Sanderlings – Tiny Dynamos

Sanderling feeding on a Penn Shell

Winter plumage Sanderling (Calidris alba) on a Penn Shell – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/800, ISO 320, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

Sanderlings are little shorebirds that are found high in the Arctic tundra during breeding season and during the winter they can be found on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts from Canada to Argentina, during migration they can also be found inland on the banks of rivers and the shorelines of lakes.

Sanderlings feed by following waves to capture any small creatures that may have been left by the receding water then as soon as a wave starts to come into the shoreline the sanderlings scramble to keep ahead of the incoming water. It is amusing to watch these frenetic shorebirds as they dash back and forth. They must burn up a lot of calories!

In the image above the Sanderling came across a Penn shell (I always called them Turkey Wings)  that had been washed up on the shore by a storm the day before and was pecking away at something I couldn’t see on the tissue that had extruded from the shell.

Sanderling feeding

Sanderling feeding – Nikon D200, handheld, f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 200, Nikkor 70-300mm at 300mm, natural light

When photographing shorebirds I like to get down to their level which usually means flopping down on my stomach and holding the lens close to the ground while being very careful to protect the camera and lens from the damage that sand or water could cause. I feel the by being at this low of an angle that I am in the bird’s “world”. In my opinion it is a rather neat feeling to be at eye level with such a small bird.

When I plan on getting “down & dirty”  while photographing I usually always carry along a change of clothes because I just never knew how I would smell after laying in the damp sand or ground.

Breeding plumage adult Sanderling

Breeding plumage adult Sanderling – Nikon D200, handheld,  f6.3, 1/1000, ISO 200, Nikkor 80-400mm VR at 400mm, natural light

Sanderlings in breeding plumage are colorful with rich browns and warm rufous colors that contrast very nicely against the clean white of their chest and stomach. The head and neck also become more vibrant. Personally I find all the plumage phases of Sanderlings appealing.

Sanderlings can be a challenge to photograph because they move erratically at a very fast pace but creating images of them at their level is well worth the trouble of getting dirty and being exhausted by trying to follow the movements of these tiny dynamos. Just keep the shutter speed up!



  1. Dan Huber October 6, 2011 at 10:43 am

    Wonderful post. The details of the birds are great.


    • Mia McPherson October 6, 2011 at 1:16 pm

      Thanks Dan, appreciate you stopping by!

  2. Robert Mortensen October 5, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    I second Jeremy’s comments. And to think that we get them in Salt Lake too! (I haven’t seen them yet though). I’ve seen them in Virginia and in Ohio.

    • Mia McPherson October 6, 2011 at 1:14 pm

      Robert, I haven’t seen any Sanderlings yet here in Utah, maybe next year!

  3. Jeremy Medina October 5, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    I love all the plumages you capture here. Great “bird world” shots of a striking bird.

    • Mia McPherson October 6, 2011 at 1:14 pm

      Thanks Jeremy, it helps to have such beautiful subjects!

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