Friday, October 30, 2015

Mission Santa Barbara

On our last morning in Santa Barbara we visited the Old Mission. Founded in 1786 by the Franciscans, this was the 10th of 21 missions built by the Spanish in Alta (upper) California. The mission has been expanded and rebuilt multiple times over the years. Earthquakes have damaged it several times. (The mission at our next stop, Loreto, is even older. Built in 1697, it is considered the "head and mother of all the Spanish missions in Upper and Lower California.")

Mission Santa Barbara

There is a self guided tour through the grounds and a small museum.

Mission Santa Barbara

Of course, most of my photos were of the plants and animals I saw. I suspect most people touring the mission missed this spider :-)


The mission got it's water from damming a small creek that comes down from the mountains.


Due to the ongoing drought in California the gardens are gradually being changed to use more drought tolerant plants that require less watering.


Just as we were leaving several acorn woodpeckers came to drink from one of the fountains. The last time I saw one was also in Santa Barbara, but on the zoo grounds.

acorn woodpeckers

See all 18 photos as a slideshow or overview

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Santa Barbara Zoo

After paragliding nine days straight we decided to take a day off and go to the zoo. The Santa Barbara Zoo is known as one of the best small zoos in America. It is quite spacious, set in nice gardens. The trees provide welcome shade on a hot day. On a weekday morning it was thankfully fairly quiet. The only negative factor was that the glass walls seemed dirtier than normal. I realize not everyone is trying to take photographs, but presumably everyone is trying to see the animals.

One of the animals you won't see too many places are the California condors. Like the smaller turkey vultures, they are not the prettiest birds, but still impressive creatures. We saw condors flying in the wild in the Colca Canyon in Peru - amazing.


Of course, I'm just as happy to see and photograph the unofficial residents.


The snow leopard was busy sleeping. Their paws are huge!

snow leopard

This duck was splashing up a storm having a bath.

bird bath

The leopard was staring intently at something. (This was through especially dirty glass, but came out well.)


It's always fun to see the flamingoes and the strange positions they sleep in.


I like the wrinkled, textured skin of the american alligator.

american alligator

These little birds (wild) were feeding on grass seed. I haven't had time to look them up - anyone know what they are?


The toucans have such outrageous beaks!


This snake looks like it's attacking but it was actually just "yawning".


Another of the condors, with a face only a mother could love.


The fennec foxes are much cuter.

fennec fox

See all 48 photos as a slideshow or overview

Tips for photographing at zoos:

  • If your camera allows it, use a larger aperture (i.e. smaller f stop). However, be aware this will make the depth of focus smaller and therefore trickier to get right. (But also puts the background out of focus which is often good.)
  • If your camera allows it, set it to focus on the center spot, rather than automatically picking what to focus on. If what you want to focus on isn't in the center, lock the focus by half pressing the shutter .
  • A decent telephoto lens helps to get closeups when the animals are farther away. (My all purpose travel lens is 18-300mm - effectively 27-450 with 1.5x crop factor)
  • Get the camera close to the glass or fence. Try to aim though the gaps in the fence or through clearer spots in the glass. Watch out for reflections in the glass. A polarizer filter can help cut down reflections but I generally get by without one by being careful about position and angle.
  • A camera with a bigger sensor (e.g. a DSLR) will generally have better low light (high ISO) performance which is a big factor for dim indoor exhibits.
  • Patience helps - waiting for the crowd of school kids to finish smearing greasy palm prints on the glass, or for the animal to move or turn it's head, or come out into the better light.
  • As usual, watch out for the background. Often moving the camera will mean a less distracting background.
  • As usual, shoot lots, especially if the animal is moving. Try different angles and positions.
  • As usual, shooting raw and post-processing with something like Lightroom helps a lot. The new "dehaze" feature of Lightroom is useful for shots through dirty glass. Indoor shots usually need the white balance adjusted, which is harder to do if you just shoot jpegs. Even if you're not shooting raw, post processing can still help.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Santa Barbara

"The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
– Henry Miller

Santa Barbara sunrise

My calves were getting a little sore from the last few mornings running in the New Balance Minimus shoes that I'm traveling with, so I went for a walk with my camera instead. Of course, I couldn't resist a few reflections :-)

mirror image

palm tree reflections

Our neighborhood great blue heron:

neighborhood great blue heron


See all 12 photos as a slideshow or overview

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Backyard Blossoms

The place we're renting in Santa Barbara is just one part of a house, but it has a lovely private courtyard/patio with lots of plants and flowers. There's a fountain where the birds come to drink and wash. And a great blue heron comes and perches in the tall palm trees nearby.

I haven't had a chance to get out and photograph the flowers in the neighborhood, but I did manage a few from around our patio. The passion fruit flower was the first to catch my eye - such showy flowers!

passion fruit

Hibiscus are another favorite, quite common here, in all different colors - orange, yellow, white, red.


And another favorite - bougainvillea.


I'm not sure what this one is, anyone know?


See all 8 photos as a slideshow or overview

Tuesday, October 20, 2015



Paragliding often involves as much (or more) waiting as it does flying. We really want to fly the mountains here, but the winds haven't cooperated, yet. At least the training hill is consistent and we've been out there every morning, flying until conditions get too strong around noon, then kiting (good practice in the stronger conditions).

After lunch we've been heading to Bates, a coastal soaring site. (Near Rincon point break, if you're a surfer.) The first two days we were lucky and conditions were flyable (the right strength and direction of wind). The first day I flew about 30 minutes and the next day about 45 and both days we could have stayed up longer. We were nervous about flying this relatively small site with a bunch of other paragliders in the air, but it didn't turn out to be too bad, at least when conditions are good. It's a lot of fun and good practice turning. But it's a bit like running on a track instead of a trail.

Yesterday we headed to Bates early hoping for another good afternoon. But the wind didn't show up, so we did 3 hours of "parawaiting" instead. A short spell of wind arrived, but the few people that launched got rocketed up, tossed around, and then abandoned by the wind to sink out. Needless to say, we stayed on the ground!

At least the waiting gave me a chance to take some photographs. I'd planned to take pictures of people flying, but settled for turkey vultures. They aren't the most attractive on the ground, but in the air they are amazing fliers.

turkey vultures

turkey vultures

turkey vulture


I also took some photos of the waves breaking below us, with sea green shining through the backlit waves.


Today, after finding the wind too light, we decided to do our waiting in the coffee shop instead of in the hot sun. We'll go back and check it before heading home, but it didn't look promising.

On the positive side, you'd be hard pressed to find a more pleasant place to wait. At home, in Saskatoon, winter is arriving, here in Santa Barbara the bougainvillea and hibiscus are blooming and the days are sunny and warm. There are plenty of good restaurants, local wine, and coffee shops. The rental place where we're staying is a block from the beach and we've been out running along the waterfront the last few mornings during the beautiful sunrise over the ocean.

See all 16 photos as a slideshow or overview

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Klamath Falls part 2

One of the reasons we chose Klamath Falls for a stop on this trip is that tons of birds stop here on their migrations. An estimated one to two million ducks and geese migrate through the basin each October and November. Shelley and I aren't serious birders, but we enjoy seeing and photographing them.

So our second day in Klamath Falls we went to Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge. There are lots of birding sites around but we chose this one since it had a visitors center. Unfortunately the person there was one of the most unhelpful I've come across. When we walked in I told him we were visiting the area and looking for suggestions where to go and what to look for. He told us to watch the video. Which was fine for background, but not very helpful otherwise. Afterwards I again asked for suggestions and was told to follow the signs.

I always find it somewhat contradictory that "wildlife refuges" allow hunting. Of course, historical that's why many of them were established in the first place. Maybe this will change eventually since wildlife viewing and photography are growing faster than hunting (but are less organized as a lobby group).

We walked around the nature trail and drove the car route around the lake. There were lots of birds around and we could only identify a few. I didn't have my big telephoto with me so the photos aren't great, but they helped with id's. We didn't see anything particularly rare or special, at least not that we recognized! I'm not very good identifying birds, so corrections are welcome.

One of the first we saw were these small raptors. At first I thought they were American Kestrels, but looking at the photos and the guide, I think they are Merlins, small falcons.

American kestrel

There were lots of red winged blackbirds around, but they were very skittish and didn't sit still for photos. This Killdeer was a little more cooperative although still too far away.


There were also lots of red shafted northern flickers around. They liked to perch on the observation buildings.

Red-shafted northern flicker

There were some big congregations of white pelicans. I wonder if any of our Saskatoon pelicans stop here?

White pelicans

I haven't seen big groups of Great Egrets before. They were hard to photograph hiding in the tall grass.

Great egrets

And some other hawks, I think this is a red tailed.

Red-tailed hawk

It was another still morning, good for reflections.

reflection of tree

reflections of trees

There is lots of other wildlife around but all we saw was this one lone deer.


On Lake Ewauna in Klamath Falls we saw these Greater white-fronted geese (which I've also seen in the fall in Saskatchewan). I suspect people have been feeding them since they swam right over when we walked by.

Greater white-fronted geese

One of them had quite a different head, although the body looked the same. I couldn't find anything like this in my bird app.


Some nice fall colors here as well.

fall colors

See all 30 photos as a slideshow or overview