Sunday, April 10, 2016

Iris in the Rain

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The coyote was my last frame of the day, shot on the way out to Drake's Beach. I saw him from the car as he was hunting in a beautiful iris-filled meadow. I pulled over and put my long lens on, then stepped out of the car into a light drizzle, propping the heavy lens on a fence post. Unfortunately, the coyote spotted me right away and I got just two shots off. It was my second coyote sighting of the day. The first had been out on Tomales Point, where a very furry fellow crossed the trail maybe fifty feet in front of me, soon followed by a small herd of elk. It was raining, and visibility was extremely low at the time, and I probably cut a frightening silhouette with full rain gear and umbrella.

A friend told me last week that Pierce Point had way more wildflowers than Chimney Rock, which I had just visited with my wife. He wasn't lying. There is a very good iris bloom going on just south of Pierce Ranch.

It was raining constantly, so I had to do my photography from beneath an umbrella. Handling a tripod and umbrella at the same time, being very careful to keep droplets off the lens, is not my favorite way to approach a subject. It's an unwieldy process, as you can imagine.

I had hemmed and hawed a little bit from home as to whether I should even make the long drive out to Point Reyes. It can be a fun trip if you don't get stuck behind a pokey driver who won't use pull-outs to let people pass, and I had mixed luck on that score, as usual. But a couple other factors weighed in favor of going. First, the forecast was for very light wind. The storm wasn't going to be a howler and make it virtually impossible to work under an umbrella. Second, although I would love to have had great light and good visibility to photograph the meadows and landscapes, this moody and broody stuff is what Point Reyes looks like much of the time. Indeed, by the time I got back from my hike, the fog in this area had reached total coverage, reducing visibility to maybe thirty meters.

The beginning of the Tomales Point Trail drew a thin line between thick meadows of wild mustard and radish which are still just waist-high. They'd have made a nice foreground for landscape shots -- if only the background of the landscape had been visible.

There were some iris patches out there too, but nothing like the profusion in the elk sanctuary on the approach to Pierce Ranch. There were lots of California poppies and cream cups, species that only open when the sun comes out, so I could only imagine how gorgeous the hike would be on a clear day.

I saw quite a few elk cows, but no bulls or calves. I think the fog's limited visibility made them extra spooky. I had to wonder about the coyote I saw because it had been much closer to the elk than I was, yet I (not the coyote) had spooked them. Had they not seen the coyote? Or were they simply unconcerned by its presence? The coyote was big, with a thick, healthy coat, but would probably be no match for a grown elk.

The rain let up for about fifteen minutes near the end of my return hike, so I thought I'd check out a nice patch of low-growing fiddleneck near the parking area. It soon started raining again, so I had to continue working under an umbrella, this time on the soaked ground with a macro lens. With rain pants and jacket, though, I hardly noticed the wet ground and was able to keep my attention on holding the umbrella over the camera.

Shooting in the rain is not my favorite thing, but once I had the hang of it my only regret was that there were so few species to photograph.

There was just enough of a breeze to make things more difficult, so extreme close-ups with focus stacks weren't really an option.

This sign on this weathered old post above Tomales Bay State Park caught my attention. I wonder if "protected" means no huckleberry-picking.

Fog had greatly reduced visibility out around Pierce Point, so I thought I'd drive over to see if it was any better out at Chimney Rock. I knew from last week's visit that Chimney Rock didn't have the spectacular iris show that Pierce Point does, but there is still a nice variety of wildflowers all the way out at the point. Out there with my wife I only had my point-n-shoot, and I thought I'd like to go back with my real camera to photograph the wildflowers with the cliffs in the background.

I made a short side trip up Mt. Vision Road, and a ranger stopped where I'd just parked on the roadside and was gathering my photo gear. I'd been reading on the West Marin Feed's Facebook page that there have been a few car break-ins lately, so I'd stashed all my gear in the trunk when I hiked out on Tomales Point. The ranger also warned me about break-ins and said there'd been another one just that morning. 

I stopped briefly at North Beach and saw a few surfers out. The waves had probably been much better at low tide. I took another detour down to Drake's Beach, figuring if I could see Chimney Rock, then I'd buy a snack at the store and continue on out there. The fog was thick, though, so I decided to save that trip for another weekend.

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