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Photographing Fall Sandpipers
Wednesday October 10, 2018   |
Excellent fall lighting provided a beautiful reflection of a feeding Sanderling.

A fall field trip to a beach or marsh with a shallow shoreline should yield a plethora of photo opportunities for birders. You are likely to find such exciting groups of birds as terns, gulls, ducks, wading birds, pelicans, plovers and some of my fall favorites – sandpipers. While sandpipers’ breeding plumage is primarily shades of browns or grays, their winter plumages tend to highlight a lot of white, which makes them stand out against vivid blue water, bright beach sand or wet mudflats.

This time of year, mid-afternoon sunlight provides a nice exposure from the southwest. Hope for a warm, windless sunny day, preferably with a low tide if you’re headed to the coast. A low tide provides a thin water sheen on the sand that mirrors birds in reflections and colors the shoreline a heavenly blue. An added pleasure is to walk along the edge of the tide bare-footed, sometimes photographing with an inch or two of water covering my toes.

Fast shutter speed provided a sharp stopped-action photo of this fall Red Knot.

It’s always fun to watch small flocks of Sanderlings running back and forth in response to each wave. Of course, I tried to capture this action many times, but didn’t get the quality of photos I would want to share with you. Flight photos are always preferred too, but again, no stand-out images. That’s part of the process. Try this and try that and see what works best. I was really happy with some of my feeding images of Sanderlings, along with some of the Red Knot photos, plus a quick snapshot of a big sandpiper that tried to sneak behind me – a Marbled Godwit.

Perfect fall afternoon light provided warm color tones in the sand and brown plumage of a Marbled Godwit.

For some photos, a zoom lens was a good option, and a telephoto lens is always my favorite for birds. In addition to the sandpipers, I photographed Elegant Terns, plus a number of gulls, including adult, immature and first-year Western, Ring-billed and Heermann’s Gulls. These species should indicate the region where I was photographing – (on a Pacific beach in Southern California).

Article and photographs by Paul Konrad

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