Tuesday, April 7, 2015


If I had a nickel for every shorebird I've seen in the Everglades, I would retire and live on the edge of the Everglades. If I had a nickel for every shorebird I've seen in the Everglades that I had a difficult time identifying, I would retire and well, live on the edge of the Everglades. And I would spend more time researching these small to moderate sized birds.

This past weekend, I had the privilege of spending a couple days on one of the beautiful Ten Thousand Islands, Pavilion Key. Given the time of year, I didn't expect much in the way of bird photographs. I figured there would be shorebirds, as usual. But nothing to write home about. There are probably two reasons shorebirds have not been my target; they tend to be drab in color (gray, white and black about sums it up), and secondly and because they are drab in color, they are difficult for me to identify. When I do photograph a shorebird, I often do not know what species I am photographing. I estimate that I spend twice as much time researching shorebirds as I do photographing them. Sometimes, after looking at several images online, I am still confused.

After having spent two days photographing anything that was not a bird, I turned my attention to the shoreline near our campsite. In the warm afternoon light, dozens of gray, white and black small shorebirds were busy feeding along the water's edge. Nervous little things, they moved quickly and rarely stopped. What did I have to lose to get out the telephoto lens, lay prone on the sand and edge my way toward the birds. Within twelve feet of the action, I proceeded to observe them.

After about an hour, the birds flew off and spread out to areas farther away. Happy with my time spent, I couldn't wait to get home and confirm what species I just photographed. Because there was only one type of bird in all my images, it took only a few hits on the ibird app to identify it as the Sanderling. And with a bit more research, to determine they were all juveniles. Bingo!

When photographing feeding birds, it is always a good idea to observe them first, then shoot. Inevitably, you will find a pattern in their movements which then allows you to anticipate a shot. What these birds do is they chase the waves.  As soon as a wave recedes, the little bird is there poking at the sand that has been softened by the water. As soon as another wave comes back, the bird skitters away and finds another receding wave. And they are very fast, so a very fast shutter speed is required.

This past weekend was my last camping weekend until November. All the gear gets extra clean and dry and packed away. For a few days, my house looks like a hurricane hit it with everything that must be washed and left out to dry. My pelican cases and camera equipment get a thorough cleaning. For a couple days, it is a flurry of activity. But amidst all the activity, I found a calm relief in sitting down to research my little bird, the sanderling. After reading about it, I have a new respect for it. I lovingly looked over my images and picked out my favorites. I began to think about the next time I may have the opportunity to photograph this one-of-many shorebirds and how I might present it more skillfully and with more care.

Until then, I have here some images to share of the juvenile sanderling. And here are some interesting facts about the bird that will surely add interest.
  • The sanderling belongs to the Sandpiper family. So if you accidentally call it a sandpiper, that's OK, you are still correct.
  • The sanderling nests as far north as the artic tundra.
  • Since the 1970s, the sanderling population is estimated to have dropped 80% in the Americas.
  • The juveniles, or non-breeding sanderlings such as the ones I photographed, do not make the long migration north; instead they stay in their wintering grounds.
  • Because of their obsessive wave-chasing feeding style, sanderlings can be distinguished from other shorebirds such as sandpipers and willets.

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