Welcome to the Essential Light Photography Blog By Jim Sabiston

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Jessup's Neck

I have a natural urge to explore the lightly tread places, the more remote, the better. Not too many places fit that description on suburbanized Long Island, but with a little effort, you can get surprisingly close considering the location. One of the places I've long wanted to explore is the narrow peninsula called Jessup's Neck. Located just west of Sag Harbor, Jessup's Neck is part of the Elizabeth A. Morton Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge is best known to locals for a fairly unique experience: the birds inhabiting the Refuge have become very acclimated to humans and will readily eat out of your hand if you are just a little patient. I can do this in my own backyard and have also done it in the winter Adirondack Mountains, but the experience is clearly unique and delightful for most visitors. I never tire of seeing the look of utter delight when a chickadee lands on the hand of a child and carefully selects the best sunflower seed from those offered.

For the photographer, this location offers an excellent opportunity to practice bird photography, as the birds are numerous and so are the photo opportunities. Birds are small and quick moving and can drive an inexperienced photographer to distraction, as by the time you have composed your shot and focused, the bird is long gone. Knowing your equipment and being able to set up quickly and accurately will pay real dividends. Landscape photography is a luxury by comparison, as I can spend whole minutes setting up a shot. Bird photography gives you a very small number of seconds. Hesitate and the shot is missed. Even if you get set up and hit the shutter, many of the shots are blurred by the birds quick movements. There is a real balancing act that goes on between a large aperture for fast shutter speeds, which help freeze the action, and a smaller aperture which is more forgiving of focus and depth of field issues, but is more likely to be blurred by the birds movement.

Today, my lens of choice was the Canon 100-400 L Series telephoto. This is a reasonably fast lens (F/5.6 at full telephoto) and works well in this application. The need for quick mobility tends to work against a tripod, so the fast lens is also a good choice for the inevitable hand held shots. Still, fully half the shots, at minimum, will get tossed once home.

My favorite bird shot of the day is of a female cardinal:

The shot was taken with a full-on sunbeam right in the face of the cardinal, so it was necessary to slightly underexpose the rest of the frame, but I like the way the face of the bird is highlighted and the way the red tones of the cedars comes through.

The main body of the park is well occupied by visitors and it can actually be a bit difficult getting a quiet moment with the birds on the busy main path. The remote aspect comes into play when you exit the wooded area and walk onto the beach. There, extending in a long arch to the north and west in the distance, is Jessup's Neck. I've hiked out on the Neck a few times in the past, but never all the way to the end. Today was the day to correct that ommission.


Most of the Refuge visitors go as far as the beach and call it a day. Hiking to the end of the Neck is about a two mile walk, which quickly filters out the lightweights, which is pretty much everybody. Nancy and I headed right out and made the hike a leisurely stroll, Nancy looking for interesting shells and Indian Paint Pots and me for photographic subjects. We ended up at the very exposed tip of the Neck, which is nothing more than a very low sand bar washed over with windblown waves. The only things out there were the sand bar, the Peconic Bay, a cold wind and a small group of very fidgety red-backed sandpipers, no doubt wondering who these intruders were. Robin's Island could be seen to the west, Shelter Island to the east. We then completed the loop by returning down the east side of the Neck, which we had entirely to ourselves. Bliss.

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