Hartney Bay is for the birds

Hartney Bay is for the birds

Hartney Bay is about five miles out from downtown Cordova to the south.  If you are going to Cordova in the spring to view shorebirds, you go to Hartney Bay.  At low tide, the mud flats extend out for quite a distance from the small parking area (fortunatley equipped with a porto-potty) and the end of the public part of the road.  When viewing the shorebirds, the best time to get out to the Bay is about an hour before high tide.  The key, especially when photographing the shorebirds, is to find a spot and sit down in the mud and wait.  (Not directly in the mud; we are Alaskans, we have blue tarp for that sort of thing.)  After watching the birds long enough, you tend to notice where the birds congregate, so you can generally find a good location to wait.  If you find the right spot, you can sit and watch (and photograph) the birds as they walk and fly right around you.

There were three types of shorebirds in the bay when we were there, two of which are southcentral Alaska favorites: Western sandpipers and Dunlins.  There was also a group of five Whimbrels stolling the beach, picking worms as they moved along.  They were definitely a group, because they all took flight together and traveled as a group.  Michelle and I are convinced we saw them later in the afternoon on Sunday as we were out on the Alaganik Slough.  Unless, of course, whimbrels generally travel in groups of five.

Of all the birds I have photographed, I enjoy watching and photographing Western sandpipers the most.  They are very focused as they skitter along the mud, looking for worms and other grub, and will spontaneously take flight in large groups, moving and flashing like schools of fish as they search for a new location to settle down and repeat the cycle.  Mostly, they fly in smaller groups, but occasionally several groups will join together to combine as a combined mass.

But while everyone is out there with their scopes and binoculars watching the shorebirds, they can often miss many things.  Like the group of white-fronted geese moving about and grazing along the way, or the colors of the evening sky reflecting in the waters of small streams working their way out to sea.  I can appreciate that everyone is so focused on the shorebirds, but sometimes you need to take a moment to look around as well.  As a photographer, I don’t feel like I am doing service to a location unless I explore all aspects of it.

Leave a Reply