Here in Florida, I love to visit the beach pretty much any time of year, any time of day, in any kind of weather. But when possible, I time my beach trips to line up with low tide, when the receding waters reveal sea life for humans to explore and shore birds to dine upon. If you’re planning a beach trip to see some shore birds, here are my favorite birding tips for making the most of low tide time.
Check Tide Times. Different areas of the country have radically different tide times. Most areas will have two high tides and two low tides each day, but that can vary, especially in the Gulf of Mexico. You can find local tide times in newspapers and even posted at local beaches, but in these internet-ready days, the easiest way is to visit the site SaltwaterTides.com. This no-frills site provides exactly the info you need, as long as you can provide the right region info. The hour or two before low tide is often the best, as receding waters leave fish and mollusks exposed to foraging birds.
Check Tide Heights. Depending on the phase of the moon, tides can vary dramatically in height. In my personal experience, the best beach exploration is when the difference between high and low tide is greatest – usually around the time of the full moon or the new moon.
Aim for Mornings or Evenings. Just as with other kinds of birding, low-tide birding is best in the mornings or evenings, as birds start or end their days. These times are also best for photography. My favorite beach bird photos have been taken when sunset lines up with low tide.
Go Beyond the Beach. Sandy shores are just one good place to check out at low tides. Mud flats also yield great sightings, as well as seaweed-filled rack lines (the area of the beach where high tide reached). Seek out back side lagoons on islands, salt marshes, and even tidal rivers.
Watch for Protected Areas. Many popular birding areas are also protected for the birds’ benefit. Obey all signs and marked areas – no exceptions. If you see others ignoring the signs, don’t be afraid to speak up. Be polite, but point out that the signs are there for a reason.
Don’t Disturb the Birds. When strolling along the beach, take care not to disturb feeding birds. Go up and around if birds are feeding at the edge of the waves. Keep a respectful distance and use the zoom lens on your camera to take photos, rather than walking up close to the birds. Keep an eye on your kids – rather than allowing them to run through a flock of birds to send them flying, encourage them to run around the birds, or better yet, stop and quietly watch them for a few minutes instead. See more birding tips for protecting shore birds here.
What other birding tips do you have for making the most of low tide? Share them in the comments below!