When this old world starts getting you down…

Go to the wetlands. You will find so much life around you that it will be impossible not to be admired again.

I found in photography my way to survive daily work, house and family stress. It is a spa for my mind. Better yet, it forces me to get out and walk, and the noise of birds there is amazingly calming to my boiling brain.

Many mornings I wake up really early, at sunrise, and take my coffee and my camera to see the how the first sunlight triggers activity in nature. You find so many types of ducks and shoreline birds you almost have to become a detective trying to identify them: bills, feathers (pretty misleading because they change depending on age and season), legs, behavior, size.

Birds are very fast and fly in the split of a second, in any direction, making bird photography a challenge. Even better so you won’t get bored easily.

Through social networks you can get in touch with bird fans. Very nice people, all of them. Many will give you support when you don’t know what type of bird you are talking about or when you have doubts about the best gear to use.

My gear

A DSLR (A refurbished Nikon D7100, which is DX, tripod, and zoom lens. All for $1020). Tripod can wait. You can even get a very good camera with starter kit, which includes a 300mm zoom to start your practice, both Nikon and Canon offer this. You can find this kit for $500 in stores and online. And if you ask me, bridge cameras like Coolpix are very very good. Videos is less challenging there. In that case you will need to get closer to the birds. You can do it!

These pictures were taken in a morning in November.

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Turning the duck world upside down

Ducks make me feel good. Many times I go see the sunset and watch the ducks at the Alviso wetlands, in Northern California. They are 20 min away from home and it is very relaxing to watch.

When the sun is going down, they gather in the water and have dinner while preparing for the night, always in a group.

These birds are not only cute, friendly and funny. They have one of the best performing feathers and body: they can swim, dive, fly and walk. Some are among the fastest flyers in the world. It is amazing how they can adapt to different environments.

They are in many places around us but we don’t really know them.

One thing we don’t know is that we should not be feeding them bread as it has no nutritional value for them and can contaminate their environment.

You can find more information here, as well as what food you can actually feed the ducks with. (Let me add corn. I found this in a Spanish version of National Geographic that is missing in the link above).

When ducks are not well fed, the nutritional deficit can lead to a weird shape of their feathers (angel wings) that makes the bird look like a plane even if his wings are not stretched. They look a little crazy. Next time you see a bird like this, remember it is because of a poor nutrition. Feeding a bird with bread is like feeding it with fast food.

Learn more about ducks and visit the wildlife centers that try to protect them, it will help a lot.

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Talk to the tail!

I have been observing mockingbirds quite a lot, and my attraction comes from the famous book. There is no mockingbird in my country of origin, or at least I don’t think I have ever met one.

It strikes me how brave they are. I have seen them face to face with raptors to make clear they will not allow them close to their nest. When I get out of my house to walk the dog in a common green area, they immediately jump near us and make their presence clear, to the point that my dog used to go back home clearly understanding the boundaries set by these birds.

The hummingbird is a small-medium size bird. Bigger than sparrows, of beautiful gray, black and white, clear yellow  eyes and long tail. They can sing and scream a wide array of notes. They can also imitate sounds, like an ambulance, a car alarm or a cat. I have heard the car alarm. For this ability they remind me of sterlings. In England, a soccer game had to stop when a big group of sterlings started imitating the referee’s whistle.

In the image, a mockingbird showing high tail display, something they do to dogs, cats and humans. They raise their tail turning their back to you and look at you to make their presence clear. So get ready.

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Turkey Vulture: 100% made in America

I never thought the “eagles” I was looking at were, actually, vultures. I have seen them so often. They fly above my house, close to downtown, above the freeway, in the mountains and, as I could see here, also in the sea (trying to find dead animal in the cliffs -see below).

Once, I was able to track them with mi camera, but they generally fly too high for me to able to take anything more than a black silhouette and, if lucky, a red bill.

When we were driving from Inverness to Point Reyes that Saturday morning, I was blown away. There was like a colony of these vultures on top of the trees, pretty close to the narrow road we were in. When we were able to stop I tried to get out of the car very slowly, fearing they would fly away. But no. Maybe it was too early in the morning. With sunrise, they were covering their bodies, still relaxing, or opening their wings to receive the energizing sun rays and warm up their bodies.

My first thought was how ugly the face was. When I learned the name was related to turkeys I understood why. What I read is that these vultures do not come from Europe or Asia. They are 100% made in America. An awesome and useful bird that has very few predators. I felt relieved knowing this animal does not hunt for other animals as seeing raptors in action is not an enjoyable experience for me as a hobby photographer.


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Early birds by the Sea

We woke pretty early this morning…
Let’s start again: I convinced my other half to wake up insanely early for a Sunday. Since he had just come back from overseas, I figured jetlag would be on my side. I had everything ready from the night before: cameras charged, tripod folded, everything packed and a bag for some snacks.

At 5 a.m we woke up and hit the road, doggy included, to arrive to Santa Cruz at 6.30. I have been in the wetlands, in the mountain and in my backyard, where there is an unusual bird activity this year due to the big amount of water that rain brought to a nearby pond. So I have waders, song birds, raptors, hummingbirds… now I wanted some seabirds.

The first thing we found was a long-bill curlew digging some food by the waves. And hungry seagulls as well. Look at this one, so beautiful with orange bill.

Next to him, a group of 4 to 6 sandpipers were rushing to get some food in between waves. At a distance I could see a pelican, strategically standing on a rock. That kept me busy for a while, until pelicans and seagulls started flying and a very playful sea lion made its appearance.

I had no interest in inland birds because I see them everyday, but I found some that I don’t see in my backyard, and they were fun to watch.

Meanwhile inland…

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