Timing is everything, especially with Wildlife Photography!

Shorebirds at Sunset

Recently, I had an experience that many photographers can relate to.


After a very long day spent exploring and shooting thousands of images at Gray’s Harbor in Western WA, I was tired and still had to drive home.


But as I drove around the corner, I saw the sun flickering through the trees. The smoke from distant forest fires had infused the light into a blaze of crimson. I had stopped at this location earlier in the day, and there was not even one bird on the beach, but now the tide was about two hours past full.


I grabbed my camera and headed to the boardwalk. My fast walk turned into a jog, then a run as the sinking sun drew closer to the horizon.


I could hear them before I got to the beach: sandpipers. Gray’s Harbor is a major stopover point for migrating shorebirds on the West Coast. The large, protected bay with extensive mudflats provides abundant food for many species of birds heading south for the winter.


I was sweating heavily as I got to the beach. The horizon had just grabbed the bottom of the sun, and a wide orange laser beam of light shot directly toward me. Thousands of small sandpipers were foraging for invertebrates exposed by the retreating tide.


There was no time. I dropped prone into the sand, arms outstretched, holding my camera. Flicking the dials, I cursed the compromises I had to make between light and shutter speed. Then the moment came: a small flock of Least Sandpipers (Calidris minutilla) flew toward the beam of light, and I filled the buffer of my camera.

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