Didn’t need a degree, (pun intended) in weather forecasting to know that Friday 4 January 2019 was going to be a “Scorcher”. 44 Celesius and that, as my Dad used to say was “in the shade”. Standing in an open paddock photographing birds, would result in not much more than a badly burned chicken nugget going home.
We had been pondering going to look for Latham’s Snipe at the local Heathdale Glen Orden Wetlands, and because these tricky little dudes mostly feed at night, and roost by day, and they are incredibly alert and super fast in the air, and the most important and possibly only element that we can control is the light.
A bright sunny day gives, plenty of light for fast shutter speeds, and also the best possible AF performance. So we formulated what can only be considered a ‘cunning plan’. We would load up the gumbbies and the cameras and get down there very early in the morning. That way if it was a clear day then we could spend a couple of hours with good light and be on the way out for an early morning coffee-breakfast, just around the corner before the heat became opressive, and overwhelming and ugly.
Alarm goes Off!!!!
Look out window, still dark, but there are no clouds in sky.
EE grabs quick breakfast, and a cuppa to go, and we’re away.
It’s only a few minutes drive and by the time we arrived the sun was well above the roof and tree line around. Looked good. Except we parked at the wrong end of the ponds for the light, no point in trying to catch them against the light. My Mum’s favourite, “Keep the sun over your left shoulder, dear”, was what was needed. So gumbbies on, we clump clump clumped down the footpath to the other side of the ponds. And met, out for an early morning walk with his dog, the president of BirdLife Werribee, (Formerly Werribee Wagtails). Morning, Mr Torr, we acknowleged as we walked by.
On to the end of the pond, and a gate leading into a boardwalk, and as I opened the gate for yet another dude with a dog, there behind him was my Flickr mate, David Nice. Morning, David. The wetlands is David’s “Patch” and he was happy to help explain some of the likely spots. Thanks, you’re a champion.
So we began. Snipe help by letting out a sharp “Yelp” as they take to the air. And that’s it. No second prizes awarded.
The big deal is getting the AF to lock on to the bird at warp speed.
I chose to use the D500, and the 300 PF f/4. No TC attached. This gives about the best and fastest short of dragging out the big gun pro lenses, like the 300mm f/2.8 Also inspite of my usual, I set multi-burst, and AF to Continuous and selected the Group Focus. This hopefully picks up the closest subject and well, perhaps Snipe aren’t in its database. The other big changes, are M for manual and set the hightest shutter speed I can manage and balance out the ISO around 800. Also I turn “Off” the VR (IS) as I know there is a bit of a lag on focus if the VR is guessing what to do. Set lens to the limited 3m to ∞. Don’t want it looking for birds that aren’t there a few metres in front of me .
Primed up, with good light, and an open area or two to work in, and we are sniping.
No one said it was easy.
Off course it would be a treat to actually find them on the ground and feeding, but I’m working on that.