Thursday, August 16, 2007

Calling All Bird Lovers

This post will absolutely appeal to any and all bird lovers out there, whether classic birders or nature photographers. As some of you may know the Morro Bay Estuary is one of the premier habitats for birds, both migratory and non-migratory, on the West Coast. Over 250 bird species call the 2,300 acre estuary home.

I had the privilege of spending four hours on the water with Marc Schulman, the owner of Orchid Outriggers in Los Osos. Marc operates a fleet of nine outrigger canoes. The design is his modern take on the classic Hawaiian outrigger. The craft are about 17 feet long and exhibit superb control, speed, and stability. Those of you who have ever been frustrated trying to take pictures from a kayak or canoe will appreciate the outrigger design. The inherent stability of the craft generates a very steady platform from which to shoot.

Our tour began as we launched from Baywood and headed west into the estuary. I cannot adequately describe the ease with which we entered the quiet, wondrous environment. Another point that I cannot overstate is the absolute dryness of the trip, safe for photographer and camera gear alike.

We encountered an extensive list of wildlife throughout the tour. Although I will focus on birds, we also saw leopard sharks, harbor seals, and bountiful fish. It is not uncommon to also see deer, sea lions, kangaroo rats, bobcats, and many other animals.

The birding and photography was awesome! I have never dreamed of access like that provided by the outrigger canoe. Marc, acting as propulsion and guide, positioned me to shoot gigabyte after gigabyte. The system is almost perfect. Both guide and photographer scan for wildlife and then after it is sighted (or if experience has shown wildlife will be in a certain spot) the guide positions the outrigger as the photographer sets up. For me, Marc kept the bow of the outrigger pointed at the intended subject and either drifted by or closed to as close as ten feet from the animal.

The list of birds we sighted and photographed is too extensive to list here. The highlights for me were a peregrine falcon (we closed to 20 yards and shot for 15 minutes), an osprey or sea-eagle, brown pelicans, huge white pelicans (a flock of over 70 birds), great egrets, snowy egrets, night egrets, and large great blue herons.

Bottom line, the trip was incredible (non-stop birds and wildlife for hours) and right here in our own backyard.I encourage you to visit Marc at to learn more. In addition, the Lepp Institute will be pairing with Orchid Outriggers to hold photography workshops centered around the estuary. A simple plan we are creating for locals will be a two-day seminar: one day to shoot on and around the water and a second day to catalog, optimize, and print at the Lepp Insitute's digital darkroom. We will announce class dates soon. For non-locals, our 2008 schedule will include week-long workshops with multiple days on the water.

Take care and hope to see you soon.

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