After dropping Rob and friends off at a marina in Rio Vista, I spent a little time walking around this small Sacramento River Delta town. Founded in 1858, Rio Vista has been flooded, burned to the ground and relocated.  It is now a destination for boaters and fishermen with its easy access to the delta.  I was draw to the old neon signs around town, and was sorry that Foster’s Bighorn wasn’t open until 10am — I missed seeing the collection of over 300 big game and wildlife “trophies.”

From here I was on my way to look for Sandhill Cranes near the Cosumnes Preserve. Unfortunately, after a beautiful sunny week, the skies had become overcast and rain was forecast for later in the day.   Despite the less that favorable light, I was determined to see the cranes again – and I was not disappointed.  I drove down Woodbridge Road, and although there were no cranes present at the Sandhill Crane Preserve, there were quite a few further down the road.  There were many flocks scattered across the barren corn fields, and they busied themselves with foraging in the mud for grain, insects, and small vertebrates and invertebrates.

Flock of sandhill cranes in fallow corn field. Woodbridge Road

Sandhill cranes in corn field on Woodbridge road

This area is rich, not only with cranes, but with many other species of birds as well.  This great egret seemed to have a lot to say as it strutted along, and I was thrilled to catch this peregrine falcon on an overhead power pole.

great egret

Peregrine falcon on power pole. High Voltage.

By 3 pm the weather was beginning to deteriorate, so it was time to head home.  In the distance I saw this lovely tree, full of blackbirds and one hawk. It was a good day.


Blackbirds, hawk in a foggy tree.


The first weekend of the 2011 Corinthian Midwinter series was held on January 15-16, and was sponsored in part by my friends at Sailors for the Sea. Corinthian Yacht Club became the first SF Bay area club to implement the requirements for SfS certification of the race as a “clean regatta.”

Corinthian Yacht Club, Tiburon, CA.

Chris Mancini and Dan Pingaro of non-profit Sailors for the Sea.

Saturday brought light air, flat water, and big currents — not so good for on-the-water action photography. Sunday was a bit more lively.  I was out on the water with videographer Vince Casselina, on a power boat donated and operated by club member —.

While I was prepared for the salt spray (microfiber dish towels and protective camera covers) I was not prepared for the failure of one of my favorite lenses, the Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 VR. Unfortunately, after shooting some test shots at the beginning of the day, I didn’t replay the photos until I returned home and began the download / editing process. Much to my horror, over half of the shots were completely over-exposed!  What happened? I tested the lens on several different bodies and had the same result – it seems that the lens aperture was stuck in the wide open position.  I cleaned the contacts and reseated the lens on my Nikon D7000 and everything seemed fine. On Sunday I started shooting with the same lens, and after about 10 shots I had the same problem. I also tried it on the Nikon D700 – same problem. I found that by re-seating the lens I could make it work again, but that was VERY frustrating – I was re-seating it every 10 frames or so.  I’m still not entirely certain what happened, but needless to say, the camera has been sent to Nikon for service!

Shot at 1/1000 s at f/8.0, ISO 250 - this should have been a near perfect exposure!

Much to my relief, I was able to recover many of my images with Adobe Photoshop, although the post processing took much more time than normal.  I’m still not pleased with the resulting unintentional high-key look of many of the images.

After post processing with Adobe Bridge and Photoshop CS5 - not great but good enough for the online photo gallery.

Sunday - more wind, action, and mostly properly exposed images!

Galleries of the weekend’s racing are on the Rockskipper Photography website.

The drive from Mill Valley to the Cosumnes Preserve had some interesting photo ops. I took a somewhat circuitous route and stumbled upon this interesting juxtaposition.

Old and new.

While I was setting up this shot, I noticed at least a dozen red-tailed hawks  flying overhead, and in the trees.

See the hawk in the tree?

Moments later.



Cosumnes River Preserve

The Cosumnes River Preserve, located off I-5 between Sacramento and Stockton, comprises 46,000 acres along the Cosumnes River.  According to the Preserve web site, “It is the only remaining unregulated river on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada. In its lower reaches, it flows through one of the biologically richest regions in California’s Central Valley, before merging with the Mokelumne River to flow into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and eventually the Pacific Ocean.”

So why did I plan to go the the Preserve in the middle of January?  Migratory birds – specifically the majestic Sand Hill Cranes.  Although much of the park was flooded, and walking trails closed, there were still many cranes to be found in the neighboring rice fields.  I arrived late in the afternoon when the birds fly back to the fields for the night. However the first bird I stopped for was hovering over the rice fields – and then it landed on a road-side tree.

White-tailed kite.


Once I arrived at the rice field, I was treated to quite a show!


A courting dance or territorial dispute?

Coming home to roost.

Into the sunset.

The following morning I once again rose early with plans to get back to the field to photograph the cranes as they were flying out for the day. However, the Tule fog once again interfered with my plans.

Tule fog strikes again...

...not so good for birds, but there were some ethereal landscapes.

I was very lucky to have had a solid day of sunshine at SNWR, because the next morning I awoke with good intentions to photograph the birds at sunrise, only to find that the dense Tule fog had enveloped the region overnight. It was my last day in the area, and the forecast was for some clearing after noon, so I waited and watched birds that were too far into the fog to see clearly.  Still, it was beautiful, and the fog presented different photographic opportunities.

Surprisingly, the snow geese were gone!

Two great horned owls in the fog.

A foggy pheasant.

Black-crowned Night Heron at the Colusa NWR.


During this short road trip the sound of gun shots constantly reminded me that birders, photographers, and nature lovers were not alone in their love of this area. It is also duck hunting season.


Hunting is allowed in designated areas of the SNWR.


In case you don't want to do your own plucking...


Lest you think that the refuge is only home to waterfowl at this time of year, let me tell you that the place was thick with raptors including Golden and Bald Eagles, and many types of hawks.

Most likely a Cooper's hawk.


Red-tailed hawk.

A Bald Eagle at sunset at the Llano Seco unit of the SNWR.

As you can see, 2010 was a lost year for this blog, and for the most part, for my photographic pursuits.  I was tackling a more important job — taking care of my husband, Rob, who had been diagnosed in late 2009 with Stage IV lung cancer. As he was a never smoker, this diagnosis, and the initial nine-months-to-live prognosis were devastating.  After a year of various chemo treatments, cancer shrinkage and then renewed progression, Rob is now enrolled in a clinical trial for a very promising new drug at Stanford.  Our lives are getting back into a more normal routine as we wait to see if the drug works, and I have had a bit more time to get back to work photographically!

Last week I was able to spend a few days in California’s central valley photographing migratory birds. I was richly rewarded at the Cosumnes River Preserve, the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, and the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge.

These images from SNWR illustrate the migratory bird traffic through this important stop on the Pacific Flyway,  a major north-south migration route between North and South America.

Snow geese were abundant at SNWR - over 110,00 were counted in December.

Flying in from the arctic tundra, the geese present quite a spectacle!

While snow geese dominated, other species were present as well.


Always keeping a watchful eye.

The coots were also resident in large numbers...

...as were the Pintail ducks.

What a day it was out on the water yesterday! Sunny, warm, and winds of ~ 10-20 kts, made for perfect sailing conditions for the Rolex Big Boat Series competitors.  A  beautiful fog bank blanketed the Golden Gate Bridge for much of the day, providing a great backdrop for the boats as they made their way upwind.  With relatively light air and flat water, there wasn’t much in the way of the crashing and burning that we photographers find so compelling, but none-the-less, I think I shot a few compelling images.  Many thanks to John Siegel for the ride on his Protector!

The day’s galleries are online now at Rockskipper Photography.

Pre-race at the St. Francis yacht Club dock.

Pre-race at the St. Francis yacht Club dock.

Ragtime and the TP 52s.

Ragtime and the TP 52s.

Dan Woolery's Soozal at the windward mark.

Dan Woolery's Soozal at the windward mark.

John Siegel's Scorpio ducks James Bishop's Gold Phoenix.

John Siegel's Scorpio ducks James Bishop's Gold Phoenix.

Only seven boats were on hand for this year’s Melges 32 North American Championship in San Francisco Bay, but with near-perfect conditions, the competition was close.  After three days of racing, Don Jesberg’s Viva claimed the championship – the only completely corinthian team on the race course.  Congratulations Don!

Hosted by the Sausalito Yacht Club, the regatta was run by Regatta Pro’s Jeff Zarwell with race committee volunteers from San Francisco Yacht Club and an additional mark-set boat from St. Francis Yacht Club.  Racer Steve Pugh kindly provided his Protector to the event for use as a media boat for the class association. Thanks Steve, and congratulations on your 2nd place finish!

More photos at Rockskipper Photography.

Don Jesberg's VIVA leads at the windward mark.

Don Jesberg's VIVA leads at the windward mark.

Steve Pugh's Taboo nears the windward mark.

Steve Pugh's Taboo nears the windward mark.

Q and Rougarou round the windward mark.

Q and Rougarou round the windward mark.

2009 Jazz Cup

I’m always looking for different vantage points when shooting sailboats, and my perch on the pier just north of Crockett proved to provide some terrific angles of the boats as they raced to Benicia through the Carquinez Straits.  More photos at Rockskipper Photography.