Last weekend the weather was rather dreary. Sunday was very overcast and slightly foggy. I was feeling rather excited. “Excited?”, you may ask. Why yes. Here’s the deal. When the sun is behind thin clouds, the light is diffuse and constant. When you master this light, you can do some wonderful things.
But what had me really in a high state of anticipation was that the winds were calm and the temperature was not overly cold. And since it was borderline unpleasant there was a good possibility that there would not be a lot of foot traffic on Dogbar Breakwater. These are all adding up to prime Purple Sandpiper shooting.
When I arrived on Eastern Point, I met a couple of birders from the Carolinas. They were scoping out the breakwater for gulls. We chatted and when they were finishing up, I headed out for my quarry. As expected, about 2/3rds way out on the half mile breakwater, I saw a flock of purple sandpipers fly onto the north side. This is the left hand side on the photo above, the side that is the hardest to work because it is almost straight down to the water.
On a clear sky day, this would have been a problem, but today the light was distributed very evenly so I decided to continue work with them. The key to Purple Sandpipers is to take your time, which I could do because the wind was calm and I had the breakwater to myself. If it was windy, the birds would easily become agitated. When I walk onto a scene such as this, I don’t try to hide or stalk my way in. I just take it easy, look them over, look out to sea, take interest in other things and move slowly.
I don’t worry about being motionless or hidden but I do try to “act natural”. I’ll snap a few test shots to get used to the lighting and before you know it they will settle in. I prefer to work with about four of five sandpipers. This was a flock of sixty-five. The problem with a large flock is that if one spooks, they all spook. But then I just repeat the process at their next landing.
After about ten or fifteen minutes, they pretty much accept me, within reason. They will tolerate an approach of about twenty feet. When I figure out what their tolerance distance is, I don’t push it. Scared birds make crappy photos. Also it is highly unethical to pressure wildlife.
What a wonderful bird. Although they are very beautiful and bordering on damned cute, let me tell you that these birds are tough as nails. They endure all the crap weather that Cape Ann has to offer. Raging winds, zero degree weather, snow storms, surf and bone chilling cold. Let me tell you, many times I’ve ended photo shoots with them because I was chilled to the bone.
This is why they are called Purple Sandpipers. When the lighting is just right, they do have a purple wash in there feathers. This Purple Sandpiper was literally right below me on the breakwater, roughly five feet. It took about a half hour before I tried to walk over the top of him to get this shot.
The one drawback to the day was that I could not just sit down. The breakwater was covered with wet gull whitewash. When I become accepted by a shorebird flock, I will often sit down and let them approach me, or not. By the end of this shoot, I had half the flock to my right and half to my left…maintaining their 20 foot comfy zone. If I could have sat down, I bet they would have come in closer.
In other news, I’ve received my first shipment of calendars. I’m very impressed with the quality of the printing. I had used another company in the past, but this year I wanted to try a new publisher. I’m glad that I did. The print quality is very, very good. The colors are spot on and the detail is way beyond what I see on my monitors.
You can purchase mine by following the add on the right or if you wish to create your own, click this Zazzle logo and learn more.