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Tag Archives: San Mateo County

Grey Whale Blowhole

Identifying wildlife can sometimes be challenging when you can see the entire animal, but that rarely happens when whale-watching, unless you’re lucky enough to witness a breach.  Most of the time, you’re probably looking at less than 5% of the whale at a time as it swims below the surface.

One identifying characteristic is the blowhole.  Did you know that toothed whales (e.g. sperm whales) have a single blowhole, while baleen whales (e.g., grey whales) have a double?

In the above image, you can clearly see the double blowhole, which helps to identify this as a grey whale.


Grey Whale Calf Spyhopping

As I watched this grey whale calf play in a cove yesterday evening, I got the feeling that it was practicing its moves.  For example, in yesterday’s post (“Watch the Birdie,” 03.17.15) the whale is lunging out of the water, and I watched it do this several times, but it never did a full-on breech.

Likewise, I watched it spyhop several times, but it never came up out of the water far enough to actually look over the surface of the ocean.  It came up very, very slowly–over perhaps 10 seconds, to the height in the image above, hovered there for about five seconds, and then very, very slowly sank straight down again.

It really seemed to me that the calf was trying out these new maneuvers, and they weren’t yet second nature to it.  I imagine there’s a learning curve to whale ballet, and while the adults seem to perform it quite effortlessly, maybe the young ones’ muscles aren’t developed enough, and/or their coordination is still lacking.

If you’re reading this and you know more about whale behavior than I do, I welcome your comments.  I still have much to learn.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to shameless anthropomorphize until someone sets me straight!

Grey Whale Calf and Gull

How else are you going to get a grey whale calf to smile for its portrait?

I watched this calf play in a cove for about an hour this evening.  There was no sign of mom, though I’m sure she was in the vicinity.  The calf made several leaps out of the water, and also practiced spyhopping.  It put on quite a show.

Grey Whale Calf Leaping

Grey Whale Calf

The grey whales are migrating just off the coast of California right now. The moms are heading north with their calves, and they come much closer to shore on their way north than when they’re heading south to give birth in the lagoons on the west coast of Baja.

The calf is resting on its mother’s back.  This scene reminded me of taking a walk with a toddler:  they’ll run circles around their parents, then insist on being carried!

I took this image this evening about an hour before sunset, from land.  Yes, they were THAT close:  inside the surf zone.  Unfortunately, heavy overcast didn’t make for the best light, so the image is soft…but too sweet to not share.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Today is the 142nd Anniversary of the first lighting of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse near Pescadero, California…but something tells me it was lit a little bit differently in 1872!

The lighthouse–tall, slender, elegant and a bit bedraggled–is under the “care” of the California State Park system.  That explains why it’s been closed since 2001 when a chunk fell off the top.  (Note the very attractive chain link fencing surrounding the lighthouse so it doesn’t try to escape!)  The state of California can’t–or won’t–come up with the money necessary to repair and restore the grand old dame, and open the tower back up to visitors.

It’s a darn shame, because I’ve climbed up to the top of the lighthouse many times before it was closed, and the views on a clear day are stunning.

The lighthouse used to get fully lit at the top once a year on its anniversary, which was an annual photo-op not to be missed if you were in or near San Mateo County in mid-November.  Sadly, that doesn’t happen anymore.

But this year, the lighthouse got lit up from the outside.  Images were projected onto the outside of the lighthouse starting at sunset.  The images began with a series of fractals, then there was a series of paintings by the late Galen Wolf, a local artist, and finally some nature photographs.

There was an announcement made that the show would be delayed past it’s 5:30 PM start time because there was “too much light” in the sky.  Sigh.  My favorite images are the handful I made during the tail end of the “blue hour” when there was still enough light in the sky to distinguish the clouds and the foreground.  The images made after dark don’t have anywhere near the drama.

This is my favorite.

Landscape astrophotography.  Say that 10 times fast!

What is it, you ask.  Here’s the definition, quoted from the TWAN website:  “a style of photography…showing both the Earth and the sky—by combining elements of the night sky set against the Earth horizon with backdrop of a notable location or landmark.”

The image above, “Orion Setting Over Ladyface,” is one I took in Agoura Hills, California in 2008.  It does NOT meet the criteria of a “notable location or landmark,” even though the mountain, part of the Santa Monica Mountains, has a name.

It’s also NOT a good image, not sharp, and with tons of “noise.”  But it’s the closest thing I’ve got to landscape astrophotography that illustrates how light pollution dims our view of the stars.

I know I only just posted about IDA (International Dark-Sky Association) not quite two weeks ago, but I’m passionate about reducing light pollution, and Yahoo News today posted the winner of the TWAN photo competition, so here we are again.

OK, so who are these TWAN people?  TWAN stands for ” The World At Night.”  It’s an organization similar to IDA,   dedicated to reducing light pollution so that our night skies can be seen and admired.  And their site features a beautiful photo gallery (of landscape astrophotography, what else?) that shows how our night skies are SUPPOSED to look.  Check out:

The TWAN  landscape astrophotography competition is called The International Earth and Sky Photo Contest.  The winning shot is by a California photographer, and features a night sky shot from the shore of Mono Lake, with a dramatic foreground of tufa towers.

I know a picture is worth a thousand words, but I only post my own images on my blog.  There are copyright laws that must be obeyed.  But don’t just take my word that it’s an awesome image.  Check out:

The image below was taken on the San Mateo County coast in California.  It’s a rural area, but you can see how much light pollution spills “over the hill,” as locals call the more populated half of the San Francisco Peninsula.

I dream of living in an area where I can truly see “billions and billions of stars” as opposed to a few paltry dozen.

But most urban areas can take steps to reduce the light pollution they generate.  Check out the TRAN and IDA websites when you have a few minutes.

In the meantime, I’m going to ponder where I can travel next to get some good landscape astrophotography images, and start saving my pennies:  it’ll take at least a full tank of gas each way to get there!