April/May 2011 Yokohl Valley Images

Yokohl Valley, in the foothills of the mighty Sierra Mountains and east of Exeter, Ca has become one of my favorite local destinations.  It’s 30 miles from my driveway to the beginning of the valley.  Throughout April and so far in early May I’ve made numerous trips to photograph the bobcats, birds, and wildflowers of the valley.  I’ve blogged about this valley before, about shoots in Feb/2011, but as I learn the valley better I’ve had more opportunities, and found more great subjects.

Yokohl Valley Bobcat hunting California Ground Squirrels

As the weeks have gone on the grass has grown deeper, and deeper – until yesterday’s shoot (May 5th) when I’m not sure I could have seen a bobcat in the meadows and pastures.  But as one set of subjects fade, others seems to arise.  While I didn’t get any great images, I saw 17 wild (feral) pigs yesterday.  I just missed two snakes that got away from me, a distant coyote, and chased bird images up and down the valley.  One creature I didn’t miss was the Sierra Alligator Lizard that I shot on the switchbacks leading out of Yokohl Valley over to Spring Valley.  I was walking along looking at the wildflowers, checking for butterflies, spiders, etc – when I saw a strange pattern of texture in the weeds a few feet off the road.  I grabbed my 24-120 lens, my flash, and crawled into the bushes and weeds to get a shot or two.

Sierra Alligator Lizard

While not as scary as crawling into a small cave to photograph a hissing Gila Monster, or facing off with a Mojave Green Rattlesnake among the poppies of Antelope Valley, or going face to face with grizzlies – it still got my blood going.  The lizard was surprisingly thick and stocky and shadedan interesting blend of yellow and green that I hadn’t seen before.

But while chasing the lizard was interesting, it was the birds that kept my attention.  If the following images make you think of a great number of species that must live in Yokohl – there were far more that I could never get into position to photograph.

Anna's Hummingbird

Phainopepla

There were times I was able to photograph them on branches or in trees, but most of the time it was on fence posts or on strands of fence wire.  Songbirds are quick, never tarrying too long in one spot – making photography difficult, though not impossible.  I just continued to drive the road looking for changes.  In locations like this there is an ebb and flow to the movements of the birds.  Quiet in the morning, the birds that are insectivores become more active once it begins to warm up and bugs begin to fly.

Western Kingbird

Seed eaters and hummingbirds tend to be fairly active all day.  The Western Kingbird (above) has an interesting tactic for catching insects, it will fly off a fence and hover above the meadow grass hoping to stir up a meal to catch.

Bullock's Oriole

Western Kingbird hovering

Western Kingbird hovering

Most of the time I never leave the car unless I know I need to position myself in a better spot.  Cars are great blinds, something most birds and other wildlife have come to accept, and usually not fear.

Since birds are quick flyers and tend to bounce around even when perched, high shutter speeds are important.  Since all of these bird images were taken with a 500mm F4 lens, this f-stop setting results in very out-of-focus backgrounds.  There is no photoshop magic to the backgrounds, the closer you are to your subject the less depth-of-field you will have with any lens. 

Acorn Woodpecker

There are plenty of raptors and owls in Yokohl Valley as well.  Earlier this spring their were numerous falcons, both American Kestrels and Prairie Falcons.  While I still see them they nest in old woodpecker holes or in tree cavities high off the ground – getting images is tough.  Many of the sycamore trees have red-tailed hawk and great horned owl nests in the top branches which are easier to photograph due to their size.

Great Horned Owl nest in Sycamore.

Beyond the birds and bobcats, the wildflowers harbor an amazing number of interesting looking insects – though few butterflies right now.  Stalking through the brush isn’t a lot of fun, neither is having buzzing bugs and creepy crawlers all around your head, the results are amazing.

Cricket ... doing something.

I’m not averse to getting into the brush, especially when I’ve spotted something that I think will make an interesting subject – its getting in there and finding something close that you didn’t expect.

Crab Spider on Bush Monkeyflower

Last summer I didn’t make many trips to Yokohl, the heat wilts the flowers and the oppressive sun drives the birds and animals to seek shade – things slow down considerably.  But this summer I plan on making more trips, so far this year the valley hasn’t run out of interesting subjects for me.

Red-tailed Hawk and Garter Snake

Lark Sparrow

Turkey Vulture

About brentrpaull

Professional Photographer
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