While kayaking one day along the shores of Tomales Bay in the Point Reyes National Seashore, I saw a small flock of Least Sandpipers land, then begin methodically working their way along the line between land and sea. It was easy to see where they were heading, so I paddled up the beach from them and nestled my kayak in the shallows near where they would pass. I know this species of sandpiper, and generally they are more comfortable with a kayaker’s presence than most other birds. I didn’t believe that my presence would stress them out unduly.
I set my camera up for the pictures I wanted to take before settling down to wait- telephoto lens with the autofocus set so that it could focus nearby (some lenses and cameras have settings so that they can focus more quickly on nearby subjects, but this should be switched back to normal when shooting farther away, or it can actually slow your focusing down). These are very active birds with quick sudden movements, so I set my shutter speed higher as it was more of a priority than the aperture. ISO was set low to keep the image as noise free as possible, since it was a slightly older camera. I fired a few test shots.
As I settled down to wait, I was able to stay very still so that I would not spook them as they neared. Since I knew my camera was ready and my exposure properly adjusted, I studied the sandpipers as they approached, scurrying this way and that. I watched how they moved, deciding what angles I wanted to shoot them from. I hunched down lower in my kayak’s seat. They are a very small bird, so I wanted to be very small that I might be closer to eye level.
Click. A shot of several of them together as they pass around a jellyfish that’s washed up on the beach. One splits away, coming closer to me. I track it. Click. It’s reflected on the film of water that covers the sand. It bends down to feed. Click. It’s very close now, walking straight towards me. Click. And then it is too close for me to focus upon as I sit in my kayak, before going by and offering up shots only of its backside.
I glance to where the others are. Mostly they are beyond me, but there are a few that have yet to pass by. A pair of them comes closer I shoot them. Click. Mostly I focus on the closer one, allowing the other to just be a blurred out second bird. I like this method. It shows that there is more than one, but is still a more intimate portrait by focusing on just a single subject.
I take a few token shots, but I know I already have my best images of them on my camera, and I let out the breath I didn’t even know I was holding.
And as a bonus a Willit came wandering by a little higher up on the shore, wandering through some of the jellyfish that had washed up on shore. So of course I obliged by taking its portrait as it high stepped along. (The Willit is a much larger bird than the Least Sandpiper.)
Once they were far enough from me that I knew I wouldn’t spook them, I slid my kayak back into deeper water before paddling on to my next adventure. For more tips try reading Kayak Wildlife Photography Tips and Tricks
Lens 300mm + 1.4x converter
ISO 200, 1/500th of a second, f/5.6