Showing posts with label massachusetts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label massachusetts. Show all posts

Monday, June 24, 2019

Room for one more? Piping plover chicks on Plum Island

Piping plover father with chicks brooding at Plum Island, Massachusetts

This piping plover father was doing his best to keep his chicks safe and warm as they explored the tidal flats. In the photo above, two of his four chicks are nestled in to brood, and the third chick has just arrived. It also wanted to join-in, and tried to figure out how to get under those warm feathers as well.

Piping plover chick attempting to brood in Massachusetts

It seemed to find a comfortable spot alongside its siblings by jamming itself under the wing too.

Piping plover chick joins two siblings under the parents wing

But then things got even more complicated when the fourth chick arrived.

Four piping plover chicks looking to brood under their father

It too wanted to warm up under the father plover, but there was limited space available for everyone.

Wildlife Photography by Pat Ulrich: Plovers &emdash; Piping plover parent with chick

The father seems to be going along with things here...

Four piping plover chicks brooding under father on Plum Island, Massachusetts

.... but I can't help but interpret this look as the piping plover version of "You've got to be kidding me!"

Piping plover father has too many chicks trying to brood

The dad seemed to sense this was getting a bit out of control and hopped off of his four chicks.

Male piping plover jumps off of four brooding chicks

Once free, he then ran off to the warmer dry sand further up the beach and called his chicks to follow and try again.

Piping plover parent with four chicks

Shared with Wild Bird Wendesday.



Sunday, June 23, 2019

Piping plover chick ready to brood, Sandy Point State Reservation

Piping plover brooding chicks at sunrise on Plum Island, Massachusetts

My successful trips to Plum Island this year so far have been under overcast skies. While I enjoy the flexibility that this even light allows for wildlife photography, there is something special about moments that occur in the warm glow of the rising sun. Here are two images of a young chick looking for the right spot to brood under it's parent from a clear morning back in 2015. In the top frame, you can see the tiny legs of its siblings already taking up prime locations underwing.

Piping

Friday, June 21, 2019

Piping plover father and chick, Sandy Point State Reservation

Piping plover father with chick at Sandy Point State Reservation in Massachusetts

It’s such a treat to see the interaction of a young animal and its parent. For piping plovers, who are responsible for feeding themselves from birth, a critical role of the parent is protection and shelter from the elements through brooding. Before these images were taken, this young chick was nestled under the feathers of its father. I would generally observe the chicks to stretch and run off to scour the beach almost immediately after pulling out from below the warm embrace. This particular chick seemed to want some additional reassurance this time though, snuggling up to its dad for quite a while before heading off again on its own.

Piping plover chick snuggling its father in Massachusetts

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Inquisitive piping plover, Sandy Point State Reservation

Piping Plover standing in wet sand on Plum Island

Summer trips to Sandy Point State Reservation always have the chance for piping plover chicks in the nesting colony there. I suspected that I was going to be a little too early for chicks when I took this trip on this first weekend in June, but it’s still fun to see the adults running around the beach. As I was attempting to work my way into a good position for the lone semipalmated sandpiper I encountered, this overly curious piping plover came into very close range to check out the photographer lying in the sand. It’s staccato stop-start running brought it into full-frame portrait realm, before coming so close that I hand to pull back from my telephoto since it was well-within the minimum focusing distance. Curious shorebirds are the best!

Close-up photograph of a piping plover in Massachusetts

Monday, June 17, 2019

Least tern rival, Sandy Point State Reservation

Least tern courtship display with a small fish

This series of photos shows one of the more interesting least tern interactions I observed earlier this month at Sandy Point State Reservation on Plum Island. The female was sitting in the wrack line well outside of the temporary fence erected around the main breeding colony. I approached carefully and took up a spot lying in the sand to observe her in the hopes that a male would bring in a fish to share. It didn’t take long for one to arrive. He showed off his prize, but she really didn’t seem interested in taking it from him. He persisted in offering the fish for a while, from multiple angles, and I laughed this off as another rejection of a male’s advances (a common theme on the beach that morning).

Eventually, she settled in to rest, and rather than flying off to find a different female to impress, he scarfed down the fish and took up a position nearby. At this point, I started to suspect that perhaps they were already a pair, and she was just full of fish that morning. From my position in the sand, I enjoyed watching her do a little preening before tucking in her beak and closing her eyes.

Least tern pair sleeping on the beach

Before long, another male noisily arrived to offer his catch to her, and the first male quickly jumped to the occasion to defend his (apparent) relationship.

A male least tern lands with a fish to offer to a female

There was rapid-fire action of vocalizations and posturing, with the female literally in the middle of it all.

Two male least terns fight over a female at Sandy Point State Reservation in Massachusetts

During a brief standoff, it wasn't clear to me which way this fight would go.

Two male least terns stare eachother down in a fight over a female

Without any physical interaction, the couple thwarted the interloper, who flew off to show his fish to someone else, and they both settled back in. I quietly wished the tern couple luck, and carefully crawled away in the sand before wandering further up the beach.

A least tern flies away after unsuccessfully offering a fish to a female

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Semipalmated sandpiper on the tidal flats, Sandy Point State Reservation

Semipalmated sandpiper on the tidal flats, Plum Island, Massachusetts

A very low morning tide opened up a huge swatch of tidal flats at Sandy Point State Reservation. The small mounds and dark sand in this region of the beach made for an interesting setting for the lone semipalmated sandpiper I encountered. In my trip preparations the night before, the eBird reports from the previous few days had sightings of flocks with 150+ semipalmated sandpipers and dunlin. Given the time of year, there was a great chance that they’d be showing some of their summer colors as well. While I had hoped that the low tide would keep the flocks foraging on the flats around the southern edge of the island, as it turned out, they happened to be further up the estuary while I was in the park (which I observed on a quick stop at the Bill Forward Bird Blind on my drive out). It’s hard to pass up a chance to spend time with a sandpiper in non-basic plumage, and this individual gave me a couple of fleeting opportunities as it traversed the flats.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Least tern courtship at Sandy Point State Reservation

Least tern courtship display at Sandy Point State Reservation, Massachusetts

Dreary fog and low visibility did not deter the courtship rituals of a large flock of least terns at Sandy Point State Reservation earlier this month. The start of breeding season is such an exciting time of year on the southern tip of Plum Island, regardless of the weather. While I saw a handful of piping plovers running over the exposed tidal flats, the highlight of this trip was definitely having so many opportunities to enjoy the fish-offering antics of least terns. While I saw a couple of successful transfers between terns, the majority of the interactions I witnessed involved an excited male flashing its catch to an otherwise uninterested female. It was rather comical to watch the females repeatedly turn away as the male desperately tried to impress. Eventually, he would give up and fly off to try to impress someone else.

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.

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!

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.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sprint and stop, Piping Plover at Sandy Point State Reservation

Photo of a running piping plover on the beach in Massachusetts


As I mentioned in my favorite photos of 2017 post, this very friendly piping plover gave me a lot of great looks as it sprinted across the sand and then stopped on a dime. It's an interesting behavior -- I'm not sure if it's related to finding prey or to evading predators, but its certainly common among the piping plovers I've had a chance to observe. After I positioned myself in the sand, the plover kept working its way closer, giving me wary but seemingly curious looks along the way. It continued to close the distance between us, with the frame below being taken at 270mm on my telephoto zoom. Eventually, it came close enough that I could no longer attempt to focus on it (my Tamron has a minimum focusing distance of 8 feet), so I pulled back from the viewfinder and just enjoyed the chance to observe a gorgeous shorebird at close range. It's always special to earn the trust of a wild animal and the opportunity to share space with it on its own terms!

Curious piping plover at Sandy Point State Reservation, Massachusetts

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Protection from the world, Sandy Point State Reservation

Photo of a piping plover protecting its chick from the blowing sand in Massachusetts

I led off my favorite photos of 2017 post with this handsome piping plover and its chick set against the lush green backdrop of the dunes. On its own, that image (the last in this post) warms my heart with a tender moment between a parent and the most important being in the world to it (something I can now relate to!). I think the full context of this image is interesting to show as well. It was a reasonably nice day on the beach, but there was an occasional stiff wind ripping over the inlet and across the spit of sand at the tip of Sandy Point State Reservation. The strong gusts were pelting us with blowing sand, and this noble adult was attempting to shelter its chick from the elements.

Photo of a piping plover protecting its chick from blowing sand

But when the winds settled down, the chick was ready to go again, and quickly pulled away from the warm embrace of its parent.

Piping plover pulling out from beneath its parent

It paused for a moment, leaning in for reassuring touch before darting across the sand on its own. I can empathize with how I imagine the parent must have felt, left behind to watch its offspring cutting out on its own -- still needing protection and assurance, but also the chance to explore the world independently. No matter how much we want to, there's only so much we can do to protect our kids, and at least mine still has a while to go before he's charting his own path across the beach!

Photo of piping plover parent and chick in Massachusetts

Sunday, January 10, 2016

In the shadow of my hat, Plover chick at Parker River NWR

Photograph of a plover chick stepping into the shadow of my hat

When I was putting together my Favorite Photographs of 2015 post, I had a hard time winnowing down the number of piping plover chicks to include. In the end, I still selected plovers for 3 of the 9 photos, which felt a bit heavy-handed, but it was so special to share space with these curious young birds multiple times throughout the summer. This photo helps to illustrate just how inquisitive they were. There I was, lying in the sand photographing the chicks as they scurried around the beach, and this one took a real interest in trying to figure out what I was. It came close enough to step into the shadow that was cast by the low hanging sunrise and the hat I was wearing. From my experience visiting the beach a few times over the summer, the chicks were very curious about the photographers in the sand -- often coming well within the minimum focusing distance of my lens.

View more photographs of piping plovers


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.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Least tern delivers a fish, Sandy Point State Reservation

Photograph of a least tern delivering a fish to its partner

While I was watching this least tern incubating its two eggs on the beach, I had the pleasure of observing its partner bring it a fish. In the excitement of this unexpected moment, I unfortunately clipped the tips of the wings of the bird who stopped by only briefly enough to hand off the fish and fly off again. While I'm excited to have a nice record of the moment, I'm a bit bummed that I made such a technical error. I waited around for a while longer to see if I would be lucky to witness another exchange, but unfortunately it never came. A valuable lesson that I've heard before, but failed to execute, is that when photographing birds that are likely to flap their wings (like in this case, or especially with birds that are bathing in shallow water), it's always better to zoom out and leave extra space. You can always crop away the excess later, but you can't regain the tips of those wings in post-processing.

Photograph of a pair of least terns on their nest sharing a fish

View more photographs of terns.


Submitted to Wild Bird Wednesday -- follow the link for this week's posts!


Friday, August 7, 2015

Piping plover parent with chick underwing, Sandy Point State Reservation

Plover parent with one chick under its wing

Another interesting tidbit I came across while reading up on piping plovers recently, in addition to what I posted yesterday about plover chicks being entirely responsible for feeding themselves, is related to the role of the parents. While both the male and female share responsibility for incubating the nest, it is relatively common for the female to abandon the brood within a week of the chicks hatching. That leaves the male in charge of protecting the chicks until they fledge a few weeks later. I'm not sure if this is a male or female parent, but there is a very young chick tucked under its left wing. You can see a tiny leg sticking out and the top of its downy head under the popped-up feathers.

View more photographs of plovers


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Tiny voracious predator, Piping plover chick at Sandy Point State Reservation

Photograph of a piping plover chick chasing prey in Massachusetts

When I was looking up information about how to identify a piping plover fledgling, I came across an interesting fact -- piping plover chicks are entirely responsible for feeding themselves! While watching the chicks on the beach at Sandy Point Reservation on multiple occasions this summer, I was interested to observe how much time they seemed to spend catching bugs. They appeared to be on a constant search for food, which now makes a lot of sense to me. It would also seem to explain why all of the chicks in the same clutch would often run in separate directions after warming up under their parent. Pretty incredible to think that a few hours after they hatch, these adorable tiny predators are already leaving the nest and looking for prey.

Browse more of my photographs of plovers.


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Early morning blues, Piping plover on Plum Island

Photograph of a piping plover fledgling at Sandy Point State Reservation

Nothing much to be blue about on this morning (or any morning when you're out to do some photography at sunrise!) unless you're the morning light reflecting off the water in the background. I took this photograph on a mid-July trip to Sandy Point State Reservation on Plum Island, and I suspect that this is a fledgling from one of the piping plover clutches I saw as tiny chicks in early June.

View more of my photographs of piping plovers.