Showing posts with label massachusetts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label massachusetts. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Warm spring light, Piping plover at Sandy Point State Reservation

Piping plover running over the sand at sunset in Sandy Point State Reservation, Massachusetts

Developing my photographic vision under the cool marine layer in the San Francisco Bay Area has turned me into a sucker for overcast skies, but I still enjoy a lovely golden hour when I have the chance. The last few days in Massachusetts have been gorgeous -- with unseasonably warm temperatures and spectacular evening light! It's been a pleasure to get out for few short walks after work to enjoy this wonderful taste of springtime, and it's great to notice the days getting longer. Even if it is still February, spring is in the air at least for another day or two.

This photograph is from a springtime trip I took last year to Sandy Point State Reservation. There were a handful of piping plovers cruising the beach, and I was able to get a few close encounters with this particularly curious bird as it searched for a meal before losing the daylight.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Harsh realities of being small, Piping plover at Sandy Point

This piping plover wraps up my belated posts of the stories behind my five favorite photographs from 2017. In a typical year, the goal would be to blog about the photos long before the annual summary -- but I've ended up trying things in reverse this year. Anyway, it was a beautiful day on this late spring trip to Sandy Point State Reservation with moisture-rich clouds adding color to the sky and providing nice diffuse light and a handful of piping plovers scurrying around the beach. Really, it's hard to ask for much better conditions, at least between the intense gusts of wind blowing across the water.

Piping plover walking slowly across the beach at Sandy Point State Reservation

I was laying in the sand with this friendly plover, enjoying the chance to watch it rest and preen. But when the wind started to blow, the sand fiercely ripped around. While walking around the park that day, the sand steadily pelted my face whenever the wind blew. But while laying prone in the sand, I could really feel the intensity of the higher density of sand near the ground. While my sand blasting was optional, it was a hard lesson to realize that these tiny shorebirds have to deal with this every time a stiff wind blows!

Piping plover in lightly blowing sand in Massachusetts

In this series of photographs, you can see how when the intensity of the wind picks up, the bird is heavily obscured by the sand, even from my relatively close observation point. It was apparently intense even for the bird, who closed it's eyes against the wind. I found the plovers to be fairly resilient though, as well as opportunistic in seeking shelter. I observed them scurrying behind any small windbreak they could find, including this tiny "dune" formed by a small collection of leaves and wrack.

Piping plover obscured by blowing sand in Massachusetts

Eventually, this bird realized that it's wind break just wasn't cutting it, so it stepped out and leaned into the wind as it sought better shelter. I really love how this last frame came together -- with the stoic look of the bird boldly walking into the sandstorm against the streaks of individual sand grains -- leaving me with one of my favorite photos of the year.

Piping plover facing a stiff wind and walking into blowing sand


Submitted to Wild Bird Wednesday -- follow the link for this week's posts!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Serenity in a salt marsh, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Snowy egret standing in shallow water with salt grass in Parker River NWR

"What good is a salt marsh?" asks the sign at the long pull-off area next to the salt pannes in Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. I love this sign with its catchy title, and it shares important natural features of these awesome ecosystems. For me, the essence of a salt marsh goes even further. There's something about this ecosystem that just pulls me in -- far enough that I studied them for my Ph.D.! The sights, the smells, just the feel of a breeze flowing over them, it's all unmatched for me. Photographically, I haven't made that many images that attempt to capture some of that magic. I'm usually distracted looking for wildlife, like this snowy egret, rather than focusing on all of the interesting details that abound.

Snowy egret stretches its wings at sunset

On my drive out of the refuge as the sun was dropping fast toward the horizon, I pulled off the road to watch this delightful snowy egret hunting in the shallow water. Its feathers were drenched in the warm glow of the falling light, and it emphatically leapt from panne to panne as it searched for a meal. I followed it with my lens, having to roll the car forward a few times to keep up with its exuberance. Egrets are a marvel to watch as they hunt, darting this way and that, shading the water, and seemingly dancing their way through the process. I was happy to observe its show near the road, and after a few minutes, it flew further back into the marsh. The golden light was caressing the salt grass and casting low shadows, and everything fell into place when the egret landed and set off a wave of small ripples, leaving me with one of my favorite photos from 2017.

Peaceful scene of a snowy egret in salt marsh at sunset

So what good is a salt marsh? The list of benefits is long, but at the top for me is the warm feeling that overcomes my consciousness when I'm able to soak in a scene like this.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sprint and stop, Piping Plover at Sandy Point State Reservation

Photo of a running piping plover on the beach in Massachusetts


As I mentioned in my favorite photos of 2017 post, this very friendly piping plover gave me a lot of great looks as it sprinted across the sand and then stopped on a dime. It's an interesting behavior -- I'm not sure if it's related to finding prey or to evading predators, but its certainly common among the piping plovers I've had a chance to observe. After I positioned myself in the sand, the plover kept working its way closer, giving me wary but seemingly curious looks along the way. It continued to close the distance between us, with the frame below being taken at 270mm on my telephoto zoom. Eventually, it came close enough that I could no longer attempt to focus on it (my Tamron has a minimum focusing distance of 8 feet), so I pulled back from the viewfinder and just enjoyed the chance to observe a gorgeous shorebird at close range. It's always special to earn the trust of a wild animal and the opportunity to share space with it on its own terms!

Curious piping plover at Sandy Point State Reservation, Massachusetts

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Protection from the world, Sandy Point State Reservation

Photo of a piping plover protecting its chick from the blowing sand in Massachusetts

I led off my favorite photos of 2017 post with this handsome piping plover and its chick set against the lush green backdrop of the dunes. On its own, that image (the last in this post) warms my heart with a tender moment between a parent and the most important being in the world to it (something I can now relate to!). I think the full context of this image is interesting to show as well. It was a reasonably nice day on the beach, but there was an occasional stiff wind ripping over the inlet and across the spit of sand at the tip of Sandy Point State Reservation. The strong gusts were pelting us with blowing sand, and this noble adult was attempting to shelter its chick from the elements.

Photo of a piping plover protecting its chick from blowing sand

But when the winds settled down, the chick was ready to go again, and quickly pulled away from the warm embrace of its parent.

Piping plover pulling out from beneath its parent

It paused for a moment, leaning in for reassuring touch before darting across the sand on its own. I can empathize with how I imagine the parent must have felt, left behind to watch its offspring cutting out on its own -- still needing protection and assurance, but also the chance to explore the world independently. No matter how much we want to, there's only so much we can do to protect our kids, and at least mine still has a while to go before he's charting his own path across the beach!

Photo of piping plover parent and chick in Massachusetts

Sunday, January 10, 2016

In the shadow of my hat, Plover chick at Parker River NWR

Photograph of a plover chick stepping into the shadow of my hat

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


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Sanderling and reflection, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Photograph of a sanderling walking with its reflection in Massachusetts

This trip to Parker River NWR in October 2014 was one of the most productive sandpiper encounters I've ever had. I came across a very friendly flock of sanderlings a little before sunset, and I stayed with them until it was too dark to shoot anymore. As they went through their evening rituals of feeding, preening, and bathing, the sun went from subtle warmth behind high clouds, to brilliantly golden as it slipped to the top of the dunes, to deep pastels as day faded into night. It was one of those encounters that left me feeling so connected to nature, one that in the moment you hope can last forever, but ultimately I had to force myself to slowly back away and head to the car as darkness spread over the beach.

View more photographs of sanderlings


Friday, November 27, 2015

Sanderling feeding at low tide, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Photograph of a sanderling pushing its beak through the sand at Parker River NWR

A belated Thanksgiving to you all! I hope you enjoyed your meal and socializing socializing with family and friends as much as this sanderling did the day before. A busy semester has kept me inside since September, so it felt great to finally get out to the beach for a sunset on Wednesday. While the temptation is always there to search for snowy owls on a winter trip to Plum Island, I was focused on finding a flock of shorebirds to photograph. I started my trip at the Lot 6 beach, and from the crest of the dunes I saw a small flock (about 30 birds) of sanderlings and dunlin. It didn't take too long to win their trust, and it felt awesome to lay out in the cold sand as the flock surrounded me. The extreme low tide this week seemed to provide an extra feast for the birds, as there were many places where the whole flock dug their bills into the sand while making quite an excited and loud ruckus of "peeps." The party scene ended abruptly though when something spooked the flock and they took off up the beach. While I didn't get to photograph them in the best light of the day, it was still invigorating to spend time with shorebirds again.

View more photographs of sanderlings.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Sanderling in the last rays of sunlight, Parker River NWR

Photograph of a sanderling on the beach at sunset

I'm always preferential to the sunrise when I have the chance, but last autumn I had a couple of really successful sunset trips in Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. I spent about an hour working with a friendly flock of sandpipers at the Lot 7 beach in pleasant evening light, but as the sun prepared to slip behind the dunes this sandpiper really started glowing in the warm final rays.

View more photographs of sanderlings.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Least tern delivers a fish, Sandy Point State Reservation

Photograph of a least tern delivering a fish to its partner

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.

Photograph of a pair of least terns on their nest sharing a fish

View more photographs of terns.


Submitted to Wild Bird Wednesday -- follow the link for this week's posts!


Friday, August 7, 2015

Piping plover parent with chick underwing, Sandy Point State Reservation

Wildlife Photography by Pat Ulrich: Plovers &emdash; Plover parent with one chick under its wing

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

Tiny voracious predator, Piping plover chick at Sandy Point State Reservation

Photograph of a piping plover chick chasing prey in Massachusetts

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

Early morning blues, Piping plover on Plum Island

Photograph of a piping plover fledgling at Sandy Point State Reservation

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

Curious piping plover chick, Sandy Point State Reservation

Shallow DOF photograph of a young piping plover

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.

Photograph of a curious piping plover chick in Massachusetts

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

Piping plover chick exploring the beach, Sandy Point State Reservation

Photograph of a baby piping plover searching among the shells on the beach

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.

Photograph of a newborn piping plover chick on Plum Island, Massachusetts

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.

Photograph of a baby piping plover chick surrounded by seashells at Sandy Point State Reservation

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Least tern on its nest in the sand, Sandy Point State Reservation

Photograph of a least tern incubating its eggs in a nest in the sand

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.

Least tern looks as its two eggs at Sandy Point State Reservation in Massachusetts

View more photographs of terns and gulls.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Peeking piping plover, Sandy Point State Reservation

Photograph of a piping plover chick peeking out from behind its mother

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

Reacquainted with the sunrise

Photograph of a piping plover chick approaching its parent in early morning light

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

Piping plover parents, Sandy Point State Reservation

Piping plover chicks snuggled under their parent's feathers in Massachusetts

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!

Eight baby plover legs stick out from under a parent at Sandy Point State Reservation

View more photographs of piping plovers, as well as other plover species.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Close encounters of the adorable kind, Sandy Point State Reservation

Piping plover chick close-up at Sandy Point State Reservation, Massachusetts

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.