When I captured my first full frame picture of a bird (Towhee), a photographer friend remarked that I must have been close to the bird and used a long lens. I said yup – 500mm – and I was less than ten feet from the bird. Distance has always been the challenge, especially with non-shorebirds, such as those on More Mesa that tend to fly away at the slightest disturbance. Shorebirds often circle around and return to the same stretch of land. Creeping forward slowly and then standing quietly, have become habits that paid off a little with this weekend’s photos of mostly migratory shorebirds.
The hours between 3 and 5:30pm on Friday were very rewarding, with a first stop at Goleta Sanitary District. The number of Bonaparte’s Gulls, with many juveniles, was quite amazing, and they were reasonably easy to photograph. Not so, with a Black-headed Gull.
A slow walk to the tanks, where some of the birds were standing on railings and fixtures, yielded some good, clear shots.
At Goleta Beach, where sandy expanses had been uncovered by the receding tide, I walked onto the wet soil to better observe the Western Sandpipers. While standing quietly, I watched the birds wheel in flocks as they moved about the Slough mouth, and was surprised that on two occasions they landed about ten feet away from where I was standing. As a result, I was able to capture a couple shots of the flocks as they flew by. In the photo below, two of the birds did not leave their food behind despite the flocking behavior. (I learned from the Cornell Link below, that this is known as ploychaete worm prey, a food eaten among others, on migration.)
There were many peeps at UCSB East Beach, especially Western Sandpipers. A tired Dunlin was determined to sleep, standing in a shallow pool of water close to the main path. I was able to get close to take a photo of its rusty-colored breeding feathers, but was disappointed that it was not feeding, so that a better view of the black spot on its belly could be captured. But the late afternoon, cloudy spring light was wonderful for photography in this area of water, seaweed/kelp and birds.
Further along at the Campus Point rocks, I saw a large flock of what seemed to be Brant’s, fly by. By this time, it was becoming quite chilly and windy. On the way back up the stairs, I was lucky to come upon a Scrub Jay for a decent full-frame shot. It is often all about being at the right place at the right time.
On Saturday, I re-visited the above locations, and was amazed at the difference twelve hours and a clear day (night?) could make. Most of the birds had left or moved somewhere else. As a result, I decided to look for the many hummingbirds reported along Merida Drive. I was not lucky with Calliopes, but was able to get shots of Black-chinned and Rufous Hummingbirds – firsts for me. Maybe a Calliope will be found when the sun shines again.
- A blog that has a very nice post about migration radar. I did not realize or remember that bird migration begins at sunset.
- Migration routes of Western Sandpipers
- All About Birds – Western Sandpiper
- Hemisphere Shorebird Project Proposal of the Shorebird Research Group of the Americas (“We predict that shorebirds have become more numerous in non-coastal areas that have fewer birds of prey.”)