Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Post #169 - An incredible 24 hours of bike-birding!

The weekend of November 2nd and 3rd was epic bike-birding, my wheels put into eventual motion by the discovery of a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (YCNH) on the Sausalito waterfront in Marin County on Monday, October 28. As the species hadn't been reported in the Bay Area during my two-and-a-half-year San Mateo tenure, I immediately consulted eBird for context, my investigation revealing only four records from the extended Bay Area and none since 2005. To put that into paucity into perspective, there are multiple Bay Area records of White Wagtail and Dusky Warbler since the last YCNH sighting.

(L) YCNH range map adapted from this Cornell Lab page
(R) Bay Area YCNH sightings extracted from eBird

I didn't have time for the 65-mile round-trip YCNH chase during the week, but I watched eBird reports roll-in through the next few days, one noting, "residents say the bird has been here for years." That remark floating my hopes until Saturday, I set off at 1pm after leading a morning bird walk at Coyote Point. Lodging secured in Mill Valley, I'd have Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday to find the bird. The ride would be my first bike trip across the Golden Gate, so I'd enjoy initiating the Marin arm of my Bay Area bike list with or without inclusion of the sought YCNH. I'm going to place quick pause on YCNH for a second........

While my YCNH plans were crystalizing through the week, Richard Bradus found a Black-and-white Warbler (BAWW) in Alta Plaza in downtown San Francisco on Thursday, October 31. A follow-up  report on Friday suggested I swing through the park en route to Marin and the YCNH on Saturday, a decision rewarded when the high-contrast passerine revealed itself without ten minutes of delay. Like Chestnut-sided Warbler from the last post, BAWW is a common stray from the Eastern US, one I hadn't chased previously but knew I'd intersect eventually.

(L) BAWW range map adapted from this Cornell Lab page
(R) Bay Area BAWW sightings extracted from eBird

Digi-binoc'd Black-and-white Warbler - Bay Area bike Bird #295

The bonus BAWW ticked, I rolled through the Presidio and across the Golden Gate Bridge. This was only my second time biking across the famous span, the first occurring on the San Francisco leg of my 2014 bicycle Big Year. Like that first crossing, my second was graced with blue skies and killer views!


Touching down in Marin, I descended through Fort Baker, dodged tourists through Sausalito, and rolled into the waterfront community the YCNH had frequented since its discovery - and possibly longer if the quoted resident is correct. I hadn't dismounted my bike before spotting the heron standing on porch railing, the bird basking in the afternoon sun for the next half hour. I was joined by some other folks, and we enjoyed point blank views after the bird flew over the shoreline we occupied. After watching a ~10 year old girl walk with six feet of the bird, I totally buy the claim the bird has been around for a while. It literally couldn't care less about people. It's crazy to think this amazing bird lurked unreported (though not entirely undetected) for so long. It will be interesting to see how long it sticks around. Departing the heron, I spent the remaining 1.5 daylight hours exploring the Sausalito Shoreline, Bothin Marsh, and Bayfront Park before retiring to Mill Valley for the evening.

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron - Bay Area bike bird #296
Very obliging for digi-scoping....

My plan for Sunday was to explore Tennessee Valley, Rodeo Lagoon, and the Marin Headlands before re-crossing the Golden Gate in the early afternoon, but a late-Saturday report of Rock Sandpiper (ROSA, found by Teresa Ely and Ben Dudek, 1st SF record) from Heron's Head Park in San Francisco demanded attention. A mostly-Alaskan species, ROSA reaches down the coasts of British Colombia, Washington, Oregon, and California in winter. The Bay Area represents the extreme southern end of that non-breeding range, and the species had not been recorded in the area since I moved here in May of 2017 (there was one Farallon bird in that time - and another last week).

(L) ROSA range map adapted from this Cornell Lab page
(R) Bay Area sightings (all) extracted from eBird

I decided I'd bird in Marin Sunday morning while I awaited news of the ROSA - I didn't want to quit Marin without knowing the sandpiper was present - but an early 6:30am confirmation sent me scampering towards the Golden Gate right at sunrise. Reaching the bridge at 7:10, I was informed both Golden Gate foot/bike paths would be closed until 10am because of a running race. As I was unwilling to utilize the courtesy bike shuttle to cross the bridge - gotta keep it 100% self-powered - I suddenly found myself with three hours to kill on the Marin side. Dropping to Rodeo Lagoon, I enjoyed beautiful and productive coastal birding while I awaited the 10am opening, all the while hoping the ROSA stayed put.

Rodeo Lagoon

Rodeo Beach

With my time at Rodeo, I was able to run my virgin Marin County bike list to 81 species. (I saw ~140 on a Marin County bike Big Day with Josiah Clark and others in April, but I had to drive from San Mateo for that event, a circumstance rendering those birds excluded from my fully-green Bay Area biking project.)

The bridge finally opened, I fought through traffic lights and fended-off weekend drivers to reach Heron's Head at 11am. There wasn't much drama, the ROSA sleeping at peninsula's terminus as half-a-dozen birders gazed onto it. This was only my second encounter with the species, my first on the Humboldt Jetty in January 2011, and it was fun to observe this individual at such close range. The bird spend most of its time resting, but I had a few quick full body views as waves occasionally forced the bird to reposition itself. The close views were a great cap on an awesome weekend on the bicycle.

The end of Heron's Head Park. Bird was on
shoreline directly over my handlebars.

Rock Sandpiper - Bay Area bike bird #297

So, a ride conceived around (a potentially very long-staying) Yellow-crowned Night Heron additionally yielded Black-and-white Warbler and Rock Sandpiper. A pretty solid hat trick.....

~80 miles with doubling back and screwing around

Those birds leave me three species shy of 300. Upcoming travel will probably delay reaching that plateau into the New Year, but it will be a great feeling when it does finally happen. I'm amazed I've been able to find (and by find I mean 'chase') enough new birds to generate blog content through the summer and fall. I'll have to get more creative as new birds become fewer and farther between. Cheers!

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Post #168 - Hybrid post: Half Bike-birding, Half Photography (Godwitpalooza!)

I don't know about the rest of California, but a number of long-time San Mateo County birders have lamented a historically-slow fall migration in our parts. I struggled to find Yellow and Orange-crowned Warblers on many days, and the county felt generally devoid of vagrants with the exceptions of southwestern strays Lucy's Warbler and Vermilion Flycatcher, both at Coyote Point. San Francisco seems to have experienced a decent fall push from what my inexperienced can discern from message boards, but I'd be interested to hear about migration in other parts of the Bay Area or Golden State.

That question posed, I did add Chestnut-sided Warbler (CSWA) to my Bay Area bike list (#293) in Golden Gate Park since my last post. Initially reported on October 9th, the bird continued through the 11th at North Lake where I caught up with it. The eastern CSWA regularly stays to California in fall, and I'd passed on several opportunities to pursue the species knowing others would present at more opportune times if I didn't find my own example in the meantime. The below eBird graphic reveals lots of Bay Area sightings, the orange pins representing those between September 11 and October 11 of this year, so it was inevitable I'd intersect the species at some point.

Bay Area eBird CSWA records and the GG Park bird I observed

The 43-mile round-trip took ~3.25 hours 
with traffic lights and other nonsense.

Less likely in the Bay Area was Hudsonian Godwit (HUGO, #294), a tundra nester which migrates through the center and eastern parts of the continent, and the bird hadn't been recorded in San Mateo County prior to October 14th, the day when Dan and Dave Sidle found one on Tunitas Creek Beach. I was having lunch with Alvaro Jaramillo in Half Moon Bay when the belated report came through midday on the 15th, but I passed on driving for the would-be state bird that afternoon despite dining just 8 miles from it. Instead, I biked the 22 miles from my apartment the following morning, the 16th. I reached Tunitas at 8:45am and immediately intersected die-hard California county birder Jim Lomax as he exited the beach. When the crafty veteran informed me the HUGO had been joined by a Bar-tailed Godwit* (BTGO, initially noted by Dave Webber), I raced down the bluff to observe both vagrants associating with ~40 Marbled Godwits (MAGOs). It was a pretty incredible morning. 

*Some might recall my successful pursuit of BTGO in Alameda County in July. With details about that Alaskan/Eurasian vagrant at the link, I won't rehash them here.

 L to R: Jackass, Lomax, HUGO, BTGO, MAGO

Hudsonian Godwit migration and California eBird records.
Left image modified from this website. It has much HUGO info.

44 miles round trip, two climbs over Route 92.

As you can see from the above phone-scoped shots, I did not have a DLSR with me on the bicycle. (I carry binoculars and scope+tripod or 7D2+100-400, depending on where I'm going.) The vagrants and attending MAGOs seemed very comfortable with birders and photographers during my bike-based visit, so I returned in the car with my big rig the following morning. Zero beachgoers and a relatively flat-pitched beach made for fantastic shooting, and I was able to walk out with nice shots of Hudsonian and Bar-tailed. Here are four of the better frames, the last being my favorite. Fog and cloud made for constantly shifting light and backgrounds, so each shot has a slightly different feel to it. Marbled included mostly for reference.

***click images to see larger***

Marbled Godwit - Limosa fedoa
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 400, manual mode

Hudsonian Godwit - Limosa haemastica
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 640, manual mode

Bar-tailed Godwit - Limosa lapponica
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 640, manual mode

Bar-tailed Godwit - Limosa lapponica
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX2
1/2500 at f/5.6, ISO 800, manual mode

Monday, October 14, 2019

Post #167 - Early-fall bike-birding update

Well, without my childhood Philadelphia Phillies or my adopted Boston Red Sox in playoff contention this fall, it's been a steady diet of migration through September and into October. We've had a some nice surprises on the peninsula, and this quick post will highlight three I've intersected on my bicycle. 

I've poached a lot of previously found/reported birds in the last few months, so it was nice to find my own Lucy's Warbler at Coyote Point on September 9th. eBird reveals 1 to 2 Bay Area sightings a year for the last ten, almost all between September and February, so the species is rare but regular around here. The last San Mateo County record was from February of 2017 (I was still living in LA), and I intersected my Bay Area bike-first at a Lake Merced stakeout in San Francisco in December of that year. So, the Coyote Point bird wasn't new for my cumulative Bay Area bike list but was new for the San Mateo County subset of that project (#261). Can't argue with convenience.....

Lucy's Warbler range (left) and Bay Area sightings (right)

Heavily cropped Lucy's Warbler record shots

Coyote convenience........

Coyote Point delivered again on September 22 when Ron Thorn found a Vermilion Flycatcher 50 feet from where I found the Lucy's. Another generally desert/southwestern species as far as the US is concerned, the bird appears in the Bay Area slightly less frequently than Lucy's Warbler. A cooperative adult male spent 8 weeks at Joseph Grant County Park east of San Jose between July and September, but I couldn't afford the overnight chase that individual would have required. I learned about the more convenient Coyote Point bird fifteen minutes after its discovery, and my understanding wife granted me a stay on chores while I tried for it. ('Understanding' is probably the understatement of the century given that she let me ride away for a year in 2014.) I relocated the bird near its discovery point moments after arriving, clicked a quick record shot, and raced home 10 minutes later. It was a shameless tick-and-run, but that's what circumstances dictated.

Northern part of Vermilion Flycatcher Range (left)
All Bay Area eBird records (right)

A distant and heavily cropped Vermilion Flycatcher record shot.
Bay Area bike bird #291

I'll move from San Mateo to San Francisco for the final bird of this installment. Yellow-green Vireo is a Mexican and Central America species which is rare but regular along the California Coast; between 0 and 3 individuals have been eBirded from the Bay Area each of the last ten falls. A Golden Gate Park representative was discovered on Friday, September 27th and remained until Monday the 30th when I was able to catch up with it near Stow Lake. The vireo is one of only a handful of ABA coded birds I've observed from my bike in the Bay Area - Tufted Duck (3), Red-footed Booby (4, discounting Hawaii), Ruff (3) Dusky Warbler (4) - so it was really nice to add it after the 3-day delay. Interestingly, the only other time I've observed this species was in San Diego during my 2014 bicycle Big Year. So, yeah, there's that useless bit of trivia. 

Yellow-green Vireo range (left) and California eBird records (right)

Yellow-green Vireo - Bay Area bike bird #292

My Yellow-Green Vireo chase

And since I've offered only crappy records shots, here's a proper frame to end. Cheers.....

Marbled Godwit - Limosa fedoa
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/5000 at f/4.5, ISO 400, handheld
Click image for large/better view

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Post #166 - Late-summer Bay Are bike-birding update

I'd like to apologize for withholding the bike-birding goodness I dispensed through spring and early-summer. Production took a bit of hit after my Bar-tailed Godwit triumph because I was traveling and moving, but I've been able to crank out a fresh batch by cobbling together some late-summer highlights. Please use sparingly; otherwise you might find yourself pedaling great distances in search of birds!

Roody the Beagle tries bike-birding!

Anyway, let's start with Semipalmated Sandpiper (SESA), a mostly central and eastern shorebird which puts in regular fall cameos along the Pacific Coast. The bird is annual at the bottom of San Francisco Bay between late-July and mid-September, but rides in that direction are tough from San Mateo; it's ~60 miles round-trip and the return 30 are usually plagued by northwestern headwinds which gather through the day (recall my Bell's Vireo ass-kicking in June). Fortunately, Dominic Mosur found a SESA at Yosemite Slough in SF, a location just 17 miles north of my apartment (return ride with tailwind). The report came in late on July 23, and I wasn't able to try for it on either the 24th or 25th. However, a second sighting from late on the 25th suggested I make an attempt on the morning of the 26th. That proved a wise decision, and I found the bird foraging on the same shoreline from which the previous reports came. Fortunately, I had a better view of the bird before I took the fairly awful shot below.

Phone-scoped Semipalmated Sandpiper - Bay Area bike bird #288

My 34-mile ride to Yosemite Slough for Semipalmated Sandpiper

SESA claimed, I shifted my attention to Wilson's Phalarope (WIPH), another shorebird which visits San Francisco Bay between late-July and mid-September. Reports of dozens or hundreds of individuals from from Sunnyvale and Alviso are fairly common, and all it takes to find this bird is to make a concerted effort in those areas during the indicated season. I figured I'd search for WIPH while pursuing something more pressing, like SESA, but unusually light winds made July 28 ripe for a dedicated effort. I had no difficulty finding a group of 23 birds in Sunnyvale, and I took an extended detour on the way home to add Pygmy Nuthatch to my Santa Clara County bike list. I've fallen into the county bike-birding trap, but only for San Francisco, San Mateo (homebase), Santa Clara, and Alameda, at least for now.

Phone-scoped Wilson's Phalarope - Bay Area bike bird #289

My 58-mile ride to Sunnyvale for Wilson's Phalarope

I'll round out this set with the Common Tern (COTE), an uncommon species here in the Bay Area. They're mostly likely to be encountered offshore on fall pelagics, but they occasionally grace the front beaches and SF bayshore. Ron Thorn noted a COTE at Coyote Point County Park on August 21, and I encountered what I assume was the same individual in the course of some general birding at the same site the following afternoon. Coyote Point is just 3/4 mile from my apartment, so it was really nice to add a 'free bird' after organizing and expending effort to ride for the previous two!

Phonescoped Common Tern - Bay Area bike bird #290

That's it for this installment. Fall is sure to deliver at least a few surprises, so I'll cook-up another update as birds materialize. Only 10 species more to reach 300 self-powered Bay Area birds!

Oh yeah, my favorite shorebird subjects have returned to SF Bay for the winter after their breeding absence. Here are two from the first September tide cycle at my local spot. The tides are only right 4 out of every 14 days, so it's a burst of shooting followed by a bunch of waiting. Second cycle hits Sept 28-31, so stay tuned for more. 

Willet (L) and Marbled Godwit (R)

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Post #165 - Should eBird charge platform users?

While hanging out with eBird staffers Brian Sullivan and Mike Kelling on a recent Alvaro's Adventure's pelagic trip, I asked if the eBird brass had ever considered a user fee. There aren't plans for one, but I couldn't help wonder more about the benefits and drawbacks of that proposition. This post explores those thoughts.
Let me start by professing my undying admiration (love?) for eBird. An ingenious and intuitive interface, the open-access database organizes my sightings, outputs lists for every imaginable geography, and functions as a permanent record of my birding history. Synergy guarantees that every user - active or casual - benefits at a level greater than his/her individual contribution, and the pooled data are an invaluable resource for trip planning and list building. The platform has become an integral part of my birding experience, and I wish it had existed when I started birding as a seven-year-old Philadelphia pinhead. I am envious of generations who have their entire birding histories archived in one electronic place.


My goal is to color in this map with birds,
experiences, and personal connections.

Given the utility the platform offers, I find it surprising eBird hasn't asked data depositors for a direct financial contribution. Wait, why depositors? Well, folks who deposit data usually want their sightings curated into nicely organized lists (that takes engineering dollars, right?) Data depositors are also the most likely to use the platform's advanced features - Target Species, Top 100, etc - to further their own birding interests (more engineering dollars). Sure, eBird needs depositors to exist, but most birders deposit their birding data in the database for their own benefit, not eBird's. Fortunately, the interests of users and platform are coincident, and putting data anywhere else - local hard drives and pieces of paper included - is a comparative waste of time and synergy. And yes, eBird has outsourced the cost of data acquisition (i.e. optics, transportation) to users, but any user who wants to be credited for that unavoidable birding overhead is smoking hella crack. Synergy assures eBird does more for each data depositor than vice versa, so we're all getting more than we put in anyway.


Collecting eBird data in Colombia

So, tell me data depositors: What is eBird worth to you? Forget the obvious favor you're doing the platform and put an annual value on the user side of the admittedly-symbiotic relationship. I'd happily cough up $50/year to deposit my data, have it curated, and benefit from eBird's many user-specific features. I know, I know - eBird has thrived without charging users, so why start now? Well, here are  two hypothetical benefits of implementing a user fee.

1) Revenue could be used to engineer additional features into the platform. A person-to-person contact feature into which users could opt, a carbon-free checklist designation to encourage 'green birding', and voice-responsive data entry for the phone app are some ideas. I'm sure readers have dozens of others, and I love to hear them in the comments section (much better than emails since everyone can read comments).

2) I've long thought a 'birding license' an interesting idea. Hunters and fisherman need licenses, the fees often going to support conservation, so why shouldn't the same be required of birders? (And yeah, I realize hunting and fishing extract biological resources whereas birding does not.) I know an eBird registration/maintenance fee wouldn't have the same conservation value, but an eBird fee - and having one's name, sightings, and numbers show up in the database - would signify a person's desire/willingness to contribute to citizen-science and facilitate the community synergy I described.


Great Egret - Adrea alba
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/3200 at f/8, ISO 800

There are, however, an equal or greater number of reasons why a user fee would hurt the platform. Here are a few (feel free to mention others in comments). 

1) A fee structure will motivate some percentage of current users to quit the platform and therefore contract the amount of data deposited. If input drops 1%, then it doesn't matter; if it drops 30%, then that's a problem. I suspect most data comes from loyal users - the sort who would sacrifice a lot if they abandoned the platform - so it's doubtful the loss of even large numbers of casual users who submit 6 checklist a year (or only accept shared checklists) would be significant. eBird is like cocaine; it doesn't take much to get addicted and there aren't a lot of casual users.

2) I realize any fee will hit birders at the lower end of the economic spectrum hardest, but the vast majority of American birders are in a financial position to afford $50/year. More concerning for me is how any hypothetical fee would hit international birders, specifically in developing countries where $50 might be a more significant sum. The loss of those users would be a big blow to the database.

3) I imagine some of eBird's current funding is contingent on the platform remaining open-access (i.e. free to all). It's really cool that anyone can use the platform as is, but I wonder it would ever make financial sense for eBird to institute a fee. Someone at Cornell has probably done the cost-benefit analysis, but their financial situation might change in the future.

So where does all this leave us? Well, there's an easy way to reconcile everything I've discussed above; in lieu of a user fee, financial-able eBird users should donate to The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Alternatively, it's also possible to become an official lab 'supporter' for just $44/year (link for that honor here). While the lab should not be reduced to a single project, I'm going to look at the maintenance of my newly-established membership as my annual eBird user fee. I'm honestly a bit embarrassed it took me so long to make the connection between eBird's value and my individual ability to support the lab, and I hope this post will help others from making a similar mistake. If you're an eBird user and already donate, then I'm sorry for dragging you through this! If a few people donate as a result of this silly post, then all users will benefit, right?

Next up? More distractionary drivel from my feeble bird brain, in some form or other........

If you missed the last post, check it out - it's loaded with photos of Black Skimmers and American Oystercatchers. 

American Oystercatcher - Haematopus palliatus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 640
Extreme bokeh - all blurring in camera, not in photoshop


Black Skimmer - Rynchops niger
Canon 400mm f/4 IS DO II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/5000 at f/5.6, ISO 640
Just kept that upper/right wing!

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Post #164 - Photographing nesting skimmers, terns, and oystercatchers at Nickerson Beach, Long Island

While visiting my family outside Philadelphia earlier this month, I snuck away for a few days of photography on Long Island. The renowned Nickerson Beach (eBird hotspot) in Nassau County is three hours from Philly (and just an hour from Central Manhattan) and heathy numbers of nesting American Oystercatchers, Common Terns, and Black Skimmers guarantee the spot heavily photographed between May and August. Chicks of those species are the main attraction, and the near constant presence of people renders Nickerson's nesters very approachable. I'd seen many memorable frames from Nickerson over the years, so I was stoked to have my first crack at this spot during my recent East Coast swing.


I'll hold the Nickerson logistics and strategies until later and offer 11 photos to show what's possible at this fantastic site. I'd planned to shoot skimmer chicks, but the presence of other photographers with their lenses trained on the same and limited number of photogenic examples was a turnoff. I want unique frames, so I abandoned the chicks, found my own space, and focused on photographing flying skimmers and feeding shorebirds instead. I had to adapt my plan, but I walked away with frames other shooters overlooked or found too challenging. My arms were useless after swinging the DX2 and 600mm for 2-3 hours each morning! Every shot in the post was taken handheld (i.e. without a tripod).


***Click the first image for a larger view, then
arrow through the rest in that better format***

Black Skimmer (with Killie minnow) - Rynchops niger 
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/1600 at f/5.6, ISO 1600
Lucky this was sharp with the slow shutter!

American Oystercatcher (with sand flea) - Haematopus palliatus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 1250

American Oystercatcher - Haematopus palliatus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 800

Black Skimmer (with needlefish) - Rychops niger
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 800

American Oystercatcher - Haematopus palliatus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 500

Black Skimmer - Rynchops niger
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 640

Ruddy Turnstone - Arenaria interpres
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 640

Ruddy Turnstone - Arenaria interpres
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 640

American Oystercatcher - Haematopus palliatus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 640

American Oystercatcher (with Sand Flea) - Haematopus palliatus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/2000 at f/8, ISO 800

Black Skimmer - Rynchops niger
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/3200 at f/5.6, ISO 640

So, yeah, Nickerson is pretty sweet! Now, onto logistics/tips/strategies for those motivated to visit in the future!

First, parking at Nickerson Beach is FREE before 9am and after 5pm (it's $37 otherwise), the best hours for shooting. As long as you enter before 9am or after 5pm, you're gold; staff do not, for example, come around at 9:15am and ticket cars already inside. When you enter, you'll go around a sharp right-hand bend (red on above image) and see 3-4 entrance lanes in front of you. If it's before 9 or after 5, the ticket booths will be closed and cones will block all but one of the entrance lanes. Just drive through the open lane, continue another 200 yards, and turn left into the large parking lot I've marked on the map above. Park in the southeast corner (decent restrooms, open early and late), follow the trail over the dunes, and walk 300 yards east to the primary nesting area holding the highest number of birds. I saw birds in the secondary area from a distance but never checked it out since I was so wrapped up with the primary.


This is an old arial. The primary nesting area is
now filled with beautiful beach grass. It's perfect habitat.
Approx arc of summer sun through the day in yellow.

Second, the oystercatchers, terns, and skimmers nest and hatch/fledge young at different times. The oystercatchers breed May into June, the terns June into July, and the skimmers July into August. These are the loose windows, and there is leeway for each species. During my visit (August 5-8), for example, there wasn't an oystercatcher chick in sight; a few terns were still feeding young, and the skimmers were in full swing. So, you need to pick your species if you want to focus on chicks.


Black Skimmer - Rynchops niger 
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark 
1/3200 at f/7.1, ISO 640

Third, the lighting can be a bit tricky as the beach runs east-west. It is important to arrive early (more on that in the next section), and shooting is mostly restricted to the eastern and western ends of the roped-off nesting areas when it's sunny. The sun does swing to the south of the colony mid-morning, but it's too steep to use by the time it does. Overcast offers a bit more positional and temporal flexibility, but you'll lose color and contrast and your auto-focus might hunt a bit more when the birds are against the dunes (if you're seeking flight shots). The sun illuminates the surf beautifully at the beginning and end of each day, and the best results are obtained from getting onto your belly and shooting parallel to the beach as birds chase the waves in and out.


Black Skimmer (with Menhaden) - Rynchops niger 
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark 
1/2500 at f/4, ISO 2000

Fourth, go early and/or stay late. The sun rises between 5am and 6am and sets between 8pm and 9pm during the summer months, and the best shooting will be 2 to 2.5 hours after or before those events, respectively. If it's sunny, the rest of the day will be plagued by steep lighting, ugly shadows, and washed out colors. There are always fewer general beachgoers in the morning, so it's best to drag yourself out of bed and use those earliest hours. I arrived at 6am, shot from 6:30am to 9:00am, birded elsewhere until 5pm, and returned to shoot until sundown. Ssunrise/set times will vary over the summer, so be sure to research the times ahead of your visit.


Peregrine Falcon (eating tern fledgling) - Falco peregrinus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS 1DX Mark 
1/1000 at f/5.6, ISO 1600

Fifth, Nickerson is NOT a good place to shoot skimmers skimming. You may get an occasional pass along the front beach, but they mostly feed on the bay behind the barrier island. There is no access to that area as far as I could tell. You'll see the feeding birds returning over the dunes and along the beach, and you'll be able to capture the sort of flight+prey shots I've shown here once you identify the feeding lanes and understand the light angles. As always, look to keep you shutter at 1/2500 (and preferably 1/3200 or 1/4000) for flight work.


Sunset Sanderlings
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS 1DX Mark II
1/5000 at f/4, ISO 400

Lastly, there are a lot of good birding spots around Nickerson. I would particularly recommend the compact Oceanside Marine Nature Study Center (eBird hotspot, but closed Sundays and Mondays) north across the bay and the expansive Jones Beach (main eBird hotspot) to the east. Lido Beach Passive Nature Area (eBird hotspot) is virtually across the street from Nickerson and worth a quick stop if you have time to kill. Down the road, Point Lookout (eBird hotspot) can hold interesting waterfowl in winter. Birding on Long Island is generally slowest in summer, but I still found enough birds to hold my attention during my August visit.

OK, that's it for this installment. Not sure what's up next, but I'll think of something...