Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Red-shouldered Hawk Encounter

Having recently moved up into the skyline forest above Monterey Bay, I now have a window into the world of some of the local birds, particularly the raptors that inhabit and hunt in this area.

One of these is the Red-shouldered Hawk, of which there appear to be a couple that regularly visit and vocalize in the tall Monterey Pines that surrounds my home. As soon as I hear their distinctive call, I grab my camera and head outside in the hope I can both locate them and capture a worthy image.

Yesterday however in the early evening, I noticed something quite large fly right by my living room window. I cautiously headed outside not wanting to spook whatever it might be and noticed one these beautiful birds perched at eye level in the adjoining pine. It had in its talons a grey rabbit, which it subsequently lost grip of leaving it fall to the ground below.

The rabbit was clearly dead at this point and knowing that it would not leave its prey, I quickly snuck back inside to get my D500 with my 200-500mm lens (currently one of my favorite body/lens combinations for wildlife photography). The hawk was still sitting on its perch when I returned as I slowly and carefully positioned myself for an optimal view of the rabbit. These birds are easily spooked, so I had to be as quiet and inconspicuous as possible.

With the fading light, I decided to shoot video of the hawk returning to it's meal. Kneeling down low, I gently rested my lens on the balcony of my deck and focused on the the rabbit.

Well, it took quite some time before the hawk decided to return to the rabbit and as I kneeled as still as possible, I felt my feet and the bottom half of my legs going completely numb! It took about half an hour before it returned to the rabbit and began to enjoy its evening meal. I shot several minutes of footage before I really needed to move and get the blood flowing back to my feet!

Red-shouldered Hawks usually hunt by watching from a perch, either within the forest or out in the open, swooping down when they locate prey. They sometimes fly very low in open areas, taking creatures by surprise and may use hearing as well as sight to locate prey. Adults have distinctive dark-and-white checkered wings and warm reddish barring on the breast. The tail is black with narrow white bands.

Seeing this stunning bird at such close proximity was an absolute thrill and I hope you enjoy (assuming you are not too squeamish), this short video I was so lucky and as always...privileged to capture.

Monday, May 20, 2019

A morning at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

This morning I headed over to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve with a specific goal in mind...to photograph the Brandt's Cormorants at Bird Island. Right now these birds are busy preparing for nesting season and there is plenty of action!

Males choose the nest site and display to ward off rivals and attract a mate. Displays include drawing head back with blue throat pouch extended and bill pointed upward, spreading tail, and fluttering wings; also thrusting head forward and downward in rapid repeated strokes.

The nest site is on ground, either level or steeply sloped. The nest consists of a mound of seaweed, eelgrass, algae, cemented by droppings. Most nest material is obtained underwater with the male doing most of gathering and the female most of the building. A pair may use the same nest every year, adding to it annually.

While at Bird Island, I met another photographer who kindly shared the location of three Black-crowned Night Heron nests, two of the nests already with chicks, while the third had three beautiful pale green eggs being carefully tended by the female.

All these nests are located on small islands so away from human disturbance. They only thing they have to contend with are predators including crows, gulls, hawks and a resident pair of peregrine falcons. If unfledged chicks happen to fall out of the nests to the rocks or ocean below, they have pretty much sealed their fate.

Deriving its name from the offshore rocks at Punta de los Lobos Marinos, Point of the Sea Wolves, where the sound of the sea lions carries inland, the Reserve has often been called "the crown jewel of the State Park System" and it is easy to see why. Spectacular scenery, rock formations, hidden coves with turquoise water, and an incredible array of birds, wildlife, plants and trees can be found here. There is nowhere else like it on earth and I am so very fortunate to have it right on my doorstep.

If you decide to visit, weekends can be crazy, so arriving at the park when it opens at 8:00am is best. Otherwise, weekdays are going to be your safest bet.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

South Georgia on my mind...

Having recently returned from several weeks at the bottom of the world, I am now sifting through the thousands of images I shot bringing back wonderful memories from the amazing places visited.

If you ever decide to visit Antarctica and if funds allow, an itinerary that includes South Georgia Island will be well worth the investment.

South Georgia Island has to be one of the most mind blowing experiences when it comes to the sheer number of birds and wildlife that inhabit this very special place in the Southern Atlantic Ocean.

Home to some of the largest king penguin populations on the planet, it can be overwhelming to first time visitors, especially when landing at Salisbury Plain or St. Andrews Bay.  Each of these sites accommodate king penguins in the hundreds of thousands! I have seen eyes well up and jaws drop at the mere sight and sound of nature on such a massive scale. On a previous trip, one traveler in particular with tears in their eyes said to me "Jackie, I don't know what to say, I am completely overwhelmed!"

January in particular is prime baby time with fur seal pups scattered along the beaches sleeping, nursing, hanging out in small groups or crying in search of their mothers. It is hard to not fall completely in love with them.

King penguins come and go, mating, bickering, sitting on eggs, tending their young, or emerging from the water with bellies full, as they make their way back to the colony to feed their hungry offspring. It is hard to comprehend how they can possibly find each other in the chaos, but somehow they do! The sounds coming from the colony is constant as conversations and calls fill the air!

Predators such as the Antarctic brown skuas hover above in search of eggs or small chicks to pluck away at opportune moments. Giant Southern Petrels also present a danger both on land and in the water. Elephant seals are also seen resting along the beaches or among the tussock grass. At this time of the year the massive males have returned to sea while the females and juveniles remain.

At Gold Harbor which happens to be one of my favorite locations, the king penguin colony is set against a stunning backdrop with the Bertrand Glacier cascading down and on a day like the one we had, glorious sunshine and blue skies made it picture postcard perfect! As part of the expedition team, I have the benefit of going ashore in the the shore party staff members. This allows me to capture wide angle and landscape images without people.

Soon after landing at Gold Harbor, I quickly unpacked my bag and set up my gear as it would not be long before guests started to arrive. As I was doing this, a pair of king penguins began to head right in my direction.  Oh what luck as the image I have so wanted to capture in this spot was transpiring right before my eyes!  A pair of king penguins on the beach in the foreground set against the stunning glacier and scenery.  I waited as they got closer and stopped, then slowly positioned myself to get the right composition, getting down low to include the background. As they turned their heads to face each other I fired off a few images before they decided to move on. This has to be one of my favorite images from South Georgia and one I intend to grace the walls of my home.