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.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Willet catches a fish, Bunche Beach Preserve

Wildlife Photography by Pat Ulrich: Willets &emdash; Willet probing the sand

Willets are a really fun shorebird to watch and photograph. What they lack in interesting plumage patterns and elegance, they more than make up for in character. I've had so many fun encounters with these curious birds on various beaches over the years. On this trip to southwest Florida, I had a chance to photograph so many interesting species, many of which I have no opportunity to see near home on the coasts of New England, but on each of my morning outings to Bunche Beach Preserve a willet caught my attention and left me delightfully entertained.

Wildlife Photography by Pat Ulrich: Willets &emdash; Willet feeds in morning light

This willet was working a shallow tidal pool near the main entrance of the park. It was wading through the water in a much more heron-like pattern, clearly hunting for moving prey. For the frame above, it was working hard to pull something to the surface.

Wildlife Photography by Pat Ulrich: Willets &emdash; Willet washing prey

It continued to manipulate the prey under the water, attempting to find the right grip. Much to my surprise, when it finally pulled its prize free from the water's surface, it was some type of small flat fish. As many times as I've enjoyed photographing willets in the past, never before had I seen one with such an interesting type of prey! Unfortunately, in the excitement of finally freeing its meal from the water, I lost the lovely backdrop of the sand and mangroves in the distance as I tracked its movements sprinting out of the pond with its catch.

Wildlife Photography by Pat Ulrich: Willets &emdash; Willet with a flat fish

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Eye on the prize, Little Blue Heron at Bunche Beach

Little blue heron ready to strike at Bunche Beach, Florida

With no recent trips to pull from, here are two frames from a fantastic trip to southwest Florida I had a few years ago. I spent two mornings at Bunch Beach Preserve in Fort Myers, and came back with so many images (many of which are still waiting to be shared). That area is truly a bird photographers haven!

Little blue heron snatching a fish from the tidal pool

I watched this little blue heron hunting in a shallow tidal pool for over a half an hour. It strolled back and forth through the water, constantly searching for prey, and I saw it pull a surprising amount of fish from the small pool. When the image above is viewed at 100%, you can see the small fish caught in its bill behind the splashing water, which it shows off quickly below before swallowing it down.

Little blue heron with a fish in the bill

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 10, 2018

Backlit sanderlings, Ogunquit Beach

A flock of sanderlings feeds on Ogunquit Beach, Maine

As I mentioned in my previous post, the conditions weren't ideal for photography on my fall trip to Southern Maine -- but when I find a flock of friendly sandpipers, it's worth making the most of it! As the rising tide continuously pushed the flock to different positions around me, I had to settle for some angles looking directly toward the morning sun. When this happened, I pulled my eye away from the viewfinder and just enjoyed the lively scene of this energetic flock of shorebirds. Thankfully, there were some high clouds passing through, so when one slipped in front of the sun, I'd go back to the camera and work what I could. At the time, I didn't have much faith that any of the images would turn out. This proved to be mostly true when I reviewed the images later, but this frame stood out to me with the pattern of the three feeding birds and enough details in the shadows. It's not my typical style of shorebird photography, but it's fun to take advantage of a new challenge when the opportunity presents itself.