Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Wildlife Photography Doing it Right and Doing it Wrong @ Nickerson Beach in NY

I should start by saying I grew up literally just down the beach from Nickerson beach, and back then it was called Nassau Beach, and they would spell out that in flowers along Lido Boulevard at the park entrance. I visit regularly, and I have numerous friends that still live there. Many people I know were directly impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

Nickerson Beach is a great place to see nesting birds along the shore, including common terns, black skimmers, plovers, and oystercatchers. There are a couple of areas that are restricted and this allows the birds some space to nest in.

The string that ropes off the area can be pretty close to where the birds have chosen to nest. So if you want to, you can get very close to them. I have sat along the string a handful of times and gotten shots of the birds, sometimes on eggs from dozens of feet away. I found this interesting at first, but now I prefer to spend more time shooting around the edges, along the surf, or when the birds are flying around.

I think you can shoot from close up respectfully and without bothering the birds. That said, as you approach to get that close, the birds will fly right at you and can attack you. I've heard of people getting cut up, or pooped on.

When I shoot wildlife I also very much like to get as close as possible. But over the last few (or more) years something changed in myself and partially from seeing others pursue their shots. Now I like to enjoy my outing, get photos, but not at the cost of the animal or doing something others might frown on. Basically, I am not shooting for a magazine, or for an award or even really in search of praise anymore. I just shoot to enjoy the time out, and to have images for myself. Sure I share my images as well, but I am not primarily motivated by the sharing / social aspect of photography any more. I've been burned by it personally, and realize that being a go-getter isn't all it's cracked up to be.

And then there's seeing how other people behave, and that's just too much for me to be associated with or to contribute to. A few years ago we had the eruption of Snowy Owls and people were jerks all over. Some of the jerks were birders. Other jerks were photographers. And still more jerks were those with a cell phone camera who would walk in the dunes (restricted/not allowed) to try to get close to the owls - and of course the owl would fly away and they'd still have a cell phone. So - for what? Not everyone knew or knows better, but people should know better.

I shot this owl in New Jersey for 4 hours and felt very lucky. It was my first owl, and a friend shared the location with me. I made the bird fly a couple times in that period, but it didn't fly off until 2 birders approached me and the snoozing owl, causing the owl to fly away. They tried to blame me, but no - the bird was actually sleeping a little and they flushed it. Snowy Owl in NJ

So back to Nickerson Beach New York.

In July I got there a little after sunrise, and saw a bunch of other photographers there, all east of the nesting area shooting with the sun at their back. So I went to the south side of the nesting area and sat for a while and there was an oystercatcher family there, with an adult hunting for stuff and feeding a small chick. I shot them like this for 20 minutes maybe. Then three of the photographers that were on the east side came back, and they setup a little ways behind me closer to the ocean. After a few minutes one of the oystercatchers ran out from the protected area, towards the other people, grabbed something from the sand and ran back to the chick and started feeding on something. Then it happened again and I realized that these people were throwing food, open clams as it turned out, to the birds!

So, how many ways to describe how this is wrong are there?!

  • The birds were already eating/feeding
  • Baiting birds is cheating, unless it is your backyard and it is with seed or such
  • I was shooting the birds and these folks not only disturbed the birds but they disturbed me.
  • The bait was huge, and could have potentially either been spoiled or been bad for the chick.  Let mother nature do its thing, no need to stop them from feeding on their native food...
  • It's against the law there
  • There's no benefit I could see for doing this, the birds were already just feet away and it just made them do un-natural things.
These people were on the east side, and in the dunes which you should not be doing.  The dunes are off limits.

This is the guy with the clams and 2 women he was with.  What bugged me more was the hat he was wearing is from a "professional" photographer he probably went on a paid photo trip with and for all I know learned that this behavior is ok and that's how you get bird photos...

So when I realize what he was doing i got up, and cursed him out.  I told him he was disrespectful and that basically he was a jerk.  As I walked away I saw a park ranger in a motorized cart and let him know the guy was feeding the birds and had a bag of clams in his backpack.  He stopped and talked to them, but so briefly it had to be a quick warning and nothing more.

A month later I was back and got these images along the edge of the ocean.  No birds were harmed when I took my images ;)

Oystercatchers 1 of 3

Oystercatchers 2 of 3

Oystercatchers 3 of 3

 -Jon / Jon