Locatelli Photography


An Unassuming Wildlife Haven


Power lines trail off into the distance over the rolling hills of San Ramon

Heat resonating off black tarmac. Kids screaming as the 3PM bell rings at the end of a school day. Honking. Engines roaring. Hearing the names "Danville" or "San Ramon" bring to mind a type of community like a 1940s atom bomb city in Trinity, New Mexico. Fake houses, fake people. Noxious. In my mind it's a place that can hold nothing natural—nothing beautiful. 

Boy was I wrong

Lafayette. 11AM. 90 degrees. Nothing quite like starting a day in an inferno. Sitting outside at a café waiting for a call. The phone rings. I've been waiting to head out to San Ramon to meet up with a friend who will be leaving my life soon for the masochistic and labyrinthine world of the biotech industry. One last hurrah before a world of materialism consumes her—and eventually me as well.

As I exit the highway into San Ramon I immediately notice an abundance of brand-spanking new Mercedes and Beemers. People living a lavish lifestyle in this city-equivalent of an annoying popup ad. Driving down the streets of San Ramon is a peculiar experience. Lanes so wide that you could fit an M1 Abrams tank snugly in each. Now for a moment stop and think about the following question: Does this seem like a good habitat for animals? You may be surprised to hear that the answer following my visit seems to be Yes. As I drove down the streets I saw a hawk on every fifth or sixth street light or rooftop. As a birder and a photographer I was outraged at how I would never see this many hawks when I went out to shoot in a regional or state park! 

Why such a city seems to house such a large amount of normally scarce birds still confuses me. Within a 15 minute period in a small neighborhood I had seen five different red-tails, two kestrels, and enough bobcat and coyote scat to fill up a five-gallon bucket. A possibility I believe is how much grass is left. Imagine what I am about to say but in David Attenborough's voice: Grasslands are some of the most productive ecosystems and sustain some of the largest populations of animals in the world. If the same area had been covered in trees the area would likely house more types animals but far fewer of them. San Ramon is absolutely teeming with rabbits, ground squirrels, songbirds, and the occasional neighborhood cat that gets eaten by a large red-tail or an eagle. Now that David Attenborough has read it to you, doesn't it sound so much more plausible a hypothesis?

While I was trying to snap a couple photos of two red-tails perched on rooftops a kestrel barreled down towards a flock of blackbirds and knocked one down off a fence post. Never have I been so lucky in photographing birds of prey anywhere. I was spoiled for choice! Spoiled for choice like a cat fishing from a koi pond. And about as happy as one!

What I thought would be a city that I would despise quickly became a sight for sore-eyes. Life behind a computer monitor wasn't good for me. All these animals roaming around despite the presence of people made me envious. I couldn't believe that I was envious of the people of San Ramon. I hated the city but look at me now—

I can't wait to go back

Nicolas LocatelliComment