Full disclosure: This post contains references to products from Amazon.com I may receive small compensation when you purchase product via my affiliate link.
Version 0.5 - with the latest location update on 6/21/2017 (scroll down to the bottom to see the latest update) - work still in progress ;)
Word of caution:
First and foremost, please respect the birds! You are just a guest on their property.
Do not cross protective boundaries surrounding the colonies and do not approach adult nor young birds at the close distance. On hot summer days, young birds can be very exhausted and any unnecessary disturbance can be fatal. Do not chase the young bird if found outside the roped off area. Give it some space and time to return to the colony safely.
Also, be respectful to photographers that were on the beach before you. If you see someone lying on their stomach close to the birds, most likely he/she spent some time and effort to get to this position and to gain a trust of birds. Do not stand behind him nor run/walk towards him. This will most likely scare birds he/she is photographing, ruining the opportunity for all. It can also cause unnecessary arguments. Try to make an eye contact with that person and approach when given the permission to do so, by moving slowly and as low to the ground as possible. You will be rewarded with great opportunity to get close to the birds as well as making a new friend :) Most of the people I've met there are very helpful and are happy to share some great tips.
Many of us have 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 with coming back home empty handed. One of these locations happens to be the 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 and decided to finally share my thoughts and observations.
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 knowledge on this location. I debated for long time 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 a watchful eye on birds and intervene quickly in case of 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 once in a lifetime journey, to this spectacular place, to me more fruitful.
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 please come back often to see what we all have seen there.
Contrary to all other guides/ebooks that you can find 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 guides 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 appreciate if you'll make it a habit of shopping on Amazon via my link from now on: 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 The Raptor Trust (http://theraptortrust.org) 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 )
Use this is the address in your GPS: 880 Lido Blvd, Lido Beach, NY 11561
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 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 were still seen 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
If you are coming from a different state you can save money on some tolls. Not all, but some MTA bridges like Throgs Neck Bridge or Triborough Bridge (each way costs $8.50) can be avoided by simply selecting "Avoid tolls and highways" in Google Maps: avoid tolls. In my case, it adds additional 10 minutes in the morning and about 25 minutes on my way back, but saves me $17! Multiply this by at least 8 trips a season, I'm able to save over $130 on this simple adjustment ;)
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 (East Colony) 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 (West Colony) 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 other 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's edge. Especially on hot days. Young birds often leave the roped off areas to cool off 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. (late Summer)
- At the parking lot, check 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 reported!
- Also, if you are there the day of or after heavy rain, look for puddles on the beach or parking lot. Birds love to bathe in them!
Colors on the map (aka legend):
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 sand. Don't forget that the most intimate 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 sunrises and sunsets.
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By not buying this guide (~$50), by not paying admission fee ($30), by avoiding tolls (at least $8.50 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 appreciate if you would share this post with everyone that may be interested in photographing or experiencing the nesting shorebirds. Share it on any social media outlet you use: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, anywhere you like. Additionally, 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 stays 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 update this post more often, to create more helpful content but also you will help me to make a bigger donation to The Raptor Trust at the end of this year!
You can also start your Amazon search here:
Some of you, not using Amazon, expressed interest of simply making a donation. Thank you!
I decided to set up a donation link via PayPal:
Simply click on the Donate button and follow the instructions. You don't need a PayPal account to donate and you can use any credit card: Visa, MasterCard, AmEx etc. No personal information is shared with me.
As a thank you to all donating via PayPal (if you decide to share a shipping address with me in the note/message section), I will send a small gift at the end of the year. Additionally, for all donating via PayPal, I will send (either via email or Instagram message) an instant update on what is going on at the beach the moment I learn about it ( just enter you email or Instagram handle in the notes section).
Thank you for your support!
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 compared with 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 off area and spends most of the time about 20 feet behind life guard stands. To my understanding, it is caused by an increased predation in the grass area, mainly raccoons. Black Skimmers venture out into 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 set up to keep photographers away! It is set up to protect chicks when adults fly away and beach goers could accidentally 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 where 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...
Several American Oystercatchers arrived late March, and as of today, April 15th, they started to set up territories and are displaying mating rituals. If you are interested in photographing their courtship, next couple of weeks should be the best time to get there.
I had plans to visit the beach today but heavy traffic stopped me from venturing in that direction. I've heard from two sources though that American Oystercatchers and Piping Plover are incubating their eggs, with oystercatcher chicks being expected any day now! Pretty cool! I wouldn't be surprised if Piping Plover eggs hatching as well... I will keep you posted.
And just like that, first American Oystercatcher chicks just hatched, presumably on 5/19 :) Other pairs are still incubating... More information to come...
Finally, I've made it to the beach for the first time this season :) If you follow me on Instagram: greggardphoto you probably know what happened and what I saw there this morning. If not, here is a recap. I arrived late, 20 minutes after the sunrise 🙈 and went straight to the shoreline, where I found an American Oystercatcher family with two, 3 day old, chicks. Here is a short video of one of the chicks being fed by the parent: http://www.greggard.com/blog/2017/6/american-oystercatcher-chick-ny
I photographed this family for about 30 minutes and as the light was getting harsh, I decided to take a walk along the shoreline to see what is happening at the beach this year. I've met a resident photographer and chatted with him for about an hour or so on what is happening at the beach and what are the plans for this season...
As of right now, there is only one "rain" pool on the east side of the Area B. Very similar to what is seen on the map above and what I saw in the 2015 season. I don't expect it to last long. Maybe to the beginning of July if we get enough rainy days. This pool is fenced off and it doesn't offer the best opportunities either for morning or evening shooting. It seems that either there was no strong storms over the winter or management took a good care of the beach, preparing it for the summer, which is nicely leveled this season. Therefore there are no tidal pools at the south of the Area B, at the moment. Once again, Area A has the most concentration of birds, with some Common Terns already sitting on eggs. There are about 75-100 Black Skimmers there as well but I expect more to come in in the next couple of weeks. Overall I found 4 American Oystercatcher families with chicks already hatched but I believe there are some still on eggs. Further West of the Area B, there is a substantial colony of Least Terns, where I saw some of the birds mating but some sitting on eggs already. Further West along the shoreline, to my surprise, I saw only 4 Semipalmated Sandpipers and 2 Willets feeding along the shore at the receding tide. I saw no other shorebirds just gulls. WOW! I assume most of the shorebirds are already ariving at their breeding grounds up north. I guess I will have to wait until late August to see them again... This area has some nice flat parts exposed during the low tide. There are also signs that some small tidal pools can be created during the high tides later this season. Fingers crossed :)
Deep into the fenced off areas, there are several Piping Plover nest. Once again, I was surprised to find them still on the eggs as Piping Plover chicks can be seen running on NJ's beaches already. Interesting...
I'm expecting the Piping Plover chicks within next two weeks, majority of Common Tern chicks should be on the beach in late June/early July (right on schedule). As for Black Skimmers, I will keep you posted. None of the skimmers were seen mating yet but often there is a pair or two that has chicks early in the season... Make sure to follow me on Instagram: greggardphoto as I will be posting "live" updates (via Instagram story) on my future visits to the Nickerson Beach :)
I've heard the rumor that there might be a fee change for 2018 season but this is still in the works and as of right now, access to the beach is still free at sunrise...
Thank you all for using my Amazon's affiliate link! - http://amzn.to/2alLCx2 - You helped me raise over $130 in 2016 that went to Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ!
First and foremost, thank you to the first person using the donation button! I really appreciate your generosity and I hope you will get great images on your next (first) visit to the beach :)
I uploaded new map for this season showing abandoned American Oystercatcher nests, rain and tidal pools. I hope it is clear enough for you guys. If not let me know and I will work on it more...
My latest video: http://www.greggard.com/blog/2017/6/american-oystercatcher-chick-ny was well received and generated great feedback and a lot of views on social media. Thank you all that liked, commented and shared this video!
I also received some questions where exactly I found this family of oystercatchers. Like I said in my previous post, once I entered the beach from a parking lot, I went straight down towards the ocean. Oystercatchers were resting between 2 abounded nests (see the updated map above). Just keep in mind that the older they get the more distance they will travel but often they stay in the same general area for couple of weeks. There was also one family, with 2 chicks, resting in the dunes (see the map). Actually last two seasons there was an AMOY family nesting there as well. I completely forgot about it :)
Just got back from a week long trip to California. What an amazing coast they have :) If you follow me on Instagram, most likely you saw some of my videos in "My Story"...
Back to the Nickerson Beach ;)
While I was gone, I received some messages (Thank you!) that most of the Common Terns are incubating eggs now, with some odd couples still mating, and there are first chicks being seen as well. Black Skimmer pairs are being seen mating which should result in chicks hatching in late July... Time will tell... As predicted, this past week Piping Plover chicks finally hatched :) Just please remember to keep your distance from them and do not chase these young birds around the beach... Let them approach you ;)
Apparently there was also a Brown Booby (https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Brown_Booby/id) being seen on the beach on Saturday 6/17 but unfortunately it was found dead the very next morning :(
Just got an email from a friend informing me that there are still 2 American Oystercatcher nests with eggs in the Area A. That means that you still have a chance to photograph young oystercatchers :) Have fun! And please send me any update either via email or simply by posting a comment down below. Thank you all sending me updates thus far! I really appreciate it and I'm happy to see that this guide is helpful to all of you!
I'm glad to see more people using my link for their regular shopping at Amazon :) Thank you! So far, you all raised over $50 that will be donated to The Raptor Trust at the end of this year. I hope we can get this donation a little bit bigger :)
I'm also very grateful for more people contacting me with the latest sightings. You are all helping each other!
As of today, there are more and more Common Tern chicks "popping out" in the Area A. Additionally, at the same colony, there are is a family of oystercatchers with just hatched chicks! Pretty cool! Thank you all for the reports! Keep them coming!
Also, please share this blog post with your friends.
Did you find this guide helpful? What should I change?
What did you see interesting at the Nickerson Beach today?
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