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

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Guiding the herd, Yellowstone National Park

Photograph of a male pronghorn guiding his herd across the prairie in Yellowstone

While I'm excited to have some new images to share from Massachusetts, I also still have a lot of photos to share from my trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, so it will probably be a mix on the blog for a while. In this shot, the dominant male pronghorn that we saw on a daily basis during our trip is rounding up his herd at sunset, presumably to keep them together overnight.  While the buck was not always right with his harem, he was never far away, and it was interesting to watch their interactions. The females clearly responded to his presence, and on more than one occasion, we saw him gently guide the herd to a different location on the prairie.

View more photos of the fastest animal in North America in my Pronghorn Gallery.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dunlin and shadow, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

Photograph of a dunlin and its shadow on the beach in Massachusetts

A dunlin stands alone with its shadow away from the rest of the flock at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island. Finding pleasing compositions within a flock of birds can be challenging, and sometimes the most dramatic are when you can find an isolated subject set against an out of focus flock. I like how this bird gave itself some separation from the rest, and especially since it seems like its only company was its shadow.

View more of my photos of dunlin.

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.