Western Sandpiper In Breeding Plumage

A western sandpiper is reflected in a shallow sheen of water along a beach
A western sandpiper is reflected in a shallow sheen of water along a beach

A little while ago I headed out to the edge of the bay to check out some of the shorebirds making their way down south for the winter. I found quite a mixture of species, and because of the busyness of the birds, I was able to creep quite close to them without notice. Suddenly I found myself face to face with one of the tiniest of the peeps – the western sandpiper. While very common, I had never been so close, and had never seen breeding plumage quite so vibrant.

Many western sandpipers huddle together for protection along a crowded beach
Many western sandpipers huddle together for protection along a crowded beach

I snapped away, going for shots of many sandpipers crowded together, and also trying to single them out and find compositions with as few distractions as possible. For the shot above, I knew I couldn’t hold focus for all the birds front to back with my long lens, so I picked one bird for critical focus, and then used the rule of thirds to position him well in the frame. I liked the result – a sandpiper’s head in sharp focus, surrounded by a pattern of feathers and colors.

A western sandpiper snoozes with one eye open during a falling tide
A western sandpiper snoozes with one eye open during a falling tide

Singling out individual birds was more difficult. Each time one would wander away from the rest, other shore birds would quickly move in front of and behind the bird. In addition, these little guys move quite fast while eating, so much of the action was captured in a run-and-gun style, hoping for the best. It was definitely one of those moments that made me appreciate digital – had I tried that with film I would have soon been broke (not to mention reloading film in the middle of the action)!

Even though this is a very common species, I was happy with the lighting and the close proximity. Sometimes the most common birds get left out of all the fun!

  • I haven’t photographed shorebirds in awhile Hank, but this post makes me want to get out there again soon.   I just love these birds.    Your sandpipers huddled together is something I have always wanted to see and better yet photograph.

  •  Thanks Mark, I’m glad I could inspire.  🙂