Saturday, January 18, 2020

Sanderlings feeding, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Sanderling feeding with its bill in the sand on a Massachusetts beach

I generally find it hard to work with my camera in a vertical orientation while laying prone in the sand for my low-angle shorebird photography. It leaves my arms and trigger finger in an awkward position against the ground, while also limiting my field of vision to track the rapid motions of the birds. This means that most of my shorebird compositions are horizontal, and this generally matches the fast-paced motion of a sandpiper on the beach. While processing my images, I like to look for at least a few compositions that work in vertical to keep things interesting. The orientation of these two birds, with the first turned toward the camera, caught my attention for a tight crop from the original horizontal perspective.


Friday, January 17, 2020

Little blue heron catches a shrimp, Bunche Beach Preserve

Little blue heron pulls a shrimp from a in tidal pool in Florida

For someone who typically photographs small shorebirds that feed on tiny prey, it was pretty amazing to watch waders pull all kinds of large foods from the warm waters at Bunche Breach Preserve in Florida a few years ago. This little blue heron worked its way back and forth across a tidal pool over and over again, catching a variety of fish as well as this shrimp.


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

White ibis hunting in a tidal pool, Bunche Beach Preserve

White ibis feeding in morning light

The white ibis looks like it should be awkward with that elongated bill, but this one kept a stately posture as it moved back and forth across a tidal pond at Bunch Beach Preserve.

White ibis knee-deep in a tidal pool

While I saw ibis catch a lot of prey on my few mornings in the preserve, a near miss let this crab escape.

White ibis with tiny crab


Monday, January 13, 2020

Willet catches a crab, Bunche Beach Preserve

Willet feeding in the shallows at Bunche Beach

It was fun to work some shorebird reflections in the rapidly rising water of this tidal pool at Bunche Beach Preserve in Florida a few years ago. The diversity of prey that the birds pulled from the water was remarkable, and in the shot below, this willet came up with a small crab!

Willet snatches a small crab from a tidal pool


Saturday, January 11, 2020

Barred owl, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Barred owl at sunset in Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

A few years ago I took a winter trip to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island to celebrate my birthday. I mostly struck out with the shorebirds, but this handsome owl drew quite a crowd of photographers as it perched along the road in the last rays of sunlight. It was just far enough back in the woods that it made for a photographic challenge to get a clear view through the branches. The trees in this area are small so the owl was probably only five or six feet off the ground, and I recall having to contort my body in all kinds of uncomfortable ways to get my tripod lined up just right to get a clear framing above the grass along the road and through a branching V of a tree. Totally worth it though when you get to bring home a memory like this!

Barred owl in fading light

It didn't seem too bothered by the dozen or so birders and photographers that gathered to enjoy the sight. It continued to scan the ground and listen for prey, and even showed off that famous owl neck flexibility for us.

Barred owl looks toward the sunset

Friday, January 10, 2020

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Monday, January 6, 2020

Juvenile red knot, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Juvenile red knot foraging at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

I only found a couple of images worth processing from my encounter with red knots back in 2011. The scaled wing feathers of this individual are still visible, marking it as a juvenile on it's first migration from the Arctic. The distances these birds travel each year are amazing, and I hope that this young one made it!

Juvenile red knot preening in Massachusetts


Sunday, January 5, 2020

Hudsonian godwit, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Hudsonian godwit in nonbreeding plumage in Massachusetts

Inspired by my post yesterday of red knots from one of my initial trips to Parker River NWR, I thought I'd share another bird that I found right away in Massachusetts -- the Hudsonian godwit. While roaming the beaches of northern California I regularly encountered marbeled godwits, and they were a delight to photograph with that oversized bill. On my first trip to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, I found a huge flock of shorebirds under a foggy sky. In that gathering was a lone godwit, which I believe to be a Hudsonian godwit, though I'm not 100% sure. It was a great first impression of what the Atlantic beaches would offer me in terms of shorebird encounters, though the deep fog made the photography less than satisfying. After this initial experience, I thought it would be easy to find another godwit in better light -- but I haven't been fortunate enough to see one again!

Hudsonian godwit under heavy fog in Massachusetts

The evolution of their elongated bills really amaze me. I'm curious for what prey exists when they probe that whole length into the sand, but it's clear they have access to food sources that are out of reach to the other shorebirds around (like the small sandpipers dancing around this frame).

Godwit with bill deep in the sand

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Red knots, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Juvenile red knot feeding at Parker River NWR

I recently finished reading "The Narrow Edge" by Deborah Cramer which chronicles the migration of red knots across the globe. It was a fantastic view into their life cycle and a pleasure to read, though at times it was a bit depressing to be reminded of the challenges these threatened shorebirds face. When I moved to Massachusetts back in 2011, the red knot was a bird high on my wish list to find. In fact, I initially read about Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island, which has become my default photography location now, because it was listed as a good chance for migrating knots. The author of the book is from Massachusetts, and her epilogue takes place in the Refuge, so after finishing it I wanted to dig into my archives to see if I had any images worth sharing from the lone time I found knots to photograph there.

Nonbreeding red knot swallowing a clam

These photos are from October 2011 on what was only my third trip to Parker River NWR. I went for a sunrise and initially found a large flock of semipalmated sandpipers and sanderlings feeding on the tidal flats. It was quite a remarkable experience with a negative low tide and an abundance of tiny clams that the sandpipers were pulling from the exposed flats. The red knot above is swallowing one down whole. In the chaos of this feeding frenzy, there was a small group of about 12 red knots moving through the crowd. I felt fortunate to find them at the time, and now 8 years later I haven't been lucky enough to have another chance for them in front of my lens.

Juvenile red knot on Plum Island

The adults in breeding plumage are known for their gorgeous cinnamon color, but the nonbreeding plumage has many interesting details as well, like the scaled wing feathers on the juvenile above. The photo below would have been a nice portrait to show off some details, if only the sanderling hadn't walked into the frame!

Nonbreeding red knot in Massachusetts


Friday, January 3, 2020

Northern shoveler drake, Radio Road Ponds

Northern shoveler drake

Yesterday I posted a photo from my archives of one of my favorite winter traditions while I was living in California, and another was all of the beautiful duck species that over-wintered on San Francisco Bay. A trip to see the northern pintail lek at Bothin Marsh was always worthwhile, but my favorite duck to look for was the northern shoveler. These handsome birds were relatively easy to find in the ponds of the South Bay, though they are unfortunately a rarity for me now in Massachusetts.

Swimming northern shoveler in profile


Thursday, January 2, 2020

Northern elephant seal, Año Nuevo State Reserve

Bull elephant seal resting on the beach in California

Digging into the archives for a few frames from one of my favorite experiences at the turn of each new year while living in California -- a visit to the breeding colony of elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Reserve. These photos are of a large bull that had taken up residence on loser's beach during our January 2011 trip. We didn't see any females on this stretch of beach away from the main colony, but he was actively defending it from rival males just in case any arrived.

Elephant seal aggressively stretching up at Año Nuevo State Reserve