Monday, January 20, 2014

Well-timed Waders

When you live by the sea, you seem to become very tuned into the rhythm of the tides.  This is particularly the case as a bird photographer as you learn where various wading birds will be at both different states and heights of tide during the winter. As examples there are some beaches where large accumulations of mixed flocks of waders can be found on spring tides, the gathering of Bar-tailed godwits on a local beach during neap tides or the gathering of curlews on a field the high tide period.
The majority of wader photograph tends to be done towards the top of the rising tide as the birds are pushed towards the waiting photographer. Also the bigger tides tend to be favoured as it reduces the area of beach for the birds to use and make them easier to photograph.  However, having said that on the very big spring tides, rocks where the birds typically roost may be inundated and empty. The other key consideration is light direction. For example the beach (a generous phrase for estuarine mud and rocks in the River Mersey channel at the end of my street) can only be photographed during the afternoon a two to three of hours after high tide.

Living by the sea allows you to learn these patterns and use the knowledge to undertake short productive sessions for photographing the birds. This does not work all the time as on occasions the disturbance by other beach users put the flocks to flight.

On the big spring tides at the beginning of the month the appearance of some low late afternoon winter sun in conjunction with the peak of the tide saw me grabbing the camera and taking the 5 minute journey to a beach on the north of the Wirral peninsula. As I hoped there was a narrow strip of beach remaining with one of favourite waders to photograph, the Sanderling, dashing around foraging along the foamy edge of the waves.

 It was just a question then of sitting quietly nearby and letting the birds come to me which is always the best approach. I soon had the birds literally running around close to my feet speeding along the shore looking for marine morsels brought in by each new wave.  The often made comparison of sanderling to clockwork toys as they run around the beach is a very good analogy. They are great fun to photograph as they sprint up and down the tide line.

I had a good 30 or 40 minutes with the birds until a dog walker thought it was hilarious to let his dog rush around and generally terrorise the flock until all the birds departed.
Wading birds, particularly in the winter, are often on a tight energy budget and disturbance of this sort does nothing for their general welfare. However, you cannot expect the majority of people using the beach and coastal footpaths to realise this and all you can do is try and educate where possible.

As I made my way back to the car I spotted a couple of Dunlin together with a few Redshank standing on the rocks, in the diminishing light trying, to avoid the spray of the waves crashing against them and so a took a few photographs before returning home.

So the total length of this session from leaving home to my teabag landing in the mug when I returned was about an hour. An hour well spent in my opinion, as is any time with waders, and such a short session was only possible due accumulating local knowledge from experience.

5 comments:

Linda said...

Exquisite pictures! I love the reflections.

Sharon Whitley said...

Stunning shots as always!

Paul Sorrell said...

Wonderful series of shots and an object lesson in how to do wader photography. Maybe explanatory signs at popular spots like this would help keep the dog walkers in check.

RH said...

Nice collection of images! They really give a sense of the vivacity of those little shorebirds.

Fotoclipping Outsource said...

Such loving portraits...lovely birds..well done for making the visual creative :)

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