A Dunlin tends to its plumage. The chunky little sandpiper is in basic (winter) plumage. It's quite the different looking beast after molting into alternate (breeding) plumage. Then, it transforms into a coat of rusty-red above, and rich black below. It was once known as the "Red-backed Sandpiper".
Anyway, a large flock of several thousand gulls was roosting on the beach, with small numbers of shorebirds hanging around the periphery. We slowly stalked towards the group, being cautious not to flush or alarm the birds. Finally, after getting close enough, we dropped prostrate on the sand. Before long, this Dunlin and a group of his compradres - and one Least Sandpiper - flew into the water's edge directly in front of our position and in perfect light.
I could not believe our luck! Not only were there excellent photo ops of the little sandpipers, but the godwits - there were three - had been flying about and foraging on distant parts of the beach, and I knew the big sandpipers might well be lured in by these smaller sandpipers. Shorebirds like to pack up together, and our Dunlin were essentially acting as decoys to possibly lure the godwits right to our position.
My Gitzo tripod has quick-release tabs that allow the legs to splay out perfectly flat, allowing my camera rig to be only 6-8 inches above the ground. There are at least three great advantages to shooting in this position:
1) In such a posture, the birds no longer react as they would to an upright potentially threatening humanoid biped. They often go about their business as if you weren't there, and often approach closely. I would have never gotten the images that I did if I remained standing and shooting with the tripod nearly fully extended. Not disturbing your subjects should be rule #1.
2) By getting down on the ground, the photographer is at eye level with the subjects. Such a perspective is often unbeatable, as we shall see in some of the following images.
3) From an extremely low position, the reflections of your subjects in the water often melt into a pool of quicksilver - an awesome look, and I'll share an example further on.
It was a mirror image of the tactics employed to stalk the godwits a few days prior. I sidled onto the beach, dropped to the sand and worked my way towards the birds using a slight ridge of sand as cover. Before long, I was plenty close enough without alarming the birds at all.
Earlier, I made note of the advantages gained by shooting from a prostrate position, including the melting of reflections into a quicksilver pool. That effect is evident in the above image. One other comment about this photo. The gull is at nearly the perfect angle, and posture and angle is everything when making shots of birds. I watch my subject like a hawk, ready and waiting for it to subtly adjust its position. Note how the back of the bird is canted slightly my way, and the bird is looking slightly my way - maybe a 5-10 degree cock of the head. Perfect.