Category

Pelicans

The Original Wind Surfers: Pelicans, Waves and Surf

Birds, Pelicans, San Diego

Wikipedia describes the origins of wind surfing in the 1940s and 1950s. It couldn’t be more wrong. For as long as they have existed, sea birds and their ancestors have plied the oceans, riding the updrafts of surf, waves and sea swells to gain efficiency and a free ride. My favorite practitioner of this skill is the pelican, although the wandering albatross is a close second. I have been watching pelicans cruise the coastline of my southern California home with a graceful effortlessness my whole life. This winter I made it a goal to shoot some images of brown pelicans surfing and skimming waves. Here are a few of my favorites, photographed in Carlsbad, Encinitas, Del Mar and La Jolla. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

California Pelican flying on a wave, riding the updraft from the wave, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus

California Pelican flying on a wave, riding the updraft from the wave.
Image ID: 30257
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus

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: 30199
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California Pelican flying on a wave, riding the updraft from the wave, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus

California Pelican flying on a wave, riding the updraft from the wave.
Image ID: 30262
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus

California Pelican flying on a wave, riding the updraft from the wave, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus

California Pelican flying on a wave, riding the updraft from the wave.
Image ID: 30275
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus

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: 30193
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California Brown Pelican flying over a breaking wave, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California Brown Pelican flying over a breaking wave
Image ID: 30353
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California Pelican flying on a wave, riding the updraft from the wave, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus

California Pelican flying on a wave, riding the updraft from the wave.
Image ID: 30277
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus

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: 30194
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California Pelican flying on a wave, riding the updraft from the wave, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus

California Pelican flying on a wave, riding the updraft from the wave.
Image ID: 30278
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus

California Brown Pelican flying over a breaking wave, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California Brown Pelican flying over a breaking wave
Image ID: 30364
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California Brown Pelican flying over a breaking wave, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California Brown Pelican flying over a breaking wave
Image ID: 30374
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California Pelican flying on a wave, riding the updraft from the wave, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus

California Pelican flying on a wave, riding the updraft from the wave.
Image ID: 30273
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus

California Pelican flying on a wave, riding the updraft from the wave, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus

California Pelican flying on a wave, riding the updraft from the wave.
Image ID: 30314
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus

California Brown Pelican flying over a breaking wave, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California Brown Pelican flying over a breaking wave
Image ID: 30352
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California Pelican flying on a wave, riding the updraft from the wave, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus

California Pelican flying on a wave, riding the updraft from the wave.
Image ID: 30264
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus

I photograph brown California brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis). If you like these, please see more California brown pelican photos or a little PDF e-guide about photographing California brown pelicans in La Jolla.

Photographing the Head Throw of the California Brown Pelican in La Jolla

Pelicans

I photograph brown California brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis). A lot. I love them, they are at once both graceful and awkward. They surf. They dive. They eat fish. They live along the coast of California. All things I like to do too! Here are some of my favorite images, showing how beautiful these birds can be: California brown pelican photos.

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: 30304
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

There is one peculiar behavior that pelicans exhibit that is quite challenging to photograph: the “head throw“. Also known as a “bill throw”, it occurs when a pelican throws its head up and back, way way back! The head throw is thought to be a way for the pelican to stretch the skin of its gular pouch — its throat — in order to maintain its flexibility and health. The California race of brown pelican exhibits striking mating coloration in winter, including a colorful red and green throat, yellow head and breast patch, and a bright white or deep chestnut brown hind neck. When a California brown pelican tosses its head back into a bill throw, the rich olive and red colors of its throat are really on display. This year I decided to focus my photography on a couple aspects of these birds that I had not yet photographed to my satisfaction in the past, one of which was the head throw. (The other is surf, which I will share in a few days.) I had plenty of head throw photos before, including some very nice ones, but I wanted to make some new really top notch ones, real keepers. I now have dozens of head throw sequences captured by my camera this season (thank you Canon) but only a few that I feel are really perfect, framed well with super light, rich color and sharp as a tack.

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: 28347
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

One key to photographing this behavior is to know where and when to find pelicans — that’s no secret. Another is to have ideal conditions. I live in the San Diego area so I can simply look outside to make sure the skies are clear — yielding perfect light for about an hour after sunrise — before investing the time to go shoot. Lastly, the pelicans need to be in the right mood — not bothered by people, dogs or big waves — and preening, drying and warming themselves in the sun. It is when they are relaxed and preening that they will do head throws. Once the pelican has lain down it is unlikely to do any more bill throws.

Brown pelican stretches its neck, to keep its throat pouch limber.  The characteristic winter mating plumage of the California race of brown pelican is shown, with deep red gular throat, yellow head and dark brown hindneck, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican stretches its neck, to keep its throat pouch limber. The characteristic winter mating plumage of the California race of brown pelican is shown, with deep red gular throat, yellow head and dark brown hindneck.
Image ID: 23648
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican head throw.  During a bill throw, the pelican arches its neck back, lifting its large bill upward and stretching its throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican head throw. During a bill throw, the pelican arches its neck back, lifting its large bill upward and stretching its throat pouch.
Image ID: 18044
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

A challenge is anticipating when a head throw will occur, since they seem to be almost random for folks unfamiliar with pelicans. With lots of practice and 25 years spent watching this colony every winter, I’ve become fairly good at knowing when a bird is about to throw its head back, and can frame up the act and capture it reasonably well about 50% of the time. (Hey, even a blind squirrel sometimes find a nut!) It might help to think about the cat, that vile, irritable, nasty and vomit-inclined species of vermin. Cat owners usually have a sense when little precious is about to gack up a hairball or barf its last fetid, colorless meal. The creature stops licking itself, or tearing up the couch, or whatever it happens to be doing, and instead tips its head out at an odd angle, jerks its neck once or twice like something is wrong and perhaps a strange death-rattle sound eminates from its belly. Then, a few moments later – WHAM! — the cat does its thing all over your floor. It is similar with brown pelicans, only they are not so nasty. Often before one does a head throw, it will cock its head and neck at a odd angle, clap its beak once or twice, maybe even invert its throat (like sticking out its tongue) before it grows still. It may open its beak slightly as it pauses. Then, quickly, it raises its bill straight up and back, mouth open, then closing the mouth as it lowers it beak again. 2 seconds later, its over. But fortunately, a pelican that has just done a head throw is fairly likely to do it again in a few moments, so be ready to get it the second time if you miss it the first time.

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: 30297
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican head throw.  During a bill throw, the pelican arches its neck back, lifting its large bill upward and stretching its throat pouch, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican head throw. During a bill throw, the pelican arches its neck back, lifting its large bill upward and stretching its throat pouch.
Image ID: 20284
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

A tip for photographers: don’t have too much lens! I like the Canon 200-400 (with built in extender) on a full frame body for all pelican photography in La Jolla these days. I see serious out-of-town bird photographers with 600 or 800mm, perhaps even on a crop body. Good luck with that. Perhaps the 800mm photographer is looking for head portraits – not that there’s anything wrong with that. But if you want full body flight and head throw shots in La Jolla, I recommend 300mm as a starting point, and sometimes will shoot a bit wider if there are lots of pelicans right up close to where I like to shoot from. With a 600 or 800, it may be hard to fit the entire bird when it is stretched out to its fullest during a head throw along with enough negative space, and there is a good chance you will clip the head or feet unless you are way way back. (I’ve even seen a few guys this year return to their cars to get a second setup because the 500mm they were using was too much for flight and head throws.) Yes, once you realize you have just clipped the feet during the head throw that you spent $4000 and travelled from the east coast to shoot, you could take several photos immediately afterward of the feet, rocks, etc and Franken-blend a composite using techniques learned in your last workshop. But natural history photographers can’t be cheaters in that way (just ask Nat Geo) and just see what happens when you submit that image to a major contest or a decent publication A rough rule of thumb I have when waiting for a head throw is to expect the composition to be about twice as tall as the bird is when it is relaxed and sitting.

California brown pelican, throwing head back to stretch its throat, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California brown pelican, throwing head back to stretch its throat.
Image ID: 26287
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. Note the winter mating plumage, olive and red throat, yellow head, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California Brown Pelican head throw, stretching its throat to keep it flexible and healthy. Note the winter mating plumage, olive and red throat, yellow head.
Image ID: 30341
Species: Brown pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

If you like these, please see more California brown pelican photos or a little PDF e-guide about this choice spot. Cheers and thanks for looking!

California Brown Pelicans, La Jolla, December 2014

Pelicans

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

California Brown Pelicans, Winter Plumage, La Jolla

Pelicans

The plumage of La Jolla’s California brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) has been especially striking this year, it seems there are more really red throats and deep brown necked adult brown pelicans on the bluffs than usual. I also find it interesting how much color variation there is in the bills of these birds, from pink and red to gray to white or sometimes near black. The last two weeks have had exceptional weather with clear dry offshores, which makes for good photography. It really has been like shooting fish in a barrel, the great conditions combined with the latest autofocus gear makes flight photography a breeze. I drove down the coast to admire the waves at sunrise, and stopped for a bit in La Jolla. There was ideal light plus a large swell that arrived yesterday had the water stirred up far below making for slight different texture to the background of portrait and flight photos. These are the images I kept from this morning; all were shot handheld with a 5DIII and 300/2.8, they razor sharp on the eyes and little or no cropping needed. If you like these, please see more California brown pelican photos or a little PDF e-guide about this choice spot. Cheers and thanks for looking!

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage.
Image ID: 29086
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: 29085
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage.
Image ID: 29084
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: 29087
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: 29088
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage.
Image ID: 29089
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

La Jolla Bluffs, Gulls, Cormorants and Pelicans

Pelicans

I have not been down to the La Jolla bluffs to see the birds for a couple weeks to see my favorite seabirds, the California race of the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), so I thought I would take a look this morning. I had hoped the projected swell would be up this morning, allowing for flight shots over breaking surf, but it looks like the waves will not arrive until tomorrow. Its a good thing I waited until the weekend, as a buddy who was just there mentioned that the situation was less than copecetic when he photographed there yesterday. This morning was slow on the bird action but still fun, and I bumped into a couple San Diego photographers I had not seen in a year so that was nice. I took very few photos, instead taking in the warm sun. It was nearly glass calm all morning. This is what I kept from this morning, all shot handheld with 5DIII and 300/2.8, razor sharp on the eyes and little or no cropping needed:

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage
Image ID: 28968
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage
Image ID: 28969
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage
Image ID: 28970
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: 28979
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

See more California brown pelican photos and a little PDF e-guide about this choice spot.

California Brown Pelicans in Flight, La Jolla, California

Pelicans

The morning light along our coast has been very nice lately, not to mention our temps have been balmy while the rest of the country is in deep freeze. I’ve had a couple nice morning sessions photographing my favorite seabirds, the California race of the brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis), including some views of adults in winter plumage (red/olive throat, white/yellow head, chestnut brown hindneck, both mating and non-mating varieties) against not only blue water but also rocks and shadowed sea cliffs.

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage
Image ID: 28968
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

These were all made this morning with a full frame camera and 300mm f/2.8 lens, hand-held, on the upper part of the bluff in La Jolla. I choose to shoot only on clear sky mornings, and don’t begin shooting until the sun just crests Mount Soledad and begins to shine on the pelicans as they approach the bluff in flight (I have enough photos of pelicans in shadow that frankly I never want another). That would be about 7:40 these days, although I do arrive early so I can slowly find a position before the homecoming birds arrive without disturbing the ones that are already there. I try not to focus on immature pelicans any longer; it might be good practice but their coloration just does not make for appealing images (except as documentary shots which serious bird photographers shoot much better than I). I position myself so that the light is over my shoulder and my shadow is pointed where I think the pelicans will be, and then I wait and wait and wait until a pelican crosses through the waiting composition. (I use the same technique underwater shooting sharks and sea lions, choosing a composition that makes good use of the light and my focal length and then waiting for the subjects to play their part). This morning I only had about 6-8 decent flight passes by mature adults, but they were productive and I managed a keeper from each one. If you are curious, I’ve compiled my thoughts on photographing California brown pelicans in La Jolla in a PDF article. Cheers and thanks for looking!

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage
Image ID: 28969
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage
Image ID: 28972
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage
Image ID: 28970
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: 28979
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage
Image ID: 28977
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

California brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage
Image ID: 28971
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Seabird Entanglement in Monofilament Fishing Line

Environmental Problems, Pelicans

Unfortunately, I have another image of wildlife entanglement to share, this time a California brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) entangled in monofilament fishing line. This seabird appeared to me to have ingested a hook or lure, so that one end of the monofilament fishing line was down its throat while the remainder of the line was wrapped in and around the pelican’s beak and neck. I have other photos of monofilament fishing line injury to marine wildlife. I also had a blog post some time ago about Seabird and Sea Lion Entanglement Photos.

Brown pelican, entangled in monofilament fishing line, showing winter mating plumage colors, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican, entangled in monofilament fishing line, showing winter mating plumage colors
Image ID: 28966
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

End of the World Pelicans

Pelicans

I figured the Mayan World’s End is coming soon, so I would go photograph some pelicans before it was all over. Here are a few new photographs of brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus). Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage
Image ID: 28356
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage
Image ID: 28357
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican in flight, spreading wings wide to slow in anticipation of landing on seacliffs, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican in flight, spreading wings wide to slow in anticipation of landing on seacliffs.
Image ID: 28354
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla

Brown pelican in flight. The wingspan of the brown pelican is over 7 feet wide. The California race of the brown pelican holds endangered species status. In winter months, breeding adults assume a dramatic plumage
Image ID: 28351
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Western gull, early morning pink sky, Larus occidentalis, La Jolla, California

Western gull, early morning pink sky
Image ID: 28353
Species: Western gull, Larus occidentalis
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

I’ve compiled my thoughts on photographing California brown pelicans in La Jolla in a PDF article.

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.

Brown Pelican and Belt of Venus

Pelicans

I set up to make photographs of brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus) in front of the thin pastel colors of the “belt of Venus”, or “Earth Shadow”, that forms just above the horizon at dawn and dusk when atmospheric conditions are favorable. If you can’t envision what the Belt of Venus looks like, check it out on this photograph of Earth Shadow over Morro Rock. Cheers and thanks for looking!

Brown pelican in flight, softly lit by flash against pink predawn sky, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican in flight, softly lit by flash against pink predawn sky
Image ID: 28346
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

I’ve compiled my thoughts on photographing California brown pelicans in La Jolla in a PDF article.

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.

Braking to Land

Pelicans

This morning offered about 30 minutes of good light before the clouds took the sun away. Here are a few of photographs of brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus) returning from the ocean where they have been foraging for food, spreading their large wings wide as they brake to land on the sea cliffs above the cave. Cheers, and thanks for looking!

Brown pelican in flight, spreading wings wide to slow in anticipation of landing on seacliffs, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican in flight, spreading wings wide to slow in anticipation of landing on seacliffs.
Image ID: 28333
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican in flight, spreading wings wide to slow in anticipation of landing on seacliffs, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican in flight, spreading wings wide to slow in anticipation of landing on seacliffs.
Image ID: 28336
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Brown pelican in flight, spreading wings wide to slow in anticipation of landing on seacliffs, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Brown pelican in flight, spreading wings wide to slow in anticipation of landing on seacliffs.
Image ID: 28334
Species: Brown Pelican, Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, La Jolla, California

Image ID: 28335
Species: Pelecanus occidentalis, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

Double-crested cormorants in flight at sunrise, long exposure produces a blurred motion, La Jolla, California

Double-crested cormorants in flight at sunrise, long exposure produces a blurred motion
Image ID: 28339
Location: La Jolla, California, USA

I’ve compiled my thoughts on photographing California brown pelicans in La Jolla in a PDF article.

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.