Bird photography

Earth Day 2022: Amidst the crises, don’t forget the beauty

Words and images from our founder, Pete Myers, on how bird photography keeps him connected to and curious about a planet in peril.

I spend most of my time focused on bad news.


Every morning at dawn I review lists of new studies about endocrine-disrupting chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA). It can be brutal.

I can take only so much of this. My retreat is bird photography. It makes me focus on the wonders of evolutionary adaptation to difficult challenges. My pretentious goal in this effort is to become a bird version of Georgia O’Keefe. OK … I know I’ll never get that good, but I can try. I deeply enjoy helping the casual observer see intimate views of a bird they normally would never see.

I have no choice but to shut out of my mind all the bad stuff, and focus my mind and the camera on the bird in front of me, hopefully RIGHT in front of me, at minimum focusing distance or close-there-to.

My favorite subjects are shorebirds, especially sandpipers and most especially sanderlings, a species I focused upon while doing a Ph.D. on its behavior and ecology while at U.C. Berkeley in the 1970s through 1981.

I have taken tens of thousands of photographs of shorebirds. I rely on my intimate knowledge of not just what birds are doing, but what they are going to do next. And while each new generation of cameras allowed me to get better photographs, in April 2021 I acquired a camera and lens that changed the game: it shoots up to 30 frames per second.

In early December 2021 I spent three days on the beaches north of San Francisco that I studied in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I recorded almost 10,000 images. It took me two months to sort through them and another month to organize them into a coherent narrative.

On this Earth Day, with so much to worry about in the world, I hope these images convey some of the magic I experience when I am up close and personal with shorebirds.

These 32 images below are some of my favorites selected out of more than 200 from that trip to California I have put online here.

When people go to the beach, it’s usually for relaxation or a swim or a suntan. When these birds go there after a brief nesting season in the high Arctic, it’s to feed, fight, flock, flee from predators, and sometimes to indulge in a bathing orgy or a high tide roost.

I marvel at how they thrive through what can be life or death challenges, frenzied, frenetic moments, not knowing when the next falcon will strike or whether the next mad rush down to the base of the receding wave will yield something to eat. I am awed by the precision of natural selection giving the western sandpiper extra webbing between its toes to facilitate its walking over mud while eliminating a sanderling’s hind toe to allow it to run rapidly over sand. I am thrilled to know that come May most of these winter beach birds will migrate to the Arctic, flying non-stop for days, then building nests, laying and incubating eggs, raising young and by July beginning to migrate back to this very beach.

Adaptations like those have emerged from millions of years of evolution. I am so at peace with my mind when I can breathe the ocean air and contemplate the miracles they truly are. And my commitment and resolve to leave the world a healthier place is reinvigorated, not just on Earth Day but every day.

Click the photos for a full screen view and see the Creative Commons license below.

Creative Commons License
This work is copyrighted by Pete Myers and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Banner photo: Mixed flock of sanderling and dunlin on Limantour Spot. The two sanderling in the very front are carrying sand crabs.

This work is copyrighted by Pete Myers and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

See more of Myers' photography

Cancer-causing benzene levels were cut in half at US refineries in 2023: Report

Texas refineries, however, still have some work to do.

HOUSTON — The number of U.S. oil refineries exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s action level for benzene in 2023 was cut in half compared to 2020, according to a new report from the Environmental Integrity Project.
Keep reading...Show less
Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way
Coast Guard inspects Cameron LNG Facility in preparation for first LNG export in 2019. (Credit: Coast Guard News)

Amid LNG’s Gulf Coast expansion, community hopes to stand in its way

This 2-part series was co-produced by Environmental Health News and the journalism non-profit Economic Hardship Reporting Project. See part 1 here.Este ensayo también está disponible en español
Keep reading...Show less
environmental justice pittsburgh
Credit: Kristina Marusic for EHN

Environmental justice advocates find hope, healing and community in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH — Environmental justice advocates gathered last week to celebrate progress and chart a path to the future while focusing on healing, self care and mental health.

Keep reading...Show less
powder river coal leasing
Credit: Jerry Huddleston/Flickr

Biden administration ends new coal leasing in Powder River Basin

The Biden administration moves to halt new coal leasing in the Powder River Basin, aiming to curb fossil fuel extraction.

Maxine Joselow reports for The Washington Post.

Keep reading...Show less

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's new grid rule deepens partisan divisions

A recent FERC initiative aimed at modernizing the U.S. power grid has intensified partisan disagreements, threatening bipartisan efforts for a comprehensive permitting overhaul.

Kelsey Brugger reports for E&E News.

Keep reading...Show less
Oil barge accident & spill
Credit: Patrick Feller/Flickr

Barge collision collapses Galveston bridge, triggers oil spill

A barge collision caused a partial collapse of a Galveston bridge, leading to an oil spill and the closure of the only road to Pelican Island.

Juan Lozano and Lekan Oyekanmi report for The Associated Press.

Keep reading...Show less

Rep. Jamie Raskin probes oil companies over alleged Trump donation meeting

Rep. Jamie Raskin is demanding details from oil industry leaders about a reported meeting with Donald Trump, where deregulation promises were allegedly exchanged for campaign donations.

Erin Mansfield reports for USA Today.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
air pollution pittsburgh

Amidst a controversial international sale, U.S. Steel falls behind in cleaner steelmaking

U.S. Steel’s proposed sale to Nippon Steel stokes concerns over labor rights and national security, all while the company continues to break clean air laws in Western Pennsylvania.

exxon houston petrochemicals

Spanish-speaking residents feel left out of permitting process at massive Exxon petrochemical plant in Houston-area

“It is important to ensure meaningful engagement efforts are inclusive and accessible to all diverse members of our communities.”

youth climate change

"Our lives might be on the line"

Eighth graders reflect on the state of the planet.

sargassum

After 13 years, no end in sight for Caribbean sargassum invasion

Thousands of people were hurt by sargassum blooms last year in the Caribbean.

youth climate change

“We should take care of what is precious to us"

Eighth graders reflect on the state of the planet.

earth day 2024

Earth Day reflections from the next generation

This week we're featuring essays from Houston-area eighth graders to hear what the youth think about the state of our planet.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.