Showing posts with label shorebirds. Show all posts
Showing posts with label shorebirds. Show all posts

Monday, June 6, 2011

Shorebirds on the beach, Point Reyes National Seashore

Resting Dunlin - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

It's been a while since I posted some shorebirds to the blog, and I was getting that itch. Since most of them are up north on the tundra to breed right now, I've dug into the archive from last November to find a few to put up. These are from a terrific morning that I spent with a very large flock of western sandpipers, sanderlings, and dunlin on Limantour Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. I liked how the dunlin stood taller than the other birds in this flock, and I took many different compositions with dulin having a head above the crowd.

Dunlin and sandpipers

View more in my Sandpipers Gallery.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Feeding short-billed dowitchers, Pillar Point Harbor

Feeding short-billed dowitcher - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A short-billed dowitcher in breeding plumage feeding in the sands of Pillar Point Harbor. While these shots are pretty similar, the slight tilt to the head gives it a different feeling to me. In the top shot, the bird makes good eye contact with the viewer, and that can pull me in a bit. But in the second shot, I like that the dowitcher seems much more focused on the task at hand. And if you've ever watched dowitchers feed, they are quite intense as they rapid probe the sand in sewing-machine fashion.

Short-billed dowitcher in breeding plumage - Pat Ulrich Photography

As I was photographing the feeding dowitchers a group of western sandpipers came running through the frame, so I refocused and snapped of a few shots with the dowitchers in the background.

Sandpiper and dowitchers - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

More of these lovely shorebirds with extra long bills in my Dowitchers Gallery.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ruddy turnstone, Pillar Point Harbor

Ruddy turnstone on wet sand - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A ruddy turnstone in breeding colors at Pillar Point Harbor. Here the bird is running across an exposed area of sand between the rocky formations that it seemed more comfortable near. These shorebirds have such a stocky shape to them, right down to their thick legs. Their feet are pretty interested too, seemingly larger than other birds their size. Between these two shots, I like that the feet came out sharp in the bottom frame, but the head angle in the top frame makes it a stronger image, in my opinion, even though I clipped off the edge of the tail feathers.

Running ruddy turnstone - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

View more in my Turnstones Gallery

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Strolling western sandpiper, and photographing shorebirds in sand

Strolling western sandpiper - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A western sandpiper in transitional plumage takes a stroll along the water's edge at Pillar Point Harbor. I've had a few comments recently that have asked about my strategy for photographing shorebirds at eye level in sandy environments. In terms of approaching birds, the further away you start belly-crawling from the better. However, since they don't always stay in the same spot for too long, you need to balance where you start with the time it will take you to get to where you want to go. I find it helpful to watch an area for a while so see where there is a lot of activity. Then I'll try to crawl into a position where I expect the birds will be heading next. For example, if they are working their way up the beach while feeding, I'll get ahead of them, pick a spot in the sand and lay down to wait for them to come to me. If they do come all the way to your spot, then you can get great close encounters since they've approached you on their terms, but sometimes I'll guess wrong and they'll head in a different direction before making it to me. But when I pick the right spots, I'll stay on the ground for as long as the birds hang around me (sometimes for as much as an hour in one place).

It's also really important to move slowly, both while getting into the prone position as well as while crawling to the birds. While I feel a little strange dropping into a kneeling position in super-slow motion, if you move normally from standing to kneeling, the birds will often take flight. So it's a slow-motion drop to my knees, then putting the tripod flat on the ground, and then a slow-motion drop to laying in the sand. At that point, the birds are much less wary, so I'll take a minute or two to assess the scene again before starting to crawl to my next location. I find it particularly helpful to crawl forward only a few yards at a time, then stop for a few minutes before proceeding. Once you've spent a good 10-15 minutes in the sand with birds, they'll often stop paying much attention to you, and then the fun really begins!

In terms of protecting my gear, I always have my camera on the tripod, with the legs spread out flat on the ground. This keeps the camera itself a few inches off of the sand. My tripod has taken a real beating this way, with plenty of sand ground into the joints, but it still works! Then I try to make a conscious effort to not touch the sand with my hands while crawling or getting up. This is especially important since my entire body will more or less be covered with sand by the time I stand up again, so there aren't too many places to wipe off my fingers. On windy days, I'll pull out my Vortex Storm Jacket camera cover, which works great for keeping the blowing sand off of the camera, as well as rain. It's inevitable that I'll get sand somewhere that I don't want it, but for the most part I can wipe it off when I'm done with no real damage incurred.

Shooting shorebirds from eye-level at the beach is one of my favorite activities, adn there are plenty more images of peeps in my Shorebirds Galleries.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Plover watching for worms, Pillar Point Harbor

Black-bellied plover watching for worms - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A black-bellied plover in breeding plumage studies the surface of the sand for signs of a meal below. Image taken at Pillar Point Harbor on Half Moon Bay.

See more in my Plover's Gallery.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ruddy turnstone in summer colors, Pillar Point Harbor

Ruddy turnstone in summer colors - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A ruddy turnstone strolls through the sand in Pillar Point Harbor near Half Moon Bay, California. These birds are so stunning in their summer colors, and it was a treat to have a few unexpectedly stroll in front of my lens while I was laying in the sand photographing other shorebirds.

View more in my Turnstones Gallery.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Got Him! A plover catches a worm at Pillar Point Harbor

A five-frame series of this black-bellied plover pulling a segmented worm from the exposed sand of Pillar Point Harbor on Half Moon Bay. I've watched black-bellied plovers pull many of these worms from the sand, but this is the first time my photographs left me reasonably (although not fully) satisfied. The birds will stalk around looking for a tip of the worm in the sand, then freeze, stare at it for a moment or two, and then strike.

Early plover catches the worm - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

As it starts to pull the worm from the ground, I often marvel at how long these critters are, and how many there must be just underfoot.

Plover pulling up a worm - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Most of the time the worm seems to pop out of the hole by the time the plover is back to full-height, but this particular meal was longer than expected.

Got him!

The plover pulled, and pulled, and seemed to be preparing for the worm to come popping out of the sand. It's eye was half closed, and I can't help but wonder if it expected the worm to come flying at it like a rubber-band that snaps under tension.

Worm pulled taut by plover - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

For the last frame the plover pulled even further out of my plane of focus, but yet the worm still hung onto its burrow. Moments later the plover took its prize, and it was fun to watch it attempt to eat it like a long string of spaghetti.

Long stretched worm - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

View more images of these charismatic shorebirds in my Plovers Gallery.

Submitted to World Bird Wednesday -- Follow the link to see this week's posts!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Western sandpiper in summer colors, Pillar Point Harbor

Western sandpiper in breeding plumage - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A western sandpiper feeding in Pillar Point Harbor on Half Moon Bay. It's a wonderful time of year to be out looking for shorebirds, since they are all transitioning into their breeding colors. This means that normally drab brown and grey birds show splashes of bright colors as they prepare to migrate north to breed on the tundra.

View more shorebirds in my Sandpipers Gallery.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Feeding peeps, Point Reyes National Seashore

Feeding sanderlings - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Sanderlings dig deep into the sand looking for a meal after a wave pulls back along Limantour Spit in Point Reyes National Seashore.

View more images of shorebirds along in the beach in my Limantour Spit, Point Reyes National Seashore Gallery.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Friendly black-bellied plover, Pillar Point Harbor

Black-bellied plover in transition plumage by Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Two shots of a very friendly (or more accurately, tolerant) black-bellied plover. This is either a female in her summer colors or a male in transition plumage. The females don't get quite the striking all-black coloration of the males. After watching this bird go up and down a stretch of beach for a little while, I got into the prone position right in the middle of its foraging area. It didn't take long before it was getting quite close to me, and by the end, it was to the point where I couldn't fit the whole bird in the frame at once. I do so love it when birds give you their trust and you can spend some quality time in the sand with them. I (and my wonderful and understanding wife) didn't love the smell of my jacket so much during our hour-long trip home though ;-)

Black-bellied plover in Pillar Point Harbor by Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

See more images of these shorebirds, including their winter plumage, in my Plovers Gallery.

Submitted to World Bird Wednesday -- Follow the week to check out this weeks posts!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Peaceful peep, Point Reyes National Seashore

Sanderling in Point Reyes National Seashore - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A sanderling rests in the wet sand between the rocks of Drake's Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. I always love to see shorebirds roosting like this, with their bill tucked away. It's such a pleasing shape to my eye.

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View more images of these adorable shorebirds in my Sandpipers Gallery.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Never turn your back on the ocean

Never turn your back on the ocean - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A black-bellied plover, in the middle of transitioning to its summer plumage, along the edge of the water at Pillar Point Harbor.

Updated caption: As many of you have guessed, I intentionally left out the story of this picture to see what reactions it would get. The story is that yes, that is a real shark in the background. It was about a 2-3 foot long leopard shark, which is one of the most common sharks in the coastal areas of CA. It's a sleek, long-bodied shark with a beautiful spotted pattern that will often come into intertidal areas during high tides to feed. Unfortunately, this particular shark was not doing well. It was clearly very near the end of its life, and was getting rolled with the waves at the edge of the shoreline. I normally wouldn't photograph an animal in that condition, but when the plover I was following stopped in front of it I couldn't help but fire off a few shots of this unique composition. On our walk out of the harbor, we saw another related intertidal predator, which was in much better shape -- a bat ray was feeding on the newly covered sediments. It was really fun to watch its two fins break the surface as it flapped its "wings" and cruised along in the shallow water.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Transitional black-bellied plover, Pillar Point Harbor

Black-bellied plover - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A black-bellied plover that is almost to its full breeding plumage. They are such stunning birds in their summer patterns, and it's a pleasure to get to see them transition into that phase along the California coast. It's pretty cool to think too, that earlier this spring, they looked like this. I was hoping for nice high overcast clouds yesterday evening at Pillar Point, but instead we got nearly ground level fog which left my images a little drab. But anytime you get to be close to shorebirds is worth it in my book, and I tried to make the most of the gray-scale scene. Not all of the birds were as dark as this one yet, so I hope to head back in a week or two to try for some nicer light!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Semipalmated plover, Point Reyes National Seashore

Plover at rest - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

When I have a cooperative subject, I try to remember to turn the camera vertical to get some variation into my images for the day. While shorebirds like sandpipers and plovers aren't always the best shape for taking advantage of a vertical frame due to their low height and stocky stature, it's still worth taking a look. In this situation, the apparent shallow dof I could get by using the sand in the foreground and the long distance to the dunes in the background helped to make an isolated environment for the plover, and it worked much better in the vertical for this purpose.

Semipalmated plover - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

While I enjoy a good photograph of a bird tucked into its feathers, sometimes they can lack a little something when an eye isn't clearly visible. The shot above is from just after it pulled out of its resting position to take a look around, and the frame below is from a bit earlier while I was watching this group of birds. The sun was bouncing behind clouds, giving a good mix of diffuse overcast light with a touch of sunshine every now and then too.

Pair of plovers - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

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See more of the semiplamated plovers and other species in my Plovers Gallery.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Black-bellied plover & shadow, Pillar Point Harbor

Black-bellied plover - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Two more shots of this very friendly black-bellied plover at Pillar Point Harbor on Half Moon Bay. As the sun was dropping lower in the sky, the shadows stretched longer, and really elongated the look of the lengthy legs of this shorebird.

Plover with its shadow - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Submitted to World Bird Wednesday -- Click the link to check out this weeks posts!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

American avocet, Radio Road Ponds

Avocet portrait - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

A few more shots from the nice encounter I had last month with a large flock of American avocets at Radio Road Ponds. Mid-march is right at their transition time from the basic plumage, which is in grayscale, and their breeding plumage, with the beautiful cinnamon coloration.

Summer vs. Winter Plumage - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Regardless of their plumage of the day, I find these birds to be so elegant. They stand tall, with a long smooth shape to their body and bills, and they just seem to float as they walk.

American avocet standing tall - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Friday, April 1, 2011

Willet on blue, Moss Landing State Beach

Willet on the beach - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

The unseasonably warm temps with plenty of sunshine the past few days calls for a colorful and warm picture. Here's a willet cruising along the shoreline of Moss Landing State Beach, with the gorgeous blue of the Pacific behind.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Black-bellied plover after sundown, Pillar Point Harbor

Black-bellied Plover on the sand - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

I took so many shots of this individual plover as we spent over an hour together on the beach at Pillar Point Harbor last month, and I have a lot more to edit and prepare for uploading. Before this experience I had always found black-bellied plovers to be rather skittish. However, this one was really successful at pulling up worms from the sand, and it seemed to be so focused on the task at hand that it could care less about the photographer tagging along behind.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Little snowy plover, Point Reyes National Seashore

Western snowy plover in Point Reyes - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Just a quick post of this cute little snowy plover sitting in the sands of Limantour Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore. This shot is from an awesome hike I took along the beach last November, when I was able to spend time with a group of western snowy plovers, a different group of semipalmated plovers, and huge flocks of mixed sandpipers.