December 2020

Vol. 48, No. 6

Field Notes: Catching Up with a Spotted Sandpiper

Michael Rossacci

Above and below: portraits of a Spotted Sandpiper photographed at Arlington Reservoir on two different days in May 2020. A clear sunny morning (above) and a day of overcast skies (following page) create two diverse moods that work equally well when photographing this stunning shorebird. Photographs by the author.

I am a nature photographer in the Boston metro area who specializes in photographing birds in recreational conservation areas throughout Massachusetts. Among my favorite avian subjects are warblers, shorebirds, and waterfowl. One of the species of birds that was on my target list to photograph in 2020 was the Spotted Sandpiper. I had read about them on various bird lists over the last few years that included several sightings at Arlington Reservoir, or the Res as referred to by local birders. Given the additional travel restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, I decided to spend some extra early morning quiet time at the nearby Res observing and photographing this stunning shorebird in its vibrant spring colors. I was fortunate on two different mornings to catch up with one and spend quality time capturing images in different lighting conditions.

On a clear spring morning after a night of heavy rain, I saw a Spotted Sandpiper foraging along one of the exposed muddy edges of the reservoir. The abundant rain left the soil moist, providing the sandpiper with excellent foraging opportunities. The sky that morning was virtually cloud-free, which allowed the beautiful spotted pattern to really stand out and sparkle, especially against the green tones of the water.

In contrast to the weather that day, on another morning I arrived at the Res under overcast skies, which bring out some of my favorite qualities of light for birds. The diffuse light of an overcast day creates softer shadows, reduced contrast, and overall definition that plays well with the delicate character of birds such as the Spotted Sandpiper. On both mornings, I used a long telephoto lens on a hand-held DSLR camera body, staying low to the ground so as not to startle the bird. Taking advantage of the available light during these early mornings, I was able to come away with a small collection of Spotted Sandpiper images to add to my shorebird collection, which can be seen on my website.

Spotted Sandpiper on an overcast day.

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