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.:-) )

Postcards: Swaning About (as you do)

My WordPress friend, Ashley, over at Aussiebirder has written a post on “Mindfulness” while bird watching. Resonates quite well I thought with my meanderings on having a love for the bird and the craft.Sometimes we are in such a hurry, or obsessed, to find the next bird, that we overlook the around.

EE, Mr An Onymous and I had gone down to the Jawbone Conservation Reserve to look for, among other things, Great Crested Grebe. And as the day progressed we found both the birds that are down there. Jawbone also has quite a resident collection of Black Swans. One of the main reasons—not being a Swan, how would I know— seems to be that the arm of the sheltered Jawbone pond(s) offers a quiet resting place, perhaps out of the wind.

So while we looked for the best places to photograph said Grebe, the Swans kept us amused by their fluting calls, their preening antics and their airborne mastery and of course their barefoot waterskiing championships.

When I opened up the files in Lightroom (hah!, had to get the plug in, that’s plug in, not plugin), I was just a wee bit excited to find how many interesting moments of these birds that I’d managed during the morning and I wasn’t even trying.  I feel a photobook coming on.

Here are some to set the scene and get you into the ‘moment’.

Enjoy

Heading in from a great height
Synchronised style
Formation landing team
Neck outstretched for aerodynamics
Casually dipping the wing into the water
On touchdown
How easy is barefoot skiing
Splash down and time to fold the wings up
Trimming up for landing
Powering down the waterway
Feather Details
The shape that sings a melody.

Home Improvements

One of the more visited areas at the Western Treatment Plant is the “T-Section”. Among its notable areas is the aptly named, “Crake Pool”, it’s not unusual on any given trip down there, to find at least one, sometimes more, vehicles pulled up in the open areas near the pool, hoping to catch a glimpse of the many crakes that inhabit the area.

Just a little further along the road and a small pile of rocks in the middle of the pond usually has a share of waterbirds, or waders loafing in the sunshine.

So you might well imagine our suprise the other day to see a pair of enterprising Black Swan had taken over the rocks, and built what can only be thought of as Swan Hilton, securely among the rocks.

DWJ_2886.jpg

Continue reading “Home Improvements”

Visiting Friends A day along the Beach at Point Cook

Was chatting with a birder friend, and I mentioned the Point Cook Coastal Park, and he said, that he didn’t plan to go there much as most of the birds were pretty common, and only occasionally was a Plover or a Pratincole enough to take the trip down there.

When we relocated home a couple of years back, Point Cook was on the top of my list as a suitable place, and to be honest, it was second, third and a close run fourth on the list.  And of course the logic was it was but a few minutes from the Coastal Park of the same name, and it would be neat to roll out of bed, and stroll on down to the park.

In the end, much wiser heads than mine  (EE as it turns out) found us the place that ‘we’ wanted and Tarneit took on our new home address.
But every so often when the light is right, and sometimes when its wrong we venture down to the Coastal Park.  And surprisingly, many of the common birds down there have become a bit like friends.
So today we went, not to count, nor to get our lists up, nor necessarily to capture the best bird photos ever, but to visit some friends.

Our friend the Brown Falcon was in the carpark area, and we enjoyed some time with it, as it hunted quite casually from the fence line.  Also found a number of Flame Robins that have made the park their winter beach residence.

And  of course the usual Pied, Little Pied and Great Cormorants down on the old jetty.   They gave us some pretty impressive flight displays while we sipped on a fine cuppa.

Then the local White-faced Heron, and the pair of Pacific Gulls cruised by hunting on the out-going tide.  And to our amusement, a pair of Black Swans how have obviously just coupled up were making interesting subjects as they hunted together on the gentle rolling outgoing tide.

As we walked back to carpark, the air literally filled with raptors.

At one point we had all up at the same time,  Little Eagle, Black Kite, Whistling Kite, Brown Falcon, Australian Hobby and Brown Goshawk.  I was hoping that the resident Spotted Harrier would make an appearance, but we had to be satisfied with those six.

We stopped along the road to look at some Flame Robins bathing in a tiny pool in a paddock, and some ‘new friends’, came over to say ‘hello’.  So we spent a few minutes becoming acquainted with several chesnut horses.

We might not have added any ‘new’ birds to our list, but we had as the Sans Bushman said, “Recognised some birds,and built a tiny connection with them, that is growing into a thread”

Enjoy.

Wandering with Werribee Wagtails: Altona

Getting right into this organised birding thing.

The Werribee Wagtails group met at Altona for a look at the shore, the river, and the lake.

So off we went.  Weather was fine, company was excellent and we made a few finds and discoveries along the way.

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All ready for a great day out and about, members of Werribee Wagtails on the track.

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Always full of excitement the New-Holland Honeyeaters seem to own every bush and shrub along the waterway.

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Sharptailed Sandpipers at work in a drain. The top bird is starting to show some chest colour, getting ready for the long journey north.

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Common Greenshanks. I’m alway amused by the “Common” moniker.  Does it mean there are “uncommon Greenshanks”, or perhaps “Special, or Important” greenshanks?

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Along Kororoit Creek we found a number of numbered Swans.  The programme is run by the guys at Myswan Database, and I’ve even got some info in the Albums area of another one we followed for awhile.

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Teals take advantage of a convenient roosting place.

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Spotting along the Kororiot Creek. EE is obviously on to something.

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J28, another numbered Swan from the series.

Here is the details from the Database.

J28 Database

J28 even has her own passport.  The white collars are female, the black collars are male.
The red spots on the map indicate she spends a lot of time in the area.

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View across the lake at Newport Lakes, after years of hard work the area has developed into a great bird habitat. Spot the Australasian Darter. For bonus points, spot the Nankeen Night Heron.

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Closeup of said Darter and a cormorant friend.

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Oh, there you are!   Nankeen Night Heron pretending to be somewhere else.   I spotted the colours as we were walking down the track to catchup to the group. (yes, I’d done it again) and didn’t take any time to check it out.  (See my tardiness in the Mt Rothwell blog report.)

But when everyone had settled on a view, I went back for a closer look.

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Heading homewards across the stepping stones over the lake.   A good day.  Extra points for Spotting Mr An Onymous. (but then he wouldn’t be would he?)

Trippin’ to Ballarat

Had to go up to Ballarat for a family gig.  Spent a couple of days, and survived the most dreadful hail/rain/wind storm.  The damage around the place was bordering on the apocalyptic. Don’t you just love those big words that get so overused that any meaning they might have had is now lost in the banal. Still the damage was significant in some places.

Had a break in the morning from the family do dah, and went down to the lake to look for birds.  They, (whoever they is/are) have done a great job of getting the park around near the gardens and tram area accessible for both birds and people.  Little islands linked by bridges and walk ways allows you to wander about quite close to the bird activity.  And there was plenty.

We found a couple of cygnets pulled up on the grass for a rest and a nibble on the grass, Mum was super protective, but the one good thing about the birds and people being this close is that they have become a bit peopled out, and don’t seem to mind close approaches.  So much so that when a nosey neighbour swan came by for a look at her clutch, Mum swan reared up and a great pursuit followed. The hapless bird headed straight for me and stood on the other side away from Mum all reared up.  Poking its head around my legs, it seemed to say “Nah nah”. Mum calmed down, the little ones piped up “Congratulations Mum for being such a good defender of us helpless little things” and everything returned to normal. My new “friend” had a bit of a preen, then shipped to the water,  and paddled away in the other direction.

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Can I be your friend? This swan was chased off by an irate parent. The birds are so people conscious it had no concern about running around behind me and then peeking out at the angry parent.

I also spent a few minutes photographing the cygnets.  They must be among some of the most helpless and defenceless  creatures on the planet.  Everything seems to be such an effort.  I’m amazed the species survives and thrives.

Cygnets at rest
Cygnets at rest
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When they are this stage of a moult the young swans amuse me with their appearance. This one popped its head out of the water in front of me, with the water dripping down, and a tight crop, it take on a new look.

DWJ_2541
Gotta admit, I loved the lighting, loved the angle, loved the D2x for getting the focus, and the exposure. Was mortified that I clipped the bottom wing.

I’ve been breaking in a new (New to me) camera.  Got a second hand Nikon D2x.  The focus and exposure are really great. But like all things needs some practice to get the right feel.  The flight of White Ibis into and out of the small rookery was just what I needed to run through the 3,000 combinations of settings. Well it felt like that many. As they came over the little island I was standing on, the light was directly above and behind them, so it gave fabulous shots of the outspread wings.  The best one of course I muffed.  Managed to clip of the lower wing tip. Thinking seriously about the old photoshop on that one.  Or perhaps just going back for more practice.  This is with the old reliable, dependable, fun to use, most useful lens I own, pinsharp, fast focus, super duper all round good thing, my 300 f/4. And it likes the D2x I can tell.

With some many birds, its a great place to just practice technique, and the chance to see a few really interesting birds closeup, rather than having to point out,  “yep, that little spot over there in the trees is the kingfisher!!!!”

 

Black Swan at WTP

There is a banding program with the Black Swans run by www.myswan.org.au  and today we had the chance to get up close and personal to J19.  Now this is not going to be a tirade on the fors and againsts of banding, but they are doing some interesting work in collecting data about the swan’s movements and mating and breeding.

So we decided to adopt J19.  Turns out it is a female, about 4 years old, or at least if I figure out the numbers that is when she was banded. She was banded at Albert Park Lake and has been there for about three years.  She seems to have first been sighted at WTP in January 2012.  At the moment, because of the huge population of juvenile birds, there is much pairing going on I suspect.

She is up in 145A Lagoon Area at WTP, and we will keep a check on her movements if at all possible. I will open up a blog page just to keep updates. See blog Here  J19 info

Here she is.

J19 in her best dressed banded number

Also found a co-operative Brown Falcon.  It stayed on the post as I inched the car closer and closer. Just managed to slip away a split second before I could get back on the camera.  Love the backwards glance.

Brown Falcon

Just as we were leaving with the sun setting as I was closing the exit gate on Paradise Road, Dorothy spotted a Buff Banded Rail hunting in the mud-flats. Dieter who was with us thought it was quick enough to be a road-runner.

The sun was well set by the time we were on the road home, but the Rail did provide a few minutes entertainment.

Buff-banded Rail. The blue spots are reflections of the overhead blue sky. We have a photoshop trick to fix that.