Outposts

Outdoors, action, adventure

Category: Photography

Snowy egrets can save the day for budding photographers at Bolsa Chica wetlands

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Terns, gulls, pelicans, herons, egrets, hawks, ospreys, grebes, sandpipers and many other types of birds are on glorious display these days at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

Also prevalent are hikers, dog walkers, joggers, bikers and, most of all, birders and bird photographers: big-time photographers with tripods and bazooka lenses, budding wannabes, casual shooters and folks with pocket cameras who most times are unable to get close enough to their subjects to fill a frame.

I fall into the casual-shooter category and cite the accompanying images as evidence. They were captured over the weekend during a 90-minute lap around the sprawling wetlands across the highway from Huntington State Beach in Orange County. A sampling from my field notes:

-- Snowy egrets abound. They're one of the easiest large birds to photograph, far more active and less shy than the much larger great egret, which is an ambush hunter that stands perfectly still, its long neck outstretched, and strikes snakelike at passing prey.

-- A particular snowy egret is shuffling through a shallow mudflat with webbed feet, trying to stir up a morsel. These downy-white birds with long black legs and yellow feet will do this for hours with little or no success, but I've arrived just as the bird plucks a shrimp or some other small critter (see above photo). Time to move on.

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Alaska's Mt. Redoubt volcano has remained conspicuously quiet

A steam plume rises above the cooling lava dome at Mt. Redoubt on Sept. 18, as viewed from near Homer, Alaska, on the Kenai Peninsula.

What a beautiful photo of Alaska's Mt. Redoubt volcano, which is restless but not threatening to erupt as it did many times during the spring

There was genuine concern after a lengthy series of violent eruptions that Redoubt's tempestuousness would last through the summer and spoil the fishing business on and near the Kenai Peninsula, east of Redoubt across the Cook Inlet.

In fact, with the peak July and August seasons behind, resort and fleet operators can say they dodged a bullet. Redoubt, which in 1989 and 1990 erupted sporadically over a period of seven months, remained on an yellow alert code throughout the summer.

The yellow code means a volcano is exhibiting signs of elevated unrest. An orange code means a major eruption is imminent, suspected or underway but poses a limited hazard to aviation because of insignificant volcanic ash emissions. A red code is used when a major eruption is imminent, underway or suspected with hazardous activity on the ground and in the air.

Presently, according to the Alaska Volcano Observatory, the cautionary advisory remains in effect: "In the unlikely event of a major dome collapse, significant ash production, hot block-and-ash flows and flooding in the Drift River valley could all result."

If Redoubt erupts, Outposts will post the news. Meanwhile, I just wanted to share the image, one of many posted on the observatory website.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: A steam plume rises above the cooling lava dome at Mt. Redoubt on Sept. 18, as viewed from near Homer, Alaska, on the Kenai Peninsula. Credit: Dennis Anderson / Night Trax Photography

Entries welcome for annual Yellowstone photo festival

Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.

Shutterbugs of all types are invited to submit photos for the eighth annual Yellowstone Fall Photo Festival, taking place Sept. 30 at Yellowstone National Park.

Entries previously restricted to images from Yellowstone can be from any of the nearly 400 National Parks this year, to celebrate National Public Lands Day on Sept. 26 and also the debut of Ken Burns' "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" film series on PBS beginning Sept. 27.

All submissions, from vacation snapshots to pro photos, are welcome.

Photographers may send up to 25 digital images, and will be asked to spend no more than five minutes narrating the story behind their photos.

The festival presentation will be at 7 p.m. Sept. 30 in the Community Room of the West Yellowstone Visitor Information Center and is open to the public.

With no judging or prizes, the evening will be very casual and reminiscent of family slide shows, except everyone attending will be there because they want to be.

Those interested in participating should contact Rich Jehle at (307) 344-2840 for more information or to register. Registration deadline is Sept. 25.

--Kelly Burgess

Photo: Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park. Credit: NPS Photo

Osprey finds privacy fleeting at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve

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The osprey didn't seem too bothered by the small hawk or falcon trying to encourage the larger fish-eating bird -- with a series of buzz tactics -- away from its turf in the far, wooded corner of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

The osprey seemed more concerned about the pesky two-legged creatures following along and pointing long camera lenses its way as it flew from treetop to treetop.

I was among the guilty parties late Wednesday afternoon. I followed the raptor 100 yards and to four different perches, but because I carried only a 300-millimeter lens I was unable to capture the quintessential osprey close-up. (And I was not able to get any sharp images of the hawk or falcon as it flew erratically around the osprey.)

But I enjoyed trying. I'm not a serious birder or a professional photographer, but the wetlands across from Huntington State Beach have turned me into a little bit of both. They've become one of my favorite local hiking destinations because of the astonishing amount of avian activity amid the waterways and mudflats.

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Humpback whales mugging for vessels in Santa Barbara Channel

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Humpback whales have arrived early in the Santa Barbara Channel, and Island Packers has been in the thick of things -- literally.

Alex Brodie, fleet manager for the Ventura/Oxnard company, called in a report Wednesday as the humpbacks were literally mugging for the boat. One of the leviathans actually swam up and rubbed its head against the railing, scraping off a few barnacles.

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These excellent photos, courtesy of Anthony Lombardi, reveal the personable nature of humpbacks. They often put on the type of show that transforms a casual watcher into a true marine mammal nut.

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Mavericks' giant waves and surfers who ride them profiled in Half Moon Bay art exhibit

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Visitors to Half Moon Bay, beginning Saturday, will be able to experience the many moods of Mavericks, which is the notorious big-wave surfing venue beyond nearby Pillar Point.

A unique art exhibit titled "Mavericks, Everest of the Seas" features the work of local professional photographers who have captured Mavericks during its biggest, most beautiful and most tempestuous moments.

Ed Grant, Coastal Arts League member and Mavericks photographer, has assembled the most spectacular images from photojournalists who risk their own safety to document the intense man-against-sea drama that occurs during enormous winter swells at the thunderous offshore break.

Shooters and many Mavericks regulars will be present during the opening reception Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Coastal Arts League Gallery, 300 Main St., Half Moon Bay.

The exhibit, which is free to the public, will remain on display through March 9.

Featured photographers: Frank Quirarte, Doug Acton and Don Montgomery.

--Pete Thomas

Malibu Creek State Park, and others, soon to flourish thanks to needed rain

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I was able to get a hike in before the storm, at Malibu Creek State Park, and managed to snap a nice photo of a gray squirrel gnawing on what looked like bark while perched on a branch (pictured).

I hiked the Cage Creek Trail/Lookout Trail loop and on the way back, at dusk, I inspected the main creek that flows through the park's beautiful valley.

It was depressingly dry before the first winter rain, but it contained enough water to attract mallards and other waterfowl. I even frightened a large hawk from a creekside branch.

Now it's on the receiving end of the most abundant rainfall of the winter. That's going to do more than fill the creek; it will turn the park, as well as all of the Santa Monica Mountains, lush and green.

So the weekend might be a wash. After three consecutive weeks of parching dry weather, and with winter on the wane, this drenching is just what our region needs.

--Pete Thomas

Great Backyard Bird Count about to begin across North America

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As I type, there's a black phoebe outside my window, chirping its single-syllable call for all the neighborhood to hear.

Which reminds me to remind birders and aspiring birders that the annual Great Backyard Bird Count will be held across North America Feb. 13-16.

People of all ages are urged to click on the above link and get involved. Last year, birders turned in 84,784 checklists. They counted 9,787,367 individual birds and identified 634 species.

It's a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, and offers an opportunity for people of all ages to monitor the bird activity in their neighborhoods.

In doing so they'll help scientists understand bird population trends.

"The Great Backyard Bird Count benefits both birds and people. It's a great example of citizen science," said Judy Braus, Audubon Education vice president. "Anyone who can identify even a few species can contribute to the body of knowledge that is used to inform conservation efforts to protect birds and biodiversity."

All that's required is an appreciation of nature, a good bird book and binoculars.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo of hummingbird by Pete Thomas/Los Angeles Times

Whale hunting season -- with cameras and binoculars, that is -- begins off Southern California

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Bound for Mexico, traveling solo, the young adult gray whale seems in no hurry and even pauses to poke around the kelp beds off the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

For the 45 passengers aboard the Voyager, many of them children, it's a wonderful afternoon spent appreciating one of nature's most wonderful and predictable creatures.

About 20,000 Pacific gray whales are currently migrating from the Arctic region to Baja California lagoons. The Southern California whale-watching season officially began Dec. 26.

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I've boarded the Voyager for its 1:30 p.m. departure, and am told by Capt. Allan Price and first mate Mary Beth Allen that the morning odyssey was amid more than 1,000 common dolphins, but no whales.

Also on board is naturalist Erlinda Cortez and researcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger. Among the passengers are at least a dozen children, most of them girls age 10-14, and not one that I can see, as the vessel points west over a soft blue ocean, is sending text messages, talking on the phone or sulking as if wanting to be elsewhere.

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Raptor sex, spy plane intrusion make for bizarre hike near Point Mugu

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Ever see red-tail hawks sexually engaged while in flight above a windswept canyon?

I witnessed this spectacle on Christmas Eve, while hiking up La Jolla Canyon Loop Trail within Point Mugu State Park in the northern Santa Monica Mountains.

There was screeching during aerobatic foreplay. There was connection, 200 feet above ground, followed by a whirlybird freefall and disengagement just yards from impact.

Then there was the mother of interruptions. The canyon shuddered and roared, ear-splittingly; it was as if a rocket approached.

The hawks bolted for cover. I leaned against a canyon wall and aimed skyward with my camera, prepared to capture the fiery explosion and win (posthumously, of course) all kinds of awards.

But thank heavens, it turned out to be merely some bizarre-looking radar plane from the nearby naval base.

It was the only bird I’d bag all afternoon; the hawks were too distant and squirrelly.

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A Christmas wish list, checked twice

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A Christmas wish, brief version, minus materialistic desires:

-- May this latest storm further blanket our mountains, for the benefit of skiers, snowboarders and resort operators. More important, may it saturate a landscape that remains so parched that creeks remain dry and waterfalls without cascades. We need lots  of precipitation in 2008-09.

-- May the economy improve sooner rather than later. This would be our Christmas miracle. Being forced from a home onto the street is the worst possible kind of outdoors experience, and it should not be happening.

-- May children receive more gifts that introduce them to our spectacular natural resources--surfboards, skis, snowboards, hiking boots, binoculars, tents, fishing poles, etc.--and fewer computerized gadgets that contribute to obesity and create a disconnect between kids and their parents.

-- May more parents get out of the house with their children, to a lake shore, a state park, aboard a whale-watch boat or wherever there is sky and a vast surrounding. Most outdoor activities are inexpensive. Generate fond memories. Instill an appreciation for open spaces and critters that inhabit them. You won't regret it.

-- May Japan and other whaling nations stop the slaughter. Most if not all species of whales were on the brink of extinction at one point in our recent history. Haven't they been through enough?

-- May people lose the taste for shark fin soup. Unlike whales, sharks are being driven methodically to extinction because of the demand for this so-called delicacy and the brutal practice of "finning" live sharks. This is perilous for sharks and the environment. Is a bowl of soup worth all this?

-- May more people go green. May we see fewer Hummers and Suburbans and more hybrids. May the warming trend reverse (another miracle, please) and may the polar bears somehow survive the shrinking of their icy realm. People are trying, and that's a positive first step.

-- May at least some of your Chritmas wishes come true. Happy holidays, everyone. May better times prevail in 2009!

-- Pete Thomas

Photo credit: Greg Zook, Big Bear Lake Resort Assn.

Killer whale named Chopfin is anything but camera shy

Chopfin and his frequent companion, CA216, who is identifiable by the narrow black streak on her saddle, cruise the Monterey coastline in 2007.

I received the accompanying photo of Chopfin the killer whale after an item I posted Tuesday on the recent sightings locally of Chopfin and his frequent companion, an adult female cataloged as CA216.

So I thought I'd share. The photo was taken by Cody Martin in Monterey Bay on Aug. 26, 2007. (Chopfin is a transient killer whale that feeds on marine mammals and has been documented preying on gray whales off Monterey.)

I had the pleasure of meeting Martin, a budding marine biologist from El Segundo, on an all-day whale-watch trip last March. He was 12 at the time and it was a rare sighting in itself: a kid actually enjoying the great outdoors.

"It's just such a mystery; you never know what you're going to see," Martin said on a day during which we saw very few whales.

Anyway, Outposts thanks Cody for taking an interest, and for sharing this great photo.

--Pete Thomas

Photo: Chopfin and his frequent companion, CA216, who is identifiable by the narrow black streak on her saddle, cruise the Monterey coastline in 2007. Credit: Cody Martin

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Outposts' primary contributor is Kelly Burgess.



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