Macy the rescued pit bull is on a United Nations Postal Administration stamp!

One of my most favorite rescue dogs that I've photographed for Hearts Speak has been Macy, a wonderfully sweet pit bull. She was rescued from a shelter and put in foster care. I photographed her in hopes of helping to find her a forever home, but it turned out she was already in her forever home. Her foster mom fell completely in love with her and so adopted her. I put a few of my favorite photos of her in my portfolio with a stock agency, and now am so excited to find out that one of her photos was purchased for an exceptionally wonderful use!

When the stock agency made the sale, I just saw that the image was sold and the amount I earned. But I didn't know who the client was. Not long after I saw the sale, I got an envelope in the mail from someone I didn't know. When I opened it, Bulletin 109 from the United Nations Postal Administration was inside, with a note from the sender requesting my autograph. I don't think I could have been more surprised -- both that someone wanted my autograph (a first!) and about the use to which the photo was put. I saw a reworking of Macy's mug on the cover, and reading through, realized that she is one of the designs for the six stamps being released in celebration of International Day of Happiness.

Who would have thought that one of my images would be chosen for such a surprising honor. And who would have thought a pit bull would be selected! Everyone who knows Macy is really stoked -- it's not every day a pit bull gets such promenant positive placement. The word has already spread about Macy's fame. Media coverage includes a great write up in The Dodo: The Face Of World Happiness Is A Pit Bull and also a write up on Mother Nature Network: This is the face of world happiness -- and she would like to sit in your lap

While the feedback across the web has been overwhelmingly positive -- with so many people racing to buy the stamps in support of a pit bull representing happiness -- some of the comments on Facebook and on The Dodo article have been less than positive, made by people who are fearful of a type of dog they assume is an agressive killer. The thing about pit bulls is they are the world's best example of how owners are the key factor in how a dog behaves.

Pit bulls, just the same as most dogs of most other breeds, are kind and gentle animals who love other animals and human attention. What has given them a bad rap are the humans who have abused them, who have raised them and forced them to be fighters, or who own them without understanding the needs of the dog and who do not take the time to understand dog body language. It comes down to the deed, and the owner, not the breed. This attention for Macy on a UN stamp has been a great opportunity for pit bull advocates to hammer that point home. Macy is the perfect dog to represent the mild, gentle, and loving side of these dogs. She has been one of the sweetest dogs I have photographed.

I'm so grateful to the UNPA for selecting this image and bringing attention to how much happiness a dog, and yes, a pit bull too, can bring us in daily life. Here's to rescue dogs and to International Day of Happiness!

Burrowing Owls and Black-tailed Jackrabbits

A couple of friends and I had heard about the return of burrowing owls, a species rare in our area, so we thought we'd go pay them a visit. Taking up residence in a rather populated area, including a park were dogs are often running around off leash, I'm not certain the owls are the sharpest at picking out burrows that will keep them safe throughout the season. But thankfully bird lovers and park docents have put up fencing around the burrows so that we all can keep our distance... or as much distance as is possible when you're looking at a raptor this tiny and adorable!

While watching the owls, we spotted quite a few other species, including black-tailed jackrabbits -- another species I pretty much fell in love with at first sight -- ground squirrels being their usual chubby, blustery selves, a couple kites and some shore birds including this miniscule least sandpiper. It was a lovely, if overcast, afternoon out and one I hope to repeat soon!

Snowy egrets and long-billed curlews

Just a couple shots from a morning out near the bay. The tide was just right to bring birds close enough up the mudflat to watch them feeding, and these are two of my favorite shorebird species so I was happy to get to spend some time with them. The snowy egrets have so much character and feistiness along with their beauty, while the long-billed curlews are elegant and shy yet still have a little edge of silliness to them. Love them both.

NANPA's 2014 Showcase is out and I'm in it!

NANPA's 2014 Showcase is finally live on the web. Yay! And one of my photos made it as a Tier II winner (or in other words, it is one of the top 100 photos selected among the thousands of entrants). Double Yay!! 

I really do love this fox photo, one captured almost entirely by accident -- I only had a 50mm lens with me when she turned up just outside of the lodge I was staying at in Alaska, but that turned out to work perfectly as she zoomed by me in play. Here are more photos of this fox flitting around the lodge.

This award is one step better than last year, which is exciting, and I'm hoping maybe this year will give me opportunities for photos that will make it to Tier I soon. Fingers crossed and lenses focused!

Raccoons in Golden Gate Park

Just a little cuteness from the raccoons that live in Golden Gate Park. These guys know how to live it up, and rob passing humans of all food they have just by showing off their sheer good looks. It's worth pointing out that feeding wildlife, even adorable critters that live in a popular park, is a really, really, really bad idea. I'm kind of just waiting for these guys to be trapped and put down for getting too pushy (and numerous). Really hoping that doesn't happen! So, as a general rule, even if they're really cute and everyone else is doing it, don't feed the wildlife. Ever. But take lots of photos because, this:

When the surf's up

This last week the surf was so ideal, they called Mavericks, and people poured in to Half Moon Bay to watch the competition. I'm sure it was amazing, but I preferred to head to another favorite place, Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz. The surfers (and photographers) were out in full force there too, what with the amazing surf, but not with the same crazy-eyed furvor as up the coast a little way. I could stand at the edges of the cliffs for hours watching surfers do what they do best, and when it's a busy day it's even more interesting to watch the competition for who will catch each wave. It seems, from my vantage point anyway, that the surfers out here have an established pecking order and follow the rules with grace. But I am not around the surfing community enough to know what's really going on down there... I just watch and wait for someone to do something cool so I can take photos, and treat it like a meditation session.

 

Highlights from a dog-centric photo shoot

I had an outstanding time recently working with a bunch of very well trained dogs in a photo shoot for a local dog trainer. It included everything from leaping over tall walls, to piles of puppies only a few weeks old. Really a great day. Here are some highlights.

 

Top 11 Photo Moments of 2013

Compared to 2012, this was a quiet year for images for me. My life took a busy turn with projects that didn't center around wildlife photography. There were few trips, and those I did take were all local and short. And there simply weren't any jaw-dropping, heart-stopping photos that I just can't believe I managed to capture coming from me this year. But it was by no means a quiet year in terms of photography and firsts. So this round-up is more about the events than the images. And there were some great ones!

In February, my dog's second birthday rolled around and I did a few photoshoots with him, including one where I took him up to the top of one of the highest points in San Francisco, clipped a balloon to his collar and had him pose in various spots. It was a windy day and having a balloon bounce all around him wasn't the most fun but he stood around like a trooper, watching it and me until we were done. We came away with some images I just love, and I realized what a great, patient model he is!

 

 

Also in February, I started "The Cooking Project" on TreeHugger. It was both an effort to replace the less-than-savory photos of existing recipes on the site as well as to have some delicious fun with a new topic for me. It was a joy to learn more about how to cook, let alone learn new tricks for how to photograph what I was cooking. Paying attention for once to the amount of skill and talent it takes to pull off a beautiful food photograph gave me utmost respect for the food bloggers I have loved reading for years. I never made it above amature level this year but it was a lot of fun trying -- and a lot of fun spending countless hours staring at beautiful food photography on blogs and cookbooks, trying to deconstruct what made the image so great and how to incorporate those aspects into my images. It turned into a bit of a distraction from wildlife photography, but our taste buds and tummies around here haven't minded one bit.

In March, I saw in print my first wildlife image to win a significant award. My grizzly bear chasing a salmon was a Tier III winner for NANPA's 2013 Showcase, and appeared in Expressions Magazine. That was a good feeling, one that I hope to experience often in the future!

the money shot

Throughout the year I had an extraordinary time photographing dogs that needed homes. Through my work with HeartsSpeak, http://heartsspeak.org/ I worked with Grateful Dogs Rescue and Herd It Through The Grapevine, two dog rescue groups based in San Francisco and Santa Rosa respectively. I met some truly incredible dogs and people, and the work filled my heart with the joy and hope of helping animals find loving forever homes. The happiness from hearing success stories cannot be topped.

One example is Mochi, whose foster mom was having trouble finding him a home. After months without any inquiries about Mochi, GDR asked me to photograph him -- and within just nine days of that wonderful afternoon photographing him enjoying a sunny afternoon at the park, Mochi was on his way home to a loving forever family. The power of a photograph just can't be understated, and making good things happen through images makes me extraordinarily happy.

In April I took my first trip to Carrizo Plains National Monument. I'd spent the first 20+ years of my life within about 90 minutes of this place and yet had never visited. It took my growing fascination with wildlife photography to make me see how amazing this dessert place is. It boasts the highest concentration of endangered species in the state of California. I spent a lot of time hunched down watching the antics of adult and baby San Joaquin Antelope Squirrels, kept my eyes peeled for San Joaquin kit foxes, and was awed at the speed of the pronghorn, a small herd of which was recently reintroduced to try to bring the species back to its original range.

 

This year also marked the first year I made sales of images to print publications, the first of which was two images to Bay Nature, a quarterly magazine focused on San Francisco Bay Area natural spaces. The editors selected two of my images for the July-Sept issue of the magazine for a piece on Butano State Park.


In August, the biggest event of the year -- and indeed one of the biggest events of my life -- happened. In short, she asked (with a ring in one hand and a brand new 500mm lens in the other) and I said yes. After 13 years together, we're finally getting hitched. And she definitely showed me how much she loves me. This lens is one I'd merely been hoping to one day save up enough money to buy.

In September, now that I had an amazing lens in hand, I could start working more on my "coyote project" which isn't a fully formed project yet but more of an excuse to go out looking for members of my favorite species to photograph. I adore coyotes, and have had a few special encounters with them so far, including this one on one of my first mornings out with the new lens. Watching the road-smart behavior of this young coyote for several minutes was one of my most memorable wildlife moments.

The fun didn't stop with the coyote. I had other great mornings out in the bay area's famous foggy coasts photographing local wildlife. The more I was out, the more I appreciated the sheer diversity of what is here, and the excellent parks system that protects habitat for these creatures. In fact, it is thanks to conservation and restoration work in our wetlands habitat that in recent years we've seen a return of river otters. This has been perhaps my second favorite species to photograph this year. A family of four living in a local lagoon has provided quite a bit of fun for me over several mornings.

In December I took my first trip out to watch and photograph sandhill cranes. The migration populations we get here is nothing compared to those that stop in at the Platte River each year. In fact, California and conservationists have had to work for decades to bring back the sandhill cranes after they were nearly gone from the area entirely after wetlands were taken over by farmland. Watching them dance -- and, just as amazing, listening to them call to one another -- was a very memorable part of my year.

Finally, I wrapped up the year with a fun notification from VSCO Cam, who had selected a photo of my dog to be part of their "Weekly Selects" back in November and, in December, included it in their "Best of 2013: Animals" round-up. It is such an honor to be included. Plus, just after that, another photo of my dog was chosen to be added for their curated grid, "a collection of the finest mobile imagery on the internet." That is a pretty feather to put in my (and my dog's) cap!

As usual, this year has shown me the sheer bulk of how much I have to learn about photography, and the amount of dedication it takes to make any progress. I am more excited than ever to keep rolling with projects started during 2013, and to continue to grow in this wonderful medium.

Sandhill Cranes of California's Central Valley

There is something truly magical about viewing sandhill cranes flying in during the late afternoon and sunset. Birds four feet tall with massive wingspans gliding in to land in the stubble of a recently harvested field; dancing together in light hops and flutters of their big wings, throwing leaves and weeds into the air for emphasis; the sound of a hundred cranes trilling and trumpeting to one another. It is a beautiful thing.

The cranes once numbered in the many thousands when they flew in to winter here, but by the 1940s, hunting and habitat loss took their toll and numbers plummeted. Fewer than 40 mated pairs were present in the 1940s. Conservation efforts have helped bring those numbers back up (in 2000, there were an estimated 465 pairs).

Today, there are several ecological preserves in the Central Valley of California that provide important wintering sites for migrating birds, including the Sandhill crane. These reserves are made of both public and private lands, and the cranes are viewed by avid birdwatchers from lookouts as well as from the roadside.

Winter Wildlife on California's Central Coast

I took my usual trip down the coast to San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara Counties to visit family for the holiday. And of course I packed the camera gear. It's such a wonderful place to see wintering wildlife, especially birds on their way south for the winter. We had one afternoon of beautiful sunshine in the afternoon so I and a couple friends went to Pismo Beach to take aim at waterfowl. Coots, golden eyes, northern shovelers, red-headed ducks and much more were all milling around in the gorgeous golden light.

Thanksgiving morning I snuck away from family long enough to head to the Pismo Beach Monarch butterfly sanctuary. It was chilly out so there was not a lot of activity among the beautiful insects, but there were far more butterflies there than I remembered being there last year, which is a great sign for the species. Monarch butterflies are facing many difficulties including habitat loss and climate change, and because of these huge group migrations they are very suceptible to major losses in numbers if something goes wrong for them along the way. The importance of sanctuaries like these that preserve their overwintering habitat can't be underestimated.

The rest of the holiday trip featured overcast skies (though there was one of the most spectacular beach sunrises I've ever seen!) so no more golden hours with birds. But it did give me a chance to enjoy the beautiful muted colors of some water bird species, including sanderlings and grebes. It was a very short trip, but one that got me excited for my next visit in another month. So, fingers crossed, there will be more images to come soon!

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