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.:-) )

In Search of the Grail: The Journey of Perceval

++++ Editorial Note: This was written back in May 2016, due to complicated circumstances, (if you will) I had let its publication slide.  Enjoy. ++++++

One of the most endearing myths surrounds the Search for the “Grail”.  This mysterious cup that is the hero’s quest.

Joseph Campbell, is one of my favourite authors and while I don’t always concur with his conclusions, his insight into the depths of myth and legend always intrigues me.

One such story is the Hero’s Journey.  A story that is played out over and over in old Hebrew texts, Chinese history, Indian legends, South American dramas, and innumerable other historical stories. And into modern-day novel such as Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code
Simplified it’s “Local Hero—(ine) makes Good”.

Somewhere the legend becomes intertwined with knights bold of old and ends up as justification for the wholesale slaughter that was inflicted during the Crusades, in search of the now “Holy Grail” the cup that held the crucified Messiah blood.

Campbell writes it best as the story of Sir Perceval, although there are lots of previous versions going well back into the Dark Ages of Europe.

Still.

Sir Perceval, is off on his Quest. His is the journey to visit the wasteland, (Joyce devotees take note  {++ Ed Note: I was thinking of Ulysses, here, but as Cheryl rightly points out the reference probably belongs more to T.S. Eliot++}),   of a certain king, sometimes called the Fisher King who is the possessor of the Grail. Giver of Eternal life.  This dude is crippled, variously described as from battle or curse, and the ‘grail’ keeps him alive.   He not only has the cup, but is wont to hand out helpful advice and wisdom to any who would enter his realm (Aside— I’ve often pondered if he was so smart and wise how come his kingdom was a wasteland and his subjects abject suffering wretches— but let’s not let detail get in the way of a good story)

Sir Perc, is supposed to ask the magic question, but of course his chivalrous upbringing, (or lack of) means he can’t do that, so he misses out on the prize.  Now banished he too must walk his own wasteland.  (I do see a picture building up here).

Before your eyes glaze over, he returns, retrieves the grail, heals the king, the land and puts out the cat and makes toast. On ya Perc, good afternoon’s work.

(Aside: always wanted to write it that way for my term paper on Myth and Symbol, but figured a pass was better than a laugh).

Which brings Sir Perceval, that is the name of our little grey car, on its quest to the Wasteland of the Western Treatment Plant in search of “The Grail”.

On board Sir Perc are  EE, Mr An Onymous and your erstwhile writer. The Grail is “White-bellied Sea-eagle”
There are several of these amazing birds at work over the Treatment Plant ponds.  The amount of duck on the water is fairly easy picking for a well-trained Sea-eagle, and these dudes are well trained. (Even without the Fisher King’s help, they know fishing)

Yet.

Finding one in a good location, and up-close and personal, has always been a problem for Perc and contents. EE had a plan, not the first you are reminded, but none the less a plan.  Mr An Onymous had the lens ready and a theory for everything. And me.  I was looking for birds.
We entered the track alongside the Little River, being allowed access by the “Gate Keeper”,  Little Pied Cormorant who is often at work near the gate.
Onwards

Two Whistling Kites departed from the Specimen Tree, and were away before a lens was pointed.  On to the Japan Tree. This lovely tree has featured here on the blog and on my Flickr site regularly. A tree of a thousand poses, it sits on the edge of the causeway over Little River.

I spotted it in the tree.

Grey and white in the sunshine.

I slowed Sir Perc and stopped.  Each looked about. “Not much here- as usual”.

“What about the Sea-eagle,” I reply.
“Oh it would be so good if we saw one somewhere along the track today, ” reply.
“Well what about that one up in the tree,” saith I.
“Yeah, that would be a good spot”
“It’s there on the left-hand side.”

Brains click into gear, doors open, cameras start to bundle images onto memory cards.
“It’s tough light here,” add I, “I’m going to take the car to the other side of the causeway.”

  • Meanwhile, I’m adding up the possibilities.
    Move to other side of causeway.
    Light better.
    Not hidden among tree branches
    Bird will throw if I move the car
    If bird throws from this side it will be into the light and we’ll get silhouettes.
    Walking about will make it throw.
    Take the risk.

So, Sir Perceval moves over to the far side of the causeway. I think I heard the Fisher King groaning.

Bird is relaxed. Goodo—out of the car, setup the lens, beanbag on roof, line up shot, check exposure, make more shots.
Change camera to the shorter lens. — Mistake. Note to self. Only take one camera/lens combo next time.

The light is about as good as it gets, the pose is as regal as they come and the memory card is still taking in the images.
Then
It ruffles the wings, and I can only say, under my breath, “It’s about to throw”, to no one in particular, and before I can change back to the longer lens, it’s airborne. No time to put up the big camera. Mutter under breath about senility.

And

It throws out into the open, pulls the big wings about, and comes directly into the sunshine.  No time to ponder correct exposure now, this is what we came for.

“Well, we can go back for coffee now”, I announce. But the others are ‘chimping’ at the review screens on the camera. Y’know, head down, arms waving, “Oh, oh, oh”

Not a bad morning’s work. The Sir Perc of Old would be happy.
Enjoy

1605_05-DWJ_3794
The Gate Keeper “Who dares enter here?”
1605_05-DWJ_7528
First sighting. Lost among the branches
1605_05-DWJ_7545
That was the view I was looking for
1605_05-DWJ_7632
Elegance has a form
1605_05-DWJ_3758
Wing ruffle, its time to go.
1605_05-DWJ_3759
Beginning to stretch the wings
1605_05-DWJ_3760
Coiled and ready to unwind
1605_05-DWJ_3761 - Version 2
Stepping out, wing driving to the left
1605_05-DWJ_3762fx2
Succesful launch
1605_05-DWJ_3763 - Version 2
And against the best backdrop sky

Funny old thing is Serendipity

“the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way”

The weather map showed a large high stalled over us for most of the day.  “Let’s do an evening at the Western Treatment Plant”, saith, I. “We could take down the picnic, and have a fine old evening watching the sunset over the bay, and maybe photograph a few birds, and well, just enjoy the evening sea breeze.  What thinkest thou?”.

A call to Mr An Onymous, and the famed, and legendary “Blackmobile” was on the highway loaded with his fine repast. EE and I decided on a Peri-Peri Chicken Salad, and a round of Earl of Grey.

Pied Oystercatcher
Pied Oystercatcher

 

Continue reading “Funny old thing is Serendipity”

Loitering with INTENT

We’ve been housebound because of the weather, and in the early afternoon, the sun shone, blue sky, and we decided to head to Twenty Nine Mile Road.  Just for a look, and then a coffee on the way home.   The Plant is Locked Out to mere mortals at the moment as the roads are a quagmire from the rains, the constant 4WD traffic, and that one of the number of bird watchers managed to put their ‘fourbee’  off the road and into a bog, requiring work by the management to get it out.  So.

The weather forecast was loaded with gloom and doom, but we thought it was worth the risk just for the time out.

And we managed some good sunshine for about 30 minutes.  And then a great big black cloud with a distinct grey sheet falling from it, headed in our direction. It was, as they say.  All over.

And in the same direction a large raptor, which as it came closer was definitely a White-bellied Sea-eagle. It swung in on the wind, which even optimistically could be measured somewhere between 50-60kph. The rain was ripping in behind it.  The bird landed, without a care on a roadway bund between two ponds.  And with the rain pelting down it just sat and watched.   A lone Samp Harrier had clued on that something was going to happen and was making various treks back and forth behind the eagle. We were stuck sitting in the car with the window open, and rain pouring in.  Close window at least.

And it waited.  It seemed to me the wind and the rain were increasing, but still it sat. And looked.

Then at what can only be described as ‘The height of the storm”. — or as poor old much maligned Edward Bulwer-Lytton “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” might have said.

The bird casually turned its body into the wind, raised the wings and lifted off. And to my real surprise, headed “into” the wind. Long deliberate beats that took it just over the water out along the pond.
Then it became clear through the rain.
A lone Eurasian Coot had taken that moment to make its run across the lake.  Wrong move!

With the rain hammering at me as I swung open the door, and raced back along the road to get a clear look at the event, the eagle made several passes at the hapless coot, and then I lost it behind a clump of grass in between, and to be honest, the sting of the rain, the lack of wet protection for body and camera, and it was time to go back to the ‘safety’ of the car.   EE had managed to get a better look of the eagle as it brought the coot to land.

But.  Let’s face it. A long way away, drenching rain, no  light, and buckets of contrast and colour and sharpening and noise reduction, and this a about as good as it gets.

I guess I make no apology for the images.  At least we were there.

The power of the eagle is still haunting my thoughts.  I was having trouble walking in that wind.

Thanks to EE for supplying the last moments of the action.

Locked on Target
Locked on Target. That the D810 and the 300mm Locked on at all is much a tribute to the gear.
Photo Courtesy EE
Photo Courtesy EE
Photo Courtesy EE
Photo Courtesy EE
Photo Courtesy EE
Photo Courtesy EE
Photo courtesy EE
Photo courtesy EE

 

Sneaking up on a Swamp Harrier. Chapter 3

Time to add another chapter to the Complete Guide for “Sneaking” up on a Swamp Harrier.

By now we have established some golden rules to ‘sneaking’ up on a Swamp Harrier.

For those who skim read, here they are.

Rule 1.  You Don’t Sneak up on a Swamp Harrier.
Rule 2.  None known in the universe.

We adopted a new technique the other evening.  Find a spot to park, setup chairs, open picnic basket, ignore Swamp Harriers.  Actually the real reason of course for the visit was the ever elusive White-bellied Sea-eagle.
The tide, Mr An Onymous had revealed to me in a private conversation was a low-low tide around sunset.

Armed with this vital piece of data, EE and I decided a picnic evening meal watching the sun set over other bay would be as good as any reason to travel down to the WTP, so as the Banjo has often been quoted. We went.

To Picnic Point.  Well its actually 175W Outflow and there is a big blue sign there warning of E coli and all sorts of other nasties, (but not about Swamp Harriers),  but for the sake of the exercise we’ll call it Picnic Point from here on.

The technical term, low-low tide means this is one of those tides that makes those funny tidal graphs drop really low on the page.  And it means in practice that the water level drops dramatically and reveals the mud/sand flats out several hundred metres. With such exposed areas, the small shore birds, (waders), come in their tens of thousands to gobble up as much rich food as they can.

And because of that low-low tide, the Sea-eagle can patrol looking for an easy snack, either to take alive, or to find carrion. Its an either/or for said Sea-eagle, and if all goes well, from our Picnic Point, it will patrol along the mudflats in great light, in close and will do some really clever Sea-eagle activity and we’ll get some good images.

Which of course as you can see leads us to sneaking up on Swamp Harriers.

Not to be out done the Clever Brown Bird has also worked out the low-low tide might just bring it the snack it so deserves.
We are hull down among the bushes.  The Swamp Harriers patrol through the scrub.
From previous chapters, its pretty obvious to me that the Swampie has the area well and truly mapped.  Nothing is a surprise to the average head-down hunting bird.  There is no “Oh look a fox killed duck, I might just swoop down and pick it up”.  No, it knows the carcass is there, because it wasn’t there the time before.   And humans, well they either drive around in circles or are large blobs standing against the horizon and easily spotted and avoided.

And for those fortunate souls picnicking at Picnic Point, well they stand out among the bushes as much as anything and from a distance can also be avoided.  Needless to say, based on these facts.  We didn’t get a close encounter with a Harrier all evening.  But. We did see a  Sea-eagle.

Still the weather was kind.

Enjoy

DWJ_8596
Head down, comparing the present information with the stored data
DWJ_8603
Nothing escapes that radar gaze
DWJ_8601
Oh, look, humans, they weren’t there before. Turn away
DWJ_4945
Humans. Turn away
DWJ_8604
Turning away in the evening light. Our presence didn’t come as a surprise to this bird, it simply continued its business along another track.
DWJ_8512
The elusive, White-bellied Sea-eagle made several runs along the low-low tidal flat. For some reason it was carrying grass from a previous swoop.

 

Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend

A White-bellied Sea-eagle with a catch is as Jane Austen once wrote, “in need of friends”,(well I paraphrased the good Jane just a  bit).

We are at Lake Borrie in the Western Treatment Plant,  early morning, far out in the middle of the Lake a young Sea-eagle has scored.  (Best guess is a Pink-eared Duck).

As it settles down to prepare its meal, out of the sky drops all the Kites and Harriers in the area.  Each one wanting to be the Sea-eagles best friend.  “Comeon mate,  share it about, I’m your best mate, maahte.”

The Sea-eagle doesn’t see that opportunity to increase its Friends list on FB and doggedly proceeded to pluck and consume the feast.
Not that the big birds didn’t try.  The Harriers tried their usual ‘spook’ tactics, the Kites a variety of out staring and then hostile aggression, the ravens a mixture of sheer cunning and brute force, but in the the end, the Sea-eagle persisted.

For the Technically Ept:  These images are shot on the D810, mostly with the TC 2.0iii on the 300mm f/2.8, Tripod mounted, with a 4kg bean bag to weigh it all down.  And the new addition in the D810, the Electronic First Shutter ,which eliminates shutter/mirror bounce on long lenses.  (Wish I’d had that with the old 600mm.).

Huge crops as the bird is so far away in the middle of the lake.

 

Hauling around the Western Treatment Plant

Every year my Flickr mate Lynzwee, https://www.flickr.com/photos/65347914@N07/ makes a trip down to see us and to spend a day at the Treatment Plant.

Lindsay (to his Ozzie Mates), dropped me a note on his scheduled visit and I found a day that looked suitable. Not that we had many options.

So as the Banjo said. We went.

The weather map showed no cloud at all when I checked, but when we got to the Pt Wilson Road it was pretty certain the map was wrong. So we suffered the usual grey sky pics.  And kept our eyes up for an elusive Sea-eagle.

Lindsay had about 4 birds that he really wanted and we managed to add Brolga.  A pair were sitting in the grass on the far side of a pond, and at first everyone jumped to conclusions “She’s nesting!”  but change the ‘n’ to an ‘r’ and you’d be much more likely to be right.  So it was.  When we swung by on the return journey, they both had moved quite a long way down the bund.

And then we saw them have an altercation with a  handful of Cape Barren Geese, and the geese didn’t bother to stick around and argue.

At the moment the Whiskered Terns are hunting prodigiously and obviously productively. So we spent quite  a little time working at really close distances with them as they swept along the mouth of the Little River.

And to top it off in the distance a Sea-eagle took off.  Too far.

I was using the 300mm f/4 lens and was surprised to remember how fast it was at grabbing focus.  I must remember to put it back on the D2Xs and it will really sing.

The sun came out and we had a really fine afternoon and some good results.    On the way back we stopped for the ‘traditional’ coffee and Banana Cake at the Highway Lounge, and then as we were near swung into the Werribee River Park, but it was pretty quiet.  But on the way out three of the young Kestrels were hunting in the evening sunshine.  Lindsay was hanging out the window trying for that ‘best’ shot.  The bird obliged by dropping off the post on to the road, but I think the af on the D7000 might have found the roadside more attractive. At least that’s how I interpreted his response.

Here’s a days sample See Lindsay’s Page sometime soon for his version.

We dropped him at the railway station after a day of much mirth and frivolity and some great birding and excellent photo opportunities.  Seeya next time mate.

"Is she nesting?"  No, afraid not.
“Is she nesting?” No, afraid not.
You don't mess with the big guy.  For some reason the Geese were not welcome in his pond
You don’t mess with the big guy. For some reason the Geese were not welcome in his pond
Really soft light helped the Spoonbill shots.
Really soft light helped the Spoonbill shots.
Whiskered Tern at touch down
Whiskered Tern at touch down
Little wings that have flown so far
Little wings that have flown so far
The tide was a bit slow turning and these birds were anxiously waiting for the mudflats to be exposed.
The tide was a bit slow turning and these birds were anxiously waiting for the mudflats to be exposed.
A Wagtail sees of a Brown Falcon
A Wagtail sees of a Brown Falcon
Pied Oystercatcher on final approach
Pied Oystercatcher on final approach
Always enjoy the flight control of the Silver Gull.
Always enjoy the flight control of the Silver Gull.
Its not obvious, but the Black winged Stilt is moving the Red-necked Avocet along. No room in this pool.
Its not obvious, but the Black winged Stilt is moving the Red-necked Avocet along. No room in this pool.
The master at work.
The master at work.

To the WTP on a whim

Sometimes the best ideas are those that come with out lots of planning and forethought. Just go out and do it.

With a small cool change coming in, and the wind shifting in from the south, we packed the picnic, grabbed some Earl Grey, and phoned the WTP birding line and booked for an evening down by the sea

To our delight the young Spotted Harriers were still on the roadside, and parking carefully to avoid any likelihood of mishaps with trucks at 110kph, we took our time to get the best lighting on the bird perched on the top of the cyprus tree cones.   Then tired of begging, it took advantage of the strong breeze and launched, drifted upwards to the top of the treeline and then without a wing flap, sailed along the treeline and back.   Not exactly hard photography as it turned in the evening light.  The great tail moving one way or another like a large oar or rudder to keep it almost stationary in the air.   With barely a wing flap, it simply enjoyed the moment.  So did we.

When we got to The Spit, Murtcaim (n)  we found a number of Swamp Harriers at play.   Interesting to watch their games from a distance, but not much hope of being able to get close enough of great shots, but highly entertaining none the less.

Further down the road we came upon a pair of Brolga, but they were just too far away to do any real work, so we headed back to Lake Borrie. And then first came upon some Yellow-billed Spoonbills, and a Great Egret sitting on a fence rail.   While EE got moved for a clear shot of the Egret, all the seagulls in the world- or at least the 10,000 or so on the seaside took to the air with a broadcasting squawk.

A White-bellied Sea eagle had made a sneak attack along the grasslands, and had swung up over the hapless gulls.  Each gull to itself seemed to be the answer, and someone’s relative went home for dinner with the eagle.  I managed to find the camera by the time the action was all over.

Probably enough excitement for a mere whim.

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Young Spotted Harrier expecting dinner to arrive soon.

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Time to stretch those wonderful wings in the evening breeze.

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One of many White-fronted Chats that seem to work as a flock at the moment

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Waiting for its turn at the Swamp Harrier Games.

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This one drifted almost up to our camera position.

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Knocking one another of fence posts must be a raptor game, they all seem to indulge in it.

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Cautious Brolga checking that the right protocol distance is being maintained.

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Great Egret to wing.

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Bulking up for the trip to the summer breeding grounds, the waders, mostly Sharp-tailed Sandpipers here, are hard at work getting as many calories as possible.

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White-bellied Sea-eagle with its own method of calorie collection.

Diary Day #4 Out along the the River Road to Murraydale

Family gig took up much of the morning, so another trip to Goschen was pretty much ruled out.

“Gardener Ed,  (he works the gardens at the Murray Downs Resort), has some birds you should go and see.” So a chat with Ed, and yes its true he does have birds, and yes we would be welcome to go look see, so 11am, on the dot Mr An Onymous and I assembled in the carpark and then followed Ed back to look at his collection.  And a fine find it was too.  An was pretty happy as he managed to score a couple of tail feathers from Red-tailed Cockatoos.

Ed lives out at Woorinen South, and we’d only driven through there the previous day, so now we did the “explorer” thing and drove round to see the Lake, the Football Ground, and the Water supply. Pretty exciting stuff.  Even saw where I’d skinned me knee as a little tacker climbing in an old Malle Pine.

Now this sort of driving may seem a bit out of place and fraught with the possibility of getting lost, but the area was originally blocked off for soldier settler blocks, and so the roads all either run north/south or east/west, so its really just driving on a checkerboard.   We rounded a corner and there in the sky was a Black Kite, first for the day, so pretty  excited we stopped, got out and started to photograph the bird as it leisurely sweep over the crops.  First mistake. Second mistake was doing it just outside the driveway of the local Neighbourhood Watch.  Before we’d managed to get 2 frames exposed, said NW was in the vehicle and coming down the track to see, what  we were doing.  Now I’ve little time for explaining to folk that don’t want to listen that “We’re photographing birds, Mate!” That is NOT, I have discovered the answer to the question of “What the …..##$%% do you think you’re doing, and what .###%%% right do you have to do it here!!!!!&&&&###” 

Now I’ve also been made aware it’s not much point debating the issue of the lack(?) of “Bill of Rights” in Australia, and that the correct lawful response to such demands is,”I believe this to be public land, and as you have not identified yourself as a member of a  constituted law enforcement agency, I am minding my own business.”  Too may verbs and nouns in that sentence for your average NW.  Besides which, NW  carry things like shotguns and work on a different set of rules “Shot first and ask questions afterward“.

So with a quick flourish of cameras, we abandoned the Black Kite and resumed the safety of the car.  NW proceeded slowly, (almost wrote menacingly) out of the driveway and headed in our direction. I slowly, and politely, turned back on the roadway and looked straight ahead as we passed him.  NW went down to the corner, (read above if you are geographically embarrassed at this point)  turned around, and slowly followed us back along the road.  Then after stopping at his gate to be sure we were really leaving the area, turned back into said  driveway.  Mr An and I pondered that at least we’d given him something to do for the morning.

Enough excitement in that area, so we proceeded to cross the Murray Valley Highway, and were now deep into Murraydale.  This area was for the most part still well watered, and the home of a thriving dairy and beef industry.

The roads running east/west eventually run into the Murray River; only 5-10 Kilometres away as the Crow flies. So we tried several of the roads to see if we could find some good views along the river.
First up we found a pair of Australian Kestrels, hard at work trying to move on (I believe) a Brown Falcon.  So it was pretty certain they had young in the area.

We were discussing the merits of Round Hay bales vs Square Hay bales, (You can see immediately what a wonderful travelling companion I have), when a Whistling Kite made an appearance over the tree line. More stopping, but no NW this time, so all was well.   Now some of the tracks don’t run to the river.  They end up in a farmer’s front yard, so while Mr An looked for birds, I tried to keep us from visiting long lost members of the family.   EE’s family had a long association with Murraydale.  The elders of the clan had worked a dairy farm as far back as the 1930s, and several of the latter part of the clan had run as share–farmers out here.  One still had a caravan parked on the riverside on one of the properties.  On the other hand trying to explain, “We’re photographing birds, Mate!, and we are related to…… “, or “Oh, I went to school with your brother Peter ,” didn’t seem to have any more ring of likely success, so I tried to avoid the driveways. Besides, farmers have bigger guns, and dogs with really, really sharp teeth.

We turned on to The River Road, and went past the Abattoir. “Why are we going down here?” quizzically asked.    “For Black Kites’, I replied.  “But there’s hardly likely to be any down here”.  As one black kite flew by the front windscreen, then another lifted over the road, and by the time I’d stopped we had 5 or more Kites circling quietly over the road.  “Oh”.

We eased on down the road to the turn-around area for the stock-trucks, and then climbed up on to the river bank.    Then. Out of the trees on the other side, a White-bellied Sea Eagle threw, gathered speed across the river and went over the treetops above us.  I am pretty convinced it’s done this manoeuvre more than once, as it flew across the paddock, found a thermal, and in seconds was heavenwards.  Taking with it the flotilla of Black Kites.  Again, have to say, not sure they were in pursuit, as it was a no contest, those huge wings just pick up the air.  The grins on both of our faces said it all.  I gained points as bird finder and expedition leader, and Mr An had a new story to tell of Sea Eagles over the inland Murray.

Update***The shots show it in brown plumage and its certainly a juvenile.

Time for a coffee, and after circling a roundabout  of decision making, both figuratively and literally, we were soon reunited with family and I enjoyed a Vienna Coffee and fired up Flickr on the Macbook Air.

Black Kite at Woorinen South
Black Kite at Woorinen South
Pair of Kestrels trying to dislodge an unwelcome visitor.
Pair of Kestrels trying to dislodge an unwelcome visitor.
Pied Butcherbird who gave us a great concert of its carolling.
Pied Butcherbird who gave us a great concert of its carolling.
Whistling Kite. Note the 'double tail'. Perhaps its moulting a new tail.
Whistling Kite. Note the ‘double tail’. Perhaps its moulting a new tail.
Whistling Kite.
Whistling Kite.
Black Kite, one of many
Black Kite, one of many
Rocket Express.  With a staggering turn of speed this White-bellied Sea Eagle swung across the river, gained height, and then picked up a thermal.
Rocket Express. With a staggering turn of speed this White-bellied Sea Eagle swung across the river, gained height, and then picked up a thermal.
White-bellied Sea Eagle and friend.  Not sure it was much of a contest for the  Sea Eagle.  Game over.
White-bellied Sea Eagle and friend. Not sure it was much of a contest for the Sea Eagle. Game over.