Sometimes It’s Magical

(A two month old otter pup gives a love bite to its caring mom)

Sometimes it’s magical. Nature just enfolds visual delights constantly, and if you are lucky and talented you can capture one of these special moments.

What a great day I had last Thursday, at that special place for Sea Otters: Moss Landing and Elkhorn Slough. My photography friends and I were greeted with a nice sunny day, an unusual occurrence of late with the winter storms that have been coming into the West Coast in waves.

Viewpoint is a critical component, getting low and down into the sea otter’s visual world makes a big difference in the final image.

Luck, talent, and patience too, especially patience to wait for the right moment, goes into creating a provocative image.

Even more than these attributes; it is about having a special spiritual feeling for a place or the animal you are photographing. It’s really all about love!

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Sea Otters Of Moss Landing

Sometimes you are privileged to enter into the world of another animal, so it was for me On Valentine’s Day! I witnessed a mother’s love, a mother sea otter’s love and deep imbibing care for her young otter pup.

I saw in the wild for the first time a mother otter pushing mussels and other shellfish to her little one, perhaps for the first time…and it looked at these gifts with curious eyes full of wonder.

Witnessing this moment was incredible privilege, and to capture it forever in an image was just as exciting. I hope these images convey the emotion and feeling that I felt while taking them.

There is something special about sea otters that touches our hearts and stirs our souls… especially the young pups, you can’t look into their eyes and not be moved–their squeaky calls of alarm when they miss place their mothers, calls deep into the being of every person that has heard that sound.

Why do we think sea otters are so cute, so enduring?  It’s their faces, their flat noses and pudgy faces subconsciously remind us of our own babies…

Where do you photograph sea otters? Where can you get up close and capture images that evoke these human feelings? There are many places; my favorite one is Moss Landing and Elkhorn Slough.

Across from highway one and the Whole Enchilada Restaurant is a boat dock area where sometimes the otters rest and hang out.  I have even seen them mating here twice.  Because the land area next to the water is low and the otters aren’t far away, you can good images here. The downsides are that they aren’t always there, and good sightings can draw big crowds and attract passersby from the nearby road.

Under the bluffs below Jetty Road is a very good place to see lots of otters, they usually raft up there and you can see twenty or thirty or more sometimes—quite a sight. A must stop for those who have never seen a raft of otters.

The best way to photograph otters is from a kayak. You can get down at water level, and have a less condescending viewpoint in your images.  Photographing from a Kayak does present issues and dangers: choppy and rough water, stiff breezes, and a unbalanced boat, and this could result in a lens and camera body easily in Elkhorn Slough’s waters. Remember wildlife viewing rules prohibit close approach making necessary the use of long telephoto lenses.  

When you encounter an animal in the wild, you represent all of that individual’s cumulative experiences with humans, and you are adding to that experience with your own actions.”*

Elkhorn Safari Tours offer tours up the slough on a flat pontoon boat where you can photograph lots of wildlife and many species of birds, including sea otters that happen to be feeding close by.  I think I have been on Capitan Yohn’s boat at least seven or eight times over the years. Elkhorn Slough is a beautiful and special natural place worth experiencing even without photography.  

Kayak Rentals:

http://www.kayakconnection.com/

http://www.montereybaykayaks.com/elkhorn_slough/

Elkhorn Safari Tours:

http://www.elkhornslough.com/

*Quote from 25th Anniversary issue of Outdoor Photographer Magazine…Steve Werner, Publisher/Editor in Chief, In this Issue section, quoting George Lepp from his new book.

http://www.outdoorphotographer.com/past-issues/december-2010/in-this-issue.html

Birds, Berries, and Bobcat

 

It was a cold and rainy New Year’s weekend; it rained for over 24 hours. While in bed at night, I heard the pitter patters of the rain on the roof of the cabin. And I thought of renewal and the water that would make it happen, and the spring grasses and wildflowers to come. The winter nights were long, and it was very cold. I needed a fire in the fireplace for more warmth and to make the cabin somewhat bearable.

When I finally got outside after the rain was over, the light was magical, and the birds were there feeding on Toyon Berries. There were four hermit thrushes each with its unique feeding style. One would come in and dash out; its feeding style was to grab and run. Another one had eyebrow feathers that stuck out, and it hung out in the open more, where I could get a more open look for my images.

The California Thrashers were there too. You could hear them with their clucks, clicks, and mockingbird sounds. They came in repeatedly for the berries, a big item on their diet. I just love the way they would grab the berries and throw them down their throats.  Capturing a berry in mid air between their beaks was my photographic goal.

The wrentits were very difficult, for they were always feeding from the inside and hardly ever would show themselves on the outside of the Toyon berry bushes. I caught one pecking out from the thick leaves with a berry in its beak, my only successful wrentit image.  

My favorite bird was the flicker. I waited and waited, then I waited some more. I was always listening for flickers for they usually announced their presence with a call.  Yet, the female came in only once during the whole day. But when she did come in the Light was magical, the sun was just peeking out of the clouds, and the light was bright but had a special softness. My images of her weren’t too harsh; they were just about perfect.

There were short bursts of shooting activity, and very long periods of waiting; such is bird photography from a blind. 

During one of the long waiting periods, is when I heard the Bobcat, it was across the canyon from me. It was calling; its call was sort of a rasping and moaning sound. It called for about 10 minutes, so special to hear a Bobcat in the wild. It made my day, for its moaning call touched my soul.

All in all, a great day in the photo blind at the Ramrod Ranch… Someday soon I’ll see that calling Bobcat and capture its heart and spirit in a photograph

Everlasting Moments in Nature

Sometimes when you least expect it, something appears out of nowhere and brightens your life, and leaves you with an incredible moment that will stay with you forever. This is the world of nature, and nature photography, special moments, indelible, forever imprinted within your mind as treasured memories. This morning one of these moments happened to me.

California quail were all around me, cackling and chuckling, in the brush around the pond. From both sides of the little breeze way that separates the brush from directly behind the pond and the sea of brush that leads up the slopes of the hills, I could hear them and occasionally see them as they scurried across the breeze way to the shelter of the thick brush.

I was in my photo blind with my 600 mm lens and digital camera body ready and waiting for them to get up enough courage to come into water at the little pond eight feet in front of my lens. In the early days of July, the mature parents had lots of young ones with them, still with the juvenile markings: a dash of brown and white striped patterns with just a touch of a top notching.

All of a sudden the cackling and chuckling increased in volume, more intense, more urgent, and seemingly coming from all around me, as I sat in my blind waiting. In the back of my mind, I knew something was different about the increased level of noise. Yet, I didn’t react or increase my level of awareness; I just contentedly and patiently waited for the quail to get over their fright and nerves, waiting for them to come on out of the brush and into camera range and view.

Then, it was there, right in front of me: a beautiful gray fox. Yes, not eight feet away, a gray fox. I can’t begin to describe what a beautiful animal it was. This was why the quail were making so much noise. After a moment’s hesitation, it went to the pond and started drinking. It happened so fast, one moment nothing was there, and the next moment it was there before my eyes. The photographer in me started to kick in gear, should I reach back in the blind and grasp my other camera body with my 100 to 400 zoom lens. I did not want to take my eyes off this splendid animal. So when it bent down for a drink, I just started shooting with my 600mm, subconsciously knowing that my f-stop might be too high, and my resulting shutter speed too slow. And what was I doing on ISO 500?

But nothing mattered for the moment as I focused on the gray fox’s head lapping up the precious life giving water. It looked up at me, my flash was going, and would it scare it off? God, I was so close, too bloody close, I couldn’t even keep the ears in the frame as it look at me. Then, in a moment it was off, heading back into the brush. One last look back at me, I switched to vertical, and composed a couple more images, praying that I was in focus. Then, the moment that would last me a lifetime was over, the beautiful gray fox slipped back into the sea of brush where it came from, twenty or thirty heart pounding adrenaline seconds it was over.

Did I compose the images correctly, was I focused on the eyes, did I get enough depth of field, at that moment.  All these thoughts were secondary, for I just witnessed a beautiful animal at home in its environment. For a brief time it shared its life with me, we were connected, and somehow forever joined. I will carry those eyes as it looked back at me and its life spirit with me always in my mind as an everlasting memory.

Upon later reflection, as a friend reminded me, the gray fox too had courage and understanding, courage to come forth out in the open knowing that I was there, and trusting and understanding that I meant no harm.