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 15-600mm 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).
  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.
  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} 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.
    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 off 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.

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 to 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.:-) )

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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.

Snapshots: A Raptor Day at the Treatment Plant

A search on the Bureau of Meteorology website, has quite a bit of info on the lack of rain in mid of Australia.  See here http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/drought/
At the bottom of the page is a couple of graphs that begin to put it all in perspective.

And as it dries out, it seems, that quite a number of birds are moving south.  Or toward the eastern coast.
And we’ve seen quite a change in the numbers of smaller falcons and kites in our area.  In the space of a 10 minute drive the other day we saw 14 Nankeen Kestrel.

So we took a trip to the Western Treatment Plant on a sunny morning.

Continue reading “Snapshots: A Raptor Day at the Treatment Plant”

Drama in Several Acts

We’d be chatting, Mr An Onymous and I, about the history and development of Greek Drama and Tragedy. And the role of Satyr as a political statement. Among the playwrights were Sophocles, and Euripides, and how they used the stage to create the Spectacle and allow the characters and drama to develop.  Anyway, you get the idea. 

1805-31_DWJ_4718.jpg

“The Rise and Rise of the Brown Falcon in Unfamiliar Territory”

All good plays need a title that might throw the unwary viewer in the wrong direction.

Curtain Rises.

Act 1

Scene 1.  A roadway somewhere along the Western Treatment Plant.  Single treeline along roadway.  Magpies embedded in trees carolling among themselves.

Enter Stage Left.  Single Brown Falcon, flying about tree height toward the roadway. Point to note.  Brown is flying slowly and deliberately.

Scene 2.  Brown approaches treeline directly toward Magpies. Still slow and deliberate.

Continue reading “Drama in Several Acts”

Flying with a Brown Falcon

Few things under heaven bring more benefit than the lessons learned from silence and the actions taken without striving.

Went to The Office for a bit of afternoon therapy in the warm sunshine.

Bernie the Brown Falcon was also out in the sunshine.  He is a bit busy as it turns out. He is busy letting everyone know that he and Bernice have claimed a nest loction and everyone, including everyone, is not welcome.
And at the same time he needs to begin to feed her up in preparation.  A one-armed flying paperhanger, wouldn’t have it this busy.

Normally he is somewhat intolerant of my presence, and no more so today, I suspect.  However, I am pretty certain we are on the “ignore, and they’ll go away” list.

DSC_2995

 

Continue reading “Flying with a Brown Falcon”

Point Cook sunny day with Meetup Bird Photographic Group

What a difference to mood a bit of sunshine makes.
We were looking for a day out at the Point Cook Coastal Park with Graham Harkom and the Meetup Bird Photography Group, and as usual Graham managed to put on a picture perfect day.

We arrived in good time to find the park gates still locked, and so we stood around discussing the day’s activities and soon enough the gate was open. Just as well we were a little late starting as a few late-comers thought they’d arrived on time.

Within a  few moments of getting out of the car, EE had discovered “Brown” the resident Brown Falcon, and he seemed quite happy to sit in the sunshine. Then, for reasons falcon, he took to the air and patrolled along the treeline by the carpark. Much of course to the chagrin of every magpie in the area.  So we started with some good views of Brown in being harassed by first one, then another magpie.
Through the gate and along the track out to the Monument, we also managed some Flame Robins, White-fronted Chats and a particularly good view of several Striated Fieldwrens.

From there we wended out way back along the beach-line and found a small flock of Blue-winged Parrots sunning themselves on the fence-line. And we managed to get some pretty good shots for the photographers.  Then one of our more alert spotted a flash of red, and a Flame Robin males spent the next ten minutes entertaining us flying from fence to track to feed.  He seemed the least concerned by our presence and again it was a photo opportunity.

Add a couple of Whistling Kites, and several Black Kites that seemed quite taken by our presence and made low passes to get a good look at us. Perhaps they were doing a “People Count” or a “Camera Type Count”. Whichever it was nice to see the sunshine glinting on those rich  deep brown wings.

By the time we’d made it to the Homestead area, the tide was well in, several Australasian Gannets were working in the waters further out, EE managed some White-faced Herons, and Pacific Gulls while she had waited for us to turn up.

A large flock, (300+) Little Black and Pied Cormorants were working on a fish shoal out beyond the reef, and every-time the shoal moved a large black mass ascended to the air to catch up with. Very impressive.

A walk back to the car through the farmland revealed some more Flame Robins, several White-browed Scrubwrens and a loud-voiced Singing Honeyeater.

After lunch a few of the group continued round to the RAAF Lake Lookout and spent some time at a pond with circling Welcome Swallows.  Where are you Rodger Scott!!

Graham then spotted first one, then a second Little Eagle at work over the Lake, and we were discussing the presence (or lack of) Goshawks, when over the treeline a bullet shape with longish tail appeared and at first I’d picked it for a Goshawk, and we were both amused we’d been discussing the same.  Then as the bird drew closer, it pulled up its wings in a most ungoshawk manner and revealed itself as a Peregrine Falcon, and it was most intent on making the Little Eagle’s life just a bit miserable.  Several close stoops had the Eagle moving on thank you.

Thanks to Graham for organising the day, and to all the grand folk who turned up to add such a delightful companionship to a glorious sunny day.   Really, after the past week or so, the weather just seemed to make the air sing.

Enjoy.

 

Brown Falcon, being seen off by an Australian Magpie

Brown Falcon, being seen off by an Australian Magpie

Female Flame Robin
Female Flame Robin
Striated Fieldwren
Striated Fieldwren
Yellow-rumped Thornbill
Yellow-rumped Thornbill
Meetup at work
Meetup at work
Blue-winged Parrot
Blue-winged Parrot
Male Flame Robin
Male Flame Robin
Whistling Kite
Whistling Kite
Australian Pelican
Australian Pelican

 

 

What a Difference some Sunshine Makes

Been beavering away here at the Website trying to find ways to improve the overall look and experience of visiting, and trying to give expression visually to the site’s dedicated title. “Birds as Poetry”.

Sometimes its easy to find clever words to describe a moment in time with the birds, or to cover over the fact it was just another day on the job making images of very fine birds. But that is not the visual feel.  And above all I guess my main goal for the web pages.

Been doing as you’ve probably gathered a bit of introspection on what the bird stories should show, how relevant that is to those who have graciously signed up to follow along here and at the same time not making it so esoteric that even I find it hard to reach those heights of expression.

And at another level, the pure old photographic know how and application needs to still satisfy both viewer and creator.  And of course in this day and age wrestling with the ever-advancing technology that so readily leads us onward with banners waving from one vantage point to the next, without even taking the time to notice the journey across the plain.

Along with photography, poor writing and a love of Russel Coight’s All Australian Adventure tv shows (skits please), I also offer Tai Chi as another of my dizzying weaknessess.  What I like most about this ancient (art) is the definiteness of purpose and deliberateness of movement. And in that is the edge of my photography with the birds, and hence the constant need to find expression of Birds  as  Poetry.

Continue reading “What a Difference some Sunshine Makes”

Gallery

A Beginners day at Woodlands Historic Park

BirdLife runs a number of Beginners days throughout the year, and Hazel and Alan do a super job of finding the right places to explore and go out of their way to make sure that beginners get the best looks at the various birds found on each day out.

So when the Woodlands Historic Park Beginners day came along we were very happy to go along and catch up with friends and to share just a little of our experiences in the park. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to see the park through a different set of eyes. And some 40 pairs of eyes is always going to see so much more than just my poor old eyesight straining through the bushes.

As the weather has been anything but predictable of late, we were also pleased to see some open blue sky  as we drove out toward the park, and as the day went on, the warmth came on well.  Our flickr friend, Eleanor turned up and that made the day a little bit special.
The first part of the day featured a walk around the upper ends of the Moonee Ponds Creek, which was actually carrying a flow of water following the recent rains.  The creek here suffers from losing input water because of the large reservoir at Greenvale, but none the less it still drains from a long way up toward the north.   It also is an especially steep fall from the north side of the park to the more southern areas, so the creek dries out through the park very quickly.
A number of small weirs and dams have been used across the creek over the years, and the Chaffey Brothers, built a substantial weir and bridge near the homestead at one stage. But, on a heavy flood year, the foundations gave way and the weir was never repaired.

At first our outward journey seemed a little slow for birds, but eventually things began to pickup, with a Crested Shriktite being a major find, some thornbills, and Galahs and a pair of Eastern Rosellas which let the photographers gain some excellent portraits.  A Brown Falcon took to the air on our approach into the open farmland areas, and the usual Sulphur-crested Cockatoos continued to screech at our presence.

We walked around the homestead and then headed back on a middle track above the river, and some spotted a Scarlet Robin.  And after much investigation we were able to get quite close to the female and she gave lovely views for those who might not often have the acquaintance of such a fine looking lady.
Lunch time, and bird count and we had 37 species to our list.
On to the BackPaddock area.  Mostly to look for Robins.
A trip around the dam area didn’t do much for the enthusiasm, and I managed to add some Brown-headed Honeyeaters, and more Shriketits. A Whistling Kite and a Wedgetailed Eagle made up for small numbers else where.  Despite EE and I looking in some of the places that have been quite profitable of late, the robins were not in a cooperative mood.

The group moved toward the BackPaddock, and I spotted a male Red-capped Robin on the inside of the fence, and the group moved to have a look.  Eventually we found him, and his lady, and also a few Flame Robins.  The male Red-capped Robin performed so wonderfully close to many of the group and hunted quite close to us on the ground. Nice way to end the day.

Thanks to Alan and Hazel and their helpers for such a good day out, and lovely warm weather to add to the warmth of the company.

 

Eastern Rosella at Launch
Eastern Rosella at Launch
Crested Shriketit
Crested Shriketit
DWJ_3430
Brown-headed Honeyeater
Eastern Grey Kangaroo: Male. Not to be meddled with.
Eastern Grey Kangaroo: Male. Not to be meddled with.
Red-capped Robin
Red-capped Robin
Up close and personal.
Up close and personal.
Red-capped Robin
Red-capped Robin
he was happy to hunt on the ground around our group
he was happy to hunt on the ground around our group

What about a day at the Office?

With the sun-shining,  oh, yes, it did!  We decided on a trip to The Office.  This area of the Werribee River Park looks over the floodplain between the old sandridges and gives a pretty spectacular view if nothing else.  On a good day its possible to see the raptors at work.
Unfortunately today was not to be one of those days. And with no sign of the usual Flame Robin family we decided to walk up to the Werribee Mansion and have lunch there.
Usually the area along the golfclub is also a haven for small birds, but the gums must be slower to flower this year and only a handful of resident Red-rumped Parrots were located.
Still the sun was shining and we had a fine chicken panini and coffee. So to look at the Ornamental Pool, and our first real chance to find some birds.   Top of the list was a pair of Australasian Grebes and what appears to be their sole surviving chick. They had three earlier in the season.  They were pretty protective and this one seems to be doing well a good sign.

Continue reading “What about a day at the Office?”

Ode to Brown Falcon

The header image is a Photoshop Montage of two shots I made at the Western Treatment Plant.  I put it up on Flickr as I wanted to be able to show the interaction between the pair.

Female in focus
Female in focus
Male in focus
Male in focus

Had an interesting comment by Marcos who suggested that the manmade fences and wire detracted from visual impact of the image.   And I find myself in full understanding of his assessment.

On the other hand, ‘my’ Falcons are falcons of the open plains and the fenced paddocks.   I could I suppose have, while in photoshop, put in some nicely placed branches, added a majestic snow-covered mountain range and given the surrounds some real presence for the birds.
But my falcons live on a working farm. No trees, few shrubs and lots of open flat ploughed paddocks and fencelines.

Brown Falcons :the only raptor with an indigenous first inhabitants name in its scientific name,  “berigora”.  – perhaps meaning ‘Clawed’.

 

Browns seem to have quite happily adapted to the rabbits and mice provided by early settlers, also enjoyed the fence posts set up across the land, and the clearing of open plains even more suitable for their hunting.
When I was a little tacker growing up in the Mallee, and NSW River country, we would often play a game of count the falcons on the posts as we travelled about. It was normal to see 10-15 on a several hour trip.

All the Browns I’ve worked with seem to be as happy perched among the grass and scampering about among the scrub.  The damage to their tail feathers quite evidence of a land based operation.

Their colour scheme is amazingly variable. From almost white, to completely dark brown, grey.

I have a theory on Browns ability.  And the female on the fence is a good example.  They seem happy to sit for hours watching.  And noting.  They seem to be able to map the land around them, such that when they fly, it’s on a fully worked out pattern, not hurried, accidental or haphazard.
Perhaps it goes like this.

“Over by the dam, a small family of mice, need to check that out sometime soon.”
“Under the big rocks by the roadside, lizards,  come in from the fence side.”
“Tiger snake moving through the long grass, hmmm too big for me to tackle alone.”
“Willie Wagtails nesting in the short tree, stay away”
and so it goes.  Each part of the paddock is scanned and locked away.

After just over an hour of sitting, no sleeping or preening, just looking, she dropped off the fence, secured a small lizard and was back on the fence.  It was not an opportunistic catch.  She had waited for the best time.

When I was very new to photographing birds, I found a pair at work out on the old Cumberland Homestead paddocks.  Not knowing any better I tried to get some good images.  And they tolerated me until nesting. Then I became an unwanted guest, and several close passes, claws out, were enough to convince me to be much more careful around her.

So here is a short photo journey with these most amazing birds.  Well adapted to make the most of human intervention, they may not take us on as partners, but there is no doubt a wire fence, metal gate and large fence posts are as much a part of their dna now as snake catching.

Henri Cartier-Bresson, the wonderful French photographer speaking of his portraits would say, “I want to get the personality, the character, the essence of the subject.  To get between his skin and his shirt.”

I want to show Brown Falcons by getting between their skin and their feathers.

Enjoy

The first pair I photographed.  He is about to depart.
The first pair I photographed. He is about to depart.
That is Melbourne Airport in the backdrop.
That is Melbourne Airport in the backdrop.
In coming. She will pass so close I'll hear the wind in the wings
In coming. She will pass so close I’ll hear the wind in the wings
Bird with snake handling capabilities
Bird with snake handling capabilities
Portrait of a well fed bird
Portrait of a well fed bird
The blue cere indicates a young bird
The blue cere indicates a young bird
Often they sit with one foot lifted.
Often they sit with one foot lifted.
On a mission. Slipping deftly between the grass tussocks.
On a mission. Slipping deftly between the grass tussocks.
A young recently fledged young
A young recently fledged young
Rich colours in the late sunlight
Rich colours in the late sunlight
Brown is happy to hunt on the ground
Brown is happy to hunt on the ground
Rabbit away.  A full grown rabbit off to feed   the young falcons
Rabbit away. A full grown rabbit off to feed the young falcons
Locked in for landing
Locked in for landing

Meeting Up with Friends Take #2

Graham Harkom, as self-confessed birder and mad photographer, also among his other accomplishments runs an online bird photography group,   Melbourne Bird Photographers, under the Meetup banner.

See Here

So most months there is an event to turn up to.  It’s such an intriguing way to organise an event, and great kudos for Graham and his organising group for keeping up the great places to visit. Always good for birds, photography and chatting, and of course food!

So, when I discovered the next one was to be at the Western Treatment Plant, it wasn’t too hard to tick the Yes we will attend box.

So, as the Banjo was wont to say, we went.

Also my long term mate and fellow conspirator and Flickr mate Mark S came over to make an excellent day of it.   Graham, herein named, “He who always has brilliant sunshine for his events”, met us at the Caltex Servo at Werribee and had turned on the sunshine as requested.

28 keen folk sipped Gerry’s best coffee, ate raisin toast, and talked about the day’s opportunities.  We took off toward Avalon, stopping long enough to get some good views, if only average photos of some Banded Plovers, then it was on to the T Section, and the inevitable wait by the Crake Pool, and out came the Australian Crake, right on time.  No Brolga here, so off to the Paradise Road ponds for our little convoy.

Met a carful of helpful folk who said, “Down there somewhere we saw Brolga”, which unscrambled meant. On to the 145W outflow. A very co-operative Brown Falcon stopping us in our quest, and gave some great poses, and a fine fly off shot for those of us not too busy checking the camera settings. —Will I never never learn!!!!  😦

Then, we spotted the Brolga, (Singular in this case), and the usual dilemma,  stay where we are for distant, safe views , or drive on a small distance and see if we can get closer.  We drove.  And the kind bird tolerated us, for a while, then gave a super fly by quite close.  Too much fun.

We had a quiet photography time at 145W, and lunch, then it was on to Lake Borrie. My mates Neil and David turned up in the Prado,they were both out playing with new toys, A Canon 1D X and a Nikon D4. Ah, the joys of learning new equipment.

As we drove back the Brown Falcon had perched on the ‘Specimen Tree’ in Little River and we managed several great shots in the sunshine.

On toward the Bird-hide for some good views of Musk Duck, Great Crested Grebe and an obliging Swamp Harrier made the journey well worthwhile.

Then we took a quick detour toward the top end of Lake Borrie, and to my surprise and great delight—Picture if you will, a small child in a sweet-shop—I spotted some White-winged Terns hunting in the next pond.  (They used to be called White-winged Black Terns, but like many things name changes are important.)
Not that I cared as a most remarkable all Black flanked bird tacked into view.  It was in full breeding plumage, and has to be seen flashing over the water to be genuinely appreciated.   By now the memory cards were filling up. And they were just Mine!!!!!

These birds are only at WTP a few weeks during the year, and mostly never in breeding black plumage. Also every other time I’ve seen them it’s been raining.  See some other blogs on here.

A really top find, and a great way to end the day. A quick run up the highway. A refreshing cup of coffee and some good discussion on the finds of the day,- including a top shot of a Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater (Missed that one! ), and everybody back in their transportation and  time for home.

Thanks again to Graham “He who always has brilliant sunshine for his events”, and the pleasure of his visitor from Thailand, for such a good relaxing day, and so much to see, and to all those intrepid Meetup-erers who ventured down, and enjoyed the day with us.  Hope to see you all again down the track.

Enjoy.

A fine start to the day with a Black-shouldered Kite warming in the morning sunshine
A fine start to the day with a Black-shouldered Kite warming in the morning sunshine
At Crake HQ, an Australian Crake on good display.
At Crake HQ, an Australian Crake on good display.
A hunting we wiil go Whistling Kite over paddock
A hunting we will go. Whistling Kite over paddock
A Black Kite on a tight turn hunting small insects.
A Black Kite on a tight turn hunting small insects.
No one gets past here!
No one gets past here!
One of the finds of the day. Brolga in flight
One of the finds of the day. Brolga in flight
Brown Falcon on Specimen Tree
Brown Falcon on Specimen Tree
A Swamp Harrier on a tight turn. Another one for my "How to Sneak up on a Swamp Harier", book. :-)
A Swamp Harrier on a tight turn. Another one for my “How to Sneak up on a Swamp Harrier”, book. 🙂
White-winged Tern. What a great find, and this one in full breeding plumage.
White-winged Tern. What a great find, and this one in full breeding plumage.
So Good. Here is another.
So Good. Here is another.
White-winged Tern (formerly White-winged Black Tern for obvious reasons), this one is moulting in.
White-winged Tern (formerly White-winged Black Tern for obvious reasons), this one is moulting in.

 

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.

Setting the Scene: A Day at the Office

Blogging 201 assignment for this week is Setting the Scene.
As it turns out, I was gearing up to reflect on a day at the Office yesterday.
The weather turned Kind.  Really Kind.  The kind of Kind, where the cameras practically pack themselves out of the cupboard and into the car, and sit there going, “Well…..” “Well…. are you ready to leave yet.”

We left early, and decided to take the longer walk down to the river behind the golf course. This is really old river flat, and the river makes a distinct “U” for several hundred metres and then a fine “S” movement that provides for some great old river flat dissected by the flow of the water. Water bird can abound, and there is still some good grass and tree cover to make life entertaining for the smaller bush birds.

Its a long way for EE to walk, but stoically she lead on.

The Office for the uninitiated is an area along the Werribee River a few kilometres from the mouth at Werribee South. It cuts through the rich river soil and in places the cliffs are 30-40 metres high.   The big birds – think raptors- enjoy the wind currents coming up the ramparts and I do believe a good case could be made that there are certain areas where its better, and a sort of ‘flyway’ or navigational line is drawn.  They seem to favour coming and going along those locations.

You just know its going to be a good day when as you drive in a Black-shouldered Kite is hunting close to the carpark, and just inside the walking track, Bernie the Brown Falcon is loafing in a favourite tree.

Next up a Little Eagle made several passes along one of the ‘flyway’ paths.  The Ibis, both White and Straw-necked use the same paths on the way to the feeding grounds along the river.

We sat with a family of Superb Fairy-wrens, and I will tell more of that tale on another blog, and were entertained by the feeding antics of a few Crested Terns. (another blog post methinks)

It was pretty awe-inspiring to be sitting by the river, dangling my feet over the river bank and sipping Earl of Grey, and enoying the time time in the sunshine with such a group of bids. And all less than 10 minutes from home.  A most amazing place.

Easy day, easy photography, easy birds, and Just Another Day at the Office really.

How’s that for setting the scene!

Enjoy.

Black-shouldered Kite.
Black-shouldered Kite.
Berne the Brown Falcon
Bernie the Brown Falcon
A view along the sandy cliff face. The area we are heading is down toward the right hand side.
A view along the sandy cliff face. The area we are heading is down toward the left hand side.
Superb Fairywren. This is a helper bird. A male not yet left home.
Superb Fairy-wren. This is a helper bird. A male not yet left home.
Great Egret
Great Egret
Little Eagle
Little Eagle
White Ibis
White Ibis
Crested Tern against the cliff face.
Crested Tern against the cliff face.
Crested Tern, juvenile, on a wing sretch, while waiting for Mum to deliver food
Crested Tern, juvenile, on a wing sretch, while waiting for Mum to deliver food

Blogging 101 The beginning from the end.

Three weeks of Blogging 101 and it time to bid farewell to learning and launch out the barque of blogging on my own.

Have learned a thing or three about the blogging universe, but not sure a lot of it transposes into the page here.

We did “S-tra-ya” day, Mahhte  (Australia Day to the uninitiated), yesterday.  Instead of the usual burnt snags and fatty chops we had a spit-roast sitdown meal at the Villiage centre.  And among other things were entertained by Susie and Mel.  These bush poets and songsters took us on a tour-de-force (french on Aussie day mahhhte? )
They have a wonderful way of combining the old of the Banjo, Henry Lawson, The Breaker and other with modern music.  Imagine, (if you will), The Man from Snowy River, sung to Morning Town Ride,  or Waltzing Matilda, to Ghost Riders in the Sky, And then to top it all off an audience participation number of The Man from Ironbark, with several of the village doing the miming parts of said Man and Barber.

Hilarious.  Rolling on the floor funny, and brought the house down, – as they say.

See their website here for a bit of a looksee  at how Aussie, s tra ya really is.
Got me thinking of The Bards of the bush.

Somehow in this modern rush of life, their way of life and the stories they told are at best no longer relevant.  Hard to talk of stock and dry paddocks, and horses and whip cracking to someone glued to their mobile fone, trying to get GPS directions or upload their latest ‘selfie’, or what is the latest You-tube viral nothingness.   But, of course I digress.

Another thing that came to me about all this is that they didn’t deal with the deep emotional stuff.  There is no connection here like T.S. Elliot’s The Waste Land. Nor the cutting insight of Dylan Thomas, nor… and the list goes on. Nor the fine interaction of the universe, sunlight and shadow of the classic Taoist poets. And the old Hebrew rhymers who gave birth to such inspirational works that whole religions grew from them.

Yet.  The Bards of the Bush give us an insight into the life and times of a generation or two who lay the foundation of S-tra-ya as it is in its multi-cultural kaleidoscope.  And,  well, I could go on, but its a photo blog isn’t it.

The Banjo it seems wrote little of the birds of Australia.  Much of the human condition as he found it.  So I’m going to take a bit of poetic licence with his and other works over the next few weeks.   Never know where it will go.

Now when it comes to Bush. Nothing quite says it like Brown Falcon.

These amazing birds so bronzed and upright.  Here’s one of the young from the Office.  That rich colour of deep brown and brilliant tan are always a winning combination.

DWJ_7202 DWJ_7208 DWJ_7209