Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Better day for Birds

With the promise of sun and 50 degree weather I set out late this morning to photograph the Black Guillemot in good light - as well as to check up on Shinnecock Inlet again. A precursor to my day's success was the 2 Carolina Wrens that showed up on my back deck singing as I got ready - unfortunately I accidentally formatted my CF card, so I don't have a photo. . . Dune Rd. yielded nothing and when I checked the surf at Tiana Beach I was surprised to see a very rough Ocean. Nothing was doing at the Inlet either, with just a handful of gulls and nothing else of note.

Black Guillemot Attempt 1
On my way down Sebonac Inlet Rd., I remembered hearing a report of 4 Eastern Bluebirds that were seen during the CBC and just then I spotted 2 of them on an Eastern Red Cedar on the east side of the road bordering the Golf Course. Unfortunately, he/she wasn't willing to turn toward me so I was unable to get a decent shot of anything other than the birds back. At the end of the road there were quite a few people with spotting scopes looking at the Guiellemot. I decided to come back later hoping there wouldn't be as many people - since I wanted to hop the fence and get in close - because I didn't want to "ruffle any feathers" (sorry for the pun).

Mecox Bay/Atlantic Ocean
Next up was Flying Point Rd./Mecox Inlet in Water Mill which had recently been dredged, which often corresponds with unique gulls. Well, there were plenty of gulls, but nothing of interest that I could pick out, so I focused my attention on 4 Dunlin that were in a feeding frenzy. One of the Dunlin is seen here:

A quick stop at Cobb Isle Rd. yielded plenty of mallards, but the only thing of interest was a lonely male Green-Winged Teal which seemed to know I was focusing my attention on him as he took off as soon as I began to photograph him while the rest of the ducks stood still on the thin ice.

American Kestrel Surprise
On my way back West, disappointment was starting to set in as I felt this wonderful opportunity of sunshine, warm temperatures and a day off from work had slipped away. I guess this got my mind distracted, because I completely passed the road where I had to turn in order to go see the Guillemot again. Once I realized this I headed down Tuckahoe Rd. cutting through the famed Shinnecock Hills Golf Course. As soon as my car got to the crest of the big hill next to the historic clubhouse, I saw a male American Kestrel (A female would not have the blue/grey on its back) in its classic "hover" hunting pose. The autofocus wasn't cooperating and I quickly got frustrated as I put the flashers on and waited to see what the bird would do next - only to see it fly straight toward me and bank just north of my car allowing me to get several decent flight shots of a infrequently seen (and less frequently photographed) falcon. As luck would have it the Kestrel perched on a tree just off the road and afforded me a few more shots which I did a rather poor job of getting.

Black Guillemot Attempt 2
After this surprise encounter, the Black Guillemot seemingly wanted to keep the good times rolling and was waiting for me as I pulled up to the location I had seen it at yesterday (in an opening between two dilapidated bulkheads). I got out of the car, snapped a few shots, hopped the fence and took a few more before it started to slowly move further into open water. What's interesting, is if this was virtually any other species of waterfowl (except for perhaps a Mute Swan, or Mallard Duck) it would have immediately dove under water, or swam in the opposite direction. But instead it just kind of looked at me and continued doing its own thing. Certainly, it kept an eye on my presence, but showed no true fear. If this really is a juvenile Arctic race Black Guillemot (and all indications are that it is), it is perhaps the first time this bird has ever seen humans and therefore has no preconceived ideas or fears of us, thus ignoring the possible "threat".

Yesterday, I watched an hour long special on the Nat Geo channel on the American Beaver. At one point, the camera was observing an Elk with her newborn feeding and drinking along the waters edge, when the newborn got a little to close to a massive American Bison which promptly and swiftly tossed the baby Elk with its horns and head into the water. The baby Elk had no idea this big thing was a threat, because it had never seen it before, which I'm guessing is what is going on with the Black Guillemot.

When I finally got back home, there were 2 Great Blue Herons as well as some Hooded Mergansers in the creek behind my house, and later a Belted Kingfisher perched on my dock to round the day out. Todays experiences are the main reason why I love wildlife photography so much. You never know what you are going to get, and when you are going to get it. Had I not missed my turn, I wouldn't have seen the American Kestrel. The Black Guillemot easily could have moved on by now (it's been around for almost 3 weeks) and I would have been left empty handed. It's what motivates me to get up early in the morning, to drive and drive and drive and to keep shooting. Now all I can hope for is some sunshine come Thursday to end the year on a good photographic note.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Bad Day for Birds

After reading some good reports of bird activity in Shinnecock Inlet over the last few days I thought I'd try and beat the rain out there. When driving over the Ponquogue Bridge, I saw a deceased bird in the roadway and it was obvious it was not a gull (which seems to be a nearly every day occurrence on the bridge). I turned around and went back and picked up the bird and put it in my trunk. I drove down to the parking lot at Ponquogue Beach and removed the bird to photograph it for ID purposes. It appears to be a Red-Throated Loon which was struck by a car. I placed the birds in the Dune and assume it will be consumed by a Northern Harrier or similar species, but figured it would be a better place then the middle of the bridge.

I'm curious as to how this happened - as the location of the deceased bird seems out of place for a Loon. Certainly the loons can be seen inside embayments, but for it to be flying just over the top of the bridge strikes me as odd. I can't help but wonder if the stiff winds from the ENE (25mph +) played a role in its demise. I often see gulls of various species hanging out on top of the bridge riding the wind gusts back and fourth which is usually how they are struck and killed by vehicles. Either way, it's a sad ending to such a gorgeous bird.

There was nothing of note in the Shinnecock Inlet (stiff winds and high surf didn't help) so I headed out to find the Black Guillemot. Near the end of Sebonac Inlet Rd. I spotted several swans and stopped to ensure they were Mute Swans - which all 5 were. I did however, see a Canada Goose on it's side at the edge of the ice trying to flap its wing and kicking its leg frantically. It was obvious this bird was about to drown and there certainly was no way of saving it. . . after about a minute it stopped moving and when I left the area it was still there - half under the ice floating on its side. Perhaps it had been struck by a car or suffered some other injury earlier in the day and when it slipped off the ice it couldn't right itself.

On the opposite side of the road was a small water hazard pond on the Golf Course and there stood a very patient Great Blue Heron waiting for some prey to appear in the small opening.

When I got to the end of the road, I didn't see the bird or any of the Long-Tailed Ducks, however Agnus Wilson was there with a scope and camera so I figured it must still be there. Checking the NY Bird Listserv confirmed this and as Agnus left he told me that the Guillemot was hanging out on the interior of the bay - as opposed to the outside of the Inlet where I had previously observed it. It appears that with the disappearance of the slush/ice chunks the Guillemot moved closer inland. I was given a nice showing of the bird next to the dilapidated bulkhead just south of the road ending. Hopefully tomorrow there will be some sunshine which will yield some better photos.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Black Guillemot Again

I visited the end of Sebonac Inlet Rd. in Tuckahoe this morning and found the bird was still present. It spent the majority of its time under the water feeding and as such I only snapped a few photographs. I suspect once the slush, which persists in the inlet and along the western side in particular, dissipates (which hopefully will occur with the thaw/rain beginning tomorrow), that the black guillemot will come considerably closer to shore and perhaps further "inland".

Upon arrival I also saw 5 Common Goldeneye (4 drakes, 1 hen) flyover and there were several rafts of both Long-Tailed Duck and Buffel Head Ducks further offshore. Here are a few photos from my morning excursion, but unfortunately they are derived from .jpegs and as such the quality suffers a bit.

Long-Tailed Ducks

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Black Guillemot

This Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle) was first spotted by Jay Kuhlman and Rich Sautkulis during the Christmas Bird Count for Quogue - Water Mill on Saturday December 20, 2009 at the end of Sebonac Inlet Rd. It was subsequently reported again on Tuesday, December 22, 2009 at the same location and I was able to get out at around 3:30 to photograph it. Also present in the area were about two dozen Long-Tailed Ducks and 5 surf scoters.

The image is approximately 30% of the original, and was taken with a Nikon d300s DSLR with a 300mm f/4 lens and a 1.7X Nikon Teleconverter.

Full settings were as follow:
Aperture: f/6.7
Exposure: 1/800s
ISO: 1000
Focal Length: 500mm
Exposure Bias: -.67

There has been some discussion (this issue was first raised by Shai Mitra) that this particular bird is of an Arctic Breeding race (ultimus, arcticus, or mandtii) which apparently has never been recorded in New York State. You can follow the discussion here: NY State Bird Listserv

I am going to check the inlet out again tomorrow morning in hopes of getting some better images.