Saturday Evening Post #124: Sneak Attack

I don’t have too many closeup or head on shots of Swamp Harriers.

Our local area of rivers, a few large water storages and of course the wonderful bird haven at the Western Treatment Plant all carry their fair share of “Swampies”.


It is said, that a Swamp Harrier can see the flea on a dog at 40 Kilometres.
I’ve always thought that might be a bit of an exaggeration, and it would more likely be around 38 km 😉

They also have a total, “Zero Tolerance Policy for Human Beings.” This means they will turn away at the slightest chance of human presence. There are stories of Swampies abandoning a nest when the young are just days from fledging, if the area is compromised by human activity.

So your average photographer around Swampies ends up with lots of flying away back shots.  Showing the colour of its tail as it stretches out to put as much distance as possible between them and us.

They will always have a glance behind to be sure of the source of their concern. So, we accumulate a fair number of bird looking back under or over wing as it powers away.

I’ve sat motionless in the reeds, camera at the ready, while a Swampie makes its way slowly, surely and with great care along the edge of a reed bed. I’m sure that they can spot the mirror going up when I press the shutter and by the time the mirror has come back down again, the bird is already turning away. Perhaps another reason to ponder using a mirrorless camera?

Not only do they hunt from a distance, but they also patrol just above the water line with sweeps over a likely reed bed.  This is a head down absolute dedicated to the task at hand operation.
I’ve probably said before, but I think they have some sort of mapping system that they check against.  If there is a change to what they see to the ‘map’ the airbrakes go on and a much closer investigation begins.
Same map alerts them to a photographer, cleverly sitting in the reeds with camera gear and self all cleverly cameoed up.  That lump wasn’t there before!  Is it food? No!  A danger!  Turn Now. And they do.

This bird was on investigation duty along the edge of bund. It swept high, and low, running across the water, pulling back to gain some height. A cleverly co-ordinated sweep of the area.

I held my breath, I was ‘hull down’ on the other side of the bund, so it hadn’t shifted its gaze that far ahead, and would only have spotted the camera and me from the shoulders up.

Finally I couldn’t hold on any longer and let off a burst, and a split second later the bird had turned and was gone.

I was using the amazing Nikon D500 PSUEDO eye-recognition autofocus and it maintained focus even though the bird was disappearing behind the canola growing on the side of the bund.

After last week’s Saturday Evening Post, about eye-recognition, I couldn’t help myself and this shot seemed to fit so well.
The PSUEDO af is really only single spot focus, kept on the bird’s head.  The D500 does the rest.-)

Bonus Night, here are three from the sequence

I was concentrating on the bird as much as it was on its hunting and didn’t see the grasses until I looked at the shot on screen.
Now I see you.
Peeling away from danger.

6 thoughts on “Saturday Evening Post #124: Sneak Attack

  1. Oh great – thanks for the “bonus shots” – they are wonderful. On this side of town I see Swampies only rarely, but always at a distance, so any photograph of one is a bonus for me!


  2. The perfect description of Swampie behaviour! They are so aware of their environment. A superb series of images, David! Great to see! They are very ‘intense’ birds, as you have shown perfectly here!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great captures of the Swampy David. Yes we seldom see them face on, sweeping the water or paddocks, they have a distaste for humans. Interesting how the eye recognition locks in on the bird’s eye. Interesting post. Enjoy the week my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Ashley, I think Distaste is quite the appropriate word. Most other raptors if not tolerant at least are reasonably forgiving. Swampies are the exception.

      While I would like to think it was ‘eye’ recognition here, the Nikon D500 does not run to such technological cleverness. The real ‘trick’ is a using a single af point, and instead of setting it to ‘hold on a subject’ like a runner on a track, or perhaps a bird in the open sky, to keep it set to minimum lock time. So as long as I, the photographer, keep the af point or spot on the bird’s head or eye, the D500 does the rest.

      Current Canon and Sony have a very well developed algorithm built into the af system of their latest offerings that do recognise and lock on the eye of the bird, making tracking and quickly finding a bird in the viewfinder a lot more reliable.
      Still, I’m happy with the D500 as it currently works.

      Liked by 1 person

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