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Just Ducky

Ducks take flight, Colusa NWR (11/29/19) Steve Arita

A brief break in the weather on Orange Friday allowed Steve Arita to capture shots of ducks in flight at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge.

Steve reported that “while cloudy, enough sun made it through,” and soon after he’d arrived and set up on the observation deck near the reserve entrance, the ducks took to the air, spooked by a bald eagle that had just taken flight.

Steve shot using a Lumix G9 with Lumix/Leica 100-400 mm zoom. He says that while the lens isn’t the sharpest, he likes the camera’s compact, easy-to-handle size, and Lumix’s “Dual-IS” (image stabilization) has the body work in tandem with the lens to stabilize the image, useful when taking handheld photos of birds.

When shooting wild birds with a long lens (over 300mm), it is helpful to mount the camera to a gimbal head on a sturdy tripod. That allows the photographer to track flying birds while staying steady. Also useful is to set the camera to Manual mode at f8 and with a shutter speed of 1/2000th. Then, adjust the ISO until the meter is balanced.

Of the various places to photograph migratory birds at Colusa NWR – other than perhaps one of the reserve’s photography blinds – the observation deck near the reserve entrance is a superb location. A large pond just beyond the deck is a favorite spot for ducks to roost and geese to feed.

Turkey vulture (11/29/19) Steve Arita

Various geese, duck, shorebirds, egrets, turkey vultures and heron roost there from autumn to February. In springtime, Wood ducks are best photographed from the blinds.

What mystifies many of the photographers and birders at the refuge is that the geese and ducks are able to identify predators at great distances. Waterfowl will rise in a loud, confusing mass of flapping wings when a hawk or eagle approaches, even though it may be barely identifiable to the human eye, but don’t budge when other birds or carrion fly over.

Sutter Buttes, Colusa NWR (11/29/19) Steve Arita
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Siskiyou Sonata

Mount Shasta, Siskiyou County (10/25/19) Philip Reedy

Sometimes, spent color is the most beautiful of all.

Philip Reedy photographed dazzling fall color beside the Upper Sacramento and McCloud Rivers in Siskiyou County, then also found beauty in the spent grasses and wind-swept oaks of late autumn.

Appliance Graveyard, CA-96 (10/25/19) Philip Reedy

He was out for another of his fly fishing photography expeditions, this time with stops at Castle Crags State Park, Mossbrae Falls and the Cantera Loop, all near Dunsmuir, then north along the Klamath River and into the Seiad Valley.

What’s interesting about Phil’s first two shots (top of page) is that the first is a classic landscape depicting a California icon, but not as Mt. Shasta is typically presented. Instead of being bright and heroic, his view is moody and reflective. The second is of discarded appliances leaning beside a deteriorating shed.

The first image is classic artistic landscape photography, but so too is the second. More importantly, the latter one confirms the idiom, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Click photos to enlarge.

Milkweed (10/25/19) Philip Reedy
Bigleaf maple (10/25/19) Philip Reedy

Reedy shares my view that while the oaks aren’t as colorful as aspen, they have their own distressed beauty, and again his photographs are showing bigleaf maple can be other colors than French’s mustard.

Siskiyou County is a visual sonata right now, though rush to see it. As, strong winds now lashing Northern California (100 mph posted at Lake Tahoe) will surely be transporting these leaves south to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

  • Siskiyou County – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.

Sad Sunset

They look beautiful, but they’re filled with sadness.

Autumn sunsets are gorgeous, but when wildfire smoke colors them, there’s a tragic tinge to their beauty.

Ukiah (10/24/19) Walt Gabler

Geyserville’s Kincade Fire so colored twilight, last evening.


Bishop Creek Was Waxing Gibbous

Time exposure, North Lake, N Fork Bishop Creek (10/19/19) Roger Zhang

I wish we could say that Bishop Creek is “waxing” (getting bigger), but only the gibbous (oddly shaped) moon over it was last weekend.

This photograph is of the waxing gibbous moon, shot by Roger Zhang before North Lake turned Past Peak.

Roger writes that he enjoys “gibbous and full moon photography … how bright moonlight gently and naturally lights up and enriches the colors of the landscape.”

A useful aid to shooting moonlit photography is the app “Sky Guide.”


Above Quincy

Quincy (10/20/19) Michael Beatley

On Oct. 16, we posted aerial photos of Quincy. This past Sunday, Michael Beatley returned to Quincy, but climbed above it to the north and with a 400 mm lens from a mile away, captured these beauties.


Best Rural County Photo

North Lake Rd., N Fork Bishop Creek (Date Unknown) Fares Alti

A photograph of fall color along North Lake Road in Bishop Creek Canyon (Inyo County) was selected by the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC) for its 2019 Rural Photo Contest.

Congratulations to Fares Alti.

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Above Quincy

Quincy (10/14/19) Michael Beatley

Robert Cameron’s series of “Above” coffee table books fascinate me. Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, Eiffel Tower or Statue of Liberty from above is mesmerizing.

So, when these photographs taken by Michael Beatley arrived, the bright colors of autumn trees and colored roofs reminded me of why Robert Cameron’s work is so endlessly fascinating.

First Aerial Photograph, Boston (10/8/1860) James Wallace Black

It was surely sensational to the public when James Wallace Black ascended in a balloon to take the first aerial photograph 159 years ago this month, as reported in MassMoments.

Today, we don’t have to go up in a balloon or aircraft to take aerial photographs. They can be taken by drones, or as Michael Beatley did, by climbing a hill. However they’re taken, aerial photographs still stir the imagination just as they did in 1860, particularly those with fall color.

The Plumas National Forest, surrounding Quincy, has many roads, OHV routes, and hiking trails. Michael reports that the forest is full of peak rosy Pacific dogwood, yellow big leaf and gamboge mountain maple, deep-red mountain ash and orange black oak, amidst pine and fir.

Pick up a map at the USFS ranger station on CA-70 just east of Quincy to explore the forest. Four wheel drive is not needed to drive many of the roads.

  • Plumas National Forest – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Quincy (3,342′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • American Valley (3,342′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

Returning to Lundy Canyon

Lundy Falls, Lundy Canyon (10/14/19) Elliot McGucken

Looking at things from a different perspective allows you to move to the side, behind, between, above or below your subject.

A thousand people have taken pictures of Lundy Falls straight on, from afar. Elliot McGucken got wet beside it and presents a new, angled perspective of fall color up Lundy Canyon.

Lundy Canyon (10/14/19) Elliot McGucken

Waiting for the Moment

North Lake, N Fork Bishop Creek (10/10/19) Philip Reedy

Philip Reedy sent this image of photographers standing along the east shore of North Lake waiting for sunrise.

It pays to be up early, not just to wait for the moment when a scene is lit perfectly, but also to have your choice of locations to photograph it.

Elliot McGucken said that on the day he took the photo of North Lake with clouds in a blue sky (posted here, Oct. 11), there were a lot of photogs there in the morning, but no clouds in the sky.

However, he didn’t give up. He returned that afternoon to find that clouds had formed. It so happened that he had the shore nearly to himself. The sunrise photographers that had lined North Lake, like those above, hadn’t returned.

Great photographs need not be taken exclusively during the golden hour. Photographers who take them often arrive early and stay late, as things happen not just during the golden moment, but often earlier or later. 

I remember one freezing night at Tunnel View in Yosemite Valley, when I stood with other photographers, including many locals. After the sun had set, most of the photographers left, but we locals hung on for what developed to be one of the most incredible evenings ever.

The overcast, which had smothered the light broke open at just the right moment allowing pink, orange, purple and red light to turn the night sky into a fabulous, unforgettable painting. 

On another bone-aching night at North Lake, I heard other photographers say “That’s enough,” and leave. But, given what I learned from sticking it out in Yosemite, I didn’t.

You only learn what you missed, when other photographers, who’d seen you there before you bailed, say, “Wasn’t that fantastic, last night?”

After hearing that a couple of times, you learn never to arrive late, leave early or stop waiting for the moment.


Fall Color Road Trip

Sorensens Resort, Hope Valley (10/9/19) Philip Reedy

Of all the contributors to this site, color spotter Philip Reedy of Davis makes some of the longest, most varied and interesting road trips in search of fall color and fly fishing.

Phil is a college chemistry teacher and, on the side, photographs covers for fly fishing publications. So he, as do many readers of this site, combines interests in science, reporting and the visual arts.

These are people who work both sides of their brains. My kinda people.

On his most recent road trip (Oct. 9-12), Phil crossed Carson Pass on his way to the Eastern Sierra. Though his images are now not useful for planning trips to see peak, they are lovely reflections of what was.

The Hope Valley was suffocating under a pall of smoke from the Caples fire when he began the trip, capturing images of peak color lightly muted by particulates.

He continued past Woodfords and through Markleeville on CA-89, crossing Monitor Pass, all of which are now at Peak.

His objective was Bishop Creek Canyon. North Lake was nearing the end of its peak. It had lingered for weeks, then burst forth reflecting red, orange, yellow and lime all at once upon its still waters. Philip caught the end of it, much later than we’ve seen in past years.

Fly Fishing at North Lake (10/10/19) Philip Reedy

The purpose of his trip was to capture possible fly fishing images for future covers. As Phil wrote in OWAC Outdoors, the bimonthly newsletter of the Outdoor Writers Association of California, “In my experience, the background of the photo is the most important aspect of a successful fly fishing photo. To assure that I always have a scenic background, I search for them, noting scenes that would make a nice landscape photo, perhaps with a waterfall, snow-capped peak or rushing river. Then, when the light and color are right, I return to those spots and stage a model in the scene I’d pre-visualized.”

That’s what Phil did on this trip … he took pictures at locations he’d pre-visualized would make good cover photos.

The complication with that approach, this autumn, is that fall color has not appeared with the same timing as previous years. Parchers Resort, which was past peak on Oct. 11 last year, is at peak now and the June Lakes Loop, which was at peak back then, is still Patchy and in some areas stripped due to aspen blight.

But then, no road trip turns out as you imagined it. There are always disappointments and new discoveries along the way.