Working with Light – Black-necked Stilt

black-necked stilt edited

There is a birding spot 1/2 mile from my house that I love, but most birders would never visit.




The birding area is part of the Upper Las Vegas Wash and it is very urban in every sense of the word. The water comes from street runoff and a couple water treatment plants upstream. The habitat consists of a concrete weir and a channelized stream bed lined with boulders. There is some scrubby vegetation clinging to the side of the wash, but no trees.


There is also a HUGE amount of trash. During rain events a lot of trash people discard on the street enters the storm drains and ends up here. The shrubs act as strainers and are coated with all types of plastic bags and other refuse.


There are often homeless encampments nearby, a very busy four lane road. The treated water has high percentage organic material and smells rather foul. I even discovered a firearm in the Wash during one birding outing! At some point I will write a post about the humans factor while birding in Las Vegas.


But the birds “flock” to this area! The organic material in the water enables algae to grow in the weir and various invertebrates feed on the algae providing food for birds.  I have seen over 130 species of birds this location.


This is my go to area for photographing shorebirds. In general, the birds are more tolerant of human presence here and I can easily get down to eye level with the birds. The grey colored cement weir allow for a non distracting background and the morning sun flows into the area creating dramatic light.


Today I got into position around sunrise and waited for the sun and birds. They both arrived in force. 150 Least sandpipers flitted up and down the sides of the weir. Nearby, Greater Yellowlegs, White-face Ibis and Black-necked Stilts worked the deeper water. Further downstream, Mallards, Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, and a few Common Goldeneye formed loose flocks while feeding.


I decided to focus on capturing images of the Black-necked Stilts. I waited until one of them crossed into a beam of light from the sunrise. The bird was near an overpass that created a very dark background. I spot metered off the bird and then increased the exposure in post. I was able to shoot at 1/2000 second at F8 which froze the bird and the droplets of water dripping of its beak!

Least Sandpipers
Least Sandpipers
A stolen car being recovered from the Las Vegas Wash
A stolen car being recovered from the Las Vegas Wash

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