Saturday, March 3, 2018

Post #500: California quail in Point Reyes National Seashore

A male California quail on a branch at sunrise in Point Reyes National Seashore

In the fall of 2009, I started this blog with my first post of semipalmated plovers at Point Reyes National Seashore. At this time, I was in the middle of graduate school and had found that escaping to the coast with my camera on the weekends was critical to managing my stress levels. I had taken my first nature photographs over two years before that, and was regularly sharing pictures on Flickr, but decided that it would be nice to branch out into my own corner of the web. I didn't really know what I had intended to do with a blog, but I was inspired by the work of others like John Wall who was blogging about his explorations of similar places in the Bay Area, and myriad other California photographers (like Jim Goldstein, Gary Crabbe, G Dan Mitchell, and so many others) that were sharing their work on the web.

When I started this blog, posting a photo while I ate breakfast was a pretty regular part of my daily routine, and over the first few years, I added about 150 posts per year. At that rate, I figured I'd reach 500 posts in no time! But a move to Massachusetts and start of my career reduced my rate to about a third of that for a while, and over the last two years almost to zero. Yet I still find myself drawn to sharing my work through this venue.

Over the past few weeks, I've read back through each of my 499 previous posts, which brings up a cacophony of feelings -- from bittersweet nostalgia for my favorite places in California and being able to visit them regularly, to joy of remembering some amazing wildlife encounters (some that I vividly remember, and others that I had almost forgotten), to relative embarrassment of the quality of some of my earlier pictures. I was getting out with my camera so much more regularly during the first few years, which led to a more temporal aspect to my blogging, and it's fun to now have a narrated log of my weekend trips from that time period of my life.

As I roll through the beginning of my tenth calendar year of photo blogging, finally reaching the round number milestone of 500 posts, I guess I still don't know what I'm really trying to accomplish. I've long since passed the naive dream of being read by a huge number of subscribers, but still feel drawn to have a place to share my experiences with the incredible natural world around me. Seeking a connection with nature is one of the major things that drives me as a person, and I want to continue to seek out these experiences for my own self-interest. But beyond that, I like to share these small glimpses with anyone else who cares to find them. I know from personal experience how photographs have the power to connect people with our natural world, to cause them to care, and allow a window to share in a joint experience even if the observer wasn't physically present. I wish deeply for others to care about our environment and the amazing creatures that inhabit it, and any small thing I can do to spread that connection is worth it to me.

As I think about what it means to move forward, I'm sure that my opportunities for serious photography will continue to be limited. However, I know that even a decade after I first picked up a camera with the intent of photographing the natural world, I still find that when the cacophony of noise that is modern life becomes overwhelming, my mind yearns for the simplicity of a shared moment with a wild animal from behind my lens. Wildlife photography is meditation for me, and I hope that having a place to share my artistic expression of these experiences (even if really only for myself) will continue to drive my pursuit of seeking out those powerful moments, no matter how frequent or infrequent the opportunities arise.

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!