California Brown Pelicans, La Jolla, December 2014

A PDF guide to photographing these pelicans: Guide to Photographing Pelicans in La Jolla. If you like these photos, you can also see lots more blog posts from past sessions photographing California brown pelicans in La Jolla. Or, I’ve got a gallery of some keepers on my website, but most of the good ones from the last couple years I have not even gotten around to captioning and putting the web yet: California Brown Pelican photo gallery.

Thoughts on the Canon 200-400 lens: It’s a little early in December to photograph the pelicans but what the heck. I was able to check the skies at 5am, see that they were clear to the east, and run down to the cliffs to practice my skills with a new lens (see below). Since it is early December I was alone each morning this week; there are none of the crowds or workshops that are often here from Christmas through February. A storm is on the way in from Hawaii, driving a big swell ahead of it that kept the lower rocks wet today, pushing all the birds up to the top area. My guess is that plumage will peak in the first week or two of February, it is still quite early now and only a small fraction of the adults have what I would consider full mating plumage (chestnut brown hindneck, yellow head, deep red and olive throat, etc). The last couple years I have only photographed these birds a few times, having my best luck with a 300mm lens on full frame body. I am now using a Canon 200-400 lens, something I got for safari in Kenya, and now that I have tried it on these birds I can say: it’s the ticket. It is almost as if the Canon 200-400 was invented just for this one location — it’s perfect. Since it is hand-holdable you can dispense with the restrictions and cumbersomeness of a tripod if you wish. All of the following — including the top panorama above which is a stitch of about 20 images, the bottom pano is an iPhone shot — were shot with the Canon 200-400, most handheld, and only a few using the built-in 1.4x teleconverter (which makes the lens a 560mm f/5.6 lens). Note: this lens is sharper and has greater contrast than Nikon’s 200-400; I have owned both and can say this from experience. Both are great but the Canon is the one to get if you can afford it. I select lenses and then get cameras for them (not vica-versa) and this is one lens for which it is worth owning at least one Canon body. I have a 5DIII as dedicated life-support for this one lens. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Brown pelican flying over waves and the surf, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican flying over waves and the surf.
Image ID: 30169
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican in flight, over the ocean, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican in flight, over the ocean.
Image ID: 30172
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican flying over waves and the surf, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican flying over waves and the surf.
Image ID: 30168
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican in flight, over the ocean, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican in flight, over the ocean.
Image ID: 30171
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California Brown Pelican head throw, stretching its throat to keep it flexible and healthy, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California Brown Pelican head throw, stretching its throat to keep it flexible and healthy.
Image ID: 30176
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Cormorants in flight, wings blurred by time exposure, Phalacrocorax auritus, La Jolla, California

Cormorants in flight, wings blurred by time exposure
Image ID: 30163
Species: Double-crested cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican in flight, over the ocean, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican in flight, over the ocean.
Image ID: 30165
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Portrait of California brown pelican, with the characteristic winter mating plumage shown: red throat, yellow head, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Portrait of California brown pelican, with the characteristic winter mating plumage shown: red throat, yellow head.
Image ID: 30167
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican in flight, over the ocean, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican in flight, over the ocean.
Image ID: 30170
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican in flight, over the ocean, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican in flight, over the ocean.
Image ID: 30164
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California Brown Pelican head throw, stretching its throat to keep it flexible and healthy, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California Brown Pelican head throw, stretching its throat to keep it flexible and healthy.
Image ID: 30174
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Sea cliffs and sea caves at sea level, made of sandstone and eroded by waves and tides, La Jolla, California

Sea cliffs and sea caves at sea level, made of sandstone and eroded by waves and tides
Image ID: 30166
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Sea cliffs and sea caves at sea level, made of sandstone and eroded by waves and tides, La Jolla, California

Sea cliffs and sea caves at sea level, made of sandstone and eroded by waves and tides
Image ID: 30173
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Cormorant in flight, wings blurred by time exposure, Phalacrocorax auritus, La Jolla, California

Cormorant in flight, wings blurred by time exposure
Image ID: 30219
Species: Double-crested cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA