Saturday, January 9, 2010

The End. . . and Back.

The Beginning:
I arose at 7 this morning to make the long trek to Montauk in pursuit of hauled out seals.  Certainly if seals is what I wanted, I could simply drive the 15 minutes to Cupsogue, but Montauk would afford much better views, and the avian life out there would be considerably better - or so I thought.  On my way to the beach I walked down a 4X4 access road which joins up with a hiking/horse trail.  At the head of this trail is a sign that specifically says "No vehicular access beyond this point".  Well, some people don't like to follow the rules, and this is what happens when you don't:

I would have loved to have been on the receiving end of that phone call at the towing company and considering the remoteness of the location, the truck must have been sitting there stuck for quite some time.  If only he had looked at some aerial's before making his venture, he would have seen that the trail is always flooded there.  I also found it interesting that the truck had this bumper sticker (not sure what the meaning is):

The wind was out of the NW and that made for a very rough north shore with white caps everywhere.  There would be no seals this morning, so birds got my attention.  Unfortunately, aside from the gulls meandering the winds above and several hundred ducks in Oyster Pond, the only birds I saw before I reached the Point on my hike was a dead Northern Gannet (at least it offered a close up view of a fascinating pelagic bird) and a dead Common Eider Drake.  I couldn't help but think about all the miles both of these birds traveled from their breeding grounds to spend their winters in the relatively warm Hamptons, only to meet their demise.  After I got to the point I decided not to spend too much time photographing the many Common Eider as I already had plenty of their photos and wanted to push on in pursuit of other species, but I couldn't resist this female trying oh so hard to get in a meal.  The surging waves gave this Eider a lot of trouble, but she seemed to be a pro.  As soon as the surge would start she would change positions to ride out the wave, then use her feet and tail as a rudder when the water was drawn back out and steer her beak back to the algae on the rock to continue eating.

The Southside:
As I continued on my 6 mile hike, I started to question the wisdom of trying to walk along the cobble beach which is rather unforgiving and can be daunting at times compared to the nice sand trails found elsewhere on Long Island. I kept hoping for a reward - a surprise - something I wouldn't get otherwise, and then I heard the unmistakable peep of the Purple Sandpiper:

This was my first encounter with this species, a unique wintering shorebird as it has the northernmost wintering range of all the North American shorebirds.  This corresponds with it being the shorebird that breeds at the northernmost location in North America, at the upper reaches of the Canadian Arctic.  There classic habitat and behavior is seen here, congregated on rocks in the swash zone dodging waves while busily feeding.  Because of the need to see the incoming waves, so as to not get swept into the sea, the birds never faced me for long, but they still offered some interesting photographic opportunities which I was pleased to take advantage of.

Camp Hero:
When I finally got off the cobble beach and headed up a nice wide dirt road, I was feeling a bit better about not seeing any seals, or interesting seaducks, but was still hoping for something more.  When I turned down a path that cut through Camp Hero I spotted several Black-Capped Chickadees who had no fear of my presence. I stopped on the trail and watched as they flitted from tree branches down to the snow covered ground searching for food.  I'm not sure if this one was eating snow or what, but I was thrilled to get this shot:

The End:
On my return back West, I stopped at the inlet to Lake Montauk in the hopes of seeing some interesting ducks, but all that was around were 2 Common Loons, both at a considerable distance, so my last hope of the day would be Dune Rd. Some interesting things had been spotted in the wetland ditches near Dockers Restaurant in East Quogue (Clapper Rail and American Bittern, both of which I've never photographed) and it's always a good location for Northern Harriers, which are a Threatened Species in the state of New York.  Well, only the Northern Harriers were present, and as usual they were giving me a difficult time.  One of the unique things about this hawk is they have a facial disk similar to owls which lets them hear there prey.  As such, they hunt in a different style than other raptors and often let the wind push them practically sideways over their hunting grounds, making photography extremely tough.  What I have learned about taking this species photo along Dune Rd., is that they hunt both the ocean dunes and the marshes along the fringe of the bay.  Because they utilize both of these habitats, they must cross over the road which is the best chance at getting a shot off and is exactly what happened today.  While it wasn't a perfect scenario, as the sun was BEHIND my subject (thus backlighting it) it was bright enough that I could make the appropriate adjustments in my camera (dialing in positive exposure compensation) to get enough light on my subject.  In my haste I over-did it, but was able to recover the proper exposure in post processing.  I would have liked more shutterspeed to get the details a bit sharper, but for now I'm satisfied.

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