Saturday Evening Post :29 “Salty”

Meet “Salty”.
I don’t know if that its real name, but an old sea dog deserves a distinguished name.

EE and I were at the Werribee South beach photographing Pelicans.  Hmm, there is a post somewhere back there about the adventure.

I turned round ‘seaward’, to see a bloke, and his kayak and his dog, paddling along the water’s edge. Salty had a front row seat on the kayak.

Not sure if I’m more impressed by Salty’s excitement about being on the sea, or the owner’s clever solution for holding the plastic bucket on top of the kayak.

Took me back to me childhood of messing about in boats on the mighty Murray River. Among some of our summer fun as growing lads was a small skiff which plied the river from dawn to dark, and carried home our catch for the day.  Sometimes it was a pirate ship, sometimes a mighty naval vessel, and sometimes it, just like us kids, ‘went exploring’.  And always in the company of one or two of the family dogs.
One particular dog, I’ve talked about here before. “Puppy, or Dog’, depending on who was talking, and what were the circumstance, was a Blue-Heeler cross Fox Terrier, with a snippet of whippet thrown in for good measure.

Like Salty, Dog would sit up in the bow, or sometimes hang off the stern fascinated by the rippling water passing by. So it was a little bit nostalgic for me to watch the delight and exuberance of Salty as they sailed by.

They returned an hour or so later, and I saw them disembark on the pier about 500m from where I was standing.  Salty, jumped onto the pier, a few quick shakes, and look around, it then trotted off the pier in search of new adventures.

I love to see dogs without collars and tags,—I’m an anarchist, or perhaps a iconoclast when it comes to having to id my ‘stuff’. I’m not against the registering of animals etc, just the need for them to carry such id as a sign of being ‘owned’ by some human type person. Dog was never owned, it shared its life with us, and in return we shared with it. She didn’t need a ‘tag’ to know she was part of our family. And for all those who have had such relationships, you know no-one can break that bond.

So sail on Salty, may the kayak take you on many an adventure, “yo, ho ho, it’s a pirates life for me!”

 

Advertisements

Moments: Brown Falcon—My Kitchen Rules, Tiger Snake, a la carte

YaJustHaddabeThere.

If you feel history is repeating itself, well done. It is.

Brown Falcon are very active at the Treatment Plant at the moment, as it seems are snakes in the close of the warm weather.
This bird didn’t fool me.  I knew it had intentions.  That it only moved one or two fence posts at a time was the first clue. When a vehicle drove down the road past EE and I, and then past Brown, and it didn’t even flinch, I knew.

YaJustHaddabeThere.

Settle in for a long wait. My first frame of the encounter was shot a 1:53pm.  The last one 2:42pm. And the bird was still in residence at that stage.
Here’s a summary and then we’ll let the images tell the story.
We noted the Falcon on the fence as we drove down. It was not in a hurry to move, and it was apparent that in spite of its seeming casualness,  it was hard at work. I’ve written before that I believe Browns map everything only move when its to their advantage.

It flew along the road, and then walked into the grass. At first I missed the movement. But Brown had calculated the snake would move out into the open. Ha!  Not this one. Brown reacted but the blanket weed is much too thick. Advantage Snake.

Brown considered a new plan from a small hillock nearby. And that is where there time went. Twenty minutes of more.  Then for no apparent reason the bird moved to a higher roadside sign. And I knew an attack was in play.

YaJustHaddabeThere.
It went down behind the small hillock, and we lost sight, but we lost no time in getting up the road to see if we could get a look.
Yes. There it was mantled, wings spread out. Motionless. At the right time, the head moved and it was all over.
The next few minutes were dealing with the death throes of the snake, and it eventually got a tail twisted over the Falcon’s wings.
After gorging itself it tried to move the snake out into the open, but for some reason, the snake had twisted itself into the grass.  Pretty much exhausted from all the effort, the bird took a break, then flew on to the roadside fence.  And sat.

After a few minutes it began to preen, and we decided to move on.
I collected the vehicle from down the road, and we drove by the fence, and normally a bird would take to the air.  Not this bird, it was either satisfied we meant no harm, exhausted, or just was not going to give up its ground for its meal.
YaJustHaddabeThere.

Which ever, EE got an eye to eye encounter as we went past about arms-length from the bird.

None of these are cropped as they show both the action, the closeness, and the area of the action. For those that are guessing, I think the

markings are a Tiger Snake.

YaJustHaddabeThere.

Enjoy.

Flying from post to post. A typical Brown Falcon Activity
Now its serious. The time and location are right.
Let’s see
Hey, look, its over here. At first I couldn’t see the snake through the grass, but its just in front of the bird.
Tricky little customer. It should have moved out into the open.
Not fair. Come back
Too hard to attack in the thick undergrowth.
I know its there. We’ll just wait.
Taking a height advantage the bird sat for nearly twenty minutes.
Then, relocated
And a few seconds later dropped.
We moved up the road to get a better view, hoping the bird would not be nervous and take off. I should not have been worried. Here it is mantled, wings out over the snake.
The snake has been despatched and its time to begin lunch
The size of the snake would have been around 1.5 metre and my guess from the markings its a Tiger Snake. The tail is starting to twirl over the bird.
In the death throes, the tail curled around the back of the Falcon.
Down to business. The bird tries to move the snake to a more open area, but its somehow caught among the grasses.
Here its trying to pull it out with its leg force.
That failed, so now its the pull forward with the beak and head, but it can’t get enough purchase to solve the problem.
After nearly an hour the bird is I think exhausted and took time out for a rest and to reevaluate its next move.
Across the road for a rest
Yep, I can still see it from here thanks.
We drove past the bird and this is looking back, a nice rotund tummy.

Snapshots: The Delight of Flight

Most of us see Pelicans sometimes inflight, sometimes fishing, sometimes just paddling about. We also find them out of the water, and their huge bellies, beaks and ungainly legs makes them look amusing to say the least.
Have to be careful in this day of Political Correctness, that I don’t infer that a large slow stepping creature is any less a wonderful and important member of the bird society and any avoid any reference to them as less than fulfilling their chosen goals and aspirations and dreams.

However all that aside, tis when they take to the air, that their great beauty and artistry in the air is instantly apparent.

EE and I had a lovely sunny afternoon with nothing special planned so took the opportunity to head down to Werribee South, and stop at Wyndham Harbour for a coffee and ponder the fish’n’chip shop next door, and wouldn’t it be a good idea to grab some and take down to the foreshore and watch the birds. But diets, being what they are, we simply passed by the shop without stopping, much, except to sniff the air and enjoy the aroma and ohh, and ahh at the plates of rich looking fare on the tables outside.  Oh Well!

There was not much happening at the Werribee River entrance either. Lots of fishing boats a’comin’n’goin’ Ho, yah ho, ho, ho.

Which meant the pelicans were ready to help the fishermen dispose of any scraps of fish that were being cleaned.

So we sat on the grass, me on a seat, and she on Dolly, and enjoyed the birds as they preened, argued and flew by.  Such masters of the air. Able to propel that huge body and large wings with such skill.

Enjoy. We did.

 

Saturday Evening Post #28 Brightening up the Grey Box Forest

For EE and I it was time for our annual pilgrimage across town  for an evening with friends.
As we pondered the going, there was a moment’s pause while we contemplated “It will be Thursday Evening before the Easter Holiday break, and by about 4:00pm the roads are going to clog up with holiday traffic and the RIng-road will be at a standstill, moan, moan, complain.”

Ah, says she, with a smile, and always full of bright ideas, why don’t we leave after lunch, take a picnic snack, and go early to visit Woodlands Historic Park and look for Robins, then we’ll only have a short drive to our evening destination.

We did, and arrived at the Werroona Carpark in plenty of time.  Then “Dolly” got ready for her maiden trip into the Bandicoot Hilton, also known locally as “The Backpaddock”.

Poor old Grey Box forest is showing the signs of no rain for several months.  Not such a big deal to the venerable Grey Box themselves, they are quite adept at surviving in hostile environments. But the understory, and particularly the moss beds that the Robins depend on over winter are simply dry dust.

As we walked down toward the Backpaddock gate, we mused about the lack of birds, and how in past seasons, there would have been Red-capped Robin activity visible from the roadway. At the height of the best seasons several years ago, we had 15-20 pair of Red-capped Robin territories mapped.  The pair we named “Lockey and Primrose” were always ready to pop out along the road near the cemetery to watch our progress past.  There are quite a few posts on the blog of our interaction with this gracious pair.

When I first started photographing out in the backpaddock, my friend Ray, who taught me so much about the area, and the birds out there, would often stop and chat with me inside the gate.  A male Red-capped Robin, would usually come by, sit on a branch nearby and listen to our conversations.
These days not one of those territories exists. In a strange turn of events since the introduction of the Eastern Bandicoot programme in the backpaddock, the number of Red-caps has been decimated. I’m not suggesting a link, just a co-incidence.

We walked the usual (old) kangaroo pads, through the forest, but did not see or hear any robin activity.  More walking, and then Dolly took a swerve off the path, and we headed into the forest proper. Dolly is not 4WD, so it was not going to be a long journey.  When just in front of me I saw a splash of red on a stump. Heart races, point camera, yes, indeed.
It’s a Flame Robin male.

We were able to work with him for about 20 minutes, hoping all the while that his clan would turn up, but as the light began to fade and our departure for the evening was closing in, it was time to go.

But, we did have a feel that there is life in the old Grey Box forest yet.

Enjoy

Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF: Report from the Field

Tis a well know fact that this blog does not do equipment reports. It’s not as though there aren’t enough opinionated sites to trash the best of hardware. However I’ve had a few enquiries regarding this lens, and rather than rehash what Uncle Google can find in a minute, I thought I’d rather share a few paras and pictures on my use with the lens so far.

If you own Canon gear, don’t proceed any further, you have the wonderful DO 400mm f/4.  Be happy!

I hummed and hahed when the lens was first released.  The big bikkies involved was probably the first stumbling block. And I was working with the Simga Sport 150-600mm f/6.3 and it was working well for me.(more to follow below)

But the low weight and small size were an attraction, and in the end, I placed an order with Ross at Camera Exchange in Box Hill, in October 2018. I also planned to trade the Sigma at that time.
Eventually, got a note from Ross. “It’s here!”. March 29 2019. The wait-time worldwide has been astounding. So I motored over to collect the lens. Thanks Ross.

What follows is where it fits with my current work.

Time for the Pixelpeepers to click away now, as there are no charts, no ranking scores, no graphs and definitely no lens test charts to pour over. No dudes riding bicycles, or shots of the building over the road, or some obscure mountain in the distance.
Just how does it work for me.
Also please remember that these are all JPEG images made out of Lightroom to 1600pixels at 90% Qaulity. A few are crops, some almost full frame. Shot on both D810 and D500.  I’ll note the data with each shot.

All the ratings are against My Expectations of the lens, coupled with use of previous lenses in the field. 100 % is just that. I’m completely happy with that aspect.

  1. Price: No % Score, but I’d have no hesitation in buying it.
    Gotta get that out of the way.
    It’s a pro piece of kit, Nikon are asking big bucks. If that doesn’t fit with your bankbalance, then click away now. For those who want to save some money, the Nikon 200-500, Sigma Sport 150-600, and the Sigma Contemporary are all good value for money, and sharp. Canon users have the DO 400mm or a pretty nice 100-400 f/5.6 Zoom and a neat 400mm f/5.6 without image stabilisation. Any one of those lenses would be a reason for me to change to the Canon System.
    My reasoning was to amortize the investment over the next 10 years or so, and a couple of bucks a week is a reasonable.
  2. Size: 100% Meets my expectations.
    It is about the same size as a 70-200 f/2.8. Which makes it imminently handhold-able.
  3. Weight: 100% Meets my expectations.
    Having been using the 300mm f/4 PF from its introduction, I had a definite idea about how the weight would be. I’m confident I could carry it all day in normal use without needing a porter.
  4. Handleability: 100% Meets my expectations.
    I’ve thrown around some big lenses in my time, but this one just feels right. The balance on the camera and handholding is very comfortable. Mr An Onymous will tell you I once fell in love with a 10-30mm zoom for the Nikon 1 system, just from picking it up off the benchtop. I ordered one the next day. If it feels right, the chi is working, and it is pointless to fight nature.
  5. Focus AF: Exceeds my expectations. This is such a fast lens to focus, especially on the D500. Sometimes I think it finds the subject before I get it sorted out in the frame. Big plus. And it locks and follows. If I compare it to the 300mm f/2.8 or the 70-200mm f/2.8, which are my go to ‘speedsters’ for action, then it’s right up there as good as, if not better.  I can’t compare it to the 400mm f/2.8 as I’ve never owned one, but that is the gold standard in fast focus.  I reckon this lens would give it a pretty good run.
    The other feature is like all pro lenses, its sharp all the way from the closest point to infinity. Unlike most consumer zooms that lose interest in focusing after about 30m. I’m looking at you 18-200mm and 80-400mm.
  6. Sharpness: 100% of my expectations.
    Just have a look at the photos below.  I don’t do comparisons, but looks equal to the 300mm f/2.8, and has more contrast than the 300mm PF.(My copy.  EE’s copy is a little better than mine I think).
  7. Unsharp fuzzy bits.
    My photos don’t have bokeh, (never pronounced so a Japanese would know what these people are talking about), mine have fuzzy out of focus bits.
    So against a smooth backdrop 100% of expectation. Milky smooth as it should be.
    Against busy high contrast backgrounds, 75% of expectation. But then my expectation wasn’t that high. Digital sensors are the real problem here. Most lenses struggle with those clunky blobby bits of branch and bush and the like.
  8. That Removable Foot. 100% meets my expectation.
    I’ve seen some remarkable nonsense written about the foot. It’s like “OH wow, something to complain about”.  If the only reason not to buy this lens is the foot, then my advice would be trade in the camera gear and buy a set of golf-clubs. It is the same foot used on the 70-200 f/2.8 zoom.  I’ve owned three of them over the years, and not once has it worked itself loose, and those lenses travelled lots photographing car events.  If the user is so clumsy as to loosen it off then forget to tighten it, I don’t see that as a feature fault, I see that as incompetence!
    For my hand the end of the foot rests nicely on the edge of palm of my hand, and my fingers sit well just before the lenshood, near the programmable buttons (coming up soon). A good fit for me. I’ve used it without, and my preference is with the foot.  I’ve also no intention of buying third party Arca mount foots.  I simply don’t intend to ever put it on a tripod again. (Coming up soon).

    {Update Aug 2019}  I’ve since taken the foot off and popped a BlackRapid “Fastener Fr-5″, in the 1/4” hole.  Not a fan of BR, but I can attach an OP/Tech fastener and that works for me.
    I found not much difference with and without the foot, and its just one less thing to get caught  up when I’m cradling the lens while sitting down (think driving around the Treatment Plant)

  9. Programmable Buttons. 95% meet expectations. I use these a lot. Just wish they were a little bigger so my finger doesn’t need to hunt for them.  They can be set for a specific distance and the lens will return to that spot. About 30% of my use. Or programmed out of the D810 and D500 menus to do a range of activities. Mine is usually an AF function about 70% of the time.{Update August 2019}  I’ve since taken a big black ‘Sharpie’ marker and put a big “X” on the Lens Coat camo, just above each of the buttons.  Easy peasy to find now.
  10. Tripod use. Balances well with the D500 on a Wimberley.  If you can’t get it to balance on a Wimberley, then read the instructions. On the Markins Q20 that I use a lot, it’s a treat. But now, the problem is you have to take a lightweight lens, and sally forth into the field with a whacking great tripod. Don’t see the point.  End of discussion
  11. VR 100% of my expectations.  Image stabilisation is so much better implemented than on the 300mm f/4 PF. I found myself handholding at much slower speeds than I anticipated. See below.
    {edit Aug 2019} For Inflight, I usually turn VR off.
    I have a paranoia that the VR interferes with focus acquisition, and while it might only be a microsecond as the VR settles down, it just might be enough to move the focus from the eye, to a wingtip. Besides for inflight, (regardless of the lens I’m using), I want the fastest shutter speed I can get. Give me 1/8000 please.  No need for VR there.
  12. Lens Hood. Guess what!  100% meets expectations. It fits, it locks, it’s lightweight. And in my world. It goes on the lens, and is never removed. (except to clean the lens). I use a bag that fits the lens with the hood attached. (and its taped in position so doesn’t go wandering off on its own in the field.) That is the way all my lenses are fitted.
  13. What about Teleconverters. Met my expectations 100%, and perhaps exceeded them.
    The results with the TC 1.7, were what I expected. And I won’t be using it again with this lens any time soon, or later.
    Haven’t had a need to try the TC 2.0, but I know it will be slow to focus and that won’t work for me too well.
    {edit Aug 2019}  The TC 2.0 is really not workable. Hunts, even in good light. One, two, three strikes. You’re Out!
    The TC 1.7 is quite sharp, no problems, but again needs a bit of patience for focus. Won’t see me trying inflights that way any time soon. Or Later!
    With the TC 1.4 I found it needed some focus Fine Tune Adjustment.  Using the D500 in camera, it gave a result of -6.   When I tried it I found the focus position was just not right.  So I played around, and hit on +6. Can’t fault that.
    I often get asked about Teleconverters as if they will help get a pin-sharp shot of a duck on the far side of the lake.
    Nope.
    Here are 3 helpful points for that sort of shot. 1/ Learn to Swim, 2/ Buy a kayak, 3/ Develop better bush craft.
    TCs are best for giving a little bit of extra magnification closer up, say in the 15-30m range. After that for the birds I work with, both heat haze and tiny size make it impractical.
    Acquisition can be a bit ‘iffy’ in lower light.  And the tendency to hunt is always likely.  But it’s a solid performer once the focus is there. Side by side I doubt I could pick sharp, with and without the TC 1.4

Beginning to sound like a ‘fan boy’, so let’s see if some of this makes sense from my field experience.

This is the first image I made with the lens.
1/320 f5.6 ISO 400
Tai Chi Pigeon
Spotted Dove
Early morning overcast.
1/640 @ f/5/6 ISO 400
Superb Fairywren
Morning Sunshine, near full frame.
1/800 @ f/5.6 ISO 400
Black Swan
1/500 @ f/5.6 Just a hint of sunshine coming through the trees.
Eastern Osprey
1/200 @ f/6.3 ISO 400
Eastern Yellow Robin
Late Evening Sunshine
1/2000 @ f/5.6 ISO 800
White-bellied Sea-eagle
1/200 @ f/5.6 ISO 400
Tawny Frogmouth
1/400 @ f5.6 ISO 800
Hazy indirect light through overhanging trees
Eastern Spinebill

What about the soft out of focus bits

Late evening. 1/640 @f/5.6.
Creamy out of focus bits.
Juvenile Whiskered Tern
1/1600 @ f/5.6 ISO 400
Very late afternoon rich light.
Brown Falcon.
Messy out of focus bits because of messy background
Brown Falcon, messy out of focus bits. This is mostly the result of sesor issues rather than the lens design.

How good is VR. I don’t shoot many in low light but here’s one from the back fence.

Checking VR or Image Stabilisation
1/50 @f/5.6 ISO 400. Handheld.
The sun had set, but there was still light in the sky.

Then of course the always asked question.

Oh, but what about Teleconverters. I’ve got to see it with Teleconverters.  See my point 13 above.

TC 1.4 700mm
1/3200 @f/9.0
Handheld. Bird worked its way toward me on the water line.
Red-kneed Dotterel
TC 1.4 700mm 1/500 @f/5.6 ISO 400
Soft out of focus bits and plenty of detail on WIllies beak whiskers.
TC 1.4 700mm 1/1250 @f/9.0
Handheld, overcast day. Lightened up 1/2 Stop in Lr.
TC 1.4 700mm 1/2500 @f/9.0
Full sun. It is no macro lens, but the detail is certainly there.

Accessories.
I was going to really annoy myself and write ‘accessorising’, but restrained. 🙂
I added a B+W UV filter. Not a great believer in UVs as the Sensor already has a UV component, but let’s face it, this an expensive piece of glass.  My first B+W UV was with the Sigma Sport, at first I was hesitant, now, I’m a convert. The B+W shows no visible image degredation, I wish I’d come across them years ago.
Added some Lenscoat to protect the lens, I really like the Kevin Kealty ones from the Wildlife Watching Supplies in the UK, they are a bit thicker and don’t seem to shrink like the US based mob.
Also work with a LensWrap, that I had for the 70-200mm, fits like a glove and gives added security for travelling. Simply velcros off when I’m ready to go in the field.
Everybody has opinions on Carry Straps.
The lens does NOT have special strap attachment points, like the bigger pro lenses and the Sigma. Pity, as it would only have been a few dollars more.
I started using a BlackRapid Strap, but find them uncomfortable.
I changed to an OP/TECH Sling Strap  Which we’ve used for years on other long lenses, and it does the job well. And doesn’t take over the camera bag when travelling. I’ve snuck on a BlackRapid attachment since, and have one OP/Tech connector on the Lens, and one on an ARCA “L” bracket on the camera. Two attachment points makes me feel more secure.

{Edit Aug 2019} Like camera bags, carry straps will continue to keep me searching.  🙂

Conclusions.
I think the price is well justified for the work I am doing. It is indeed my go to lens at the moment.

Alternatives.
The Sigma 150-600 Sport worked well for me. In the end just too heavy for carry around field work. {edit} And, while it was very sharp, the focus was often a little to slow for me for inflight. Once acquired it stayed locked. Even using the Dock to set a faster focus acquire rate, it still left me wishing for a bit more speed.
The Nikon 200-500 Zoom. Is a sharp, well-balanced lens. I would have purchased it if the Sigma had not been on the showroom floor. I do find it a bit bulky to carry as the barrel is nearly twice the diameter of the 500m PF.
The 300mm f/4 PF and a TC 1.4 420mm @/f5.6  EE’s go to lens. Solid performer, I find mine with the TC has a little chromatic aberration in highlights, easy to fix in Lr, but detracts sharpness a little.  It is a lovely walk about for hours lens. Sharpness side by side with the 500mm PF would be hard to pick, and as I’ve used it for over three years, it’s a lens I have a high regard for.

Downsides.
Yes, there are a couple.
I tend to take a lot more pictures as it gives me a chance for good framing for inflight birds.
The lens makes my 300mm f/2.8 look a bit redundant. Not sure what I will do with that.
The 300mm f/4 PF is also going to take a back seat.  It sits in the lens cupboard and like a dog waiting to go “Walkies”, sort of quivers at me when I open the door.  Perhaps a D7200 or D7500 and use it for wider shots from the vehicle. Certainly can’t take both to the field.

And here are two more from a shot this morning.  The White-winged Terns are still around, and I spent the best part of 2 1/2 hours with them, one long session of about 90 minutes.

1/8000@/f5/6 ISO 800
Grab Shot. Got out of vehicle, lens grabbed focus, I framed next. Swamp Harriers do not give second chances.
1/2500 @f/5.6 ISO 400
I was working with these terns for about an hour and half, took several hundred frames. Lens didn’t feel tiring to hold. Had I not run out of time, and the birds out of patience, I could have easily done another hour or so, the lens is unbelievably easy to handhold.

So there you go. Thanks for taking the time to read to the end.
It is a keeper for me, and I’ll probably extend myself to get the best from it in the coming weeks.

Keep takin’ pictures we do.

(I’m hoping EE does not read this as I’d hate to have to wait another 5 months for the next lens.:-) )

Moments: A Hunting We will Go. Brown Falcon Style

In the best traditions of exclusive marketing, “Snapshots” has been renamed “Moments”.  Same great taste, same great ingredients, just a name that more closely realises the time with a bird(s).

EE and I have been missing our dose of Brown Falcon life for quite awhile.  Summer over, nesting behind them, tis time for Browns to come out and play again.  Gone are the wary, defensive secretive lives.  Now relaxed birds that don’t have a territory nor a growing family to defend.

We were looking along Ryan’s Swamp Rd at the WTP and found a bird sitting just off the road on a bund. Hunting.
Now Browns aren’t like other falcons, lots of flying about looking, here and there, looking busy.  Brown’s mostly contemplate. They are clever hunters that have their local territory ‘mapped’. Each flypast simply confirms, or adds to their already massive data bank.   A farm ute driving past on the roadway doesn’t even get a glance.  They know it’s not a threat.

We managed to get past the bird for some over-the-shoulder front light.
And then. Waited.  Browns do that a lot.
This one sat, then lifted off with one wing sweep, and landed on the far side of the bund emerging with a cricket or a beetle snack.
Next it swept across the road. Low down, Brown style.  Paused on a white fence post.  Then returned to our side of the road landing on a post to contemplate.
Another trip across the road, and more sitting.
A small sweep out to pickup another snack, and back on the white fence post.

Watching it is one thing. Working out the its stratergy something else again.
A dash off the post, a huge sweep up on to a branch and it sat.
Intruiged I walked over the road to get closer.
And it sat.

After a few minutes, it threw off the branch, dropped without a wing flap, straight down on to the ground on top of the bund on the far side of the fence.  Straight into some old grass and scrub. Luckily for me, there was an opening in the dried twigs and I managed to see it turn around with its latest meal. A snake.  Tiger I think. Your average Brown stands about 50cm so its fair to guess that the snake was at least that longer or a bit longer, perhaps 60-70cm (about 2 Foot in the old real measurement).

Satisfied all was safe, the bird went to work and before too long, turned, licked its beak (Well it can’t do that, but anthropomorphically speaking). Looked about and sailed back up into the tree to let the meal digest.

Bad career move!

The tree was inhabited by a small flock of WIllie Wagtail juveniles, all wanting to show their prowess and bravery.  So poor Brown was harassed mercilessly by the team of young guns. Each trying to be a little more enthusiastic than the others. In the end, Brown took the hint and moved on.

Sitting quietly by the side of the road. Taking it all in.
Just a hop and a step, and there’s a snack
It looks pretty detached, but its fair to conclude that nothing is getting past that steely gaze
A quick fly over the bund, just to see what the options or possibilites are.
From this perch, the bird no doubt had a good view of the snake, and kept returning here every 10 minutes or so.
A plan is hatched, just need to get the right attack position.
Dropping straight down under full control
On Target!
Look what I found.
And that is the last little bit.
Never underestimate your average Brown Falcon, but also never underestimate a determined Wagtail clan.

Saturday Evening Post: #27

We had the opportunity the other day to be in Williamstown, and as there had been several reports of Eastern Spinebill at the Botanic Gardens, we took it as too good an opporuntity not to go see.

Established in 1856 after a petition from the local residents, a 10 acre site was set aside and developed.  The formal garden layout was by Edward La Trobe Bateman who had also designed the Carlton Gardens. The Willamstown Gardens were opened in 1860, and as was fitting for the time, must have a extravagant gala event.
Today, the gardens have an elegance that belies their small size.

We managed a warm sunshine day, and as those who laboured through my Dean of Light blog sometime back will recall, I have been experimenting with old exposure techniques and manual settings.
Which as it worked, worked well for me when we found the Spinebills as they were on a salvia bush in the shade.
But there were small fingers of light coming through the tall trees on the Gardens border and making their way to highlight small areas of the foliage.
And that is where a Spinebill chose to hover.
I managed to be working on  mid tone for the bush and 2 1/2 stops from there is White (see I’m going to keep going back to Dean’s method), And that is just about where the bird’s face in the sun fell in the technical wizardry we call Exposure.

A little tweak in post to get the shadow area up and we could see the detail of those amazing hovering wings.
As the bird was busy extracting the nectar, its head/bill and body were stationary and so  slower shutter speed kept the wings in motion, while the body was sharp.

Enjoy

Snapshots: Dusky Woodswallow Morning

EE and I went to the Office a couple of mornings ago.

As we were walking over the river bridge we were discussing the small number of Dusky Woodswallows that had nested in the area.  And how they were now probably well on their way north.
When to our surprise, as much as anything, we heard the calls of them as hawked for insects in the sky overhead.
Like Choughs they are very community dependent, and its not unusual to see dozens of them sitting on the one branch all jostling for the best position. These are no exceptions. However with good grace the birds make room for one another, even if it means flying off and relanding.

They were still feeding young ones, so I concluded they must have had a late season nesting before the cold weather sets in.

Close, closer, closest
If you can’t get the spot you want, you go underneath and then popup on the other side. Everybody always moves up graciously
Incoming, make room
Woodswallows have the ability to both fly and glide like swallows.
They have a wonderful marking set on the wing edges, which is not always easy to see
Food is still in abundance.
Spent a few minutes with the patient bird, making portraits. While it talked constantly to its neighbours
Hard to guess, but this one is a juvenile, now looking like the adults
An adult turns up with a food topup

Snapshots: Biting of More than You can Chew

Here’s a quickie, hope it makes you smile.

Sometimes a day at the office for this Great Egret brings on more than expected.

Or
The tale of the Egret that hoped to grow up to be an Osprey.

As my old footy coach used to say, “Never let you Ambitions Outweigh your Capabilities.”

I was sitting at The Shallows, and well, it wasn’t as the tide was running high, so not much happening. And the weather was blowing all get out and deep dark clouds were appearing.

I saw this Egret on the other side of the river. Too far for much real work, and besides it was mostly hunkered down among the small trees, trying to keep out of the wind. I spent more time with some dotterels and a few spoonbills, and was well into my second cup of Grey of Earl, when I heard a loud “SPLASH”, and without turning round, I knew instantly what had happen. The Egret had gone into the water. What I didn’t know was what it had caught. Hard to get it in the water and  it was on the bank and behind the trees before you could say, “That’s a big Fish!”.

The next few minutes were between hilarious and painful, as it wrestled to get that size fish into a position to swallow. And to make things worse its new friends the Straw-necked Ibis  were getting close hoping to get a morsel or two.
In the end after much neck manipulation, and headshaking, it decided that a new approach was needed and it took off behind the river bank, and I lost sight of the outcome.

I waited, but in the end the weather, and time ran out, and I left not knowing how it had fared.

Enjoy

Saturday Evening Post #26 Responding with Wonder

Every year the White-winged Terns (not very aptly named I suggest), wing their way south and a group of them visit the Western Treatment Plant.

They come in varying stages of breeding plumage from white (hence the name), to mottled black, to an impressive Jet Black. To be graced by the presence of these birds is a real highlight for me and we spend several sessions down a the WTP trying to capture them in flight.  Not always easy, as tricky as they are, sometimes they hunt on ponds that are inaccessible from the roadway. But when the light is right, they are hunting close and the action is fast and furious it is indeed a photographic delight.

After my confusing rant last week which had started out well enough on an examination of lighting techniques and the astounding work of Dean Collins, I thought I’d be a bit more circumspect this week and stick to, well, you know, birds.  And the enjoyment of images.

Seeing as Freeman Patterson explains it, is “…using your senses, intellect and your emotions. Encountering your subject with your whole being.
It means looking beyond the labels of things and discovering the wonderful world around you.”

These birds fill me with awe, they travel to us from Asia, or maybe Northern Europe. They don’t breed here, but spend their time feeding up for their trip to warmer climes.  My challenge is not to just capture their presence, but also to grasp a hint of their freedom to roam the world, not encumbering it, but making it a little more enjoyable for those who accept their invitation to wonder.

White-winged Tern in late evening light

StudioWerkz: Darter On Show

As EE is becoming much more comfortable with Dolly, we decided on a morning around the Ornamental Lake at Werribee Mansion.  The tracks are wellformed and its possible to get close to the action without long walks.

The only part of our plan that was not controllable was the weather, and we ended up with mostly an overcast morning. Also there was little activity at the Lake, perhaps most of the food has diminished and the birds have moved away.

We were sitting on the grass near the lake enjoying a cuppa when an Australasian Darter launched itself out of the water, from between the reeds and waddled up onto the grass.  So close that I had to inch back along the grass to get it all in the frame.  I guess that I was at grass level, and not standing up, the bird felt comfortable enough to go about its preening and drying business.

So, rather than repeat my rant from the Saturday Evening Post on Dean Collins, here is the few moments as they played out.

Enjoy