Walker Golder: Blog https://www.walkergolder.com/blog en-us (C) Walker Golder 2024 (Walker Golder) Fri, 19 Jan 2024 23:45:00 GMT Fri, 19 Jan 2024 23:45:00 GMT https://www.walkergolder.com/img/s/v-12/u643148285-o117392213-50.jpg Walker Golder: Blog https://www.walkergolder.com/blog 84 120 Roadside Swans https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2024/1/roadside-swans The Tundra Swans were in a field near the road. It's common in Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.  While naturally wary and rightfully so, they are not hunted in the refuge and they are fairly used to vehicles along the road. On this day they were on the edge of the field.  I parked and waited, and readied my camera and lens in my vehicle's window as the group of foraging swans made their way toward me.  In this situation, the car was the best blind.  They see the car, obviously, but if my movements were slow and limited, they would not be alarmed.

All was well.  The swans continued to feed and some approached too close to photograph with my 600mm lens. I did not dare move inside the car when they were close. And that's when I noticed another car approaching. The car stopped next to the swans. A door flings open and one of the occupants runs around the car to snap a photo with their phone.  All of the swans immediately went on alert and moved a safe distance away from the road.  The person got back in their car and moved on.  The swans resumed feeding after several minutes.

Sometimes, a car can be the best blind when the birds are used to cars.  Birds will usually tolerate your presence as long as your movements are limited and especially if you position the car in way that the birds approach you rather that you approaching the birds.  

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(Walker Golder) Birds National Wildlife Refuge Tundra Swan waterfowl https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2024/1/roadside-swans Fri, 19 Jan 2024 12:46:36 GMT
Tundra Swan trio https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2024/1/tundra-swan-trio Tundra Swans migrate and usually spend the winter in family groups.  This trio, a youngster and two adults, are making their final pass before landing in a field with about 1,000 other swans.  The photo was taken near Pungo Lake, Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina.  

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(Walker Golder) Birds National Wildlife Refuge North Carolina Tundra Swan waterfowl https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2024/1/tundra-swan-trio Sat, 13 Jan 2024 13:42:30 GMT
North Carolina Refuges https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/12/north-carolina-refuges We are fortunate in North Carolina to have 11 National Wildlife Refuges.  They are great any time of the year and the wildlife you'll find there vary with season.  Winter is a great time for waterfowl on the coast and the refuges are a must-stop for anyone interested in waterfowl photography or waterfowl watching.

I had the pleasure of joining a few friends on the Outer Banks in December.  Pea Island and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuges were tops on our list of must-visit places. Alligator River is an excellent place to photograph Norther Harriers. There seems to be several that hunt near the roads.  It's a great place to see waterfowl, black bears, and possibly a red wolf.  Waterfowl are the main attraction at Pea Island.  Many species of diving and puddle ducks, Snow Geese and Tundra Swans are easy to find.  It's a great place for winter NC rarities like White Pelicans, Eurasian Widgeon, and possibly a Ross' Goose.  A Roseate Spoonbill had been sighted prior to our visit, but was nowhere to be found.

The waterfowl are fairly used to seeing people walking the dike that separates two of the impoundments.  They are still wary, as all waterfowl are, but they can be good photography subjects if your patient at your approach and letting them come to you.  The American Wigeon above paint no attention to me as they fed along the marsh.

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(Walker Golder) American Wigeon birds North Carolina waterfowl https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/12/north-carolina-refuges Tue, 26 Dec 2023 18:26:26 GMT
Moon setting with Tundra Swans https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/12/moon-setting-with-tundra-swans

My first trip of the winter to Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge did not disappoint. It never does.  It was a bluebird day. The moon was setting to the west and Tundra Swans were leaving Pungo Lake in small flocks.  Tundra Swans are abundant on the refuge, one of the most significant overwintering areas on the Atlantic coast. It was only a matter of time for a flock to pass in front of the moon. 

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(Walker Golder) Atlantic Flyway birds moonset north carolina pocosin lakes national wildlife refuge tundra swan waterfowl https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/12/moon-setting-with-tundra-swans Fri, 15 Dec 2023 12:59:58 GMT
Turkey Vultures https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/12/turkey-vultures Turkey Vulture sunning itself.Turkey Vulture, coastal North CarolinaTurkey Vulture with wings stretched in the morning sun.

Vultures, both turkey and black, are a common sight year round in North Carolina.  They're usually seen soaring, standing along a road or in a field, or perched high in the top of a tree or on a structure. And it is not uncommon to see them perched high in a tree with their wings stretched, like the Turkey Vulture in the photo.

I encountered this individual with about ten others, each sunning themselves in the morning sun.  This is a common behavior.  They do it to dry their feathers and warm their bodies to give them a boost of energy.  One author described it as an extra cup of coffee in the morning.  It has been reported that this behavior may cleanse themselves of ectoparasites, but this has been refuted in some scientific publications.  

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(Walker Golder) Birds North Carolina Turkey Vulture https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/12/turkey-vultures Wed, 13 Dec 2023 15:01:28 GMT
Black Bear https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/12/black-bear

The NC Wildlife Resources Commission estimates the state population of black bear at 17,000 concentrated in the eastern and western part of the state. The population in the Albemarle-Pamlico peninsula is reported to be the densest population of black bears in the world.  They pack on weight in fall and early winter in preparation for denning.  This bear, photographed in eastern North Carolina, definitely got the memo.

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(Walker Golder) Black Bear North Carolina https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/12/black-bear Mon, 11 Dec 2023 10:46:14 GMT
Stormy Swans https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/12/stormy-swans

It rained on and off all morning.  The wind increased steadily as the temperature fell.  There were no opportunities for photography.  By the afternoon, the rain stopped and the skies began to show signs that the front was passing. This photo was taken during the last and only light of the day just minutes before the sun dipped below the horizon.

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(Walker Golder) North Carolina Tundra Swan https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/12/stormy-swans Sun, 10 Dec 2023 19:48:46 GMT
Short-billed Dowitchers in decline https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/8/short-billed-dowitchers-in-decline

This is a species that doesn’t get much attention from conservationists and are usually just checked off by birders who keep lists. They are not listed as threatened or endangered, and IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) lists the species as “least concern.”  Maybe it’s time to take a closer look.

A recent study analyzed data from the International Shorebird Survey, Atlantic Canada Shorebird Survey, and the Ontario Shorebird Survey, all of which have been going on since the 1970s. The study found that Short-billed Dowitchers have declined by as much as 80% within the mid-north Atlantic coast area (NC to eastern Canada) over the past 40 years.  The decline found in the study exceeded the threshold for the species to be considered endangered by IUCN.

They’re not big and showy, and some might not consider them charismatic, but I think they deserve attention from the conservation community.    They are telling us something about the Atlantic coast.  

 

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(Walker Golder) Atlantic Flyway Coastal Birds Conservation Shorebirds Short-billed Dowitchers https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/8/short-billed-dowitchers-in-decline Mon, 07 Aug 2023 15:44:30 GMT
Short-billed Dowitchers https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/8/short-billed-dowitchers Short-billed Dowitchers are migrating along the Atlantic coast right now. They departed from the boreal forest of Canada where they breed in wetlands, often where the forest transitions to tundra.  They may spend the winter from the southern US to the northern coast of South America.  On this day in late July, they were at Rich Inlet, North Carolina.  It's one of the few relatively natural inlets in the state and it's rich with invertebrates that will fuel their migration. 

The photo: I like to photograph shorebirds at their level.  This means I go as low as I can. For this photo, I was lying flat on the wet sand with my camera and lens resting on a boat cushion (a ground pod works well also). I watched the dowitchers and other shorebirds for about 15-20 minutes before determining where I wanted to be and moving into position.  Key considerations were direction of light, movements of the shorebirds, and movement of the tide.  All are important.  Once in place, I let the birds approach me.  I find that this is the best way to get natural behaviors and allow the birds to forage, preen, rest and go about their business without disturbance. 

 

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(Walker Golder) Birds Shorebirds Short-billed Dowitcher https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/8/short-billed-dowitchers Thu, 03 Aug 2023 11:55:06 GMT
Stopped for a Whimbrel and found Least Terns https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/6/least-tern I see something interesting each time I visit tidal creeks near my home.  On this day the tide was low. I positioned myself on one end of a sand/mud bar with the hope of photographing a Whimbrel that was hunting fiddler crabs.  As I lay flat on the mud with my camera resting on a boat cushion, a Whimbrel was hunting about 20 yards away.  The Whimbrel would crouch and run, then probe the mud. Fiddler crabs quickly retreated to their burrows. 

At least 30 minutes passed, maybe more, when I heard the distinctive squeaky voice of a Least Tern.  The small seabird landed about 30' away.  And then came another carrying a fish, which it fed to the tern standing in front of me.  The fish exchange was very quick; the bird's feet barely touched the mud before it flew off. A few minutes later it returned with another fish. Three fish were delivered and the adult being fed (almost certainly a female) consumed all. After the third fish, the male did not fly off. It was a few feet away from their female and began to display (below). These behaviors are part of courtship.   

As for the photo: by lying flat on the mud and being careful to move slowly and only as much as needed to frame the photo, the birds did not seem to mind that I was there. Also, I used a 600mm telephoto lens which further enabled me to keep a safe distance from the terns.

I lost sight of the Whimbrel. The terns were a more interesting subject to photograph.

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(Walker Golder) Atlantic Coast Coastal Birds Least Tern North Carolina coast Seabirds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/6/least-tern Mon, 12 Jun 2023 12:29:13 GMT
Least Sandpiper https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/5/least-sandpiper  Least Sandpipers are the smallest of the sandpipers, measuring about 5.5 inches and weighing about 1 oz. They spend the winter from the mid-southern US to northern South America and breed primarily in the tundra of northern Canada. They are migrating through the North Carolina coast this time of year.  I was fortunate to be able to spend a morning with them earlier this week. I've photographed them in my home state of North Carolina, on the Maine coast, and in The Bahamas, but will never pass up the opportunity to share a sandy shoal with them.

For this photograph, I was lying flat on the sand.  The tide was rising and the birds were at the far end of the sand shoal.  As the tide came in, the small flock of about a dozen sandpipers began foraging in my direction.  The only move I made was to track the birds with the camera.  The sandpipers clearly noticed this unusual blob (me) on the shoal, but did not change their behavior and passed within ten feet. As they passed, I remained still until they were far enough away to remain undisturbed.

A new study by Manomet (https://www.manomet.org/publication/new-study-conservation-actions-slow-decline-shorebird-populations/)
found negative population trends for 26 of 28 shorebird species studied. The greatest declines were found along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Nova Scotia.  For Least Sandpipers, the study found a declining population. Unfortunately, this was the trend for most of the species studied.  

These diminutive shorebirds will be gone soon, heading to northern Canada breeding areas.  I hope to see them again on their southbound migration.

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(Walker Golder) Atlantic Flyway Birds Least Sandpiper North Carolina Shorebirds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/5/least-sandpiper Thu, 18 May 2023 12:33:08 GMT
Spring renewal https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/5/renewal-of-spring Great Egret with chicksGreat Egret with chicks Spring is time for renewal and growth. Birds are migrating and beginning to nest, mammals are giving birth, many species of insects are emerging, plants grow and bloom. Birds, like these Great Egrets, early nesters, are hatching.  By summer, their chicks are grown and the next generation enters the real world where they have to make it on their own.   

I am excited and energized by spring.  

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(Walker Golder) Birds Coast Birds Great Egret Great Egret chicks Nesting Season Wading Birds Waterbirds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/5/renewal-of-spring Fri, 12 May 2023 00:51:06 GMT
Showy Snowy Egrets https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/4/showy-snowy-egrets I t's spring and the Snowy Egrets are brilliant.  Courtship and securing a good nest site is on their mind. They're very vocal, aggressive towards other waders that approach too close, and they are showing off their brilliant plumes. 

I had the good fortune to spend time with showy Snowy Egrets at the peak of courtship last week.  Courtship was at its peak for most. Nest building was underway for a few. 

The trick to photographing them was the light that filtered trough the trees.  One minute they were shadowed; the next they were in the sun.  It all comes together when the bird is in the sun and the background is in the shadows.  I liked this image in color, b ut I think I like it more in black and white.

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(Walker Golder) Birds Black and White Wildlife Snowy Egret Wading Birds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/4/showy-snowy-egrets Tue, 11 Apr 2023 22:01:12 GMT
Reddish Egret plumage https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/3/reddish-egret-plumage Reddish Egret, dark morph, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, FloridaReddish Egret, dark morph, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida In my last blog post I shared a little information about Reddish Egrets. You probably noticed that there was nothing reddish about the individual in the photo. There are two color morphs: a slate blue-gray with a reddish neck, often called the dark morph, and white plumage.  Some individuals have both dark and white plumage, often referred to as “pied.” It has been reported that the white morph was far more common in the United States prior to the millenary trade. Today, the dark morph is more common.

In my home state of North Carolina, Reddish Egrets were once a rare sight. They have been more common in recent years, often seen from mid summer to through fall. These individuals are likely post nesting juveniles from breeding areas further south or along the Gulf Coast. They are not known to breed in North Carolina. The closest breeding individuals are in South Carolina where breeding was confirmed in 2004.

 

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(Walker Golder) coastal birds Florida Reddish Egret wading birds waterbirds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/3/reddish-egret-plumage Mon, 27 Mar 2023 22:21:19 GMT
Reddish Egret https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/3/reddish-egret A great friend, Rich Paul, was an authority on Reddish Egrets. As manager of the National Audubon Society’s Florida Coastal Islands Sanctuaries, he studied them, protected their nesting sites, wrote about their life history, and was a tireless advocate throughout their range. Rich was also a mentor to me when I was hired by the National Audubon Society to establish a network of waterbird sanctuaries on the North Carolina coast.

I  can see his fascination with these wading birds. In flight, they seem to float through the air.  When feeding, they “dance” and run across the flats in pursuit of small fish or shrimp. They run with a drunken tilt or laser sharp focus, spin 180 degrees in a split second, and strike with lightning speed to capture their prey. One minute you marvel at their agility and elegance; the next minute they may have you laughing at their antics. 

Rich lost his battle with cancer in 2005. The Reddish Egret Conservation Action Plan (2014) was dedicated in his memory. 

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(Walker Golder) Bahamas Birds coastal Conservation Reddish Egret wading birds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/3/reddish-egret Sun, 12 Mar 2023 23:45:33 GMT
Pintails https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/3/pintails Pintails last light, Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge, North CarolinaPintails last light, Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina

There is something about pintails in flight.  They're fast and sleek, appear more streamlined than most ducks, and seem to glide effortlessly through the air.  In late winter they're courting and flights are exceptionally brilliant.  It is not uncommon to see the males racing across the sky trying to impress a female.  Most ducks perform some sort of courtship flight, but I find the flight of pintails to be the most brilliant of all.

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(Walker Golder) birds Birds in Flight Northern Pintail Pintail waterfowl https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/3/pintails Sat, 04 Mar 2023 12:00:02 GMT
Discovering shorebirds in The Bahamas https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/3/discovering-shorebirds-in-the-bahamas It's February and I feel like I should be in The Bahamas. For years I spent several weeks each year in The Bahamas, often in January or February, searching for shorebirds. We traveled the length of north and central Andros, from the northern Joulter Cays to Bigwood Cay, and every beach and tidal flat in between.  We explored the beaches and tidal flats on the Berry Islands, Inagua, Abaco and more. Over time we learned how and when the shorebirds used the sites, discovered new overwintering areas for threatened species, resighted many banded birds, documented distribution and abundance, identified key habitats the birds were using, assessed potential threats, and recorded data on many other species. 

We traveled by boat, kayak, car and hiked uncounted miles across the sand flats, shallow waters and beaches; camped in remote areas, lived aboard a sailboat and motorboat, and stayed in a wide variety of accommodations. I remember being told “you can’t camp on the Joulter Cays…it’s too dangerous…” 

But it was the only way learn the place, how the shorebirds used various habitats, how the habitats changed through the tidal cycle, and the true importance of the place. We pressed on and convinced a local boat captain to drop us off at one place (with kayaks) and pick us up at another several days later. 

We paddled and pulled the kayaks through the clear water. Lemon sharks, nurse sharks, bonefish and sea turtles were constant companions. Reddish Egrets were common, Great Egrets were regular. Other long-legged waders were frequent. Shorebirds were abundant. This was their place. 

Through it all our discoveries of new overwintering areas for threatened shorebirds led to the creation of new national protected areas. Documenting banded shorebirds led to new information about their connections to migration stopovers and breeding grounds in the US and Canada, and worked successfully with partners like Bahamas National Trust to protect more than 100,000 acres.

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(Walker Golder) Bahamas Conservation Shorebirds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/3/discovering-shorebirds-in-the-bahamas Thu, 02 Mar 2023 13:11:13 GMT
“Blue” Geese https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/2/-blue-geese “Blue” Geese, Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina.

In a large gathering of Snow Geese, you’ll usually see dark-bodied geese. They’re also Snow Geese, just the dark phase of the Lesser Snow Goose. For an along time they were considered a separate species called Blue Goose. Other geese also have dark a light phases, like Ross’s Goose, which are very rare on the Atlantic coast.
 

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(Walker Golder) Birds Blue Carolina Geese North Snow waterfowl winter https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/2/-blue-geese Thu, 09 Feb 2023 13:59:31 GMT
Snow Geese https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/2/snow-geese

On this day the geese started to arrive about an hour before sunset. Dozens at first, then hundreds, and several thousand by sunset. Hundreds landed on the far end of a field of corn and hundreds more were following the same path. Almost as quickly as they landed, they blasted off. The air was thick with geese, some gliding down and others rising from the field. They merged and began to circle the field again. They would land and blast off a few times before last light.

In the early 1900s, the population of Greater Snow Geese was estimated at about 3,000. Today, the population is estimated at 700,000 - 800,000. They breed in the high arctic from the Foxe Basin to northern Elsemere Island and western Greenland; overwintering occurs primarily from New Jersey to North Carolina. The increased population has led to concern about potential impacts on other species that also breed in the high arctic.

They are my favorite of all geese and I will enjoy every opportunity to see them.

Snow Geese settle in a corn field to forage.

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(Walker Golder) North Carolina Snow Geese Snow Goose Waterfowl https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2023/2/snow-geese Thu, 02 Feb 2023 22:54:00 GMT
Up close with Cans https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2020/1/up-close-with-cans

It's rare to be up close with wild waterfowl, especially diving ducks of the big, open water.  They're wary, and rightfully so.  It's essential to their survival.  Canvasbacks are a duck of the open water.  To me, they have always been somewhat of a prize just to see them.  So when I'm anywhere near the eastern shore of Maryland, I go looking for Canvasbacks and I am always hoping for the opportunity to photograph them.

Canvasbacks are sometimes called the "king of ducks." Mark Twain, in 1879, wrote a menu of his favorite foods while he was siting in a hotel room in Italy.  Canvasbacks from Chesapeake Bay that had been feeding on wild celery were on the list.  He wasn't alone.  The tastiness of Canvasbacks nearly led to their demise at the hands of market gunners who shot them relentlessly to supply the city markets and restaurants.

Fortunately, there are still places where you can see them in great numbers, like the eastern shore of Maryland. And I feel fortunate to have spent time with these great birds.

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(Walker Golder) waterfowl https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2020/1/up-close-with-cans Sat, 18 Jan 2020 00:09:10 GMT
Snow Geese https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2019/3/snow-geese

On a cold, clear February morning on the eastern shore of Maryland, I headed out at first light to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.  The road to get there takes you through rural farmland where corn stubble from last year's crop is evident.  It is not uncommon in this area to see geese in the fields or flying in the distance.

A few hundred snow geese came over a distant tree line. I pulled over to watch. There were more in the distance.  As I sat on the shoulder of the road hundreds and hundreds of snow geese locked their black-tipped wings, their heads back, and they began to descend.  Their approach wasn't direct; they're smarter than that.  On the eastern shore where goose hunting is a long standing cultural tradition, geese that are not entirely vigilant find themselves on a dinner plate. They circled and circled, and when the first group had thoroughly inspected the landing zone, they settled down on the field.  

 Soon the sky was filled with with geese.  In the distance, overhead, landing in the field, there were geese everywhere.  For the next 20 minutes the snows, both dark and white, settled in the field.  

The sound of snow geese in the air reminds me of a rickety old train going down the tracks; metal scraping on metal, high pitches and low, and the rumble on an engine. On the ground, there is a low rumble punctuated by the louder "honks" that you expect from geese.

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(Walker Golder) birds waterfowl https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2019/3/snow-geese Tue, 19 Mar 2019 00:16:41 GMT
Seabird Restoration https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2018/8/seabird-restoration

I can see why many people flock to the Maine coast for the warmest months of summer.  It’s quite comfortable, even cool compared to my home on the southern North Carolina coast. But escaping heat and humidity was not the reason for my trip.  I went to visit with my good friend Dr. Steve Kress who runs National Audubon Society’s Seabird Restoration Program.

As part of the trip, I wanted to see the famed Maine coast island where, in the 1970s, Dr. Kress launched a project to restore Atlantic Puffins to their former breeding grounds in Maine and pioneered seabird restoration techniques that are now used around the world. Social attraction involves using decoys and sound recordings of the bird vocalizations to lure the seabirds back to a place where habitat has been restored.   Dr. Kress also transplanted puffin chicks from nesting sites Newfoundland and raised them in burrows with the hopes they would return as breeding adults.

It worked. Atlantic Puffins have been restored on several islands along the coast of Maine. Today the Maine coast has about 1,000 breeding pairs of puffins. He also restored Common, Roseate and Arctic terns, and had the first ever Razorbill nest.

 

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(Walker Golder) https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2018/8/seabird-restoration Thu, 23 Aug 2018 11:39:48 GMT
Trembling with delight https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2018/6/trembling-with-delight

My hands were almost trembling with delight as I held for the first time a Semipalmated Sandpiper.  Seconds earlier I carefully manipulated the net around its wings and over its head and freed it from the "woosh net."  I was to transfer it to the holding box and then remove the next one. The safety of these small shorebirds was the top priority.

I admired the little shorebird in my hand, an adult starting to gain its breeding plumage, as if to assure it that all would be fine and it would be back with the flock in short order.  I admired its bill and the partial webbing between its toes from which it gets its name, and its plumage starting to show the rusty browns of the season. It's eyes were bright and full of life. My grip was loose and it barely struggled, as if to say "you got me, now just don't eat me and it will all be good." In to the holding box it went where others were waiting and it could relax.

Each spring during the last few weeks of May, Semipalmated Sandpipers descend on the shores of Delaware Bay in great numbers to feast on the fat-rich eggs of Horseshoe Crabs.  They probably spent the winter on the northern coast of South America in Suriname or French Guiana. For most, this may be the last stop before they reach the Arctic where they will breed during the short Arctic summer. The eggs are the fuel they will need for the final leg of migration. To say that Delaware Bay and Horseshoe Crabs are important to Semipalmated Sandpipers would be a gross understatement.

I had the pleasure of joining Dr. David Mizrahi, Director of Research for New Jersey Audubon Society, and his team who have long been studying Semipalmated Sandpipers in Delaware Bay and in South America. Part of his research involves capturing the shorebirds, weighing and measuring each individual, and then banding the birds with the hopes they will be encountered again at some place in the hemisphere.

Each bird provides valuable data used to better understand how well Semipalmated Sandpipers are doing, where they stop during migration and spend the winter, and potentially where they breed.  The weights and measures provide a good indication of their fitness. Over time, data from Dr. Mizrahi's research provides a picture of the well-being of the overall population and helps in making informed conservation decisions.

The assembly line for weighing, measuring and banding the birds was already set up, and the banding team took their stations to process each bird.  They had done this before and moved through each bird quickly and efficiently. The 25 sandpipers we captured were finished in short order and within about an hour from the time they were captured, they were released back on the beach so they could rejoin the flock. Each was no worse for the experience and contributed to the conservation of their species.

 

 

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(Walker Golder) birds conservation shorebirds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2018/6/trembling-with-delight Wed, 13 Jun 2018 01:22:29 GMT
Ancient creatures of the Bay https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2018/5/ancient-creatures-of-the-bay

 In spring, about this time of year, Horseshoe Crabs move the sandy shoreline of beaches and islands along the Atlantic coast to spawn.  These odd creatures are relics from the past.  The fossil record indicates they have been on this earth for 300 to 450 million years, from the time when dinosaurs roamed, and they have persisted ever since. 

Delaware Bay supports the greatest concentration. And it's no coincidence that Delaware Bay is one of the major spring migration stopovers for Arctic-breeding shorebirds.  The eggs of Horseshoe Crabs are rich in fats that help shorebirds replenish the essential fat that will fuel their next leg of migration which, for many species, will carry them to Arctic breeding grounds.

On the shores of Delaware Bay about a week ago, I was on the beach about the time of high tide and late afternoon, when Horseshoe Crabs emerged to spawn. Thousands of them lined the shore.  Females depositing their egg masses in the wet sand; males surrounding the females to fertilize the eggs as they were laid. And it's hard to imagine that these ancient creatures have survived and this ritual of life persists.  

In another post, I will talk about some of the challenges for the crabs and species that depend on them.

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(Walker Golder) https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2018/5/ancient-creatures-of-the-bay Sun, 20 May 2018 12:53:24 GMT
My time with Canvasbacks https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/11/canvasbacks

For me, Canvasbacks have always been elusive. They are not common in southern North Carolina. To see them, I usually had to travel to Lake Mattamuskeet or Pamlico Sound.  Even there, I'd catch a glimpse of them in the distance as they sat in large rafts on big, open water or racing across the sky at the edge of the horizon.  Never was I close enough to see the red eye of the drakes or to appreciate the unique shape and large size of their bill.

Canvasbacks depicted in art are usually shown making their final pass at decoys, often catching an unwary duck hunter off guard, with rough water and the nastiest weather of waterfowling tradition. The art harkens back to a time when cans were the prized duck for hunters and for the table.  

So when I found canvasbacks in a calm, sheltered cove off Chesapeake Bay, I immediately grabbed my camera.  Instead of framing and pressing the shutter, I sat and watched them for the longest time.  I admired the unique bill, the deep red-rust color of the drake's head, black chest, and contrast with their silvery back and sides.  They were calm and stoic, a sharp contrast to the sporting art, and the color of their back feathers was so uniform that it resembled fabric. And those red, red eyes hardly seemed real.

I did indeed get around to the photography and enjoyed every minute of my time with cans.

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(Walker Golder) birds canvasback waterfowl https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/11/canvasbacks Wed, 29 Nov 2017 01:10:39 GMT
A morning with Shorebirds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/9/a-morning-with-shorebirds Semipalmated Sandpiper, North Carolina coastSemipalmated Sandpiper, North Carolina coast

They are not the most colorful and showy of the bird world. They are not the largest or the most iconic species, either.  But the shorebirds are to me some of the most fascinating of all birds.  These small, drab birds of mostly grays and browns; birds that are often lumped as one--sandpipers-- and most shorter than your smart phone and weigh much less are birds that I always enjoy photographing.  

Some breed in the short summer of Canada, Alaska, some in the Arctic, and travel thousands of miles during migration; a journey that crosses continents, carries them through hurricane season in the Atlantic along with untold other storms, dogs chasing them while they are trying to find enough food to pack on enough fat to fuel the next leg of migration, people taking over the beach where they rest and digest during high tide, and merlin or peregrine falcons following their migration and picking off the slow or those that zigged when they should have zagged.  It's amazing that any make it at all.

Many make it, but many don't.  And for the northernmost breeding species, most are not producing enough chicks to replace the adults that are falling victim to chronic disturbance, habitat loss, predation, and other threats.  They're populations are declining; numbers of some species are less than half of what they were a couple of decades ago.  How many will there be a couple of decades from now?

I guess that's why I enjoy them. I'm amazed that this little Western Sandpiper was probably in western Alaska not long ago and only it knows where it will go from here.  I'm careful not to disturb any of them as I lay flat and motionless on the wet sand and do my best to blend in.  I don't want my presence to deter them from finding all the food they need to make it through the fall and winter, and get back to the Alaska to begin the cycle all over again.

 

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(Walker Golder) birds shorebirds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/9/a-morning-with-shorebirds Thu, 21 Sep 2017 08:07:50 GMT
Cloudscapes of the Joulter Cays https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/8/cloudscapes-of-the-joulter-cays

The Joulter Cays National Park lies about 15 miles north from the north end of Andros, The Bahamas.  It’s nearly 100,000 acres in size and two years ago today, August 31st, it was designated as one of the newest additions to the expansive National Park system of The Bahamas.  The protection of the Joulter Cays was brought about by a partnership between the Bahamas National Trust, National Audubon Society, the Bahamian Government, and the residents of Andros.  It was an honor to be part of the team that worked to protect this special place.

The Joulter Cays is well known for rich birdlife and fisheries, and for the unique oolite deposits that make up the vast majority of sand in the area. It’s a place where the water is miles wide and inches deep, where bonefish, nurse sharks and lemon sharks cruise the shallows, and where shorebirds from as far away as the northern Arctic gather for the winter and stopover to refuel during their long migrations. The richness of natural resources in this remote National Park is equally matched by the wonderful cloudscapes. 

My favorite time is the fall when the atmosphere is active with humidity and the first of cold fronts push down from the north.  The clouds that form are magnificent and add vertical drama to this horizontal landscape.  At times, the clouds are very low and appear to touch the water.  Their undersides can appear greenish blue reflecting the color of the water. Rain showers can come quickly, but with those come rainbows. 

While the colors of the cloudscapes are nice, I found that the image converted to black and white was most appealing.  I hope you enjoy this image.  Thanks for stopping by.

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(Walker Golder) bahamas cloudscapes coast life https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/8/cloudscapes-of-the-joulter-cays Thu, 31 Aug 2017 12:00:00 GMT
Never enough Great Egrets https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/8/never-enough-great-egrets

I have lots of Great Egret photos and I have never taken the time to count how many are in my files.  I have them from winter, spring, summer, and fall; from several states, swamps and marshes, and more.  Yet when I get the opportunity to take more, I always do so.  I never get tired of spending time with these great birds, watching their behaviors, and taking lots of photos. So when I was on the eastern shore of Maryland recently, I just had to stop for this individual who was begging to be photographed.  It stood in a shrub by the roadside and preened each feather with masterful precision.  One by one, it preened and preened. I did not notice the time, but it seemed like an hour was spent with this bird.  And when I left, it was still preening away. You can never have enough photos of Great Egrets.

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(Walker Golder) birds great egret wading birds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/8/never-enough-great-egrets Tue, 22 Aug 2017 20:48:10 GMT
A discontented tree...or not https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/8/a-discontented-tree-or-not

John Muir wrote: "I never saw a discontented tree.  They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do."This pine, I believe a Pinyon Pine, clings to existence on rock at the edge of a cliff.  It seems there is little to keep it in place, and it might blow over with even the slightest wind, but it holds fast to the rock and survives through the seasons.

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(Walker Golder) landscape utah https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/8/a-discontented-tree-or-not Tue, 01 Aug 2017 23:30:00 GMT
On the road https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/7/on-the-road It's been a while since my last post. Travel, work and all of the little things that leave few hours left in the day seem to get in the way of tending my blog. One of the highlights of my July was traveling through Utah. In my years of travel and experiencing many corners of our world, Utah was one place that I had never experienced. It's an amazing place with landscapes that must be seen in person to be truly appreciated.  I stood in awe at Canyonlands and Arches, hiked deep into the Hoodoos of Bryce, hiked knee deep in The Narrows of Zion, and mountain-biked the mesas of National Forests. It was a family trip, not a photo trip, but over the next couple of weeks I'll post photos that I took along the way. I hope you enjoy.

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(Walker Golder) landscape special places utah https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/7/on-the-road Tue, 25 Jul 2017 23:00:00 GMT
Those skimmers https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/6/those-skimmers

The aerial confrontations of Black Skimmers begin on the ground for a reason known only to the skimmers.  Maybe over territory, or a mate, or dominance, or something else entirely. It quickly escalates to an all-out aerial chase with the aggressor in hot pursuit nipping at tail feathers or wingtips if the opportunity presents itself as they race across the sky.  In this case, the fleeing skimmer turned to confront the aggressor and the chase reversed. And then almost as quickly as it started, it's over, and both skimmers settle back in the colony to go about their business.  It's all a part of being a skimmer and I'm thrilled to be a spectator.

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(Walker Golder) Beach Birds Birds in Flight Black Skimmer https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/6/those-skimmers Thu, 01 Jun 2017 08:51:46 GMT
Sanderling https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/5/sanderling

I was lying flat on the sand with my camera focused intently on this sanderling scurrying on the wet sand.  It followed the waves as they retreated and then quickly ran away as the next wave advanced, and probed madly at the sand in the brief seconds in between.  Occasionally it would extract a mole crab (often called "sand fiddlers") or a small coquina clam. A Ruddy Turnstone was sifting through the wrack a short distance away, flipping over the stems of dead marsh grass as it searched for any morsel.  A Willet joined the Sanderling in the intertidal zone and it too found a mole crab or two.  

I had not noticed a couple approaching me and only when their shadow came over me did I realize that I was being watched.  They were out for a morning stroll on the beach and I guess I look pretty silly to them..or in distress...who knows?  They asked what I was photographing.  I replied and pointed to the shorebirds, to which they seemed disinterested and they went on their way.

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(Walker Golder) Beach Birds Coast Life Shorebirds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/5/sanderling Mon, 22 May 2017 09:30:00 GMT
Beach Birds of Spring https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/5/beach-birds-of-spring

Spring is a great time for shorebirds and seabirds.  Migration is in full swing for shorebirds and seabirds, like Least Terns, are gathering on the beaches to court and begin nesting.  I was able to spend a little time with Least Terns recently and here are a couple of photos from that shoot.

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(Walker Golder) Beach Birds Inlets Least Terns https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/5/beach-birds-of-spring Sat, 13 May 2017 12:58:27 GMT
A sure sign of Spring https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/3/great-egrets  

When Great Egrets start nesting it is a sure sign that winter is loosening its grip and spring is going to burst forth.  Like most birds-and people-they put on their best for courtship.  Their plumage is immaculate, their aigrettes are perfect, and their loves turn a brilliant green.  It's the time of year I love to photograph them most.

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(Walker Golder) Birds Spring Wading Birds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/3/great-egrets Sun, 26 Mar 2017 12:17:59 GMT
The tide came in https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/2/the-tide-came-in

Left by the tide, this sea star, or "starfish" as they are commonly called, is out of its element.  It struggles to "breathe." It's body goes into survival mode.  A sea star is not made for mobility on wet sand and will never make it to the water on it's own.  Instead, it will need the water to return on the flooding tide.

I was there last week, struggling for breath, in a familiar place but out of my element, my body entering survival mode and breaking down.  I am lucky that my tide came in.

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(Walker Golder) Bahamas Coast Life https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/2/the-tide-came-in Sat, 11 Feb 2017 13:50:11 GMT
A Morning with Tundra Swans https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/1/a-morning-with-tundra-swans I stopped off at Pungo Lake recently to see the great Tundra Swans, Snow Geese and other waterfowl that winter in the Pungo Unit of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge this time of the year.  After being routed all over the region due to bridge repairs and replacements, including having Google maps route me along what I believe was a service road (unpaved and nearly required 4WD) through agricultural fields, I arrived at the refuge just after sunrise.

No swans or geese were in the fields and I was a little late for the bears that can often be seen leaving the fields at first light. The swans and geese were still on Pungo Lake and the nearby impoundments. While many photographers focus on the fields and wait for the swans and geese to leave the lake, I focused my attention on the more than 1,000 swans that were in one of the impoundments.

The music of swans was all around.  They slept, preened, fed, bathed, and called to their neighbors.  The gray youngsters were scattered about, some sticking close to adults that were likely parents. Some chased each each other, grabbing wings and tails with their coal, black bills, and others gathered together and displayed and vocalized without aggression.

It was wonderful morning with these magnificent swans.  

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(Walker Golder) Birds Pocosin Lakes Refuge Tundra Swan Waterfowl https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2017/1/a-morning-with-tundra-swans Mon, 16 Jan 2017 14:18:46 GMT
Last light https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/12/last-light Migration is over now, for the most part.  Birds are where they are going to be for the winter. There may be some regional movements for species that are escaping extreme weather that limits food supply or access to it, but the long distances traveled by northern breeding birds to their southern homes has been accomplished.

Scott Weidensaul said it best when he wrote that migration is a leap of blind faith for most birds.  When birds leave northern breeding areas that may be the far northern limits of the North American continent for species like these Snow Geese, they do so with the hope that the places where they have stopped to rest and refuel during previous journeys will still be there, that the habitat that support them will still be there, and that the food will be sufficient to replenish their energy reserves so they can survive the next leg of migration.  There are no guarantees.

Snow Geese are lucky ones. They have adapted to habitat loss. They were once the goose of the marsh and they fed heavily on the tubers of Spartina along the Atlantic coast.  Today, they are largely a goose of the fields, like their Canada Goose cousins, and feed on grain or the roots of cover crops like winter wheat. They have adapted to new habitats and sources of food over the past several decades and their populations have flourished.  They have done so well that biologists are now concerned about breeding Snow Geese degrading the fragile Arctic tundra that supports so many North American birds, especially shorebirds.

I love the sound of Snow Geese.  Their sound is captivating. To me, a flock of Snow Geese remind me of a rickety old train moving down a track; the sound of metal on metal with creeks, clangs, cracks, and honks of different pitches and notes. On the days when I used to sit in the marsh and hear the geese all day, the sound would stick with me through the night back home and I would swear that the geese were flying over the house.  They were not, but their voices were in my head.

For this photo I arrived at the field late in the afternoon. Tundra Swans and a few Snow Geese were already there and many more were moving about.  The sun was descending to the west and the moon, nearly full, was rising in the east. Shadows fell on the geese and swans in the field, but they continued to come and go occasionally crossing the big, bright moon made even larger by 600mm + 1.4x extender. It was a great way to end the day.

 

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(Walker Golder) Birds Waterfowl https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/12/last-light Sun, 04 Dec 2016 19:15:30 GMT
Amazing Monarchs https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/11/amazing-monarchs

On the first crisp, cool mornings of fall you can visit some beaches along the North Carolina coast and witness migration of a different sort.  Not fish or birds, but butterflies; especially Monarchs.  The eastern population of Monarchs extends all the way to eastern Canada.  They travel southward through the eastern states in fall, through peninsular Florida or along the Gulf coast toward wintering areas in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico.

Migration occurs by day and the Monarchs cover between 50 and 100 miles each day.  By night, those following the barrier islands along the Atlantic coast will settle in the dunes and shrubs.  As the sun rises and warms the land, the Monarchs move up the stems of sea oats or out to the tips of shrubs to bask in the sun that warms their tiny bodies.  When the temperature is sufficient for sustained flight, they lift off one by one and embark on the next leg of their journey.

Fall is my favorite time on the North Carolina coast for all that it brings and for the little things like finding migrating Monarchs basking in the sun.

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(Walker Golder) Beach Coast Life Fall Migration Monarchs https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/11/amazing-monarchs Sun, 13 Nov 2016 15:46:44 GMT
Hurricanes... https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/10/hurricanes-and-such I do not consider myself a photographer that photographs people well, but I admire those who have this talent.  One such photographer that I admire for his ability to make a single image speak volumes is David Allen Harvey.  If you follow photography and you are a subscriber to National Geographic, you probably know his work.

Thirty-one years ago when I was an enthusiastic university student, and a want-to-be biologist, I was working on a research project studying birds that were nesting on beaches of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. And it was there that I had a chance to meet the man.

I lived behind Fox Watersports at the time, a surf and windsurfing shop in downtown Buxton. The proprietor of the business and friend, Ted James, was a full-tilt waterman—surfer, windsurfer, fisherman, and one hell of a nice man. Ted, although not an Outer Banks native, was the person that people gravitated to for insight into the people, places and activities that best represent life on the Outer Banks. With my passion for surfing, windsurfing and fishing, our paths crossed pretty quickly.

National Geographic was doing a story on the Outer Banks at the time and Harvey was the assigned photographer.  Our paths merged as we all pursued our work and recreation, day after day, and through the summer

There was probably no more dramatic event that was emblematic of life on the Outer Banks than a hurricane.   It was Hurricane Gloria.  Gloria struck the Outer Banks on September 27, 1985.  I stayed through the storm, along with Ted and other locals.  The National Geographic crew stayed also.  

The eye passed over in the middle of the night. We took notice when the sound of raging wind and pelting rain stopped and all went calm. We knew we were in the eye (this was long before The Weather Channel).  It was calm and dark, and quiet, so much so that we could hear the raindrops dripping from the leaves on the trees.  It was a bit surreal to be in the eye of Gloria. The opposite eye wall soon reached us and the roar of wind and pelting rain returned.  We retreated back to the safety of the home.

Harvey and crew were staying at a local hotel.  They described putting a mattress against the door and window in case it blew in or the hotel came crashing down around them, and being quite concerned for their safety through the night.

We were out and about at first light. People emerged from their lairs and we all took notice of the subtle clues of Gloria’s passage.  The power poles leaned to the east, some more than others.  There was a duck blind from the sound perched on the Civilian Conservation Corps-constructed dune line on the ocean side. Shrimp and pinfish were in puddles left behind in puddles in the parking lot of a local store as the storm surge retreated. 

I have been in the eyes of several hurricanes since, yet I am reminded of Hurricane Gloria as I am closely watching The Weather Channel to see if the path of Hurricane Matthew will come to my home town.  And I remember meeting the master photographer, David Allen Harvey, whose work I admire to this day.

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(Walker Golder) Coast Life Hurricanes https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/10/hurricanes-and-such Sat, 08 Oct 2016 14:00:00 GMT
Great Egrets https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/9/great-egrets The tide is nearly low in the little tidal pond and the water depth is low enough for Great Egrets to wade across the middle.  Each step is slow and deliberate. The egret's long neck and head strain to the side for a better look or maybe to reduce the glare from the sun.  There is barely a ripple on the water to convey the presence of danger to its finny prey. Any little glint of scales or fins, or maybe the translucent body of a shrimp will be met with a lightning fast attack, and as often as not, a meal for the egret.  This is the way Great Egrets stalk their prey.

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(Walker Golder) Birds Wading Birds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/9/great-egrets Sat, 10 Sep 2016 01:51:43 GMT
Rain, Rain, Rain https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/8/rain-rain-rain It's late summer in the southeast and that usually means heat, humidity and scattered showers.  Rain can happen at just about anytime during the day and you usually don't change your plans with a forecast of "scattered showers" because that's the forecast about 5 days each week.  You just deal with it and keep going.

That's exactly what I had to do on a recent shoot on Bald Head Island. I was asked to shoot the small freshwater ponds that are located throughout this coastal island that makes up Cape Fear.

I was up before sunrise only to hear the familiar sound of rain pelting the roof.  A quick check of the radar revealed lot's of green, but I headed out anyway to see what I could find. Rain and more rain fell as I traveled from pond to pond in search of a subject or interesting composition that best represented the ponds.  Birds were scarce, no alligators, and only a mossy-backed turtle greeted me when I stood on the viewing platform of one pond. And the rain continued...

The rain danced on the water; some drops large and some small.  Trees surrounding the pond cast a dark reflection on the still water that reflected the gray sky. And that's when I turn my camera on the drops hitting the water. The drops created concentric circles with edges that clashed with each other in wonderful patterns that made my morning.

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(Walker Golder) Bald Head Island patterns https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/8/rain-rain-rain Fri, 05 Aug 2016 02:49:06 GMT
A day for butterflies https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/8/a-day-for-butterflies  

 

 

Today, I walked down the street from a modest cabin in western North Carolina.  It's a walk I do often regardless of the season.  This time of year Goldfinch that gather in a field to forage on thistle or other food.  They also sit and sing on fence posts or on any number of shrubs or other plants. I had seen them just a few minutes earlier as I walked along the road, but as fate often has it they were scarce when I had camera in hand.  Instead, there were butterflies.  Lots of them.  They floated from flower to flower and I trained my camera on them.  I photographed several species, but this was my favorite of the morning.

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(Walker Golder) Butterflies https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/8/a-day-for-butterflies Mon, 01 Aug 2016 23:19:32 GMT
Skimmers https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/7/skimmers

Ornithologists Drs. Joanna Burger and Michael Gochfeld wrote of Black Skimmers in their landmark book -- The Black Skimmer: Social Dynamics of a Colonial Species --"We would have enjoyed the spectacle of coastal seaboard colonies of the early 1800s when birds rose like flakes of snow as explores passed down the beaches.  The sadness we experience when we visit a colony that has been wiped out by flooding or predation or particularly by human disturbance, makes us glad that we were not witnesses through the period of devastating exploitation from 1840 to 1900."

I can only imagine the skimmer colonies of the early 1800s along the North Carolina coast when skimmers and terns nested in great abundance.  They took advantage of the best habitat that was shaped by storms and did not have the threat of chronic disturbances and super-abundant predators, nor were they pursued relentlessly for their skins and feathers. It must have been great to see. 

Black Skimmers continue to nest on beaches and do well in areas where they are protected from disturbance and predators, and where they have the appropriate habitat.  Unfortunately, the habitat available to them is greatly reduced and so are their numbers in many states.  They are now relegated largely to the ends of some barrier islands and predator-free, remote islands.  They often are only able to net successfully when they are diligently protected and even then they are vulnerable to flooding during storms.  Even with protection of many nesting sites, the species is still listed as a species of concern in most states.

I feel fortunate to be able to visit a skimmer colony on occasion and watch these great birds as they nest and raise their chicks. These are the lucky ones because they are protected by the National Audubon Society and a large group of dedicated volunteers who keep a watchful eye on the nesting site.

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(Walker Golder) Beach Birds Black Skimmer Conservation Inlets Wrightsville Beach https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/7/skimmers Wed, 27 Jul 2016 11:38:16 GMT
Carolina Pelicans https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/7/carolina-pelicans In 1929 a Federal Conservation Agent named William L. Birsch traveled to a small island called Royal Shoal in Pamlico Sound, near Ocracoke.  It was an island know for nesting waterbirds like terns and skimmers, protected by the National Audubon Society, and said to have one of the largest tern colonies on the Atlantic coast.  In this year he found something different.  He found 14 large, bulky nests of Brown Pelicans. As records have it, he was the first ever to document Brown Pelicans nesting in North Carolina and the sate became the northern limit of the species' range.

Fast forward 48 years and a second colony of nesting pelicans to be discovered in the lower Cape Fear River between Wilmington and Southport. Between 1929 and 1977 fewer than 100 pelicans nested in North Carolina, but the establishment of the second colony in the Cape Fear River marked the beginning of an upward trend in pelicans nesting along the North Carolina coast.

By 1987 there were about 2,000 pelicans nesting in North Carolina and by 1993, the number had grown to more than 3,000 nesting pairs at 7 colony sites.  Today, there are some 4,500 nesting pairs along the North Carolina coast and they have since moved northward as far as Maryland.

Abundant, common throughout the year, and thriving along the Carolina coast because the nesting sites they depend on are protected by the National Audubon Society and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.

 

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(Walker Golder) Birds Brown Pelicans Conservation https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/7/carolina-pelicans Thu, 14 Jul 2016 02:43:18 GMT
Nobody wants to see a photo of a dead sea turtle https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/6/nobody-wants-to-see-a-photo-of-a-dead-sea-turtle I was recently cruising around in a marsh creek with my son when something odd in the marsh grass caught my eye. It didn't appear to be trash so I turned around to check it out. As I approached closer, it looked like a large, dark olive greenish - gray animal. It was a large sea turtle, an adult loggerhead, dead still and lifeless. It's limp body bobbed in our boat wake, head underwater, flippers out to the side, shell and skin with a thin covering of algae, and it did not look fresh.


We looked for prop or boat scars on its head and shell or fishing line or entanglement of another kind. There was none that we could see. I looked for any other explanation for this sea turtle being here and there was nothing obvious. I moved in a little closer to check for flipper tags that some sea turtles carry, and I prepared to measure the shell and collect the typical stranding data to report it to my sea turtle biologist friends who track things like this.

The wind caught the bow of the boat as we sat alongside the animal and we bumped its shell.  The lifeless hulk of sea turtle woke up, raised its head, took a breath.  It was startled, we were startled. I'm not sure who was more surprised.  It then slowly backed out of the marsh, turned toward the open water and dove under the boat. It surfaced 20' away, look over at us, and went on its way.  The feeling of surprise turned to guilt for disrupting the slumbers of this great animal.


There are no photos, of course, because who wants to see a photo of a dead sea turtle...

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(Walker Golder) https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/6/nobody-wants-to-see-a-photo-of-a-dead-sea-turtle Thu, 30 Jun 2016 11:02:05 GMT
Hatching time for American Oystercatchers https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/6/hatching-time-for-american-oystercatchers

On a sandy spit on one of my favorite beaches there is a wonderful nesting area for shorebirds, terns and Black Skimmers.  It is a special place and offers a unique opportunity to view nesting birds that are usually in more remote areas. I visit as often as I can with camera in hand. On a recent visit I discovered that one of the oystercatcher nests had hatched.

Oystercatchers are usually quite skittish.  They are constantly on the lookout for danger such as gulls, crows, a raccoon or fox, or people.  At the first notion of a threat the watchful parents will sound an alarm call and the chicks run for cover.  As I sat near the nesting area, well outside of the posted signs and string that protect the nesting birds, the parents brought the family out from an open area behind the dunes where they nest.  The chicks scurried about exploring their world, but never more than  a few feet from one of the parents. One parent was the guardian and the other was on watch while the chicks picked up small bits of dried marsh grass or pieces of shell, poked around at the sand, and watched the nearby skimmers.  Every minute or so, they would retreat to the safety of the parent, settle beneath, and they step out to explore again with a restlessness that was appropriate for their age. 

These oystercatchers have made it through one hurdle in life; they hatched.  The road ahead will be tough. Not all will survive.  But here at this nesting site, they have a chance.  They are protected by a dedicated group of volunteers led by the National Audubon Society. The volunteers manage the posted signs and string that encircle the entire nesting area and keep people a safe distance from the nesting birds, and they do it with warm smiles and an eagerness to tell people about the birds such that maybe the visitors will take notice, observe and be a little more enlightened than they arrived.

These birds are the lucky ones!  

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(Walker Golder) Beach Birds Conservation Oystercatcher Shorebirds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/6/hatching-time-for-american-oystercatchers Sat, 11 Jun 2016 10:01:33 GMT
Wrightsville Terns https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/5/wrightsville-terns Every morning when I have a an hour or so of free time before I head off to work, I travel to the south end of Wrightsville Beach to visit the tern-skimmer colony that has been there for the past several years.  Each trip is rewarded with a peaceful walk on the beach in the early morning hours when few others are there and with the chance to check in on the nesting terns and skimmers. 

Least Terns are the most abundant of the terns that nest.  The first chicks hatch late last week, but most are still incubating.  Some are still courting and building nests.  Common Terns are also nesting as are the striking Black Skimmers, the second most abundant of the nesters.  

While most of the least terns are paired and already nesting, a few unpaired adults are on the beach parading their freshly caught fish around a likely mate.   Should she find the suitor worthy, she will accept the fish and they will have a chance to raise the next generation of terns.

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(Walker Golder) Beach Birds Least Tern Wrightsville Beach https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/5/wrightsville-terns Tue, 24 May 2016 04:28:10 GMT
Every Banded Bird has a Story https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/5/every-banded-bird-has-a-story

 

I went to a local, uninhabitedl beach this weekend to photograph Red Knots and anything else that happened to present an opportunity.  It didn’t take long to find the knots.  Forty-eight were in a small flock on the ocean side of Hutaff Island.  All were probing wildly at the wet sand in search of small coquina clams, mole crabs or other food. The light wasn’t great; very cloudy and flat and I didn’t expect much from the photos, but it was great fun to watch the knots at their work.

 

This time of the year the knots are migrating north along the Atlantic coast from their wintering areas that could be as far away as the southern cone of South America.  They are headed to the Arctic where they will nest.  They stop over on beaches that have not been altered by replenishment of sand or 

structures, and have very few disturbances from people.  In other words, they like the natural beaches and inlets.  It is the natural inlets and beaches that have the food they need to fuel their long migration.  Beaches where sand is dumped lack the food that red knots need and therefore do not provide the habitat that migrating shorebirds need.

 

As I watched the flock of knots, the flash of a lime green flag caught my eye.  My attention turned to the flag.  Get a picture and I would be able to read the faded code and I would know more about this individual.  At the same time, I would contribute to the science of shorebirds and advance the understanding of where these long-distance migrants stopover during migration, nest or spend the winter.  The code was “113” and a quick report and look-up on bandedbirds.org revealed the history of this knot.

 

The bird was banded in the fall of 2010 at Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge and had not been reported from anywhere else.  Red knots do not stay on the coast of Massachusetts year round, so where it spent the winter is a mystery.  It could have spent the winter in South America and likely did, and it will likely continue north to Virginia or Delaware Bay before going to the Arctic to nest.  No way to know for sure. But one thing is for sure, it stops over on the coast of Massachusetts in the fall where it has been seen every year since it was banded.

 

Each banded bird is like finding a gem and they all have a story.  Better yet, each sighting helps advance knowledge of the species which enables biologists to make better decisions about the future of the species.  I’m glad to be able to contribute in any way I can.

 

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(Walker Golder) Beach Birds Conservation Red Knots Shorebirds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/5/every-banded-bird-has-a-story Tue, 03 May 2016 02:17:15 GMT
The squeaky voices of terns https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/4/least-terns-are-back

I recently took a boat ride to a local inlet that I visit as often as I can.  The inlet one of the few natural inlets left along the southern North Carolina coast and as such it is a fantastic place for birds. The familiar sound of Least Terns filled the air. The squeaky voices of these small seabirds, the smallest of all North American terns, came from every sand bar and shoal, as well as the shoreline of the sandy beaches.  The terns had returned from their wintering areas thousands of miles away on the northern coast of South America. 

 

Many of the terns are carrying small fish and some are prancing around trying to attract the future parent of their chicks.  Others are racing across the sky flying in formation like little fighter jets as the aerial part of their courtship ritual. It’s an exciting time to be a tern and I sit back take in this rite of spring,one that has occurred on Atlantic coast barrier islands for centuries, maybe much longer.

 

 

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(Walker Golder) Beach Birds Inlets Least Tern Seabirds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/4/least-terns-are-back Tue, 26 Apr 2016 00:31:08 GMT
With Blind Faith https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/4/with-blind-faith Red Knots

I had the pleasure of attending the 13th annual Power of Flight meeting this week, held in St. Simons Island, GA. The meeting was hosted by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Southern Company, two conservation leaders working together to advance the stewardship of natural resources throughout the southeastern US.  I shared the stage for a panel discussion about shorebird conservation with friends and colleagues Ian Davidson (NFWF), Troy Wilson (USFWS), and Tim Keyes (GADNR). The energy in the room of around 170 people was powerful and a passion for conservation was clearly evident among all.

In preparation for my talk, I thought back on the importance of the southeastern US to shorebirds; shorebirds that nest along the beaches, those that stopover during migration, and those that spend the winter on the coast of GA, FL, AL, and MS.  While the southeast is important to shorebirds year round and important to many different species, red knots cannot be overlooked. These robin-sized shorebirds leap off of the coast of South America headed northward with little more than optimistic faith that the places where they stopped to rest a refuel last year or maybe for generations are still there and that the food is plentiful enough to support their next leg of migration. They hit the southeastern coast after flying for days straight.  They're tired and need to rest and feed like crazy so they will have enough energy to make the next leg of migration that could take them to the Carolinas, Virginia, and likely Delaware Bay before moving on to the Arctic where they will nest. There are no guarantees, especially now when habitat loss is widespread across Atlantic coast.

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(Walker Golder) Birds Conservation Red Knots Shorebirds migration https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/4/with-blind-faith Sat, 16 Apr 2016 13:34:20 GMT
Learning more about Piping Plovers https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/4/learning-more-about-piping-plovers

On a remote cay of sand and rock off the northern end of Andros, The Bahamas, in the newly established Joulter Cays National Park, our shorebird research team settled in for several days of shorebird research.  Our primary goal was to band Piping Plovers with small, pink, flag-style bands, each bearing a unique letter-number code that would identify the individual. From these banded individuals, we can track their movements along the Atlantic Coast during migration, determine where they nest, and learn more about their life history. Over the period of about a week, 21 Piping Plovers were captured, weighed, measured, banded and release unharmed by the experience.  While the plovers are not aware, every bit of new data gathered from these birds will add to our current knowledge of this threatened species and contribute to more informed conservation decisions.

Banding team included: National Audubon Society, Bahamas National Trust, VA Tech Shorebird Program, and US Fish and Wildlife Service.

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(Walker Golder) Bahamas Birds Conservation Joulter Cays Piping Plover Research Shorebirds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/4/learning-more-about-piping-plovers Tue, 05 Apr 2016 14:09:20 GMT
Searching for Shorebirds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/3/searching-for-shorebirds For the past 5 years I have been working in The Bahamas to map the distribution and abundance of shorebirds across the country as part of a team from the National Audubon Society.  The work has led to new discoveries for shorebirds that are threatened or those that biologists have declared as species of conservation concern and new areas protected for small, coastal birds that weigh a mere few ounces but embark on migrations that take them thousands of miles.  The most recent work was chronicled by the National Audubon Society and is featured on their website: Why Counting Piping Plovers in the Bahamas Is Harder Than It Sounds http://www.audubon.org/news/why-counting-piping-plovers-bahamas-harder-it-sounds

 

 

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(Walker Golder) Bahamas Conservation Shorebirds Special Places https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/3/searching-for-shorebirds Tue, 29 Mar 2016 22:05:40 GMT
Lake Mattamuskeet https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/3/lake-mattamuskeet Lake Mattamuskeet

Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern North Carolina is a wonderful place for birds and photographers.  It's widely known for Tundra Swans, geese, and many species of ducks that spend the winter on the refuge.  Birders know it quite well for the great diversity of all bird species that gather on the refuge year round. A drive along the causeway that bisects the lake or along any of the public roads that surround the lake will offer no shortage of subjects for photographers.  No matter what time of the year, the lake is wonderful place to visit.

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(Walker Golder) Birds North Carolina Special Paces https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/3/lake-mattamuskeet Sun, 27 Mar 2016 13:43:27 GMT
Great Egrets on the Cape Fear https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/3/great-egrets-on-the-cape-fear Great Egret displays plumes during courtshipGreat Egret displays plumes during courtship          Great Egrets gather by the hundreds on a small island in the lower Cape Fear River.  They’ve returned in March as they have for decades to nest.  Some carry nesting material, others build nests, several are already incubating, and even more display their elegant plumes trying to attract a mate with which they will raise their next generation.  Today, they’re safe.  The nesting site is protected by the National Audubon Society continuing a more than century-long tradition of protecting plumed wading birds and being the country’s leading bird conservation organization.

The stately egret has not always been afforded such protection.  The authors of Birds of North Carolina (1919) wrote: “No bird in America has so melancholy a history as the Egret. Those of us living today are witnessing the passing of a race, and we doubt seriously if a single individual will be alive in the United States twenty-five years hence, unless the extraordinary protections now being taken for their protection by the National Association of Audubon Societies should prove to be successful.”

This time of year, when egrets gather at their nesting sites and they have the freshest, cleanest, most immaculate plumage was when market hunters would shoot egrets by the thousands to harvest their wispy and delicate plumes, called aigrettes.  Each egret has 40-50 aigrettes and their monetary value was equal to twice their weight in gold as adornment for hats worn by fashionable women of the day.

The relentless harvest was clearly not sustainable. Finally, after populations crashed and a groundswell of opposition to the relentless killing of egrets rose up, led by the National Audubon Society, the killing was stopped by law in 1918.

It is because of the work of the National Audubon Society that I can stand here and witness one of the great wildlife spectacles of the season.

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(Walker Golder) Birds Cape Fear Conservation Waterbirds https://www.walkergolder.com/blog/2016/3/great-egrets-on-the-cape-fear Sun, 13 Mar 2016 13:47:00 GMT