It’s a long drive from the Pennsylvania/Maryland border to South Carolina, but if you start early you can make good time. Also at 5 am there is little traffic around D.C. Instead of going all the way home, I had a stop planned for 4 nights at one of the best locations in the northern part of the state – Huntington Beach State Park. I had a great time photographing there in the late summer and was looking forward to photographing there again. It was great to get out of the car after all those hours and be greeted by beautiful scenery. During a walk on the beach, this Ring-billed Gull flew at me. I thought its wings were going to hit the sand!
After this, I had some great bird sightings. The first was a Parasitic Jaeger that was harassing some Forster Terns – a rare bird and the first Jaeger I have seen. Someday I hope to get to photograph these interesting birds on their breeding territory in the Arctic. An opportunity with no chance for a photograph, but exciting nonetheless. After this I saw a Red-throated Loon. What was surprising was how close to shore this bird was. Usually the loons stay a bit offshore but this one was in water only inches deep and very close to the shore. It also had no fear and sometimes surfaced a few feet from where I was. Since it was so close to shore, it had to battle the waves (which broke before it most of the time).
The loon stuck around for nearly an hour. What I hadn’t mentioned was that being so tired from the drive and arriving relatively late, I told myself that I was only going to photograph landscapes and had only brought along the 70-200mm lens. If you had told me that I was going to be photographing a loon full-frame and with just a 70-200, I would surely have laughed. In the end, the shots I liked the most were the ones that captured what was unique about the experience – the breaking waves that were surrounding the loon.
The walk back down the beach after the loon encounter was an enjoyable one. Beaches can have a special character that gives them a unique feel. Over the past two weeks I have been fortunate enough to see three beaches, all which had a very different feel. The Outer Banks were dominated by tall dunes that withstood the ferocity of countless storms. The tranquil beach near Barnegat, New Jersey was broken up by a stone-covered jetty that led to a rich inlet. Lastly Huntington Beach has the calm that is characteristic of many South Carolina beaches. The dunes are much smaller than in the Outer Banks and the shore stretches for miles broken up by saltmarshes and inlets. Some of the sea oats remained from the fall and reached up towards the setting sun.