Moments: Running the Gauntlet

The past couple of weeks, EE and I have been working with a pair of Brown Falcons.

Took about three weeks to really track down where they had a nest, and then another couple of weeks, to be able to have the birds’ confidence to move about in the area.

Well, it seems that she has hatched her brood, and now she has a bit of ‘time’ to do her own hunting.  A shame at one level, as the male was not only reliable, but almost worked his wings off keeping up a steady stream.

Along one line of the paddock is a line of trees, that seem to provide plenty of food for a hunting Brown Falcon, and we’ve noted she’s been sitting in the tops of the trees to hunt, and also keep a ‘falcon’s eye’ on her nest area.
But the same line of trees holds similar opportunities for other species as well.  And now as the younger Australian Magpies from the first clutch of the season are pretty much independant, and more footloose teenagers in a shopping mall, anything that flys past or near is fair game to stretch out the wings in rage and show off flying prowess.

Cassia- named for her rich colour, —of Cinnamon— , decided that some good food opportunities lay just under the low branches, and dropped down to the ground to wander about and see what she might find.

Seriously bad career move!

The local magpies came from four quarters, like screaming banshees. (not that I’ve heard banshees, screaming or otherwise)

Hard for Cassia to get out of the tree line and extend a wing, so they had her pressed against the tree line for a few seconds in the encounter.

Then out across the open paddock with the hoard in full cry behind. Several managed to keep up, and just at the last moment, one made a very close approach, and then she was over the demarcation line and they sailed away back to the trees to caroll to each other about their brave deeds.

She’ll be back over there again I’m sure. A few magpies seem pretty harmless in her quest for food.

Sneak Attack. She must have decided to land on a branch to avoid the onslaught, but they cut her off at every turn.
Out into the open, she can gain some speed to keep them at bay. The magpies have to use a lot of energy to keep up. Cassia is really just at cruising speed, so is not using anywhere near as much energy.
Maggie in hot pursuit
Trying to swing in to put her off her fast straight line
Each wing stroke gains speed.
Coming out of the sun! An attack from a high position. This is just about the end of the territory and they’ve made their point.
I’d like to think she flew by with a “I was in control of that” look, but it was time to check on the baby(s).

Moments: The Stakes are High

The continuing saga of the Brown Falcon at nest.

She had come out to meet her mate for a food exchange.  Where this is actually taking place, and where she is dining is a bit of a mystery to me, as the surrounding thick pine trees block any view once they come down to the tree-line.
But once she has fed, she seems to favour a perch near the nest, I guess to keep an eye on what’s happening, and also to preen.

However, the same tree also is close to a Willie Wagtail nursery.  And both Willies came out in force to make the point she is not welcome. Gotta give Willies “A” for pluck.
If after the usual flyby chatter doesn’t work, then its time for  hands on aggression, as the male found out as he was returning with the food.
Willie attached to his back and proceeded to peck his head as both flew past.
Then when she returned they began in earnest to move her along.

The stakes are high for both birds, so it’s the immovable object verses the irresistible force.  And in the end, the Falcon will give ground.

High drama for both birds, the wagtails with their young charges to protect, and the Falcon with her commitment to the yet to be hatched egg.

Here is the moment by moment action.

Willie desperate to attach to the back of the male coming in with a small bird for food.
Once attached, the little bird pecks away incessantly at the male’s head. What is important to note is he is carrying a small bird, probably a pipit, so it’s a super bold move by Willie
Just when you settle down for a rest, the noisy neighbours start up.

Eventually both of the pair moved in to keep the Falcon unsettled.
And just when she might have thought things were settling down, the local Black Kites joined in the foray
Defence pose on the Kites. They are likely to rob him of any food he is delivering if they can get a decent run, which maybe why they are secretive in the exchange

Moments: Learning (Brown) Patience

At “The Office”, there are a resident pair of Brown Falcon.

(Called the Office, because we spend a bit of time there as in—Just another day at the office—)

One of Brown’s qualities certainly must be their patience. Happy to sit quietly, seemingly disinterested, they take the scene in, work out where the food is, and then strategies to get to the spot, and return with the least amount of energy dissipation.

Not unusual to see Brown, sitting with its distinct upright stance on a post, branch or roadside sign for what seems hours. Passing traffic has little effect on the bird’s demure stance.

We’ve worked with this pair for a few years, and when they are around, its interesting to see them favour one or another perching locations.
I’ve featured this bird several times on the blog over the years, and have called him “Bernie”. Late evening sunshine ‘burnishes,’ his rich mottled chest, and so the name seemed appropriate.  Not that he seems to care it must be said.

He was hunting for small crickets and the like on the edge of the river cliffs.  A large melaleuca bush is one of the favoured perches.  Gives a great view along the cliffs and he can prop into the branches and so be protected from attacks from the rear.  Magpies, mudlarks, other raptors might swing by and attempt to dislodge him, but clever bird that he is, he simply sets back further among the branches and any attack is thwarted by the branches.

We had been working with him for about an hour or so and the light had been good, and as we headed for home, I peeked over the rim and there he was in the bush. But the light had diminished, still it was worth waiting for him to throw as it would have to be toward or at least to the side.

I don’t often shoot multi-burst, but figured that by the time he left the bush and got settled he’d have to stay pretty much in the same focus plane and most of the shots would be sharp (ish). Pity about the light and slow shutter speed.

So EE and I waited.  Things happen slowly in Brown Falcon time. But you’ve got to keep your eye on the bird, as they don’t give a lot of warning that they are going to move.
So we waited.

Brown waited.

It’s one of the reasons why with a long lens we invest in a good tripod, and a Wimberley gimbal head. Takes all the weight off the arms. But, who wants to carry all that heavy gear out just on the off chance it might be needed. So, I was shooting handheld with the 500mm PF. Light enough, but after 10 minutes my aching muscles needed a rest.  And then there is always the risk that is the moment the bird will throw.

Waiting.

Another round or two of holding until the muscles cramp, and then releasing.
Waiting.

I was just regrabbing focus and had the shutter half-pressed, when with barely a feather ruffle Bernie took to the air, straight toward me, and I ripped off a sequence.
“Oh No,” I heard on my right.  And it was just at that moment EE had taken a muscle relief stretch.  Sympathy doesn’t cut it.  Gloating is not part of the process.

Here are all the frames from the sequence.  I thought it was interesting  how the wings are deployed to get him out of the bush, and turned for the run along the grass.

{EDIT} It wasn’t until I re-looked at the shots here on the blog that it shows that on the upwing strokes the rocks his legs forward pendulum like, on the more powerful down stroke, the legs go  back to close to the body.  Just like a kid on a swing. Brown, you always amaze me.

Enjoy

Bernie arriving at the bush. I shot this one earlier in the day, and you can just see the edge of the river cliff in the bottom of the frame.
Snug, safe and on the alert

Typical Brown Falcon flight. Ground hugging radar in action
This is a close flyby from earlier in the afternoon when the light was good. Go Bernie

Snapshots: Think Local

I know, the think global, act local is all the rage in some politically correct circles.

We have been thinking locally the past week or so. Partly because of the weather— finally getting the rain we desperately need. And also strong winds, which we could do without. 85kph gusts the other day. Seriously, if you can’t stand up in it why go out.

EE and I have had need to visit the local medical area at Werribee Hospital precinct. As it turns out, my Flickr mate David Nice, has several good areas mapped out in the area.  With Kestrels, Brown Falcon, and Little Eagles, and ‘alleged’ Black-shouldered Kites.;-)

So after the serious stuff, and the coffee in the cafe area, to recover, we’ve been sitting in the car along a couple of the roads by the local paddocks to see what is happening. Now tis true we don’t have the bird Karma of David N. but I do have EE, and that is about the best advantage I can offer.

Oh, she cries, Black-shouldered Kites,  I scan. Nothing. I scan more. Still nothing, I point the Bushnells across the sky. Nothing.
Ok, saith I, Where?
Over there, beyond those trees. What she actually means is in the next suburb! Bushnells finally lock on. Yep, those two insignificant dots, could be Black-shouldered Kites. I retire defeated.

“On the left”, the cry goes up.  Turning in my best Tai Chi move, I make a brush knee move to the left, and sure enough, as I swing up the camera, there is David’s friend, ” Georgia” the Kestrel, lining up for a hunt.  So we spent the next few minutes in the area, and saw her making a number of catches, crickets or the like, I suspect.
She then lucked out with a mouse, then another, which she stashed near a rock, and as we were geting ready to move, she flashed by with a third one, to land on the buildings in the medical precinct.  Not sure where she went with it after that.

We then moved further south, and found a male Kestrel hunting in the paddocks near the Uni.  At one point he was about three metres above the median strip on the roadway, with cars ripping past on both sides.  My heart was in my mouth. No luck, so he too moved on.

Found Arthur the Brown Falcon at work in the fields again. Every time he got airborne, the local Magpie squadron took him out, so he was contented to hunt mostly among the tall grasses and roadside.

And just as the light was going to be captured by thick dark clouds, a Little Eagle drifted overhead, and it too moved further over the freeway.
So.

Think local does have benefits.

Locked on
Lift off.
What are you doing in MY paddock. Inquisitive Willie Wagtail just has to know.
Male, levelling into position
Little Eagle
Little Eagle on a close pass
Nankeen Kestrel, (M), hunting on a roadside verge. He is only a few metres from traffic both ways.
Arthur the Brown Flacon. He had been sitting on the fenceline for about 10minutes. Then just dropped the couple of metres.
Hard to know what he caught, but after a few minutes contemplation, he moved on.
Georgia with a mouse. She will prepare it, then take it across the paddock and tuck it away under some stubble for later on.
Her lunch is tucked away for later.

Georgia with a second mouse. She will fly to the buildings on the far side of the road.
Georgia with the second mouse. I’m unsure what she was going to do with this one, but she disappeared behind the buldings. And we headed for home.

Moments: Brown Falcon—My Kitchen Rules, Tiger Snake, a la carte

YaJustHaddabeThere.

If you feel history is repeating itself, well done. It is.

Brown Falcon are very active at the Treatment Plant at the moment, as it seems are snakes in the close of the warm weather.
This bird didn’t fool me.  I knew it had intentions.  That it only moved one or two fence posts at a time was the first clue. When a vehicle drove down the road past EE and I, and then past Brown, and it didn’t even flinch, I knew.

YaJustHaddabeThere.

Settle in for a long wait. My first frame of the encounter was shot a 1:53pm.  The last one 2:42pm. And the bird was still in residence at that stage.
Here’s a summary and then we’ll let the images tell the story.
We noted the Falcon on the fence as we drove down. It was not in a hurry to move, and it was apparent that in spite of its seeming casualness,  it was hard at work. I’ve written before that I believe Browns map everything only move when its to their advantage.

It flew along the road, and then walked into the grass. At first I missed the movement. But Brown had calculated the snake would move out into the open. Ha!  Not this one. Brown reacted but the blanket weed is much too thick. Advantage Snake.

Brown considered a new plan from a small hillock nearby. And that is where there time went. Twenty minutes of more.  Then for no apparent reason the bird moved to a higher roadside sign. And I knew an attack was in play.

YaJustHaddabeThere.
It went down behind the small hillock, and we lost sight, but we lost no time in getting up the road to see if we could get a look.
Yes. There it was mantled, wings spread out. Motionless. At the right time, the head moved and it was all over.
The next few minutes were dealing with the death throes of the snake, and it eventually got a tail twisted over the Falcon’s wings.
After gorging itself it tried to move the snake out into the open, but for some reason, the snake had twisted itself into the grass.  Pretty much exhausted from all the effort, the bird took a break, then flew on to the roadside fence.  And sat.

After a few minutes it began to preen, and we decided to move on.
I collected the vehicle from down the road, and we drove by the fence, and normally a bird would take to the air.  Not this bird, it was either satisfied we meant no harm, exhausted, or just was not going to give up its ground for its meal.
YaJustHaddabeThere.

Which ever, EE got an eye to eye encounter as we went past about arms-length from the bird.

None of these are cropped as they show both the action, the closeness, and the area of the action. For those that are guessing, I think the

markings are a Tiger Snake.

YaJustHaddabeThere.

Enjoy.

Flying from post to post. A typical Brown Falcon Activity
Now its serious. The time and location are right.
Let’s see
Hey, look, its over here. At first I couldn’t see the snake through the grass, but its just in front of the bird.
Tricky little customer. It should have moved out into the open.
Not fair. Come back
Too hard to attack in the thick undergrowth.
I know its there. We’ll just wait.
Taking a height advantage the bird sat for nearly twenty minutes.
Then, relocated
And a few seconds later dropped.
We moved up the road to get a better view, hoping the bird would not be nervous and take off. I should not have been worried. Here it is mantled, wings out over the snake.
The snake has been despatched and its time to begin lunch
The size of the snake would have been around 1.5 metre and my guess from the markings its a Tiger Snake. The tail is starting to twirl over the bird.
In the death throes, the tail curled around the back of the Falcon.
Down to business. The bird tries to move the snake to a more open area, but its somehow caught among the grasses.
Here its trying to pull it out with its leg force.
That failed, so now its the pull forward with the beak and head, but it can’t get enough purchase to solve the problem.
After nearly an hour the bird is I think exhausted and took time out for a rest and to reevaluate its next move.
Across the road for a rest
Yep, I can still see it from here thanks.
We drove past the bird and this is looking back, a nice rotund tummy.

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.:-) )

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”

Another Little Visit: Learning Brown Falcon

We decided on a quick trip to “The Office:”, needless to say the weather was looking less than kind, but our rationale was, it would be an easy to get home if the rain descended.  And as soon as we turned off the bitumen on to the track leading in, we could see that rain, has indeed left its mark.  Much of the roadway is either pot-holes, or great sheets of standing water.

Continue reading “Another Little Visit: Learning Brown Falcon”

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”

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