Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Plum Island: the Good and the Bad

The Good: It was a beautiful day on Dec 6 with the sun shining brightly and a few wispy clouds. The thin layer of frosty snow on the paths crunched under my feet. The trees and bushes sparkled with brittle ice crystals; The low-lying winter sun made the pools and wetlands glitter...

The Bad: The harsh sunlight created deep shadows and bright high lights with little in between. The birds on the glimmering water were often just silhouettes. Rafts of ducks were floating far from shore feeding,  heads in the water, showing just their backs, rarely surfacing to catch a breath. I only got a few decent photos of Gadwalls, Northern Pintails and Northern Shovelers out of the several hundred that I took. There were plenty of Canada Geese, Mallards, Hooded Mergansers. Small birds were almost entirely absent except for a few unidentifiable sparrows in a road-side thicket. I saw three Northern Harriers flying near the road, but none giving me enough time for a shot. By late afternoon shortly before the sun went down at 5 PM a few more clouds appeared, too late to make much of a difference in the light situation.

Male Gadwall

Male Gadwalls

Gadwall Pair

Mixed Gadwall Group

Northern Pintails

I got out of the car to try for a picture at a different angle to minimize the sun glare, but as soon as I got out ehe birds turned their back and started swimming away from shore.

Northern Pintails

Even at a distance Pintails are recognizable by their "pin tail" butts

A group of Northern Shovelers had congregated near the center of the pool

 Northern Shovelers

These were probably Lesser Scaups with  the wind ruffling the feathers on the back of their necks

I had printed out Tom Wetmore's list of recent sightings and was particularly interested in ocean sightings but the surf was too high for any birds. They were either staying farther out at sea or had  taken refuge in a quiet cove elsewhere. At any rate scanning the ocean with my binoculars I didn't see any birds except for a  few gulls.Still the ocean's turmoil was awe inspiring and the low-pitched roaring of the waves gave an indication of the formidable might of the sea. One could hear the waves' thunder long before traversing the dunes.

 I made a recording of the ocean waves. Here is a 45 sec clip.

The sun was going down

Last picture at Ocean 1 near sunset at 5 PM when the refuge closed. .

Next time I'll pick an overcast day, but still  it was wonderful,  one of those soul-cleansing days.


  1. Very nice shots. The frost and dunes look so peaceful. I love Plum Island. It's been a few years since I've been there, and your photos have reminded me just how beautiful that area can be in the winter.

  2. Fantastic shots as always Hilke! Love the Gadwall and ocean wave photos.

  3. Hi Hilke!
    The last picture is outstanding, very beautifully captured!
    Of course the others are also very good with what light you had, but the last one simply stands out artistically.

  4. @Kim, thanks. I am very happy with the Gadwall photos.

    @Jochen, thanks. I started using a Panasonic Lumix FZ28 camera (same as Laurent's) for the landscape shots. The last photo has a 3-D like HDR feel to it but was just a simple shot - with the right light.

  5. @Erica, thanks. Plum Island is a great place to visit, worth the 3 hr drive. If you ever go I'd recommend the Plum Island Grille for terrific food. From the outside it looks like a shack, but so different on the inside. There are always lots of cars in the parking lot, a good sign for a restaurant.

  6. Hilke, I loved this post, especially the narration at the beginning. It was very descriptive and I felt like I was there. Beautiful photo as well (I don't see any bad!). Fantastic Gadwell shots.......and the last photo is just spectacular. Listening to the ocean made me realize how much I miss it...

  7. @Kelly thanks for your comments; they made me feel that I had accomplished something.

  8. Wow such nice photos! I have been considering making the jump to an slr especially when I see photos like yours. Cool ducks to see too.

  9. #Larry, thanks! I looked at your blog - you have some really excellent quality images of various birds. What camera do you use? DSLR cameras require a big commitment; they are fairly expensive and heavy to carry. Most of my photos also needed further processing with Photoshop to get the most out of them.


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