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A Mobile Tech-Fueled Surfbird Photo Quest

This past December I found myself in Monterey, California, with a couple of days to spare before a meeting back north in Menlo Park.  High on my birding agenda was an attempt at a good photo of a Surfbird, which I had only previously digiscoped at dusk & at a distance, with less than stellar results.

It continues to amaze me how far portable communication technology has come in the last decade.  A device as small as a proverbial deck of cards can be incredibly useful to a traveling birder on a time budget.  My iPhone replaces the need to carry a bundle of books including field guides, regional birding guides, and gazetteers/atlases/maps. For many purposes such as email or web searches a smartphone also usurps the need for a laptop. It became an indispensable asset in my quest for a nice Surfbird shot.

I began my quest by (gasp) using my phone to call a local birding buddy who would have the gen on finding a photo-friendly Surfbird.  My friend Brian Sullivan (another steady contributor to this blog and an amazing birder & bird photographer) immediately suggested a gull and shorebird roost at Point Pinos.  Previously, finding the right one of many possible pullouts along the drive south of Monterey would have entailed Brian’s production of detailed directions and trust in my ability to follow them while driving solo through unfamiliar territory, but Brian just asked if I had the BirdsEye app.  Replying in the affirmative, he simply gave me the hotspot name.   BirdsEye listed nearby hotspots, I selected the one in question and had the software map a route from my location in a supermarket parking lot to the desired destination.

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Finding a nearby birding hotspot on BirdsEye is as easy as clicking on a red pin on the zoomable map.

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With one click BirdsEye kicks you into the iPhone mapping system to get you to the desired hotspot.  You can also produce a list of turn-by-turn directions if you are textually inclined.

 

Brian mentioned that the shorebird photography there would be best at high tide.  I switched iPhone modes to log onto the Weather Undergound mobile web site, which includes marine forecasts and tide tables for coastal localities.  Armed with the local tide chart, I plotted an arrival time to coincide with the high tide and nearby resting shorbird flock it would produce.

 

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An example tide chart for Point Pinos, my intended destination for Surfbird photo opps.

To arm myself for the search I refreshed my memory of the pertinent field marks of a Surfbird.  I have several North American field guides on my iPhone and I flipped to the Sibley Guide app for a review.  I also had a peek at the species photos and a listen to Surfbird calls on BirdsEye (after all, I don’t get much practice with the species here in Colorado!)

 

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OK, this is what I’m looking for…

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And here’s what I’ll listen for…

When I arrived there indeed were scads of shorebirds tucked on and among the rocks, waiting for the tide to ebb before dispersing far and wide to exposed feeding beaches and rocks.  Soon I found the stocky, yellow-legged target of my intentions among many Black-bellied Plovers, Sanderlings, Turnstones, Willets, Whimbrels, and a few Black Oystercatchers.  I found a good angle from a protected cranny amongst the damp granite boulders, hunkered down to wait for the bird to get clear of the crowd, and eventually got my wish- a fab shot of the bird despite a very limited amount of time to get it.  Thanks, Brian, & thanks, iPhone!

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