Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tis' is the season

click on the title to see more of my Northern Elephant Seal images

Tis' is the season to be jolly...I guess we all had our share of that by now...
But tis' is also the season for the northern elephant seals to make their appearance in Año Nuevo.
Año Nuevo, a California State Park only about 25 miles south of Half Moon Bay, is the largest breeding colony in the world for the northern elephant seal.

Named by Spanish maritime explorers who sailed around this rugged and windy point in early January 1603 (Año Nuevo - New Years Point), Año Nuevo went through quite a few changes, but managed to keep it's undeveloped wild shore. Even the lighthouse keeper house on Año Nuevo Island, deserted since 1948, is reinhabitated by elephant, harbor and stellar seals.

Elephant seals were slaughtered almost to extinction in the 1800s due to their blubber that could be made into oil. By 1892 only 50 to 100 seals were left. The only then existing breeding ground was on an island off Baja California. Luckily the Mexican Government put them under protection and the US Government followed suit as elephant seals started to come back to the California Coast.
By today the northern elephant seal population has recovered to approx. 160.000!!

Between 1955 and 1975 northern elephant seals started to "colonize" Año Nuevo, and today up to 2000 pups are born here during the winter months.

Elephant seals spend most of there life at sea, swimming from breeding grounds to feeding grounds and back. Biologists at Año Nuevo found out that some of the tagged males swim as far as the Aleutian Islands to feed, the females as far as Hawaii. While at Año Nuevo, neither the males nor the females eat.

Breeding season starts by mid December, when the males arrive.

Here a coyote wanders between the arriving males.

Young males play fighting and practicing for the rather violent battles that in their later years will establish their rank and dominance. Only the most successful bulls will preside over a harem and be able to breed.

Vocalizing, as well as the actual battles, is a form of showing dominance and establishing territory. It sounds like a really loud and hoarse barking.
By the way, elephant seals indeed got their name because of the long pendulous nose of the males.

In later December then, the females arrive. They group together by building "harems" and give birth only a few days after they arrive. If you are out there in late December and early January look out for flocks of gulls. Often these gulls are feasting on the afterbirth and are an excellent indicator for a recent birth.

Here a female with a newborn pup.

Elephant seals only nurse for about 4 weeks. in this short period the pup gains about 200 to 300 pounds, due to the high fat percentage (55%) of the milk.

About 3 weeks after giving birth the female comes into season and the mating starts.


The females might mate several times before heading back to the ocean and their feeding grounds. This kind of desertion abruptly weans the pups, which are then aptly called weaners. Unable to swim yet they huddle together in so called pods and stay at Año Nuevo for another two or three months.

At four to six weeks of age, the weaners molt and the original dark coat will be replaced by a new silvery coat.

Soon after the molt the weaners start to learn how to swim with shallow off shore waters or big rain water puddles serving as weaner wading pools. During all this time they are not eating but living off their fat reserve. In early summer though the hunger forces them into the open water. Here they face a uncertain future, only about 50% will survive their first year.

The best time to visit Año Nuevo is in my opinion right now. But be aware that you will need to make a reservation for a guided walk between December 15 and March 31.
Click here for information about the walks and and online booking .

Año Nuevo sunset

A big Thank You to my good friend Judy Bingman, an Año Nuevo volunteer and docent. She made it possible for me to visit the park often by sharing a lot of her after hour walks with me. Most of the images here were taken during these after hour adventures.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Land of the Thunder Dragon


Photography by Meggi Raeder

This last Sunday, my friend Meggi Raeder invited us to a private viewing of her stunning photos of her most recent travel to Bhutan. Meggi traveled Bhutan extensively and is now preparing to lead tours through the Land of the Thunder Dragon.
The show kept us spell bound until the last photo faded away. The deep knowledge of the Bhutan culture and the catching photography show clearly where Meggi's heart resides.
To see her photography and learn more of her recent trip, please log on to her blog.
To learn more about the upcoming tour to Bhutan, click here: Travel with Meggi

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December Conservation Tip

Before I start with the actual tip here a Christmas present tip that is really close to my heart:
My good friend, the conservation photographer Daisy Gilardini, published a wonderful book on her arctic and antarctic adventures this fall, and I think this makes a wonderful Christmas present.
To see a preview of the book and to order, please click here. Please be aware of the holiday shipping deadlines:
Priority mail : Sunday December 12th
Express mail : Tuesday December 14th

"POLAR WONDERS: photographs from the ends of the Earth"

Have you been Christmas shopping this last weekend, or are you planning to do so next weekend. I love shopping for friends and family. The feeling of getting just the right item to put a smile on their faces when they unwrap their present fills me with happy anticipation.


Every year I wonder about that huge heap of wrapping paper that litters the floor after the gift giving. But never mind, we recycle, or so I thought. Did you know that most of the wrapping paper is NOT recyclable, because it is dyed, laminated or has additives like glitter and plastic attached?

I did a bit of research and found some mind boggling facts:

In 1994 the American Greetings Company alone sold 1.7 billion linear feet of wrapping paper, enough to go around earth 12 times!

In average every year 4 million tons of logs go from forest to landfill due to wrapping paper and gift bags.

In 2009 an estimated 8000 tons of wrapping paper was used, the equivalent of 50.000 trees.

So, is there an alternative? Putting the gifts unwrapped under the tree just doesn't seem to do the trick.

Here some ideas I used last year and plan to use this year:

Most grocery stores sell now fabric shopping bags, look for a really nice one (I like the Whole Foods "a better bag" a lot) and wrap your present in one of these.

How about putting the gifts for a family in a handwoven African shopping basket, which is a great gift by itself. Whole Foods and New Leaf sell fair trade baskets from Africa, if you are in the Bay Area.
If not check out this website: Baskets of Africa

Give gift certificates, they don't need much wrapping.

Choose a symbolic wildlife adoption, no wrapping required either. Checkout my June Conservation tip for sources and ideas on that.

Use old magazines, catalogs or colored newspaper as wrapping material.

Let your kids decorate normal (recyclable) paper for Grandma and Grandpa's presents. Dried leaves or dried flowers make beautiful decorations.

Ordered online? Use the shipping box as wrapping and decorate it with magazine clippings, old photos etc. Again, a great kids project.

If you really want to wrap your present, make sure it is made from recycled material and/or recyclable.
A great source for this is EarthPresents, their wrapping paper is 100% recycled and recyclable. They feature the art of students with special talents and special needs on their wrapping paper and support these students with parts of their sales. Good for you, good for the environment and good for the students with special needs.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Should've been a cowgirl...

Two years ago, around this time of the year I joined my friend Daisy on a special kind of short trip, a visit to The Hideout.

As a horse back rider and photographer, what can be better than having three days of fun on a 300.000 acre ranch photographing and riding exquisite Quarter Horses? Not much except staying longer, of course...
Unfortunately, as I came home and tried to work on the images, lots of my files got corrupted due to an software problem with my old computer, and editing became so frustrating that I quit working on my images.
About a month ago, I suddenly remembered the trip, and since I had backed up the original files and now have a new computer, I happily went to work and can now share the results with you here.

Daisy and I planned to meet at the Hideout, since she arrived there a few days earlier. The ranch is located in Shell, WY, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. On Sunday I flew into Billings, which is about 140 miles from the Hideout. Coming from about 70 degree warm California, landing in a snowstorm was a bit scary, but I figured I would just upgrade my rental car to a 4wheel drive and all would be good.
Unfortunately, I was not the only one who had this great idea and by the time I arrived, there were no 4wheel drive cars available anymore. But the clerk assured me, the streets would be clear and I should not worry...
As I went to my car, it was buried under so much snow, that I first had to borrow a shovel to make sure I was standing in front of the right car! Then I waited about 30 min in the still ongoing storm until the rental car people could help me dig out my car, so much to the clear roads...but once on the main street, driving went quite smoothly indeed. My only worries were, that except for myself in my little rental car, nobody seemed to be on the road.
Nevertheless, I reached the ranch without any incidents and right on time. Greeted warmly by Ashley, I checked in to my cozy room.

In the early evening, I caught up with Daisy and together we went to the main lodge. Here, after yummy appetizers we were treated to a delicious dinner.

The next morning greeted us with sunny blue skies...

... and excited, fresh horses.

It was rather chilly, but neither the horses

nor the cowboys seemed to mind.



Due to the warming weather, by the afternoon, most of the snow had melted,

and we got the opportunity to photograph the running horses in front of this magnificent scenery.

Tuesday morning we got up early to take advantage of the nice morning light to catch the horses while they were crossing a small river.

While photographing the horses crossing the river, I happened to run out of memory on my card. As I was changing the card I caught a glimpse of this solitary grey horse standing in the grove behind the river, watching the crossing horses.

After a hearty lunch red rock country was on the program...


Full moon rising behind the ranch.

On Wednesday, I had a hard decision to fell: Should I go with the photographers to take more pictures or should I go horse back riding...
After I heard, that the ride this Wednesday would be a real cattle drive, bringing down cows from higher pastures down to the valley, the decision was clear: I would ride the cattle drive.
What an experience! The horses are unbelievably well trained and as sure-footed as mountain goats! After a steep decline, we rode along the street down to the valley,

where it got rather dusty...

...after about 8 hours in the saddle, I joined the photo group for a quick dinner and one last sunset shot.

Even if it is now two years later, the memories are still vivid in my mind, it was a short but wonderful trip....that needs to be repeated...

Meet Tilly, the tough ranch dog

I bet you did not expect to see Yorki portraits now.
Although Tilly looks like a princess and is one of the sweetest dogs I know, she is indeed a ranch dog. On a recent visit to good friends of mine in Bend, OR, I had the chance to see her run through the snow, herd cows and chase everything that doesn't belong on the farm.
I prefered to stay warm though and took her portatits inside...;-)

Monday, November 22, 2010

November Conservation Tip

We all have heard about BPA (Bisphenol A) in plastic water bottles by now and hopefully most of them are not containing BPA anymore. In connection with BPA, phthalates popped up in several publications, too. At first I was kind of ignoring these unpronounceable chemicals, there are so many scary things nowadays, one can't keep up. But as I heard that Canada declared BPA as a hazardous/toxic substance and that phthalates are banned in cosmetics in Europe since 2003! I gave it a second thought.

What exactly are BPA and phatalates?

BPA or Bisphenol A is a plastic component, which is clear and shatter proof. Although it is known to interfere with the human hormone system, especially with estrogen, since the 1930s, billions of pounds of BPA are produced yearly. Among other things BPA can be found in baby bottles, water containers, plastic food storage containers and the lining of cans.
Platics with a 3,6 or 7 in the little recycling triangle on the bottom are possibly containing BPA.

Phthalates are found in soft plastic, like cling wrap, and lots of cosmetic articles. Phthalates help plastic to stay flexible and in cosmetics it helps the fragrance to linger longer around and stay better on skin and nails (for example in nail polish). Phthalates don't have to be labeled, but if you find the word "fragrance" or "perfume" in the ingredients list, it is a pretty good indication that the product contains phthalates.

BPA and phthalates are known to interfere with the hormone system and therefore have been linked to quite a few health problems, including heart problems and damage to the reproductive system (especially in males).
Explore the following links as they describe more accurate the risks and problems involved with BPA and phthalates. Please don't ignore it as I did, especially not if you are pregnant or raising boys!

Yale about BPA


Warming up food in plastic containers

How safe is Tupperware

National Geographic Green Guide

Interesting short video:
The Story about Cosmetics

Some safety tips:
Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit

Check your favorite shampoo, lotion etc. here:
Skin Deep, cosmetic safety database

For more in depth reading I recommend:
Slow Death by Rubber Duck by Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Green Festival San Francisco

This last weekend I went to the 9th Annual San Francisco Green Festival.
It is good to see that the "green" movement is gaining momentum!

From green baby clothing to solar energy and from sustainable farming to green travel, a lot of vendors had a lot to offer.

Here a few of my favorites, collected for you, in no particular order:

Mr. Ellie Pooh

yup, you read right, pooh, not Winnie the Pooh, but elephant pooh....

Amazing papers, notebooks and photo albums.

nubius organics

Although, Tupperware might probably doing the trick, too (see September conservation tip), this is a way nicer way!
Use coupon code SAVE5 to save $5 on your first order of $35 or more.

To Go Ware

Same idea, more practical maybe, but not quite as nice as nubius...

Jade Planet

Think recycling...! The film shopper was absolutely gorgeous. A must have for any film fan. Super ideas and skillful artistic execution.

Strauss Family Creamery

Not only is their milk absolutely delicious, I also talked to them for a bit at the festival, and yes, their cows are on pasture, and they are open for visitors.
Just found this Patagonia blog to go with it!

Seed Savers Exchange

Sick of these pale tasteless tomatoes, all you need is a bit of garden and some heirloom seeds.


A funny name for a company who sells goat milk soap, bees wax candles and more, but their message is an important one. I always thought palm oil is something good. Well, it probably is, but in order to satisfy the market for it, tropical rain forest gets destroyed at an alarming rate, and with it vital Orangutan habitat. I had no idea. Even if you are not interested in goat soap, take a minute to read their information on the palm oil.

Tread Light

I really thought long and hard, if I could come up with a valid reason to buy these. They just look really cool if you hold them in your hands. But for one they are just a bit expensive and second, I could not come up when and where I would wear them. Definitively worth a look.

I hope you enjoyed these links, they are by no means complete or representative, just my favorite picks....

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Meeting Lowell Herrero



The first Lowell Herrero painting I saw was in form of a cow calendar at a friends house in Canada.
I was immediately drawn not only to the cow, but how it was painted: big, oversized but enormously friendly and calm. So I began to look out for Lowell Herreros paintings, especially for the cows of course, that just lies in my nature..., but also for his other work.
Trying to explain what fascinates me about his paintings is not an easy task. For one, in our ever so hectic and bustling world his art emanates a comforting calmness. His oversized figures, human or animal, have a certain soothing effect to me. They are so down-to-earth, pure, contained within themselves, joyous and content. There is no stress, running and disharmony. Everything is as it is supposed to be, natural!
Then the colors! I am a color person, you will hardly find any black&white photography in my work. Looking at Lowells colorful paintings opens my heart. Just look at the luscious lavender or even better the cadmium orange, my absolute favorite.

Now my good fortune had it, that my dear friend and fellow photographer Cherie made it possible for me to actually meet Lowell Herrero in person.
On a recent trip to the Napa Valley we drove to Calistoga and the home of the Herreros.

Even standing at the gate I realized, everything here is breathing and living art. Then the gate opens and and one feels transported right into an Italian estate. Nestled in a lush olive grove lies a beautiful Tuscan farm house solely designed by Lowell Herrero. And again, art is everywhere, iron and copper statues of typical Herrero women stand on ladders and seem to harvest olives of the trees, and other smaller sculptures line the way.
I was beginning to feel a bit nervous, I was about to meet an artist whose art I'm admiring since over a decade. But Cherie left me no time to ponder by jumping out of the car and walking right into the outstretched arms of Janet, Lowell Herrero's wife. After a short introduction and a warm welcome extended to me, we entered Lowells' studio.

Lowell, who was in the process of designing and painting Halloween costumes for his wife and himself, greeted us with glee and welcomed us in his realm.

My eyes darted between the artist and all the wonderful original painting. I had a hard time concentrating at first because it was such a visual overload. The Herreros, obviously used to the overwhelming effect the studio has on visitors, began to debate teasingly about the design of their costumes and gave me time to look at all the paintings. What an experience to suddenly see the originals of artwork one has only seen in books or on the computer. Not only that, but also to see some work in progress, to see how much thought and work goes in it.
For the moment I was speechless.

But it got even better, Janet showed us through their house with many more originals and shared the stories of various paintings with us. What a treat. And again, everything breathed art. The Herreros not only are artists, they collect the art of other artists, too. To walk through their home is like a stroll through a personal museum, just better.

Back at the studio I had the chance to chat more with Lowell, this time with all my attention, about his travel to Europe and about how his art evolved over the years. Originally we had only planned to stay a few minutes, and suddenly we realized it was getting dark and we had spent hours!

We left with a bottle of original Herrero Olive Oil, a warm hug and unforgettable memories.

Thank you Janet and Lowell for this memorable afternoon!

Please check out Lowell Herreros' website at :

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Harley Farms Autumn Dinner

My dear friend Monika and I are both long time fans of Dee Harleys' award winning goat cheese, and as we read the following excerpt from the Harley Farms website, we became curious and secured us a space at one of the Autumn Dinners last Saturday.

"On our funny, intimate tour of the farm, allow us to introduce your guests to our milking herd of American Alpine goats, our restored Victorian milking parlor, and our world medal-winning dairy.
Gaze over the pastures and gardens as you nibble our cheeses on the hayloft balcony. Draw up your folk-art chair to our astonishing long barn table as you're served local (10-mile radius) and seasonal foods cooked in the farm kitchen.
Almost all of our food grew in the farm gardens or once grazed the pastures, and is served on our handmade Harley Farms pottery service and pewter goblets. The owls will be hooting over the barn long before you're ready to leave! Rustic charm is never this real."

With an empty stomach but full of anticipation we arrived at Harley Farms right around 4 pm, in spite of the pouring rain. This friendly sign ushered us inside the warm and cozy shop, where we were to meet our fellow diners.

Before the official start we had plenty of time to taste all the different kinds of cheese and were offered a delicious hot apple cider. Exactly the right drink for the all too early autumnal weather.

The store sells not only cheese, but also herb infused oils and vinegars...

... and luxurious body (and soul) creams, lotions and soaps.

After a brief but thorough introduction to the farm and its history our knowledgeable guide Janet led us on towards the barn. Usually the guests would stroll out to the goats in the pasture, but since neither the goats nor we liked the rain too much we took a stroll down the "food alley" of the stable. It is breeding time right now and hence the goats are with the billy goat, which was rather obvious to the nose...Janet had warned us...and also explained, that they are only together during this short period of the breeding season to avoid having the cheese smell, well, like a billy goat.

Meet the girls:

While Janet endured patiently Elvis', the billy goat, advances, she explained the ins and outs of the daily chores with the goat farm. And we had plenty of time to interact with the cute and friendly female (= not stinky) goats

Ahhh, the fresh air after the stables was sure nice...! After washing our hands we stepped into the milk parlour and got an introduction into the milking process. Since the goats are right now only milked once a day, we didn't see the actual milking, but got a good idea of the procedure.

Following the "milk pipe" we went from the milk parlour to the dairy. But before we could enter the holy hall, we had to put on some snazzy hair nets. This alone put a smile on everybody's face, which only widened after we saw that there were more cheese samples waiting for us.
Janet explained how the milk gets pasteurized, slow not flash, to preserve the aroma and how then the different cheese are made out of this milk. Also how sustainable this dairy is working: Usually it would take hundreds of gallons to help produce the cheese every day, but Harley Farms uses a closed system, so the water can be used over and over again for one whole year, instead of being wasted on a daily basis. They even collect the whey, which drains from the cheese, and have the goats drink it. A delicacy for them and nothing goes to waste.
We tried, now more aware and appreciative, the four different award winning Harley Farms cheeses: The signature chevre, the fromage blanc, which is essentially the same cheese, just not as well drained and therefor more spreadable; the brined feta and of course the fresh ricotta.

The dairy was the last step of the farm tour and so, after we returned our lovely hairnets, we climbed up the stairs to the converted hayloft. A magnificent table beautifully laid out with hand made pewter dishes and decorated lovingly with flowers awaited us. The table was made locally from one single tree and seats twenty comfortably on high backed, also locally hand made, chairs.

We all found our place at the long table and mingled with other cheese enthusiasts as suddenly a heavenly smell filled the air. Dee's son, who also faithfully updated the Giants fans, brought in freshly clay oven baked pizza for appetizer. I can't recall all the different toppings, my favorite was one with pesto, and, of course, goat cheese:

The tasty pizza was followed by a spicy roasted vegetable soup, served here by Dee Harley

Before every course Dee would explain to us, what we were about to eat and where it came from. It was really amazing to me, that she and her team could put together this fantastic gourmet menu and all ingredients were planted or raised and harvested in her garden or just around the little town of Pescadero. Showing and proving to us, that it is not necessary to fly or truck in food from far away places, it's right here and plenty of it!

Then my absolute favorite dish of the evening entered the stage: Harley Farms Goat Cheese Ravioli with fried sage in a browned butter sauce....melted in my mouth...hmmmm sooo good. Sorry, no picture, I was too busy with eating...

After this culinary climax, the main course, duck over seasonal vegetable and rosemary potatoes and for the vegetarians, filled butternut squash, sprinkled with lots of goat cheese combined with seasonal vegetable and rosemary potatoes had a hard time competing. But,of course, it lived up to all expectations and was delicious!

And for desert: Baked pear over marzipan rounds with berry syrup drizzle and ginger snaps

Although I thought, I was absolutely stuffed, as Dee came around to offer bits of her chocolate brittle to go with the tea or coffee, I could not resist...

In short: An exceptional dinner experience right to my taste and a successful continuation of my quest for more "food awareness" (see October Conservation tips)

A must for every goat cheese lover!

Check out the 2011 dinner schedule:

For more information regarding the farm, the farm tours and the farm dinners, click here for the Harley Farm website.

A big thank you to Dee and all the dedicated staff for this unforgettable and insightful evening.