Heron’s Head is a small shoreline park in San Francisco’s Hunters Point neighborhood. A reclaimed industrial area, it is surrounded by active and abandoned industrial sites. The park includes a sandy beach, a riprap jetty, a fenced off section of wetland, and a series of relatively flat paved walking trails. It is possible with creative angles to create an all-natural composition, but this will require some cooperation from the birds. The park is an ideal location to incorporate more urban or industrial elements into photography for a unique look (that may not be to everyone’s taste).
The park is actively used by city residents out for walks, often with dogs. As a result the birds are relatively tame, but a photoshoot can sometimes be interrupted by other park visitors.
The park receives reasonable lighting on clear evenings. Golden hour is cut short as the sun sets over Twin Peaks. Prior to being occluded, the sun is well placed to capture front-lit and side-lit photos in the evening.
Heron’s Head Park is one of the better places to photohtaph black oystercatchers in the San Francisco area. A breeding pair currently lives there and can reliably be seen picking its way along the jetty, especially at low tide.
While the black oystercatcher is not endangered, it’s estimated to number fewer than 10,000 individuals worldwide and is listed as a Species of Special Concern by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This is one of just a few nesting locations in San Francisco, established relatively recently. Black oystercatchers are fairly skittish, so be patient and especially avoid pressuring them during the breeding season (May through August).
Brown pelicans sometimes come in to the inlet to fish. Depending on which side of the jetty they choose, it’s possible to get right at eye level with them by lying on the sandy beach, but this may result in the pelicans being a little farther away.
The photos below were taken from the beginning of the jetty, near but not on the sandy beach. Each was shot at 600 mm with a 30-35% crop. They were taken on an overcast evening. Had it been a clearer day, the birds would have been perfectly positioned for a catchlight.
Great Blue Heron
Snowy egrets are regularly found at Heron’s Head, while Great Egrets show up a bit less frequently. It’s usually possible to get at eye level with the egrets, when they fly if nothing else.
The urban environment allows for unique photos of these active birds.
Kingfishers occasionally visit the park. There are few if any natural perches in the inlet where they typically fish, but the remains of the industrial site can make for a unique look. There is no cover near the inlet, so it’s difficult to get close enough for portraits.
American avocets and black-necked stilts can reliably be found at Heron’s Head, but they spend most of their time in an area fenced off for their protection. Even at 840 mm, it’s difficult to get a full frame photo. Angles are challenging given the need to shoot over the fencing.