Showing posts with label sanderlings. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sanderlings. Show all posts

Friday, December 23, 2011

Reflecting on 2011, and a Sanderling for Laura

Photo of a sanderling reflected in the tidal flats

Time is such a funny thing. Sometimes we feel that it flies by faster than we can keep up with, and sometimes it feels like it has slowed to nearly a stop. But in the end, we mark its passage at concrete intervals, which allow us to take a moment to stop and see just how much time has passed. A year often proves to be the most logical interval for reflection, as our bodies and minds seem to fall into rhythm with the predictable changing of the seasons, and the lengthened evenings spent indoors in the winter are ripe for reflection.

There have been many years in my life that have seemed to go by without much notice, simply the formation of another tree-ring in my life story, passing by and starting new. This year, 2011, was not such a year. There have been few years that I have felt more strongly and that have been more formative than this particular revolution around the sun.

I started the year in Berkeley, California, happily plugging away as a graduate student feverishly trying to wrap up my experiments and write my dissertation. As my wife and I tried to figure out what our next step would be after graduation, I started to realize that my time in California was running short, and I increased my efforts to get out and enjoy and photograph the landscape that had truly become home for me. The spring flashed by in an instant, seemingly gathering more speed as it went, and soon enough I was walking in my graduation, and collecting signatures on my dissertation. By August I had formally completed my PhD, and we began to prepare for a cross-country move to Massachusetts.

On September 1st, we put the last of our belongings in the car and started our migration east. We said goodbye to California, and spent a glorious 10 days exploring Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. The wildlands of the American West have inspired me since I was a young child watching “Marty Stauffer’s Wild America”, and it was a dream come true to spend so much time exploring that particular stretch of the Rocky Mountains. During our stay, each day seemed to stretch out to twice its appropriate length, leaving us with so many full and lasting memories. We then spent the next 4 days watching the country pass by our car windows, and soon enough, we were getting settled in Massachusetts.

All of these events were so important to the story of my life, and it was incredible to sit around our kitchen table in September and think about the fortunate changes that 2011 brought to our lives -- the grand accomplishments of finishing our PhDs and starting the next phase of our lives in a new city. But 2011 wasn’t over yet, and the steady beat of the metronome propelled us forward along the unseen arrow of time.

When we celebrated the start of 2011, we did it as a much fuller family than we’ll have for the beginning of 2012. In October, we lost my step-father to cancer. He had been receiving treatment for a year and a half, and we knew that our time together had a distinct, but unknown, limit – but we didn’t realize that this stretch of time was accelerating to a rapid finish much sooner than we expected. Fortunately, our recent move to the East Coast allowed us to be there at the end.

As we tried to recover from that loss, we didn’t know that we were again accelerating towards another finite endpoint in time. In November, my wife’s sister, Laura, and her boyfriend, Kristopher, were taken from us in a random, senseless, and horrific act of violence in Seattle. My sister-in-law was only 26, and was almost ready to write her PhD dissertation at the University of Washington. She was a fun, generous, and compassionate soul who cared deeply about improving the world with her research and education. She and Kris had so much love and life yet to give, and they certainly did not have enough time.

In the wake of these tragedies, you find a way to put one foot in front of the other and to keep moving forward, because you know that as much as it feels like it should, time doesn’t stop. It just keeps flowing with a perpetual steady beat. Soon enough the last seconds of 2011 will tick by and we’ll count down to the beginning of a new year. The incredible joys and sorrows of 2011 will always be with me, but they will also be secured behind me with the turn of the calendar – encased behind the mark that separates the new tree-ring from the last.

As my reflections on 2011 naturally turn towards the prospects of 2012, I look forward to a fresh beginning of another year full of expectations and surprises. What will I have to reflect on after the next 365 days? I’m ready to turn the page and find out – to face the challenges, to experience the joys, and to continue to share what inspires me.

I want to thank each of my readers for joining me for the journey that was 2011, and I wish you only the best for the New Year. May your lives be ever fuller by the love of your family and friends, and may you continue to make progress towards getting that perfect shot!

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The image I selected for this post is dedicated to Laura. She always commented that she loved my photos of sanderlings, and she enjoyed watching their cute way of life as they cruised in and out with the waves. As I thought through the images I could dedicate to her, my mind was drawn to the recent series I took that included reflections. While Laura’s time with us was far too short, she lived an amazingly full life and impacted an incredible number of people. Her zest for life and fierce love of family, friends, and science will be forever reflected in those of us who knew her – and we will each be a better person for carrying her spirit with us as we move forward.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sanderlings feeding at low tide, Parker River NWR

Photograph of a sanderling picking up a clam

Here are another couple of images from a recent trip to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. There was a very low tide that morning, which left behind some wonderful textures in the sand as it pulled out. The low angle of the sun just after sunrise was perfect for capturing the bright blue colors of the morning sky in the wet sand, and there were also some opportunities to capture some reflections of the birds as well.

Photograph of a sanderling carrying a clam at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

The shorebirds were taking advantage of all of the exposed sediments, and were pulling small prey from below the surface with ease. It is amazing to me how much life there is just below the sand, since huge flocks of these birds will scour the area during every low tide. It was also really interesting to see them pull small clams from the sand, and then swallow them whole. Sometimes they would even rinse it in a puddle before eating it.

Photograph of two sanderlings hunting on the sand in Massachusetts

View more photos of sanderlings in my Sandpipers Gallery.

This post was submitted to the World Bird Wednesday blog meme -- follow the link to check out this week's posts.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sanderling with prey, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Photograph of a sanderling with prey at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

I took a trip up to the North Shore coast again last Friday, with a return visit to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and Sandy Point State Reservation on Plum Island. It was a cold morning, and when I arrived at my car in the dark to start my trip, I couldn't quite believe my eyes when I saw a thick layer of ice across the windshield. Wow, it's been a long time since I've had to scrape off the frost while my car warms up! Fortunately, my wife had the foresight to suggest that we purchase an ice scraper to keep in the car last weekend (fully thinking we wouldn't need it for quite some time), and it was so nice to have it on Friday morning.

As I drove up to the coast, I couldn't help but think to myself, "Where am I?" as I saw a coating of snow on the trees and highway medians. (Of course, that was nothing compared to the crazy Nor'easter that blew through the area on Saturday. Snow in October? Really?!) Then as I was nearing the end of my drive to the beach, I saw a thick bank of marine layer fog hanging just offshore. After watching the sun set behind a fog bank over San Francisco Bay on so many evenings in the past few years, it was a new experience to watch the sun rise above the fog on this coast. It's so interesting to me how the Atlantic and Pacific coasts are so similar in many ways, and yet so different.

I arrived at beach #7 in the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge about 20 minutes after sunrise, and it was a beautiful scene to crest the dunes and see a huge expanse of beach before me. The early morning minus tide exposed so much additional land, as well as some interesting rock formations that I hadn't seen on either of my previous trips here. The shorebirds seemed to be enjoying the additional feeding grounds, and a huge flock of mixed peeps were pouring over the sand and collecting their prey in the beautiful morning light.

In terms of photographing the shorebirds, it really seems like sunset will be a much better time for beaches on the Atlantic coast. I always prefer shooting at sunrise when I can (there's just something to special about seeing the first rays of light kiss the landscape as the sun rises and wipes away the shadows), but it presents a certain problem here. In California, the sun came up over the land, so it was ideal for getting blue water behind the shorebirds on the beach. On the Massachusetts coast though, photographing shorebirds in the morning means putting yourself between the shorebirds and the waves, which is not something you want to take too lightly. Thankfully the waves were rolling in slowly on this morning, but I had to keep a wary eye behind me to make sure there were no unpleasantly wet surprises.

View more photographs of sanderlings

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Flock of sandpipers, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Sandpipers in flight - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a wonderful first two days of wildlife photography in Massachusetts last week. This lovely flock of sandpipers (mostly sanderlings and dunlin) were very friendly, and accepted me right into their flock. A handful of times while I was lying in the sand with them, something would spook the birds, and the whole flock would take off in a delightful show of calculated chaos!

Tight flight formation of sandpipers

They would then circle around and land back on the beach. On more than one occasion the flock landed on three sides of me, leaving me quite literally in the middle (too much fun!). Better yet, since a bunch of them landed between me and the ocean, I didn't have to be as careful about keeping an eye out for waves that would get me wet, since every time the water started coming towards me, I would hear a loud uprising of irritated peeping coming from the sandpiper crew to my right.

Flock of sandpipers flying together

The four images in this post are all from one take-off and landing event as they circled around me, and are in the order that I took them. I always find it amazing to witness the movement of flocking birds, and it's so fascinating to see how closely they fly together without bumping one another. I also love to see the patterns that form as they rapidly change directions, and especially when the early light is still glistening off of their feathers.

Flock of sandpipers in flight

View more photos of these adorable shorebirds in my Sandpipers Gallery.

This post was submitted to World Bird Wednesday -- follow the link to check out this week's posts!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Home sweet home, and my first visit to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Shorebird welcoming committee - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography
(My Massachusetts shorebird welcoming committee.)

After a month of living in the great state of Massachusetts, I finally had a chance to get outside with my camera. Between the move, getting settled in a new city, my job search, and the death of my step-father, there had been little time to get out and experience my new home. Finally though, I had my first photography trips on Thursday and Friday mornings of last week -- to a fantastic coastal property in Northern MA, the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.

The forecast said clouds for Thursday, and since I have seen some amazing clouds out of my apartment window almost every day since moving to the Boston area, I had high hopes for beach photography under a pretty sky. Unfortunately, my first morning in the park was much more reminiscent of a day back in the Bay Area! There was ground level fog and drizzle all morning, which finally burned off to clear blue skies around noon. So while I still filled a memory card with heavily overcast shorebirds, it was not quite what I had envisioned while planning my inaugural trip to photograph the wildlife along the Atlantic coast. Thus, I decided to return for sunrise on Friday morning, since there was a forecast of clear skies -- and I was not disappointed.

Birders on a dreary morning
(Some birders enjoy the large shorebird flock on a wet Thursday morning.)

During my early morning drive along the highways to get there, I had wondered if I made the right decision to get up so early -- but once I made it to the Refuge and hopped out of my car into the cool, pre-dawn air, there was no doubt in my mind this was the right thing to do. I stopped at parking lot #1, and watched the sunrise break the horizon. There is just something so magical about this part of the day, and it's so energizing to feel the glow of those first rays of the sun. Although I must say, after 6 years of watching the sun set over the ocean, it was a bit odd to see it rise above the blue waters!

First sunrise in Massachusetts - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography
(My first sunrise viewed in my new home state.)

I then drove down to the southern end of the refuge, and headed for the beach at parking lot #7, which is where I saw the large flock of peeps the day before. Much to my delight, the flock was still there, and it was comprised of some very friendly shorebirds -- the best Massachusetts welcoming party I could have imagined. I then spent the next two hours or so laying in the sand with these birds. They went about their morning business of resting and preening, and after easily winning their trust I found myself as an honorary member of the flock. In fact, on more than one occassion, after they all took flight and circled around, they landed just a few feet away on all three sides of me. It was a perfect morning, and a great way to start my new adventures with wildlife photography in New England!

Shorebird flock at sunrise - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography
(The shorebird flock at sunrise.)

In other news, the list of highly honored images for the prestigious 2011 Windland Smith Rice International Awards was released this week, and I am happy to announce that one of my photographs was selected for this honor. Look for it in print in the next issue of Nature's Best Photography magazine!

View more photos of peeps in my Sandpipers Gallery.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Late summer sanderling, Point Reyes National Seashore

Late summer sanderling - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Limantour Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore is one of my favorite locations to look for shorebirds. There are a few miles of beach balanced on a narrow spit of sand that has the Drake's Bay of the Pacific Ocean on one side, and Drake's Estero, a tidal estuary, on the other side. It's a perfect place for shorebirds to stop and feed during their migration, and many also winter there. Knowing that the migration would be picking up, I took a few trips to Limantour in early August hoping to find some shorebirds still in their summer colors. Unfortunately, I was mostly skunked on my trips, and only once did I find a cooperative flock to photograph.

On this day, there was a small group of maybe 25 birds that were feeding along the shoreline, and after gaining their trust, I walked for a few miles with them as they worked their way up the beach. The way it would work is that I would slowly walk and keep pace with the birds, then when they would find a place to stop and feed, I'd get just a bit ahead of them before dropping onto my stomach in the middle of the flock. I usually tried to have a few birds ahead of me and some behind, since I knew that those that were behind me would eventually run right past my lens to get back with the forward birds. I'll note that you really have to have a flock get used to you before you can get up and down with them around since they normally get spooked if you change your posture near them. It took quite a while of belly-crawling close to them, and just hanging out on the edge of their group to win over their trust. But once I did, it really didn't bother them to have me slowly dropping down onto the sand as they fed (moving in super-slow motion as you drop from standing to the ground is imperative as well). These are the kinds of interactions that I treasure on my photographic outings, when you can truly gain the trust of the wildlife, and have them accept you as part of their world.

So after walking down the beach with them, and lying down in the sand like this perhaps 20-25 times, they were really comfortable in getting close to me, and I was able to get some full-frame views of the birds. Unfortunately, as we made our way up the beach we eventually crossed over the invisible line that separates the dog friendly part of the beach from the protected area. Soon enough I could see an owner with her dogs off in the distance heading my way, and as they came closer, my encounter ended abruptly. Not that the dogs were that interested in the birds, but the sanderlings wanted no part of having two four-legged visitors near the flock.

See more photos of these adorable peeps in my Sandpipers Gallery

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Feeding peeps, Point Reyes National Seashore

Feeding sanderlings - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Sanderlings dig deep into the sand looking for a meal after a wave pulls back along Limantour Spit in Point Reyes National Seashore.

View more images of shorebirds along in the beach in my Limantour Spit, Point Reyes National Seashore Gallery.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Three sanderlings?

Three sanderlings? -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife and Nature Photography

When I was flipping through the files I had already processed from this trip to pick one to upload for today, something new caught my eye in this frame. The tail feathers off to the side of the left-most sanderling actually belong to a second bird behind it. Other than a slight tilt in angle towards me, the front bird could have completely blocked out the back bird. Now I'll have to look through my archives again to see if I have a frame where this is the case. This shot is from an awesome morning spent at Limantour Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore with a huge flock of sandpipers.

I also wanted to mention that Jim Goldstein posted the results for his annual blog project of 2010 Favorites. Over 160 of his readers submitted their personal favorite images of the past year (myself included) and he put together a list with a link to each one. If you have some time and want to see some great images, its definitely worth checking them out!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Resting peeps

Group shots of shorebirds can be challenging, as you need to find an interesting subject to frame, and also a pleasing formation of birds to make up the rest of the image. Here are two shots that I haven't decided yet where I stand with them -- they both had potential, but also have some flaws.

Resting peeps -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife and Nature Photography

In the first shot, I like how the birds are arranged and overall I like the composition. However, the front-most western sandpiper is just outside of the focus, which can be a bit distracting compared to the sharp sanderling that is the focal point for my eyes.

Resting sandpipers -- Pat Ulrich Wildlife and Nature Photography

For the second shot I changed the apeture to increase the depth of field (f/8 to f/11) so that the front western sandpiper is now in focus enough to be less of a distraction. However, I don't quite like the arrangement of the birds as much from this vantage point. I do like the depth provided by the crowd in the background of this shot, though.

What do you think?

Submitted as part of the World Bird Wednesday blog meme -- Follow the link to check out the entries for this week!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Thank you!

Thank you!

A sincere and heartfelt thanks to my "flock" of supporters who took the time to vote for my image in the 2010 National Geographic Viewer's Choice contest. The vote was supposed to close on December 15 (although the voting page appears to still be live, so I'm not sure when exactly its officially done). In the three days from when I first found out about the vote until now, over 550 new votes were tallied for my image. That is so awesome, and I can't thank you all enough!

It's such an honor just to have been selected as one of the weekly choices from the contest submission period, and I still can't quite believe that I have an image on the NG site! I'm humbled and giddily excited! I'll be sure to post a link to the results once they announce the winners -- and if I happen to be among them, that would be incredible. But even in the likely event that I'm not, the quality of images in this contest is amazing and looking through the winners will surely be fun!

So again, thank you all so very, very much!

This shot is of the large flock of western sandpipers, sanderlings, and dunlin I saw cruising the shoreline at Limantour Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. They seemed to really want to find a place to rest, but you know how shorebirds are -- when one bird gets antsy and takes off, they all go!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sanderling sprint

Sanderling sprint

Seemingly in constant motion, two sanderlings running in front of the wavefront along Limantour Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. They appear to be glancing back at the photographer -- perhaps becuase the wave chased them closer to me than they hoped, or perhaps because they wanted to see if I would end up with wet feet.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sanderling brunch

A sanderling checking out an arthropod shell along Limantour Beach in Point Reyes. Unfortunately for the bird, there didn't appear to be much edible material left. After picking at it briefly for a short time, it gave up and moved on. These shells are pretty common along the beach, although I'm not sure which species it belongs to (it's a bit more visible in the second shot below).

Sampling brunch

When I saw this shell in a nice place right above the water line with a flock of sanderlings working their way towards me, I decided to set up by it to see if the birds would be interested. A few came close to it but decided not to stop, but then this one curious sanderling spent maybe 30 seconds or so investigating it. I was pretty happy with the potential of the shots like the one below, but when I was reviewing the images the top shot really stood out for me with the out of focus sanderling taking off in the background.


Monday, November 1, 2010

One more snooze

Hitting the snooze

As with every Monday morning, it sure would have felt nice to hit that snooze button one more time. In honor of that feeling, here's a shot of a few sanderlings napping along Limantour Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. This is a start of a good week though, with 3 chances for the Giants to win the World Series beginning with Lincecum on the mound tonight!

And of course we have an election this week as well. For those of you in California, don't forget to vote Yes on 21 to fund our State Parks and keep these awesome wild areas safe and open to the public! More information can be found at this link.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Take a bow

Take a bow

A sanderling (Calidris alba) in a high-contrast plumage phase (probably a molting juvenile) having a stretch and a bow. And really, with how much it stands out from the others who can blame it for showing off a little. Taken along Limantour Spit in Point Reyes National Seashore.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sanderling zzz's

Catching some Z's

Some resting sanderlings (Calidris alba) along the beach at Limantour Spit in Point Reyes National Seashore. As a whole, this flock of mostly sanderlings was actually fairly still. For anyone who has watched sanderlings for any length of time, that's rather unusual, since they seem to be in constant motion. And this was mostly still the case -- even though the flock generally stayed in place, the individual birds kept on the move, constantly shuffling positions. These birds were resting in the middle and eventually found themselves at the edge of the group. I like this shot both because it shows a restful side of a normally speedy bird, but also because it shows slightly different stages in the change from summer plumage to winter plumage. The bird on the right still has a bit of the chestnut coloring left, while the bird in the middle is in the plain basic plumage, and the bird on the left is somewhere in between.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Time to stretch

Time to Stretch

A late afternoon walk along Limantour Spit in Point Reyes National Seashore on an overcast Sunday was a real treat a few weekends ago. I first encountered a collection of perhaps 10 or so snowy plovers all hanging out in the same spot. Its always fun to watch them sprint between footprints in the sand before settling down into one for a bit. And while I was filling up a memory card on those adorable shorebirds, I didn't even realize that a huge flock of sanderlings (with a handful of western sandpipers too) had landed less than 100 ft behind me. So needless to say it was a great surprise to have creeped away from the snowy plovers only to finally stand up again before realizing the scene before me and heading back to the prone position. There was certainly at least 75 birds in this flock, and at this time they seemed to be in relaxation and preening mode.

Trying to pick out a single bird to accent was sort of difficult, as they were constantly scurrying about (even while appearing restful they almost never stop) and changing places. However, I did happen to have my lens on the right bird at the right time on a few occassions, to get some shots with a more interesting pose than just a standing sanderling.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Against the grain

Against the grain

Even when everyone is running in one direction, sometimes its not a bad idea to take a step in the other.

Sanderlings on an overcast evening at Pillar Point Harbor.