Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)

December 10, 2013  •  2 Comments

When news broke in September 2013 that a juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) from North America was found at Wexford Wildfowl Reserve in Co. Wexford, I imagined that the bird was going to be visible from either the Tower Hide or through the thick glass of the centre in an area with no access to Joe Public. When I received an email from a friend of mine with phrases such as "Frame-fillers", "within focusing distance", "tamest Legs I've ever seen" were staring back at me from the screen, I was intrigued.  The bird was in the ornamental duck pond at the front of the reserve!  I had to do a double-take. For those of you (yes, you John) who do not know the layout of the reserve, the ornamental duck pond is the first thing that greets visitors and is generally bereft of any wild birds with the exception of some Mallard or Teal and the odd Dunlin, Snipe and Black-tailed Godwits first thing in the morning. The great thing is that the birds are always close...very close :) 

Needless to say, without a decent photograph of Lesser Legs in my portfolio, I headed straight down the following Saturday morning both to clear the cobwebs from a work and study-ravaged brain, and also to secure a photo of the usually wary Lesser Yellowlegs species. Lesser Legs generally breed near ponds in the boreal forest region from Alaska to Quebec and migrate to the Gulf coast of the United States and south to South America. This species is a regular vagrant to western Europe, and the odd bird has wintered in Ireland. My experience of them in Ireland have always been of views through telescopes and very wary, which is unusual for juvenile North American shorebird vagrants which end up on our shores in Autumn. 

Upon arrival at the Reserve, I managed to get in through a side entrance before the main reserve was open...but there was no sign of the bird. I have always rode my luck in terms of twitching birds, heading down a few days or even a few weeks after they have been initially found. I was now beginning to think that this strategy had finally back-fired. I had checked the muddy area to the back of the buildings with my binoculars but no joy. I figured it may have been feeding in one of the channels, out of view. 

Then, I heard the distinctive double-noted "tu-tu" call and looked up to see the bird fly past within 10 feet of me and land on the edge of the pond in glorious sunshine on the far side. I slowly made my way around and the bird just continued to preen and bask in the early morning light. Bingo...

I spent the next 6 hours with the bird as it flew back and forth between the ornamental pond and the muddy channels at the back of one of the buildings. The light varied from bright sunshine and blue skies to overcast grey cloud. I generally set the camera settings to f/8.0, ISO 200-320, 1/800-1/200 and -0.33 eV.  I also used fill-flash with the Better Beamer. The flash was set to fully manual, set at -2, full power output and the camera set at 1/200 at f/8.0. I think the settings for the flash worked well in bright light and delivered a nice texture and detail to the images. In grey and overcast conditions, I am not sure if I got it right, so I need to work on that again. 

Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)

It was a great privilege to have spent time with this bird. It stayed for a further two days on the Reserve and was not since subsequently. No doubt, at least I hope, it headed south and to warmer climes. 

I would be interested to know which image you like, so please leave a comment letting me know. Thanks!


Images by Mark Carmody
Hi Jono, thanks for the feedback! I would agree with you on the choice (best eye contact with a glint) but the background is a disaster as you say. Not much I could do with it unfortunately as that was the lowest angle I could take the photograph at (awkward fence at hip-height in the way). Hope's all well. M
hey Carmo, the penultimate one with eye contact is easily the one that works best imo. Great head angle! If I'm being picky the background change through the head is a minor bummer, but all in all really nice of an as you say, hard to get species. I've never come close!
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