Monthly Archives

June 2012

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Trees, Pinus longaeva, White Mountains, Inyo National Forest

Trees, White Mountains

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Trees, Pinus longaeva, White Mountains, Inyo National Forest

Ancient Bristlecone pine trees (Pinus longaeva) live in a relatively restricted area of eastern California, Nevada and Utah, typically at altitudes above 9500′. The ancient bristlecone pine tree is considered to be the world’s oldest species of tree (and indeed the world’s oldest sexually reproducing, nonclonal lifeform). A number of individual bristlecone pine trees are known to exceed 4000 years of age; the “Methuselah tree” in the Schulman grove was estimated to be 4838 years old in 2006. These extraordinarily hardy, gnarled and lonely trees are best seen in the White Mountains of the Inyo National Forest in California. These photos were taken in the Patriarch Grove and the Schulman Grove, two exemplary groves that can be accessed by car. A few new images below and in my gallery of bristlecone pine tree photos were taken on a clear spring night with the Milky Way spread across the sky — it was a moving and serene experience being around such old trees with the heavens spread so dramatically above.

Bristlecone pine displays its characteristic gnarled, twisted form as it rises above the arid, dolomite-rich slopes of the White Mountains at 11000-foot elevation. Patriarch Grove, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Pinus longaeva, White Mountains, Inyo National Forest

Bristlecone pine displays its characteristic gnarled, twisted form as it rises above the arid, dolomite-rich slopes of the White Mountains at 11000-foot elevation. Patriarch Grove, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.
Image ID: 17475
Species: Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva
Location: White Mountains, Inyo National Forest, California, USA

Ancient bristlecone pine trees at night, under a clear night sky full of stars, lit by a full moon, near Patriarch Grove, Pinus longaeva, White Mountains, Inyo National Forest

Ancient bristlecone pine trees at night, under a clear night sky full of stars, lit by a full moon, near Patriarch Grove.
Image ID: 28533
Species: Ancient Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva
Location: White Mountains, Inyo National Forest, California, USA

Stars and the Milky Way rise above ancient bristlecone pine trees, in the White Mountains at an elevation of 10,000' above sea level.  These are some of the oldest trees in the world, reaching 4000 years in age, Pinus longaeva, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, White Mountains, Inyo National Forest

Stars and the Milky Way rise above ancient bristlecone pine trees, in the White Mountains at an elevation of 10,000′ above sea level. These are some of the oldest trees in the world, reaching 4000 years in age.
Image ID: 27772
Species: Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva
Location: Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, White Mountains, Inyo National Forest, California, USA

Stars and the Milky Way rise above ancient bristlecone pine trees, in the White Mountains at an elevation of 10,000' above sea level.  These are some of the oldest trees in the world, reaching 4000 years in age, Pinus longaeva, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, White Mountains, Inyo National Forest

Stars and the Milky Way rise above ancient bristlecone pine trees, in the White Mountains at an elevation of 10,000′ above sea level. These are some of the oldest trees in the world, reaching 4000 years in age.
Image ID: 27776
Species: Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva
Location: Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, White Mountains, Inyo National Forest, California, USA

Ancient bristlecone pine tree, rising above the arid, dolomite-rich slopes of the Schulman Grove in the White Mountains at an elevation of 9500 above sea level, along the Methuselah Walk.  The oldest bristlecone pines in the world are found in the Schulman Grove, some of them over 4700 years old. Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, Pinus longaeva, White Mountains, Inyo National Forest

Ancient bristlecone pine tree, rising above the arid, dolomite-rich slopes of the Schulman Grove in the White Mountains at an elevation of 9500 above sea level, along the Methuselah Walk. The oldest bristlecone pines in the world are found in the Schulman Grove, some of them over 4700 years old. Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.
Image ID: 23236
Species: Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva
Location: White Mountains, Inyo National Forest, California, USA

Ancient bristlecone pine trees at night, under a clear night sky full of stars, lit by a full moon, near Patriarch Grove, Pinus longaeva, White Mountains, Inyo National Forest

Ancient bristlecone pine trees at night, under a clear night sky full of stars, lit by a full moon, near Patriarch Grove.
Image ID: 28539
Species: Ancient Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva
Location: White Mountains, Inyo National Forest, California, USA

Ancient bristlecone pine trees live at extremely high altitudes. In some regions, the lower treeline for bristlecone pines exceeds the upper treeline for all other species. Bristlecone forests often occur in areas where there is a strong carbonate content (limestone, dolomite and/or marble). In these barren, remote mountain areas, exposure to constant wind, excessive sun and bitter cold has molded the trees into remarkably gnarled, twisted shapes that have captured the interest of photographers and artists for years.

The trees do not grow tall — 60′ is about the tallest — but tend to be girthy with a wide base and roots that splay outward in all directions. Ancient bristlecone pine trees grow very slowly, and pine needles are infrequently dropped with some living for 30 years. Pinus longaeva has evolved a few strategies that yield such a long lifespan. Their wood is extraordinarily dense, and full of resin, making it nearly impossible for invasive bacteria and insects (what few there are in that inhospitable climate) to bore into and damage the wood. Bristlecone pines also tolerate a gradual dieback of their bark, in such a way that old specimens may have only a small amount of living bark. While the tree may appear dead or nearly so, this is actually an advantage as it lessens the bulk of living material the root system and crown must support. In some old trees, a thin strip of bark a foot or less in size is enough to support a healthy specimen.

Ancient bristlecone wood is so resistant to decay, and occurs in such an arid and cold environment, that fallen pieces dating back 8000+ years have been found in some groves. These pieces have been used in the calibration of the radiocarbon time-dating method, a technique which is employed in a broad range of scientific disciplines.

Please see my gallery of ancient bristlecone pine tree photos. Thanks for looking!

San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina Panorama

San Diego

This is a panoramic photo of the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina viewed from North Embarcadero Park along San Diego Bay’s beautiful waterfront. The Marriott Hotel is the pair of curved glass-covered buildings rising directly ahead. Between and below them is Roy’s Restaurant. The Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel is the pair of tall buildings at far left. The top of the “sails” of the San Diego Convention Center are at far right. The graceful long white boat is one of the Hornblower Tours cruise ships. This was made on one of those gorgeous evenings we often have during winter in San Diego, with warm hues lighting the building from sunset and clear blue skies above.

Panoramic photo of San Diego embarcadero, showing the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina (center), Roy's Restaurant (center) and Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel (left) viewed from the San Diego Embarcadero Marine Park

Panoramic photo of San Diego embarcadero, showing the San Diego Marriott Hotel and Marina (center), Roy’s Restaurant (center) and Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel (left) viewed from the San Diego Embarcadero Marine Park.
Image ID: 26568
Location: San Diego, California, USA

I prefer this version with clean deep blue sky since if offers lots of room to drop in text. A few evenings prior to this I shot another version of this composition with a bit more color in the sky. If you like this, be sure to see more of my San Diego photos.

The World’s Greatest Photo Subjects

Icons, Wisdom

The World’s Greatest Photo Subjects. I’m going big with this blog entry! After 20 years of making photographs, I realized I have had the good fortune of seeing some of Earth’s greatest natural history spectacles with my own eyes. I looked back and made a list of eleven of the subjects I have photographed that qualify as the “World’s Greatest” in some way.

1) The Largest Animal Ever to Inhabit Earth – The Blue Whale. Of all the photographic subjects I have pursued, my collection of blue whale photos is perhaps the group of which I am most proud. These were all made in cold California water, often in visibility so poor that the entire 80′ whale could not be seen at once, and usually miles from shore in sometimes rough seas. I made my first blue whale photo 18 years ago and it has taken a lot of focus and effort in the intervening years to produce the subsequent images. Words cannot describe what the experience of being near a blue whale in its element is like. If I never see another blue whale in my life, I will still consider myself a lucky underwater photographer. More blue whale photos.

Blue whale underwater photo showing entire whale head (rostrum) to tail (fluke).  This picture of a blue whale shows it swimming through the open ocean, a rare underwater view.  Specialized underwater camera gear, including an extremely wide lens, was used to capture the entire enormous whale in a single photograph, Balaenoptera musculus

Blue whale underwater photo showing entire whale head (rostrum) to tail (fluke). This picture of a blue whale shows it swimming through the open ocean, a rare underwater view. Specialized underwater camera gear, including an extremely wide lens, was used to capture the entire enormous whale in a single photograph.
Image ID: 27300
Species: Blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus
Location: California, USA

2) The Largest Toothed Whale (Odontocete) in the World – The Sperm Whale. 16 years ago I was involved with a television production in the Azores, filming sperm whales for Tokyo Broadcasting System. We spent a month at sea near Sao Miguel Island on a 150-year-old sardine trawler, the Silvery Light, following sperm whales with our hydrophones and filming them when they were at the surface. I had a few opportunities to shoot stills too. Nowadays photos of sperm whales are common with tour groups in the Caribbean taking people up close to these astounding, deep-diving animals. Ogasawara in Japan is also well known for sperm whale encounters, and of course the Azores.

Sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, Sao Miguel Island

Sperm whale.
Image ID: 02078
Species: Sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus
Location: Sao Miguel Island, Azores, Portugal

3) The Largest Cartilaginous Fish in the World – The Whale Shark. Reaching over 40′ (12m) in length and up to 24 tons in size, the whale shark is a true giant. However, it eats planktonic food and small fish, has no teeth, and is generally considered harmless. Most divers consider seeing a whale shark underwater a highlight of their diving career. I’ve seen a few, all but one of them in the Galapagos Islands.

A whale shark swims through the open ocean in the Galapagos Islands.  The whale shark is the largest shark on Earth, but is harmless eating plankton and small fish, Rhincodon typus, Darwin Island

A whale shark swims through the open ocean in the Galapagos Islands. The whale shark is the largest shark on Earth, but is harmless eating plankton and small fish.
Image ID: 01520
Species: Whale shark, Rhincodon typus
Location: Darwin Island, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

4) The Largest Bony (Teleost) Fish in the World – The Ocean Sunfish. California has to be the best place in the world to see the odd ocean sunfish, Mola mola. Some years the waters off our coast are plugged with sunfish in seemingly uncountable numbers, and other times they are nowhere to be seen. The species Mola mola grows to 11′ (3.3m) in length and over 2 tons in size. They are found not only at the ocean surface but are also known to swim as deep as 2000′ (600m) in search of pelagic zooplankton (jellyfish) which are their normal diet. While offshore looking for whales we have often found ocean sunfish, many times they are swimming near clumps of drifting kelp seeking to be cleaned of parasites by the smaller fish that inhabit the kelp.

Ocean sunfish and freediving photographer, open ocean, Mola mola, San Diego, California

Ocean sunfish and freediving photographer, open ocean.
Image ID: 03491
Species: Ocean sunfish, Mola mola
Location: San Diego, California, USA

5) The Largest Tree in the World – The Giant Sequoia Tree. I remember my first hikes as a kid among giant sequoia trees, being astounded by how massive the trunk of this species can be. They can be quite old, living 3500 years, but are not the oldest of trees. And while they are not quite the tallest trees in the world, they are easily the largest in terms of volume, reaching a height of 311′ (95m) and 56′ (17m) in diameter. That’s huge! They are only found in 68 groves in the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada in California, where soil and moisture are just right.

A giant sequoia tree, soars skyward from the forest floor, lit by the morning sun and surrounded by other sequioas.  The massive trunk characteristic of sequoia trees is apparent, as is the crown of foliage starting high above the base of the tree, Sequoiadendron giganteum, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park, California

A giant sequoia tree, soars skyward from the forest floor, lit by the morning sun and surrounded by other sequioas. The massive trunk characteristic of sequoia trees is apparent, as is the crown of foliage starting high above the base of the tree.
Image ID: 23259
Species: Giant sequoia tree, Sequoiadendron giganteum
Location: Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park, California, USA

6) The Tallest Tree in the World – The Coastal Redwood Tree. A few summers ago, we took a family vacation in Redwood National Park. It was our first time seeing the magnificent Coastal Redwood Trees that inhabit the mist-shrouded groves along the coastal region of northern California. These skyscrapers reach 379′ (115m) in height and live to be 1800 years in age. Unfortunately, over 95% of the original old-growth redwood forest has been cut for lumber, but much of the remaining trees are protected now.

Giant redwood, Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Redwood National Park.  The coastal redwood, or simply 'redwood', is the tallest tree on Earth, reaching a height of 379' and living 3500 years or more.  It is native to coastal California and the southwestern corner of Oregon within the United States, but most concentrated in Redwood National and State Parks in Northern California, found close to the coast where moisture and soil conditions can support its unique size and growth requirements, Sequoia sempervirens

Giant redwood, Lady Bird Johnson Grove, Redwood National Park. The coastal redwood, or simply ‘redwood’, is the tallest tree on Earth, reaching a height of 379′ and living 3500 years or more. It is native to coastal California and the southwestern corner of Oregon within the United States, but most concentrated in Redwood National and State Parks in Northern California, found close to the coast where moisture and soil conditions can support its unique size and growth requirements.
Image ID: 25795
Species: Coast redwood, giant redwood, California redwood, Sequoia sempervirens
Location: Redwood National Park, California, USA

7) The Largest Pinniped in the World – The Elephant Seal. I have encountered elephant seals, the giants of the pinniped world and some of the ocean world’s deepest divers, along the west coast of North America, at remote Mexican islands off the coast of Baja California, and in the Falkland Islands and Antarctica. These remarkable animals reach a length of 16′ (5m) and weigh over 3 tons! The southern species is a little larger than the northern species, but the natural history and behavior of the two species is quite similar. Shown below is a juvenile elephant seal underwater, in the clear waters of Guadalupe Island. One of my proudest moments diving and photographing in the ocean was being pinned on the bottom in about 5′ of water at the San Benito Islands by several inquisitive elephant seals. The moving water and approaching seals conspired, and I ended up below two of the gargantuan, soft, itchy beasts, my back pressed to the sand bottom, holding my breath, wondering if I would be released before I passed out. Soon enough another wave passed through and moved us all in such a way that I was able to slip away unscathed and much relieved. I am sure the elephant seals were not aggressive for had they been they could have easily hurt me. I also suspect they were not interested in mating with me, but I did not stick around long enough to ask.

A northern elephant seal hovers underwater over a rocky bottom  along the coastline of Guadalupe Island, Mirounga angustirostris, Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe)

A northern elephant seal hovers underwater over a rocky bottom along the coastline of Guadalupe Island.
Image ID: 03505
Species: Elephant seal, Mirounga angustirostris
Location: Guadalupe Island (Isla Guadalupe), Baja California, Mexico

8) The Oldest Organism on Earth – The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Tree. High in the White Mountains of eastern California is found one of my favorite trees, the bristlecone pine. These trees are truly extreme, living at an altitude of 10,000′ to 11,000′ (3000-3400m) and living more than 4,750 years! I find it amazing to think of the history that has passed by, the changes that have occurred on Earth, the river of humanity that has come and gone, all while these old trees have persisted atop the crest of the White Mountains. Some of the bristlecones I have photographed were alive and already old when Jesus lived and when the Caesars ruled. I recently photographed bristlecones under the Milky Way, and the juxtaposition of these two ancient natural spectacles was moving.

Stars and the Milky Way rise above ancient bristlecone pine trees, in the White Mountains at an elevation of 10,000' above sea level.  These are some of the oldest trees in the world, reaching 4000 years in age, Pinus longaeva, Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, White Mountains, Inyo National Forest

Stars and the Milky Way rise above ancient bristlecone pine trees, in the White Mountains at an elevation of 10,000′ above sea level. These are some of the oldest trees in the world, reaching 4000 years in age.
Image ID: 27772
Species: Bristlecone Pine, Pinus longaeva
Location: Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, White Mountains, Inyo National Forest, California, USA

9) The Largest Sirenian in the World – The West Indian Manatee. Florida Manatees, those adorable and ugly potato-like animals found in Florida and the Caribbean, reach weights of 1300 lbs and 15′ (4.5m) in length. I spent a week photographing manatees in Florida in the 90’s and had a great time but was dismayed to see a number of these gentle giants exhibiting prop scars from passing motorboats. Manatees are classified as an endangered species and receive protection from both the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

A Florida manatee, or West Indian Manatee, swims slowly through the clear waters of Crystal River, Trichechus manatus, Three Sisters Springs

A Florida manatee, or West Indian Manatee, swims slowly through the clear waters of Crystal River.
Image ID: 02696
Species: West Indian manatee, Trichechus manatus
Location: Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River, Florida, USA

10) The Largest Wingspan of any Living Bird in the World – The Wandering Albatross. The only time I have seen the Wandering Albatross, one of the most impressive seabirds on Earth, was while making the lonely and long crossing from the Falkland Islands to South Georgia Island. With a wingspan of up to 12′ (3.7m) the Wandering Albatross can fly for several hours without beating its wings, using the uplift from passing ocean swells to keep it aloft. The oft-quoted ornithologist Robert Cushman Murphy said it well upon sighting his first Wandering Albatross in 1912: I now belong to a higher cult of mortals, for I have seen the albatross!

Wandering albatross in flight, over the open sea.  The wandering albatross has the largest wingspan of any living bird, with the wingspan between, up to 12' from wingtip to wingtip.  It can soar on the open ocean for hours at a time, riding the updrafts from individual swells, with a glide ratio of 22 units of distance for every unit of drop.  The wandering albatross can live up to 23 years.  They hunt at night on the open ocean for cephalopods, small fish, and crustaceans. The survival of the species is at risk due to mortality from long-line fishing gear, Diomedea exulans

Wandering albatross in flight, over the open sea. The wandering albatross has the largest wingspan of any living bird, with the wingspan between, up to 12′ from wingtip to wingtip. It can soar on the open ocean for hours at a time, riding the updrafts from individual swells, with a glide ratio of 22 units of distance for every unit of drop. The wandering albatross can live up to 23 years. They hunt at night on the open ocean for cephalopods, small fish, and crustaceans. The survival of the species is at risk due to mortality from long-line fishing gear.
Image ID: 24071
Species: Wandering albatross, Diomedea exulans
Location: Southern Ocean

11) The Fastest Growing Organism on Earth – Giant Kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera. Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera, is the largest of all algae, growing up to 160′ (50m) during the lifespan of a single stalk. Macrocystis can grow up to 2′ per day in optimal conditions. Giant kelp is one of the most beautiful underwater habitats in which to dive, and my favorite place to take pictures underwater (when not around animals!).

Kelp frond showing pneumatocysts, Macrocystis pyrifera, San Clemente Island

Kelp frond showing pneumatocysts.
Image ID: 00627
Species: Giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera
Location: San Clemente Island, California, USA

New Surf Photos?

Surf

I’ve decided to renew my surf photography efforts this year, using the new Canon 5D Mark III camera as the workhorse. I am having my surf housing retooled to work with this camera, along with the 15mm fisheye and 16-35mm f/2.8 zoom, and will have it fitted with flash capability so I can shoot in the twilight hours (hopefully) when there is some sunrise or sunset color in the sky. My experience with shooting surf is that frame rate is vitally important. In other words, being able to capture 6 or 8 frames in that one second of peak action is crucial, compared to, say, just 2 or 3 frames. My best luck in the past was with the Canon 1D Mark II N, shooting 8 frames per second, but the files were on the small side and do not support the large printing I want to accomplish. I’m gambling that the frame rate of the 5D Mark III, with its 6 frames per second, along with the full frame file size will make it a potent tool for shooting surf in the water.

Hopefully I will have new wave photographs starting in a few weeks!

Sunset wave, Ponto, Carlsbad, California

Sunset wave.
Image ID: 19396
Location: Ponto, Carlsbad, California, USA

Yosemite Falls and Merced River in Spring, Yosemite National Park

Yosemite

Yosemite Falls and the Merced River

I’m hooked on water in the Sierra Nevada and constantly try to find ways to include water in my images whenever possible. The Merced River, one of the major waterways flowing through the watershed of the western Sierra Nevada, usually flows quite high in May and June and it is for this reason that I prefer to visit Yosemite Valley during those months. The Swinging Bridge offers the great view of Upper Yosemite Falls shown below, but the lower section of the falls is generally obscured by trees at this location (you will have to move east into the meadow to see the lower cascade peek through the trees a bit). From this area of Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls is generally best photographed in the morning hours. However, I have found that early morning is NOT optimal for one simple reason: due to orientation of the walls surrounding the upper falls, the sun does not light the water directly until mid-morning. Because of this, I wait until the sun has just reached the upper falls and lit them fully, yet the side-lighting at this time is still extreme enough that super detail is seen in the rock walls. I’ve made many images of Yosemite Falls and also have a gallery of photographs of Yosemite National Park as well.

Yosemite Falls rises above the Merced River, viewed from the Swinging Bridge. The 2425' falls is the tallest in North America, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Falls rises above the Merced River, viewed from the Swinging Bridge. The 2425′ falls is the tallest in North America.
Image ID: 27741
Location: Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Sunrise over Half Dome from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park

Yosemite

Half Dome Sunrise, from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park

I was alone on Glacier Point on the morning I made this photograph. Temperatures were cool but not as chilly as I expected it to be given the altitude, season and exposure of this dramatic viewpoint. The air was clear and still with the only sound to be heard the occasional call of a hawk that was periodically passing overhead. I watched as the swift dawn first lit the distant peaks above Tuolumne Meadows, then filled in shadowed Yosemite Valley far below, before the first sliver of sunlight peeked around the shoulder of the great granite monolith to warm my face.

If you like this, please see more of my Yosemite National Park photos. Thanks for looking!

Half Dome at sunrise, viewed from Glacier Point, Yosemite National Park, California

Half Dome at sunrise, viewed from Glacier Point.
Image ID: 27737
Location: Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Yosemite Falls and Star Trails at Night

Astrophotography and Night Scapes, Yosemite

Yosemite Falls at Night, with Star Trails and Polaris

Yosemite Falls is easily the one waterfall near which I have spent the most time over the course of my life. I am in Yosemite often, especially in spring which is my favorite season to be in Yosemite National Park, and after 40+ years of admiring Yosemite Falls I find it a challenge to photograph it in new and inspiring ways. This image was taken on an evening with a nearly full moon so the lighting is comparable to that found during the day (moonlight is nothing more than reflected sunlight!) but the exposure time is sufficiently long that the waterfall is blurred nicely and the stars above trace arcs as the Earth rotates below. The cumulative exposure was about 60 minutes, and I made sure to include Polaris (the “North Star”) in the composition for interest. If this image interests you, check out my growing collection of astrophotography landscapes, nightscapes and noctural photography!

Yosemite Falls and star trails, at night, viewed from Cook's Meadow, illuminated by the light of the full moon, Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite Falls and star trails, at night, viewed from Cook’s Meadow, illuminated by the light of the full moon.
Image ID: 27733
Location: Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California, USA