Pelicans at La Jolla, part 1: the highlights

Last week I headed to La Jolla with Greg to spend a day photographing birds, seals, and lighthouses. The day started with the two of us sitting on cliffs above the Pacific Ocean watching California brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus) wake up in the soft pre-sunrise light.

This long exposure image taken before dawn on a calm morning at La Jolla Cove shows hundreds of nesting pelicans sitting on the coastal cliffs above the ocean.  Palm trees and the ocean define the horizon. (Marc C. Perkins)
Nesting pelicans on coastal cliffs before sunrise.

There are few better ways to start a day.

Soon after that picture was taken, the pelicans began to fly over to the cliffs Greg and I had set up on (illusion warning: we weren’t alone — a half dozen or so other photographers were also there, including the awesomely skilled and friendly Maxis Gamez). Greg and I stayed there for around three hours, and in that time dozens of pelicans flew up and landed only a few yards from us. They didn’t seem to mind our presence, and just sat their grooming themselves, resting, and doing other birdy things.

Here are my highlights from the day:

This California brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus) is photographed sitting on a rock in front of the ocean. This closeup shows only a portion of the bird, focusing on the beak with its The beak, bill pouch (gular sac), and eye are all sharply in focus, and visible clearly above the folded-up body. (Marc C. Perkins)
California brown pelican: Closeup.
This California brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus) is standing proudly on a rock in front of a blurred-out calm blue ocean background.  The pelican is seen in profile, with its beak, bill pouch, and legs clearly visible. (Marc C. Perkins)
California brown pelican: Proud.
This California brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus) is photographed in profile closeup.  The Pelican is seen against the blue California sky with the ocean/horizon just visible at the bottom of the frame, and has just returned from fishing.  A single drop of water can be seen dropping from its beak, frozen in mid air. (Marc C. Perkins)
California brown pelican: Profile and water drop.

I don’t typically do bird photography, but if there are more places like the La Jolla cliffs I could see myself doing lots more.

I’d appreciate any and all comments on these pictures. This was functionally my first bird photography shoot, and I’d love to improve.

More pictures

To see more pictures from the day, head to my Birds: Pelicans and gulls gallery (and wait for my next few blog posts).

Getting There

La Jolla Cove Cliffs: This location doesn’t have an official name as far as I can tell, but it’s accessed from a small parking lot on the right side of Coast Blvd. in La Jolla (San Diego, CA), just after Coast Blvd. branches off from Prospect Place. The best I can do for you is give you GPS coordinates: N32.84936 W117.27038. Parking at the location is highly limited (and has a 2-hour max during the day), but it’s a short walk from other parking areas in La Jolla and the lot was virtually empty when I got there half an hour before sunrise on a weekday. The cliffs are accessed from a stairway that descends from the parking lot; be careful to stay well back from the edge, as the cliffs are steep and venturing too far forward will scare the birds away and prevent them from landing.  The cliffs are within walking distance of beautiful seaside La Jolla, with much to see and do. I don’t know how often pelicans are there, but I’ve heard they’re only there during a short period in the winter.

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