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Saturday, March 31, 2012

The SF Zoo, Humphry Slocombe and LYFE Kitchen

Each year on my Birthday hubby takes the day off work and we go do whatever I want and eat wherever I want! Sometimes these excursions are imperfect.

Like the year hubby announced as we were getting our parking ticket validated that I should pay for the parking because he was buying me my Birthday present, a $40 shopping spree of baked goods at Miette. The horrified cashier's eyes widened and she began to slowly shake her head in slow motion as she mouthed the word "Noooooooooo" at hubby. I turned to him and said "Are you serious? You want me to pay for the parking while you're buying me my Birthday present?" The cashier felt so bad for me she actually gave me a free cupcake. LOL :D

But this year was perfect. This is a bit of an odd post, a combination of what I wanted to do for my Birthday along with photo tips, my thoughts about and hopes for the San Francisco Zoo, and wildlife conservation. I realize I may sound critical at times but it seems to me a city like San Francisco should have one of the best, most modern, natural and environmentally friendly zoos in the United States. Instead the zoo consists of a hodge podge of enclosures with far too many that are too small, unnatural and/or outdated.

The African Savanna exhibit is the most successful when it comes to an enclosure that affords the animals space, naturalness and freedom while still allowing visitors to easily view them. Hopefully someday all of the animals will be given enclosures and habitats designed with the same considerations.

East African Crowned Crane shot with my 14-140mm lens

I chose going to the zoo because I was long overdue to try out the super-duper tele-photo lens hubby got me two months ago. Back when we first went there for our Aperture Academy workshop I had a 14-140mm zoom lens which allowed me to take pretty good, but not great, pictures. With a 100-300mm lens I knew I'd be able to take better pictures. Above was the "closest" I could get with the 14-140 lens.

And the same crane from a different angle shot with my new 100-300mm lens. Wow, what a difference!

Hubby had given me the  LUMIX G VARIO 100-300mm / F4.0-5.6 / MEGA O.I.S. camera lens back in January. For my Birthday he asked if there was any camera equipment I needed. I said YES I'd like to have a monopod. So, we went to San Jose Camera where he helped me pick out the Manfrotto 294 Aluminum Monopod and a Mini Ball Head to go with it.

Here's what I've figured out: When it comes to long distance photography, particularly wildlife photography, you simply have to have the best tele-photo lens you can get your hands on and using a tripod or monopod is essential when you're using long focal lengths. I have a tripod but hate lugging it around. Guess what? I was right. I LOVE the monopod. It's small, fast to set up and take down, and light. It's perfect for my needs.

Check out the detail in the crown feathers of the East African Crowned Crane using the 100-300mm lens and a monopod. Overall the detail is incredibly sharp compared to the closest I could get shooting with my 14-140mm lens.


Of all the animals at the zoo the Crowned Cranes seem to have one of the most ideal environments. I watched them bathe, rest, preen and run around their enclosure in a manner that seemed to be far more natural than many of the other animals I saw that day.

Flapping after a bath to dry out its feathers

The picture above shows how the birds are kept from flying away. Notice how the bird's right wing (your left) looks shorter than it's other wing. That's because the tip of it's right wing has been pinioned. Pinioning is the removal of the last section the wing where the flight feathers grow. Removing those feathers either by clipping them off with scissors (causes no pain) or removing the entire pinion joint (a surgical procedure), means the bird will not be able to fly. Pinioning is a permanent solution, while wing clipping must be done once a year when the clipped flight feathers have molted and have been replaced by new feathers.

The Reticulated Giraffe came in for its close up :)

Because the Scimitar Horned Oryx have such long horns, I used my less powerful 14-140mm lens to shoot them. A close up of just their faces with no horns wouldn't have been nearly as interesting.

Sadly this species of Oryx are extinct in the wild. This is one of the two main reasons I choose to support the zoo. Though there are many things about it that may need improvements, I don't think there is a more effective way to help educate the public about why conservation is important and due to things like habitat loss and poaching, zoo's are often one of the few ways of guaranteeing that endangered species have some protection from extinction.

Waldrapp Ibis is one of the most critically endangered birds in the world

Here are two of my favorite pictures I took that day. In the African Savanna exhibition there is a small aviary that I wish could be far larger for the ibis and stork to be able to fly more freely as nature intended. There are several types of free flying birds that sit on the roof top of the viewing area building and in the branches of the treed canopy above. Both of these pictures were taken shooting up at the birds as they sat on the roof with the overcast sky as the backdrop.

Because the Waldrapp Ibis is one of the most critically endangered birds in the world, the fact that it has successfully reproduced at the SF Zoo for the past three years shows why captive breeding programs are needed. I do believe that it's better to allow an animal to go extinct in the wild only, and not in captivity too. Without healthy breeding programs in captivity there would then be no chance to ever reintroduce extinct-in-the-wild animals, back into the wild someday when awareness, sanctuaries or laws are in place to protect them.

African Open-billed Stork

The aviary is so far from the natural habitat for the large Open-billed Storks that it makes me upset to look at all of the open space around the zoo and see them stuck in their small flight enclosure. As they flew overhead it reminded me of kids jumping from couch to couch for exercise in a living room, when what they really need is to go to a big park so they can run and play. The storks need a park of their own, preferably one with a large pond with muddy banks they can root around in, a natural feeding behavior.

Hadada Ibis

The Hadada Ibis is a resident in the same enclosure as the Waldrapp Ibis and Open Billed Stork but is much less flamboyant, camouflaging nicely into the leaf and branch ground cover with its slightly iridescent brown and green feathers.


Next we moved to the Mandrill exhibit. WOW. The male Mandrill is gorgeous. They move quickly so shooting them can be challenging. I started at ground level then captured this shot from a staircase that leads to a higher viewing deck.

Here's what I realized while photographing the Mandrills: If you want to photograph zoo animals, and get great shots, you have to be willing to invest more than ten minutes in front of their enclosures. I could easily spend 4 to 5 hours shooting at just one exhibit. Especially if the animal is one that moves around a lot. The backdrops, lighting and most importantly, their expressions can change dramatically.

The peacocks were everywhere! They wander around the grounds at will. It made me wonder how they know which enclosures not to land in. They seem to know which animals are safe to be around and which to avoid. They are so beautiful. This is one of my favorite pictures I took that day. The intensity of the colors in his feathers was stunning.

They are as gorgeous from behind as they are facing you.

A tail feathers close up.

White on white is one of the most difficult things to photograph because it's easy to let in too much light and "blow out" the picture causing the shadows that create definition to disappear leaving you with a big blob of bright white. So I was very pleased that I was able to capture a fair amount of definition in the Pelican's feathers.

There are two American White Pelican's at the SF Zoo. Both were injured in the wild necessitating part or all of one wing having to be amputated. They have been residents of the zoo since 1966 and 1991. Considering the alternative of dying in the wild or being euthanized because of the inability to ever fly again, a life in captivity swimming in their large lagoon seems to be the most ideal compromise for these beautiful birds.

Double-wattled Cassowary are indigenous to New Guinea

Here I was able to learn about another function on my camera. To date I've always used the auto focus by default. In most cases it works just fine. But here, when I was photographing the Double-wattled Cassowary the auto focus kept selecting the mesh on the exterior of the pen to focus on. So Hubby said use the manual focus instead. I had no idea where the function was. Doh! So I poked around in my menu a bit and was able to locate the controller to switch it over to manual. WOW. What a difference that made!

Fishing Cat

Both the Fishing Cat and the Sumatran Tiger below were shot through viewing glass. Shooting through thick panes of glass or plexi glass can be challenging for several reasons:
  1. The glass can distort the color adding in more green or blue to your photos
  2. Windows, both plexi and regular glass, are often scratched and/or dirty so finding the cleanest area to shoot through can improve your end results dramatically
My best tip is to place your camera directly against the glass to remove glare and if you have a white balance settings use them. They will help you to create a more natural color balance.

A sleeping Sumatran Tiger

The Amur Tiger

I captured this image of the Amur Tiger with no glass between us. Also known as the Siberian Tiger it is the largest cat in the world. The Amur Tiger was once so highly endangered there were as few as 40 left in the wild. Following a concerted effort to protect them their numbers have risen and are becoming more stable.

Just like in December, watching this beautiful tiger in its small enclosure really broke my heart. Shortly after I took this photo the tiger got up to drink from a small pond in its enclosure then began pacing back and forth, back and forth along the lawn :( I'm no tiger expert but I know that is not a natural behavior, it's a stress behavior. This tiger lacks the habitat and stimulation it needs to create a level of natural contentment.

The Lion House is one the most outdated of all of the enclosures at the SF Zoo. The Snow Leopard habitat on the side of the building feels almost like an afterthought and I'm certain, even without discussing it with them that the Fishing Cats would appreciate more space.

This Black Rhino came up to me, not vice versa.

Sadly the Black Rhino population in the wild had declined by 97.6% since 1960. Since the 1990's their numbers have increased slightly so that their numbers in the wild are now 90% lower than they were in 1960.

Elly at the SF Zoo is one of the most prolific breeding female Black Rhinos in captivity having given birth to 14 calves many of which now reside at other zoos helping to diversify the captive breeding gene pool.

The Nile Hippo was very active and inquisitive that day.

I also dropped by the Eugene Friend Carousel just outside the Children's Zoo entrance.

The carousel itself is a vintage, hand carved, Dentzel carousel. It's gorgeous!

A female Common Golden Eye sea duck. There were several of them in the pond at the Children's Zoo. They are much smaller than a mallard duck. They were my second favorite kind of duck I saw that day.

The top image is with the 100-300mm while the lower is from the 14-140mm lens.

The Blue-billed duck was my favorite. Also smaller than a Mallard, with a sky blue bill, chestnut plumage and a black tail that it holds upright as it paddles about, it's a very striking little duck!

For lunch we had stopped at Subway beforehand. The last time we were at the Zoo we ate at the Leaping Lemur Cafe and to be honest, I had a very lackluster slice of vegetarian pizza. So after dining on a fresh sandwich loaded with veggies before our day of shooting began, five hours later we headed to Humphry Slocombe, an ice cream shop located in the Mission at 24th and Harrison for a pick me up.

Humphry Slocombe: A quirky and modern ice cream shop

My friend (and hair stylist) Armando had told me about Humphry Slocombe years ago. The shop is very understated on the outside. There was a small sandwich board with their name on it near the corner, a few bistro tables and chairs and you'll see the words "ice cream" on the edge of a bright blue awning. Inside there's a small ice cream case that holds up to 12 flavors a day. The flavors are amazing, imaginative and some have an "ewwwwww" factor I've never experienced at other ice cream shops. The most odd thing about the shop itself is the rather creepy taxidermy of a two-headed calf hung directly over the bar. Though I was sitting directly beneath it I didn't notice it until hubby pointed it out. The brim of my baseball cap had obstructed it from my field of vision.

Salt and Pepper with Pepper & Mint Chip shot with My Leica 45mm Macro Lens

So what flavors did I try? Well, Aramando said the "Salt and Pepper" was one of his favorites so I paired it with the "Pepper & Mint Chip" another black pepper infused flavor. OMIC. It was fantastic! So now my favorite ice cream shops are (in alphabetical order):
  1. Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco's Mission District, CA
  2. Jeni's Splendid in Columbus, OH
  3. The Penny Ice Creamery in downtown Santa Cruz, CA.

Since I'm such a foodie Hubby got me this giant fork for my Birthday!

And for dinner Hubby let me pick so I chose one of my most favorite restaurants, LYFE Kitchen. I had my usual Art's Unfried Chicken Dinner with a Gardein chicken cutlet and oven roasted Brussels Sprouts, sweet potato and dried cranberries. It was the perfect meal to end a perfect day.

About the San Francisco Zoo

In a previous post, featuring a visit to the SF Zoo in 2011 I wrote:

"I do appreciate that the SF zoo participates in conservation projects and takes in wounded or damaged animals that might otherwise be destroyed. IMO, in a perfect world, these would be the only animals kept in zoos.

So there's good and bad but to me, the most important thing about the SF Zoo in particular is that they want to improve the outdated enclosures many of the animals live in but they need to raise more funds, about $5,000,000.00, to do so. So visiting the zoo is, at the end of the day, helping the animals who are already there to one day have a better quality of life."

Instead of spending $30 for admission on this visit ($15 per adult) we opted instead to buy a one year, fully tax deductible, $95 family membership. It includes:
  • Free entrance to the SF Zoo for an entire year for hubby and myself (and up to two kids we don't have)
  • Two one-time use parking lot passes (There's also free street parking a short distance away on Sloat Blvd)
  • Two one-time use guest passes
  • Two one-time use tickets for the carousel or train
  • Invitations to members only events at the SF Zoo
  • 10% discount at all Zoo shops, cafes and carts
  • Discounts on education classes, Zoo camps and activities for kids and adults
  • Free or discounted admission at over 120 zoos nationwide
  • Zoo Views online magazine and monthly Animail e-newsletter filled with stories, videos, pictures, events, and the latest animal updates

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