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Falcons and Sea Stacks on the Northern California Coast

By April 27, 2023No Comments
Photo of three peregrine falcons on a cliff. Photo credit: John Ehrenfeld

Photo credit: John Ehrenfeld

The Northern California Coast might not be on many photographers bucket lists, but it should be! Cliffs, sandy beaches, and sea stacks. Interesting fishing towns. And birds. Oh, my the birds! That’s why the area around Bodega Bay should be on your radar and why it’s the site of an upcoming NANPA Regional Event, June 13-16. We talked with John Ehrenfeld, a California-based nature photographer and leader of the Regional Event, about what makes this area special. Here’s what he told us.

Waves crash ashore on a sandy beach in Northern California Coast ©John Ehrenfeld Photography

Photo credit: John Ehrenfeld


Bodega Bay is less than a two-hour drive from both San Francisco and Oakland airports, making it easily accessible. Yet it is not as crowded as the coast farther south. You’re also close to Point Reyes National Seashore. There are a number of lodging choices within easy driving distance of anything you’d want to see and photograph. And, there are quite a few really good restaurants, especially if you like fresh seafood.

The weather around here is usually good, especially in early summer. There are very few days with rain but, since it is a coastal area, there might be fog one morning and bright sunshine the next. It’s a bit unpredictable, but mostly quite pleasant and comfortable.

Regional Field Events

NANPA Regional Field Events are designed to be photo tours led by one or more outstanding NANPA members with extensive knowledge of the area. They typically take place over 3-4 days—often timed for a long weekend and attendance is limited, to 6 – 10 guests per leader. They’re great opportunities to photograph incredible locations at the best times with a local expert and other nature photographers. New locations are being added all the time. There’s sure to be one that’s right for you.

Photo credit: John Ehrenfeld

Birds and wildlife

Peregrine falcons are striking birds of prey. They’re also elusive and often hard to photograph. It’s unusual to get close to their nests, as they like cliff edges or tall trees. Yet in this area John’s been following a falcon pair that nest on a large rock in out the water but close to shore. Last year, they had four babies and he could get unobstructed views of the birds going back and forth between their nest and another nearby rock. Hopefully they will be back again this year, but there is always lots to see and photograph.

And peregrine falcons aren’t the only attraction. Along with ducks and a wide variety of shorebirds, you can often see and photograph a bald eagle nest, and ospreys fishing close to shore. Osprey and eagles are especially common in the morning at the mouth of the Russian River near Bodega Bay, hunting for fish and occasionally trying to steal one from a sea lion. When the tide is in, you get osprey diving for fish. When it’s out, the shorebirds scurry around the wet sand.

Adult bald eagle flying with fish in its talons. Photo credit: John Ehrenfeld

Photo credit: John Ehrenfeld

Unique black oystercatchers hang out along the cliffs at Bodega Head, where you can also find brown pelicans flying by and see whale spouts off shore. Several pods of sea lions also call the area home. They can often be seen on beaches and in coves and photographed from the cliffs above.

Places like Bosque del Apache are famous, and for good reason. But there are many other places with fabulous bird photography. The Northern California Coast is one of them.

Photo of California coast with waves breaking on rocks below cliffs. Photo credit: John Ehrenfeld

Photo credit: John Ehrenfeld


This part of the California coast is famous for rugged cliffs, beaches, sea stacks and large rocks on or just off the shore. They make striking subjects for photographs, as do the dunes, grasses and beaches. One particularly nice feature of the area is that, because land almost encircles the Bodega Bay and the coastline is pretty jagged, you can often shoot a sunrise in one direction and a sunset in the opposite direction.

There are several fishing towns, like Bodega Bay, along the coast, with natural harbors full of fishing boats, colorful buoys, ropes, and other gear to photograph.

Shorebird walking along beach with a small fish in its beak. Photo credit: John Ehrenfeld

Photo credit: John Ehrenfeld

In short, there are limitless photographic opportunities here, from birds to boats, sea lions to sea stacks, sunsets to sandy beaches. If you haven’t been, you should start making your plans to go. And one of the best ways to see and photograph a place like this is with someone who knows the area intimately.

That’s why NANPA’s Regional Field Events are led by photographers like John Ehrenfeld. He’s photographed here dozens of times, knows where the birds are likely to be and when they’ll be active. He understands where to go for the best light, and where to go for dinner. He’ll help you figure out what settings to use on your camera, help you with composition, answer any questions and provide guidance. He’ll be your guide and bring you to great spots while you just focus on getting amazing photos. That’s a NANPA Regional Event.

Sound interesting? Then sign up now! Registration for Northern California closes on May 12.  Regional Events like this are popular, and for good reasons sell out.

Avoid the last minute rush. Reserve your spot now! Photo credit: John Ehrenfeld