I love going to Point Reyes whenever I get a chance. I’ve never had a bad outing, but every once in a while I have a day that really brings home what an amazing spot we have just an hour and a half from San Francisco.
As I frequently do, I started out driving toward Drakes Beach. I didn’t see much until I got to Drakes Beach Road. As I was passing the ranch house, I noticed a Red-Tailed Hawk flying onto a chimney. I pulled over, but couldn’t get an interesting shot. I was about to get going again, when I noticed something to my left.
It turned out there was a Coyote polishing off a rodent near the side of the road. Naturally, I got out to investigate further. The Coyote moved down the hill a bit, so I slipped under the fence to follow.
There wasn’t just one Coyote, there were three of them! I didn’t manage a shot of all three in one frame, but I got this tender moment. Based on their relative sizes I think this is either a male and his mate or a parent and a juvenile.
The Coyotes didn’t seem to mind me. They were content to sniff around for gophers within easy reach of my 600 mm lens. They were aware of my presence and generally moving away from me, but they were in no hurry as they kept browsing for gophers while giving me the occasional glance.
I really like the layering in these photos.
Eventually, the Coyotes had enough of this field and trotted away on a game trail. I got ready to pack up and head to the car. Then I looked up the hill towards the car.
We had an observer. I’m not sure how long it had been up there, but this Coyote appeared to be following the pack I’d just been photographing. It made its way down the hill, not showing any deference to the calling card the pack had left. I, naturally, started photographing the new arrival.
I was really proud of this shot. I saw the Coyote disappear behind some coyote bush, scanned for an opening, and waited for it to pop out framed by bushes on each side. I like that I was able to bring more of the habitat into the photo, and do a bit of a variation on a basic face shot.
After the Coyote had been nosing around for a few minutes, I noticed it looking up at the sky, which seemed a bit unusual.
It turned out a Northern Harrier was hunting just over the ridge, occasionally riding the breeze up to the top of the ridge. This was the best shot I got of the two of them together.
The Harrier eventually made its way over the ridge and started hunting on our side of the hill. At this point, I was sharing a field with a Coyote while a Northern Harrier flew in circles around me. I’d never experienced anything remotely like that before.
There must have been something attracting all these predators because I also started hearing Red-Tailed Hawks calling up above. They didn’t come within photographing range, but a couple of them kept circling the field.
Finally, one of the Red-Tailed Hawks went to land on a tree near the road. I headed up to try to photograph it, at which point the only battery I had with me died. The rest were all back in the car. That seemed like a good cue to wrap things up and move on.
My next stop was the bull elk herd near Drakes Beach. The sun had come out, so I didn’t have great light to work with. I really liked the light pattern the haze made on the hills behind the elk, so I tried for a more silhouetted look. I admit to taking plenty of liberties with the color temperature in post!
I found a Townsend’s Warbler at Drakes Beach, but it stayed high up in its tree and didn’t yield any good photographs.
My next encounter was all luck. I pulled into the parking lot at Abbotts Lagoon, got out of the car, and started packing my camera equipment into my bag. Suddenly, I noticed a pair of photographers headed my way, telephoto lens at the ready. I looked up and realized I had parked right in front of a juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk perched on a bush! I got a few photographs off before it flew off to a nearby bush. While it didn’t appear to mind one photographer packing up its gear, three proved too many.
The Red-Shouldered Hawk’s path ended up mirroring my own, so as I started walking down the trail at Abbott’s Lagoon, it flew along, sometimes getting ahead of me, sometimes letting me get ahead to photograph it with the sun at my back. It perched both on fence posts and on bushes.
Normally I would leave a hawk alone after disturbing it from its perch. In this case it was flying along a well-trafficked foot path, so there was no point hanging back. Other visitors were coming and going along the path and it mostly went about its business.
Conditions can change very rapidly at Point Reyes. Less than five minutes elapsed from the first of these photos to the last.
This last perch was our parting spot. After this it continued working along a fence line heading out perpendicularly from the trail, while I continued the trail down to the lagoon.
The weather was too foggy near the lagoon for much in the way of photography. I spotted some Wilson’s Snipes for a group of birders, who were quite pleased to see their first snipes of the season. A river otter was feeding and attending to the call of nature near the lagoon.
As I headed back up the trail, I came across a Cooper’s Hawk on a fence post, and saw a Northern Harrier flying above the fog. The lighting wasn’t great for either, but it was nice to add yet another hawk species to the day’s list.
By this point, the sun had set and the fog made for a very quick blue hour, so I packed up and headed home.