Last, But Not Least

I usually begin a photo shoot at Bottle Beach by taking shots of the larger birds that show up first and seldom come very far up on to the beach. The shoot generally ends with my favorite part, kneeling on the beach trying to get shots of the littlest sandpipers that run in front and in back of me, totally indifferent to me and my camera. It’s the closest I ever get to becoming One with Nature.

Though I seldom worry about identifying the birds I’m photographing while I’m photographing them, these turned out to be Western Sandpipers, not Least Sandpipers.

Red Knots at Bottle Beach

It might say something about how bad of a “Birder” I am that it never occurred to me to check what birds were being seen at Bottle Beach before I went there. But, as I’ve said before, I go to magical places that draw me, not to see specific birds. As a result, I didn’t know that endangered Red Knots had been seen in the area and that birders were especially on the lookout for them.

In fact, I didn’t learn that until the second day when an excited birder with a scope reported that he had counted over 300 Red Knots on the shore. Although I had focused on the Ruddy Turnstones and Dunlin, I had mentioned to Leslie the first day that some of the birds sure looked like Red Knots, not Dowitcher’s in breeding plumage, though they are similar in size and some Dowitchers are nearly as bright as Red Knots.

As it turned out, when I got home and looked at my shots, I had taken lots of shots of Red Knots

on the first day simply because they are a beautiful bird, and big enough that they’re impossible to ignore in a flock of shorebirds.

Dunlins are larger than most sandpipers, and this Red Knot is nearly twice the size of the resting Dunlin.

Not to mention that Red Knots are quite striking in flight and seem to fly a lot even while feeding.

Most of all, though, it was their beautiful color, especially when the sun was behind me that produced shots like this

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and this.

Semipalmated Plovers

It’s easy to confuse Semipalmated Plovers with Killdeer since they’re about the same size and have similar coloring. However, I found it so hard to believe that the Semipalmated Plover was related to the larger and very differently colored Black-Bellied Plover that I featured yesterday that I had to look up the definition of “plover” which, as it turned out, seemed vague enough to cover both species: “a short-billed gregarious wading bird, typically found by water but sometimes frequenting grassland, tundra, and mountains.” Unlike sandpipers, plovers spot food and then run to catch it, rather than probing the sand for food, a characteristic that stands out on the beach.

When Leslie first saw the Semipalmated Plover she told me she had seen a Killdeer in a with a flock of Western Sandpipers. When I heard that I started looking for Semipalmated Plovers since I had made the same mistake the first time I had spotted a Semipalmated Plover.

We ended up seeing more Semipalmated Plovers than I have ever seen in one place before, and they weren’t particularly shy.

It doesn’t hurt that they usually pause after a brief sprint before they start running again.

Once they find food, they’re positively indifferent to photographers with large lenses.

The One that Got Away

Having grown up fishing, I often compare birding to fishing. If that’s true, then this is the one I hooked but got away. It is impossible to miss Black-Bellied Plovers when observing shorebirds because they are usually one of the biggest birds on the beach and their startling black-and-white plumage is impossible to miss.

There were two Black-Bellied Plovers on the far side of this large flock of shorebirds.

Black-Bellied Plovers generally keep their distance. This, for instance, is a heavily cropped shot, which explains its lack of detail.

I managed to get closer to this one, but it kept walking away for me,

and took off as I approached.

, I’d love to show you the great shot I got of a Black-Bellied Plover, but I must have accidentally deleted it on my first screening of the shots I'd taken.

Dunlins at Bottle Beach

Another bird I focused on at Bottle Beach was the distinctive Dunlin, a largish sandpiper with a distinctive black belly. Being able to identify the Dunlin among other sandpipers is probably part of the reason I focused on it.

All sandpipers are beautiful in their breeding plumage, but the Dunlin’s black belly is an elegant touch.

Dunlins are distinctive even skimpering across the sand like Alice’s White Rabbit,

though they’re even more beautiful close up.

Sitting on a sandy beach surrounded by shorebirds ignoring me while they feed for the long trip ahead has become a highlight of Spring for me.

Ruddy Turnstones

Reviewing my photos from Bottle Beach, I was shocked how many shots I'd taken of Ruddy Turnstones. I seldom see Turnstones, much less the rarer Ruddy Turnstone, but they stand out against the smaller, less colorful sandpipers that make up most of the flock.

They also hunt for food differently than the various kinds of Sandpipers,

which is why they’re called Turnstones.

I’m not sure what they’re looking for under all those stones they turn over, but I do know that this one seemed to prize small crabs, running from other Turnstones wanted to steal his prize.

In the end, of course, I’m it’s their sheer beauty that grabs my attention.

Bottle Beach Flyby

I have been finding it nearly as difficult to choose my best photos from my recent trip to Bottle Beach as it was for my camera to decide what to focus on in this shot.

In the end I decided to focus on shots of shorebirds in flight because there are less of those shots so it's less time-consuming to choose the best shots.

As a general rule, I hate cutting parts of the subject off. Nothing worse than cutting people in half to fit a photo frame. You will notice I am guilty of that multiple times in the photo above.

Avoiding that is as difficult as trying to keep all the birds in focus when they cross in front of you at high-speed.

It is a little easier to keep the birds in focus when they are farther away from you,

but it’s still hard not to cut off a wing, tail, or head when there is a large flock.

The closer you try to get to multiple subjects, the harder it is to keep all of them in focus when you’re using a telephoto lens.

None of these is quite in focus as far as I can tell, though all of them are almost in focus.

Sometimes you’re extremely lucky and the birds a so closely grouped that three out of the four are sharply in focus and you haven’t cut off any parts,

at least if you crop the shot and use Photoshop’s Content-Aware Move Tool to move one of the subjects closer to the others.