Sunday, August 12, 2012

Gulls Growing Up, Why Kayaking is Cool, and a Brief Polemic On Motorized Watercraft

 [As we saw two weeks ago, the Laughing Gulls are a month behind thanks to a spring tide that washed out most of their nests. A very few juvenile Laughers have been seen flying around, following parents away from the salt marsh colonies east of Wildwood and Stone Harbor, but most, like these youngsters, have not finished growing in their flight feathers and are capable of only short flights. These were among the many, many young gulls that have moved to the edge of salt marsh island nesting colonies, preparing for even bigger moves in the coming weeks. Photo taken near Taylor's Sound, Cape May County, NJ, Sunday, August 12 2012. All the photos in this post are from the same place and day.]

Periodically someone will ask me how I got a particularly nice photo, often with the implication of or at least query about the camera gear involved. And yeah, I've got a decent camera, but it's not pro level. And I've invested a ton of time (see Malcom Gladwell's Outliers about the "10,000 hours" principle) learning how to use it. But ultimately, when it comes to any photography, particularly nature photography, it's about "access," as my friend and real pro photographer Scott Whittle puts it. If you want good photos, or better, simply good looks at cool birds, you've got to put yourself where they are. And here in south Jersey, Cape May County in summer in particular, there is no better way to do that than by kayak.

 [Kayak + early morning + stealth = close view of Yellow-crowned Night-heron for our friend, Mackenzie. The heavy, all dark bill and long legs rule out Black-crowned.]

 [Beth watches point-blank shorebirds, including an adult Black-bellied Plover.]

[Flock of mainly Short-billed Dowitchers and some Semipalmated Sandpipers settles onto a Taylor's Sound mudflat, ignoring us kayakers nearby.]

[Being a dowitcher is muddy business.]

[Short-billed Dowitcher in fading breeding plumage. I don't see any signs of molt to winter plumage on this bird.  Head and body molt is expected on short-billeds  at stopover sites in late sumer and fall, so soon some gray winter feather will appear on this bird.]

 [A Black-bellied Plover eyes circling Ospreys with interest. As a rule of thumb, bigger birds are warier than smaller ones; in this case, the larger Black-bellied is at least more observant than the accompanying dowitchers, thought maybe the dows have learned that Ospreys don't eat birds. . . I have found that dows are much more approachable than black-bellieds.]

[Classic, tubular-looking bill of a Semipalmated Sandpiper.]

 [This Greater Yellowlegs is in wing molt, and has started replacing all but the three outer primary feathers. So what? So, Lesser Yellowlegs don't molt flight feathers in fall migration but Greaters do, so if you have a hard time telling these two apart (and only liers don't), here's an extra clue.]

 [This  bird could stump you, if you didn't know that in late summer some birds appear as a mix of youngster and adult - witness the short bill and remaining black plumage of this juvenile Clapper Rail.]

Okay, here's the polemic, a word and approach derived from the late, great Edward Abbey. Motorized watercraft have a place - in big water, bays, offshore, for fishing, for birding pelagics, all fine. For roaring around the sounds, channels and guts of the back bay? NO! Stay the f--k out, please. Go ride the rides at Wildwood if you must have something other than your own muscles give you a thrill.

There, I told you it would be brief.

[Oh sweet justice. I said to my companions, "There's not a lot of water there," just about the time these wave-runners learned how shallow the sounds of the back bay are before the tide is full-in, stuck in this case on a shallow flat in Taylor's Sound. Note the Wildwood Ferris Wheel in the background, left,where these thrill seekers belong.]

[We'll make an exception for motorized watercraft if it's an expertly  guided nature tour, as in the case of the Osprey under the care and direction of Captain Bob Lubberman and guide/mate Dave Lord. The guys and their passengers passed us today on their morning sail, a birding cruise worth taking.]

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