effort in waiting will be more than compensated for when you obtain a better than average photograph.

Wednesday
Jul012009

Ranch Shooting, Carmel California

I've spent the last two days at a property (called a ranch in the US) located 30 miles inland from Point Lobos and approximately 3 hours drive south from San Francisco.  The ranch is located within an area called the fly zone and comprises rolling grass and shrub covered hills, and is dotted with numerous oak trees, some of which are as old as 400 years.   The fly zone is an area in which migratory birds fly along during their migratory routes.  As such, numerous birds can be observed at differing times of the year.

The owner has established a number of small permanent watering holes (ponds) with a drip water system.  This permanent water is favourable to any birds living in the area or migrating through the region as California is a desert environment and water is a relateively scarce resource.  During my stay temperatures reached 102 F and were stifling until an warm afternoon breeze started.

The main target species we were after were the numerous birds that visit a small pond located on the property, however, other wildlife seen include the Common Gray Fox, bats, jack rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks.  

All the shooting was conducted from a camoaluged blind set up adjacent to the pond.

This fox, made a very fleeting visit to the pond on the second morning of shooting and was probably attracted to the pond by a large family of California Quail that has taken up residence in the area.  Unfortunately, the fox did not hang around and only made three passes in front of the blind, stopping only to mark a tree with its scent.

I'll post some of the bird images in the next few days.