Jan/Feb 2011 California Coastline Safari

This blog combines my California Coastline Safari of Jan 22 and my Safari of Feb 1, 2011.

The northern elephant seals at the Pierson Blancas rookery were very active, maybe a little more on the Feb 1st shoot.  There was a big population of seals on the beach, lots of jostling for position, and lots of bull v bull confrontations and fights.  The huge beachmaster bulls would mostly confront smaller rivals and scare them away – but fights between the big bulls would break out.  This was a situation where my 500mm lens was too much – as many of the fights took place 20-30 yards away from the viewing walkways and I was unable to get the whole scene.

Fighting Bull Elephant Seals - Piedras Blancas Rookery

The battles that took place in the surf were much more dramatic, and in one fight, much more bloody.  It seemed that bulls fought much longer and more aggressively along the beach.  One battle was extremely bloody and long fought.

Surfline flight between two large Bull Elephant Seals.

The seals weren’t the only subjects – a pod of bottlenosed dolphins was working in the shallow water about two hundred yards off the beach … a long distance even for a long telephoto lens.  There were two mothers that each had a baby dolphin following closely alongside, then a couple of other adults.  From my position they never moved more than a hundred yards up or down the coast, and never went to deeper water.  For minutes at a time I would follow them in the viewfinder waiting for a split second of above-water activity, and there were a few.

Bottlenosed Dolphin mother and young break through a small wave.

They were hunting, sometimes beating the water with their tails – apparently eating some small fish of some kind, maybe anchovies or sardines.  The image, above, was my best shot of them riding a wave towards the beach.  That was the shot I was most interested in trying to get.  However, they seldom turned towards the beach.  The smaller dolphins were the most active, occasionally jumping and often breaking the surface, like the image above shows.  I’ve seen them many times but this was my first opportunity to get images.

Jumping baby dolphin.

These few jumps required a great deal of luck to capture.  It seemed they would jump and leap the most often after a large wave had gone by, then behind the curl they jumped, the wave blocking my shot.

It was fascinating to watch.  I’ve seen great shots of bow wave riding dolphins and great leaps, but I was grateful for the action I saw and captured.

Wintering Monarch Butterflies

Late in the morning we drove down to photograph the wintering Monarch Butterflies at Pismo Beach.  It’s easy to find … take Pismo State Park exit off Highway 1, drive south through town, about a mile or so south you will pass a large RV park on the right, and just past that is a large grove of Eucalyptus trees.  A fence surrounds the small park on the right where the butterflies group together in the trees, and docents tell visitors about the butterflies and sell small souvenirs.

On Jan 22 the day was cool, but not cold.  The butterflies are most active when temps rise above 57 degrees – they take to the wing to chase each other and mate.  When temps are colder they form large clumps of butterflies hanging together for warmth.  It was about 60 degrees when we were there, so while many were flying, there were also some nice clumps in the branches.  The clump in the photo above was about the largest that was within photography range and I took it with my long telephoto lens.  When I returned on Feb 1 it was much warmer, maybe 68 degrees, and most of the butterflies were up in the branches chasing each other.

After lunch in Morro Bay we headed back to San Simeon after not finding any sea otters to shoot along the jetty road that leads out to Morro Rock.  Normally, that is a consistently good location for them, but not on either the 22nd or 1st.

The afternoon shoots at the Piedras Blancas rookery were slower than the mornings, with the seals a little more sedate and calm.  Fights and posturing would still break out every few minutes, but without any all out fights.  That was too bad since the late afternoon light coming in from the ocean side is so much better than the morning light, but I was still able to capture some good images.

Bull Elephant Seal

Over the years I’ve shot many other species in the area, including: cottontail rabbits, white-crowned sparrows, yellow-rumped warblers, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, white-tailed kites, black oystercatchers, and a myriad of shore and wading birds.

As we departed the rookery on Jan 22 their was a spectacular sunset along the coast.  A huge flare of color rose above the horizon line.  I was near the pier at San Simeon and I used it as my foreground element in attempting to capture the beautiful sunset.  The pier is located at the San Simeon State Park, just off of Highway One.  The colors of the sunset fanned out across the sky, lighting the clouds and reflecting off the ocean with a dramatic affect.  I would have liked to shoot from the beach but with only a couple of minutes to shoot – settled for the view from the parking lot above the beach.  Still, it was a nice composition with the pier and a great way to end the safari shoot.

San Simeon Pier at Sunset on Jan 22, 2011.




About brentrpaull

Professional Photographer
This entry was posted in Photo Safaris. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Jan/Feb 2011 California Coastline Safari

  1. Anthony says:

    Another interesting post with great images. I really like the sunset, every time I go to the coast it’s foggy and the sunsets are not great. I look forward to the next post.

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