Sunday, March 21, 2010

Montauk Morning

Stepping Stones Seal Haulout:
One of the things I was looking forward to most when I bought my new camera setup with my telephoto lens was photographing seals in the winter.  The previous winter I had seen them at the Shinnecock Inlet and at Cupsogue Beach where they haul out in big numbers but they have always been too far away for my minimal setup.  I also had been fortunate enough to come across a few seals on the beach while working as a Piping Plover steward and helped in getting these sick and stressed seals rehabilitated.  I previously had gone to Montauk this winter in hopes of getting some really great shots but the seals never showed.  It was either too windy, too cold, too overcast or the tide was too high.  Yesterday, however, all of the elements fell into place.  With a light wind out of the SW, temps at 40* at sunrise combined with low tide I was confident I would have my first real "shot" at the seals.

Pup Pair
As I made the 1 1/4 mile hike from the parking lot I saw a large rock (much bigger than the others) which had something on it.  I could ID a greater black backed gull but didn't know what the other things were though they seemed to be similar in size.  As I got closer I looked through my camera and saw it was two young Harbor Seals relaxing in the rising sunshine with the aforementioned gull.  The way the shoreline curved and the position of the rock, the setting wasn't ideal and after I got a few photos I turned my attention down the beach and noticed at least two more seals hauled out and quickly set off for them.

When I got to the "stepping stones" area of the beach (the main haulout point) I had the beach all to myself and another young Harbor Seal was basking in the sunshine on a long flat rock.  Throughout the morning I tried different locations and angles sitting on a variety of rocks at the waters edge - none which were terribly comfortable - to try and get the best lighting and angle.  The seals were quite cooperative and didn't mind my presence:

Off to my left was an adult Harbor Seal that looked rather uncomfortable on  his perch and could tell he/she wasn't going to get a chance to dry out as a wave approached:

It wasn't long before a different rock was selected and the seal got comfortable, enjoying the suns warming rays:

The third seal in the area got tired of swimming and decided to join his friend, however they were quickly pummeled by waves and the dark of the seals was cast once again into the water...

... this particular seal kept popping up and didn't know where to haul out.  As I was photographing the pup hoping for "splash" sequences, it made an amusing appearance in the background for a few seconds. If someone showed me this picture I would insist the 2nd seal was (poorly) photoshopped into the image.

Eventually the wayward seal found a resting place that was barely out of the water and enjoyed some rest and relaxation before once again being knocked into the water.  This is probably my favorite photo of the morning for its simplicity and the way it portrays the seal in a big vast sea:

Even though there were virtually no waves and a very light wind, there was a 10 or 15 minute period where quite a few rollers came through forcing the young seal to "Banana" in order to stay relatively dry.  I got lucky and captured some great moments as the water splashed up around the seal.

Macro Lens:
I bought a Macro lens over the winter to improve my small subject photography after seeing so many incredible photos of Dragonflies, Butterflies and Flowers.  Since it's been winter and I'm not much for creating "still life" photos, I haven't had much chance to use it but after I left the seals I took a stab at photographing a few of the thousands (literally, tens of thousands) sea stars which had washed up during last weekends big Nor'easter.  This is my favorite from the series and is how I found it -straight from the camera, no adjustments:

While I had the macro lens out I decided to shoot the rabbit skull I had in my photography backpack. A co-worker found it the other day in the field and I forgot to take it out when I got back to work and I found a nice piece of driftwood to set it on:

As I walked back to my car along some of the back trails I came to a small pond which had spilled over onto the dirt road due to the recent rain.  A few small fish were present and to my surprise this big bullfrog tadpole was out in the open.  It's times like this I wish I had an underwater housing

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