Piping Plovers with Michael Milicia
From New York, I headed up to the North Shore of Massachusetts to join Michael Milicia's Piping Plover and Least Tern Workshop.
Under Mike's careful guidance this was a superb workshop, full of great field opportunities, a wealth of shared knowledge and down-to-earth fun in the company of someone who is a real bird photography artist.
Not surprisingly, the focus of this workshop was Piping Plover (ok, and Least Tern, but they'll feature in a future post). Protected under the Endangered Species Act since January 1986, and classified globally by BirdLife International as "Near Threatened", this is a gem of a coastal nesting shorebird. Encouragingly, extensive conservation management efforts have seen numbers of this species increase in the Atlantic flyway population, where improved public awareness, beach protection and predator reduction measures are all factors contributing to successful breeding seasons. The location chosen by Mike was exemplary in this regard, and it was an added bonus to have a chance to chat with the resident conservation team, and to hear first-hand about their efforts to safeguard this species.
This next photo, probably my personal favourite from the workshop, captures one of those very rare moments when an adult poses with a chick, and from an aesthetic perspective has the distinct added benefit of a catch-light in the eye of both the adult and the chick.
Perhaps the quintessential breeding season photo of Piping Plover is when they're brooding - this is where chicks huddle under the parent, helping them to regulate their body temperature, especially on surprisingly chill mornings. Brooding adults can have a single chick huddled underneath.
Or several - and this can cause quite a degree of sibling rivalry as the youngsters jostle for the warmest spot!
Action is often fast - blink and the chicks are either already huddled under the parent and hidden from view or have dashed off to forage elsewhere on the beach. But sometimes, when chicks leave the warmth of the parent, they will pause...
... stretch their stubby little wings...
... and then dash off at lightning speed across the sand. Chicks are "all-legs" in their early days, and can run at impressive speeds, remaining flightless until around 5 weeks in age.
The attentive adults are ever vigilant for predators, this one keeping a watchful eye on a Great Black-backed Gull cruising by overhead.Piping Plover, North Shore of Massachusetts
Without reservation I can recommend spending time photographing with Mike. His technical knowledge is wonderfully paired with his enthusiasm to see participants learn throughout the workshop, helping them develop their skills and get the best shot. He patiently and diligently guides everyone during their time in the field, offering advice on technical and artistic aspects of photography, always presented with a clear rationale so you can understand the benefits and then apply these meaningfully to your own shots and field craft. This could be pointing out the best angle of approach to line up the shot, being mindful of distracting elements in the background to ensure a "clean" shot, ensuring optimal subject-to-light angle (catch-lights, position of shadows), as well as quietly announcing when action is about to happen (very useful when your face is pressed against the viewfinder). Mike also has a keen eye for light quality, so as well as guiding participants to the best exposure, he also ensures every one is aware of changes in light quality and intensity, ensuring that exposure is always dialed-in correctly. All very welcome touches that take the shooting experience to the very highest level. Mike is there for you at all times in the field, and this extends to the classroom sessions, where shooting, post-production and artistic topics are covered with excellent clarity. Every field outing and classroom session was a delight. Thank you, Mike, for a great workshop.
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