Local cell towers were set vibrating early last Saturday morning with the news that Brian Daniels had found a Lesser Sand-Plover at the extreme south end of Bolsa Chica Preserve in Huntington Beach, Orange County, California. The 11th state record, this Lesser Sand-Plover was a first for the county, and a life bird for many potential viewers. What followed was the usual scramble as people who could, dropped everything and barreled towards the spot. Those of us who couldn’t (and we sympathize as we were among them) watched the email boards in agony, as news of the Peregrine Falcon incident broke (the moan was almost audible county-wide) and the search for it in Bolsa’s inner bay began. At 10 AM, the Lesser Sand-Plover was refound briefly, then flew off again and disappeared. And then late that afternoon, confirmation arrived that it was back near where it was first discovered, pushed south by the rising tide.
At that point, the three of us at Optics4Birding were finally able to do something cogent about it, so we each packed a different digiscoping rig and headed for Harriett Wieder RegionalPark, a spot overlooking the mudflats the bird was frequenting. The location presents a challenge as there is no close approach to the birds, which are almost 150 yards out, and the light was more or less behind the bird at that hour of the evening. It wasn’t a question of taking publication-worthy photos; in this case, that was never a rational possibility. What we hoped for was documentation quality shots, and to that end, we were all gratified with some success.
People ask why you would bother with digiscoping; the Lesser Sand-Plover was a perfect example of why you would. Only distant views were available, well beyond the ‘reach’ of a superzoom camera or a DSLR with a conventional long lens. No closer access was available to anyone without a special permit to enter that section of the park. Only the 1000-4000 mm equivalence of digiscoping allowed even passable images to be obtained under these circumstances. The bird spent long periods of time unmoving, allowing us to take many exposures, with adjustments in between to compensate for the challenging lighting. When the bird came forward from its resting spot among the pickleweed to chase flies on the mudflats, the noise of camera shutters going off was impressive. And everyone there was digiscoping. When we were done shooting, we went back to just scoping and enjoying this spectacular bird.
Judge the results for yourselves. Using three different cameras and spotting scopes from two different manufacturers, we took a great many shots. A little digital editing, and this is what we got: shots that more than suffice for documentation. No, these won’t grace the cover of any glossy magazines, but they are plenty good enough to ID the bird as a Lesser Sand-Plover and prove we were there at the same time it was. And what a bird!