Tim Boyer Photography

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shorebird migration

Shorebird Migration On The Washington Coast

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

It’s late June so now is when things start to change again, shorebird migration on the Washington Coast is starting. First, the failed breeders will start showing up then the breeding adults will start to trickle southward. As we get into July more and more adult birds will start returning to the coast, and finally, in late August and into September we’ll have some rare birds show up along with this year's juveniles. Juvenile birds migrate with innate maps coded into their DNA; they’re migrating without their parents, so mistakes happen. If a juvenile bird in the high Arctic makes a small mistake, it could end up on the wrong side of the Pacific Ocean. We got to see birds like the Ruff on August 21, 2014, or Lesser Sand Plover on August 16, 2015. While it’s super exciting to see those rare birds, we’ll still get to see birds a little more common, but equally as special like Pacific and American Golden-Plovers, or Long-billed Curlews and Whimbrel as they migrate down the coast. Late into October, we’ll see juvenile Rock Sandpipers on the rocky coast and jetties.  

Fall migration requires patience that the spring migration doesn’t. In the spring there’s a quick 6-week flurry of birds rushing in their migration northward to claim the choice breeding territories. But the fall migration of shorebirds is very long from the end of June through October. Four months where we need to pace ourselves if we’re to keep up with the latest arrivals. There are several places on the Washington Coast to check out for fall shorebirds. I like to go to the North Jetty at Ocean Shores for Surfbirds, Black Turnstones, Wandering Tattlers and sometimes even Pigeon Guillemots show up. For Sanderlings, Semipalmated Plovers, Dunlin, Western Sandpipers, the outer coastal, sandy beaches are great places. Later in the summer, the coastal freshwater ponds near Midway Beach or the Oyehut Wildlife Area in Ocean Shores are gathering places for migrating Red-necked Phalaropes, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Willets, and occasionally even Whimbrel show up. Where there are some grassy areas out on the Oyehut Wildlife Area, it’s possible to find Pacific and American Golden-Plovers, rare birds like Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and Ruff.

If you’re interested in photographing shorebirds and learning more about them, come on my Fall Migration Shorebird Photography Workshop click here.

Enjoy  --    Thanks As Always  --  Tim

Bird Quest 2014 #12

Bird PhotographyTim BoyerComment

Shorebird migration continues on the Washington Coast.  This past week -- Wednesday and Thursday there was great weather on the Washington Coast and while there were fewer birds than a week ago, there are still thousands and thousands of shorebirds out there.  

California Gull hanging out in some good Washington Coastal weather.
California Gull hanging out in some good Washington Coastal weather.

I use the car as a photo blind a lot, and this works really well for gulls at the beach since they're used to a lot of vehicles.  Well, some people even feed the gulls from their cars ;-) so the  gulls are habituated to cars and humans.  Taken with a bean bag drapped over the window/door and the camera and lens resting on the beanbag.

Crow, let's just say American.
Crow, let's just say American.

I was really hoping I could get some more Raven  images, but the crows were more plentiful and cooperative.  Oh well, next winter then.

Killdeer trying to figure out if it should do the distraction display or if I wasn't a threat.
Killdeer trying to figure out if it should do the distraction display or if I wasn't a threat.

Killdeer are so funny, they're nervous and curious at the same time.  This one ran towards me, then ran away form me several times, trying to figure out what I was doing.  I just sat and watched, not making any noise or sudden movements.

How to Get Close:

The next three images were made on an incoming tide.  As the tide came in I was laying in the sand with my camera and lens mounted on a Skimmer Ground Pod II (made by Naturescapes) and a Whimberley gimbal tripod head.  As the birds are pushed towards me by the tide, I slowly crawl a little closer to them.  Moving very slowly it's possible to become just part of the  landscape, and they will eventually get closer than the lens will focus.  At this point I crawl backwards very, very slowly so I don't scare them and either continue to take more images or go back to my car and let them feed.  Shorebirds need a lot of fuel for their migration, and I don't want to have them waste any energy by me spooking them.  I think these eye level images of shorebirds are the best way to create an image of them in their environment, at their level we don't tower over them or look down on them, and it's easier to connect with them.  It's also possible to get even lower by using a ball-head on the Skimmer Ground Pod,  Then then lens will be only a couple of inches above the ground.

Sanderling looking for the  next meal.
Sanderling looking for the next meal.

This Sanderling is still pretty much in non-breeding or basic plumage.  Other Sanderling were already starting to get a little brown and a reddish coloration on thier necks and heads, their breeding or alternate plumage.  This is a great time of year to study molt or feather changes in birds.

Semipalmated Plover eating a marine worm.
Semipalmated Plover eating a marine worm.

Shorebird congregate wherever there is plenty of food.  The stretch on beach I was on was loaded with marine worms.  There was also a limited clam dig open when I was shooting and I was told that clam diggers look for where the birds are and that's how they know where the clams will be.  I watched the clam diggers and the shorebirds use the same stretch of beach, the birds were actively feeding within several feet of the clam diggers.  Neither bothered by the other too much.

Western Sandpiper searchiing for food.
Western Sandpiper searchiing for food.

Although it appears as if  the Western Sandpiper is looking at itself in the reflected water, it's really just a search for the next worm.

Enjoy!

Thanks & Good Birding

Tim

Western Sandpiper

Bird PhotographyTim Boyer1 Comment
Western Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper

This is one of my favorite images from last year. It was taken in early May, 2010 at Bottle Beach State Park on the Washington Coast.

About Western Sandpipers:

The majority of Western Sandpipers migrate up the Pacific Coast concentrating on the Copper River Delta, Alaska in mid-May.  They then move northward and breed in the tundra of Alaska and Siberia. The estimated world population is 3.5 to 4 million, a huge decline from 1973 when 6.5 million Westerns were counted at the Copper River Delta.  The northward migration is concentrated in a few short weeks on the Washington Coast from early April to mid-May. This contrast to the long protracted fall migration which lasts from late June to mid-September, with females departing the Arctic first, then the males, then finally juveniles in large numbers in mid-August to mid-September.  While Western Sandpipers are one of the smaller species of sandpipers, they still manage to migrate 4,500 to 7,000 miles a year.

Photography:

Early morning light, getting very low (to get eye level with the sandpiper) makes this an interesting image.  The drop of water hanging in mid-air adds a magical factor to the image.   The technical data: Canon EOS 7D, 600mm lens with a 1.4 extender, ISO 200, F5.6 at 1/1250 of a second. Lots of light and a fast shutter speed allow me to capture the water droplet in mid-air.