Mother Nature Monday # 14: Jimson weed sunset

11/12/2014: The blossom on a jimson weed plant blooms on the banks of the Calaveras River between Pacific and Persing avenues during sunset in Stockton

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The University of the Pacific’s 2014-2015 Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet has been named the best undergraduate college small jazz combos in DownBeat magazine’s 39th annual Student Music Awards. In addition, the group’s vibraphonist Joel Ross was named best Soloist in Undergraduate College Outstanding Performances and drummer Jalon Archie was named best Jazz Soloist, Undergraduate College Winner. Congratulations to UOP, the Brubeck institute and the young talented musicians.

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All that Jazz

Photography, especially news photography is a lot like Jazz. There is a formula to Jazz. Basically, it contains a theme and musicians improvise around that theme. In news photography we often have to cover events that we’ve covered before.

Like the improvisation in Jazz, photojournalists look for new ways to photograph whatever the event is. It’s like riffing on a theme. In the music, where the basic cord structure remains, things like rhythm and melody can be ad-libbed.

Similarly, in photography the event itself may be unchanged or little changed for previous years, a photographer can look for different angles or lighting or they can use a different lens that they may have sued before.

Today is International Jazz Day. In recognition of the day I’ve posted photos of Jazz performers that I’ve shot over the years.


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Readers Photo Challenge: Spring has sprung

“Spring” is the theme of the current Readers Photo Challenge assignment and judging from the response spring has indeed sprung.

Twenty-one readers sent in a whopping 134 photos. Most dealt with the growth that springtime brings. Flowers, both wild and homegrown, were a common subject. It’s also the season for the rebirth of living things, which were mostly represented by photos of birds and insects.

All represent the season well. Here are some of the best examples.


One usually associates spring with sunshine and warm temperatures, at least in California. But rain also helps to define the season. This year’s El Niño storms have not only caused an explosion of flowers of every kind but also help to directly enhance some of the pictures sent in.

Carolyn Silva of Jackson was vacationing in Ft. Bragg along the Mendocino coast when rain showers hit. The storm knocked down the petals from flowering trees lining the walkways of the Holiday Inn Express that she and her husband staying at. With her Nikon D500 DSLR camera she captured the beauty of the colorful pink petals as they carpeted the concrete sidewalk.


Normally we think of poppies in their buttercup shape, opening their faces towards the sun. But in cold and wet conditions the plants will fold up their petals.

Susan Scott of Stockton used a Canon Rebel DSLR camera to photograph a poppy in her backyard after a rainstorm. She captured rolled up petals as tiny raindrops cling to its golden skin.


Contrasting elements and isolation are compositional technique used by photographers. Contrasting colors can help bring out a subject and isolating that subject can do so as well.

Dave Skinner of Stockton used both techniques to great effect. Armed with a Nikon D5200 DSLR camera, Skinner photographed wildflowers growing along Electra Road near Jackson in the Mother Lode.

He isolated a single stalk of lupine growing out of a field of poppies. The blue of the lupine contrasted with the bright orange/yellow of the poppies making it sand out even more.


Rick Wilmot of Lodi used a Canon EOS 5D Mk III DSLR camera to photograph azaleas in a raised planter in at the Pavilions Shopping Center Sacramento. The backlighting enhances the bright purple petals making them pop out against the black background.


When one gets a new camera it takes a little time to learn how to use it and the first pictures that are take are often mediocre at best, but not for Bobby Moulden of Manteca. He used a brand new Nikon D5 DSLR to photograph a bachelor’s button wildflower just outside of Yosemite National Park on Hwy 140. It’s bright blue hue contrasts nicely against the yellow-green of the surrounding foliage.


Red-breasted robins are among the traditional signs of spring. Mike Allen of Meridian, Idaho used a Canon Rebel T3i with a 70-200mm lens to photograph a robin splashing in a birdbath as spring came to his backyard.


Bees are also symbols of spring. Marzeny Manrriquez of Stockton used a Canon EOS Rebel T4i DSLR camera to photograph bumblebee hunting for nectar amongst brightly colored flowers at Kohl Open School in Stockton.


Stay tuned for a new Readers Photo Challenge assignment will be issued next week.

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Mother Nature Monday #13: Hillside steer

7/31/2011: A steer grazes on a hillside along Highway 26 and Paloma Road near Mokelumne Hill.

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A cameraman’s man-camera


I’m a DSLR guy, after all it’s what I make my living with. But they’re not for everyone as this humorous video from Sony Thailand shows.

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Born to be wild(flowers)

Spring is the season of wildflowers and the El Nino rains that we’ve gotten seem to have caused an explosion in the growth of wildflowers. There are reports of a “super bloom” in the usually barren Death Valley. A few weeks ago reader Pete Silva of Jackson sent me pictures a of beautiful poppies growing along Electra Road in the Mother Lode growing out of the wake of the Butte Fire that devastated the area last summer.

As much as I’d like to, I haven’t gotten a chance to travel to Death Valley or even up to Electra Road but I have seen a plethora of flowers closer to home and you can too.

One usually thinks of wildflowers growing in far-flung rural places, which is true, but they can also be found in urban and near-urban locations as well.

The ubiquitous wild mustard can populate almost any open field or lot well within city limits and their bright yellow color can make for some great photos. The same can be said for the white and lavender blossoms for wild radishes. These plants can grow anywhere and everywhere.

There are some flowers that can be found on the edges of a city where it interfaces with country landscapes. Long-beaked filaree can grow in some areas like groundcover. Its tiny purple blossoms can be easy to miss as individual flowers but when they carpet a large portion of the ground they can give an area a lavender hue from a distance.

There are many others; fiddleneck, winter vetch, rose clover, lupine and more, that I’ve seen just a stone’s throw from urban and suburban populations.

A few weeks ago I was walking through Michael Falkis Park in the Spanos Park West development of north Stockton. I got up on the levee that separates the park from White Slough. As I walked I saw a few of the aforementioned flowers along the banks of the slough but also large swaths of a new one that I hadn’t seen before

.They were the vivid yellow of wild mustard, which I mistook them for at first. A closer examination revealed that their blossoms hung in clusters a little like miniature lupine flowers. When I got home I consulted the National Wildlife Federation’s Field Guide to Wildflowers of North America. The best as I can tell from the guide, the flower is yellow sweet clover.

It is said that one person’s weed is another person’s wildflower. That seems to especially true within a city’s borders. The recent rains have many familiar flowers, as well as ones rarely seen before, thriving and growing like, well, like weeds. But as for me, I like to see it as a chance to experience the beauty of nature without having to travel too far.

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Mother Nature Monday: #12: Redbud pod

3/8/2013: A seed pod hangs off of a branch on a western redbud tree at Oak Grove Regional Park in Stockton.

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Outtakes: The march of time

Time marches on and March has come and gone. Here are 10 of my favorite previously unposted photos from 2016’s 3rd month

















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Fly like an eagle?

One cold February afternoon I stopped by the Phil and Marilyn Isenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve off of Woodbridge Road west of I-5 and Lodi looking for a weather photo and perhaps to get some shots of the elegant and stately birds that winter in the reserve.

When I got there was a single person peering through a pair of binocular. The cranes hadn’t flown back the reserve for the evening but there were plenty of other birds for her to see. I got a shot of her silhouetted against storm clouds billowing on the horizon.

She gave her name as Meghan Bishop from the East Bay town of Moraga and identified herself as a wildlife biologist. She was in the valley studying vernal pools and decided to stop at the reserve to do a little bird watching before heading home.

Among the waterfowl at the reserve were some American coots swimming in the shallow waters of the flooded fields. When Bishop told me what her occupation was, who better to ask a wildlife question that has been nagging me for years: “Do coots fly?”

Coots are duck-sized waterfowl with dark grey bodies, black necks and small, snowy white beaks and I’ve photographed many of them over the years. I’ve seen them swim in groups (occasionally alone) on bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, ponds, etc., or even waddle along a shoreline but I’ve never seen one fly.

The closest I’ve seen them come to flying is when they skitter across the water with their thick-toed feet and stubby little wings working furiously as if to take off. But whenever it seemed as if they were going actually to lift off the water, in unison, they would power down and then glide across the surface until they slowed back down to a leisurely paddle.

And while I’ve never seen great herds of coots thundering across the grassland or pastures in the Delta, neither have I seen flocks of them flying overhead. So I assumed that coots might be flightless birds like penguins, emus or kiwis.

So I posed the question to Bishop. She gave me a curious look and then said that, yes, they do indeed fly. I then asked her why I haven’t seen any do so. She suggested that maybe if something like a dog was chasing them then they would take to the sky. So coots, like most other birds, fly, perhaps as gracefully as eagles. Apparently they just need the proper motivation to do so.

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    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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