As temperatures slowly climbed above freezing, I ventured out yesterday to view scenes of the wintry landscape left by that Polar Vortex storm everyone was talking about last week. I was hoping that a thaw would be in full force, but everything still looked cold and encrusted in ice. The first place I went to was Sandy Hook, a barrier island in New Jersey facing New York City across Raritan Bay.
There were hardly any bird, just a few lonely gulls and three Sanderlings.
I drove around the old Fort Hancock, an abandoned Army fort, at the tip of Sandy Hook island.
There were some antique cannons, the biggest one shown below, and two Cold War era missiles.
Leaving Sandy Hook I went to my familiar haunt, the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. All the ponds there were frozen as well, and snow had fallen the previous day.
Even though temperatures plunged and the wind was fierce, our area only got a dusting of snow. I filled the bird feeder beforehand, and for the past two days bird traffic picked up significantly, even while snow was falling. All the birds looked fluffier and bigger than in warmer months.
Today, following the example of Eliza Waters (https://elizawaters.com/2019/01/21/brrrr/), I went to Colonial Lake close to home to photograph ice formations. The lake is man-made, capturing water coming from Shabakunk Creek, damming it, then releasing it further downstream back into the same creek.
It was around 20 °F (-6 °C), the lake was completely iced over, but the water underneath had to flow along its usual path.
There was a Great Blue Heron nearby, wondering what all the fuss was about.
A few days ago, at Holgate I was captivated by the waves crashing on the beach and on the man-made barrier separating it from the rest of Long Beach Island.
The following photos are of the same wave as it folded and exploded under the wind.
Here are more waves assaulting the man-made barrier.
By the way, a birder reported seeing not one but two Snowy Owls at Holgate, two days after I was there!
Holgate is the southern end of Long Beach Island, NJ and a part of Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. In previous years I often went there to photograph Snowy Owls, and I tried to do that again three days ago. Unfortunately surveyors were roaming Holgate that day, traipsing into dune parts that Snowy Owls frequented. As a result, even though I hiked the length of Holgate and back, there was not a single bird that day, except for one seagull.
It was cold, starting at 17°F (-8°C) and slowly climbing to above freezing. As the tide was coming in, the wind made beautiful waves.
A Herring Gull was standing on the beach. I approached it carefully, 20 steps at a time, taking a camera shot before continuing.
When I finally got too close, it flew up holding a piece of clam in its beak.
Near the entrance to Holgate, there were a dozen surfers.
When I came home and looked at the photos on my computer, I saw some Long-tailed Ducks in several of them.
Snow Geese are mostly white (white morph), but some only have a white face, with the rest of their bodies dark brown and dark blue. They are not too rare, as I usually can see at least one or more in any flock of Snow Geese.
When still immature, the blue morph colors are less pronounced while the face has not turned white yet.
There were several thousands Snow Geese at the refuge while I was taking the above photos. Suddenly they shouted to one another and rose up in the sky.
Perhaps they were wary of some Bald Eagle, for they soon settled back on another part of the refuge.
There were about a dozen Tundra Swans at the refuge, far away from the road and apart from the larger Mute Swans which are all-year residents. As their name indicates, Tundra Swans migrate from the artic tundra to the Midlantic shore to spend their winters under warmer conditions.
As I began shooting a Tundra Swan was landing.
In addition to Northern Cardinals, other regular birds at our bird feeder include Carolina Chickadees and two kinds of Woodpeckers. On the same cloudy days that brightly lit the cardinals, I was able to get several good shots of these other birds.
One more photo taken on January 1st, 2019.
Readers of this blog know that I am mainly a bird photographer, with infrequent landscape and flower images. Recently I went to Bonnet Island, a newly opened section of the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. The Dorland J. Henderson Memorial Bridge, also called Manahawkin Bay Bridge, linking mainland New Jersey to Long Beach Island goes through Bonnet Island, and it has been undergoing repairs since 2010.
The part of EBF NWR on Bonnet Island, opened since last July, looks underwhelming at this time of the year.
What one sees is mostly weeds and new plantings, all with different variations of the color ochre. There were a few birds or waterfowls, but they were all too far away for my lens, even with the 1.4 extender attached. As soon as I took a picture of the following hawk, it flew away.
There were mergansers and ducks swimming in the bay waters, but they appear tiny and blurry in all the images I took. So I turned toward the bridge itself and started photographing it from different angles.
The town of Manahawkin is a coastal community facing Long Beach Island. Manahawkin comes from a Lenape Native American word meaning “fertile land sloping into the water”.
Today the sky was mostly cloudy and it was rather nippy outside. A lot of birds came to our bird feeder. At one time, as I walked by the patio door, I saw three bright red Northern Cardinals perched on the magnolia tree, waiting for their turn. I got my camera out and started shooting, first with the 1.4 extender attached to the lens.
Two hours later, they were still flying in and out. This time I did not use the 1.4 extender.
I prefer the shots taken without the 1.4 extender as they are noticeably sharper, which will come in handy with large-size prints for framing. However, the ones with the extender are really not too bad.
In 2018, some of my photos did not appear on this blog, normally because I didn’t want to have too many in any post. Now at year end, looking at them, some actually deserve to be shown, and here they are.
Long-tailed Ducks breed in the Arctic parts of Canada and Alaska, and only migrate to the coast of New Jersey in the winter. Thursday of this week, I saw several near Barnegat Lighthouse.
I could not photograph a male Long-tailed Duck swimming in the water, so here’s a photo of two males taken in 2016.
This past Thursday, there was a male that took off from the water as shown in the following flight shots.
These ducks are about half the size of Common Eiders, and their take off is shorter and quicker. Although there are no estimates of their current population, they are classified as Common Bird in Steep Decline as of 2014.
In late fall, Common Eiders appear as far South as the coast of New Jersey. Yesterday several dozens of them were swimming along the jetty at Barnegat Lighthouse. They are the largest ducks, weighing from 2.5 to almost 7 lbs (1.1 to 3 kg).
It is not breeding season yet, so the males are not showing their distinctive and handsome colors.
There was some kind of hunting going on and I often heard sounds of gunfire coming from the other side of the bay. An immature Common Eider was sitting on a rock right next to the jetty. It would not move even as I came very close to it. A fellow photographer said that it may have been wounded by a shotgun pellet, could not move, and would probably die eventually.
In the 19th century, hunting almost wiped out this species in the Atlantic. However, their population has rebounded and Common Eiders are not on the list of endangered species.
One of the must-have equipment for wildlife photography in general, and bird photography in particular, is to have a telephoto lens powerful enough to capture subjects with sufficient details and sharpness, without having to come too close to them. Since most of us can’t afford super telephoto lenses, also called second-mortgage lenses, some of us resort to using an extender, which is much less expensive, to increase the reach of our lenses. With a 1.4 extender, a 400 mm lens will be equivalent to a 560 mm lens.
I have had such an extender for two years, but almost never used it because the results had been disappointing especially in terms of sharpness. Finally, looking at photos posted by Jerry from Quiet Solo Pursuits here on WordPress, I decided to give it a try with the Canon 5D Mark IV that I have been using since last year.
Following are some of the shots I took yesterday at the refuge and at Colonial Lake under a bright sun with the 100-400 mm lens and a 1.4 extender.
The following photos are some of the favorites that you, my WordPress readers, have either liked the posts where they were posted in, clicked on their images to see them in larger size, or mentioned them in your comments.
At this time of the year, I often see Northern Shovelers at the refuge. From afar they look like Mallard ducks, but with longer, oversized bills. They dabble back and forth with those bills to catch crustaceans and seeds from the marsh.
Flocks of Northern Shovelers are known to swim in circle to corral food and make it easier for them to catch. However, I saw this band early in the morning and many were still sleeping.
Now that the Ospreys have migrated South, their nests are being taken over by squatters, temporary ones anyway . One of them is a Peregrine Falcon that I saw perched on a nest.
This is the season for Snow Geese migration, and there were many thousands of them at the refuge.
Friday morning, a Great Blue Heron was standing in the water at the refuge, looking left then right. As the light was near perfect, I started to photograph it. When it decided to take off and fly away, I just kept pressing the shutter.
Buffleheads are the smallest diving ducks, no larger than 16 in (40 cm) in length. They are a joy to see as they appear to be constantly smiling and moving about, bobbing, and diving to find food. They swallow their catch of crustaceans (shrimps) and mollusks under water, and I have yet to see a photo of one Bufflehead holding food in its short, smily bill.
In past years I usually had a hard time taking good pictures of them, especially the male ones, because their eyes are often lost in the dark patches around their heads. This year sunlight was with me, most of the time, as you can see in the following photos.
Hooded Mergansers are small ducks that are seen in the fall and winter at the Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. The male ones have a prominent crest (hood) in black and white, making them stand out from other ducks. This year there seems to be many Hooded Mergansers, male and female, and I had no problem shooting the following photos.
As I was taking a shot, one Hooded Merganser decided to fly. I missed capturing that take-off.
The following day, almost at the same place, I was chatting with a fellow photographer when a male Hooded Merganser decided to fly.
After about a minute, I saw him, accompanied by a female, flying overhead.
Several young Bald Eagles were flying around a small island in the middle of the marsh. Some attempted to catch a fish but failed.
The one above landed on the island where a mature Bald Eagle was watching everything.
For several minutes the older Bald Eagle seemed to be calling to the new arrival.
After the young one landed and stood to the side, the mature Bald Eagle kept calling, perhaps telling the younger one to fly again and go catch some fish.
Finally the younger Bald Eagle had to take off again.
Yesterday at the refuge, a pair of Bald Eagles were flying in a courtship ritual that was dramatic, fast, and hard to catch for my camera. They were alternatively soaring to the sky and plunging toward the marsh at high speed. Often they were too far from where I was, and I could only get good focus on about half of the shots. The following photos will give you an idea of what took place.
A Great Blue Heron held in its bill a small fish that it had caught. A Willet had just caught a bigger fish, and flew up right in front of the heron. I was too far and actually did not see this small drama until I got home and displayed the image on my computer monitor. It looks like the Willet was bragging about its catch, and the heron was by no means happy.
Here’s a closer look.
As of today, the Amaryllis I have been photographing for the past two weeks has opened six of its eight flower buds. Here are some close up of these brilliant red flowers. As the blooms grow larger, it is more difficult to capture all of them in one frame. I am already standing in another room to take the following shots.
The American Goldfinch stands out with its bright yellow coloring in Spring and Summer. The rest of the year, when they are not breeding, their colors are more subdued, even drab, although they still remain very cute.
Another ubiquitous bird is the Red-winged Blackbird.
The female Red-winged Blackbird does not have that red and yellow patch on her wings.
In the fall, Red-winged Blackbirds often join with European Starlings to form flocks of birds that roam through refuges, importuning even Bald Eagles.
The smaller birds temporarily took over a favorite perch of the Bald Eagles at Blackwater NWR.
Finallly, many flocks of Canada Geese flew over the non-migrating Bald Eagle.
Just before Thanksgiving, I went to look for Tundra Swans and Bald Eagles to photograph. I drove first to Maryland’s Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge, a place that is threatened with closure for lack of funding. At the present time, there is only one employee left at Eastern Neck. He told me Tundra Swans have started arriving, but only a few have, and they were staying far from the refuge coastline.
Next I went on to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Cambridge, MD. From the Visitor Center, I could see four Tundra Swans , but it was not easy to photograph them as they were too far. The following photo shows one of them waking up from a midday nap, stretching a wing and a leg. I hope to have better images in late December or next January as the swans arrive in greater numbers at Eastern Neck NWR.
Blackwater NWR is famous for its Bald Eagles, with some staying there all year round. This is one pair that could be seen from Wildlife Drive.
After watching that pair, I drove around Wildlife Drive for a second time, and found another pair, unless it was the same one above that moved to a different location. This couple was perched on a dead tree sticking out of the water.
One of the eagles kept calling out for several minutes.
Finally, the one that was calling flew off.
It went in circle, looping around several times, putting on a majestic show for the visitor photographer.
Then it landed back to its perch on the dead tree.