Southern California | Feb 2022

San Diego’s rushing grebes, brown pelicans, sea lions with pups, landscapes, and seascapes


Just the Facts

  • Date:  February 3-6, 2022
  • Leaders: Krisztina Scheeff and David Hekel
  • Cost:  $495 NANPA member; $695 non-members.
  • Location:  Escondido, CA, and surrounding areas in San Diego County
  • Last date to register: January 3, 2022
  • Maximum number attendees:  18

NANPA’s 2022 Southern California Regional Event is sold out. Join the wait list to become notified if space becomes available.

Two Western Grebes Rush Across Water in a Courtship Display, image by Krisztina Scheeff
Two Western grebes rush across water in a courtship display © Krisztina Scheeff/KS Nature Photography

Event Overview

Join Krisztina Scheeff and David Hekel around the San Diego area of Southern California to photograph rushing grebes, other wildlife, and landscapes. San Diego is one of the most diversified locations for wildlife spotting, including over 200 species of birds (resident or migratory) plus mammals, gorgeous landscapes, and of course, plants. San Diego is a nature photographer’s perfect playground. 

This event is timed for grebes courtship season. Western and Clark’s grebes engage in a maneuver called rushing during the spring mating season, sprinting up to 66 feet (20 meters) across the water in coordinated groups of two or more in about seven seconds. They’re the largest vertebrates with the ability to walk on water.

We’ll explore other areas of San Diego County, such as La Jolla shores for the gorgeous brown pelicans in their full breeding colors, sea lions with pups, seascapes, and landscapes. A visit further down south to the San Diego River Channel will keep us busy with more wildlife photo opportunities.

Krisztina and David both call this area home and are very familiar with the photographic opportunities available. Back by popular demand, this NANPA Regional Event is being repeated following the success of similar programs in 2018 and 2020.

What to Expect

This event is designed for amateur and professional photographers alike. Assistance will be available in the field for those who wish to improve their photographic skills. If you already have plenty of photography experience, Krisztina and David will ensure you get to the best locations at the best times to capture those perfect shots.

Fitness Level:  Please note moderate fitness level is required. There may be a hike/walk (easy) up to 3 miles total to see the Grebes.

La Jolla Sunrise © David Hekel

2022 Southern California Regional Event Cancellation and No Refund Policy: NANPA will not offer any refunds for registrations for this event regardless of when the cancellation is made or the reason for the cancellation. NANPA reserves the right to cancel any event or activity due to insufficient registration or any unforeseen circumstances. NANPA will offer refunds if NANPA has to cancel the event. It also has the right to substitute presenters if those originally scheduled cannot attend. Registrants may purchase event insurance as part of the registration process through NANPA’s partner, Allianz. More information on this option will be shown during the checkout process for the event registration.

NOTE: If you do not purchase event insurance at the time that you pay for your registration, you will NOT be able to go back and purchase it with Allianz later.

If you choose to purchase travel insurance separately, you can do so with your own insurance carrier, or NANPA members can receive a special travel insurance rate through USI Affinity/Travel Insurance Services.

Please read the NANPA Regional Events COVID-19 Event Policy below.


Krisztina Scheeff

Growing up in Hungary, I spent my summers hiking, camping, and learning about nature, wildlife, and conservation. After getting my college degree in Animal Science & Agricultural Engineering from the University of Godollo in Hungary, I continued my studies at Purdue University. During my graduate school years, I worked as a Teaching Assistant in the Biology Department at Purdue. Later I moved to Southern California where I continued to enjoy and photograph the local wildlife and the natural beauty of my favorite spot, Lake Hodges in San Diego County. Today I spend my time between San Diego and roaming Scotland, where I also offer small group photo tours to the Highlands and Isle of Skye. 

My photographs have appeared in Wild Planet Photo Magazine, American Wild Magazine, Bird Watcher’s Digest, California 101 Magazine, San Diego Audubon Society, and other publications. I received a Highly Commended Award in the 2020 Comedy Wildlife Photography competition and won National Audubon Awards in 2018 and 2019. I was a keynote speaker at the 2020 Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival and have also presented at the San Diego Natural History Museum, San Diego Audubon Society’s Bird Festival, NANPA’s 2021 Virtual Summit, and more.

David Hekel (aka “Ranger Dave”)

David has been the Senior Park Ranger for the San Dieguito River Park for 18 years and has worked around Lake Hodges for close to 25. As a nature photographer and tour guide, he brings a vast amount of knowledge about the wildlife that resides and seasons around the lake as well as the many native plants that make up the park’s ecosystem.

He has taken a particular interest in one of Lake Hodges full time residents, the Western and Clark’s grebes, and is able to spot and identify their many unique behaviors. He guides clients of KS Nature Photography around and on the Lake to capture that perfect photo of the Grebes rushing.

His job has also made him a superb spotter, and he is very aware of what’s in or around us on the tour. If it’s in the area, he will more than likely find it for you!

Dave is writer of the “Bird of the Month” column for Riverscapes, a San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy publication and has co-presented at the Morro Bay Winter Bird Festival and San Diego Audubon Society’s Bird Festival.

Participants at previous NANPA Regional Event in Southern California at sunrise. © Krisztina Scheeff/KS Nature Photography

Potential Field Locations for Southern California Regional Event    

Leaders are very familiar with all sites and will have scouted the areas prior to the event. We will photograph in the areas that offer the best photography opportunities at the time of the event.

North San Diego County (Escondido). Our main concentration for this Regional Event will be the Western and Clark’s grebes. We have two locations available where we can photograph the grebes, both fine birding spots at easily accessible scenic reservoirs. Species one might observe are Western and Clark’ grebes, California and blue-gray gnatcatchers, the coastal race of cactus wren, white-tailed kite, osprey, golden eagle, sage sparrow, and spotted sandpiper. We may also see American kestrel, Cooper’s hawk, eared grebe, American white pelican, Canada goose, double-crested cormorant, egrets/herons, turkey vulture, Forster’s tern, Bonaparte’s gull, greater roadrunner, belted kingfisher, swallows (various), Cassin’s kingbird, and hummingbirds. Some landscape shots are possible, mostly early morning sunrises. Photo Album:

La Jolla, CA. The Ellen Browning Scripps Park in La Jolla features rocky shoreline birding. Winter, when numerous shorebirds are present, is best. Some interesting pelagic birds come close to the shore in stormy weather. We will be able to photograph the spectacular breeding plumage of brown pelicans with their fire engine-red and olive green bill pouches.  Winter birds include Brandt’s and double-crested cormorants; a variety of gulls including Western, California, and the gorgeous Heerman’s, all in full breeding plumage; shorebirds; California sea lions; and bird of paradise flowers. There will also be some nice bird-scape and landscape opportunities as well.

San Diego River Channel, CA.  Both the Northern Wildlife Reserve and the San Diego River channel support thousands of waterfowl, shorebirds, and waders during migration and winter, along with small populations of Belding’s savannah sparrow (river channel only) and light-footed clapper rail. Least terns have begun nesting on specially-constructed sandbars and alkali flats around the Bay, and brant appear in small numbers in winter and spring, feeding on eelgrass beds.

San Dieguito Lagoon, CA. A behind-the-scenes tour of the San Dieguito Lagoon with Ranger Dave (David Hekel) may be possible, including special access to areas of the Lagoon that are normally off limits to the public. Wildlife sightings include: Northern harriers, white-tailed kites, shorebirds, osprey, meadowlark, horned larks, and more.

Preliminary Itinerary

Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022
6:30 pm – Meet-and-greet; presentation on photographing grebes (settings, what to look for, etc.); confirm itinerary and locations; Q&A

Friday, Feb. 4, 2022
Morning shooting session: Grebes and their friends at a lake in Escondido. Depending on weather, there may also be an opportunity for a great sunrise shoot. (This will be decided a few days before.)

Lunch on your own

Late afternoon shooting session: back to the grebes in Escondido. If weather permits, a sunset at lake in Escondido

Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022
Early morning we drive to La Jolla shores for photo session, catching the best light as the sun comes up.

Lunch on your own

Afternoon shooting session: San Diego River Channel and Estuary, behind-the-scenes with Ranger Dave at the san Dieguito Lagoon

Dinner on your own

Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022
One more option to photograph the rushing grebes or other options for those who wish to photograph something else

Final lunch included in registration fee


Hilton Garden Inn San Diego/Rancho Bernardo
17240 Bernardo Center Drive
San Diego, CA  92128
Phone:  858-676-1660 

NANPA has secured a rate of $99 per night plus tax. 

Reservations can be made online at this link or by calling the hotel directly at 858-676-1660 and asking for the NANPA group block. 

Cut-off date for reservations is January 5, 2022.  Reservation requests after January 5, 2022 will be accepted on a space and rate available basis. 

NANPA Regional Events COVID-19 Event Policy

NANPA is committed to the health and safety of all participants and leaders at any of our events. We have taken numerous steps to reduce the inherent risks surrounding any public location where people are present. We ask that you familiarize yourself with our COVID-19 health and safety precautions and requirements prior to your trip. You should evaluate your own risks when determining whether to participate. By attending this event and signing the NANPA Regional Events Liability Release, you acknowledge and agree that you assume these inherent risks associated with your attendance as we have explained them to you.

Most importantly: 
If you have been feeling sick or have been exposed to someone in your household who is feeling sick or has tested positive for COVID-19, PLEASE STAY HOME.

Most states adhere to the CDC guidelines, which include fairly strict limitations on those who are not fully vaccinated (fully vaccinated in this context means 14 days after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or 14 days after one dose of the J&J vaccine).

Therefore, NANPA’s health and safety precautions for Regional Events include the following:

  • Participants must remain at least 6 feet apart from each other and the leader unless they are members of the same household.
  • Adequate face coverings (meaning a mask that covers both the nose and the mouth and which fits closely to the skin) are required for all participants and leaders throughout the event. Regardless of what your personal beliefs are on the use of masks, there will be no exceptions to this rule. Our masks keep you safe. Your masks keep us safe. This rule applies to all facets of the event.

We thank you in advance for your adherence and support as we work together to keep everyone safe.

Please be aware that requirements may change depending upon local, federal, and state policies in place at the time of the event.