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Page 4 Alex Feldstein

Written By onci on Sunday, August 9, 2009 | 9:20 AM


Ruddy Turnstones by Alex Feldstein

The Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) is a small wading bird. They live near salt water beaches in Europe and the Americas. The name comes from their color and because they tend to turn over stones and other objects to uncover any possible food underneath. They are small birds, measuring about 22 cm long and a weight of about 90 grams. Their legs are short and bright orange. They feed on insects, invertebrates, eggs and carrion. They are social birds and are usually seen in flocks.

I live in South Florida where we have them on the beaches, in groups of four to ten birds, foraging around the seaweed. They fly when spooked and do so at a moment's notice. They are fast so they are fairly difficult to photograph while flying. They are easy to photograph while foraging as they do not spook easily. If you slowly walk towards them, they tend to walk away from you, not fly, so approaching stealthily is a good tactic.

Walk on the beach and try to approach them slowly. Preferably wear earth tone colored clothing (acts as good camouflage), and you will easily get into a nice shooting position. Around here, you can approach them very close. I normally use a fixed 300mm lens for birding. My lens of choice is the Nikon 300mm f/4D AF-S IF-ED. It is fairly light and easy to handhold for long periods of time. Its fast autofocus and excellent image quality (IQ) makes it a very good lens for birding. It can also be paired with a teleconverter. I do carry a 1.4x TC but seldom need it on the beach.

For small wading birds it is best to try to shoot at low angles. Laying prone on the sand, at their eye-level is best, so wear clothes you do not mind getting dirty. I rarely use filters on my lenses, to maximize IQ , but I do so on the beach to protect the lens from salt spray and sand.

With this lens I try to shoot wide open, or close to, to isolate the bird from the background. When it’s sunny, this allows for faster shutter speeds. This is good as you always want a fast shutter speed when handholding long lenses. The rule of thumb is to have a shutter speed at least equal to the focal length. As my camera uses a cropped sensor, the crop factor of 1.5x makes the 300mm lens effectively a 450mm lens (in 35mm format). Therefore the minimum shutter speed should be at least around 1/500th of a second. I normally try to shoot at 1/1000th or more if possible when handholding. This improves my rate of keepers and works well with moving or flying birds.

It always helps to understand the bird’s behaviour. After watching them for a long time I know what they like to do and how they react to a given situation. I can predict what they will do and where they’ll move within a given area. I also found that if you lay prone on the beach and “hide behind the lens”, after a very short while they don’t see you anymore. You become just another motionless object. This has the undesired effect that they tend to walk towards you and get beyond the minimum focusing distance of your lens. The way to counter that is I slowly rise, making myself look bigger, and they immediately back away. Turnstones are fun birds to watch and photograph. Have fun!

Alex Feldstein
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