Sunday, January 10, 2016
When I was putting together my Favorite Photographs of 2015 post, I had a hard time winnowing down the number of piping plover chicks to include. In the end, I still selected plovers for 3 of the 9 photos, which felt a bit heavy-handed, but it was so special to share space with these curious young birds multiple times throughout the summer. This photo helps to illustrate just how inquisitive they were. There I was, lying in the sand photographing the chicks as they scurried around the beach, and this one took a real interest in trying to figure out what I was. It came close enough to step into the shadow that was cast by the low hanging sunrise and the hat I was wearing. From my experience visiting the beach a few times over the summer, the chicks were very curious about the photographers in the sand -- often coming well within the minimum focusing distance of my lens.
View more photographs of piping plovers
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
While I was watching this least tern incubating its two eggs on the beach, I had the pleasure of observing its partner bring it a fish. In the excitement of this unexpected moment, I unfortunately clipped the tips of the wings of the bird who stopped by only briefly enough to hand off the fish and fly off again. While I'm excited to have a nice record of the moment, I'm a bit bummed that I made such a technical error. I waited around for a while longer to see if I would be lucky to witness another exchange, but unfortunately it never came. A valuable lesson that I've heard before, but failed to execute, is that when photographing birds that are likely to flap their wings (like in this case, or especially with birds that are bathing in shallow water), it's always better to zoom out and leave extra space. You can always crop away the excess later, but you can't regain the tips of those wings in post-processing.
View more photographs of terns.
Submitted to Wild Bird Wednesday -- follow the link for this week's posts!
Friday, August 7, 2015
Another interesting tidbit I came across while reading up on piping plovers recently, in addition to what I posted yesterday about plover chicks being entirely responsible for feeding themselves, is related to the role of the parents. While both the male and female share responsibility for incubating the nest, it is relatively common for the female to abandon the brood within a week of the chicks hatching. That leaves the male in charge of protecting the chicks until they fledge a few weeks later. I'm not sure if this is a male or female parent, but there is a very young chick tucked under its left wing. You can see a tiny leg sticking out and the top of its downy head under the popped-up feathers.
View more photographs of plovers
Thursday, August 6, 2015
When I was looking up information about how to identify a piping plover fledgling, I came across an interesting fact -- piping plover chicks are entirely responsible for feeding themselves! While watching the chicks on the beach at Sandy Point Reservation on multiple occasions this summer, I was interested to observe how much time they seemed to spend catching bugs. They appeared to be on a constant search for food, which now makes a lot of sense to me. It would also seem to explain why all of the chicks in the same clutch would often run in separate directions after warming up under their parent. Pretty incredible to think that a few hours after they hatch, these adorable tiny predators are already leaving the nest and looking for prey.
Browse more of my photographs of plovers.
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Nothing much to be blue about on this morning (or any morning when you're out to do some photography at sunrise!) unless you're the morning light reflecting off the water in the background. I took this photograph on a mid-July trip to Sandy Point State Reservation on Plum Island, and I suspect that this is a fledgling from one of the piping plover clutches I saw as tiny chicks in early June.
View more of my photographs of piping plovers.
Tuesday, August 4, 2015
The uneven sand along the high tide line of Sandy Point State Reservation made for an fun setting to photograph this piping plover chick as it curiously checked out the photographer laying in the sand. At times, some objects in the wrack obstructed the frame, but when it stepped into the right location, it was exciting to capture this dreamy effect of an exaggeratedly shallow depth of field.
Browse more photographs of plovers in my Plovers Gallery.
Submitted to Wild Bird Wednesday -- follow the link for this week's posts.
Thursday, July 23, 2015
I've been pursuing clean foregrounds and backgrounds on the beach with my shorebird photography lately, but it was really exciting when this tiny chick started walking toward me through the tide-line of shells.
This interesting setting provided some variations in color and pattern to set up the scene and really helped to illustrate just how tiny this young chick was.
Wednesday, July 22, 2015
This summer, I have primarily been enthralled with photographing the piping plover chicks at Sandy Point State Reservation in Massachusetts, but there are other species of breeding birds in the park as well. While there were a handful of little tern chicks running about the beach already, this adult was taking care of its two eggs nestled into a small depression in the sand.
View more photographs of terns and gulls.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
I took a trip out to Sandy Point State Reservation on Plum Island again last week, and the baby plovers are growing up. There were two youngsters with this parent in the early morning light, which were significantly larger than when I was there in June, but not yet fledged. I did see a couple of really young chicks too, as well as an adult plover that appeared to be incubating a nest. What a special place that relatively small stretch of beach is with all of the breeding birds.
View more of my photographs of plovers.
Sunday, July 19, 2015
I’ve written many times on this blog about my love of experiencing the first light of the day. While the brilliant colors of sunset are just as visually pleasing, the sunrise provides a much stronger fuel for my soul. With the less than ideal amount of sleep I get during the semester, coupled with the lengthening days of spring feeding into summer, it had been a long time since I felt the warm glow of the first rays touch my face. Even though Plum Island is over an hour away and we were near the earliest mornings of the year due to the solstice, the gravitational pull of the chance to photograph tiny piping plover chicks in warm morning light was strong enough to get me out for the sunrise twice last month and again earlier this week. There’s magic at the leading edge of the day, and it feels great to be reacquainted again!
Sunday, July 12, 2015
I must say, after watching the job these piping plover parents have on a few separate mornings last month, I’m glad it’s not my responsibility to keep track of the chicks! These tender moments of warming them together in a single group seemed to be short-lived, as a few minutes later all four chicks will inevitably be running in four separate directions around the beach. It’s amazing to me that the adults are able to keep track of them all!
View more photographs of piping plovers, as well as other plover species.
Saturday, July 11, 2015
One of the most fun things about photographing these piping plover chicks as they explored the beach outside of their roped-off protected area at Sandy Point State Reservation is how curious they were. On many occasions, as I was quietly lying in the sand nearby, the chicks would come well within my minimum focusing distance of 8 feet. No complaints here though – it was a great chance to pull my eye away from the viewfinder and enjoy a close encounter of the adorable kind.
View more plover photography.
Friday, July 10, 2015
I took a Friday off in June to do some photography. The forecast wasn’t great, and I almost canceled my plans, but a Thursday night read of the Plum Island bird sighting reports convinced me to go. I had seen that folks were still spotting some sandpipers that seemed late to leave for the tundra, so the potential chance to photograph some peeps in summer colors was enough to get me to drag myself out of bed early. I had a delightful time wandering the beach and watching the courting rituals of least terns, and it felt great to have my camera in hand again. After the best light faded, I decided to start heading back to my car – and much to my surprise and delight, I saw a small flock of tiny plover chicks zig-zagging across the sand. Limited time in harsh light wasn’t enough, so with some helpful suggestions from my wife, I went back for sunrise on Sunday and then again a week later when this pair of images was taken. Multiple plover families were cruising the beach and drawing quite a crowd of photographers each morning.
View more of my photographs of plovers.
Friday, September 12, 2014
A common tern watching the sky at Sandy Point State Reservation in Massachusetts
In early August I took my first and only trip to Plum Island for the summer. I was hoping to catch the front end of the fall shorebird migration, and while I saw a fair number of sandpipers, the breeding colony of terns was the real highlight. In general, I find terns to be a tough bird to approach, even with my standard slow-motion belly crawl. On this day, however, I was lucky to find a small group of common terns that were rather indifferent to me and let me crawl close. Unfortunately, I was only able to enjoy a few short minutes of photographic excitement before a beach runner came jogging by and ended my fun.
A common tern follows the flight path of an overhead flock at Sandy Point State Reservation
View more of my photographs of terns.
Sunday, May 11, 2014
I have a habit of keeping tons of images that I'll never do anything with. On my first pass after downloading the images from a trip, I'll delete anything that doesn't meet my standards for focus or sharpness. I'll mark images that have a particularly strong composition (flag with a "P" in Lightroom) to come back for another look, but I generally just let the normal images take up space on my disks and fill up my Lightroom catalogs. I basically make the argument that if it's sharp, perhaps I'll find a purpose for it later. I've really come to the realization though that there are tons of images I'll probably never look at again, and that I'll certainly never do anything with. So, I've started going through old folders and trimming out things that just don't meet a minimum level of compositional interest. It's kind of fun to re-experience old outings, and while my primary focus is cutting images, I've found a few diamonds in the rough that I had no idea were in there. This image of a semipalmated sandpiper and its reflection in the sand is one such example. I have no idea how this wasn't favorited when I took an initial pass through this folder, but I'm excited to find it again!
View my twenty favorite shorebird images in my Shorebirds Portfolio.
Thursday, May 1, 2014
A dunlin peers out from a depression in the sand behind the dunes at Sandy Point State Reservation on Plum Island, Massachusetts.
View more of my dunlin photographs.
Saturday, April 27, 2013
This shot was taken as the fading rays of the setting sun broke through an overcast sky in Sandy Point State Reservation last October. It won't be too long from now that the shorebird numbers will start increasing with the spring migration, and I hope to get out there to photograph them. Plum Island (which contains both the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and the Sandy Point State Reservation) gets red knots passing through each year -- and it's my goal to photograph one in their gorgeous spring colors.
View more of my photographs of plovers.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
This past weekend, my wife and I took a trip out to Sandy Point State Reservation on the southern tip of Plum Island. The impacts of Hurricane Sandy and the recent Nor'easter were clear. The small dune that I found this flock of plovers taking refuge behind in early October is no longer there, as the beach is now one large flat expanse. It's fascinating to see the power of nature, and this was a prime example of the ephemeral existence of the beach environment.
View more of my photos of plovers.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
I had a lovely encounter with a flock of semipalmated plovers at Sandy Point State Reservation on Plum Island a few weekends ago. The late afternoon hours were mostly overcast, but as the sun crept towards the horizon, its last rays lit up the clouds and cast a beautiful golden glow over the birds.
View more photos of plovers.
Monday, September 10, 2012
It had been a while since I had touched my camera when I went out on this mid-August trip. Actually, much longer than "a while" -- especially compared to the frequency I became accustomed to in California. It had been over three months since I tried to make a meaningful image. Worse yet, it had been just as long since I was able to be out enjoying and connecting with nature. Throughout my growth as a person and a photographer during the past half-decade, I had really come to rely on these moments of connection with nature to help to re-center myself. So in the end, enough was enough, and I had to prioritize some time to get outside. One weekend evening was all I could take, but it would have to be enough. My wife and I hopped in the car and drove out for the sunset on Plum Island on the North Shore.
I was almost giddy with excitement to be going through my pre-trip rituals of charging batteries, formatting memory cards, and cleaning lens surfaces. Donning my outdoor clothes and hiking shoes gave my heart an extra bounce to its step. All of these things were leading to seeing the ocean, feeling the breeze, and smelling the warm salty air. I could feel it in my soul, and couldn't wait to hit the sand.
When we arrived at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge entrance, I was hit with the sad realization that it was summer in the Northeast and not along the California coast. Lot #1 was recently reopened to the public after the plovers had moved on, and it was packed. Signs along the road warned that there was no parking available at Sandy Point, my ultimate destination. I stuck to my plans though, and figured that 90 minutes before sunset, and very near to dinner time, most cars would be heading home. When we reached the end of the island, we were thankful that someone was pulling out of a spot in the overcrowded lot just when we got there. Soon enough I was pulling out my gear from the back seat.
What a refreshing moment it was to step out of the car and feel the coastal air. As we made our way along the trail, I could see that the beach was packed. There were excited children and loud families everywhere. Quickly, I realized that I may not be able to find that connection with nature that I so desperately sought. Amidst the chaos of a summer's evening along the shore, I spotted a small group of peeps feeding in the sand exposed by the ebbing tide. "Peeps!" I called to my wife, who knew that she'd be on her own to wander the beach for a little while now that my target was sighted. I watched from a distance as a beachwalker strolled right at them, and thankfully the flock parted and they remained in the area.
This was a good sign that these were friendly birds (and most likely naive juveniles), and I made a quicker than usual approach. Soon enough, I was down in the sand seeking an eye-level view. I laid on the shutter and reveled in the rapid fire sound of the birth of new images. Even though it had been a while since I used my camera, the feeling quickly came back, and I lost myself in the world of these small shorebirds feeding in the sand.
After a few minutes, the silence in my mind was disturbed by my own thoughts. How peculiar that I was interrupting myself -- but that's what this particular thought was about. Somewhere in those moments of lying in the sand and framing the birds, the realization came to me that I had actually found the connection I was looking for. It didn't matter that kids were splashing and yelling their shouts of joy around me, because I didn't hear them. It didn't matter that people were looking at this strange guy covered in sand photographing tiny birds that many people don't even notice. What mattered was that I was there, feeling nature -- breathing the air, sensing the pulse of the waves, feeding off the energy of the birds. Every other thought dropped away from my mind, and I was fully in the moment. Focused.
It was, ironically, this trip to a crowded summer beach on the Massachusetts coast that helped to solidify my understanding of the personal connection with nature that I have sought out for so many years. There's just something about being in that moment, completely focused and absorbed by the tiny piece of the world visible through my telephoto lens. While I love to experience nature while hiking, I do find a much deeper connection when I have my camera along. For a long time I've wondered why that was. But now I think it all makes sense to me. When my eye is pressed to the viewfinder, it's not just my vision that's reduced to only what is focused within the frame. For those moments, my mind is singularly focused too. There's no thought of unanswered emails, tasks left unfinished, chores yet to be done, and the rest of my everlasting to-do list. Everything else is gone. My entire being is focused on what I can see in the lens, on feeling the energy of the animal I'm watching, and on working to capture just a tiny piece of the magic of that moment in my images. What a truly meaningful experience it is to have a singular focus, even if it only lasts for the fleeting time of a wildlife encounter. It's no wonder I keep coming back for more. I'm already looking forward to the next time I can bring my eye to the viewfinder and find the quiet solitude that it brings to my mind.