Friday, August 19, 2011

Late summer sanderling, Point Reyes National Seashore

Late summer sanderling - Pat Ulrich Wildlife Photography

Limantour Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore is one of my favorite locations to look for shorebirds. There are a few miles of beach balanced on a narrow spit of sand that has the Drake's Bay of the Pacific Ocean on one side, and Drake's Estero, a tidal estuary, on the other side. It's a perfect place for shorebirds to stop and feed during their migration, and many also winter there. Knowing that the migration would be picking up, I took a few trips to Limantour in early August hoping to find some shorebirds still in their summer colors. Unfortunately, I was mostly skunked on my trips, and only once did I find a cooperative flock to photograph.

On this day, there was a small group of maybe 25 birds that were feeding along the shoreline, and after gaining their trust, I walked for a few miles with them as they worked their way up the beach. The way it would work is that I would slowly walk and keep pace with the birds, then when they would find a place to stop and feed, I'd get just a bit ahead of them before dropping onto my stomach in the middle of the flock. I usually tried to have a few birds ahead of me and some behind, since I knew that those that were behind me would eventually run right past my lens to get back with the forward birds. I'll note that you really have to have a flock get used to you before you can get up and down with them around since they normally get spooked if you change your posture near them. It took quite a while of belly-crawling close to them, and just hanging out on the edge of their group to win over their trust. But once I did, it really didn't bother them to have me slowly dropping down onto the sand as they fed (moving in super-slow motion as you drop from standing to the ground is imperative as well). These are the kinds of interactions that I treasure on my photographic outings, when you can truly gain the trust of the wildlife, and have them accept you as part of their world.

So after walking down the beach with them, and lying down in the sand like this perhaps 20-25 times, they were really comfortable in getting close to me, and I was able to get some full-frame views of the birds. Unfortunately, as we made our way up the beach we eventually crossed over the invisible line that separates the dog friendly part of the beach from the protected area. Soon enough I could see an owner with her dogs off in the distance heading my way, and as they came closer, my encounter ended abruptly. Not that the dogs were that interested in the birds, but the sanderlings wanted no part of having two four-legged visitors near the flock.

See more photos of these adorable peeps in my Sandpipers Gallery


  1. Wonderful shot, Pat. Gee, that sounds like more fun than work.

  2. I hear ya about crossing that boundry. I was on a beach once in the sand with a ground pod and had someone consciouly walk right by me in front of my lens and into the flock of shorebirds.... leaves you speechless when the beach isn't narrow. Feel like taking names and kicking ass at that point lol. But its part of our job as wildlife photographer. "Will tolrate ______s" Have a good one!

  3. It was like you wrote that specifically for me. I learned so much from reading this post. Now armed with this new-found knowledge I can pursue the task of getting shorebirds photos with new vigor. Really, all this time I figured you (yourself) just walked right in there and got those great photos. Now I see you really work at it. Now I know how to also. Thank you.