Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cold winds bring good birds

Kinglets are excellent gymnasts
 After a few unseasonably warm days that left many migratory songbirds grounded along the Northeast Coast, colder temperatures have once again prevailed leading to a big migration push.  And as the small birds move south, the big guys that feast on them are right behind.  While Merlin numbers were negligible at Jones Beach this morning, Sharp-shinned numbers were not.  In the hour or so I spent watching I witnessed about 40 sharp-shinned hawks in addition to a handful of Northern Harriers (including 1 male that continues to hangout along the West End).  Near the Coast Guard station I found (surprise) Golden-Crowned Kinglets and Yellow-rumped warblers to be rather abundant, and 1 Brown Creeper.  Unfortunately for me I couldn't get a shot of the Creeper (blame it on not being fully awake and my hands being cold I suppose) which would have been a new species.

Posing oh-so-still 

A juvenile Northern Harrier comes to check me out

A Coopers Hawk gives me a quizzical look

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Two new species photographed

Soaking the Morning Sun
Another fall visit to the West End of Jones Beach produced two new species for me - though they aren't anything spectacular, the photos came out very well for a first time encounter.  For those non-photographers viewing this, it is extremely difficult to come away with good photos of a species the first time you come across it (especially once you have been at it awhile and gotten the gimme birds out of the way).  Knowing a species habits, habitat, food sources, interactions with other species and other key information is almost always needed to get top notch images of a bird.  The same applies for shooting a new location (though it's less of a factor if you are with someone with experience of that area).  It takes awhile to figure out the best way to get the shot, the best approach, how long you have to wait etc, but every now and then you get lucky.  Almost 1 year ago to the date, I got extremely lucky and came away with my best wildlife photos ever (the gyrfalcon seen at the top of this blog) - never mind that they're some of the best images of a gyrfalcon in the lower 48 where it's a rare visitor.  So, a long story short, I was stoked when the red-breasted nuthatch (above) came down to an open branch as the sun rose and let me shoot away - and equally thrilled when I stumbled upon some fellow photographers in the median of WE2 and caught a glimpse of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet (below)
Showing how it got its name

Tasty Bugs

As small as a pine-cone

Just a moment before the sun broke over the dunes, I was lucky to observe this Osprey (it's getting late in the season for them) flying toward me before it banked to my left and headed out over the open water.  I wish I'd gotten some better lighting on the bird, but I think it's kind of a cool silhouette regardless.
Morning Glow

The must frustrating moment of the day came while I was walking along the median toward the coast guard station on the south side of the parkway.  I thought I'd seen a N. Harrier moments earlier but dismissed it.  After snapping some photos of a dark-eyed junco playing hide and seek (my best photos of this species as well), I turned to see a "grey-ghost" (aka Male Northern Harrier) flying away from me.... if I'd turned a few moments earlier I may have finally gotten a half decent shot of this species, instead of this:
The one That got Away
While photographing the ruby-crowned kinglet, I also came away with some nice looks at yellow-rumped warblers which once again were truly everywhere.  The number of yellow-rumped (aka "butter-butts") was quite amazing and it's the case for many areas along Long Island and I'm sure other coastal areas.  I also photographed some while waiting out Golden-crowned kinglets that didn't want to give me looks like last weekend.  Oh well, I'll take the Ruby as a consolation prize.
Hanging Out
Gazing into the morning
The morning started out with a Merlin on a snag right next to the Coast Guard station.  Some nice photos but I'm starting to get a good number of pictures just like this - merlin on a branch.  I hope one day soon I can get one with prey or even stretching it's wings/tail out to give me something a bit unique.
Looking for a Meal
Speaking of raptors, I rounded out my morning by hanging out with Richard Ettlinger once again and trying to photograph some speedy sharp-shinned hawks and merlins.  I was too optimistic in keeping my 1.7X teleconverter on for most of the session which meant sloooooowwwww autofocusing and missed shot after missed shot (which Richard always made clear to me by showing me the photos on his LCD and saying "see what you missed?").  Finally I gave up and took it off reducing my focal length from 500mm to 300mm and this sharp-shinned winged by... too bad I had to crop so much.  Perhaps better luck next time.  We also had a near encounter with a grey ghost (almost certainly the one I'd seen previously in the morning) but as soon as it popped over the dune and saw Rich's camera it made a U-turn and went back east... a truly difficult bird to photograph.  All in all, it was a gorgeous (albeit cold) morning with the full moon setting and a warm sunrise on a crisp fall day filled with birds.  The only regret I have is not making the run to Robert Moses after hearing a report of a sleeping red fox (a species I've only seen a few times and never had the chance to photograph).  Mike Lotito who gave me the head's-up came away with gorgeous images of a sleeping fox soaking up the morning glow of the sun... oh well, you can't be everywhere all the time!

Catch me if you Can

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Savannah Sparrows galore

Savannah Sparrow

It seems that each time I visit EPCAL, I come away with something different.  While there were some raptors around (and even a surprise fly-over by a Merlin) Savannah Sparrows stole the show.  I got down on the ground and crawled my way toward their preferred perch on a barberry perch and was able to get nice and close.

Savannah Sparrow on a Thorny Perch

Perched atop a Bayberry Shrub

Merlin in Flight

Monday, October 18, 2010

Grasslands Migrants

Eastern Meadowlark

I visited EPCAL (Grasslands @ Calverton) this evening after work in hopes of spotting a Short-eared Owl as a few were seen over the weekend at Robert Moses State Park.  No luck on the owls, but I did however find some Eastern Meadowlarks and Horned Larks (both a surprise for me) in additional to Kestrels and a flock of Turkey.  I apologize for the poor quality of the images in advance - the lighting and birds weren't cooperating.  
Horned Larks

Sunday, October 17, 2010

More Migrants

The last few days have been exceptionally windy, but today it calmed down quite a bit and has been relatively warm.  Jones Beach was once again productive (and apparently two short-eared owls were seen at nearby Robert Moses) with some patient merlins and plenty of smaller migrants.  Above: Merlin  Below: Yellow-rumped Warbler

Northern Flickers, like usual, proved difficult to get close to:

Along the southern fence of the Coast Guard station @ the West End of Jones Beach, a dozen or so Golden-crowned Kinglets were flitting about, eating insects off of the vegetation.  Unfortunately for me they utilized the fence which makes for an unattractive perch, but they still gave some nice poses and I got away with one or two fenceless shots.
 Gleaning insects:

"Perched" on some ragweed:


Now for the Merlins:

A different perch and a different bird:

And finally, a closeup:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

More from Jones Beach

Here are some more images from last weekend at Jones Beach.  Hopefully the weather will be good at some point this weekend and I can improve on my flight shots.  Above: Merlin in flight

 Above: A merlin feasts on a small bird for breakfast.  Below: Merlin stooping

 Adjusting its angle:

 Sharp-Shinned Hawk pursuing the Merlin:

 Done chasing and heading toward the ocean:

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Jones Beach West End

I had the good fortune of running into the extremely talented avian photographer Richard Ettlinger at the West End of Jones Beach on this gorgeous October morning ripe for migrants.  While I wasn't able to stay long, I had some quick success and hope to have more in the future.  Merlins were just about everywhere, mostly perched on snags but lots flying around.  Northern Harriers, Sharp Shinned Hawks and a few lingering Osprey were also filling the skies.  On the non-raptor front I found Northern Mockingbirds and Yellow Rumped Warblers plentiful - as well as a Baltimore Oriole (below)

This Merlin was searching for prey from a snag along the parkway:

And another one was found in the median near the Coast Guard Station:

One of the first birds I came upon was the Northern Mockingbird, lit-up by the warmth of the rising sun:

And lastly (for now anyway) a Sharpie showed up to pursue the Merlin seen at the start of this posting:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

American Kestrel

This afternoon on my way home from work I couldn't bring myself to go inside a stuffy gym when the weather was so awesome and I had a little bit of light and time before the Twins / Yankees game.  As some of you may be aware, the Town of Riverhead erected a barrier near the entrance to the Western runway denying access by vehicle.  This was quite frustrating as the runway is a large area that makes photography via walking near impossible (at any large scale level anyhow).  I thought I'd try my luck and see if anything had changed, and sure enough it had.  While the barriers are still present, the "road closed" signs are gone, and just to the left of the sign is a big parking lot near the old control tower.  The parking lot leads to an access road for the runway where the gate is always open - access secured!  The diversity was light, but there were plenty of grasshopper sparrows (who were playing hide and seek) and Kestrels nearly everywhere I looked.  It's roughly the peak migration time for this species, and EPCAL provides the perfect habitat for them to stock up on food - I estimate there were at least 15 present on the western runway, but it is likely there were quite a few more.  Unfortunately for me, the runway is never used by vehicles, so the birds were all very skittish and wouldn't let me get anywhere near them on almost all occasions - but i did have a little luck, as seen above and below.

While the Grasshopper sparrows I spied today wouldn't come out in the open, here is a shot from earlier in the year:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

summer shots

I've been going through some folders organizing my images and came across a few that have never been posted here on the blog so I wanted to share them with all of you.  The theme (incase you didn't notice) is shorebirds.  Enjoy.

Above: Eastern Willet with what I believe to be a long-clawed hermit crab.  Below: Oystercatcher flying over Shinnecock Bay:

This Ruddy Turnstone stopped in the Hamptons for a layover during migration:

A Short-billed dowitcher appears lonely @ Cupsogue, but its friends were just out of frame.