Sanderling in nonbreeding plumage – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 200, Nikkor 70-300mm VR at 300mm, natural light
Sanderlings look very different in appearance during breeding season and winter and novice birders might even think they are two different species. I’ve heard people call nonbreeding Sanderlings “drab” and “plain” and while they might not be as colorful in nonbreeding plumage I personally wouldn’t call them drab or plain. I would, however; call them a challenge to expose properly and to get them in the frame because they are very active shorebirds when feeding.
The Sanderling above is in nonbreeding plumage and it was racing down the beach hunting for prey when I photographed it. At first I wasn’t happy with the motion blur of the bird’s right foot but the more I looked at this image the more I liked the motion blur because it indicates movement.
Sanderling in breeding plumage – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/500, ISO 400, Nikkor 70-300mm at 300mm, natural light
This image taken about a month later than the first image shows a Sanderling in breeding plumage, it was created during May which is about the time that the Sanderlings head north to their breeding grounds. Although the belly is still white and the legs and bill are still black the head, neck and back of the bird is quite different. Rufous is the color I think of when seeing a Sanderling in breeding plumage because that color is evident in the head, neck and back of the bird.
A side note; I often hear people say you must have a long (read expensive) lens to photograph birds and in some cases you do actually need a long lens to get frame filling images of birds however in some situations you can get those even with a shorter focal length. Both of the images above were taken with an inexpensive Nikkor 70-300mm VR lens and what made them possible is that these birds were habituated to human presence on the beach so they weren’t as nervous around me and I used very slow belly crawls to get close to them. By being low I appeared less threatening to them and at times the birds would come in so close I could not focus on them. Down & dirty can and does pay off.
More Sanderling images
The Ant and the Snowy Plover – Nikon D200, handheld, f5.6, 1/1250, ISO 250, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light, prey provided by the bird
While photographing this Snowy Plover in June of 2008 I was able to observe the tiny shorebird snatch an ant from the sugar sand of the north beach of Fort De Soto. I watched as the plover stuffed the ant into the sand then waited a few seconds and then the bird removed the ant from the sand and repeated the behavior several times before scarfing the ant down. To this day I am still not sure why the Snowy Plover did what it did but I do know that while watching it through my lens I was fascinated.
Rushing Western Grebes 1 – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/2500, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 321mm, natural light
I photographed these Western Grebes rushing in early June of this year at Bear River National Wildlife Refuge in Box Elder County. I had been keeping an eye on this pair while photographing other grebes that were closer and noticed that both of these birds were holding their heads low to the water with their necks out stretched which is called ratchet-pointing. I realized they were getting ready to rush and aimed my lens at them. (That is a female Yellow-headed Blackbird flying on the right side of the frame)
Rushing Western Grebes 2 – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/2500, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 321mm, natural light
Rushing is a courtship dance for Western (and Clark’s) Grebes that occurs during the mating season, it is amazing to watch these grebes become upright with their bodies completely out of the water and rush across the surface with the aid of their large feet. The sound of the splashing water seems to intensify the action.
Rushing Western Grebes 3 – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/2500, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 321mm, natural light
The male is on the left, female on the right, his chest is larger than hers. Normally I see Western Grebes courting earlier than these two birds, June seemed rather late but I’m super happy that I noticed the ratchet-pointing behavior these two exhibited or I might have missed photographing this interesting behavior. As a bird photographer I have learned that knowing my subject and its behavior helps me to anticipate their actions and that can lead to some wonderful action photos.
Rushing Western Grebes 4 – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/2500, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 321mm, natural light
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge contains great habitat for Western and Clark’s Grebes and they are very abundant during the warmer months, right now their numbers are dropping because many of them have already migrated south. They’ll be back in the spring to dance across the water again.
More Western Grebe images
American Coot moving slowly on ice – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f7.1, 1/750, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light
The temps are dropping here in the Salt Lake Valley, two days ago it was below freezing when we went out shooting. Winter brings challenges and birds we don’t see during the summer so I am excited about that.
The American Coots (Fulica americana) in Utah will be here until the water freezes solid, if there is any open water they hang around. So when there is ice on part of a pond it can be fun watching the coots slip-sliding around.
Slippery ice – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f7.1, 1/750, ISO 250, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light
American Coots are common in North America and even though that is true I like to photograph them because they are a challenge to expose correctly because of their dark feathers and that ivory-white bill. Usually in winter I can get closer to them. They will walk on the ice to avoid a fight with another coot which is what the one above was doing when I took the image.
Sinking American Coot – Nikon D200, tripod mounted, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light
The coot above avoided a fight and was standing on ice that barely support its weight which is why there is a circle of icy water around its feet. Coots might not be very colorful or as powerful as a raptor but they are great fun to photograph.
I’m looking forward to winter and the great bird photography opportunities it will bring.
More American Coot images
Eastern Willet in breeding plumage – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/640, ISO 250, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light
I’ve had the good fortune to photograph both the eastern and western subspecies of Willet (Tringa semipalmata) in breeding plumage, the eastern in Florida and the western in Utah and Montana.
The image above shows the eastern subspecies; Tringa semipalmata semipalmata, in breeding plumage. This bird and another successfully reared young at Fort De Soto’s north beach in 2009. This bird is perched on a White Mangrove on June 21, 2009.
Western Willet in breeding plumage – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 500, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light
This image shows the western subspecies; Tringa semipalmata inornata, in breeding plumage perched on Rabbitbrush on Antelope Island State Park on June 6, 2012.
It is difficult to see the differences in the two subspecies but close observation shows that the bill of the eastern subspecies is thicker than the western and the bill of the western is slightly longer. The plumage patterns are also slightly different plus the white around the eye of the western seems more pronounced.
More Willet images