For The Belly Crawlers – Please Read This Important Post!!

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 TernCaspian 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 SandpiperLeast 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  😆

Dan Plugged to IV

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.

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  1. Jeannine St-Amour August 19, 2016 at 1:54 pm #

    Awww sorry to hear that Daniel…. :o( Hope you will get better soon….

    • Daniel Cadieux August 19, 2016 at 3:09 pm #

      Thanks Jeannine. At least it is a painless infection, and I can pretty much do everything I normally do 🙂

  2. Joke van Geldrop August 19, 2016 at 4:03 pm #

    Sorry, to see you like this, Dan! There is indeed a wise lesson to be learned here, actually 2:
    1) to protect your elbows – like construction workers do with their knees.
    2) ALWAYS take the advice of your wife seriously!! They DO know what’s best! 😉
    Well, I hope you’ll be cured in no time and are looking forward to a lovely weekend!
    Best wishes, Joke

  3. Cindy August 19, 2016 at 4:05 pm #

    So glad it was caught before any serious damage was done! I somehow doubt it will slow you down in the long-run also!

  4. sherron August 19, 2016 at 4:33 pm #

    hope you get well soon and take care of the infection not good

    • Daniel Cadieux August 20, 2016 at 11:28 am #

      More of an inconvenience than anything, but if left unchecked that can be disastrous!

  5. Gail Bisson August 19, 2016 at 7:21 pm #

    Hope your cellulitis resolves quickly. Never leave home without your elbow and knee pads!
    Take care and get well soon.

    • Daniel Cadieux August 20, 2016 at 11:28 am #

      Thank you Gail. Crossing my fingers that the prescription does as it should!

  6. John August 20, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

    Get well soon Daniel. I to know what cellulitis is about… had the same happen to me on my right elbow. Was not to painful but swelling would spread down my arm after a couple of days, and off to the emerg to get things sorted out. It took a good 3 weeks for all the swelling to be cleared.

    • Daniel Cadieux August 20, 2016 at 3:02 pm #

      Hey John, thanks for sharing your similar story. You are correct that it is painless, but it is a pain in the butt!

  7. Arthur Morris September 8, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

    No worries. The watercolor Least Sandpiper made it all worth it 🙂

    I have long advised no short sleeves and not shorts for bird photography…


    • Daniel Cadieux September 8, 2016 at 4:22 pm #

      Thanks Artie! Funny thing is that previous to this occasion I do not remember the last time I had not worn long sleeves for this type of photography. Lesson learned!

  8. Richard Poire October 27, 2016 at 1:27 am #

    Beaches, birds, bird poop.
    Not to mention dead critters.
    You can’t see it but it’s there.
    Up to 60 diseases in the stuff.
    They have shut down a local reservoir because of the stuff ( e. Coli)
    Could always quit beach crawling.
    Hope your recovery is quick and uneventful.

    • Daniel Cadieux October 27, 2016 at 8:25 am #

      Yep, it’s scary stuff when you stop to think about it! It took a couple of weeks but all returned to normal – but with more care while crawling on the ground…

  9. Faraaz Abdool February 9, 2017 at 9:37 am #

    Whoa, as fun as it is, and as rewarding as it can be – it’s sobering to know the possible repercussions! Glad you’re fine now Daniel.

    • Daniel Cadieux February 11, 2017 at 7:20 pm #

      Thanks Faraaz! I was never in real immediate danger, but still, lesson learned.

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