Snapshots: Latham’s Snipe—On the Fly

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.


This is how close they are to the nextdoor neighbours


Landing rights with a Minah

Off course it would be a treat to actually find them on the ground and feeding, but I’m working on that.


13 thoughts on “Snapshots: Latham’s Snipe—On the Fly

  1. Great shots, David. They were certainly active this morning. As you say a ‘static’ capture would be nice – I missed a couple before I saw you this morning, just to the west of the boardwalk in front of the dead tree. I must see if we can get that creaky board fixed! And thanks for flushing that last pair, as they flew back around the lock on was good and the light fabulous.
    Terrific to see you and EE and hope you were home before the temperature hit the dizzying heights. Gary wants to go to WTP in the morning to see if he can find the Tufted so I am tagging along. Happy Clicking!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. G,day David, All good. It was actually quite reasonable out among the reeds. But the temp really set in after we got back to the car.
      Had a look at the spot near the dead tree and there is a small 3/4 enclosed area about a basketball court size, and a slight raised area in the middle, so it was not underwater, and they seemed to settle in to that. Same down the Western End near the fence. I suspect, (not knowing anything about them of course) that they probably change roosting spots depending on the water levels.
      Glad you got some good shots of them swinging away. I think photographing them is a two person job. Bit like spotter and photographer, spotter gets to send them in the right direction. Trying to catch them as they take off is a bit fruitless.
      Hopefully, the weather comes good and we’ll go see.


    1. Hi Rodger, I’m struggling to figure out the best setting for them. The DSLR don’t react anywhere near as fast as your Sony/Panny, but given half a chance can step up. I’m really waiting for Nikon to supply the new 500mm f/5.6 more money than I want to spend, but it should be a great performer. 🙂


  2. Gorgeous! Feel am a sort of expert since I counted them at the Melton Bot gardens a couple of months ago!! Not any chance of seeing them like this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Ginny, funny 6 weeks ago, I think I’d only ever seen one or two on the wing out at Melton. now I’m an expert too. 🙂
      Will to to Melton with Geraldine for the next count. I was thinking it might be something we could do at this wetlands if its not all too hard. There certainly are ample numbers of the birds in there. Even a walk around the concrete path usually shows one or two

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Amazing results, David. Congratulations! Obviously your meticulous preparations for the Latham’s Snipe Challenge were spot on. I shall try the settings at the nearest opportunity for in flight shots. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Adam,
      Thanks for the note and for dropping by. In a simple sentence. I turned off all the settings. The VR on the 300mm f/4 PF does seem to have some affect on the speed and focus accuracy. I don’t see the same with the Sigma or the 300mm f/2.8. I am a bit concerned that the new 500 f/5.6 PF will have the same issues. But, its on back, back back order so I’m not in a position to do anymore than guess.
      If I understand correctly the D500 has a separate operating chip for the AF issues, so it shouldn’t be affected by any of the normal camera adjustments. But these birds move so quickly a split second makes all the difference.
      Getting them in the frame from the get go is nigh impossible, and at close quarters completely impossible as a ‘large’ bird moves out of the frame in an instant.
      All learning stuff.
      Good luck.
      Seeya Along the Track sometime


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