Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Flying Eastern Meadowlark

NIkon D300s 300 f4 + 1.7X TC, f/9, 1/2000s, ISO 500, -.33 EC, cropped to 37%

I told myself I wasn't going to go to EPCAL today after work - but the clear blue skies and sunshine were calling and I couldn't resist. . . It was the same as it's been the past couple weeks - tons of Kestrels and a few other birds that are all annoyingly skittish but I had some success today including the Eastern Meadowlark seen in flight above.

In related news, The Town of Riverhead (owners of EPCAL) are suing the NYS DEC over new legislation regarding the Endangered Species Act.  Riverhead fears that the new regulations are too stiff and will make it impossible for them to sell the acreage available at EPCAL (and that's a bad thing...?).  For more information please see the story at News12 (sorry for those non-Cablevision subscribers who certainly will be blocked from accessing this).  An abridged version of the story reads below:

Riverhead sues DEC over endangered species regulations
(03/29/11) RIVERHEAD - The Town of Riverhead has filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Environmental Conservation over new regulations aimed at protecting endangered species, claiming they could place a financial burden on property owners.
Farmer Lyle Wells says before the new regulations, property owners would only have to buffer an area around endangered species, but now owners must hire a consultant to identify endangered species and monitor their growth forever. That could cost thousands of dollars a year.
Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter says the new regulations will kill jobs and complicate the town's efforts to sell 1,400 acres of property in Calverton. Walters also complains the rules were enacted without any public input.
Dick Amper, of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, says if Riverhead can't sell its land, it has only itself to blame.
"We've been protecting endangered species for 100 years, and no one has gone out of business as a result," he says.

To learn more about endangered species on Long Island and across the globe, pick up a copy of Carl Safina's The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Juvenile Bald Eagle

A Bald Eagle shows off it's massive wings in flight

This morning as I turned onto Rt. 104 at the intersection of Pleasure Drive (just North of Sunrise Highway) in Flanders I saw a large raptor perched upon a telephone pole.  I turned north onto Rt. 104 and pulled over to get a better look and take my camera out - unfortunately the bird flushed after I had sat there for a minute or so but was rather lazily flying and I was able to photograph it.  In the image directly below you can see a fish in its talons that it had been eating.  This is only the second Bald Eagle I've seen on Long Island in the past 3 years (both juveniles) so it was a nice start to my morning.  While I was almost positive it was  Bald Eagle - I never see them and wanted to be sure I wasn't mistaking it for something else.  Fortunately I just received my copy of Jerry Liguori's Hawks at a Distance: Identification of Migrant Raptors which provided me visual evidence I needed to be positive that's what I had seen and photographed.  This book is a great resource and different than any other raptor ID book - plus it's a ridiculous value.

If you look close you can see the fish in the talons

I was pleasantly surprised to find a Wood Duck pair on a small pond in East Quogue on the North side of Montauk Hwy.  But, wood ducks being wood ducks, they didn't want to get too close even though I remained in my car.

Always a nice sight to see

Dune Rd. was very slow despite having a low tide.  Two Killdeer were seen feeding and on my return trip West I also found 2 Great Egrets.

I usually find these birds in fields - not along the water
This bird is ready to breed with those long plumes and green facial patch

EPCAL was full of Kestrels but not much else - I'm looking forward to when the Bluebirds and Swallows are breeding so there is a little more activity up there since you can't get anywhere near Kestrels most of the time.

One of a dozen Kestrels at EPCAL

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

American Kestrel @ EPCAL

This bird eventually got tired of my vehicles presence

American Kestrels are notoriously skittish (and it doesn't help that they are so small).  They regularly line the runways of EPCAL and thus present a fun challenge for the photographer.  Every now and then I get a bird that's a little more cooperative than the rest and today was such a day.

Politely Posing

In addition to the above Kestrel above, there were 4 Turkey Vultures riding the thermals searching for carrion and an active Eastern Bluebird singing his heart out.  As expected, Eastern Meadowlarks and Northern Harriers were also present.

1 of 4 Turkey Vultures at EPCAL

And while Herring Gulls are not the most interesting bird, I thought some of you would be interested in seeing this portrait taken the other day at the Shinnecock Inlet along the jetty.  This was at just about the limit of my lenses focusing abilities and is full frame.

Full Frame - as close as you can get!
Be sure to view the post below featuring an image of the 'Supermoon' and also be sure to check out Theodore Cross's life's work in his book entitled Waterbirds

Monday, March 21, 2011


I was able to get out and photograph the "Supermoon" on Friday and while it didn't seem to be much different than any other full moon I was happy to see it and record it!

Since this *IS* a bird blog. . . I'll mention that while I was watching it an Osprey flew overhead and as I got into my car to leave a Great Blue Heron flew in to feed along the shoreline of the Great South Bay.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Morning Migrants

An American Kestrel waits for the sun to peak back out

This morning I set out at sunrise to see what was around on the day before Spring.  I started at EPCAL since Low Tide wasn't due at Dune Rd. until the afternoon.  When I got on the runways a little after 7 I saw two bright white birds flying overhead and the photo below confirmed my suspicions that they were Great Egrets (moving northwest) which are the first of the season that I've seen.  I was hoping to spot some Eastern Bluebirds but was shut out - the same can't be said for Eastern Meadowlarks which were busy calling for mates and a couple of Horned Larks that are still hanging around.  On the Eastern runway a Savannah Sparrow was signing atop a small shrub.

A welcome sight to see the day before Spring
Turkeys are always a nice species to note at EPCAL:

It's amazing how skittish this species remains
This is easily the closest I've been to a Horned Lark and it gave me a pretty clear shot:

Horned Lark scavenging for food
A Savannah Sparrow was seen singing
On the raptor front were at least 7 American Kestrels busy hunting and hanging out.  I did not see a "pair" like I did in my previous post, but females and males were both present.  A few Northern harriers were lazily hunting over the grasses and a Red-tailed Hawk was also spotted - but Rough-legged hawks were unfortunately absent.

Just hanging out on a Rose bush along the Eastern runway

When I got to Dune Rd. I was disappointed to not spot any wading birds but after waiting around for a bit these American Oystercatchers showed up just east of the Ponquogue Bridge.  Aside from that things were very slow.  My backyard, however, has played host to American Goldfinches all morning which is always a nice treat - too bad they are so camera shy.

A pair of Oystercatchers hunting along their new territory
If you're like me and have a real love of raptors big and small - then you'll want to pick up a copy of Jerry Liguori's latest title Hawks at a Distance: Identification of Migrant Raptors which features one of my Gyrfalcon photos.

Lots of Raptors @ EPCAL

Cropped to about 50% off the original - this Roughie is soaring high

On Wednesday the sun was shining and it was the start of a few warm and blue-sky days.  On my way home from work I visited EPCAL and was happy to see so many Kestrels.  In just 20 minutes I observed 7 including what appears to be a pair (see below).  Additionally, 2 light-morph Rough-Legged Hawks, several Northern Harriers and a Red-tailed Hawk were present.

American Kestrel "hovering".  Cropped to just 20% of the original

Perching on the ugly but useful Common Mullein:

I'm including this shot even though the quality isn't great because it was just about full frame:

For more about birds and wildlife on Long Island I highly recommend John Turner's Exploring the Other Island: A seasonal guide to nature on Long Island which features a dozen of my photos including a photo of a Snowy Owl found last year on the beach in Hampton Bays.  This is a must read for bird lovers on Long Island

Monday, March 14, 2011

Mating Red-tailed Hawks

The Landing
Once again I took a drive along the runways at EPCAL.  A light morph Rough-legged Hawk and and couple Harriers were spotted (as expected) and right as I was about to leave I saw a hawk sitting on a nest book.  I looked through my camera to confirm my belief that it was a Red-tailed Hawk perched atop the box (just as one was on March 1st of this year), but this time there was another Hawk in the immediate area.  I had my camera ready as I expected one hawk to scare off the other - but instead it landed on top of the bird and appeared to copulate.  I apologize for the poor quality of the images, but the birds were approximately 650 feet away!  Either way it was cool to see as it happened in just a few seconds and then the male took off to the woods.  Hopefully there will be young red-tailed hawks (and other raptor species) in the near future.

Finishing the Act
And lastly. . . 


For those interested, here is a story from NPR about the California Audubon Society attempting to attract younger members.  An amusing and quick little story (or podcast if you prefer).  It can be accessed here: Birding is exactly what it used to be

And for those looking for an excellent book to read to pass the next few weeks until Spring has truly arrived, pick up Carl Safina's latest title: The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World which starts on Long Island and takes him around the world.  Highly recommended!

Rough-legged Hawk; Light Morph

Nikon D300s 300 f4 + 1.7X TC, f/8, 1/1600s, ISO 500

This afternoon was filled with sunshine but also wind.  A short trip to EPCAL quickly yielded a light-morph Rough-legged Hawk as well as 2 male Northern Harriers (grey ghosts), 2 juvenile Northern Harriers and 2 Eastern Meadowlarks which are the first of the season that I've seen at the EPCAL property - a sign of spring for sure.  Enjoy.

Nikon D300s 300 f4 + 1.7X TC, f/8, 1/1600s, ISO 500
And here is the grey ghost which unfortunately was backlit:

Nikon D300s 300 f4 + 1.7X TC, f/8, 1/1600s, ISO 500
Learn more about Raptors by picking up Jerry Liguori's latest title Hawks at a Distance: Identification of Migrant Raptors

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Book Review: The View from Lazy Point, by Carl Safina

Montauk Lighthouse - a mere stone's throw from Lazy Point

The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World is Carl Safina's latest book which I recently received in the mail.  While I've known of Dr. Safina for some time (he is the President and Co-Founder of the Blue Ocean Institute) and had the privilege of listening to some of his guest lectures while I was a student at SUNY Stony Brook University, The View from Lazy Point made me feel like I have met him many times before.  Dr. Safina's inviting prose and carefree candor lets the reader experience the far flung trips and lazy local fishing jaunts with ease.  This book reads like an in-depth, year long journal, following the author as he struggles to grasp the perils of this unnatural world and balance them with the familiarities of his aptly named home.

A dovekie - the Penguin of the North

In today's scientific and ecological world, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the bad - the scary end-of-the-world scenarios that Al Gore and the like brought into our living rooms.  How does one escape the ill effects of the never ending CO2 smokestack, the bleached white coral reefs of the Caribbean or the melted glaciers of our polar regions?  Even the most optimistic scientist struggles with this task, but Dr. Safina makes it a point to see the natural good left in the world and appreciate it.  He may not stop to smell the roses - but he does pause to pursue the bass and bluefish that remain abundant in his backyard.  While each new month in this book brings with it a reminder of what has been lost, it also brings reminders of what remains, or in those rare instances, what has come back.

An Endangered Roseate Tern forages on Long Island

Thanks to the dedication of a former federal biologist (Rachel Carlson and her 1962 book Silent Spring) and the non-profit environmental advocacy group the Environmental Defense Fund (founded on Long Island by the likes of former SUNY Stony Brook professor Charles Wurster and former BNL Scientist Dennis Puleston) birds like the Osprey and Peregrine Falcon got a second lease on life and are now common visitors to Lazy Point and the rest of Long Island.  Even after a long and cold trip to Antartica, where Dr. Safina sees first hand the raw chain reaction effects of climate change, he can return home and witness the abundance nature continues to offer, like harbor seals loafing yards from his bedroom window.  The Ruddy Turnstone - that small and unmistakable multi-colored shorebird - is a metaphor throughout the book.  It seems to follow the author nearly wherever he goes and suggests that while things are bad, not all is lost.  There is hope.  Things can change.  Beauty and natural wonder, they surround us.

A Ruddy Turnstone during migration

The View from Lazy Point is an eye opening adventure and scientific endeavor.  By book's end, the title takes on a literal meaning.  The View is not simply the picture that mother nature paints outside Dr. Safina's beachfront cottage.  The entire world truly can be seen from Lazy Point - every link in the food chain - every side effect of man kind's gluttonous and wanton ways.  The author analyzes the ravenous desires of man and points out the political and economic hurdles that pit us against a natural world in harmony.  This book is not to be speed read to discover the ending - for there is no "ending" to the problems that face us.  It is a glimpse in time, a mere fraction of a second on planet Earth's clock that shows us where we are and how we got here.  Dr. Safina does not have every answer for every problem facing us - but he gives us guidelines to right the ship before we discard our miraculous gifts like so many others we have swept under the proverbial carpet.  If we stop being selfish, stop justifying our wasteful ways because we are the "Have's" and therefore can exploit the shares of the "Have Not's" - then we can get back on the proper heading.  The modern world is used to throwing the used and spent in the garbage - but there is no landfill to toss nature into - only a cold and dark grave.  Writes Dr. Safina, "To advance compassion and yet survive in a world of appetites - that is our challenge".

Please click on the image below to purchase this book from Amazon.com.  It is easily the most thought provoking environmental book I've had the pleasure to read and it will both entertain you and influence how you see the world.  And if you're living on the Island, a trip to Montauk is in order once you have finished this journey.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Northern Harrier in Flight

Nikon D300s 300 f4 + 1.7X TC, f/6.7, 1/2500s, ISO 1000

EPCAL has produced once again... and I was able to take advantage of the signature golden light at the grasslands to produce my best in-flight images of a raptor outside of the infamous Gyrfalcon back in October of 2009.  I've been trying to get a shot that would rival this of a Northern Harrier for at least two years now and it's always eluded me... while my ISO was higher than I would like and I would have preferred a slightly different angle, I'm really happy.

Nikon D300s 300 f4 + 1.7X TC, f/6.7, 1/2500s, ISO 1000

These images were made when I came across a Harrier that was flying across the edge of the runway.  I was driving about 25-30 mph with both hands on the camera (good thing there isn't much to hit on that runway!) so certainly not an easy task but I'm glad to have found a cooperative Harrier.

Nikon D300s 300 f4 + 1.7X TC, f/6.7, 1/2500s, ISO 1000

On a less exciting note, there was a Red-tailed Hawk perched on this nest box off in the distance... I'm assuming it's a Kestrel box based on the size of the Hawk compared to the hole but if anyone thinks difference please leave a comment below.

Nikon D300s 300 f4 + 1.7X TC, f/6.7, 1/320s, ISO 1000
By the way, for those interested in the diversity and beauty Long Island has to offer and want to read about this and how it connects to the entire ecology of the greater world, click the link below to check out Carl Safina's latest book The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World.  Also be sure to check back next week for an in-depth review of this fantastic book.