High Drama at Low Tide

Black-bellied Plover with ghost shrimp
Black-bellied Plover with Ghost Shrimp (Family Callianassidae), Frenchtown Road, Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. Canon EOS 7D/500mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). Natural light.

Hello again, friends! Chris’ last post reminded me of the photos I have to share of a Black-bellied Plover plucking ghost shrimp from their burrows. Watching shorebirds pull infaunal invertebrates from tidal mudflats is definitely my idea of a good time! These photos were taken last April, when the bird was starting to molt into its breeding plumage.

I knew this plover had something big when the typical run-pause-pluck, run-pause-pluck hunting style was suspended at the “pluck.” There it was, its bill up to the nostrils in mud, completely frozen. A few beats later, a mound of mud erupted as the plover slowly pulled up a bizarre looking worm (because everything’s a worm-right?). Well, turns out, it was an arthropod – a ghost shrimp to be precise – and this little bird was a master shrimper. Fastidious too. After each catch, the black-belly would run to the water’s edge to rinse the ghost shrimp off before swallowing it whole.

Three image series of a Black-bellied Plover pulling a ghost crab out of its burrow in a mudflat.
Watch Me Pull a Ghost Shrimp Out of This Mudflat! A Black-bellied Plover “magician” extracts a ghost shrimp from its burrow at Frenchtown Road, Bolivar Peninsula, Texas. Canon EOS 7D/500mm f/4L IS (+1.4x TC). Natural light.

As a photographer, these are the moments I shoot for. As a wildlife watcher, these little dramas starring avian predators and their cryptic prey open small windows into life beneath the surface. Considering the diversity of species and numbers of birds that make their livings pulling food from the earth, I get a sense of how alive the ground beneath our feet really is.

I knew, of course, that trees and plants had roots, stems, bark, branches and foliage that reached up toward the light. But I was coming to realize that the real magician was light itself.–Edward Steichen

©2014 Elisa D. Lewis. All rights reserved. No text or images may be duplicated or distributed without permission.