Saturday, December 27, 2014
I've been back to Parker River NWR a few times since this October evening with the hopes of having a chance to experience something like this again. Any time spent with a flock of friendly sandpipers is a win in my book, but this particular evening was really special with the colorful reflections of an evening sky.
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Wednesday, December 17, 2014
This sanderling put on quite a show while I shared the beach with its flock in October. It was great to watch it splash and clean its feathers, and it finished by standing tall and flapping its wings. I really like this image and had a hard time leaving it out of my top ten Favorite Photographs of 2014. I consider it an honorable mention, but I personally preferred the flying water droplets and splashing action of some other images from this series.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
Recently, I've adjusted my shorebird photography style to get even lower to compress the depth of field further. Beginning with some of my earliest attempts at photographing shorebirds, I've found it to be the most satisfying experience to lay prone in the sand throughout my approach and time with the birds. For me, it's absolutely critical to put myself on an even plane with my subjects, allowing for a direct connection with their eyes. However, up until this spring, I had almost always done so with my camera mounted on the ballhead atop my tripod with the legs spread out flat. This meant that I had good stability for my camera as well as a reasonably low angle, but the center of the lens was still 4 or 5 inches above the ground by the time you add up the height of the flat tripod, ballhead, and lens foot. I was growing increasingly dissatisfied with my images from this setup, feeling like my depth of field was too great and my contact angle with a sandpiper's eye was from a bit too high.
Starting with some trips to Plymouth Beach in the spring, I decided to alter my standard technique. Now, instead of leaving the camera on the tripod, after I've made my approach, I'll hold the camera with the bottom of the lens hood resting on an outstretched tripod leg. This allows me to keep the body of the camera just above the sand, meaning that I'm truly reaching an eye-level elevation for my shorebird subjects. The real benefit is that now I'm able to place my plane of focus directly perpendicular to my subject, effectively narrowing my depth of field. Granted, I'm still shooting at f/8 on my trusty Tamron lens so my actual depth of field hasn't changed, but by altering the angle relative to my subject I've been able to generate what I find to be much more pleasing foregrounds and backgrounds.
Because I'm still resting my lens hood on a stable surface (my tripod leg), I haven't noticed a decrease in the number of sharp images with my adjusted style. I have noticed a bit more sand on to my equipment, which is certainly a negative, but my Storm Jacket camera sleeve is a great way to keep things relatively clean. In the end, I feel like I've taken my shorebird photography to a new level, and I just wish I had made this simple change to my approach years ago!
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Monday, December 8, 2014
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Monday, November 24, 2014
Friday, November 14, 2014
A sanderling ruffles its feathers and splashes water as it bathes in the shallows at Parker River NWR
When I photographed this flock of sanderlings at the Lot 6 Beach in Parker River National Wildlife Refuge last month, I set up in my ground level position fairly near to the edge of the receding tide. I barely had to move over the next 45 minutes as the flock surrounded me and the birds went about their collective evening routines. It was a delight to share space with them in the fading light, but especially to watch the birds wade and bathe in the shallow water of the ebbing tide. I had never been quite this close to a splashing shorebird before, but I'd love to have the chance to repeat the experience again!
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Saturday, November 8, 2014
Friday, November 7, 2014
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
A sanderling reflected in still water as it feeds in late evening light at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
Friday, October 31, 2014
Sanderlings feed and preen in the final light of day at the Lot #6 Beach in Parker River NWR
On my first trip to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge after moving to Massachusetts a few years ago, I encountered a huge flock of shorebirds along the beach at Lot #6. Since that time, I've walked the boardwalk out to the beach a number of times without much success. The Lot #7 beach is my regular sandpiper hotspot, but last weekend it was quiet. As the light was turning for the best, I decided to take a chance and head for Lot #6. My gamble really paid off -- a flock of 40 or so sanderlings were hanging out right at the end of the boardwalk, and they stayed with me until it was too dark to keep shooting.
View more photographs of sanderlings.
Monday, July 21, 2014
A sanderling checks the wrack for a snack along Plymouth Beach, Massachusetts.
In late April, I took an evening trip to Plymouth Beach to look for shorebirds to photograph. On the west coast, I had seen sandpipers already in their summer plumage by this time of year, so I was hopeful that I could find the same here in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, the birds were only just starting to show some color, but I was treated to some very nice light as the setting sun cut through a break in the overcast clouds. The tide was rapidly rising at the same time, and this sanderling (Calidris alba) was frantically checking the wrack for something edible before the beach was covered again.
Browse more of my photos of sanderlings.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
A pair of sanderlings brace against blowing sand in a stiff wind on Plymouth Beach
It took me far too long to "discover" the shorebird haven that is Plymouth Beach. I had seen promising reports on eBird since moving to the area, but during my first two years in Massachusetts, I primarily went north to Plum Island when I was looking for shorebirds to photograph. Last March though, I finally made the drive south to Plymouth, and it very quickly became a favorite location. In the offseason (from October through March) the beach is even dog-friendly, and my wife and pup joined me for this trip. It was a bit unfortunate that the wind was whipping around the whole time, as my poor terrier got more than a little sand-blasted during the 6-mile plus round trip. Like these sanderlings though, he seemed no worse for the wear, as he hunkered down and leaned into the wind and blowing sand.
View more of my photos of sanderlings.
Monday, April 28, 2014
My most recent trip to Plymouth Beach was reminiscent of a California beach trip for me. I arrived a few hours before the sun was scheduled to set under clear blue skies. Then as I walked further along the beach, the beautiful high-level clouds started to move in. By the time I had reached what should have the "golden hour" I was sitting under delightful gray skies! A minor challenge was trying to find the right white balance under these conditions, but the dramatic skies provided some unique side lighting as this sanderling cruised along the round stones of the waterline.
See more in my Sanderlings Gallery.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
As the flock of over 100 sandpipers ran across the sand, this sanderling paused for a moment to check its feathers -- all the way out to the tips.
View more photos of sanderlings.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
A sanderling in transitional breeding plumage stands in the wet sand on an overcast morning last August in Point Reyes National Seashore.
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Wednesday, January 18, 2012
A sanderling bends down to meet its reflection as it feeds during an early morning low tide in the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.
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Friday, December 23, 2011
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.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
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.
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.
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.
Sunday, October 30, 2011
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