Puerto Vallarta Wading Birds

A wllet wades through shallow water, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Every time I go to a new place, I try to have at least basic photography gear with me in order to explore the area photographically. For a location as beautiful as a Mexican beach, there are opportunities for both landscape and wildlife (in this case, birds). Due to the necessity to travel light, I left my 800mm behemoth at home and opted instead for the (comparatively) compact 100-400mm zoom lens.

A whimbrel struts across a sandy beach, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A whimbrel struts across a sandy beach, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Given that I was still in North America, most of the shorebirds along the beach were the usual suspects. The ever-present whimbrel was strutting around through the breaking waves, poking at exposed treats in the sand.

A black skimmer stands in shallow water along the shore, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A black skimmer stands in shallow water along the shore, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

One of the stranger looking birds in my usual list is the black skimmer. When seen on land, they look slightly off balance, with a long protruding lower beak. It is not until they take flight until you realize the grace of their build. Skimming low across the surface of the ocean, they dip their lower beak into the water, scooping up food while in flight. Seeing a group of ten or more doing this is a remarkable sight.

A willet wades through shallow water, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A willet wades through shallow water, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

The willet is one of the blander looking birds of the bunch, and is similar is size to the whimbrel. Here I caught a slight reflection in the shallow water, which were few and far between on this blustery morning.

A laughing gull stands just off shore in the shallow water, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A laughing gull stands just off shore in the shallow water, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

I was happy to see this laughing gull, as I don’t see those very often close to home. The black eye ring is a give away here for identification. I typically find gull species hard to differentiate from one another, given the species similarity, and the great plumage variance depending on the bird’s age.

A semipalmated plover stands on small bits of exposed sand, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A semipalmated plover stands on small bits of exposed sand, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Finally, I snagged some photos of a semipalmated plover among the lesser sandpipers. I am a big fan of plovers, and am always excited to find them hiding among the masses.

If you are interested in casual bird photography while traveling, I highly recommend a lens like the 100-400mm zoom. With some careful stalking, you can usually get close enough for some good photos, and it is very easy to travel with. Also, you can leave the tripod at home, as it is easily handheld.

2015 Round-up – Top 40 Photos Of The Year

The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon

I recently finished compiling my top 40 picks from the last 12 months. The gallery is an assortment of my various trips and outings, including trips to India, Mexico and Canada. As always, there is a mixture of bird, wildlife and landscape, including some previously unpublished.

Please enjoy the gallery below. For best viewing (especially if viewing on a mobile device), please click on the following photo:

The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon
The sun sets behind the western horizon, casting the offshore sea stacks into shadow, Bandon, Oregon

To view the gallery, click here to see individual photos.


If you are interested in compilations from previous years, please see the 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014 lists.

Brown Pelican, Mexico

A brown pelican flies low over the water, looking for a place to rest, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A brown pelican stands in shallow water along the beach, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A brown pelican stands in shallow water along the beach, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Finding the right place from which to photograph wildlife takes experience and patience. When arriving at a new location with the intention of photographing wildlife, I first scout the area very similar to how I’d scout for a landscape shot. In this case I’m looking for one place to hunker down that is likely to yeild a good variety of animals with great light.

In this instance, I found a low area of sand jutting out into the water, just inches above the high tide. As it was morning, the sun was at my back, and I could shoot birds wading in the water in three directions, all without moving. I kept still and tried to make very slow movements so as not to spook any subjects.

As I was shooting some smaller birds now coming quite close to me, a large brown pelican arrived on the scene, very close to me. I took the opportunity to get some portrait shots of this beautiful specimen while it was preening, and generally not paying me any attention. I don’t believe I would have been able to approach this bird this closely if I had been stalking it. But by remaining in one spot and being still, I created a space that seemed safe for a variety of birds to approach me.

A brown pelican flies low over the water, looking for a place to rest, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A brown pelican flies low over the water, looking for a place to rest, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated location, and soon other beach goers wandered by without any thought to disturbing wildlife. My only reaction was to prepare for the pelican’s inevitable takeoff, and make sure I captured it in camera.

Royal Tern

A royal tern flies low over a flock of shorebirds, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A royal tern stands among a flock of shorebirds, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A royal tern stands among a flock of shorebirds, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Whenever I’m at the beach I take a close look at any shorebirds I see, scanning to see if there is an uncommon species in the bunch. On a recent trip to Mexico, I was rewarded with great views (and photographs) of a Royal Tern. This is not necessarily an uncommon species, but one that I don’t get to see often.

When I see a target bird among a larger group, I do my best to isolate it photographically so that it will stand out as a well defined main subject. In this case I wasn’t able to photograph it away from a multitude of sandpipers, but by using the largest aperture I had available, I was able to isolate the tern using depth of field. By focusing on its eye, I made sure it was the only bird it focus, drawing the viewers eye to it.

A royal tern flies low over a flock of shorebirds, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
A royal tern flies low over a flock of shorebirds, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

It is also a good idea to be patient, as you never know when you’re going to see action. In this case, I spent some time focused on the tern and was rewarded when it suddenly took flight. I was ready to go, and got several sharp in-flight photos before it disappeared.

The next time you see a large group of shorebirds clustered together, spend a little time picking through the crowd. You might just be surprised what you find!