Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF: Report from the Field

Tis a well know fact that this blog does not do equipment reports. It’s not as though there aren’t enough opinionated sites to trash the best of hardware. However I’ve had a few enquiries regarding this lens, and rather than rehash what Uncle Google can find in a minute, I thought I’d rather share a few paras and pictures on my use with the lens so far.

If you own Canon gear, don’t proceed any further, you have the wonderful DO 400mm f/4.  Be happy!

I hummed and hahed when the lens was first released.  The big bikkies involved was probably the first stumbling block. And I was working with the Simga Sport 15-600mm f/6.3 and it was working well for me.(more to follow below)

But the low weight and small size were an attraction, and in the end, I placed an order with Ross at Camera Exchange in Box Hill, in October 2018. I also planned to trade the Sigma at that time.
Eventually, got a note from Ross. “It’s here!”. March 29 2019. The wait-time worldwide has been astounding. So I motored over to collect the lens. Thanks Ross.

What follows is where it fits with my current work.

Time for the Pixelpeepers to click away now, as there are no charts, no ranking scores, no graphs and definitely no lens test charts to pour over. No dudes riding bicycles, or shots of the building over the road, or some obscure mountain in the distance.
Just how does it work for me.
Also please remember that these are all JPEG images made out of Lightroom to 1600pixels at 90% Qaulity. A few are crops, some almost full frame. Shot on both D810 and D500.  I’ll note the data with each shot.

All the ratings are against My Expectations of the lens, coupled with use of previous lenses in the field. 100 % is just that. I’m completely happy with that aspect.

  1. Price: No % Score, but I’d have no hesitation in buying it.
    Gotta get that out of the way.
    It’s a pro piece of kit, Nikon are asking big bucks. If that doesn’t fit with your bankbalance, then click away now. For those who want to save some money, the Nikon 200-500, Sigma Sport 150-600, and the Sigma Contemporary are all good value for money, and sharp. Canon users have the DO 400mm or a pretty nice 100-400 f/5.6 Zoom and a neat 400mm f/5.6 without image stabilisation. Any one of those lenses would be a reason for me to change to the Canon System.
    My reasoning was to amortize the investment over the next 10 years or so, and a couple of bucks a week is a reasonable.
  2. Size: 100% Meets my expectations.
    It is about the same size as a 70-200 f/2.8. Which makes it imminently handhold-able.
  3. Weight: 100% Meets my expectations.
    Having been using the 300mm f/4 PF from its introduction, I had a definite idea about how the weight would be. I’m confident I could carry it all day in normal use without needing a porter.
  4. Handleability: 100% Meets my expectations.
    I’ve thrown around some big lenses in my time, but this one just feels right. The balance on the camera and handholding is very comfortable. Mr An Onymous will tell you I once fell in love with a 10-30mm zoom for the Nikon 1 system, just from picking it up off the benchtop. I ordered one the next day. If it feels right, the chi is working, and it is pointless to fight nature.
  5. Focus AF: Exceeds my expectations. This is such a fast lens to focus, especially on the D500. Sometimes I think it finds the subject before I get it sorted out in the frame. Big plus. And it locks and follows. If I compare it to the 300mm f/2.8 or the 70-200mm f/2.8, which are my go to ‘speedsters’ for action, then it’s right up there as good as, if not better.  I can’t compare it to the 400mm f/2.8 as I’ve never owned one, but that is the gold standard in fast focus.  I reckon this lens would give it a pretty good run.
    The other feature is like all pro lenses, its sharp all the way from the closest point to infinity. Unlike most consumer zooms that lose interest in focusing after about 30m. I’m looking at you 18-200mm and 80-400mm.
  6. Sharpness: 100% of my expectations.
    Just have a look at the photos below.  I don’t do comparisons, but looks equal to the 300mm f/2.8, and has more contrast than the 300mm PF.(My copy.  EE’s copy is a little better than mine I think).
  7. Unsharp fuzzy bits.
    My photos don’t have bokeh, (never pronounced so a Japanese would know what these people are talking about), mine have fuzzy out of focus bits.
    So against a smooth backdrop 100% of expectation. Milky smooth as it should be.
    Against busy high contrast backgrounds, 75% of expectation. But then my expectation wasn’t that high. Digital sensors are the real problem here. Most lenses struggle with those clunky blobby bits of branch and bush and the like.
  8. That Removable Foot. 100% meets my expectation.
    I’ve seen some remarkable nonsense written about the foot. It’s like “OH wow, something to complain about”.  If the only reason not to buy this lens is the foot, then my advice would be trade in the camera gear and buy a set of golf-clubs. It is the same foot used on the 70-200 f/2.8 zoom.  I’ve owned three of them over the years, and not once has it worked itself loose, and those lenses travelled lots photographing car events.  If the user is so clumsy as to loosen it off then forget to tighten it, I don’t see that as a feature fault, I see that as incompetence!
    For my hand the end of the foot rests nicely on the edge of palm of my hand, and my fingers sit well just before the lenshood, near the programmable buttons (coming up soon). A good fit for me. I’ve used it without, and my preference is with the foot.  I’ve also no intention of buying third party Arca mount foots.  I simply don’t intend to ever put it on a tripod again. (Coming up soon).
  9. Programmable Buttons. 95% meet expectations. I use these a lot. Just wish they were a little bigger so my finger doesn’t need to hunt for them.  They can be set for a specific distance and the lens will return to that spot. About 30% of my use. Or programmed out of the D810 and D500 menus to do a range of activities. Mine is usually an AF function about 70% of the time.
  10. Tripod use. Balances well with the D500 on a Wimberley.  If you can’t get it to balance on a Wimberley, then read the instructions. On the Markins Q20 that I use a lot, it’s a treat. But now, the problem is you have to take a lightweight lens, and sally forth into the field with a whacking great tripod. Don’t see the point.  End of discussion
  11. VR 100% of my expectations.  Image stabilisation is so much better implemented than on the 300mm f/4 PF. I found myself handholding at much slower speeds than I anticipated. See below. {edit} For Inflight, I usually turn VR off. I have a paranoia that the VR interferes with focus acquisition, and while it might only be a microsecond as the VR settles down, it just might be enough to move the focus from the eye, to a wingtip. Besides for inflight, (regardless of the lens I’m using), I want the fastest shutter speed I can get. Give me 1/8000 please.  No need for VR there.
  12. Lens Hood. Guess what!  100% meets expectations. It fits, it locks, it’s lightweight. And in my world. It goes on the lens, and is never removed. (except to clean the lens). I use a bag that fits the lens with the hood attached. (and its taped in position so doesn’t go wandering off on its own in the field.) That is the way all my lenses are fitted.
  13. What about Teleconverters. Met my expectations 100%, and perhaps exceeded them.
    The results with the TC 1.7, were what I expected. And I won’t be using it again with this lens any time soon, or later.
    Haven’t had a need to try the TC 2.0, but I know it will be slow to focus and that won’t work for me too well.
    With the TC 1.4 I found it needed some focus Fine Tune Adjustment.  Using the D500 in camera, it gave a result of -6.   When I tried it I found the focus position was just not right.  So I played around, and hit on +6. Can’t fault that.
    I often get asked about Teleconverters as if they will help get a pin sharp shot of a duck on the far side of the lake.
    Nope.
    Here are 3 helpful points for that sort of shot. 1/ Learn to Swim, 2/ Buy a kayak, 3 Develop better bush craft.
    TCs are best for giving a little bit of extra magnification closer up, say in the 15-30m range. After that for the birds I work with, both heat haze and tiny size make it impractical.
    Acquisition can be a bit ‘iffy’ in lower light.  And the tendency to hunt is always likely.  But it’s a solid performer once the focus is there. Side by side I doubt I could pick sharp, with and without the TC 1.4

Beginning to sound like a ‘fan boy’, so let’s see if some of this makes sense from my field experience.

This is the first image I made with the lens.
1/320 f5.6 ISO 400
Tai Chi Pigeon
Spotted Dove
Early morning overcast.
1/640 @ f/5/6 ISO 400
Superb Fairywren
Morning Sunshine, near full frame.
1/800 @ f/5.6 ISO 400
Black Swan
1/500 @ f/5.6 Just a hint of sunshine coming through the trees.
Eastern Osprey
1/200 @ f/6.3 ISO 400
Eastern Yellow Robin
Late Evening Sunshine
1/2000 @ f/5.6 ISO 800
White-bellied Sea-eagle
1/200 @ f/5.6 ISO 400
Tawny Frogmouth
1/400 @ f5.6 ISO 800
Hazy indirect light through overhanging trees
Eastern Spinebill

What about the soft out of focus bits

Late evening. 1/640 @f/5.6.
Creamy out of focus bits.
Juvenile Whiskered Tern
1/1600 @ f/5.6 ISO 400
Very late afternoon rich light.
Brown Falcon.
Messy out of focus bits because of messy background
Brown Falcon, messy out of focus bits. This is mostly the result of sesor issues rather than the lens design.

How good is VR. I don’t shoot many in low light but here’s one from the back fence.

Checking VR or Image Stabilisation
1/50 @f/5.6 ISO 400. Handheld.
The sun had set, but there was still light in the sky.

Then off course the always asked question.

Oh, but what about Teleconverters. I’ve got to see it with Teleconverters.  See my point 13 above.

TC 1.4 700mm
1/3200 @f/9.0
Handheld. Bird worked its way toward me on the water line.
Red-kneed Dotterel
TC 1.4 700mm 1/500 @f/5.6 ISO 400
Soft out of focus bits and plenty of detail on WIllies beak whiskers.
TC 1.4 700mm 1/1250 @f/9.0
Handheld, overcast day. Lightened up 1/2 Stop in Lr.
TC 1.4 700mm 1/2500 @f/9.0
Full sun. It is no macro lens, but the detail is certainly there.

Accessories.
I was going to really annoy myself and write ‘accessorising’, but restrained. 🙂
I added a B+W UV filter. Not a great believer in UVs as the Sensor already has a UV component, but let’s face it, this an expensive piece of glass.  My first B+W UV was with the Sigma Sport, at first I was hesitant, now, I’m a convert. The B+W shows no visible image degredation, I wish I’d come across them years ago.
Added some Lenscoat to protect the lens, I really like the Kevin Kealty ones from the Wildlife Watching Supplies in the UK, they are a bit thicker and don’t seem to shrink like the US based mob.
Also work with a LensWrap, that I had for the 70-200mm, fits like a glove and gives added security for travelling. Simply velcros off when I’m ready to go in the field.

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

Alternatives.
The Sigma 150-600 Sport worked well for me. In the end just to heavy for carry around field work. {edit} And, while it was very sharp, the focus was often a little to slow for me for inflight. Once acquired it stayed locked. Even using the Dock to set a faster focus acquire rate, it still left me wishing for a bit more speed.
The Nikon 200-500 Zoom. Is a sharp, well-balanced lens. I would have purchased it if the Sigma had not been on the showroom floor. I do find it a bit bulky to carry as the barrel is nearly twice the diameter of the 500m PF.
The 300mm f/4 PF and a TC 1.4 420mm @/f5.6  EE’s go to lens. Solid performer, I find mine with the TC has a little chromatic aberration in highlights, easy to fix in Lr, but detracts sharpness a little.  It is a lovely walk about for hours lens. Sharpness side by side with the 500mm PF would be hard to pick, and as I’ve used it for over three years, it’s a lens I have a high regard for.

Downsides.
Yes, there are a couple.
I tend to take a lot more pictures as it gives me a chance for good framing for inflight birds.
The lens makes my 300mm f/2.8 look a bit redundant. Not sure what I will do with that.
The 300mm f/4 PF is also going to take a back seat.  It sits in the lens cupboard and like a dog waiting to go “Walkies”, sort of quivers at me when I open the door.  Perhaps a D7200 or D7500 and use it for wider shots from the vehicle. Certainly can’t take both to the field.

And here are two more from a shot this morning.  The White-winged Terns are still around, and I spent the best part of 2 1/2 hours with them, one long session of about 90 minutes.

1/8000@/f5/6 ISO 800
Grab Shot. Got out of vehicle, lens grabbed focus, I framed next. Swamp Harriers do not give second chances.
1/2500 @f/5.6 ISO 400
I was working with these terns for about an hour and half, took several hundred frames. Lens didn’t feel tiring to hold. Had I not run out of time, and the birds out of patience, I could have easily done another hour or so, the lens is unbelievably easy to handhold.

 

So there you go. Thanks for taking the time to read to the end.
It is a keeper for me, and I’ll probably extend myself to get the best from it in the coming weeks.

Keep takin’ pictures we do.

(I’m hoping EE does not read this as I’d hate to have to wait another 5 months for the next lens.:-) )

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Sunday Sunshine at Eynesbury

The monthly Bird Walk at Eynesbury rolled around and the calendar clicked over the last Sunday in the month, so we looked out the window, and sure enough Sunshine!
So Sunshine, we headed out to Eynesbury to catch up with the group of locals in their exploration around the Grey Box forest.

Chris had initially planned on being away, and asked another local, Leigh, to take the day.  As it turned, Chris turned up anyway.  Nice to catchup.

The sunshine added to the recent rain made the open areas around the housing estates glow in most impressive green with lots of new growth coming on.
So we set out for a looksee along the river gorge to the east.  In times past before the housing establishment, a small creek drained water outward the gorge and as it tumbled over the rocky edge a wonderful waterfall would suddenly appear.   And. Today was such a day.  The little creek has now been somewhat controlled to a drain-way through the estate, but in the last few hundred metres runs over the rocky ground, forming little pools as it goes.   Then. Taking is self to the edge, it plunges down the 30 or so metres to empty into the creek, that runs toward the Werribee River. And spectacular it would be too in full flood and great light,  but I was just a bit late  as early morning shadow hid the sparkle of the water.

For a birding day, it was a bit quiet, even for me and my missing bird karma as Mr An Onymous puts it.

We did manage a fine Eastern Yellow Robin, an Eastern Spinebill and a couple of Crested Shriketits as we strolled along one of the forest tracks.  And so another birding morning came to a close, lots to talk about, plenty of things to share about the few birds we did see, and to get a perspective of the area from Leigh’s point of view.   He has been in the area almost since its inception and gave a fine running commentary of points of interest along the way.

EE and I took a cuppa by the lake, and then headed down to see the Tawny Frogmouths in the local park-area.  See the May report for details.   Sure enough, dependable as clockwork there they were. One has added an additional extra piece of camo to the perch as a branch has broken off higher up and now obscures the perching branch very well.

Off to look for Flame Robins, but no luck there either, and it was time for home,  just as we went past the old shearing shed area a small shape darted into the tree.  A Speckled Warbler. And to make its point is warbled away quite merrily.  Just about managed to get off a couple of shots before it was gone.  Looking at it the shots, it’s no wonder they are so hard to spot given the wonderful markings on the feathers that blend into the scrub so well.

Thanks to Leigh and Chris for the day, and also to everyone who turned up and enjoyed both the sunshine and the birds.  Looking forward to the July Sunday.

Australasian Grebe
Australasian Grebe
Dusky Moorhen enjoying the sunshine too.
Dusky Moorhen enjoying the sunshine too.
Maned Duck, showing his lovely rich body feathers and his daper litle mane.
Maned Duck, showing his lovely rich body feathers and his daper litle mane.
Eastern Yellow Robin, on the move
Eastern Yellow Robin, on the move
Veiw down along the creek. So wonderful to see the water flowing.
Veiw down along the creek. So wonderful to see the water flowing.
The wonderful "Eynesbury Falls", such a treat.
The wonderful “Eynesbury Falls”, such a treat.
Spot the Tawny Frogmouth
Spot the Tawny Frogmouth
Oh, there you are
Oh, there you are
Speckled Warbler. A great find for today
Speckled Warbler. A great find for today

 

Another Little Journey: Meeting an Eastern Yellow Robin

We have,  EE and I been following a pair of nesting Eastern Yellow Robins at the You Yangs since she began about late October to settle in to nesting.
Because EE has been working with them pretty closely, I’ve really tried not to get in the way, as the raising of an Eastern Yellow Robin is fraught with complications and doesn’t need people trampling all over the nursery.

For the uninitiated, Mum sits on the nest, Dad feeds, and after about 3 weeks the egg(s) hatch.   Then a feeding frenzy gets the little one(s) to a point of being able to move but not quite fly.  They then flutter down from the nest. Once into the leaf litter or small shrubs, they stay pretty much stationery unless really disturbed, and then the best they can do is to hop or jump away. Flight of any real significance doesn’t happen for 3-4 weeks.

They have two survival strategies.

One: remain absolutely still. No matter what.  And I’ve seen them for up to 15 minutes or more, sitting in the leaf litter and not a move is made. It can be barely possible to see them breathing.

Two: A brilliantly designed brown and creamy chevron dress makes them almost impossible to see amongst the litter.  Just ask someone who has located one, and then tries to explain to someone else.  “There, by the small  stick, under that overhanging branch, with the dark green leaves. Oh, better yet, look from just here, bend down, see, just there behind that pale grey leaf.”  Oh.  Forget it. About the only way is when an adult flies in with a food parcel.  Then,  “Oh, over there, you didn’t tell me that!”  See first paragraph about not getting in the way for more details.

Mum and Dad, (This is one of the few pairs we’ve never struck names for, as we really can’t distinguish one from the other), have been working so well with EE, and occasionally I’ve been allowed a glimpse of the young one – they only seem to have succeeded in bringing one up.

But now that the young one is nearly moulted out of the brown and chevron, and is a fully developed flyer, and is able to fend for itself, things have changed a bit.  And today, I got a few minutes where it came to visit me and see what I might be doing.

During that time, it also put itself into a secluded area behind some leaves and I think it practised its singing calls.  It has the Robin contact call and what appears to be the warning call down pretty well, but the sharp distinct “PhTew’ call of the adults is still a ways off. So it sat among the leaves and seemed to run through the process of calling.  A bit garbled, so more praccy needed I suspect.

Here are a few from the morning’s portraits.
Enjoy.

Most all of the brown is gone and the distinctive grey yellow is showing through.
Most all of the brown is gone and the distinctive grey yellow is showing through.
Typical Tree side pose
Typical Tree side pose

DWJ_6172

Looking good in the sunshine
Looking good in the sunshine
One of the adults checking up on the young one
One of the adults checking up on the young one
Time for some vocal exercises
Time for some vocal exercises
It's not hard to see how well they fit in with the surrounds
It’s not hard to see how well they fit in with the surrounds

 

 

 

Blogging 101 Week 2 Day 1

New week, new assignment.  The “ABOUT ME” page.

Frankly, I’m pretty much over who “Me” is.  I have really wanted to be transparent on the blog and let the photos and words be the heroes and carry the story.  The pictures and words on each story are much more important to me, than ‘selling’ myself.
In the end, if nothing else, the images I make and the stories I write honour the subjects, that will in be sufficient for me.

Thinking about the About page made me realise, at least to my own satisfaction, that in the end, I’d just publish here because I’d like to share some of those small moments we experience with the birds.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Building Connections, the San Bushman culture.

Jon Young has quite a bit to say about the relationship  of the San Bushmen and their land.  A keen awareness that is virtually impossible for them not to acquire or at least appreciate an understanding of the bird’s perspective. – See there it is the “about me”.

Recently found a wonderful book about the author, Elyne Mitchell, who wrote a series of children’s books titled The Silver Brumby,  great kids read, and pretty nice for adults to chill out on too.  She had a delicious way of describing the horses, their land and their activities.

I bought EE a copy of the book, because in some ways it reflects, how I’ve been able to watch her photography, and her interaction making connections over the past few years blossom  and mature.   See her Flickr site  Friendsintheair to see what I mean.

I wonder how many of us had read at least one of The Silver Brumby series.

We’ve walked the high country EE, I and our small children, summer after summer, autumn and spring. You will of course note not much mention of Winter in that sentence.  Seen the horses run, (Yeah, I know, I know, spare me the lecture on muddied wildflower beds, damaged winter grasses – enjoy the horses) and it’s all part of  building connections.

EE has taken to building relationship with a pair of Eastern Yellow Robins at the You Yangs.  They are, as you’ll be aware, right in the middle of bringing up their young one. This relationship stuff is a one person thing. So I’ve been glad to sit back and let her work with the pair.  I take shots as the birds give me permission.
So here is a few portraits from recents sessions.   And that is what  Birds as Poetry, is about. Didn’t need an “About”  page after all eh?

Enjoy

_DWJ4036

_DWJ4091

_DWJ4022

 

Blogging 101 Day 4

Today, dear Reader, it’s all about…. You!

Well at least that is what the assignment says.   And as this is not for profit, not political, not competitive, and essentially about the birds, the process of audience profile, identification, and finding the niche in the market, leaves me just a bit blah, and pretty much over Blogging 101.

Still its always nice to be prompted to look at things from another perspective. Keeps us fresh.

I practice Tai Chi, (there a new factoid), and one of the reasons is an awareness of the constantly changing orientation of the body, its parts relative to each other and to the surroundings. And funnily enough when I get to the bush, the same kinds of awareness helps to appreciate the birds and their surrounds. (maybe I’m just getting old and mellow?)

Parenting in the You Yangs

We, EE and I, have been working for several months now, with a delightful pair of Eastern Yellow Robins as they accept the challenge of adding their little bit to the gene pool.

As EE has adopted this pair, I’ve been a bit reluctant to pursue them as well.  Figuring that parenting a young Eastern Yellow Robin is difficult enough.  For the un-initiated, she sits on the eggs for around two weeks, then they feed the young, (usually two, but this pair had one) for about two weeks.

Then it jumps from the nest, flutters to the ground and spend the next 3-4 weeks hiding in the leaflitter.  Barely able to fly as it has no real flight feathers at this stage, it must surely be among some of the most vulnerable of birds. But, the process works.

So, finding this well disguised and cleverly marked tiny bird is typical needle in haystack stuff.  See point above about awareness and you’ll begin to grasp what goes on at the location.  Not that we are chasing the bird. Far from it. Sometimes I really just want to know where it is, so we don’t inadvertently stand on it. Or more probably flush it to a new location. Bad for it, stressful for the parents, and against my work ethic. See border box.

We have pretty much been unable to distinguish the female from the male, so really not much point, as Jack Sparrow (should be a Cap’n in there somewhere) says, Naming fingers and pointing names.

Now as the young bird is much more mobile, it has become somewhat easier to sit, wait and opportunistically,  it will fly by and sit.  And it did.

I knew where it was pretty much from the moment we got off the track and into the scrub.  See point on Awareness above. How?  Well let’s just say Mum told me.

After bringing it down for us to admire, and then feeding it a great big grub, she decided that was sufficient activity for the moment and a big sleep would do wonders for the little bird.

After much body language, and a really interesting ‘fluffed up’ head, the little dude took off the the undergrowth for a sleep.  And this is where I reckon it gets really interesting.
Not just anywhere out of sight and hidden, but in the bush next to where I’d been sitting.

The distance measured by the camera through the bushes to the little dude is less than 4 metres.  It snuggled up on a branch with Dad (?) nearby and Mum (?) on guard on a tree directly above.

Point is, I’m still having the hair on the back of my neck stand up about it. The choice was hers  to sit in that close to me.  I didn’t move. Jon Young calls it a Rite of Passage, in a world in which “Connection” has to do with the strength of your mobile fone signals;  sitting still for the sacred and connected moments brings dramatic benefits. A full-contact nature sport!

Enjoy

DWJ_4545
The mantle feathers are beginning to take on the lovely olive green
DWJ_4565
The chest and side Chevron markings of babyhood are well gone and coming through the brown are the distinguishing yellow feathers.
DWJ_4585
Completely at home now, on the wing. Strong and direct flight.
DWJ_4598
Hey, food. I’m up here.
DWJ_4604
Time for a sleep my little one. Mum has a fluffed out head, and while not visible hear a flicking tail.
DWJ_4607
Awe, but I want to play with the photographer a bit more
DWJ_4618 (1)
Mum?’s fluffed up head and tail flicking were a signal to move on.
DWJ_4630
The selected sleeping spot, with (Dad?) to sit with.
DWJ_4636
Settled in, not more than 4m from me, and ready to drop off to sleep. Awesome moment

 

 

WordPress Blogging 101 Day 1:

I’ve joined a WordPress Challenge to revisit my blog and take some time to make some new discoveries to the things that I write and put up online.   So expect to see a few Blogging 101 post over the next few weeks.

Well it wouldn’t be a Birds as Poetry blog if we didn’t feature some birds, so here are few from a recent You Yangs morning.  Then we’ll get down to blogging assignment.

I’ve added a black border to the images that matches the look and feel of the blog.  I like that sort of co-ordinated feel.

White-throated Treecreeper
White-throated Treecreeper
Not hiding among the leaf litter but readily out in the open. And. Starting to show those wonderful yellow feathers under the brown.
Not hiding among the leaf litter but readily out in the open. And. Starting to show those wonderful yellow feathers under the brown.
Pied Currawong, fledgling.  This bird set on branches and demanded food.
Pied Currawong, fledgling. This bird set on branches and demanded food.
Keeping a look out for the young one.
Keeping a look out for the young one.
Sitting with the young bird.  It is probably saying, "Wow, what were all those people doing walking along the  track.!!"
Sitting with the young bird. It is probably saying, “Wow, what were all those people doing walking along the track.!!”

 

Which Brings us to Blogging 101

One of the challenges is to revisit the reason for the blog in the first place.  Bird as Poetry is not the first blog I had been working on.  I used to use a wonderful Mac program called iWeb.   And it was auto published to another piece of Apple Goodness called MobileMe.  But of course Apple moved on and the blog had to have a new home.
Enter Telstra.  Bigpond in particular.  And they housed my ramblings which at the time included lots of updates of Classic car photos we were making, (and selling!).  But,  Telstra too decided that charging big bucks for their service didn’t include a website and so Birds As Poetry was lonely again.

With all that background I was over a xmas break looking for nothing in particular in a newsagents and found a “How to make a WordPress Blog” mag, and with little else on over the holiday, snapped it up, proceeded to the computer and began.  Which is why the earliest in this blog is about 2012.  The rest just wafted off into the ether. Or where ever else stuff goes when you hit the DELETE button.

Finding a “voice” that suited my writing style and the blog I suppose was always a big part of the challenge.   Making it tongue in check and introducing some elements from everday life became a part of my process. Think Pie Shops, Coffee Places.  interesting characters and places we’ve visited: Think “A Bridge that needed a Jolly Good Walking to”

Around the same time I began collecting a collection of collectable photos of walks around Woodlands Historic Park.  Not far from home, and filled with really interesting birds, and as my knowledge of bird photography grew, so did my collection of robins and the like.

I was also teaching a class on visual elements in photography and the concept of visual poetry.  A hop step and a really big jump through Haiku poetry lead to Birds as Poetry as a title  So it stuck.

I suppose I could have taken  a step to extend ‘how to’ articles but let’s face it, google will find you plenty. A scant few of them might in fact be useful, and correct, the rest?  Well, mostly just un initiated rambles by people who haven’t done the hard yards behind a camera.

Who dear reader are you?  Mostly I think folk that have either found the blog, or have been directed here by either word of mouth or from my Flickr site.  Flickr!  Gotta talk about that sometime too.

I really wish there was a much better co-ordination between Flickr and WordPress. But not so.

How to measure the success of the site. Well here’s the scoop. Its not a competition.  In another part of my life I Tai Chi.  A very personal activity that has little that can be measured or passed on to others.  So blogging, So  birding.
A thought that reverberates with me is “Birding is not a Spectator Sport!”.

I once started a blog that was going to try and see birding as a spectator sport with commentators and scores and all sorts of things. But. I may yet.

I do enjoy the comments that occasionally come my way, and thanks to all those who’ve taken the time to drop me  a note about some of the photos.  Makes the keyboard experience a little more involving.

So there we are.  Well done for persevering to the end of page 1.

 

 

 

EE’s Water Feature

One of the down sides of moving across town has been our loss of ready access to the Woodlands Historic Park.  In particular a stand of Sugar Gums that held all sorts of interesting birdlife.

It’s also probable that you recall that EE (Eagle-Eyed for the uninitiated), had established a Water Feature in the gums and would on a regular (daily) basis keep the small plastic container filled with fresh water over the hot summer months.  Not to attract the birds for photography, but simply to give them some relief.  “If only one bird ever drinks from it, it will be worth the effort,” quoth she.

As it turned, as you may recall, a pair of Eastern Yellow Robins became quite attached to EE and her water feature, and would follow her into the forest and then with much calling  would head for the water feature when she came along.   It was, at the very least a noble gesture on the part of the birds, and to tell the truth was quite spine tingling to hear two little birds get all excited and eagerly await her arrival.   (Now its not time to lecture on ‘dependant’ birds, as they were the ones who chose to live in the dry area in the first place. )  Besides, its pretty humbling to have two Eastern Yellow Robins sitting about a metre away watching the water being poured into a tiny dish.

We have been working a part of the Grey Box forest in the You Yangs almost for two years.   Early on in our visits, EE established another ice-cream container water feature besides a log.  But, we don’t have ready access, and it is only visited occasionally, and once in three weeks would be more the norm.  So it hasn’t been possible to build up any permanent relationship with the inhabitants.  And as EE readily acknowledges, “Its most likely the little Black Swamp Wallabies that take the water, as the container is often misplaced.”

Still  with more patience and determination, every visit sees a bottle of water left for the locals.  And we had really never seen the locals make the pilgrimage to the area.  Perhaps a passing Flycatcher would be the most likely suspect.

We went in today to look to see how the pair of Eastern Yellow Robins are going with their young fledgling.  And of course to topup the water.

Done.

What happened next is the source of great delight and much mirth.

At first we continued in the hunt for the Robins, and I found a pair of Weebills that were working through the tree tops.   Then. First one, then another, then another bird dropped by the log and checked out the water.

Within a few minutes a bold Grey Fantail had dropped into the water and began the splashing.  Which acted like a ‘Jungle Drum’.  The sound of water on whirring wings must have some sort of magnetic attraction.  The sound went, as they say on You-tube, “VIRAL”, and birds came from all around.  Including the two Eastern Yellow Robins, more thornbills than I could count and ‘my’ pair of Weebills.   Each waited in turn, (not much room in an ice-cream container). and after a few minutes there were wet feathers everywhere drying in the sunshine.

Then just as quickly “Jungle Drums” played another tune and they were gone!  Leaving two photographers with the widest grins, and filled memory cards.

I can see another trip down there very soon.

Enjoy.

Eastern Yellow Robin waiting, you can just see the other one at the bottom of the frame in the water.
Eastern Yellow Robin waiting, you can just see the other one at the bottom of the frame in the water.
Patiently waiting its turn, the Weebill had to watch the spray flying from the activity below
Patiently waiting its turn, the Weebill had to watch the spray flying from the activity below
Eastern Yellow Robin, soaked, not stirred
Eastern Yellow Robin, soaked, not stirred
Bold enough now to make the plunge
Bold enough now to make the plunge
Weebill drying off with Grey Fantail being typically hyper-active
Weebill drying off with Grey Fantail being typically hyper-active
Brown Thornbill.
Brown Thornbill.

 

You’ll find some more pics by the Water Feature Manager over on EE’s Flickr site.
See here.

Friends in the Air on Flickr

Tip toeing round nesting sites

Just down the road from our favourite Scarlet Robins, a pair of Eastern Yellow Robins have also decided that an early start to Spring means early nest building.

This one, I practically walked into, despite being told at the time, “It’s just there on your left, you are TOO close.”

Oh.

Gathering materials
Gathering materials
She always takes a different approach to the site
She always takes a different approach to the site
Nestling nicely among the bark and sheltered by some wattle
Nestling nicely among the bark and sheltered by some wattle
Each piece is carefully set in place.
Each piece is carefully set in place.
Its all held together with cobweb which is wiped from beak, head and wings.
It’s all held together with cobweb which is wiped from beak, head and wings.
Choice little bits needed to fill in spaces
Choice little bits needed to fill in spaces
Even a bit of decoration
Even a bit of decoration
And the site supervisor arrives on time with morning tea.
And the site supervisor arrives on time with morning tea.
Pondering where to put the widescreen tv?
Pondering where to put the widescreen tv?

Meeting Ginger

With the evening sun rapidly taking away the glorious light from the forest, I wandered over to see what was happening with Karen and Jimmy and their offspring.
With some help of general arm waving from EE, I soon located first one of the parents, and then where the little dude was holed up.

Trying ever so hard not to get to close, and yet at the same time get a reasonable view, I sat behind some small trees and waited.

And suddenly things took a turn.  Both Karen and Jimmy came down to the small bird and called in a most anxious and scolding call.  Highly vocal and active they were both trying to get the young one on the move.   I’d not seen them react like with me before, and wondered what I’d done that had bought on such nervous activity.

Casting around, I found the cause, as not only were the Robins in full cry, but so was every Wagtail, Woodswallow and Grey Shrike-thrush.
Like all good dramas, there was indeed a culprit.   A fox had wandered along the kangaroo tracks seeking no doubt an evening meal.  The birds were in full cry against it, the wagtails making a rush, and the Robins trying to get their young one to higher ground. No mean feat when it doesn’t have any flight capability, and no sense of direction and no understanding of navigation.

In the end they moved it in my direction!  So I had a few grams of brown and gold feathers jumping along sticks, bark and leaves in my general area.  Which, above  all things gave me some lovely views of the little bird in the rapidly diminishing sunlight.  And I pondered later that perhaps they saw me as a protection from said sly fox. (well its nice to dream dreams ah?)

I stood up in the end, which gave the fox a start, and then I moved toward it, and soon it was a brown blur in the distance, by the time I’d returned the young one was being encouraged to find its way up some low branches for the evening.

Now the fox would have made such short work of the little brown and gold feathers that it reminded me of the story of the Gingerbread man, and the fox tossing him in the air and “Snip Snap, went the old fox and he ate the Gingerbread Man all up”.

So I decided that “Ginger” was a good name for the little dude and that  it can indeed  grow up to fly away as fast as it can.

Plenty of feeding going on.
Plenty of feeding going on.
The late evening sunshine was just about all gone
The late evening sunshine was just about all gone
More food.
More food.
The culprit
The culprit
Moving closer
Moving closer
Portrait time.  Good luck Ginger.
Portrait time. Good luck Ginger.

Eastern Yellow Robin: Portrait Session

Today was going to be hot.  So we ventured out early, only wanted to look at one pair of Eastern Yellow Robins,  Dorothy has named them “Jack” and “Jill”, so now we have it.

The hot wind was racing through the trees even early in the morning, and the gums gave patches of cool or hot depending on the shade in the area, the hot sun being captured in the open areas along the track.

Jill is still hard at work on the nest, we don’t go there by mutual arrangement.  Jack on the other hand was obviously trying his best to fill her up, while it was relatively cool and steamed back and forth to the nest area.

After about an hour or so he must have been exhausted, I saw him take a really big grub, and he flew over my shoulder and landed on the tree behind, then gulped the grub down, preened a bit, and sat. Then I noticed his eye lid come down and I think he had a little nap.

The branch he was on was in the shade but the highwinds in the canopy opened up areas among the leaves for the light to come down. And I had a portrait session on my hands.  Light on the background, light on the top of the bird, the side, balanced evenly between foreground and background.
For once the D2x and the 500 mm lens agreed on something and held the focus the entire time.

Here are a few selections just to show the lighting effects.

Jack then moved to another branch in more shade, settled down on his haunches and took a well earned break from his modelling session. Such a great bird.

I also did a bit of scouting around further on, and to my delight found a another pair of birds.  I think these might have been the helpers in the earlier nest attempts.  They seem to have settled down on their own, and he was feeding her, so I suspect a nest is going in there too. Time will tell.

Let's work with the front lights on and the background subdued.
Let’s work with the front lights on and the background subdued.
How about we take out the bright front light and darken down the background
How about we take out the bright front light and darken down the background
Let's try moody front light and a little extra light on the background for effect.
Let’s try moody front light and a little extra light on the background for effect.
Ok, head up a little turn to your right, that's it.  Now its dramatic.
Ok, head up a little turn to your right, that’s it. Now its dramatic.
Hmm what about a shot for the corporate board room or the year book? Little light from the Right Hand side bring down the background lighting half a stop.  No wonder I used to love doing outdoor portraits.
Hmm what about a shot for the corporate board room or the year book? Little light from the Right Hand side bring down the background lighting half a stop.
No wonder I used to love doing outdoor portraits.

 

What about a cute one for the folks back home. Chin down a bit, tilt your head, ah. That's the one. We'll add a bit of top lighting to give it some drama.
What about a cute one for the folks back home. Chin down a bit, tilt your head, ah. That’s the one. We’ll add a bit of top lighting to give it some drama.

 

Being a super model  and a hard working dad is just plain exhausting.
Being a super model and a hard working dad is just plain exhausting.

Just wait for the family portrait with Jill and the Kids.

What a delight to see you: Fledging an Eastern Yellow Robin

It only takes a hint of good weather and we’re happy to go out to look for birds.
With the Bandicoot Big Brother House having been locked out for so long, we have been watching the comings and goings of some Eastern Yellow Robins.

We found the first pair today with a completed nest and the female hunkered down, with just her head and beak showing over the rim. This is one very deep nest methinks.

Apart from a trip to fill her vacant tummy, the male was not very active, and very quiet.  So it took awhile to track him down.  No sign of the helper(s) today.

Our good friend Richard A had also located a second pair, and we’d been to see them on another trip out. Today, Dorothy was feeling up to a longer walk so we made the journey along the track to where we’d seen them previously.  It is a small stand of Black Wattle regrowth, very spindly, very thick and very difficult to penetrate and almost impossible to see more than a few metres.  Ideal Eastern Yellow Robin country apparently.

On the way we passed by an area of extremely old, white, skeletons of former wonderful redgums.  The Sacred Kingfishers have been active in the area over the past few weeks, and today was no exception. The harsh, schrappp, schrapp, warning call allowed us to spot an active bird on one of the old boughs.  It kept up its high pitched scream and then disappeared to reappear high up on the tree next door.  My bet is of course, that there is nest going to be, or currently being, setup in the area.  Just too far down the track for us to constantly monitor.

Once we got to the Eastern Yellow Robin area, we sat, and looked and listened. A Grey Shrike Thrush and her recently fledged chick came by and she attended to its squawking needs.  But little else.

After a couple of cups of tea, and a bit more of a wait, it became obvious that not much was happening in that little area today. So, defeated we turned for home.  Heard another Kingfisher and stopped went into the scrub and instead of the kingfisher, found a Yellow Robin.

And then another. We started to find a spot for photography, when a lot of soft shrill chipping noises came out of the black wattle strand, and with a blur of brown feathers a very tiny chick landed on a branch, and then clung to it for dear life.  Dad responded by stuffing some green bug into its beak.  Some more chipping noises and a second one jumped along the leaf litter just below.  Dad responded with another little morsel.

So the score seems to be, One Pair, two fledglings.  Not a bad months works for the pair. They quickly moved the young ones out of our sight, and we saw them moving through the wattle, but to far away and too deep in for much opportunity for extra shots.

Even though the walk was much further than we’d normally do, we thought the day was pretty successful.

Young Eastern Yellow Robin. Probably only fledged in the last day or so. Check out the very tiny almost non-existent tail.
Young Eastern Yellow Robin. Probably only fledged in the last day or so. Check out the very tiny almost non-existent tail.
This poor little bird is out of the nest and just about able to hang on to the branch. It's got one claw securely attached to the bark at the top, and the others are just clench tight.  The lovely brown rufous nest feathers are still visible, so its probably only a day out of the nest.  Even without a tail, it does seem to be able to manoeuvre well enough.
This bewildered little Eastern Yellow Robin is out of the nest and just about able to hang on to the branch. It’s got one claw securely attached to the bark at the top, and the others are just clench tight. The lovely brown rufous nest feathers are still visible, so its probably only a day out of the nest. Even without a tail, it does seem to be able to manoeuvre well enough.

Not a bad morning’s work. Eastern Yellow Robins

Now that the Bandicoot Big Brother House has evicted us, we’ve taken to travelling about a bit more.

Today, we left early, to beat the heat, and set ourselves up in an area where we’d spotted Eastern Yellow Robins before, and waited.  And waited.  it soon became obvious that they weren’t putting on a show today.  We checked a nest site, and it was abandoned, and pulled out. Perhaps the work of ravens or currawongs, or …

We moved further down the tree line, and while we enjoying the obligatory cuppa, I heard the call of one in the open forest behind us.  After a few minutes I’d located both birds.  And quite happy they were to feed and to let us get quite close. The male at one stage flew directly toward my camera position, and just pulled up a the last second, going by my ear so close I could hear the wing whirr.  Spectacular.

He spent a lot of his time feeding her, and she would sit on a nearby branch, and wing flutter, and he would zoom in, and deposit his offering straight into her open beak.  The speed of the transfer was literally blink speed, and I didn’t get any great shots of it happening, either too early or miles too late.

After about 20 minutes of viewing, it became clear that one tree in small strand of trees was getting more attention, and I moved round to look and sure enough, she was busy at work on a new nest. She was quite oblivious to our presence and carried on without any fuss.  Far cry from her relatives the red-caps who will abandon the nest quite readily.

To round it all off, they both came and hunted on the logs in the area where we were sitting, so much so that the camera couldn’t get close focus without me moving back.   Who said photographing birds was tough?

Eastern Yellow Robin just about close enough to reach out and touch.

 

Eastern Yellow Robin and a big beetle that was taken back to the waiting female

 

Eastern Yellow Robin nest building. She sort of pokes the bits of bark into one another and it slowly builds up into a shape.

 

 

Along Three Chain Road to the pie shop

With the weather looking decidedly blah, our plans for a day at WTP were simply scuttled. We (Dorothy, I, and Mr A Nonymous) decided instead on a drive north to Kilmore and along Three Chain Road, which can only be described as a ‘honey-pot’ for birding.  Rain began immediately we set off, but I regailled everyone, with promises of a pie and sauce at Mt Macedon for lunch.

Three Chain Road easily lived up to its reputation, and we quickly had sights and shots of Eastern Yellow Robins, Eastern Yellow Robin juvenile, Flame Robins, male and female, Jacky Winter, a female Hooded Robin, White throated and Brown Treecreepers, and a single Rose Robin. The rain stayed around and we eventually had to go look for a pie shop.  There is an offshoot road along Three Chain Road, that looks like it might go somewhere. Evidence of the previous night’s storm were everywhere over the road, and the clean-up crews were still out as we drove by.
The next turn was so promising.  PY-along. So we were going in the right direction! At the next junction, I abandoned all hope of getting to Mt Macedon, and we went on to Heathcote. The Gaffney’s Bakery just opposite the footy oval is renowed for its fare, and has a number of pie comp awards to prove it.  We settled in for the lamb-tandoori, beef burgundy and beef and onion. Worth the drive any day.  A good pie takes a bit of beating.

So with a couple of cold lamb-tandori’s to pop into the oven at home, we set off down the highway.
The road from Tooborac to Lancefield, was once described by a visitor as “Rock Farm Road”, every paddock has beautiful Tors that make great photo subjects.  The sunlight began to creep out, and we began to stop more often to admire the scenery, and look for birds.  What a pity I hadn’t put any short lenses in, but got some nice tight telephoto landscapes anyway.
Turning off from Sunbury along the backroad to Woodlands, we found a Wedgetailed Eagle being harassed by the local magpie brigade.  To its credit, it just slipped away in the wind.  Nice end to a good day out.

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Larger images here. Three Chain Road.

Here is an image supplied by Mr A Nonymous of the Male Eastern Yellow Robin, feeding the female in the rain.

Too cool.

Photography by Mr A Nonymous (credited)

Hello, and aren’t you looking super?

No one can say that the weather has been photographically kind over the past few days.  Its not just the risk of taking the cameras out in the rain, or the chance of getting wet, its just the light is so weak that the exposures are wide open, slow shutter speed.  Even on a tripod, the chances are the bird is breathing in and out faster than the shutter speed, so, its a blurry pic.

Stay home, do other things, play with last years images and hope for a break.

So with high hopes we set out early this morning, sun looked good, and the weather man gave us a 50/50 chance.  Should be good.

But!  The gate to the Woodlands Backpaddock is locked.  Work is going on to remove the feral invaders, and keep the feral photographers out.

Sadly we traipsed back towards the car.  But on the way, we found a lovely looking Female Scarlet Robin, so of course we stopped to play.  She and her mate were a bit skittish at first but after a little bit we managed to meet on sort of mutual terms and were able to get reasonably close. Good light and the rest was easy.

After all that excitement we travelled on a bit further and found an Eastern Yellow Robin.  Very impressive, and again a bird that once it settled down was not to fussed by being chased by a photographer.

Looks like we’ll be travelling a bit further to keep up with the Yellow Robin and fill in time till the gates are re-opened.

Female Scarlet Robin in the early morning light

 

Female Scarlet Robin hunting

 

Scarlet Robin Male

 

Find of the day. Eastern Yellow Robin in a small clump of Black Wattle