Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Start of a new day, start of a new year

Dawn of a new day on Mount Cadillac in Acadia National Park

Well, 2014 is drawing to a close and sights are locked on our next revolution around the sun. Each morning that I'm able to experience the sunrise leaves me feeling refreshed with the anticipation of a new day, with all the stress of the prior day behind me. In some ways, this last day of year is the same. A chance to reflect on what was and to look forward to what will be. I chose this image from the summit of Mount Cadillac in Acadia National Park as one of my favorite photographs of the year. For me, it embodies that invigorating feeling of the cool morning air and warm first rays of sunshine awakening my senses and nourishing my soul at the dawn of a new day.

Wildlife photographer Pat Ulrich photographing the sunrise in Acadia National Park

I wish all of my followers a happy, healthy, and productive new year -- with as many inspiring moments spent in golden light as you can handle!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Sanderling stretching in evening light, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Sanderling stretching in evening light in Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

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.

View more photographs of sanderlings

Monday, December 22, 2014

Barred owl in the forest at sunset, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Barred owl in the forest at sunset in Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

I saw a small flock of shorebirds near beach #6 on an otherwise quiet afternoon trip to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. But as I was working my way back up the island I came across a cluster of photographers gathered along the side of the road. As I slowly approached it was easy to see why such a gathering had formed, this beautiful barred owl was perched in clear view at the edge of the forest.

View more photographs of owls and other birds of prey.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Island in a sea of fog, Mount Tamalpais State Park

A tree covered peak breaks through the fog in Mount Tamalpais State Park

I've previously written about my experience of chasing the sunset above the marine layer on my summer trip to California this year. It was a spectacular experience, and something I wish I had taken the time to do more often back when Mt. Tam used to be visible outside our kitchen window! I took a variety of images from the few pullouts I had time to stop at that day, and I think maybe this one is my favorite. I strongly considered it for my Favorite Photographs of 2014 post, but ultimately it was just outside my top ten.

View more landscape photographs from Marin County, California.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sanderling flaps it's wings, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Sanderling wing flap in Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

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.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Favorite Photographs of 2014

One of my favorite things to do at the end of the year is to take a step back and reflect on the work I was able to produced over the last 12 months. I probably wouldn't take the time to consider this exercise so carefully if it wasn't for Jim Goldstein's Annual Blog Project -- so many thanks again to Jim for coordinating such a great effort every year!

I started putting together an annual favorites post in 2009, and I ended up skipping it for the first time in 2013. I had very few chances to get out with my camera last year, other than a fantastic trip to Hawaii. As the calendar rolled through the first few months of 2014, I really felt like something was missing from my life and I made a concerted effort to find time to get out and connect with nature through my photography. While my overall number of trips was still relatively small this year, many of the trips I did have were exciting and productive. Some highlights, in addition to working with shorebirds on the local Massachusetts beaches, were spending five fantastic days back in Point Reyes National Seashore and visiting Acadia National Park for the first time (a location that seems destined to become an annual trip for me). Anyway, without further ado and in no particular order, here are my ten personal favorites from 2014.

Curious quail in focus, Point Reyes National Seashore
It was great to return to my favorite park again after almost two years. While June isn't necessarily my preferred season for wildlife there, the quails were out in abundance. This curious male was bouncing between the bushes near the Abbott's Lagoon parking lot.
Curious quail in Point Reyes National Seashore

Sanderling in the shallows at dusk, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
One of my favorite shorebird encounters of the year came in late October on a trip to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. The sun was dropping low in the sky and I thought I was heading home empty-handed, but a last minute choice to walk the path to Beach #6 yielded a very friendly flock of sanderlings in the evening light.
Sanderling wading through the shallows at dusk in Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Mount Cadillac Sunrise, Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park has been on our to-do list since moving to the Northeast, and we made our first trip there in August. The summit of Mount Cadillac holds some real magic, especially at sunrise.
Sunrise from the summit of Mount Cadillac in Acadia National Park

Sanderlings in a sand storm, Plymouth Beach
It was incredibly windy on my first trip to Plymouth Beach, with really strong gusts whipping up the sand. This is perhaps the most unique shooting conditions I had this year -- and an interesting chance to document the daily challenges of being a shorebird.
Sanderlings brace against blowing sand on Plymouth Beach, Massachusetts

California quail calling out, Golden Gate National Recreation Area
For a long time my photographic wishlist has included photographing a male California quail in song. I love to hear their calls, and they toss their heads back with such gusto. It was awesome to have the chance to spend time watching this quail singing from a photogenic perch along the hillside in Tennessee Valley.
Quail singing from a twisted branch of coyote brush

Sanderling searching for prey at sunset, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
I only made it out twice this fall for the shorebird migration, but I was fortunate to have great encounters on both occasions. My best opportunities were primarily with sanderlings, and this bird's transitional plumage stood out nicely in the late golden light.
Sanderling looking for a meal at sunset in Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Common tern at Sandy Point State Reservation
I was a little too early for migrating shorebirds on this summer trip to the North Shore, but a flock of common terns was a delightful consolation prize.
Common tern on the beach at Sandy Point State Reservation

Dunlin feeding in front of the waves, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
I started experimenting with an even lower ground-level style this year, providing an effectively shallower depth of field for creamy foregrounds and backgrounds.
Dunlin feeding in Massachusetts with shallow DOF

California quail atop the brush, Point Reyes National Seashore
I'm not one to pass up the chance for a quail portrait, and this handsome male was particularly photogenic in this coastal scrub setting in Point Reyes.
A California quail stands atop the brush near Abbott's Lagoon in Point Reyes National Seashore

Sanderling splash, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge
It was a very special experience to be laying so close to this sanderling as it washed its feathers and splashed around in the shallows of an ebbing tide.
Sanderling splashing as it takes a bath at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

As a bonus, here is my favorite image that my wife took of me in action this year -- photographing the sunrise in Acadia National Park with my four-legged assistant. One of the best parts of going to Acadia is that it's a super dog-friendly area, so my pup was able to enjoy the entire experience with us.
Photographer photographs the sunrise as his dog watches the morning light in Acadia National Park

If you're interested in seeing more of my work, here are my Favorite Photographs of 2012, Favorite Photographs of 2011, Favorite Photographs of 2010, and Favorite Photographs of 2009.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Extra low angle shorebird photography

Sanderling low in the water at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

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!

View more sanderling photography

Tuesday, December 9, 2014