KAP in low winds

August 31st, 2020 by Cris

I had an interesting day with my 8’ Rokkaku a while back and thought I would file a report. Of late I have been trying to take photographs of a particular area in the South Bay salt ponds and it has proved a difficult puzzle. The target is former Salt Pond E8A, which was returned to tidal flow a few months ago after 150 years of being diked. The difficulty arises from the levee breaches that restored tidal flow as they also prevent access to the normally upwind sections of the levee from which I would stage.

On Sunday the National Weather Service teased me with a forecast for light winds out of the SSE. Such a wind would allow me to fly toward Salt Pond E8A from the southern side of the 500-foot-wide Old Alameda Creek flood control channel. When I arrived on site, there was the faintest of breezes, probably less than 2 mph, and it was out of the west – drat. I fooled around for an hour or so hoping things would freshen and they eventually did. The wind built into a steady flow of 4 – 6 mph as measured on the ground by my little Kestrel anemometer, still out of the west. While this did not look good for getting a camera aloft I decided it would be fun to try anyway.

The following sequence of images was taken as I coaxed my 3.5 lb. dSLR cradle to working altitude.

The Rokkaku aloft waiting for more wind.

I started by getting my 8’ Rokkaku rigged and flying. It was happy indeed to fly in a 4 mph breeze but did not generate much lift. After flying for 10 minutes I pulled it down and adjusted the bow lines to a minimum bow and that helped a bit. Without much hope for success, I attached my Picavet to the kite line and rigged the dSLR cradle. I then stood there watching my camera fly a foot or so off the ground for a few minutes.

The camera cradle is launched. I am lifting the anchor line tied off to my trailer hitch in order to keep the camera cradle out of the dirt.

With little else to do, I tracked the wind with my anemometer. And every now and then the wind would increase by 1 mph or so from its otherwise steady 4-5 mph. When those slight increases occurred I could feed out a little more line. The camera stayed near the ground during this process but eventually more kite line was in play.

Like a rabbit the camera hops away. This is a minute into the first increase in wind.

The 8’ Rokkaku is flying well and the breeze is consistent. If I back upwind slowly – adding 1 mph or so to the apparent air velocity – I can get the camera to rise.

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A new map catalog

August 28th, 2020 by Cris

During our pandemic quarantine, I have been working on lending order to my KAP South Bay image catalog. About half of my sessions do not have a Flickr album to convey representative images so I am working on posting images from some of my earlier sessions.

This week I put together a new way to access images for those sessions that do have a Flickr album. I have created a Google My Map site that provides a cartographic key for these sessions and I think it will prove to be a useful way to access my photos.


The side menu lists my Flickr albums by year. You can display or hide the coverage in three-year blocks. In the red sidebar header, there is a search icon. This allows you to search for specific locations, times, or keywords. For example, try searching for A21 or Oliver Salt or train. If you click on one of the map’s album icons, the sidebar will show specifics for that session.

A view of the map with one of the session location icons selected.

The important item in this view is the album URL at the top, which will take you to the session’s Flickr album. The rest of the sidebar is the session description as taken from Flickr and a few details at the bottom including the number of photos in the session and keywords. 


April 27th, 2020 by Cris

I am starting to work on reviving this neglected blog. Over the last few years, my photography in the South Bay waned due to some problems with my vision. For 15 years or so I knew that a genetic problem with my corneas would eventually cause vision problems and indeed they did. With Fuchs Endothelial Corneal Dystrophy (FECD) the innermost layer of the cornea has a die-off of endothelial cells, which are responsible for maintaining the cornea’s shape and removing impurities that would otherwise cloud vision. By 2017 I found myself seeing so poorly that my compositional capacity in KAP sessions devolved into a “spray and pray” exercise. By 2018, I was not driving at night and close to giving up driving altogether. I turned my attention to less visually demanding pursuits.

In 2018, I bit the bullet and started to get serious about getting corneal transplants. There have been great advances in surgical technique for corneal transplants in the last decade and I was most fortunate to connect with Dr David Hwang at the University of California, San Francisco’s Cornea Clinic. Dr. Hwang is a genial wizard with corneal matters and uses the most current technique for the corneal transplants (DMEK). The right eye was done in 2018 and the left eye in May 2019. My post-surgery recoveries went smoothly enough and I now sport 20-20 vision (corrected) and near 20-25 (unaided). I feel like I can see like a hawk – miraculous indeed.

So, I have started to fly the camera again. I can see the cradle at the distance as in the older days and can compose with felicity. I have renewed my permissions for South Bay photography and in the first couple of months of 2020, I have been out a dozen times for KAP sessions in the wildlife refuge. It is great to be back in action.

It is my intention to get things moving on this Hidden Ecologies site again. Stay tuned.

Cover of Nature Microbiology

June 30th, 2018 by Cris

One of my photographs of Salt Pond E13 was used as the cover of the February 2018 issue of Nature Microbiology.

A tip of the hat to Prof. Amy Schmid of Duke for nominating the image.

Again, progress is reported

October 1st, 2016 by Cris

I have been fortunate to receive permits from U. S. Fish & Wildlife and California Fish & Wildlife granting permission to take aerial photographs over the South Bay landscape. As part of a periodic cycle of permitting, I submit progress reports on the Hidden Ecologies Project and a summary of photographs taken. The last three years were a period of moderate activity – 40 trips to the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration sites and adjacent areas. Thirty two of these trips involved KAP sessions with the total for the year of ~18,400 aerial images. These activities as well as efforts in dissemination are summarized in the progress report and in my KAP Supplemental CV.

Session map for 2012 to 2015

Click on the map to load a page where symbols on the map lead to gallery pages with sample images from each session. The page also includes a table with links to galleries and maps showing the GPS coordinates for photographs in the session.

A walk by Salt Ponds E12, E13, and E14

October 1st, 2016 by Cris

Having been on a bit of a hiatus from my South Bay work it was fun to head out last week for photographs in the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve (ELER). This was my first visit to photograph since late 2014. Back then construction had recently been completed on subdividing Salt Ponds E12 and E13 into smaller ponds with the intent of managing these to provide a variety of salinities and habitats. Now two years later I was delighted to find that the smaller ponds are indeed sporting different colors – an indication of different salinities. The ponds’ carefully constructed shallows were already hosting shorebirds in this exercise of managed habitat.

Eden Landing Ecological Reserve

This was also my first visit to ELER since its trail system has been opened to the public. It really is a terrific place to hike and observe wildlife. I noticed several joggers as I photographed and the occasional pedestrian. The rather nice observation platform at the Oliver Salt Works ruins is now open and there are several locations along the trails with interpretive signage and benches. The whole area looked quite tidy and inviting for humans as well as avians.

Eden Landing Ecological Reserve

The session provided some nicely graphic images. I confess a great fondness for images that merge and overlay patterns from ancient marsh, 19th-century salt works, and contemporary restoration.

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Hiatus no more

September 28th, 2016 by Cris

As a quick perusal of my preceding posts will suggest I have been on something of a hiatus in my South Bay photography. This is largely due to a year spent as Affiliate Artist at the Headland Center for the Arts in the Marin Headlands where I concentrated my photographic efforts on documenting San Francisco’s Coastal Defense works. I had a great time photographing the headlands but soon came to realize that this was at the expense continuing my South Bay project so after a year I decided to refocus my efforts on the salt pond landscape.

kap sessions by year

My South Bay sessions fell off during my time at the headlands.

So, the first order of business the fall was getting up to date on my reporting to the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project and renewing my Special Use Permit for KAP in the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge. These tasks are complete and I am now looking forward to photography sessions in the South Bay and catching up on progress in the restoration project. Stay tuned for an uptick in posting activity.


May 1st, 2015 by Cris

It has been a while since I have posted. The project is still very much in my mind as I have been caught up in other work. I will endeavor to post more often.

It is always nice to get work out in the public view. Of late I have been pleased to get an article placed in Discourse, the fine online journal of the Drachen Foundation. Also in print is a brief but insightful review of my book Saltscapes in the Berkeley Science Review. I have lent images to the BSR over the years and it is fun to have my work appear there.

discourse cover

The cover of Discourse, always an interesting read.

If you are in the Bay Area this week I am one of the presenters in the Exploratorium’s May 7th After Dark event, which has a photography theme. I will be conducting a show and tell with my KAP equipment and images in the East Gallery from 6:30 to 9:30. Stop by and chat if you have a chance. The event will also feature the camera obscura I worked on a year or so ago on the Observatory Deck.

In early June I have “On Approach,” a solo show of 24 South Bay images going up in the San Francisco International Airport’s Connector Gallery (Terminal 2 North). Interestingly, the SFO Museum was the first museum in an airport to receive accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums. They do a great job and working with them has been a pleasure. The show will run through August.

A creek (once) ran through it

November 13th, 2014 by Cris

As Bay Area Creeks go, Alameda Creek is rather large. It drains a watershed of around 700 square miles the bulk of which lies east of Niles Canyon out toward Livermore, Altamont and points south. After the creek exits Niles Canyon it crosses six miles or so of alluvial plain then another two miles of what used to be marshland before discharging into San Francisco Bay proper. This lowland section of the creek was prone to flooding during Northern California’s wintertime rainy season. Streams of subtropical moisture, the “Pineapple Express,” can deliver impressive amounts of moisture during the Bay Area’s winter storms. Trenching studies in the alluvial plain have revealed layers of mud and gravel deposited by major floods that historically occurred every 50 to 100 years. Each major flood would inundate the flats between hill and marsh with floodwaters eventually reaching the bay through various outlets – historically Mt. Eden Creek, Old Alameda Creek, Coyote Hills Slough, and even Newark Slough. The marshes once reduced flooding by capacitance – absorbing the oncoming rush of water – and by keeping the marsh channels deep though tidal scouring. As marsh gave way to salt ponds these benefits were lost.

Patterson Creek vestige

The vestigial remnant of what was once Patterson Creek.

Early settlers in the East Bay took measures to protect their property against floods. They built on higher ground, raised their living quarters above the ground plane, and consstructed levees here and there. As time passed settlements became more expansive and flood control measures followed suite. The last major floods along Alameda Creek happened in the 1950s and they were impressive. The 1950s floods spurred the construction of major flood control channels along Old Alameda Creek and the Coyote Hills Slough. Unlike the sinuous marsh channels they replaced, the new flood control channels, completed in the early 1970s and 500 feet wide, are relatively straight shots from the flats to the bay.

Patterson Creek vestige

Looking over the remnant of Patterson Creek toward the Coyote Hills.

When you hike down the levees of the flood control channels you encounter cut-off remnants of the original creek beds among the adjacent salt ponds. I have recently visited two of these sites. Little snippets of the original Alameda Creek lie orphaned on either side of the current day Old Alameda Creek Flood Control Channel. I often stop to photographs a particularly interesting stretch adjacent to the ruins of the Alvarado Salt Works. Here there is a collapsed bridge that once spanned the creek (when it existed there). It now spans a smallish salt pond puddle. Along the former creek channel there are pilings for what was a major boat landing in the 19th century. In the current day the old creek channel fills with the winter rains and turns a dull green. During the summer it dries out and turns a bright yellow with dark red accents along the periphery.

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Salt Pond E6C – November 2014

November 11th, 2014 by Cris

The first phase of South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project (SBSPRP) work in the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve (ELER) played out between the San Mateo Bridge approach to the north and the Old Alameda Creek Flood Control Channel to the south. After several years of remarkable Phase I progress, the SBSPRP is now starting a Phase II set of ELER projects. These will be largely sited south of the Old Alameda Creek Flood Control Channel and north of the Coyote Hills. I am expanding my photographic coverage of the area with the idea of capturing a set of “before” photographs taken before Phase II interventions. Last Sunday Claudia and I headed out to Salt Pond E6C, which proved to be an interesting subject.

Salt Pond E6C

View from above Salt Pond E6C looking south.

The ExC ponds are a relatively compact group of salt evaporation ponds arranged along the eastern flank of Turk Island, the northernmost outlier of the Coyote Hills. Pond E3C has an intriguing salt work ruin in its center (Plummer Bros. Salt Works, c. 1869?) while E1C and E2C have a close relationship with Turk Island. My “Bush Past Prime” photographs were taken in E2C. However, the target of this session was Salt Pond E6C, which I have not visited before, and its neighboring ponds E4 and E5 to the north as well as E4C and E5C to the south.

Salt Pond E6C

The intersection of Salt Ponds E6C (left), E4 (upper right), and E5 (lower right). My VW van is visible in the center of the photograph.

This was a somewhat strange day for photography. What looked like an inversion layer kept a hazy atmosphere of water vapor near the ground. We started under dead calm conditions and then got the 7.5-foot Rokkaku aloft as a 5 mph breeze arrived. Once again I was thankful for the relatively light weight of my new Canon EOS-M rig. By the end of my 1-1/2 hour photo session the wind had freshened to 14 mph or so and the Rokkaku was straining under the load. It is always nice to get the gear back down on the ground under such circumstances.

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