For a portion of my life New Jersey was home. I spent four great years while in college at Princeton, but after graduation, I never returned to the state. Living in Michigan, New Jersey just wasn’t on the route to anywhere. Now years later I find myself in New Jersey again. The time is short – only a day and half right before Christmas, but it’s what you do with the time not how much you have. I’m probably one of the only people staying in Atlantic City who ignores the casinos and comes to the Barnegat Jetty instead. This rocky jetty sticks out from a lighthouse and attracts all kinds of ocean birds. Things got off to a rolling start before the sun had even risen with a Merlin who came to hunt the shorebirds. Yes, I’m crawling in the sand as usual for this photo.
The Merlin was great, but what I really came to the area for were the Harlequin Ducks. These colorful little guys are simply adorable and the Barnegat Jetty is one of the best places for photographing them. As I made my way from the sandy beach over to the jetty, disaster struck. My 600mm lens is only a month old and simply put, I’m in love with it. While walking the screws that hold the lens to the quick release plate decided to strip out! This instantly separated my rig (camera and lens) from the tripod while I was carrying it. Luckily I caught the lens and camera preventing greater damage. But now I was essentially tripodless and near the beginning of a long trip… Left with no option except quitting, I decided to handhold the 600. If you had asked me if it was possible to handhold a 600 and get sharp images I would have thought you were crazy, but necessity breeds innovation. The Harlequin Ducks were there at the jetty and when I got back to the computer at the end of the day, I managed to make a surprising number of sharp images.
I still couldn’t believe that I was handholding the 600mm. It required the best possible handholding technique and I couldn’t hold it for long periods of time without needing a rest, but it was possible. I was even able to make some flight shots with it and the 1.4x teleconverter like this flying Harlequin Duck. It was an overcast day with low light too – the ISO performance of the D3S saved me once again.
The Barnegat Jetty is a fantastic place to photograph. Not only does it have some species that are hard to find, but the jetty itself is great. Rocky shores are basically non-existent on the East Coast south of New England, but the jetty gives big rocks covered with rich algae or encrusted with mussels. This makes for some great environments in the shots. To me, the environment is nearly as important as the subject in telling its story. Aside from the Harlequin Ducks, Purple Sandpipers were the other reason I came to the jetty. A photo of a Purple Sandpiper would have been great, but since their natural habitat is feeding on rocky coastlines one on a mussel-covered rock takes it up a level.
It was a cold, windy and cloudy day right before Christmas. This meant that during the day, there was basically just me and an occasional fisherman out on the jetty. This meant I could slowly approach the shorebirds and never had to fear a passerby scaring away the birds. In addition to the Harlequin Ducks and Purple Sandpipers, there were also some of the same species that are common at home. But again, the rocky habitat makes for quite a different photo. This Ruddy Turnstone was one of the birds we see quite often back in South Carolina.
Nearly a thousand miles away, but one of my favorite shots of the day came from a lowly bird that is so common in South Carolina that people often ignore it. The combination of an algae covered rock, the out-of-focus rocks in the background that frame the bird, and some great late light that came out made the image stand out in my eyes. I’m certainly not going to tell this Dunlin that he’s just a common bird.