The Call of the Birds

There’s an unshakeable feeling that rises at certain times—that it’s been just a little bit too long since your last photo outing. It could be a week, or month—or horribly, even longer—but  once that feeling gains a foothold, there’s only one thing that you can do: check your calendar, block out some time and head out to a favorite photo spot to spend a few hours outside with eyes through the viewfinder.

It is birds—shorebirds in particular—that call to me. I grew up on a thumb of land between two tidal ponds that fed into the Manasquan River along the Jersey Shore. Gulls, ducks, pipers and all of the stilt-legged pointy-beaked things are lifelong friends. Any chance I can get to spend a few minutes to a couple of hours alone among these winged sea-loving creatures is always time well spent for me.  Salt water courses through my veins. When the call rises, I usually head for Sandy Hook, a spit of land jutting into the Raritan Bay, across from New York City, the northernmost point of the Jersey Shore, the nearest shore bird hotspot to my home base.

There’s nothing like a walk along the shoreline, is there? I love to hear the whistling calls of the American Oyster Catchers while they fly in tight groups. Sigma 150-600mm C lens paired with a 6D. 1/2500 F6.3 ISO 400 at 600mm.

Walking gingerly into the saltmarsh, feeling with each step for where the raft of cattail straws strewn along the intertidal zone goes from sandy to boggy to a surprise tidepool while the laughing gulls cackle, terns trill, oyster catchers give a shrill whistle while on wing, a hint of sedge and dune grass on the salted breeze, the muffled roar of distant ocean waves and the more delicate and precise lap of bayside wavelets, the cool air and goosebumps of a foggy patch giving way to a warm kiss as the midmorning sun finally claims victory over the morning fog, the declarations and protestations of Red Wing Black birds perched atop poison ivy branches, the squeaking wings of a mourning dove alighting, and the impenetrable silence of a snowy egret on the hunt fill my senses.
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New York Whale Watching with the Sigma 150-500mm

I’ve been on an extended test-drive with the Sigma 150-500mm F5-6.3 this year, paired with my trusty Nikon D7100.  The great thing about this match is since the D7100 has a cropped sensor with a 1.5x factor, the 500mm reach effectively becomes 750mm.  Using the in-camera 1.3 crop for added photo burst rate I end up with nearly 900mm of reach at the long end!  That really comes in handy with wildlife photography.  I have had a ton of fun with the lens and have to say I will have a very hard time ever giving it back.  Besides being light enough to carry all day, the lens performs extremely well for wildlife, action sports, and big-orb sunsets, both on land, and on board boats in the waters off Long Island.  And more recently, it’s been my go-to lens for New York whale watching.

Having now  made several whale watching voyages, I have had had no problem getting sharp shots from a moving boat.  The harder part was getting the whales to cooperate by doing anything other than slowly swimming and surfacing briefly!  This all changed when my friend Artie Raslich recently invited me on his 26 foot boat named Ship of Fools to follow a pod of whales that had been feeding actively close to shore within sight of New York City off Long Beach and East Rockaway New York. After passing through Deb’s inlet and breaking through a fog bank we found our first whale that we ended up following for several hours.  One of my first shots was a fairly young Humpback gliding out of the fog.  Artie knows his Whales and quickly identified this one as NYC0015.  Apparently this one and his Mother have been in the area all year feeding on the abundant bunker in the area.

© 2014 Mike Busch

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Spots where sand, sea, and sky come together offer certain challenges to photographers, but the results can be so amazingly rewarding. Conditions can change quickly as the sun hides behind a cloud, and conditions most certainly change slowly as the tides sink and rise and the sun and moon dance across the sky. The same patch of sea may be mirror calm and reflecting golden light, or it may be a churn of furious waves. Fogs, mists, and wind-whipped sand can make for gorgeous images even as they fool camera meters.  There’s a world of possibilities waiting to be captured along these edges, whenever you visit, and with whatever Sigma lens you’ve got in your bag.

Where sand, sea, and sky meet can make for amazing photos, in any conditions. A pair of Eastern Willets hunt at the water’s edge on a very foggy morning at Sandy Hook, NJ. There’s a very simple geometric division of space here into three main blocks of sand, sea, and foggy sky. Sigma SD1, Sigma 50-500mm @ 112mm, 1/640 F5.6 ISO 100.

Beachscapes can be blocks of simple Euclidian geometry, with squares and triangles defining the divisions between sky, sea and sand, and beachscapes can also be amazingly complex explorations of fractal geometry. Depending on the time, and tide, and weather, and season, you may have a beach to yourself, or you may be one of the multitudes of people, or birds, at the edge of the sea. Empty or packed, blazing or misty, there’s amazing photos to be made. And from Fisheye to supertelephoto, any and every lens has great potential for the beach. Let’s go exploring! Continue reading Beachscapes

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