When I checked my email one recent morning, as I usually do first thing in the morning, I noticed a message from our local birding club. The subject caught my eye: “Avocets.” The email was only a few minutes old and stated that one of our local naturalists had spotted two American avocets on the Ohio River not far from my home. Excited, I grabbed my camera gear and headed for the location where the birds were seen. The American avocet is a rare migrant here, typically found west of the Mississippi River, and, in winter, on the Florida coast.
Arriving at the location, I found several of my birding friends with their scopes set up watching the avocets. The long-legged shorebirds were wading along the river’s edge, looking for a snack. I quickly set up my rig, a Nikon D850 with a Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens on my Benro tripod, anxiously aware that the avocets might fly off at any time. With great morning light at our backs, I added a 1.4x teleconverter to my lens to give me a total reach of 850mm, which allowed me to capture some great images without getting too close, disrupting the birds’ natural behavior.
What a thrill! I told my friends that this was my 12th life bird of the year. I was the only person in the group that had never seen American avocets previously. The rest of the group had seen the species, but never before along the Ohio River. My friend Jon, an avid birder for many years, said he hadn’t snagged a life bird since 2019! COVID, no doubt, was part of the problem, but also, Jon has probably seen every bird species that has ever turned up in the Mid-Ohio Valley.
After much discussion among the group, we decided that we were watching male and female avocets. It was great to catch up with my birding friends, whom I had not seen all summer, but it was time to return to work. Fall migration will be here soon, so I’m sure I will be seeing my birding pals again upon the next rare bird sighting. (I can’t wait! I wonder what it will be!)
I was able to get closer to the birds in the afternoon, but heat distortion made photography challenging. I’ll be addressing this topic in my Birdtography column in an upcoming issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest. If you’re serious about bird photography and curious about how to handle heat shimmers, stay tuned!
Check out Bruce’s American avocet photos!
About the Author
Bruce Wunderlich is the production director and a contributing photographer for Bird Watcher’s Digest and Watching Backyard Birds. Bruce’s award-winning photography has also appeared in many state (Ohio) and local (Marietta) publications. Follow Bruce on Instagram @ Bruce_Wunderlich.