Showing posts with label Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Show all posts

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Dramatic sunrise light, Sanderling at Parker River NWR

Sanderling with dramatic side-lighting at sunrise

An early morning trip to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge paid off immediately as I encountered a moderately-sized flock of sanderlings as soon as I crossed the trail through the dunes from the Lot 7 parking lot. Sunrise is my favorite time of day, especially for photography, but it does provide some challenges when trying to capture sandpipers chasing the waves on the main beach of the refuge. Sunrise is great during the summer breeding season at Sandy Point State Reservation as I'm generally aiming toward the beach with the rising sun at my back. But working with this flock of sanderlings that was focused on finding food in the moments between breaking waves offered a much different take on early morning light. Knowing that I couldn't get full portraits in warm light with the birds keeping close the water, I tried to work a more dramatic look of warm side-lighting contrasting against cool morning shadows.


Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Leaning in, Semipalmated sandpiper at Parker River NWR

Striding semipalmated sandpiper at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts

I read an article recently about photographing wildlife at local parks. It included a thought that resonated with me about looking for a dynamic behavioral moment that can make even a common animal seem more interesting. I tend to find sandpipers fascinating regardless of what they are doing, but as this semipalmated sandpiper slightly changed directions and shifted its weight to the right, its lean added a bit of extra interest to this frame.


Sunday, September 1, 2019

Striding dunlin, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Dunlin pauses mid-stride while walking on the beach in Massachusetts

This dunlin stood out in a group of mostly sanderlings on a fall visit to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge a few years ago. This was one of the first trips where I was experimenting with taking my camera off of a ground-level tripod to get an even lower perspective. The difference of only a few inches of vertical (from the top of a ballhead to the lens footplate resting on the ground) made a noticeable difference in my images, and I've never gone back.


Saturday, August 31, 2019

Semipalmated sandpiper, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Low-angle view of a smipalmated sandpiper on Plum Island, Massachusetts

The small flock of semipalmated sandpipers I was spending time with on this August morning were in constant motion. Both rapidly probing the sand and steadily cruising down the beach. This bird thankfully paused for just long enough to give me a nice pose with two tiny droplets of water falling from its bill.


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Sanderling feeding in evening light, Parker River NWR

Sanderling feeding in shallow water after sunset

The sun had dropped below the dunes but was still high enough to cast its beautiful pastel colors over the scene as a flock of sanderlings went through their evening routines in Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. Most of the birds were preening and napping, but this lone sanderling was slowly moving through a shallow tidal pool looking for a snack.


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Semipalmated sandpiper probing the sand, Parker River NWR

Semipalmated sandpiper with its bill in the sand in Massachusetts

With their rapid sewing machine motion as they probe the wet sand, it can be challenging to get a tack-sharp shot of a sandpiper with its beak deep in the sand -- but this frame kept all the details. I didn't see what it pulled up, but hopefully it was tasty.


Monday, August 5, 2019

Semipalmated sandpiper, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Semipalmated sandpiper stalking the tidal flats in Massachusetts

I went out for a sunrise session on Plum Island yesterday in the hope of finding some friendly sandpipers. I started at Sandy Point State Reservation, and when the light was beautiful, the peeps were skittish. It was a bit disappointing to see only a few small flocks of sandpipers despite the large swaths of exposed tidal flats. After losing the early light with nothing to show for it, I decided to head up the island and try one of the newly opened stretches of beach (Lots 6 & 7 both had beach access again, now that the piping plovers have fledged). I could see larger flocks of shorebirds to the north in the area that was still closed for nesting, and just a small flock of 4 semipalmated sandpipers was cruising the beach to the south. The light wasn't great and I didn't come back with too many keepers in the bunch, but it was a treat to quickly earn their trust as we leap-frogged each other down the beach. They were looking for food at the high edge of the tidal flats, and I could reliably drop myself 15 yards in front of them and wait for them to approach and pass at close range in front of my lens. We did this over an over again as we made our way down the beach together.


Thursday, August 1, 2019

Sanderling in water, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Sanderling tracing a line of water at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

I've thoroughly enjoyed my summer opportunities to photograph piping plover chicks, but I'm ready to do some sandpiper photography! It's exciting to see the bird reports that they're starting to arrive on Plum Island, and I'm hoping to get out to find a flock soon.

Sanderling with water droplets in Massachusetts


Thursday, June 27, 2019

Willets in a tree, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Two willets perched in a tree in Massachusetts

While driving the road down the island in Parker River NWR, I'm always scanning for birds, hoping to find something interesting. The flight of two shorebirds caught my eye and I pulled over onto the shoulder to watch them pass. I was amazed to see them both land in a pine tree! I absolutely love shorebirds, and I've spent countless hours watching them -- but this was a totally new behavior to me. What a fun experience to see them perched on a tree branch, as if they were song birds. I'm not sure if a predator spooked them or what exactly was happening, and after maybe 10 minutes or so, they flew off again. A delightfully unexpected encounter for sure!


Saturday, February 3, 2018

Serenity in a salt marsh, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Snowy egret standing in shallow water with salt grass in Parker River NWR

"What good is a salt marsh?" asks the sign at the long pull-off area next to the salt pannes in Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. I love this sign with its catchy title, and it shares important natural features of these awesome ecosystems. For me, the essence of a salt marsh goes even further. There's something about this ecosystem that just pulls me in -- far enough that I studied them for my Ph.D.! The sights, the smells, just the feel of a breeze flowing over them, it's all unmatched for me. Photographically, I haven't made that many images that attempt to capture some of that magic. I'm usually distracted looking for wildlife, like this snowy egret, rather than focusing on all of the interesting details that abound.

Snowy egret stretches its wings at sunset

On my drive out of the refuge as the sun was dropping fast toward the horizon, I pulled off the road to watch this delightful snowy egret hunting in the shallow water. Its feathers were drenched in the warm glow of the falling light, and it emphatically leapt from panne to panne as it searched for a meal. I followed it with my lens, having to roll the car forward a few times to keep up with its exuberance. Egrets are a marvel to watch as they hunt, darting this way and that, shading the water, and seemingly dancing their way through the process. I was happy to observe its show near the road, and after a few minutes, it flew further back into the marsh. The golden light was caressing the salt grass and casting low shadows, and everything fell into place when the egret landed and set off a wave of small ripples, leaving me with one of my favorite photos from 2017.

Peaceful scene of a snowy egret in salt marsh at sunset

So what good is a salt marsh? The list of benefits is long, but at the top for me is the warm feeling that overcomes my consciousness when I'm able to soak in a scene like this.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Sanderling and reflection, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Photograph of a sanderling walking with its reflection in Massachusetts

This trip to Parker River NWR in October 2014 was one of the most productive sandpiper encounters I've ever had. I came across a very friendly flock of sanderlings a little before sunset, and I stayed with them until it was too dark to shoot anymore. As they went through their evening rituals of feeding, preening, and bathing, the sun went from subtle warmth behind high clouds, to brilliantly golden as it slipped to the top of the dunes, to deep pastels as day faded into night. It was one of those encounters that left me feeling so connected to nature, one that in the moment you hope can last forever, but ultimately I had to force myself to slowly back away and head to the car as darkness spread over the beach.

View more photographs of sanderlings


Friday, November 27, 2015

Sanderling feeding at low tide, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Photograph of a sanderling pushing its beak through the sand at Parker River NWR

A belated Thanksgiving to you all! I hope you enjoyed your meal and socializing socializing with family and friends as much as this sanderling did the day before. A busy semester has kept me inside since September, so it felt great to finally get out to the beach for a sunset on Wednesday. While the temptation is always there to search for snowy owls on a winter trip to Plum Island, I was focused on finding a flock of shorebirds to photograph. I started my trip at the Lot 6 beach, and from the crest of the dunes I saw a small flock (about 30 birds) of sanderlings and dunlin. It didn't take too long to win their trust, and it felt awesome to lay out in the cold sand as the flock surrounded me. The extreme low tide this week seemed to provide an extra feast for the birds, as there were many places where the whole flock dug their bills into the sand while making quite an excited and loud ruckus of "peeps." The party scene ended abruptly though when something spooked the flock and they took off up the beach. While I didn't get to photograph them in the best light of the day, it was still invigorating to spend time with shorebirds again.

View more photographs of sanderlings.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Sanderling in the last rays of sunlight, Parker River NWR

Photograph of a sanderling on the beach at sunset

I'm always preferential to the sunrise when I have the chance, but last autumn I had a couple of really successful sunset trips in Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. I spent about an hour working with a friendly flock of sandpipers at the Lot 7 beach in pleasant evening light, but as the sun prepared to slip behind the dunes this sandpiper really started glowing in the warm final rays.

View more photographs of sanderlings.


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.


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.


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