Using the rising tide to our advantage for bird photography

It was an early 5am alarm as we planned on using the rising tide to our advantage for bird photography that day. We had all our gear sitting in the hall from the night before and we just needed a bowl of porridge and a kick of caffeine before we packed everything we needed for the day into the car. 

We were finally on the road again! 

As we pulled the car into the Templeton beach car park, the sun was just breaking the horizon, but it would still take a wee bit longer until it provided us with enough light to start photographing birds.

My 2nd cup of coffee was still warm sitting in its circular holder thingy just under the dashboard after our thirty minute drive from home. One cup of coffee isn’t enough for me and porridge obviously wasn’t enough for Rosie as she unwrapped a couple of pieces of cold wholemeal toast smothered in raspberry jam. We had 2nd brekkie and then spilled out of the car, breathed in the fresh sea air and headed down to the beach.  
It was still way too dark for bird photography so a wee bit of sunrise landscape photography seemed in order to fill in the time. 

Templeton Beach is fairly sheltered and this lovely morning there was hardly a hint of a breeze.
The plan was to head out to Cooley point, that spit of land in the distance.

We discovered that we were not the only humans active on the beach that morning.
Although it was cold enough to knock the nuts off a monkey with a stick we came across a pair of ladies braving the chilly autumn waters.

I could tell that these ladies, being equipped with winter gloves and warm woollen hats, were not new to this ancient form of self torture.

Hot tip no 1: Be patient, wait for the light

Rosemary and I left the bathers to enjoy their romp in the sea and moved off down the beach towards Cooley point, but the light was still not yet bright enough for bird photography.

Rosemary, checking the read out on her camera while waiting for the light to get bright enough to start the days business.

Rosemary and I have both learned from bitter experience that it is a waste of time trying to photograph birds in poor light. By exercising a little bit of patience, we knew we would greatly improve our chances of getting the shots we wanted.

We had timed our visit arriving around low tide. This meant we had time up our sleeves.
The plan was that we would set ourselves up at our chosen spot making ourselves look as inconspicuous as possible and wait for the tide to start coming in. We hoped that the birds would arrive with that rising tide.

Hot tip 2, put the sun behind you

This Ruddy turnstone was photographed in ideal conditions in the the soft early morning light. The sun is falling over the shoulder of the photographer from behind, illuminating the subject in front. These kind of light conditions and the deliberate placement of the photographer make for ideal images.

Cooley Point is a great place to see shore birds around full tide depending on the tidal height.
This is because parts of the spit remain above the incoming tide long after the birds lose many other local feeding and resting areas.

Cooley point at low tide
This image taken from the tip of Cooley Point looking inland shows our playground for the morning.

We found that we still had a bit of time up our sleeves and deciding not to waste it we went in search of some landscape photography.

We trudged along the beach, then headed inland, up past the sand dunes, out onto the edge of the farmland.

Beautiful Ireland

Ireland is truly photogenic with beautiful landscape opportunities.

Ireland might not have the huge mountain ranges, lakes and rivers of my native homeland, New Zealand, but what Ireland lacks in huge mountainous vistas, it more than makes up for with its smaller more intimate landscapes.

What struck me almost immediately when arriving here is that Ireland has mastered the perfect merge of the old with the new. The modern building materials and style of the new houses and buildings perfectly complements the style of the old. There is a continuity of style which creates a grace so unlike my county back home, this is the Ireland I am falling in love with.

 We loved the way the light was falling on this mountain, Slievenaglogh

Cooley Point

Eventually it was time to leave Slievenaglogh behind and we made back out to Cooley Point.

As the tide was starting to deprive the birds of their feeding grounds elsewhere, they made their way to Cooley point, doing numerous fly-bys giving us ample opportunities to photograph the squadrons as they passed us.

We think that being able to include some land adds something to this image

As the tide rises, the tip of Cooley Point slowly submerges beneath the incoming waves and water spills into several depressions on the spit itself forming a lagoon. But for now the birds were forced to land on the outer parts of the spit. 

At first the birds started landing on the rocks out on the very edge of the spit.

The lagoon

When the tide was high enough to start filling the lagoon the birds started flying loops around it making for more exciting birds in flight photography. 

A mixture of Dunlins, Ringed plovers and Turnstones started circling around the main lagoon keeping us busy with our cameras.


The Plan - Using the rising tide to our advantage for bird photography 

The reason we had planned our visit to coincide with the rising tide was because we knew that as the lagoon filled with water, the birds would be forced to feed their way up the lagoon closer to the high tide mark. 

The plan was that we would position ourselves between the birds and the high tide mark and allow the rising tide to bring the birds closer to us as they fed over the ever diminishing feeding grounds.  
We tried to make ourselves as less intimidating as possible to the approaching birds which meant sitting directly on the mud and sand. Getting wet and muddy bums would be a small price to pay if we got the shots we wanted.

Sure enough almost as soon as we took up our positions the birds started landing on the sand at the edge of the lagoon right in front of us.

The shots I really wanted this morning were of these wee shorebirds landing in front of us and I did manage to get a few.

This group of Ringed plovers and Dunlins were the first to arrive close to our position. 

These birds are not big and really put my skill and the camera's focus system capabilities to the test.

A dunlin coming into land
This wee Dunlin landed right in front of us.

A Ringed plover is cleared for landing after flying past us a few times.

Eventually quite a number of birds had landed on the sand making their way closer to us. 

We remained as still and unthreatening as we could and the birds were pretty relaxed around us and soon we found ourselves surrounded by them on all sides as they busily grabbed a final meal before the tide hid the feast from them.

Before long the birds were feeding around us and our feet were getting wet.
Note to oneself bring gumboots next time.

The tide continued its unstoppable march higher up the beach until we had no choice but to get up and move onto dry land.
It was a great start to the day and our mission had been successful.
It was lunchtime, we had used the rising tide to our advantage and it was time to head to back to the car for lunch.


  1. Great story and very informative at the same time. I look forward to the next one


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