Friday, January 1, 2010

A Great Start to 2010

A Good First Sign
Happy New Year to you all.  I started my day at EPCAL in Calverton, with the hopes of seeing a Short Eared Owl which was spotted earlier in the week.  The weather was supposed to be partly cloudy by mid-morning, but it was dreary and cold when I drove around the former air base, not seeing anything.  Trying to make the most out of my morning, I figured I'd check up on the Guillemot as it's been a while since I'd last seen it and I was interested in getting some unique photos of it.  Driving along Sebonac Inlet Rd., I kept my eyes peeled for Bluebirds (which were spotted today again, but unfortunately not by me) and anything else of note, when I heard the unmistakable rattle of a Belted Kingfisher.  It was perched on an Eastern Cedar tree, and as I pulled over to try to photograph it, the female bird (the orange on the breast distinguishes it from the more plainly plumaged male) flew to a sign post, and then to leafless Tree-Of-Heaven, as seen below.  This photo has been a long time coming, as the Belted Kingfisher is one of my (and many photographers) nemisis, so I particularly appreciate the open beak.

Black Guillemot Continues
Bullshead Bay Inlet was placid, flat calm.  Not a hint of wind, but the skies were sadly still dim and overcast.  A few "birders" were down there searching Peconic Bay for the bird, but I knew better.  I parked where I had seen it recently, by the dilapidated bulkhead and set out on trying to put myself in a good position for photography.  I was able to nestle in against the bulkhead, between 2 breached areas which allowed for me to get nice and low and rest my arms and the camera lens on the bulkhead, stabilizing my shots.  The air was so quiet and still I could hear the Black Guillemot slip into the water each time it dived.  Since the light was terrible, I wouldn't be able to improve on the shots I already have gotten of this species, and with it constantly diving, I figured I should try and get some interesting Dive shots, which I was quite successful in doing.  I'm certainly not getting tired of watching this bird, and I hope you aren't either.

Shinnecock Inlet
A trip down to Shinnecock Inlet was sure to produce some Bonaparte's Gulls which I have never seen/photographed before.  This is one of the more attractive Gull species, with its pinkish legs/feet, black sideburns, and diminutive size.  The gulls were feeding in the middle of the inlet (a tease) so I focused on a herring gull that found a sea star to eat which made me quite happy.  Just the other day I had seen a shot (with much better lighting) of a gull with a sea star and thought "how come I never get to see something like that?", well, now I have.  A Bonaparte's Gull gave me a good fly-by (seen below) and there was plenty of activity.  The Bay was flush with hundreds of common Eider and 3 Eiders gave me a nice fly by.  Just when I was about to leave, I checked the NY Bird Listserv and saw a fantastic posting - a Snowy Owl had been spotted on the other side of the Inlet!  I scanned the other side (known as Shinnecock County Park East) and came up with nothing. . . until I noticed what appeared to be a seal hauled out on the rocks just on the north side of the park.  While I wasn't crazy about driving all the way back to Southampton (A 40 minute round-trip drive to get somewhere that was literally 1,000 ft. across the inlet, I had to take the chance and would possibly be rewarded with a Snowy Owl photo.

Seal, Yes.  Owl? Not so Much.
A Common Loon greeted me upon arrival, sitting quite close to the shoreline, while some Red-Breasted Mergansers were a bit more wary.  As I walked further West, what appears to be a Harbor Seal (though it could be a Harp Seal) was hanging out on the rocks, hauled out waiting for some sunshine to warm it up.  While it was a little nervous upon first seeing me, it quickly settled down as I sat still a ways away until it got used to me.  Just when I was about to make a move a few feet toward the water to get some more photographs (I had only taken 3) a truck came rumbling by, keen on seeing the same thing I was looking at, which promptly scared the seal into the water. . . Quite a few seals however were coming up for air in the inlet on the Eastern Side, keeping there eyes and interest on me, but nothing too great, and the lighting was pretty bad so I just watched the Bonaparte's divebomb the water as if they were terns.  As I left, I debated walking South to the ocean and scanning the dunes and snags in hopes of seeing the snowy, but I figured I would have seen it by now, so I headed back to the bay side and watched the seal who had been scared off swam about 3 feet from the shoreline debating if it should haul out again or not (it didn't).  As I write this, I see a report that the Snowy Owl was still present at 3:15, about an hour and change after I left.  I need to stop being so lazy when it comes to this. . . Hopefully the bird will be there tomorrow.  Here's a shot from December 1, 2008 of a Snowy Owl (my first and only encounter) at Rd. I on the West Side of the Shinnecock Inlet.  Can't wait to see what tomorrow (and the rest of the year) brings!

And a few more images from today:

 A Herring Gull with its hard-won meal

Three Common Eider Drakes.  The first 2 are in "Eclipse" plumage while the last one is in Breeding Plumage 

Black Guillemot with picture perfect diving form

And now showing off the red legs - Notice how far back they are set on the bird.

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