New camera, better shorebirds

Juvenile black-bellied plover

Juvenile black-bellied plover

For my blog photos I’ve been using an Olympus Tough. I love the rugged little waterproof camera for kayaking and long beach walks, but for birding, I was wanting something more. I just picked up a new camera — a Canon EOS Rebel T3 with a 70 – 300 mm lens. Here’s the best of a week’s worth of playing along the shore (3 good ones out of 100+).

This lovely black-bellied plover (Pluvialis squatarola) was with a larger group on the rocks at Asilomar State Beach, one of my favorite spots for walking and birding. It’s a new bird species for me! (Thanks to local birding expert Brian Weed for confirming the ID.) Our rocky shores are a migratory stop (the birds travel at night) from Arctic tundra breeding grounds to warmer wintering grounds. Individuals away from the group are usually seeking food. Although black-bellied plovers are protected by the Migratory Bird Act (and other treaties) and populations appear to be healthy, their reliance on Arctic tundra means that they’re vulnerable to climate changes.



At the base of the rocks hosting the plovers were willets (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus). Willets are mid-sized, mostly nondescript shorebirds, that is until they fly. The wings have a striking black and white pattern. I usually see willets alone, but when they migrate they flock to feeding grounds. And there was a large flock on the rocks. Many of these birds will stay here for the winter (I get more practice photographing them); some will fly as far as South America. In spring, they’ll migrate north and inland to prairie marshes of the Great Plains.



My other successful shot was of a surfbird (Aphriza virgata). These small birds are fairly common here (I see them on nearly every rocky shore walk) even though they’re migratory. If you look closely at the rocks near the water’s edge and wait patiently, you’ll find surfbirds along with the black turnstones they hang out with. The surfbirds’ yellow legs make them easy to distinguish from the black turnstones. There’s some conservation concern about surfbirds (which I didn’t realize till I wrote this). They’re livelihood is closely tied to rocky shores and so oil spills are a serious threat. In addition,  human development along our coast impacts their ability to feed and rest undisturbed. We both like the same places.

I’m really enjoying the new camera. It allows me to get close to these visitors without disturbing them and collect some of their essence without taking anything but pictures.


SIMoN Species Database: Black-bellied plover
SIMoN Species Database: Surfbird
SIMoN Species Database: Willet

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