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Version 0.3 - with the latest location update on 9/28/2016 (scroll down to the bottom) - work still in progress ;)
Many of us heard about some famous birding/photography location but never could make a trip there. Either we couldn’t find enough information about it or we couldn’t spend hundreds/thousands of dollars on a photography workshop that would guide us around. Often, these places are in a different state and many of us cannot afford to travel to unknown location just to "waste" valuable time, and money, on research of the location which often ends coming back home empty handed. One of these locations happens to be, Nickerson Beach, which is located 50 miles from where I live. I made it a summer tradition to visit it several times during the peak season.
After receiving numerous requests over last couple of years, from all over the world (yes, I had people contacting me from countries across the Atlantic Ocean :) ), on when, where and how to shoot at the Nickerson Beach, I decided to finally share my thoughts on this location. For past 6 months, I debated if I should write it. I know that some photographers will be against it. Truth to be told, Nickerson Beach is a very well known place to photograph nesting shorebirds and it is not a secret place that one may think it is. It is a beach that sees heavy foot traffic every day during summer days. Additionally, nesting areas are well protected and frequented by volunteers that keep an eye on any misbehavior. Knowing that there are many people around at all times, I believe that there will be no harm nor foul play caused by this blog post. Actually, I hope that it will bring some education and more respect for birds and will help those making a once in a lifetime journey to this spectacular place.
The main goal of this blog post is to create the Best Guide to photograph breeding colonies at the Nickerson Beach! It will be run in an “open source” style, meaning, everyone can contribute to it! I’ll be glad to hear what you saw on your recent visit there. I will be updating it after each visit, so come back often to see what we all have seen there.
Contrary to all other guides/ebooks that you can buy online, I won’t be charging any fee for this information. The common price for a 10-15 page ebook, where 70% of the content are just photographs, is at least $50! Most of them are written several years ago and are not being updated! Believe me, I was burnt multiple times by purchasing an ebook from a well known photographers only to find out that the information in their guide was from 5-8 years ago and no longer valid! And since this was an ebook/electronic file, there were no refunds! Shame on them...
My guide is completely free and will be updated frequently during the peak season. Additionally, the more people contribute, the more up to date it will be. Do not worry, I will be updating it at least 8 times per season myself :) Here you will find the latest news, on what is seen and what is happening at the Nickerson Beach. I can make this happen only with your help. Please come back often and leave your observations in the comments section. If you find this information useful, and would like to help me create more content like this, you can shop on Amazon via my affiliate link. This way, I will receive a small portion of the total off your purchase. You will not pay more than regular price. All prices stay the same!
I would love to see you to make it a habit of always shopping on Amazon via my link: http://amzn.to/2alLCx2 It doesn’t matter what you buy and how much you spend. It all counts! Additionally, 20% of the proceedings from this link, I will be donating to Conserve Wildlife Foundation at the end of each year!
Black Skimmer familyAdult Black Skimmer - Rynchops niger - feeding a fish to a chick - Nickerson Beach, Long Island, New York Black Skimmer family at the Nickerson Beach, New York
Here we go. Let the fun begin!
Nickerson Beach is located in Lido Beach, Long Island, New York. (Google Maps: http://bit.ly/29GJyic ) It is one of the most popular beaches on the East Coast to photograph large breeding colonies of Black Skimmers and Common Terns. Additionally, you can find breeding pairs of American Oystercatchers, Piping Plovers and Least Terns. In early Spring, and late Summer going to an early Fall, you can find other shorebirds feeding or resting along the beach: Red Knots, Semipalmated Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, Willets just to name a few.
For breeding colonies, you have excellent opportunity to photograph these birds engaging in courtship, breeding, feeding young, flight etc.
When to photograph specific species:
Even though each season may start sooner or later when compared to the previous one year, here are some average times on when to photograph particular species:
In early May, you can find most American Oystercatchers and Piping Plovers mating. In early June, chicks of these birds are starting to hatch and young birds are exploring the beach. This is the best time to find adult birds feeding their chicks. June is the month when the biggest colony on the beach, Common Terns, start their courtship. Most of young terns start to hatch in early July. July is also the month when Black Skimmers are mating and their chicks are starting to show up in an early August.
Keep in mind that these times are for the majority of the species population, meaning, some birds of the same species will have young before or after the majority of the colony. For example, in mid June you would expect to find 3 weeks old oystercatcher chicks, but there is a possibility of finding an oystercatcher nest still with eggs. In mid July of 2016, I was surprised to find 3 families of Black Skimmers already with chicks! Definitely the earliest hatching of skimmers for me. But majority of Black Skimmers are still mating...
Adult American Oystercatcher feeding a chickAmerican Oystercatcher adult feeding a chick (Haematopus bachmani) - Nickerson Beach, Long Island, New York, USA Adult American Oystercatcher feeding a juvenile
Even though there is a $30 admission fee to the beach, you don’t have to pay it if you arrive before 8AM or after 5PM. On some days, they collect fees until 6PM.
The secret to get the most pleasing photographs of birds, is to photograph them at their eye level (more on this technique coming soon), with the Sun still low on the sky and behind you. To achieve this, it is best to arrive early. Make a plan to be on the parking lot before the sunrise. This will give you time to use a restroom, prepare your gear and head towards the beach. The path to the main colony (area A on the map) is located right next to the restroom. The walk from the parking lot shouldn’t take you more than 15 minutes to get to the area were the birds are. Most of the walking is on the sand. It may be strenuous for some, so please plan accordingly. Arriving early will allow you to get familiar with a place and to find the best spot along the roped off area. Nesting areas are roped off to protect the birds. Please be sure to respect these boundaries and do not go beyond these demarcations. This is a very special place that we are privileged to be able to visit and photograph, and some of these birds are threatened/endangered. If authorities see disturbance at the nest site, they move the ropes further away from the birds “punishing” us for bad behavior. If you stay low to the ground, and be quiet, most likely birds will get accustomed to you quickly and will get closer. This is the key to get that perfect photograph! Let the bird to know that you are no harm and it will get comfortable. How comfortable? On many occasions I had a couple days old Common Tern chick walking up to me and resting next tome, taking advantage of the shade created by my body :) It is also possible that you will find some birds outside of the ropes. Please give them a space. Do not approach to close and do not run! It is always best to approach any wildlife slowly, very low to the ground. If you see any photographers already laying down and photographing birds, please do not walk up to them. Approach slowly, make an eye contact and wait for their permission to approach. You never know how much time they spent to get to this position and you can ruin their work in a second.
- larger view, and to download this map, click on the image -
Looking at the included map:
- Area A hosts the biggest colony of Common Terns and Black Skimmers. This is where the most action is happening and this is where the most photographers are photographing
- Area B here you will find less tern and skimmer families but birds may be a little bit closer. On my very first visit to Nickerson Beach this is where most of the birds were. In the last couple of years, most of the birds are in the Area A. I’m not sure how it was in the past. On the West side of Area B you may find Piping Plovers and Least Terns.
- Between the Area A and Area B often you will find at least one American Oystercatcher nest. Right on the center of the beach :) Nest of course is roped off.
- Walking along the shore from Area A to Area B and further, you will find American Oystercatchers, Piping Plover and peeps feeding. Also, there will be skimmers and terns diving for fish. If the foot traffic is low, some of the older chicks will also come to the water edge. Especially on hot days. Young birds often leave the roped off areas to cool of in the wet sand.
- Each season is a little bit different. Winter storms carve the beach leaving different size of pools for the summer. In 2015 there was a large tidal pool along the east side of the Area B. This year, 2016, early June there was a pool along the south side of the same area. These shallow pools allow birds to take a bath and can be very productive for photography. As of August, 2016 these pools are still in the place with more water after the heavy rain and high tide.
- Walking along the shore, pass the Area B, you will find many other shorebirds such as: plovers, ruddy turnstones, red knots etc.
- At the parking lot, check on the small pond located next to the dog field. Often, I found there some skimmers, terns and gulls bathing. Also, in 2014, there were 3 Black-bellied Whistling Ducks!
- Also, if you are there the day of/after heavy rain, look for puddles on the beach or parking lot. Birds love to bath in them!
Pink color shows Restrooms and Dog field
Green lines show the trails to the beach and the approximate location of the roped off area.
Red lines show the best location for sunrise shots (with your back to the Sun) to photograph the bird colony
Yellow lines show less favorable location during sunrise and sunset to photograph the colony but here birds are most active
Orange shows the best location for sunset shots to photograph the colony
What to bring and what to wear:
You should wear shoes and clothes suitable for walking on a sandy beach. Best photographs are taken at the bird’s eye level. This means that you will spending most of the time on your knees/belly. Convertible pants and long sleeve shirts work best. Don’t forget your hat, sunglasses and water! Any lens above 300mm is good at this location. In some situations, shorter lens is also suitable for flight shots and landscapes, especially during sunrise and sunset.
By not buying this guide (~$50), by not paying admission fee ($30), by avoiding tolls (at least $8 one way) I saved you at least $88. If you come more than once, you will save a lot on just not paying admission fee. I hope you will appreciate these savings :) In return, I would like you to share this post with everyone that may be interested. Share it on any social media outlet you use: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, anywhere you like. Also, I would like you to make it a habit of purchasing any items on Amazon via my affiliate link: http://amzn.to/2alLCx2. Just save it in your bookmarks/favorites and shop away :) Remember, that the cost for you is the same. I will just receive a small percentage of a total you pay. No personal data is shared with me either. Not only you will help me to create more helpful content but also you will help me to make a bigger donation to Conserve Wildlife Foundation at the end of this year!
Just start your search here:
Passed the Area B, I found 4 molting adult Red Knots feeding along the shore with ~100 or so peeps (Semipalmated Sandpipers) and at least 20 juvenile Piping Plover with adults. Also, to my surprise, I found at least 3 Black Skimmer families with chicks already hatched! The earliest for me! They were very close to the ropes along the south edge of Area B. Ropes along Area A seem to be pulled further away from the nesting birds…
It turns out that this year's nesting seems to be about 2 weeks earlier than in previous years. There must be some kind of formula to this, I just can't figured it out yet. DO you have any thoughts? Most of Common Terns chicks are already grown up and flying. Area A is "flooded" with Black Skimmer chicks. Most of them already 1 week old! Somehow, I missed them last week. My wife photographed mating Black Skimmers this morning, so there will be some late chicks this season for sure ;) She also saw at least 5 Black Skimmer families with eggs... Sweet, there will become nice variety of chicks in the next couple of weeks...
To my surprise, there is a "new", temporary, colony of Black Skimmers. It is located between Area A and Area B. Closer to East side of Area A. This colony, of about 50 adults, has chicks ranging from a 1 week to 3 weeks old. It is possible that these birds just happened to spend only a night there but it was cool see them up close. This is why it is important to get there first thing in the morning. Birds are outside the roped off area. I spent more time at the tide pools, South side of Area B. This week's new arrivals are at least 8 Ruddy Turnstones and large group of Semipalmated Plovers. I was able to find some juveniles Piping Plovers mixed in as well. Shorebirds are migrating!
This season is a little bit different than my last 4 seasons there. Black Skimmer colony ventures outside of the grassy, roped of, area and spends most of the time right about 20 feet behind life guard stands. To my understanding, it is caused by a increased predation in the grass area, mainly raccoons. Black Skimmers venture out in to the open space to easily spot an approaching raccoon. You may see a temporary "fencing/rope" set up to protect this colony. This is not setup to keep photographers away! It is setup to protect chicks when adults fly away and beach goers could walk over them. Also, in the mornings, there are vehicles driving along the beach.
Since I find this season superb for photographing bathing shorebirds, once again I spent most of my time at the tidal pools. I have a great day photographing Black Skimmers doing what they do best, skimming :) I will try to post some photographs soon... From what I saw, it was very easy for others to photograph skimmer colony at close range. Additionally, birds were very tame. What is also different this season, especially compared to 2015, I already saw some juvenile Black Skimmers flying! Last year, most of the chicks were just 1 week old at the beginning of August :O
Here is a sign put up with an information at the entrance to the beach (right were the blue "boardwalk" ends:
Predation at Nickerson Beach
Please do your best to do not disturb these birds as they are stressed out enough this season. And if you see somebody "harassing them" please, intervene. Some beach goers think that these are just gulls... Yep, I was surprised hearing this as well...
Forecast called for a cloudy morning but it ended up to be sunny!
Hot and humid morning at the Nickerson, perfect for shooting birds against/straight to the sun aka silhouettes. All that haze in the air created beautiful yellow/orange background.
Most of the Black Skimmers could be found near water. Early morning my wife saw juvenile skimmers taking a bath in the ocean but quickly they dispersed when the sun came out. Lots of flying juveniles. With current high temperatures there are no more tide pools at the beach. It was rather a slow morning with an awesome, at least for me, sighting of 20+ Red Knots :) There were only 3 other photographers. I guess everybody stayed home away from the heat :)
This morning we saw a lot of raccoon foot prints along the dunes and near water...
Another hot morning at the Nickerson. Luckily there was a steady breeze coming from the ocean. Once again we saw raccoon tracks on the sand but not as many as yesterday. Poor Black Skimmers :( My goal for today was to find yesterday's Red Knots so I went straight to Lido Beach, West of Area B. REKN's showed up late, around 7:30AM. I assume that they rest somewhere further away but come to Lido Beach when scared by first people coming to the beach. Overall good day today. New arrivals were hundreds of Semipalmated Plovers. First, I saw a group of them resting in the Area B and then most of them either were feeding along the shore or roosting on the beach. Lots of Semipalmated Sandpipers and Sanderlings as well. I believe that number of Ruddy Turnstones was also larger, compared to yesterday. I saw at least 30. Not to many photographers again. Either, they gave up because there are no more chicks to photograph or just simply it was to hot.
Here is a short video showing shorebirds feeding along the shore:
Shorebirds at the shoreShorebirds feeding along the shore at Nickerson Beach, New York
Just keep in mind that this is just a portion all birds that I saw that day. There were much more birds further away and some behind me :)
More photographers came to the beach this morning. Unfortunately season is at its end. Most of the Common Tern and Black Skimmer juveniles are spread out and more time is required to find them. The best are early mornings, right at the ocean's edge.
As for migrating shorebirds, it looks like there were more departures than arrivals. Same variety as previous week but with much lower numbers of each species. There were large flocks of birds resting on the sand rather than feeding at the shore.
Most likely this was my last visit to the beach this season. I'm having some personal that I need to take care in next 2 months. It is going to be hard not to photograph birds but finally I will have some time to process some photographs :) I will try to stop by now an then and I will resume the updates in May of 2017. Let me know that you found this post...
I happened to be in the area and couldn't resist to visit the beach and see what is going on. I've spent about 20 minutes scanning the beach but couldn't see any other birds but gulls...
Did you find this guide helpful? What should I change?
What did you see interesting at the Nickerson Beach today?
Please leave a comment :)
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