McWay Falls, Big Sur, California

McWay Falls, Big Sur, California

McWay Falls, Big Sur, California

McWay Falls in Big Sur, CA, is one of only two waterfalls in California that flows directly into the ocean.  Just off Highway 1 in Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, Mcway Falls is one of the most picturesque locations in Big Sur.  The waterfall itself is about 80 feet high and flows year round.

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Osprey

osprey

Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus), also known as fish hawks, are birds of prey that primarily catch and eat fish.  They tend to live near water sources, such as lakes, rivers, and the coast.  An osprey will hover over the water to watch for fish below the surface before diving to catch the fish with its talons.  Osprey populations declined in the mid-twentieth century due to pesticides, but recently they have been making a comeback.

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Sea Otter Bath Time

Sea Otter Bath Time - 1

Sea Otter Bath Time – 1

Sea otters must spend a lot of time grooming each day in order to stay warm in the chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean.  They somersault and rub their fur, which traps air bubbles in their fur to insulate them against the cold water.

Sea Otter Bath - 2

Sea Otter Bath Time – 2

Sea otters have the densest fur of any mammal – up to one million hairs per square inch – that is more hair in one square inch than on the entire head of a human!  Unlike other marine mammals, sea otters do not have blubber.

Sea Otter Bath - 3

Sea Otter Bath Time – 3

Occasionally sea otters will cover their eyes with their paws while they sleep or rest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our 10 Favorite Photos of 2014

Our 10 favorite photos of 2014 (in no particular order) are…

1) Artists Palette at Sunset, Death Valley, California

Artists Palette at Sunset

Artists Palette at Sunset, Death Valley, CA

The sunset cooperated quite nicely for this photo, with the clouds lighting up in a brilliant display of pinks and yellows.  We had been to the Artists Palette on previous occasions but were never sure how to get a composition we liked until this evening in November.  On this evening, the conditions were shaping up to be a good sunset but we had intended to photograph the salt flats instead.  When the salt flats turned out to be a bust because conditions had not been favorable for their formation this year, we quickly made alternate plans to photograph the Artists Palette – so named for the colorful mineral deposits on the rocks.

 

2) Moving Rock, Death Valley, California

Moving Rock, Death Valley, California

Moving Rock, Death Valley, California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The moving rocks are an interesting phenomenon because they move unseen by people across the playa (a dry lakebed) but leave trails behind as evidence of their movement.  There are many challenges involved in photographing the moving rocks, including the 52-mile round-trip journey over a rough 4-wheel drive road and the fact that, unfortunately, people have messed with the rocks and playa such that many trails now lead to nothing as people moved the rocks to other locations or people have walked on the playa when wet, thereby leaving their own footprints behind.  The park service asks that people leave the rocks untouched and not walk on the playa when wet and it would be a more pristine location and better experience if everyone followed these rules.  We were fortunate to discover an area of the playa that had been relatively untouched and was thus fairly pristine, as well as this particular rock that had left an excellent trail.  We then photographed the rock and its trail during the low light of sunset.

 

3) Humpback Whale Breach, Monterey Bay, California

Humpback Whale Breach, Monterey Bay, CA

Humpback Whale Breach, Monterey Bay, CA

Humpback whales may breach for a variety of reasons – communication with other whales, to knock barnacles and parasites off, or even just for fun.  It takes a lot of energy for a whale to breach and one is lucky to see a breach while whale watching.  We had been seeking a whale breach photograph since before we moved to California and finally it all came together for this photo when this adult humpback whale breached fully out of the water in the Monterey Bay this summer.  The whale activity was unusually good this summer as there were a lot of anchovies in the Bay, which attracted a lot of humpback whales.

 

4) Sea Otter, Elkhorn Slough, California

Sea Otter Paws, Elkhorn Slough, CA

Sea Otter Paws, Elkhorn Slough, CA

This sea otter poses with his paws in front of his mouth. Sea otters are born with blond or brown fur on their head, and older sea otters may develop grayer fur on their head.  This photo was taken before sunset with a large telephoto lens (700mm) at the Elkhorn Slough, in Moss Landing, CA, which is one of the best places in the world to view sea otters in the wild.

 

5) Rainbow over Crater Lake, Crater Lake National Park, OR

Rainbow over Crater Lake, Crater Lake National Park, OR

Rainbow over Crater Lake, Crater Lake National Park, OR

We hiked to the top of The Watchman (8,013 feet), which is about 2000 feet above Crater Lake, when a thunderstorm passed over the lake resulting in a beautiful rainbow over the entire lake.   The edges of the rainbow are even reflected in the lake’s blue water.

 

6) Two Sea Otters, Elkhorn Slough, California

Two Sea Otters, Elkhorn Slough, CA

Two Sea Otters, Elkhorn Slough, CA

These two sea otters swam together briefly where we could photograph them with their heads together.  This photo was taken from a boat with a large telephoto lens (700 mm) in the Elkhorn Slough.  Sea otters will often rest together, which is known as a raft of sea otters.  They may hold on to kelp or eel grass to keep from drifting with the tides.

 

7) Humpback Whales Lunge Feeding, Monterey Bay, California

Humpback Whales Lunge Feeding, Monterey Bay, CA

Humpback Whales Lunge Feeding, Monterey Bay, CA

Humpback whales sometimes work together to lunge feed, which is when the whales corral the fish into a tight ball and then speed upward with their mouths open, swallowing both water and fish.  It is an amazing sight to watch the humpback whales large heads come out of the water simultaneously.  During these feeding frenzies, multiple species may be present feeding at the same time, but the comparatively smaller birds and sea lions are quick to get out of the way when the whales are lunge feeding.  At least 5 whales can be seen in this photo, as well as two seagulls, and a few sea lions in the distance.

 

8) Sea Otter with a Big Clam, Elkhorn Slough, California

Sea Otter Eating a Large Clam

Sea Otter Eating a Large Clam, Elkhorn Slough, CA

This sea otter was foraging for food in the Elkhorn Slough and came up with this big clam.  He seemed quite happy with his find, which is almost as big as his head!  This photo was taken with a large telephoto lens (700mm) from a boat.  We liked how all the elements came together – the big clam resting on his belly with his paw holding it, a piece of clam in his mouth, and a contented expression on the sea otter’s face.

 

9) Rain over Oregon Mountains

Rain over Oregon Mountains

Rain over Oregon Mountains, OR

Rain over the Oregon Mountains, as photographed from Crater Lake National Park.  After the thunderstorm passed over the lake, it moved over the mountains in the distance, making for dramatic streaks of rain coming down over the mountains.

 

10) Wash near Artists Palette at Sunset, Death Valley, CA

Wash near Artists Palette

Wash near Artists Palette at Sunset, Death Valley, CA

This photograph looks into a wash near Artists Palette at sunset in Death Valley National Park.  During heavy rains flash floods come down from the mountains carving washes and canyons.  The Panamint Mountain range can be seen in the distance.

 

 

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Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Lesser Yellowlegs was photographed along the coast of California (Moss Landing) in December 2014.  The Lesser Yellowlegs is a member of the Sandpiper family and found across the United States.  It winters along the coast of California as well as the the eastern U.S. and Mexican coasts.  The reflection of the Lesser Yellowlegs in the still water at sunset makes the image more interesting.

Technical Details:  Canon 7D, Canon 500L + 1.4x (700mm equivalent), ISO 400, f 6.3, 1/1000 sec. 

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Sea Otter Eating a Big Clam

Sea Otter Eating a Large Clam

Sea Otter Eating a Large Clam

Sea otters feed throughout the day, as sea otters must eat up to 25% of their body weight each day.  This equates to approximately 10-15 pounds of food per day.  This sea otter appeared happy with his prize after foraging for a large clam in the waters of the Elkhorn Slough, in Moss Landing, CA.  This clam is almost as big as his head!

Technical Details: Canon 7D, Canon 500L + 1.4x tele, Gitzo tripod with wimberly, ISO 800, f 6.3, 1/800 sec.  

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Flying Pelican

pelican_flying

Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) live on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.  They generally fly low to the water in single file or by themselves looking for fish just below the surface.  When a pelican spots its prey, it swoops down taking a large gulp of water into its expandable bill.    The Brown Pelican used to be listed as an endangered species, but was removed from the list in 2009.

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Sea Otter in Eelgrass

sea_otter_eel_grass

This sea otter (Enhydra lutris) is resting comfortably in eelgrass (Zostera marina), which is a type of seagrass in the Elkhorn Slough (an estuary in Moss Landing, CA).  Eelgrass is important for combating global warming by soaking up carbon dioxide from the water and atmosphere and by reducing the effects of erosion due to coastal storms.   Researchers have been studying the effects of sea otters on their ecosystem and it turns out that sea otters are vital in maintaining the health of these eelgrass meadows by keeping the crab population in check.  Crabs eat the sea slugs that eat the algae that grow on the eelgrass, which when the algae becomes too abundant prevents enough sunlight from reaching the eelgrass leaves.  Sea otters eat crabs – one of their favorite foods – which then allows more sea slugs to thrive, such that the algae that grows on the eelgrass leaves is kept in check, thereby allowing the eelgrass to be greener and healthier.  In fact, scientists have found that in environments where more sea otters are present, the eel grass is the most green and healthy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wildrose Charcoal Kilns, Death Valley National Park, CA

charcoal_kilns

These beehive-shaped kilns were erected in 1877 with the purpose of converting pinyon and juniper trees into charcoal for use in two nearby silver mines.  The kilns are 25 feet high and well-preserved.  In fact, they are considered to be the best preserved charcoal kilns in the West.  These kilns are located at the end of the Wildrose Canyon Road, near the start of the Wildrose Peak trail in Death Valley National Park, CA.

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Red Rock Canyon State Park, California

Window_Arch_Red_Rock_Canyon

This rock window arch was photographed along a hiking trail in Red Rock Canyon State Park.  Red Rock Canyon offers desert scenery, badlands, interesting rock formations as well as the opportunity for hiking and camping.  Red Rock Canyon State Park is located in Southern California off of State Route 14, not far from Death Valley National Park.

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