Thursday, March 31, 2011

Black-bellied plover after sundown, Pillar Point Harbor

Black-bellied Plover on the sand - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

I took so many shots of this individual plover as we spent over an hour together on the beach at Pillar Point Harbor last month, and I have a lot more to edit and prepare for uploading. Before this experience I had always found black-bellied plovers to be rather skittish. However, this one was really successful at pulling up worms from the sand, and it seemed to be so focused on the task at hand that it could care less about the photographer tagging along behind.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Dance Continues, Avocet Courtship at Radio Road Ponds -- Part 2

This is the second half of the courtship and mating ritual of a pair of American avocets that I witnessed at Radio Road Ponds in Redwood City. Here's a link to Part 1.

As illustrated in Part 1, the male danced around the female and stopped to preen for a few minutes, each time seemingly gaining in intensity and getting closer and closer to the female. Soon enough he came right up to her side and began rapidly thrashing his bill through the water and splashing both of them.
Avocet pre-copulation courtship and love bubbles - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

As quickly and unexpectedly as he started splashing, he stopped and immediately hopped on top of the female. He seemed to have a little trouble finding his balance at first, but then was able to steady himself.
Avocet finding balance - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A brief moment of copulation followed...
American avocet copulation - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

...and the next generation of avocets was created.
American avocets mating - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

It took him a little while to find his balance, and the actual mating was pretty quick, but all the while I was firing off frames and marveling at the incredible ritual I was watching. Even with the excitement of photographing this special moment, I was carefully watching my buffer counter, since I wanted to be ready to try to capture a few frames of what I knew was coming next. After mating, he hopped back down in the water, and the pair crossed bills and ran forward together for a few strides, the final step of their elaborate ritual. Unfortunately, I didn't get a really great shot of them running together, but it's such a wonderful moment to have witnessed through the viewfinder.
Avocet post-copulation run - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Dance Begins, Avocet Courtship at Radio Road Ponds -- Part 1

The dance begins - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

After dropping my wife off at SFO a few weeks ago, I decided to make a quick stop at Radio Road Ponds to see what birds were around before it started to rain again. I've already posted a few shots from this trip of handsome northern shoveler drakes and of the large group of American avocets that landed right in front of where I was sitting. The birds were starting to turn to their gorgeous summer colorations, and it was apparent that a few pairs had already selected a mate.

American avocet courtship - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

These two "love birds" spent time together on the outskirts of the flock. I was initially watching this pair just because they had moved closer to my position, but I was surprised and excited to see the female take her courtship pose. I had read about this interesting ritual and seen images of it before, but I had only previously seen it in person on one occasion, which was from quite a distance away. I was very lucky on this day to have a chance to witness this wonderful dance of nature from such a close distance.

Avocet courtship dance - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

After she presented her courtship pose, he spent a few minutes walking back and forth around her, seemingly getting closer to her with each pass.

Avocet peening to impress - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

He stopped to preen by her side on many occasions, perhaps doing his best to woo her with his looks, and demonstrate what a great choice she had made. The preening is apparently a very important part of the courtship ritual, and he seemed to go at it in quite a frenzied way at times.

American avocets in love - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

The mating display lasted only a few minutes in total, and I've included images of the second half of the dance in my next post.

This post is part of World Bird Wednesday -- click the link to view all of this week's submissions!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Little snowy plover, Point Reyes National Seashore

Western snowy plover in Point Reyes - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Just a quick post of this cute little snowy plover sitting in the sands of Limantour Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. This shot is from an awesome hike I took along the beach last November, when I was able to spend time with a group of western snowy plovers, a different group of semipalmated plovers, and huge flocks of mixed sandpipers.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Preening shoveler drake, Radio Road Ponds

Preening northern shoveler - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Three poses of this handsome northern shoveler drake preening. There was plenty of posturing between males when a female would swim by, so I'm sure he wanted to look his best.

Tail feathers - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Preening shots can be really interesting since they show off the bird in a different light than just when it's posing, and for shovelers, it can really highlight the pretty colors they have on their wings. I liked how he had the tail feathers splayed out in the above shot, and his eye is just barely visible in the bottom one has he combs through his wing.

Preening shoveler drake - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Flock of avocets, Radio Road Ponds

Flock of American avocets - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

As I was sitting along the edge of the pond, a large flock of avocets flew a lap over the water and then headed straight for me. What a pleasure it was to have 50+ birds land right in front of me. They are such lovely shorebirds, especially once they transition to their full summer colors.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Shoveler stretch, Radio Road Ponds

Stretching northern shoveler - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Northern shovelers are one of my favorite duck species, with their pretty coloration and that oversized bill. Radio Road Ponds in Redwood Shores is a great place to watch them in the winter. They tend to be skittish towards a human approaching the pond, but if you pick a spot and camp out there for a while, they'll eventually warm up to your presence and you can watch them at fairly close range. This particular male preened for quite a while and gave me a handful of chances to get some wing-flap shots.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Plover in the Spotlight, Pillar Point Harbor

Black-bellied plover at sunset - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

I spent over an hour with this single black-bellied plover as it combed the shoreline looking for a late meal. We were along the edge of the water inside of the harbor, and eventually the sun sank low enough to be mostly blocked by the seawall behind me. This left us in a world of cool blue tones, except for a few rays of light that were still shining through from low-points in the wall. The plover was eyeing something up in the sand as it walked into one of these rays, which gave me a nice opportunity to capture it bathed in warm sunshine against the cool, shaded background.

Submitted to World Bird Wednesday -- click the link to see this week's submissions!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Western Grebe on Rippled Water, Pillar Point Harbor

Western Grebe on Rippled Water -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A western grebe swimming through striped reflections in Pillar Point Harbor near Half Moon Bay. This shot is from last November, but this is in honor of the pair of grebes that we saw doing their mating dance at the Berkeley Marina recently. It's a spectacle that I've wanted to witness ever since I saw it on Life of Birds. While I didn't get a chance to photograph it this time (it happened quickly and too far off) it was cool to see the birds mimicing each other's movements, and then take off together to "run" on the water!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tule elk, Point Reyes National Seashore

Female tule elk in Point Reyes National Seashore - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A tule elk cow standing on the hillsides of Tomales Point in Point Reyes National Seashore. She was part of a very large herd that surrounded my car after I pulled off the road in February. I liked the setting with that lone cypress tree in the background, and was hoping to include in a picture. I picked a spot and waited for an elk to approach for the shot I had in mind -- she didn't quite line up where I wanted, but since I was in the car, I made do with the angle I had.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Singing red-winged blackbird, Berkeley Marina

Singing blackbird at Berkeley Marina - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

The blackbirds are starting to make a real ruckus, which must mean that spring is just around the corner! These are two shots from an evening walk at Cesar Chavez Park at the Berkeley Marina. At least two burrowing owls are still there, although we couldn't find the third that we had seen earlier in the season. Perhaps it was just below ground, or maybe it has left for the summer.

Red-winged blackbird calling from the branches - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Thursday, March 10, 2011

American kestrel, Point Reyes National Seashore

Here are three more shots from my wonderful encounter with this lovely kestrel in Point Reyes National Seashore last month. I posted some others a few weeks ago with the overcast sky as the backdrop, but since this particular female was so cooperative, I was able to get some shots with a more colorful setting too.

Friendly kestrel in Point Reyes - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Here's a similar pose, but with her tail feathers showing.

Kestrel in Point Reyes with tail showing - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

I'm not sure what caught her eye for this one, but it makes for an interesting pose, especially with the catchlight in her eye.

Sideways glance from female kestrel - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Prowling plover, Pillar Point Harbor

Prowling black-bellied plover - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A black-bellied plover hunting for worms in the sand at Pillar Point Harbor on Half Moon Bay. There was surprisingly little in the way of birds along the shoreline on this particular evening, but I did manage to make a tentative friendship with this plover. After watching it pluck a number of worms from the sand before sunset, I was able to work my way in close and gain its trust. I followed it up and down the beach a number of times as it ran back and forth, and on a few occasions it came so close that I couldn't keep the whole bird in the frame. No complaints here though -- it's always a pleasure to have the chance to spend some quality time with a shorebird!

Black-bellied plover - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Turnstone in kelp, Pillar Point Harbor

Black turnstone in kelp - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Reaching into the archives after a busy week of traveling, here are two shots of a black turnstone in the intertidal area of Pillar Point Harbor at low tide from last August. I've had so many interesting settings in which to photograph shorebirds there, from seagrass to bulbous pods, and the red color of this kelp really makes for a unique foreground, I think.

Black turnstone at Pillar Point Harbor - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Submitted to World Bird Wednesday -- follow the link to see this week's submissions!