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.

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