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 Sigma 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 had 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)

    {Update Nov. 2022}  I ended up buyng a Henjar Foot.  It has ARCA rail  and also has a QD (Quick Detach) a standard used for all sorts of weaponry.  I added it to a Blackrapid clip with an ebay QD swivel bracket (cheeeep on fleabay)
    I am not a Blackrapid fanboy, but in the end, I tolerate it for the convenience of the QD set up.  Means I don’t have to pull the confounded strap on an off my shoulder each time I want to put the camera/lens down seperately.  Put it down to crabby old person dysfunction.

  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.
    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.

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.  🙂

{Edit Nov 2022}  For full disclosure, I’m now using a Blackrapid Classic Strap and a QD (Quick Detach) on a Henjar bracket  See above

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

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.

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.

{Update Nov 2022}  I traded the lens at Camera Exchange  Haven’t really missed it.

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.:-) )

Snapshots: A Most Valuable Commodity

It’s been dry. Last decent soaking rain was over 2 months back.
Its dry.

EE is getting on quite comfortably with her walking aid, now dubbed “Dolly the Trolley”. So she said, that we might take a trip down to the You Yangs, and have a walk on some of the tracks around the carpark. Sounded good, but its dry, very dry.  So I didn’t have much hope of finding many birds.

Suitably loaded with morning tea and a banana smoothie, and securing Dolly into the boot of the car, we set out.  And what a fine morning the weather had put on. No wind and an enjoyable warm sunshine.

We arrived at the carpark at Big Rock and Dolly immediately sprang into action. First sighting was a Nankeen Kestrel, then a Brown Goshawk, and two families of White-winged Choughs. And to my amazement, the Scarlet Robin pair that normally are in residence.  Off to a good start. Dolly is good about this, as EE can go to a spot, and instead of having to stand or sit awkwardly on a log or stone, Dolly is ready and willing. So a comfortably seated EE is a happy EE.

While she sat in the shade, I looked about a bit to see if any of the usual suspects were about. By the time I got back, EE was under a tree, near a piece of pvc pipe running out of the ground. And a red plastic cup! (?)

She had noted a couple of wrens inspecting the pipe, and concluded, rightly so, that it sometimes held water, and the birds were looking for a drink.  Enterprisingly, she located the ominous red cup, filled it from the handbasin at the toilet, poured it into the end of the pipe, so the water dripped out slowly into a tiny pool she had created among the rocks, and…

Add water—Instant Birds!

They must be able to smell it.
Or hear the tinkle tinkle of it dropping. But within a few minutes, she had quite a mixed flock on hand. Only problem that the water was only good for a couple of minutes. Which is when I arrived.  Now, we’ve seen the pipe dozens, if not hundreds of times, and never taken a lot of notice. But from the location, I figured it was the run-off from the handbasin at the toilet block.  Let’s see. Hold down the tap, let a couple of litres of water run down and go see.
Slowly a tiny trickle of water appeared, and then a stream.  And before you could say, “What a waste of Water!!!!”, we had flocks of Red-browed Finches, Spotted Pardalotes, New Holland Honeyeaters, Silvereyes, White-naped and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, a few familes of Superb Fairywrens, Brown Thornbills, Red Wattlebirds, and two bossy Magpies. Then to top it off both Scarlet Robins made a quick appearance.

So, we sat, occasionally egressing to push some more water down the pipeline, and drank a cuppa, enjoyed the fun, and felt pretty happy that they were able to enjoy such a precious commodity. When a few Crimson Rosellas came by to inspect, we thought we were made. But the Rosellas didn’t stay. Likewise a passing Grey Fantail, but being photographed was not on its todo list.

Satisfied with a morning’s work, and two memory cards bulging with images, it was time to leave. I gave the tap a run for an extra minute or so and didn’t feel the least stressed about ‘wasting’ water.  The birds were more than happy.

We loaded EE and Dolly back in the car and went for a well-earned coffee at Gary’s at the local servo.



The Red-browed Finches seemed to enjoy the water running over them.
The Finches seemed to have no trouble working out where the water was coming from
Silvereyes were happier to drink from the ground
A Striated Pardalote watching the bathing.
Interestingly the wrens seemed to be able to time the droplets and catch them in midair, just like insects I suppose. This one was taking advantage of the stream.
One of several White-naped Honeyeaters.
This is how you enjoy the water.

Brown Thornbill after a bath
New Holland Honeyeater using its long tongue to sip up the amazing nectar
Anytime you add water and New Hollands, you get the inevitable and rowdy discussion about whose turn is it next.
When the Magpies showed up, everybody else took off.
Spotted Pardalote Male
Yellow-faced Honeyeaters were very cautious about approaching with two cameras pointed at them
Oh, oh, please, just one more drop, one more drop.

Timmy the Tail-less Superb Fairy-wren: Episode IV A New Hope

Its all the rage against isn’t it.  Star Wars.

Still remember sitting spell-bound in the theatre watching the sheer bulk of the Star Destroyer that seemed to go on and on.

So we segue way to Timmy.   We last left our hero looking much better with his new appendage appearing in fine form.

Today’s visit showed he had continued to grow the tail, and we learned a few new things about his life.  Firstly he and several of the females are carrying food in to the bush where the nest is located.  I’ve not been given privilege to go see, so can’t confirm what is going on in there.

Perhaps they are not feeding young, but rather keeping the nesting female well supplied in food.
Secondly his tail has started to come on quite nicely, and he still can hammer out a song.
And thirdly.  As its gotten bigger, so has his territorial aspirations.
Today saw him take quite a number of forays into Tommy the Tailful’s territory.  Timmy was able to advance about 10-15m more that last week, and even has established for himself a couple of calling posts, so this seemingly disadvantaged lad has made good.

Timmy seems to have accepted my being in the area, and is able to use the closest perches without the least concern for my being there.

Enjoy a good visit, we did.

They seem to be quite busy with food delivery to the nest site.
They seem to be quite busy with food delivery to the nest site.
He spent a lot of the morning delivering food.
He spent a lot of the morning delivering food.
Not the best angle, but you can see the tail is coming along nicely
Not the best angle, but you can see the tail is coming along nicely
“Who are you calling Short Tail?”
Hey, can you hear me over there.
Hey, can you hear me over there.
This is the favourite perch. He commands the area from here.
This is the favourite perch. He commands the area from here.

The Further Adventures of Timmy the Tail-less Superb Fairy-wren

Last week, dear reader, like the old Saturday Arvo Kids Matinee at the movies, we left Timmy with a a problem.

Took a hour or so today, to go back and visit our brave hero and see how he was handling his injury.

And surprise, his tail is indeed regrowing.  Not bad for about 2 weeks.  So its pretty certain that he is well on the road to recovery.

In the hour or so we sat with him it was pretty obvious that his condition hadn’t dented his enthusiasm, or his strong singing voice.  And we learned a little about life in Wren land.   He also seemed completely undeterred by our presence and would land on his favourite perches with no concern of our being there.

Another favourite spot

Timmy has a rival across the path. Called him Tommy the Tailful.   Because, well, he is looking pretty attractive in the Tail Stakes.   It also seems that Timmy’s territory covers the path and about 10 metres into the bush on the other side, and then after a small no-man’s land, Tommy is in charge.
Now, I’m sure the rules are well written, but a bit hard to follow, but its seems that the border really is a no go zone. Neither Tim nor Tom managed to cross over into each other’s territory.  In spite of some fearful calling battles. But what was obvious is that the young ladies on both Tim and Tom’s side feel no such limitation and freely crossed back and forth between the two territories.  Much to the delight and the chagrin of both males.  Each time a young lass would appear from the other side they were treated very well, and the male sat with them and performed all around the branches.  But when one of the wayward locals moved over and returned they got a right royal talking to.

In the end, it’s pretty certain that the only winner in all this is of course, the Gene Pool.  Female wrens not being noted for their fidelity, but rather the males end up raising young from other territories.  As this seems to have worked down through the years, one can only conclude that they benefit from the excursions.

So Timmy is well in control, well on the way to developing his new tail, and quite capable of bashing out a strong territory song.

Onya Timmy.

Looking like the real deal now
Looking like the real deal now
Time for a song
Time for a song
Well Hello!  Tommy shows his stuff
Well Hello! Tommy shows his stuff
Can you hear me yet!
Can you hear me yet!
One of many well used singing perches
One of many well used singing perches
Just a show of the new appendage. This by the way, is the favourite perch by far.
Just a show of the new appendage.
This by the way, is the favourite perch by far.
Another favourite spot
Another favourite spot

The ongoing tale of Timmy the Tailless Superb Fairy-wren

Don’t you just love a feel good story.

On the day of a great feel good story from the Melbourne Cup,  I found Timmy on the mend.

I’m not much of a fan of horse racing, but have to admit that the story of Michelle Payne, the wonderful horse Prince of Penzance, her brother as the strapper, and the trainer/connections story is one that fairy tale dreams are made of.
See the story here.
Steven the Strapper to qoute the article;  “Steven, who has Down syndrome, was responsible for drawing Prince of Penzance’s number one barrier, and correctly predicted the horse would be “in front at 200 metres [to go]“.
And rather than go up market, they have stayed with their roots and enjoyed the evening at a battler’s pub in St Kilda.
Love it when we stay true to our convictions.

Now its not that I don’t like horses, I’ve photographed a few of them in my time, and its not that I don’t enjoy a good day at the races.  Love the food, the atmosphere and the excitement of country racing.  Just don’t fancy seeing my money going into an endless pit, and watching an endless parade of horses around a track. Now before some one calls me, I really believe that horses love to run. And to run fast, and to jostle and parade.   It’s just that I don’t get the gratification thing for humans.

But back to Timmy.

You’ll remember when we left our hero that he was looking a bit down in the wardrobe department with the mysterious departure of his beautiful tail.   So we paid him a repeat visit today, and another fairy tale come true.
Timmy has begun to replace the missing wardrobe piece.

Still as active as ever, and just as vocal, and still chasing and harassing the females in his territory. So tailless or not, life has gone on for Timmy.   What a great story.

What is that I see behind you. Oh, a tail.
What is that I see behind you. Oh, a tail.
There you are.  And starting to look a lot better already.
There you are. And starting to look a lot better already.
No tail, but a big voice
No tail, but a big voice
Yeah, I know not the most flattering of views, but. Look its a tail.
Yeah, I know not the most flattering of views, but. Look its a tail.
Well done TImmy, a feel good story to warm my old heart.
Well done TImmy, a feel good story to warm my old heart.

The Charming Tale of Timmy the Tail-less Fairy-wren

What’s wrong with this picture?

At first glance all seems well, but on a second take, well, its obvious.  Timmy doesn’t have a tail.  And there-in lies the tale.

Was working with a pair of Willie Wagtails and had been sitting quietly for perhaps 15 minutes or more as they worked out strategy and tactics for building of their new domicile.  If all goes well, expect more of that story.

When suddenly up pops Timmy.   And at first glance I thought, “Oh, another Fairy-wren”, but then it was obvious that something wasn’t right.
Happen to be reading “blink: The power of thinking without thinking”, by Malcolm Gladwell.  A good book for bird photographers as it suggests that the power of making choices in an instant.  Actually its more about the power of marketing, and why we all recognise a can of Coca Cola, even if we don’t drink the stuff.

But, it didn’t seem right.  So I looked, and sure enough Timmy is Tail-less. Otherwise a perfectly healthy Male, Superb Fairy-wren, and quite able to defend vocally his territory.  Also seems to have a flotilla of females in a bush area some 30m from where I was sitting and they all treat him as usual.  (That is giving him lectures from bushes).

So what happened to Timmy?  Something disastrous, or is he also helping nesting and has lost his tail in the process, or has he had a bad attack of the moults?  Or is its even more complicated. Perhaps someone has some info on what might have happened.

In our backyard, there are two resident Blackbirds. For most of the early part of the season, they seemed to be engaged in battles that were more than courtship, and occasionally I’d see quite a few feathers fly, and find a few on the patio.  Now, as they settle to nesting, and don’t seem anywhere near as aggressive, I’ve noted that both of  them are tail-less.
Other Blackbirds I’ve seen in the area are well tail endowed, so its just this pair.
Did they manage to pull each one’s tail feathers out in the ensuing battles?

Will keep an eye on Timmy,  will be interesting to see if he regrows his glory.

What is wrong with this photo?
What is wrong with this photo?
Timmy the Tail-less is however quite well vocalised
Timmy the Tail-less is however quite well vocalised
Takes a second to grasp what has happened
Takes a second to grasp what has happened
But he is quite busy in territorial duties
But he is quite busy in territorial duties
Atta boy Timmy.  Even without a tail, you are still the champion
Atta boy Timmy. Even without a tail, you are still the champion

The amazing ways of the bird world

We’ve had a whole range of really average weather of late, and both EE and I were getting a bit tired of being unable to get out for a really good look about.  Much changes in a fortnight.

We decided on an early trip to Eynesbury, mainly because of Speckled Warbler. These tiny little songsters are proving to be incredibly illusive for us.  We’ve heard them in several places, but have little to show other than a glimpse of a bird flying off into the distance.
Weatherzone showed some pretty nice icons indicating its should be clear from sunup till at least midday, so setting the alarm clock, we were ready for an early start. As we drove up toward Eynesbury, it was obvious the weather was not going to match the icons and it was very overcast.  And with no wind, it was pretty much going to stay that way.  Still we crossed the road entered the forest and began our search.  And within about 10mins had heard the cheery cry of the Warbler, but so far away and no pictures.
The other bird of interest is the Diamond Firetail, and while we got some good views no really great photos.

By late morning the sun had poked through, the Little Eagles were playing the strengthening breezes and a pair of Brown Falcons were playing chase across the treetops.

We took a walk up past the old shearing shed area and then down the track toward the golf course dam.

“There is always a pair of Jacky Winter on this corner, ” I assured EE, but she responded “I would have thought the name ‘Winter’ might have been a clue.”

And then to both our  collective surprises a Jacky flew down grabbed a bug and sat in a tree with its usual tail wag.
The Jacky winter is a fine mixture of part Robin, part Flycatcher (they used to be called the Lesser Fascinating Flycatcher), part Fantail, and a touch of Woodswallow. Well it seems like that to me.

They are also among my favourite birds.  Their simple colours make a great photo harmony, their clear sounding calls are a delight and they can be very easy to work with, almost completely ignoring the inquisitive human being.  On average.  I’ve also met a few that are extraordinarily skittish, and I’ve never had much success.
This corner pair fall somewhere in between.  We’ve had some lovely interaction and complete disdain on other occasions.

I followed this one across the roadway, and propped against a tree, hoping, she/he? they are impossible to tell apart, would come on back and at least hunt in the area.  It immediately headed back across the road, into a tree, and I caught a glimpse of it on a limb with a lot of wing fluttering. Perhaps its going to be fed, thought I, so I wandered slowly in that direction, but by then the bird had moved on.  However there was a bump in the branch, and at first I thought it might have been the other of the pair.
Then it dawned on me.  “It’s a young one that is waiting to be fed”.  But…

When I put the glass on it, what I discovered was a Jacky Winter nest.  Now, I’ve seen some pretty tiny Red-capped Robin nests and the nest of a Grey Fantail, but this was even tinier, and not at all well built. The two young were already overcrowding the nest.  And the one thing they seemed to be able to do was to crouch down, and hang on.  So at a quick glance it didn’t look like either a nest nor any young birds.   Very clever.

But it is tiny.

After a few minutes the first of the adults and then the other came in and poked food into the open mouths, and there was no sound from the young and apart from putting their head up, no real movement either. Very clever.

I concluded from the size that they were about a week from fledging, so perhaps another trip will be needed to see the young birds in action.

Only spent enough time to get a few shots, like to leave them to themselves unless I’m invited to stay, and there wasn’t time for introductions.

On the way back to where we’d left our gear, I heard the Warbler and managed a few shots of it. One of them in the clear. What I didn’t expect was to be harassed by 3 or 4 very agitated Superb Fairy Wren males and several females. The males getting up very close indeed to try and attract my attention and then I noticed why.  They had recently fledged 3 or 4 young birds and were trying to protect them.  I managed a couple of quick shots of the young with their very short tails.


Jacky Winter on a hunting trip.  My first sight of the bird.
Jacky Winter on a hunting trip. My first sight of the bird.
What's this.  A nest? Two young nestlings snuggled down in the 'nest'
What’s this. A nest? Two young nestlings snuggled down in the ‘nest’
Proud Mum(?) comes to check on her brood.
Proud Mum(?) comes to check on her brood.
Lots of food needed for them to grow
Lots of food needed for them to grow
She watched over them for quite awhile after each feed.
She watched over them for quite awhile after each feed.
Open wide and I'll pop it in.
Open wide and I’ll pop it in.
Thanks Mum
Thanks Mum
Speckled Warbler.
Speckled Warbler.
Recently fledged Superb Fairy Wrens. Look at the tiny tails.
Recently fledged Superb Fairy Wrens. Look at the tiny tails.
One of a number of "helper' males, who where not at all pleased with my presence near the fledglings.
One of a number of “helper’ males, who where not at all pleased with my presence near the fledglings.

New Directions or how many images of a Bird on a Stick do we need?

Most here would know that I am a Flickr addict.  I love to log on, post a picture of two from my latest time out in the field and have developed a good range of Flickr friends who also share their work.   But one of the limitations that Flickr has for me as a story teller is the inability to keep a story line intact.   No point in posting 15 images there, as after the first couple, most will move on to the next posting. (I speak as much as from personal experience as anything else).  There is only so many times you can post, “Oh, great photo of a Little Button Quail”.

Birds as Poetry blog I’ve always wanted to be a visual diary of the birds that we come across.  We, being in the first instance, my muse, best friend, partner for life and finest critic,  Dorothy she of the EE moniker.  We, sometimes includes those who might take the risk and travel about with me.  Mr An Onymous, Neil A, Ray, and Richard A (he of the Woodlands List fame) being all well known to the long term reader (whoever you are!)

One of the challenges I guess a bird photographer faces, is that sometimes the light, the bird and the area just don’t come together in a cohesive way, and over on Flickr I created the “Not Terribly Good Club” (apologies to Stephen Pile who created the “Not Terribly Good Club of Great Britain” which eventually had over 30,000 members, and thus failed its own test!) that listing at least gave me a chance to put up work that I’d always hoped would encourage people that sometimes in spite of our efforts the photography process, like any good art reaches into the soul of the artist, but not always does the result achieve the intended result.

Today, I received an email from Earthbound Light by Bob Johnson. Now I’ve never met Bob, but often his writing vibrates with my own thoughts and I think, “I wish I’d said that”.

Been pondering the past few days about how many more,  as EE succinctly states, “How many more pictures of a bird on a stick does the world need?”  Which has always got me to pondering why take another photo? (not Why take another photo, but  rather why Take another photo. )   And I think Bob sums it up beautifully in his blog today.  I don’t have permission to quote him directly. (Very conscious of Intellectual Property Rights, and copyright issues), so please feel free to pop over to the page and take a gander.

Here tis..  Stopping Time: Why We Take Pictures.

He talks to the photo moment as:  absorbed in my own process and perception. With the resulting image being a sum of what went into the making, the subject, the lighting, the angle of view and the photographer. And I might add the enthrallement of those who view the images as it reaches out to their perception.

What struck me was the concept of the utter simplicity of the present moment, as the shutter is pressed.  Only you, and I, will see the bird, the mountain, the party, the moment, in that one single unique way.  So does the world need more birds on a stick. Probably  not, but the process is to me such an extension of the moment that I observed and absorbed, that at another level, there just cannot be too many birds on sticks or bird in the air images.

Now, if,  by some quirk of fate, you’ve read all the way down here, you probably think, “hmm, forgot to take his tablets today,” or more charitably, “I wonder where this is going. ”

I’m hoping it will mean more posting of the story of the birding day in this blog.
Not much rambling of words, but a look into the insight of what ‘we’ saw during the time out.   Flickr still gets my attention, but I won’t have the pressure of tying to create a coherent poem out of unrelated photos.  Will the quality be better here or there. In other words, do I really hang out to put the best images I can make on Flickr, or include them here to a much smaller audience.  (Hmm, yet to tell how I’ll deal with that).  But it will mean more shots of what ever Button Quail or its equivalent ‘we’ run across and draws us into their lives for even a brief instant in the universe.

So, here is a few from an hour or so among the birds on the Werribee River Park.

In the words of Bob Johnson,  “Next time your out photographing, (Or birding), stop, and pay attention.  Thanks Bob.




Snugglepot and Cuddlepie.  Two really friendly Supeb Blue-wrens who entertained us with the antics.
Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. Two really friendly Supeb Blue-wrens who entertained us with the antics.
Just lookin' for a home. A Brown Falcon that has taken over part of the park as a territory, and wishes everyone to know about it.
Just lookin’ for a home. A Brown Falcon that has taken over part of the park as a territory, and wishes everyone to know about it.
Late sun glistens on the wings of the vocal Brown Falcon
Late sun glistens on the wings of the vocal Brown Falcon
Sparrows, fleeing from a bathing moment.  The approach of the Flacon was enough to set off a Magpie Lark, and its first high-pitched call had the sparrows on the move as one.
Sparrows, fleeing from a bathing moment. The approach of the Falcon was enough to set off a Magpie Lark, and its first high-pitched call had the sparrows on the move as one.
Two recently fledged Black-shouldered Kites waiting for Dad to move that raucous Brown Falcon on.
Two recently fledged Black-shouldered Kites waiting for Dad to move that raucous Brown Falcon on.
Precision flying team.  Not yet, but they are beginning to learn to hover in light breezes. Part of those games include close passes with one another.
Precision flying team. Not yet, but they are beginning to learn to hover in light breezes. Part of those games include close passes with one another.

Well, the process does work. Redcapped Robin Juvenile

I was woken this morning by a clap of thunder, and looking out – the sky could only be described as dark and gloomy.  But, I had planned a trip to Woodlands, and I started to get the gear into the car and rain fell. Not that pitter patter raindrops of the songs, these were great big blobs, that went not gently on the car, but sounded like hail.  And created great big pools where they landed.  “Might put the rain jacket in,” I thought.

As I drove toward the park, it started to rain, not drizzle or occasional shower, but serious-soak the ground-rain.  And it didn’t look like it would let up anytime soon.  By the time I got to the last roundabout near the park the road was awash. But I pushed on.

At the park it wasn’t much better and the idea of sitting in the car was the go.  Twenty minutes or so and it let up, and the sky just looked leaden.  No point in coming all this way and not at least having a look.

The park along the road is very quiet at the moment, hardly any bird activity, and I wanted to go down through the fenced off “Back Paddcok” to have a look a kilometre or so in as last year many of the fledged robins ended up down there for awhile.

By the time I got into the area, the rain was over, the sky even looked like it might clear up, and so I found a spot near a likely feeding area and waited.

A few freshly fledged Willie wagtails kept me company and amused with their chasing games antics.  A flock of Yellow-rumped Thornbills fed their way through and a large group of Weebills all chattering away. And about then the sun emerged and so did all the young Superb Fairy Wrens, so they have had a good year, I stopped counting after about 10, and mostly because I had lost track of who was who.

Then to my complete surprise and delight, a whirr of feathers and a juvenile Redcapped Robin landed on the branch about 5 metres away.  All in is lovely striated white, brown and grey.  It was completely unconcerned by my presence or the shutter going crazy.  And then the sun came out.

It also had a friend, and they preened and fed and did bird things on the bush for about 10 minutes and then it was all over. The news from all this of course is that all the hard work of the past few months has paid off for the robins and mum and dad can take a well earned rest knowing they have done their bit for the species.

Rather glad the weather improved.

Juvenile Redcapped Robin

D200, 500m F/4,  ISO400, F/4.5, 1/250, WB Auto


And a very busy little Fairy Wren.  I think it wanted to show off its catch more than anything else.

Fairy Wren with breakfast

D200, 500mm F/4, ISO400, F/4.5, 1/1600, WB Auto.