After reading the course description of Wildlife Photography Expedition to be held in Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County, CA, I was excited. I’d been considering taking a photography class for a while and this one “promised” seeing wildlife in our beautiful national park. This wildlife seminar, one of many nature-related programs offered by the Point Reyes National Seashore Association, said that we would start our day in the Red Barn, near the Bear Valley Visitor Center in the park, and end it with a short walk nearby to photograph wildlife.
When I called the Association’s office to ask a few more questions, I voiced my main concern, “How can you guarantee that we’ll see any animals at all?” (Of course I knew there were no guarantees; the animals at Point Reyes are wild, not captive.) However, the friendly staff member gave a reassuring answer. “The instructor, after arriving in Pt. Reyes and hiking around, changed our starting and ending time so that you’ll be out later in the day.” Most wildlife is more active early morning and evening than in the middle of the day. For photographers, that means it’s the best time to be in the field. It’s also usually the time of day when the lighting is most dramatic.
I signed up for the course. When I arrived at the September 9th seminar, I was introduced to our instructor, Australian Jack Robert-Tissot who had recently arrived from Tasmania. We spent the first hours of the course indoors learning and practicing the technical aspects of wildlife photography as well as considering the creative aspects. Late in the day, we went outdoors to practice what we’d learned.
We started out for the .7-mile walk on the Woodpecker Trail, which turned out to be a delightful stroll. The National Park Service Trail guide describes it, “This loop trail explores the beautiful local forest and meadow ecosystems of Bear Valley, with interpretive signs describing some plants and animals you may see. This trail begins at the Bear Valley Trailhead, at the south end of the Bear Valley Parking Lot.”
Since it was after 5 PM, most of the cars were gone from the Bear Valley Parking lot and we could focus on the natural sounds. Woodpeckers were indeed at work; we could hear their hammering, pick them out as they were flitting around the oaks, and see the hundreds of holes that they had drilled in the trees.
The golden rays of the late afternoon sun filtered through the Douglas fir lending a magical feel to our surroundings. When we came out of the forest and approached an open meadow, our instructor Jack, spotted a bobcat sitting in the dry grass and watching our every move. Of course we all madly grabbed our cameras and took photos. When the feline proceeded to run down the path ahead of us, we watched with delight.
We continued on – walking by the Morgan Horse Ranch and along the trail to the Miwok village of Kule Loklo. Deer were browsing nearby — a herd of eight. Quietly we moved forward trying to capture the images, trying to remember some of the lessons imparted earlier in the day.
When seeking to see or photograph wildlife, there are no guarantees — but if you observe the “dawn and dusk” rule when you are visiting Point Reyes or any other parkland you’ll increase your chances of seeing it.
- Point Reyes Field Seminars: Winter 2011 in now online, click here. There are Student and Senior (over 62) discounts available; call (415) 663-1200 ext. 373 to find out more.
- Directions to Bear Valley Visitor Center at Point Reyes National Seashore: From Highway 1, take Bear Valley Road west about 1/2 mile. Look for a big red barn on the left and a sign for Seashore information on the right. Turn left past the red barn and follow signs to the Bear Valley Visitor Center. Continue through the main parking lot to the far end and Bear Valley Trailhead parking area.
- Visitor information: 415.464.5100 x2
- The park is open daily from sunrise to midnight throughout the year.
- The Bear Valley Visitor Center is open weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; weekends and holidays from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
- Driving directions, click here.
- Suggested areas for wildlife viewing: Abbotts Lagoon, Drakes Estero, Elephant Seal Overlook, Five Brooks Pond, Giacomini Wetlands, Lighthouse, Olema Marsh, Sea Lion Overlook, Tule Elk Preserve