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Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (Aug 20, 2009)

American Avocet

American Avocet

Today was an excellent day for me at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. I arrived around 3:30pm, right about the time of the afternoon low tide. I was concerned that there would not be many birds on the East Pond since normally it is the high tide that pushes larger numbers of birds over from the bay to the East Pond. As it turns out, I saw more shorebirds over the next 2 hours or so than during my visits at or near high tide!

The light was good and I was able to work my way in closer than previous visits for good photos (there were no dive bombing Peregrine falcon attacks to flush the birds.) I use a technique popular with many bird photographers of approaching birds while moving slowly on my stomach and knees. The birds are less prone to fly away if you present a low profile. In this way, a photographer can approach to where foraging shorebirds are inside the lens’ closest focusing distance, or certainly close enough for frame filling shots.

At Jamaica Bay, since the area around the East Pond is wet sand (or more likely mud), fishing waders and boots make scooting along the ground easier. (These items can also be used for wading in rivers and streams in pursuit of other subjects.)  Also, with a long lens, a ground pod of some sort is useful for providing an attachment and swivel point for the lens.  My setup consists of a Canon 1Ds Mark III with a 600mm lens and often a 1.4x tele extender for added reach. The lens is attached to a Walt Anderson Panning Ground Pod and I use the trick of placing this in a frisbee so that the whole affair slides along more easily. For higher angle shots, I use a Gitzo GT5541LS tripod.

Other photographers use a Skimmer Ground Pod which allows attachment of a Wimberley head.  There are other options available, but the goal is to get down low so a close approach is possible and to get the ground level perspective on the birds. Another item that I use is a Right Angle Finder (a.k.a. the neck saver!) so that I can elevate my head slightly to frame and focus by looking down vs trying to look straight through viewfinder. I also add a bubble level to the camera hot shoe so that I can check that my setup is level, although often in the heat of battle, I just use the “eyeball” method.

Notable birds at Jamaica Bay today were an American Avocet and a Wilson’s Phalarope near the 2nd spit going south from the northwest corner. Images of these birds are included below along with some other captures from the afternoon.

American Avocet (Recurvirostra americana) (East Pond, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge)

Wilson’s Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) (East Pond, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge)

Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) – Juvenile (East Pond, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge)

Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) (East Pond, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge)

Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) (East Pond, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge)

Click on the photos above for more information, click on the species name to see all images of that species, or click here to see more images from Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge.

All images © Clarence Holmes

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