Nickerson Beach - Black Skimmer, American Oystercatcher...

July 01, 2015

En route to the Piping Plover stronghold of the North Shore of Massachusetts, to join Michael Milicia (www.shootthelight.com/www.michaelmiliciaphotography.com) for his Piping Plover and Least Tern workshop (more on my fantastic time with Michael in the next post!!), I stopped at Nickerson Beach on Long Island, New York. A renowned haunt of many bird photographers, and only a 4-5 hour drive from Washington DC, this site offers great photographic opportunities for a small number of coastal nesting species, including American Oystercatcher, Piping Plover, Common Tern and Black Skimmer (150+ pairs).

I arrived at the beach at around 5am, hoping the persistent over-night rain would finally stop... no chance!!! The rain didn't let up until gone 7am. Part of me wished I'd believed the weather forecast, and grabbed an extra two hours of sleep - but I'm ever optimistic!! Over the next hour or so the light level was fairly low, but slowly things improved, and with the overcast conditions I was able to photograph through until midday (on a bright, sunny day I'd be packed up by 9am!). I was here on 15th June, and despite being somewhat early in the season plenty to entertain.

Several pairs of American Oystercatchers were nesting along the edge of the roped off area and one or two pairs were already feeding quite mature chicks.

American Oystercatcher, Nickerson BeachAmerican Oystercatcher, Nickerson Beach

American Oystercatcher, Nickerson BeachAmerican Oystercatcher, Nickerson Beach

American Oystercatcher, Nickerson BeachAmerican Oystercatcher, Nickerson Beach

Black Skimmers are paired up, but won't have chicks for several weeks. The adults were sitting around in small groups (facing into the on-shore breeze).

Black Skimmer, Nickerson BeachBlack Skimmer, Nickerson Beach

 And they would periodically strut around and engage in a quick bout of courtship.

Black Skimmer, Nickerson BeachBlack Skimmer, Nickerson Beach

The bleached sky and overcast conditions weren't ideal for flight photography, but you have to work with what you can get!

Black Skimmer, Nickerson BeachBlack Skimmer, Nickerson Beach

Common Terns were on eggs, and every now-and-then a pair would exhibit courtship feeding, where the male woos the female with a tasty fish snack.

Common Tern, Nickerson BeachCommon Tern, Nickerson Beach

Common Tern, Nickerson BeachCommon Tern, Nickerson Beach

Piping Plover have young chicks, but are in low numbers and may take a little effort to track down. As they say during a flight safety briefing, "please obey all posted signs"!

Piping Plover sign, Nickerson BeachPiping Plover sign, Nickerson Beach

I found one pair off to the west of the Skimmer colony. However, my limited experience suggests other sites offer better photographic options for this species. Nonetheless, here's one classic shot, albeit a little distant, showing a brooding adult with a couple of chicks huddled underneath.

Piping Plover, Nickerson BeachPiping Plover, Nickerson Beach

MANY, many more Piping Plover images to follow when I get to MA, and as always, check out the photostream for more images not shown in this post.

Gear: Skimmer Ground Pod II - a must accessory for a low perspective, as well as easy to push gear across the sand as you crawl a little closer to your subject.

Lodging: Best Western Mill River Manor - an easy 15 minute drive from the beach. Good selection of bars and restaurants within walking distance.

Driving: To reach Nickerson Beach Park from the North Shore, take Meadowbrook Parkway South to Loop Parkway (Exit M10) to Point Lookout. Turn right onto Lido Boulevard. Nassau Beach is about half-mile on your left-hand side. From the South Shore, take Southern State Parkway (East) to Meadowbrook Parkway (South) toward Jones Beach. Just before the Jones Beach Toll, go off onto the Loop Parkway (exit M10) toward Point Lookout. Take Loop Parkway all the way to the end. Turn right: Nickerson Beach Park is on the left-hand side about a half-mile away.

Parking: I couldn't confirm the precise details of parking fees, but from what I could gather by speaking to one of the members of staff, before Father's Day (although web site indicates Memorial Day) and during the week parking is FREE! At the weekend, parking before 8.30am and after 5.00pm is apparently free, but at other times a daily rate of $30 applies (unless you're a leisure pass holder). After Father's Day (?) it seems that the fee applies every day. But please check all signs at the beach - these notes are only offered as an indication of the parking fees.

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