Monthly Archives

February 2009

Pelicans in La Jolla

California, La Jolla, Pelicans, Wildlife

I went down to La Jolla this morning to see how many brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus) are there. (The California race of brown pelicans has been experiencing a mysterious malady this year, with many pelicans being found weak and disoriented far away from their usual habitat.) I had not been down there since December. The plumage colors on the birds were much more vivid than I saw on my last visit in December, but there were very few pelicans flying about. Given that flight photo opportunities were hard to come by, I concentrated on portraits.

Brown pelican preening, cleaning its feathers after foraging on the ocean, with distinctive winter breeding plumage with distinctive dark brown nape, yellow head feathers and red gular throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican preening, cleaning its feathers after foraging on the ocean, with distinctive winter breeding plumage with distinctive dark brown nape, yellow head feathers and red gular throat pouch.
Image ID: 22527
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican portrait, displaying winter breeding plumage with distinctive dark brown nape, yellow head feathers and red gular throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican portrait, displaying winter breeding plumage with distinctive dark brown nape, yellow head feathers and red gular throat pouch.
Image ID: 22529
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican portrait, displaying winter breeding plumage with distinctive dark brown nape, yellow head feathers and red gular throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican portrait, displaying winter breeding plumage with distinctive dark brown nape, yellow head feathers and red gular throat pouch.
Image ID: 22532
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Western gull portrait, Larus occidentalis, La Jolla, California

Western gull portrait.
Image ID: 22542
Species: Western gull, Larus occidentalis
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

See our Guide to Photographing Pelicans in La Jolla.

See more brown pelican photos.

Tijuana River Pollution, San Diego

California, San Diego

The Tijuana River Valley, which skirts the U.S. – Mexico border, has a huge pollution problem. The Tijuana River, which passes through Tijuana before crossing into the United States, collects huge amounts of trash and debris with each winter’s storms. The plastic bottles, cans, tires, garbage bags, clothes, and sewage then washes downstream into the United States. While the liquid pollutants flow with the river until it empties into the Pacific Ocean in Imperial Beach, the rest of the debris washes up on the edges of the Tijuana River Valley or is trapped in vegetation. It is a depressing sight to behold.

Pollution accumulates in the Tijuana River Valley following winter storms which flush the trash from Tijuana in Mexico across the border into the United States, Imperial Beach, San Diego, California

Pollution accumulates in the Tijuana River Valley following winter storms which flush the trash from Tijuana in Mexico across the border into the United States.
Image ID: 22544
Location: Imperial Beach, San Diego, California, USA

Pollution accumulates in the Tijuana River Valley following winter storms which flush the trash from Tijuana in Mexico across the border into the United States, Imperial Beach, San Diego, California

Pollution accumulates in the Tijuana River Valley following winter storms which flush the trash from Tijuana in Mexico across the border into the United States.
Image ID: 22546
Location: Imperial Beach, San Diego, California, USA

Pollution accumulates in the Tijuana River Valley following winter storms which flush the trash from Tijuana in Mexico across the border into the United States, Imperial Beach, San Diego, California

Pollution accumulates in the Tijuana River Valley following winter storms which flush the trash from Tijuana in Mexico across the border into the United States.
Image ID: 22549
Location: Imperial Beach, San Diego, California, USA

Pollution accumulates in the Tijuana River Valley following winter storms which flush the trash from Tijuana in Mexico across the border into the United States, Imperial Beach, San Diego, California

Pollution accumulates in the Tijuana River Valley following winter storms which flush the trash from Tijuana in Mexico across the border into the United States.
Image ID: 22555
Location: Imperial Beach, San Diego, California, USA

See more Tijuana River Valley pollution photos and Imperial Beach pollution photos.

Galapagos Sea Lion and Puffer Fish, Cousins Rock

Galapagos Diaries

One of the best dives I ever had in the Galapagos Islands occurred while freediving during our 1998 trip there, at Cousins Rock. It was a beautiful sunny day, we were eating lunch al fresco on the deck of the Lammer Law after a late morning dive. I convinced our naturalists to let me skip lunch and swim over to the rock since I had seen quite a few gregarious Galapagos sea lions (Zalophus californianus wollebacki) in the water there earlier. Tracy said she wanted to nap after lunch but the guys gave me the ok to swim to the rock on my own so I grabbed a camera, hopped in and went over to the rock. No other boats were at Cousins which meant I was the only one there for the sea lions to play with. Shortly after I got among them, I noticed two young ones playing with what looked like a baggie or balloon. As I got closer I realized they had pulled a poor hapless puffer fish from the reef and were playing with it, passing it back and forth and dragging it about by its tail. The puffer was freaked out and totally puffed up. (Puffers puff when they freak, sort of like hippies and Democrats). Soon one of them pulled it to me and dropped it off. I kid you not. I look at it for a moment as it paddled around in front of me, far from the safety of its reef, before the two hoodlum sea lions grabbed it and dragged it about again. Then dropped it off for me. This went on for a while. After I got over the hilarity of it, I regained enough presence of mind to snap off a few photos. Ken Howard once insisted that I submit this to some photo contests, but I am convinced the judges would disqualify it believing that I was harrassing the fish and artificially setting up the photo so I never bothered. Yes, the fish was being harrassed, but not by me. Eventually the sea lions tired of their toy and let it go. I can confirm that it made it back to the reef, probably stunned and battered but likely to live another day.

Galapagos sea lion playing with puffer fish, Zalophus californianus wollebacki, Zalophus californianus wollebaeki, Cousins

Galapagos sea lion playing with puffer fish.
Image ID: 02254
Species: Galapagos sea lion, Zalophus californianus wollebacki, Zalophus californianus wollebaeki
Location: Cousins, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

More Galapagos sea lion photos, and photos from the Galapagos Islands.

Galapagos Sea Lion, Cousins Rock

Galapagos Diaries

The last time I dove Cousins Rock, one of the finer dive sites in the Galapagos Islands, I was set up to photograph sea horses. I rarely shoot macro, but on this trip I was burned out from two weeks of diving and swimming long distances (the currents are strong in the Galapagos Islands), and I planned to settle down on one of the ledges at Cousins and just shoot the sea horses. After a few minutes on the ledge, I felt a nudge on my shoulder. A young Galapagos sea lion (Zalophus californianus wollebacki) is laying down beside me, watching what I am doing. I had no idea it was there. It hangs out for a few minutes, playing with the smooth stones that are found on the ledges (probably left there by other sea lions), and finally leaves to swim up to the surface for a breath of air. A few minutes later there it is again, right beside me. It stayed with me like this for the entire hour-long dive. What a pleasant and mellow companion, willing to just hang out with me and relax! I eventually obliged it by taking its portrait, converted here to black and white.

Galapagos sea lion, Zalophus californianus wollebacki, Zalophus californianus wollebaeki, Cousins

Galapagos sea lion.
Image ID: 16395
Species: Galapagos sea lion, Zalophus californianus wollebacki, Zalophus californianus wollebaeki
Location: Cousins, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

More Galapagos sea lion photos, and photos from the Galapagos Islands.

Galapagos Sea Lion Pup

Galapagos Diaries

Of all marine animals — I have seen many different kinds, large and small — the most appealing to me are pinnipeds (sea lions, fur seals, seals). Here is one, a cute little Galapagos sea lion (Zalophus californianus wollebacki) pup photographed on North Seymour Island just a few yards away from where the magnificent frigatebird in the previous post was observed. Galapagos sea lions are very closely related to California sea lions, indeed they are just a subspecies.

Galapagos sea lion pup, Zalophus californianus wollebacki, Zalophus californianus wollebaeki, North Seymour Island

Galapagos sea lion pup.
Image ID: 16506
Species: Galapagos sea lion, Zalophus californianus wollebacki, Zalophus californianus wollebaeki
Location: North Seymour Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

More Galapagos sea lion photos, and photos from the Galapagos Islands.

Photo of a Magnificent Frigatebird, Galapagos

Galapagos Diaries

One of the great surprises I had the first time I visited the Galapagos Islands was how much I enjoyed the bird life there. Seabirds seabirds everywhere! The most enjoyable to watch are the frigatebirds (Fregata sp.). Pirates of the air and sea, frigatebirds don’t catch their own food, rather they have adapted to steal it from other birds. They carry out their felonious work in flight. It is not uncommon to see one or more frigates chasing a gull or booby as the victim returns from sea to its island nest with a mouthful or belly-full of hard-earned food. The frigates, which are unbelievably maneuverable in the air due to their extremely high ratio of wing span to body weight, harrass their victim in flight until it spits out, or worse, barfs up, its food. The frigates peel away and drop like fiends, scooping the food out of the air before it hits the water. The hapless victim is left to its nest, or to return to the sea to forage again. Here is a photo of an adult male magnificent frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) with its red throat pouch inflated in a courtship display, photographed on North Seymour Island in the central Galapagos.

Magnificent frigatebird, adult male on nest, with throat pouch inflated, a courtship display to attract females, Fregata magnificens, North Seymour Island

Magnificent frigatebird, adult male on nest, with throat pouch inflated, a courtship display to attract females.
Image ID: 16725
Species: Magnificent frigatebird, Fregata magnificens
Location: North Seymour Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Geothermal Power Generation Plant, Imperial County

California

If one is along the southern or eastern sides of the Salton Sea, one simply cannot miss the plumes of steam that are released from the several geothermal power generation plants that are there. These facilities tap the heat that resides deep in the Earth’s crust to produce electricity. A pair of wells are drilled deep into the earth, sometimes as far as two miles. Water is passed down the “injection well” until it reaches the superhot geothermal reserve deep underground, at which point it is heated. The superhot water rises up through the “production well” to the power plant, becoming steam. The force of the steam turns conventional steam turbine rotors which in turn generate electricity. Note that no fuels are burned in the process! After leaving the rotors, the steam is condensed into liquid water in cooling towers (which produce the tall plumes of steam one see’s rising from the power generation plant) and then returned back into the earth in the injection well to renew the cycle.

Steam is released from a geothermal power generation plant near the Salton Sea in Imperial County.  Geothermal power generation uses steam heated deep within the Earth's crust to power turbines and generate electricity.  Imperial County has more than 11 known geothermal fields in the Brawley and Salton Sea areas and holds great potential for the generation of electicity by tapping into this geothermal energy source

Steam is released from a geothermal power generation plant near the Salton Sea in Imperial County. Geothermal power generation uses steam heated deep within the Earth’s crust to power turbines and generate electricity. Imperial County has more than 11 known geothermal fields in the Brawley and Salton Sea areas and holds great potential for the generation of electicity by tapping into this geothermal energy source.
Image ID: 22518
Location: Imperial County, California, USA

Steam is released from a geothermal power generation plant near the Salton Sea in Imperial County.  Geothermal power generation uses steam heated deep within the Earth's crust to power turbines and generate electricity.  Imperial County has more than 11 known geothermal fields in the Brawley and Salton Sea areas and holds great potential for the generation of electicity by tapping into this geothermal energy source

Steam is released from a geothermal power generation plant near the Salton Sea in Imperial County. Geothermal power generation uses steam heated deep within the Earth’s crust to power turbines and generate electricity. Imperial County has more than 11 known geothermal fields in the Brawley and Salton Sea areas and holds great potential for the generation of electicity by tapping into this geothermal energy source.
Image ID: 22520
Location: Imperial County, California, USA

See more geothermal power generation plant photos.

Burrowing Owl, Salton Sea

California

My friend Jim Campbell told me about a nest of burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) he found near the Salton Sea. So while I was driving around out there, I went by to see if I could find them. I honestly didn’t think I would find any. Yet there they were, exactly were Jim described!. They were so small I nearly overlooked them. One of the pair never really came out of the burrow, just peeking its head out occasionally, but the other stood watch while I was there. These little owls are only about 10″ tall. They occupy burrows that have been dug by rodents and other animals, and sometimes will use piping or irrigation equipment in lieu of a dirt burrow. Burrowing owls will nest and rear their chicks from February through July or August. I may go back and take another look at this owl later this spring in the hope that his (her?) chicks are old enough to peek out of the burrow.

Burrowing owl (Western North American race hypugaea). This 10-inch-tall burrowing owl is standing besides its burrow. These burrows are usually created by squirrels, prairie dogs, or other rodents and even turtles, and only rarely dug by the owl itself, Athene cunicularia, Athene cunicularia hypugaea, Salton Sea, Imperial County, California

Burrowing owl (Western North American race hypugaea). This 10-inch-tall burrowing owl is standing besides its burrow. These burrows are usually created by squirrels, prairie dogs, or other rodents and even turtles, and only rarely dug by the owl itself.
Image ID: 22478
Species: Burrowing owl, Athene cunicularia, Athene cunicularia hypugaea
Location: Salton Sea, Imperial County, California, USA

A burrowing owl peeks out of a drainage pipe.  This 10-inch-tall burrowing owl is standing besides its burrow. These burrows are usually created by squirrels, prairie dogs, or other rodents and even turtles, and only rarely dug by the owl itself, Athene cunicularia, Athene cunicularia hypugaea, Salton Sea, Imperial County, California

A burrowing owl peeks out of a drainage pipe. This 10-inch-tall burrowing owl is standing besides its burrow. These burrows are usually created by squirrels, prairie dogs, or other rodents and even turtles, and only rarely dug by the owl itself.
Image ID: 22479
Species: Burrowing owl, Athene cunicularia, Athene cunicularia hypugaea
Location: Salton Sea, Imperial County, California, USA

See more burrowing owl photos.

Bombay Beach, Salton Sea

California

Bombay Beach is a small community on the edge of the Salton Sea. When I say “on the edge”, I mean literally, to the point that the community is in danger of being flooded if the water level in the Salton Sea rises even just a few feet. In spite of the high dirt berm surrounding the homes in Bombay Beach, it is clear that flooding has been a problem in the past. One area in particular, which is outside the berm, has seen much better days. It looks like some kind of post-nuclear bad dream, with battered and fallen shacks and trailer homes wasting away in what looks like crusty salt and mud permafrost.

Bombay Beach, lies alongside and below the flood level of the Salton Sea, so that it floods occasionally when the Salton Sea rises.  A part of Bombay Beach is composed of derelict old trailer homes, shacks and wharfs, slowly sinking in the mud and salt, Imperial County, California

Bombay Beach, lies alongside and below the flood level of the Salton Sea, so that it floods occasionally when the Salton Sea rises. A part of Bombay Beach is composed of derelict old trailer homes, shacks and wharfs, slowly sinking in the mud and salt.
Image ID: 22488
Location: Salton Sea, Imperial County, California, USA

Bombay Beach, lies alongside and below the flood level of the Salton Sea, so that it floods occasionally when the Salton Sea rises.  A part of Bombay Beach is composed of derelict old trailer homes, shacks and wharfs, slowly sinking in the mud and salt, Imperial County, California

Bombay Beach, lies alongside and below the flood level of the Salton Sea, so that it floods occasionally when the Salton Sea rises. A part of Bombay Beach is composed of derelict old trailer homes, shacks and wharfs, slowly sinking in the mud and salt.
Image ID: 22493
Location: Salton Sea, Imperial County, California, USA

More photos of Bombay Beach and photos of the Salton Sea.

Salvation Mountain

California

I recently made a trip out to Anza Borrego Desert State Park to take a look at how the wildflowers are developing there. I arrived at sunrise and took a look at a few of the spots I go to for flowers to see what was blooming and what is yet to come. I saw plenty of the usual species starting to appear: desert lily, dune evening primrose, and sand verbena in particular. However, while it looks like it will be good in a week or two, I did not see any broad expanses of blooms that got me sufficiently interested to get the camera out so I hopped back in the car. Rather than go home, I decided to check out the Salton Sea, a place I had never really looked at before. One of the places I stopped is named Salvation Mountain. Unfortunately I did not meet Leonard Knight while I was there, but it was fun to walk around and admire his amazing creation.

Salvation Mountain, near the desert community of Slab City and the small town of Niland on the east side of the Salton Sea.  Built over several decades by full-time resident Leonard Knight, who lives at the site, Salvation Mountain was built from over 100,000 gallons of paint, haybales, wood and metal and was created by Mr. Knight to convey the message that "God Loves Everyone"

Salvation Mountain, near the desert community of Slab City and the small town of Niland on the east side of the Salton Sea. Built over several decades by full-time resident Leonard Knight, who lives at the site, Salvation Mountain was built from over 100,000 gallons of paint, haybales, wood and metal and was created by Mr. Knight to convey the message that “God Loves Everyone”.
Image ID: 22506
Location: Salvation Mountain, Niland, California, USA

Salvation Mountain, near the desert community of Slab City and the small town of Niland on the east side of the Salton Sea.  Built over several decades by full-time resident Leonard Knight, who lives at the site, Salvation Mountain was built from over 100,000 gallons of paint, haybales, wood and metal and was created by Mr. Knight to convey the message that "God Loves Everyone"

Salvation Mountain, near the desert community of Slab City and the small town of Niland on the east side of the Salton Sea. Built over several decades by full-time resident Leonard Knight, who lives at the site, Salvation Mountain was built from over 100,000 gallons of paint, haybales, wood and metal and was created by Mr. Knight to convey the message that “God Loves Everyone”.
Image ID: 22514
Location: Salvation Mountain, Niland, California, USA

After enjoying Salvation Mountain I took a look at nearby Slab City. Hmmm. Well. Yes. Indeed. After five minutes I decided I had my fill of the Slab City and moved on down the road.