Christmas is right around the corner, but I had a morning that I could get some photography in before it would be time to start the final leg of the drive to Connecticut for the holidays. After reviewing my images over the evening and seeing that I had a good number of sharp images with hand-holding the 600mm even with a teleconverter, I was excited to get back in the field and try some more. My arm was sore from the previous day (the lens is heavy), but it was only half a day. The rocky shore of the Barnegat Jetty beckoned once more, and with another cold, windy day before Christmas, it felt like I had the place to myself. I made a brief stop to photograph the lighthouse itself before dawn.
There are a few things I do every time I go into the field. Most important is that I don’t immediately begin photographing what I came for. Instead I take some time to survey the scene and look for other good opportunities no matter where they come from. So before heading over to where the Harlequin Ducks are, I spotted a bunch of gulls who were having a party. Something was happening with the tide and the gulls were able to catch crabs and starfish and they were fighting over everything that was caught. It was amazing how fast they can dismantle a crab. The soft, muted overcast light was great to bring out the details of this Herring Gull who won some of the spoils.
The sunlight had come out by the time I made my way over to the Harlequin Ducks. Ducks are often hard to expose for and the Harlequin Ducks are particularly difficult. They have a lot of detail in the darks, but they also have these bright white patches that are easy to overexpose. This was one of the rare times I could get a good exposure on them with direct sunlight since the sun was only minutes over the horizon, but normally you need overcast light. The ducks, like this drake, were pretty tame, often swimming only a few feet away.
After the few minutes of sunshine, the clouds were back and I was glad of it. It is easy to spend a whole day focusing on the drake Harlequin Ducks – they are so handsome. They were the main reason I stopped in New Jersey after all. But the males are only half of the story. The females are needed for the rest of the story. As the tide starts to come back in, the ducks are forced off their rocks and go back to swimming. This hen is about to jump in after a wave took her mate back into the water.
The ducks do most of their swimming and feeding between the tides and rest on the rocks during the low tide. They collect together in small groups of about half a dozen and find some cozy rocks to sit on. The rocks at the jetty are tall – very tall. At low tide, you are about 20 feet from the water’s level. So that means to get decent shots you have to climb down these slippery rocks all while holding your camera and moving slowly enough not to startle the ducks. Getting a high-up shot of the ducks from a distance is quite easy here, but it takes a lot of time and work to move into position for a photo like this drake on the mussel-covered rocks. Even if you don’t get a great photo, just spending time with the handsome and charismatic Harlequin Ducks is reward enough for the hours you spend crawling slowly on the rocks.
After a great day photographing, I was almost reluctant to leave. I definitely was excited to see my family and have some of the wonderful food that I knew would be there. Have a merry Christmas everyone!!!