Hey all, shorebird season is in full swing, and that can only mean one thing for the very dedicated shorebird photographers (which includes myself)….belly crawling through the sand, mud, muck, and whatever other stuff is infiltrated in and littered on the ground (natural or not)! Lots of fun, and great intimate images to be had, not to mention the gaining of full trust of those beloved shorebirds as they forage mere feet from us. My favorite time of the year for bird photography.
My first serious session of belly crawling, army-style, was a couple of weeks ago when I slowly approached a roosting Caspian Tern. Not a typically easy species to get close too. It took me about 45 minutes to crawl, using my bare elbows (wearing a t-shirt) and legs to push myself forward inch-by-inch, to within full-frame images. What a thrill it was to watch it preen and sleep in my viewfinder! A beautiful adult specimen too!
Caspian Tern, Canon 7DII + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/1600s., f/5.6, ISO 400.
I scraped up the tip of my right elbow pretty good in the granular sand of this particular beach. Every year my elbows get red from belly crawling, but this time it was worse. When I got home I noticed that I had a quarter-sized flesh wound there, fresh and bleeding. A quick shower to clean it all up. It scabbed up pretty good too so no worries.
A few days later, up early again for more photography. Although I opted to wear a long-sleeved shirt and tried to be careful, I opened up the wound again. This time on softer but wet and dirty mud. The shorebirds were cooperating nicely though, so despite the pain in my elbow I was all smiles.
Least Sandpiper, juvenile, Canon 7DII + 500mm f/4 II, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/250s., f/4, ISO 1600.
Fast forward yet another couple of days. I wake up with a golf ball sized bump at the tip of the affected elbow. Soft to the touch and full of liquid. Not painful and no discomfort at all. A classic case of bursitis. These things go away on there own right? Well…not always…
The next morning the bump was all but gone – excellent and as hoped for – but upon further inspection I had red area about the size of my open hand on and surrounding my elbow. Feeling tight and hot when bending it, and also hot to the touch. The next day it had not subsided despite icing it up and taking a couple of doses of anti inflammatory pills (by the way, I take about two Tylenols, or other similar pills per year, or less – I hate these things!).
After resisting, and at the persistent urging of my wife, I headed to the nearest ER this morning (August 19th). Guys: in general, women are much wiser to these things than we are, so do please follow their instincts and not yours! Turns out it was a good thing I went, as infection has settled in. I notoriously avoid needles and bloodwork if I can help it, and get queasy just thinking of it…so this morning was not the type of morning I enjoyed much: 1 needle for a blood sample, another needle for a tetanus shot, and a third for the intravenous dose of medicine I was about to get. Yes, IV!!!! I tried to look brave when the doctor announced this to me, I hope it worked, but I did let the nurse know I needed to lie down while my veins were being prodded. 3 needles in one morning, including one planted in there for at least an hour…that is more than my fair share thank you very much! Anyhow, I am back home after an interesting morning, armed with a 10-day prescription to get that infection out. Before being unplugged from the IV I did ask the nurse to take a picture of me, to show folks how much of a dangerous hobby bird photography can be 😆
Imaged with my Samsung Galaxy phone by the kind nurse. You can see the redness of the infection on my elbow.
Anyhow, the moral of the story, and the important message I want to relay is this: If you are going to be belly crawling in the sand, please use protection for your elbows. I will be buying elbow pads, or concocting something homemade for them, but even wearing long sleeves will protect you from breaking the skin. Although I was never in real immediate danger, who knows how much worse it could have been had I stubbornly “waited it out” rather than going to the ER, or even better, contacting my family doctor before it got to this point. Plus I was planning on going out to photograph my beloved shorebirds this morning…what a wasted opportunity! But a good lesson that is for sure.