Along the New Jersey coast
The goal for the start of the day was to be standing on the jetty rocks to watch the sun come up over the Atlantic Ocean. To do this I met up with my friend Darion about 30 minutes before sunrise. We parked on a deserted street on Long Beach Island along the New Jersey coast. As soon as I opened my car door the wind hit my face, even standing behind the protective dunes the wind was strong. I greeted Darion and we both prepared for the walk along a dune trail that would dump us onto the beach so we could walk to the Barnegat Light jetty. We started the walk in the pre-dawn light and when we first set foot on the beach sand the horizon was already starting to glow.
If I recall the temperature was hovering around 20 degrees F with steady winds around 20mph and gusts close to 30. As soon as we got near the jetty rocks the strong westerly wind hit us hard. It was going to be a cold morning. The majority of the jetty rocks were covered in ice so I carefully looked for a dry place to climb/crawl my way onto the jetty. In the past I would find a place to sit on the inlet side of the jetty, watch the sunrise and wait for some Harlequin Ducks to swim by in the early morning light. On this morning that would not be happening. I scrambled across the icy rocks and found a dry spot to settle in. Thankfully the wind was slightly at my back as I sat there and waited for sunrise.
I was lucky enough to see a small group of Harlequin Ducks but they would stay farther down the jetty than I was willing to risk going. As I decided to call it quits on this spot my friend Darion was kind enough take the above photo of me standing up on the icy rocks, my monopod sticking straight into the sky. I made my way off the jetty and the two of us decided to switch targets and photograph some small shorebirds that were wading in the small ponds on the other side of the jetty. The Black-bellied Plover pictured below came right over towards me as I lay on the ground and the beautiful morning sun lit up the bird.
We took our time walking along the length of the jetty with not much luck so we decided to finish up our time at Barnegat Light by walking the trails through the small patches of woods near the lighthouse. The male Northern Cardinal below gave us a wonderful view as he sat in the open for a good 5 minutes. After the trails we met up with two more friends of mine, Scott and Kate who arrived a bit later that morning. We left the still freezing and very windy jetty to head to another location along the NJ coast for our next target, a Red Fox.
A full disclosure, the foxes at this location are very habituated to humans and are usually hanging out along the road during the winter months looking for handouts. It is certainly not the most challenging wildlife subject since the foxes tend to follow you around but they are beautiful to see so close and give you ample opportunities for photographs. Our group spent almost 2 full hours with this particular fox in multiple different locations which gave me a ton of variety in the photos. Just so you have an idea how cooperative the foxes are all of these photos are from one evening. Below is a collection of some of my favorite moments with this handsome fox.
One of my personal goals on this trip was to photograph a fox in the snow. In the past I've taken a lot of photos of Red Foxes but none with snow. I was so thrilled that one of my first photos of this fox was the one above when he looked back at the group and had a touch of snow on his snout.
Kate suggested we spend a little time around this puddle and sure enough the fox came right over and even took a quick drink. I was laying on the ground right next to the puddle with a 70-200mm lens for these photos.
As the sun started to get lower in the sky the lighting just kept getting better. There wasn't a cloud in the sky on this evening so we were all able to take advantage of the lovely winter sun. The photo below of the fox staring off into the sun was one of my favorites from the day.
After a while I think the fox got bored of us and he seemed to start playing around. At one point he actually slid down a snow covered dune, it was really amusing to watch. At this point the sun had dipped behind the beach dunes, I think we all thought our photo session was about to wrap up but we were wrong. The sky out over the ocean started to turn a pastel pink and purple hue and with the clear sky in the west where the sun was setting the quality of light continued to be stunning. There wasn't much light but the little bit we had was some of the best I've ever had while photographing wildlife.
The photo below is my favorite of the day. The soft dusk light and beautiful background colors combined with the intense pose of the fox in the deep snow all come together nicely for me.
We stayed about 15 minutes after sunset at which point the fox curled up to sleep for a while. The last photo I took was as he tucked his head into his body and opened his eye for one last look. We all walked back to the car with huge smiles on our faces knowing this had been a very special evening.