Friday, December 23, 2011

Reflecting on 2011, and a Sanderling for Laura

Photo of a sanderling reflected in the tidal flats

Time is such a funny thing. Sometimes we feel that it flies by faster than we can keep up with, and sometimes it feels like it has slowed to nearly a stop. But in the end, we mark its passage at concrete intervals, which allow us to take a moment to stop and see just how much time has passed. A year often proves to be the most logical interval for reflection, as our bodies and minds seem to fall into rhythm with the predictable changing of the seasons, and the lengthened evenings spent indoors in the winter are ripe for reflection.

There have been many years in my life that have seemed to go by without much notice, simply the formation of another tree-ring in my life story, passing by and starting new. This year, 2011, was not such a year. There have been few years that I have felt more strongly and that have been more formative than this particular revolution around the sun.

I started the year in Berkeley, California, happily plugging away as a graduate student feverishly trying to wrap up my experiments and write my dissertation. As my wife and I tried to figure out what our next step would be after graduation, I started to realize that my time in California was running short, and I increased my efforts to get out and enjoy and photograph the landscape that had truly become home for me. The spring flashed by in an instant, seemingly gathering more speed as it went, and soon enough I was walking in my graduation, and collecting signatures on my dissertation. By August I had formally completed my PhD, and we began to prepare for a cross-country move to Massachusetts.

On September 1st, we put the last of our belongings in the car and started our migration east. We said goodbye to California, and spent a glorious 10 days exploring Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. The wildlands of the American West have inspired me since I was a young child watching “Marty Stauffer’s Wild America”, and it was a dream come true to spend so much time exploring that particular stretch of the Rocky Mountains. During our stay, each day seemed to stretch out to twice its appropriate length, leaving us with so many full and lasting memories. We then spent the next 4 days watching the country pass by our car windows, and soon enough, we were getting settled in Massachusetts.

All of these events were so important to the story of my life, and it was incredible to sit around our kitchen table in September and think about the fortunate changes that 2011 brought to our lives -- the grand accomplishments of finishing our PhDs and starting the next phase of our lives in a new city. But 2011 wasn’t over yet, and the steady beat of the metronome propelled us forward along the unseen arrow of time.

When we celebrated the start of 2011, we did it as a much fuller family than we’ll have for the beginning of 2012. In October, we lost my step-father to cancer. He had been receiving treatment for a year and a half, and we knew that our time together had a distinct, but unknown, limit – but we didn’t realize that this stretch of time was accelerating to a rapid finish much sooner than we expected. Fortunately, our recent move to the East Coast allowed us to be there at the end.

As we tried to recover from that loss, we didn’t know that we were again accelerating towards another finite endpoint in time. In November, my wife’s sister, Laura, and her boyfriend, Kristopher, were taken from us in a random, senseless, and horrific act of violence in Seattle. My sister-in-law was only 26, and was almost ready to write her PhD dissertation at the University of Washington. She was a fun, generous, and compassionate soul who cared deeply about improving the world with her research and education. She and Kris had so much love and life yet to give, and they certainly did not have enough time.

In the wake of these tragedies, you find a way to put one foot in front of the other and to keep moving forward, because you know that as much as it feels like it should, time doesn’t stop. It just keeps flowing with a perpetual steady beat. Soon enough the last seconds of 2011 will tick by and we’ll count down to the beginning of a new year. The incredible joys and sorrows of 2011 will always be with me, but they will also be secured behind me with the turn of the calendar – encased behind the mark that separates the new tree-ring from the last.

As my reflections on 2011 naturally turn towards the prospects of 2012, I look forward to a fresh beginning of another year full of expectations and surprises. What will I have to reflect on after the next 365 days? I’m ready to turn the page and find out – to face the challenges, to experience the joys, and to continue to share what inspires me.

I want to thank each of my readers for joining me for the journey that was 2011, and I wish you only the best for the New Year. May your lives be ever fuller by the love of your family and friends, and may you continue to make progress towards getting that perfect shot!

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The image I selected for this post is dedicated to Laura. She always commented that she loved my photos of sanderlings, and she enjoyed watching their cute way of life as they cruised in and out with the waves. As I thought through the images I could dedicate to her, my mind was drawn to the recent series I took that included reflections. While Laura’s time with us was far too short, she lived an amazingly full life and impacted an incredible number of people. Her zest for life and fierce love of family, friends, and science will be forever reflected in those of us who knew her – and we will each be a better person for carrying her spirit with us as we move forward.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Favorite Photographs of 2011

Inspired by Jim Goldstein's Annual Blog Project, here are my favorite photos from 2011. They may not be the most technically correct images I made this year, and they aren't necessarily the most popular images that I posted, but these are the ten that mean the most to me.

2011 was a productive year for me photographically. In addition to posting over 150 entries on this blog, I participated in my first art show, made my first print sales, had my images appear in a variety of conservation publications (including a cover for Naturalia AC's magazine), and had one of my images selected as Highly Honored in the 2011 Nature's Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards competition. Additionally, I completed my Ph.D. at UC Berkeley and relocated to the Boston area this fall. My wife and I had an awesome road trip across the country during our move, and we spent 10 days in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks -- a childhood dream come true for me!

Without further ado, here are my favorite photographs of 2011, in no particular order, with a link to the original blog post of each.

A sanderling for Laura
This first image on my list is the one that is most meaningful for me, since I dedicated this sanderling and its reflection to my sister-in-law, Laura, after she was taken from us by a random act of violence in November. While Laura’s time with us was far too short, she lived an amazingly full life and impacted an incredible number of people. Her zest for life and fierce love of family, friends, and science will be forever reflected in those of us who knew her – and we will each be a better person for carrying her spirit with us as we move forward.
A sanderling with its reflection dedicated to Laura

Bull moose at sunrise
Finding moose to photograph was a high priority during our trip to Grand Teton National Park, and we were fortunate to find some each morning. I was amazed to see how large these animals really are, and it was a great pleasure to watch this bull and his female companion browse in the sagebrush in the early morning light.
Bull moose in the sage brush at sunrise in Grand Teton National Park

Quail on gnarled branches
I had great luck with quail this year in Point Reyes National Seashore, and it would be easy to make a post of my favorite 10 quail images from 2011. While I had a hard time deciding which image I wanted to include in this list, I went with this handsome male perched on an old coyote bush because of the interesting shape and texture of its perch.
Quail on gnarled branches of coyote brush in Point Reyes National Seashore

Pronghorn in the grass
Heading into our visit to Yellowstone National Park the chance to photograph pronghorn was high on my wish list. Much to my surprise and delight, there was a group of about 8 individuals that were hanging out by the Gardiner entrance almost every day we were there.
Pronghorn in the grass in Yellowstone National Park

Young bull tule elk
This was my favorite shot of my last trip to Point Reyes National Seashore before moving to the East Coast. Point Reyes is where I fostered my passion for photography, and it will always have a very special place in my heart. The pose of this young elk set against that foggy background perfectly captured the emotion of that final trip.
Young bull tule elk standing in tall grass on a foggy day in Point Reyes National Seashore

Burrowing owl at the Berkeley Marina
Every year a small group of burrowing owls take up a winter residence at Cesar Chavez Park at the Berkeley Marina. I took a number of weekend trips to watch these lovely (and surprisingly small) owls, and this was my favorite shot of the grumpy looking one that made its home on the rocks.
Photographic portrait of a Western Burrowing Owl

Song sparrow singing
As I was photographing wildflowers on an overcast June day in Point Reyes National Seashore, a loud song from this tiny bird caught my attention. I looked up from my viewfinder and discovered that it had perched quite close to me. I watched it sing a few more stanzas before it flew away.
Song sparrow singing from a perch in Point Reyes National Seashore

Quiet glance
On this February trip to Point Reyes National Seashore, I was able to sit in my car along the road as a large herd of tule elk surrounded me. It was such a pleasure to be in the middle of their daily activities, and I just love the quiet look that this beautiful female gave me.
Portrait of a female tule elk in Point Reyes National Seashore

Got him! A plover catches a worm
I took a few spring trips to Pillar Point Harbor with the hope of photographing some black-bellied plovers in their dramatic summer plumage before they migrated north. It was a delight to watch these beautiful birds hunt for worms right in front of my lens, and I loved how much tension you could see on the worm in this shot just before it pops out of its burrow.
Black-bellied plover pulling a worm from the sediments

Elephant seal at sunset
One of the things I will miss most about no longer living in California is my annual trip to Año Nuevo State Reserve to see the northern elephant seals. They are incredible animals to behold, and were absolutely one of my favorite subjects to photograph.
Northern elephant seal bellowing in front of sandstone cliffs

I hope you enjoyed my favorites from this year! If you're interested, please check out my 2010 Favorites and 2009 Favorites, or browse my portfolios and full body of work at

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dunlin in a crowd, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Dunlin resting on one leg in front of a flock of sandpipers

A pair of dunlin (Calidris alpina) rest at the front edge of a very large flock of mixed sandpipers. This image is from a morning that I spent with this flock as they tried to stay just above the waterline of the rising tide during my first sunrise trip to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge this fall. The squatty shape of sandpipers, especially when they are tucked in to rest, doesn't always lend itself to an interesting vertical composition. In this case though, I thought that the background of the large flock fading into the bright blue of the early morning ocean was compelling. It's so easy to view the world through only one orientation, especially since the camera is layed-out to be most comfortable that way, so I always try to remember to rotate the lens to vertical as I work over a scene.

View more of my photos of dunlin

Submitted to World Bird Wednesday -- follow the link to check out this week's posts.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Quail along the fence, Point Reyes National Seashore

California quail on a fencepost with barbed wire

A male California quail perched on top of a fence post in Point Reyes National Seashore. This quail is from the same trip as my previous post of the peeking sparrow, and I found the quail along the road to Drake's Beach. I have often seen quail dotting the fence posts along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard on my way to the outer reaches of the Point Reyes Peninsula, but it was fairly uncommon to see them along the short road to Drake's Beach. Perhaps its because there is not as much scrub vegetation out there, as its mostly pastures.

California quail are of my favorite species to photograph -- view more photos of these lovely birds in my Quail Gallery.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Peeking Sparrow, Point Reyes National Seashore

White-crowned sparrow peeking out from behind coyote brush

A white-crowned sparrow peeks over the branches of a coyote bush along the Abbott's Lagoon Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore last June. This shot is from a terrific early summer day spent in the park. There was a late-season rain system moving through the area that would bring rain later that day, so the sky was filled with gorgeous purple clouds and nice diffuse light.

View more photographs of sparrows in my Song Birds Gallery.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pronghorn in the grass, Yellowstone National Park

Pronghorn standing in golden autumn grass in Yellowstone National Park

Pronghorn were really one of the highlights of my trip to Yellowstone National Park. As I've mentioned previously on this blog, I've been fascinated by pronghorn since I was a child, and it was really a dream come true to have had the opportunity to photograph them at close range nearly every day during our week-long stay in Yellowstone. We found this handsome buck strolling through the tall grasses along the northern edge of the park near Gardiner, Montana. He was the largest of three males traveling together in a small group, and we watched them browse for a meal until the sun had on our last evening in the park (just before I took the moonrise image I posted a few days ago).

Browse more photographs of pronghorn in my Pronghorn Gallery.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dunlin Devours Prey, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Dunlin pulling a clam from the sand

A dunlin in winter plumage pulls a clam from the sand at low tide and swallows it whole. This image is from a nice trip I took to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island last month. I was there for the sunset, and watched a good-sized flock of sanderlings, dunlin, and plovers feeding during the very low tide. For my shots that evening, I picked a spot in the sand near where the flock was feeding, and in front of the general direction they were headed. I put the sun to my back, placed my tripod flat on the ground, made myself look as small as possible, and started to wait. Soon enough the entire flock had circled around me, and I was able to watch them feed up close. A few dunlin eventually came so close that I couldn't even keep focus on them (and my lens has an 8.5' MFD!). I always enjoy these intimate encounters with shorebirds, and it makes the drive home with wet clothes all the more worth it.

Dunlin swallowing a small clam whole

View more of my photos of dunlin.

This post submitted to World Bird Wednesday -- follow the link to check out this weeks posts!

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Full Moon Rises in Yellowstone National Park

Full moon rising over the mountains at dusk in Yellowstone National Park

A full moon rises over the foothills in northern Yellowstone National Park on our last evening in the park during our September trip. Prior to taking this shot we had been watching a small group of male pronghorn feeding in the fading daylight on the gravel road through the plains near Gardiner. After the sun had dropped below the horizon in the west, we began our trip out of the park for the night, and were greeted by the rising full moon while the rest of the landscape was still in the pastel colors of twilight.

View more of my landscape photography in my Landscapes Galleries.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Young bull tule elk, Point Reyes National Seashore

Young bull tule elk in tall grass on a foggy day

I finally started going through the images from my final trip to Point Reyes National Seashore before moving to Massachusetts. On many occasions I had glanced at the folder in Lightroom, but couldn't bring myself to seriously go through my last set of new images from my favorite place in the world until yesterday. My wife accompanied me for my last trip to Point Reyes two days before we left California, and we decided to start with a hike along the Tomales Point Trail with the hope of photographing some rutting tule elk. As you can see, the day greeted us with the characteristic fog of Point Reyes, and really, no weather could have been more appropriate! That park taught me to love the fog, and especially the quiet solitude that it brings, and I spent so many mornings walking this trail hoping that the fog would lift just enough for photographs.

This was my favorite shot from the day, since there is a fair amount of emotion to the pose of the bull elk -- much like we were at the time, he was sensing the wind and deciding which direction to go (of course, his decision was based simply on the availability of female elk). Otherwise, I didn't get too many images that I was very happy with from this trip. We spent a fair amount of time watching a large bull guard his harem, and were able to listen to him bugle at many rival males in the area, but the images lacked the clarity that I favor due to the amount of moisture in the air. No regrets though -- Point Reyes gave me more than my fair share of favorite photographs over the years, it was wonderful to spend one last morning in the park with my wife. Even though I'm not sure when I'll make it back, I am already looking forward to greeting the sunrise (or a thick layer of fog) the next time I'm able to be in Point Reyes!

The tule elk in Point Reyes National Seashore are fantastic photographic subjects and you can view more in my Tule Elk Gallery.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Feeding dunlin, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Photograph of a dunlin about to eat a clam at Parker River NWR

The seventh beach at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island came through for me again on Tuesday when I went out looking for shorebirds in the late afternoon. The weather was absolutely beautiful, which meant that there were many more people on the beach 2 hours before sunset than I had seen on my sunrise trips, but the birds didn't seem too perturbed by the small crowd. As the sun crept closer to the horizon, the beach started to empty out and it was mostly birders and other photographers wandering across the exposed sediments of low tide. It was a nice change of pace on this trip to have a flock of mostly dunlin and black-bellied plovers to photograph, instead of the sanderlings like on my previous trip.

View more photographs of dunlin and other sandpipers in my Sandpipers Gallery.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sunset over the salt marsh, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Golden back-lighting highlights cattails as the sun sets over a salt marsh

With the beautiful weather we had yesterday, I just had to get outside with my camera. After having an October snowfall a week ago, it was clear skies and temps in the upper 60s! Since there was going to be an evening low tide along the coast, I took a trip up to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge to look for shorebirds. I found a friendly flock of dunlin, and was able to crouch in the sand with them for quite a while as the sun dropped towards the horizon. Just before the light started reaching the top of the dunes along the shore, I decided to pack up there and start my trek out of the refuge to see what might be around to photograph with the final light of the day. I was headed for the ponds in the northern part of the island, but when I saw the backlit cattails and reeds along the road, I just had to stop to photograph it! Tidal marshes hold a special place in my heart, and this one looked fantastic last night.

View some of my favorite landscape photographs in my Landscapes Portfolio.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sanderlings feeding at low tide, Parker River NWR

Photograph of a sanderling picking up a clam

Here are another couple of images from a recent trip to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. There was a very low tide that morning, which left behind some wonderful textures in the sand as it pulled out. The low angle of the sun just after sunrise was perfect for capturing the bright blue colors of the morning sky in the wet sand, and there were also some opportunities to capture some reflections of the birds as well.

Photograph of a sanderling carrying a clam at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

The shorebirds were taking advantage of all of the exposed sediments, and were pulling small prey from below the surface with ease. It is amazing to me how much life there is just below the sand, since huge flocks of these birds will scour the area during every low tide. It was also really interesting to see them pull small clams from the sand, and then swallow them whole. Sometimes they would even rinse it in a puddle before eating it.

Photograph of two sanderlings hunting on the sand in Massachusetts

View more photos of sanderlings in my Sandpipers Gallery.

This post was submitted to the World Bird Wednesday blog meme -- follow the link to check out this week's posts.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Young pronghorn at sunset, Yellowstone National Park

Baby pronghorn at sunset

I've been fascinated with pronghorn ever since seeing them in nature documentaries as a child. I think that they are so remarkably beautiful, and its amazing to see them running so fast. While in California, I had learned that there were a few populations of pronghorn in the state (some remaining naturally and some introduced) and we had taken a road trip to Carrizo Plain National Monument with the hope of finding and photographing some. We did see pronghorn, but it was always at too far of a distance for good photographs. Having missed out on that opportunity before, I was really excited to have another chance to photograph one of my childhood favorites in Yellowstone National Park in September. Since I had read that they can be skittish, I wasn't sure what opportunities I would have to photograph pronghorn in the park. Much to my delight, we saw a small herd of around 8 animals right near the Gardiner entrance every day as we drove in and out of the park. It was so much fun to be able to pull the car over and watch them for an extended period of time, and it was great to have so many opportunities to see them up close. One of the members of the herd was this young pronghorn, and it was especially cute as it bounded around the group with the unbridled enthusiasm of a young animal.

View more photos of Antilocapra americana in my Pronghorn Gallery.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Large bull moose, Grand Teton National Park

Photograph of a large bull moose with velvet antlers sniffing the air

This handsome fellow is the largest moose that we saw during our visit to Grand Teton National Park in September. We found him feeding fairly close to the road as we drove along the Gros Ventre River corridor before sunrise.

Since I was shooting in pre-dawn light, I had to jack up the ISO for these shots. To get a reasonable shutter speed of 1/100 of a second (which was still a bit of underexposure), I pushed the camera to ISO 3200. At the time I was thinking, "why am I even bothering trying to shoot under these conditions?" -- since it seemed like it was just too dark to get anything decent. But then I quickly realized that I have no idea when the next time I'll be this close to a large bull moose will be, and of course, pixels are free, so I kept shooting. I'm really glad that I did as well, since I was impressed with the quality of the images when I reviewed them later. I had never really shot at such a high ISO before, and sure, there's a fair amount of noise (especially before any correction in LR3) and they aren't tack sharp, but overall they came out pretty good considering the conditions.

Large bull moose with velvet antlers in Grand Teton National Park

View more photos of moose in my Moose Gallery

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Herd of gray seals, Cape Cod National Seashore

Photograph of a herd of gray seals on the beach at Cape Cod National Seashore

The ability to take a day trip to Cape Cod National Seashore is a definite perk of living in the Boston area, and I was excited to go there this week for the first time since I was a little kid. I don't remember all that much from our family vacation there, but I do remember enjoying the trip overall, going whale watching, seeing horseshoe crabs, and eating my first lobster. Well, I suppose it's more accurate to say ordering my first lobster. As the story goes, I was very excited to try lobster on this trip -- most likely since my dad was so excited for it. I do have a memory of sitting in a restaurant, putting on the plastic bib that they give to those who ordered lobster, and then having a whole steamed lobster put on my plate. My family tells me that the look on my face was priceless, and that I ended up not eating it since my 5-year old self couldn't eat something that still had eyes.

So what does my story about not trying lobster have to do with the pictures I've posted for today? Perhaps not too much, it was just a memory I have of Cape Cod from a long time ago -- but I have read that gray seals do occasionally eat lobster!

Photograph of gray seals resting on the beach near Truro in Cape Cod National Seashore

Long before we moved to the area, I was already looking up information about the wildlife I would be attempting to find and photograph once we arrived. I had read that gray seal populations have been steadily increasing along the coast, and that there are a few breeding sites near Cape Cod and the Islands. Large pinnipeds will always rank highly in my book, and I was excited to take my first trip into Cape Cod National Seashore to try to find them. The conditions weren't great, since it was heavy clouds and strong winds, but seeing a large group of these seals resting together on a sand bar just offshore was a lot of fun! I'm already planning a return trip for a late afternoon low tide to try to get some better photos of these delightful marine mammals in nice light.

View more of my photos of gray seals in Cape Cod National Seashore.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Great egret on a dreary day, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Photograph of a great egret in a salt marsh on a dreary day

I chose the day for my first trip to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge last month based on the forecast of a cloudy day. I really enjoy shooting under cloudy skies since it means nice even lighting during the day, and that I can shoot in reasonable light for more than just sunrise and sunset. However, my trip on this day was not the nice high clouds I was hoping for, but instead ground level fog and light rain all day. The birds didn't seem to mind though, and I was able to watch all kinds of waterbirds enjoying the weather. There was a large number of great egrets and snowy egrets in the marsh along the main road -- far more than I've seen on any of my return trips so far.

Photograph of a great egret preening in a salt marsh at Parker River NWR

I enjoyed watching this great egret preen along the edge of a salt pond, and the feeling of the dreary day added a bit to the image I think. It wouldn't have quite the same mood if was under blue skies and direct sunlight, and I might not have been able to capture the same kind of reflection either.

Photograph of a preening great egret with a reflection

View more photos of great egrets in my Egrets and Herons Gallery.

Submitted to World Bird Wednesday -- Follow the link to check out this week's posts.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sanderling with prey, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Photograph of a sanderling with prey at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

I took a trip up to the North Shore coast again last Friday, with a return visit to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and Sandy Point State Reservation on Plum Island. It was a cold morning, and when I arrived at my car in the dark to start my trip, I couldn't quite believe my eyes when I saw a thick layer of ice across the windshield. Wow, it's been a long time since I've had to scrape off the frost while my car warms up! Fortunately, my wife had the foresight to suggest that we purchase an ice scraper to keep in the car last weekend (fully thinking we wouldn't need it for quite some time), and it was so nice to have it on Friday morning.

As I drove up to the coast, I couldn't help but think to myself, "Where am I?" as I saw a coating of snow on the trees and highway medians. (Of course, that was nothing compared to the crazy Nor'easter that blew through the area on Saturday. Snow in October? Really?!) Then as I was nearing the end of my drive to the beach, I saw a thick bank of marine layer fog hanging just offshore. After watching the sun set behind a fog bank over San Francisco Bay on so many evenings in the past few years, it was a new experience to watch the sun rise above the fog on this coast. It's so interesting to me how the Atlantic and Pacific coasts are so similar in many ways, and yet so different.

I arrived at beach #7 in the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge about 20 minutes after sunrise, and it was a beautiful scene to crest the dunes and see a huge expanse of beach before me. The early morning minus tide exposed so much additional land, as well as some interesting rock formations that I hadn't seen on either of my previous trips here. The shorebirds seemed to be enjoying the additional feeding grounds, and a huge flock of mixed peeps were pouring over the sand and collecting their prey in the beautiful morning light.

In terms of photographing the shorebirds, it really seems like sunset will be a much better time for beaches on the Atlantic coast. I always prefer shooting at sunrise when I can (there's just something to special about seeing the first rays of light kiss the landscape as the sun rises and wipes away the shadows), but it presents a certain problem here. In California, the sun came up over the land, so it was ideal for getting blue water behind the shorebirds on the beach. On the Massachusetts coast though, photographing shorebirds in the morning means putting yourself between the shorebirds and the waves, which is not something you want to take too lightly. Thankfully the waves were rolling in slowly on this morning, but I had to keep a wary eye behind me to make sure there were no unpleasantly wet surprises.

View more photographs of sanderlings

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guiding the herd, Yellowstone National Park

Photograph of a male pronghorn guiding his herd across the prairie in Yellowstone

While I'm excited to have some new images to share from Massachusetts, I also still have a lot of photos to share from my trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, so it will probably be a mix on the blog for a while. In this shot, the dominant male pronghorn that we saw on a daily basis during our trip is rounding up his herd at sunset, presumably to keep them together overnight.  While the buck was not always right with his harem, he was never far away, and it was interesting to watch their interactions. The females clearly responded to his presence, and on more than one occasion, we saw him gently guide the herd to a different location on the prairie.

View more photos of the fastest animal in North America in my Pronghorn Gallery.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dunlin and shadow, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Photograph of a dunlin and its shadow on the beach in Massachusetts

A dunlin stands alone with its shadow away from the rest of the flock at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island. Finding pleasing compositions within a flock of birds can be challenging, and sometimes the most dramatic are when you can find an isolated subject set against an out of focus flock. I like how this bird gave itself some separation from the rest, and especially since it seems like its only company was its shadow.

View more of my photos of dunlin.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Flock of sandpipers, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Sandpipers in flight - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a wonderful first two days of wildlife photography in Massachusetts last week. This lovely flock of sandpipers (mostly sanderlings and dunlin) were very friendly, and accepted me right into their flock. A handful of times while I was lying in the sand with them, something would spook the birds, and the whole flock would take off in a delightful show of calculated chaos!

Tight flight formation of sandpipers

They would then circle around and land back on the beach. On more than one occasion the flock landed on three sides of me, leaving me quite literally in the middle (too much fun!). Better yet, since a bunch of them landed between me and the ocean, I didn't have to be as careful about keeping an eye out for waves that would get me wet, since every time the water started coming towards me, I would hear a loud uprising of irritated peeping coming from the sandpiper crew to my right.

Flock of sandpipers flying together

The four images in this post are all from one take-off and landing event as they circled around me, and are in the order that I took them. I always find it amazing to witness the movement of flocking birds, and it's so fascinating to see how closely they fly together without bumping one another. I also love to see the patterns that form as they rapidly change directions, and especially when the early light is still glistening off of their feathers.

Flock of sandpipers in flight

View more photos of these adorable shorebirds in my Sandpipers Gallery.

This post was submitted to World Bird Wednesday -- follow the link to check out this week's posts!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Home sweet home, and my first visit to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Shorebird welcoming committee - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography
(My Massachusetts shorebird welcoming committee.)

After a month of living in the great state of Massachusetts, I finally had a chance to get outside with my camera. Between the move, getting settled in a new city, my job search, and the death of my step-father, there had been little time to get out and experience my new home. Finally though, I had my first photography trips on Thursday and Friday mornings of last week -- to a fantastic coastal property in Northern MA, the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.

The forecast said clouds for Thursday, and since I have seen some amazing clouds out of my apartment window almost every day since moving to the Boston area, I had high hopes for beach photography under a pretty sky. Unfortunately, my first morning in the park was much more reminiscent of a day back in the Bay Area! There was ground level fog and drizzle all morning, which finally burned off to clear blue skies around noon. So while I still filled a memory card with heavily overcast shorebirds, it was not quite what I had envisioned while planning my inaugural trip to photograph the wildlife along the Atlantic coast. Thus, I decided to return for sunrise on Friday morning, since there was a forecast of clear skies -- and I was not disappointed.

Birders on a dreary morning
(Some birders enjoy the large shorebird flock on a wet Thursday morning.)

During my early morning drive along the highways to get there, I had wondered if I made the right decision to get up so early -- but once I made it to the Refuge and hopped out of my car into the cool, pre-dawn air, there was no doubt in my mind this was the right thing to do. I stopped at parking lot #1, and watched the sunrise break the horizon. There is just something so magical about this part of the day, and it's so energizing to feel the glow of those first rays of the sun. Although I must say, after 6 years of watching the sun set over the ocean, it was a bit odd to see it rise above the blue waters!

First sunrise in Massachusetts - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography
(My first sunrise viewed in my new home state.)

I then drove down to the southern end of the refuge, and headed for the beach at parking lot #7, which is where I saw the large flock of peeps the day before. Much to my delight, the flock was still there, and it was comprised of some very friendly shorebirds -- the best Massachusetts welcoming party I could have imagined. I then spent the next two hours or so laying in the sand with these birds. They went about their morning business of resting and preening, and after easily winning their trust I found myself as an honorary member of the flock. In fact, on more than one occassion, after they all took flight and circled around, they landed just a few feet away on all three sides of me. It was a perfect morning, and a great way to start my new adventures with wildlife photography in New England!

Shorebird flock at sunrise - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography
(The shorebird flock at sunrise.)

In other news, the list of highly honored images for the prestigious 2011 Windland Smith Rice International Awards was released this week, and I am happy to announce that one of my photographs was selected for this honor. Look for it in print in the next issue of Nature's Best Photography magazine!

View more photos of peeps in my Sandpipers Gallery.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A pronghorn looks surprised, Yellowstone National Park

Pronghorn surprised to see me?

One of the challenges of photographing the megafauna of Yellowstone National Park is that many of them (at least the herbivores) are ruminants. This means that they spend an awful lot of their time chewing. This can make for the occasional comical shot (this one looks surprised, doesn't it?), but it can also lead to a lot of photos with less than facial ideal expressions. But in the end, you take what nature gives you -- and make the most of the frequent chewers.

View more photos of this beautiful species in my Pronghorn Gallery.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bald eagle, Yellowstone National Park

Bald eagle in Yellowstone - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

For as bird-centric as my photography often is, I photographed very few avian subjects during my trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. I had hoped to find more birds, but the large terrestrial megafauna were just too amazing to look away from. I did however, snap a few shots of a Clark's nutcracker (a fascinating bird with a really awesome memory!) as well as this bald eagle perched in a tree in Hayden Valley. I had really hoped to see some trumpeter swans, but that just wasn't in the cards this time. There's always next time though!

Bald eagle watching

As for this eagle, it was perched in the top of a tree and was watching the water below. It had drawn a pretty good crowd, but since it was on the opposite side of the river, it seemed not to care too much about all the people watching it. What it did care about though, is the red-tailed hawk that must have had a nest close by. In the top photo in the post, the eagle is calling out at the hawk just before the hawk flew straight at it and scared it away. It was quite a sight to see a smaller bird come swooping in at high speed, and the bald eagle wanted no part of it.

View more photos of raptors in my Birds of Prey gallery.

Submitted to World Bird Wednesday -- Follow the link to check out this week's posts.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Portrait of a mother moose, Grand Teton National Park

Mother moose

One of my favorite wildlife encounters from our trip across the west was finding this female moose and her calf in the pre-sunrise light. The mother was beautiful (as you can see) and the calf was full of energy, and continually bounced around the sagebrush. They were a delight to watch!

View more photos of moose in my Moose Gallery

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pronghorn buck, Yellowstone National Park

Pronghorn buck - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A dominant pronghorn buck watches over his harem near the Gardiner entrance to Yellowstone National Park. It was a lot of fun to see this harem on a daily basis while coming into the park, and this buck seemed to take pretty good care of them. While the females happily fed fairly close to the road, he only occasionally come close to the group of onlookers, and he usually didn't stay close for long. He was quite a handsome buck though, and hopefully he was able to defend his harem during the upcoming rut.

Visit my pronghorn gallery.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Bison, Grand Teton National Park

Bison in Grand Teton NP - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

While we certainly found bison on every day of our Grand Teton and Yellowstone trip, one of the best encounters came in the late afternoon in Grand Teton National Park. The large herd that resides there had moved fairly close to the road, and they stayed there resting, feeding, fighting, and running around until long after the sun had set. These are such remarkable animals, and it's interesting to think about what the landscape must have looked like a few hundred years ago when a few million were still roaming the west!

View more photos of the largest land animal in North America in my Bison Gallery.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Moose pair in the sagebrush, Grand Teton National Park

The moose pair emerges - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Our moose encounters in Grand Teton National Park were one of the highlights of our entire road trip. It was amazing to see these huge animals up close, and I'm really excited that we were able to find them feeding in the sagebrush on a few occasions. This post is a series of four photos of a pair of moose that we watched on our final morning in the park. We started the day by finding them off in the middle of the sagebrush at dawn, but they slowly worked their way closer to us in the morning light.

Pair of moose in the morning - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

We were there just before the start of the rutting season, so most of the bulls we saw still had velvet on their antlers. However, on our last morning there we caught this bull with mostly clean antlers (you can see a bit of velvet still hanging down by his face in these shots). He was clearly still a bit itchy, and he spent a fair amount of time scratching on any solid object he could find. I was so amazed at how large these animals really are, and they really are a sight to behold. I know it looks like he's aggressively coming at me in the frame below, but he was just interested in feeding in that brighter patch of vegetation.

Moose coming my way - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Unfortunately, for a lot of the shots on this trip (including many of the shots from our encounter with this pair) I really had to jack up the ISO, which introduced quite a bit of noise. It was a tricky trip in that regard, with a lot of shooting right near dawn and before the sun had made it over the mountains. It's a delicate balance with my gear, confounded by the fact that the low-light conditions challenges the autofocus on my lens (f/6.3 at 500mm), but I decided that I'd rather have a chance for sharp shots with noise instead of blurry shots due to slower shutter speeds with less sensor noise. Overall it seemed to work out ok, but the amount of shots that I've culled due to technical quality does speak volumes to what having a faster long-lens would allow you to do.

Moose feeding in sagebrush - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

View more photos of these impressive animals in my new Moose Gallery.