Tag Archives: adehallphotography blog

Sometimes it is good to get a good hiding…

A trip to Malaysia in April was on the radar for some time and eagerly anticipated, and at the end of it I bought my first portable hide. In May, however, I was treated to an early birthday present which was a trip to a farm in Worcestershire, UK, that had a number of hides set up to both observe and photograph wildlife.

Exciting! ESPECIALLY, as the two hides I had selected were to photograph Kestrels and Little Owls. Both of these species were high on my list of favourite British birds to see, let alone photograph, so this was a treat indeed. I awoke at 4.30 am on the day, having had little sleep owing to sheer enthusiasm and unbridled excitement. The first hide I visited was the kestrel hide. I’d planned to spend an equal time in both hides, subject to the birds actually showing up. The hide was a tad “vertically challenged” for a guy of my height and so making my way into the height took on some strange postural positions. At the time I imagined to an observer, I most likely would have looked like a diseased John Cleese and auditioning for Monty Python’s famed “Ministry Of Funny Walks”. Thankfully, no one was around to witness my contortions and heavy metal-less ‘head banging’. I set up my gear, Canon 1DX body, 600mm f4 lens and bean bag – there was no room for a tripod really, despite me being the only occupier inside the hide.

A39T7761The bird appeared not too long after getting set up, a male kestrel, in stunningly attractive and well conditioned plumage. I’d tried to prepare for Bird In Flight (BIF) shots, yet the proximity of the hose to the bird precluded these, as wings were not accommodated within the viewfinder and subsequent shots.

The bird was truly magnificent and despite me having set up the camera for BIF photography I had taken care to position myself to give a good opportunity for good bokeh.

I wasn’t disappointed and some folks have suggested that i have photoshopped the background. I haven’t… this is straight out of the camera and achieved by shooting with the lens ‘wide open’ for minimal depth of field (this corresponds to high shutter speed and I had selected that in light of trying BIF shooting and the requirement to freeze the wings.

The owner of this place that organised the hides had pointed out probable perches for the bird and i hoped it would be possible to photograph the bird with some prey. My wishes were soon granted as the male kestrel appeared around half an hour later, to make short work of a mouse that it held firmly in its talons.

A39T7922I was lucky to have the bird in front of me and with wings spread, in decent light.

Given the opening for my lens and the range of movement i had with it from the hide, I had resigned myself to the likelihood that my goals for BIF photography were merely aspirational as opposed to realisable. Nonetheless the bird appeared with talons gripping a rodent and I managed to capture a few shots with which i was pleased.

A39T7917The bird used its wings to provide lift whilst its talons held the now dead prey firmly, as if it was thrusting upwards to rip the prey apart. After each “thrust” the male kestrel then proceeded to wield that flesh tearing bill with much gusto, effectively ripping the rodent apart, piece by piece. It’s rare that I get the opportunity to photograph my favourite birds and this was an absolute treat. The bird was visiting in near proximity – not at the minimal focusing distance of my lens, but within a distance where a 600mm prime lens requires managing in order not to cut off part of the bird in the frame.

A39T9008In the early afternoon I went to the Little Owl hide. I did not expect this bird to appear when the sun was still vigorously warming the earth and casting shadows that were extremely short. Unsurprisingly the first bird I was able to photograph was not a little Owl, or any other kind of owl. A male Greater Spotted Woodpecker put in a welcomed appearance and started drumming old logs, posts etc., in search of grubs or whatever food it could find. once food had been obtained, a pattern of behaviour emerged… savour the caught food himself, and then proceed to gather and hold in the bill, accumulating quite a mouthful at times. This always led to a flight, one direction, across an adjacent field. Trademark woodpecker flight undulation was exhibited, with three wing flaps, an undulating down and up ‘dip’ (with wings pulled in), followed by this pattern repeated. Each time the woodpeckers would follow thus route ad the terminus was a bough in a tree around 150 metres away.

A39T8448The woodpeckers definitely had a nest there and chicks to feed.

Whenever “dad” had gotten food and left for the nest, “mum” would appear shortly afterwards, eagerly seeking out food for the chicks on surrounding tree stumps, posts and decaying logs that were on the ground. Once food had been gathered, then the male’s path was imitated with precision and stylistic accuracy.

I’ve always loved seeing woodpeckers, so my far was illuminated just enough to reflect my level of pleasure, but not quite enough to show birds outside the hide that a satisfied and keen observer was in his element.

The woodpeckers cam and went with what became predictable frequency, and I wondered at what time the Little Owl would appear. The farmer began herding sheep in the next field, ably accompanied and supported by a Border Collie sheepdog. What an awesomely skilled dog this was too. Ever rounding them, shaping them, corralling them, until eventually they’d all been accommodated per the farmer’s desires.

A39T9376Only at this point did the little Owl put in an appearance. Not for too long. But in any event, long enough for me to marvel at its beauty and ponder if I had the courage to take my eye off the newly arrived owl, as I began to visit the viewfinder and voce beauty into my viewfinder.

What a little stunning bird!

I’d heard them calling as a boy, on many an occasion. Had seen them take flight too, as they precluded me from close viewing and inspection.

But now, in my viewfinder, this gorgeous little bird as plain to see, my 600mm prime lens gathering detail of the bird, the camera sensor appreciatively subjecting the lens’s capture into a digital reference of the event. WOW!

A39T9377The owl may be ‘Little’, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in stature and grandeur. This bird brought gravitas to the perch and my camera.

I was amazed by the ‘hunting accessories’ and functionality that this bird takes for granted, most likely.

Those piercing eyes that have acuity that most any human would give their right arm for. That flesh tearing beak, singularly designed for tearing prey to pieces, as one might expect for such an accomplished hunter.

A39T9352And finally its talons… gripping and ripping is the name of the game for this piece of equipment…

So despite its seemingly ‘less than potent’ size, this bird is marvellously adapted to hunt at will, easily gaining meal from its choice of prey in general.

A portable hide was obtained. A visit to a farms’ hide made me feel ordained. What a treat! Happy Days indeed…

I’ve got the BLUES – stay over at Yanchep National Park

Before heading down to Margaret River for more landscape and Birding Photography, we decided to shoot some more on the early morning before travelling. I somewhat had the ‘blues’ about Yanchep. I guess I’m too much of a pampered city boy these days and enjoy the availability of things in Singapore, pretty much 24×7. Yanchep and the surrounding areas is not quite like that. After 8.30pm, the place is closed, at least for eating. It’s like a cemetery with the lights left on and even the bars are done and dusted before a respectable hour. The only food we could find was a burger King (not exactly haute cuisine) and even that, whilst advertised as 24 hours, only does so on Fridays and Saturdays. So dinner the evening before setting off to Margaret River, was a Whopper. Oh well. At least all the people we met that were not employees of the Inn were very friendly.

The next morning breakfast was served at the Inn yet we skipped that in favour of shooting some more. BOY are we glad we did. There are many types of ‘blues’ but the feast of blue that was to hit our retina and ultimately our camera sensor was absolutely breathtaking.

A39T8043-impI’ve never seen a bird this blue before. It’s called a Splendid Fairy Wren and is, predictably, wren sized. The bird is so skittish it makes a Singapore Tailorbird appear decidedly lethargic. It was some task keeping up with this beauty because of it’s characteristic mobility and also because it was hard for the brain to take in that something this pretty could exist, outside of one’s imagination.

A39T8084-impI followed a pair of these birds with much verve and marvelled at its splendour. In and out of scrub and low vegetation it hopped, though i couldn’t tell upon what it was feeding.

A39T7849-impA female showed up too, to add to the visual feast and provide confirmation of what I have long thought… in species with dimorphism, the female does not always need to appear drab and colour challenged.

A39T8043-2-impIt tuns out these pair were subspecies of the Splendid Fairy Wren, a desert sub-species variety. This can be distinguished because the cheeks in this instance are cyan coloured, as opposed to the more traditional white cheeks of the main species.

A39T8407-impIt was still early morning as we drove out of the park for the last time, that a gorgeous Laughing kookaburra was espied and perched nicely. Right near the entrance to the park itself. My camera gear was packed away for the journey and I was hoping the bird would not move off before I had gotten a few shots.

I stealthily approached it, after setting up my gear, and rattled off a few shots handheld. The bird didn’t flinch.

A39T8454-impI wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity so didn’t bother setting up a tripod and instead circled around to get nearer and a different perspective on the bird. SO a 500mm f4 prime lens was being supported by hand. Hmm. Not something that can be done for extended periods.

I looked around for anything I could use as support and eventually found a decent angle and a tree on that line of sight – I decided to push the lens barrel into the tree trunk to provide a tad more stability.

A39T8454-2-impI was closer now, so went for a portrait shot of the bird too – it was too gorgeous not to 🙂 .

I stepped back, not wanting to spook the bird and eager to see what it was doing. The head was moving with purpose, a little tilt here and there and i was sure it was listening to something, and that something wasn’t me.

A39T8338-impThe bird flew down from its’ perch to investigate the nearby ground and proceeded to dig with some vigour, using its’ strong bill to remove soil. Three times it speared its’ bill into the soil, each time removing quite a bit, yet despite having bill fuels of this soil, I found no evidence in any of the shots of it having caught whatever it was that had been heard.

SO south we went, after bidding Yanchep goodbye, en route to Margaret River. What a place that turned out to be! I’d been told by a friendly local birder only the day before, that if you go towards Margaret river, then to shoot birds you have to visit the Vasse Wonnerup estuary.  Thank you Terry Booth for that little piece of advice – awesome place!!!

But that’s for a future post… Happy Days 🙂

What? I’m going to be a father again? You gotta be kidding me!..

On Saturday I went to Pasir Ris to practice BIF (Bird In Flight) photography, and after a couple of hours my camera shutter was not exactly getting worn out. In fact, it was about as likely to be engaged as Britney Spears at a Mother Of The Year convention.

After a little while, I began to hear whistles. Quite a few whistles. And to be honest, I paid little heed to this, not having won any ‘world’s most attractive man’ awards. But some frantic waving caught my eye from an observation hut around 350 metres away. I trained my lens and saw a few birding buddies, beckoning me to join them. So the tripod and gear was duly slung over the shoulder, and off I went.  When I got there it became apparent why I was being beckoned.

A39T0265-impNot just for the camaraderie (thought that in itself was enough reason to go join the group), but because an Oriental Pied Hornbill was perched nearby, and providing much food for my bird photographer buddy’s camera sensors. Cool. 🙂  . Happy Days!

So I set up my gear and began to delight in the Hornbill’s coy movements and preening.

I shot the Hornbill quite a few times but in all honesty, it wasn’t THAT close and it was sunbathing. The light was pretty harsh which meant it was difficult to render much detail in the shots I could take from my position. Nonetheless it was great to catch up with a few birding buddies and have a ‘chinwag’.

A39T0353-impIt wasn’t long before I noticed,  some distance away , that a pair of Blue Throated Bee-Eaters were feeding on what seemed like a bounty of various insects. Apologies for the clarity of these shots, taken against a bright sky background, and at distance (not a winning scenario for crisp shooting). I trained my camera on them for a little while, whilst trying to ignore the fact that it was way past lunch and I was getting very hungry. A Coppersmith Barbet joined them soon after, which I told the birders as they were still happily snapping the Hornbill.

A39T0379-impThe Barbet wasn’t content, evidently, with these Bee-Eaters sharing its’ perches, and took an aggressive stance.

A39T0381-impI decided to train my lens on the scene, in anticipation  of the Barbet getting aggressive. Sure enough it decided to cause both Bee-Eaters to take flight and return to a perch they had occupied earlier, much farther away.

Many of the birders saw this fast sequence of events, though I don’t think anyone else captured this. In any event, I said my goodbyes and headed back to the bridge across the Tampines River,  for a final ½ hour and to see if the Stork Billed Kingfisher would return. I’d promised myself that I  would go and eat after that. I set up my tripod and all on the bridge and one other bird photographer was present.

photoI heard a chirping. A loud chirping. It seemed near but I couldn’t locate the source of it. Finally I saw a recently fledged sunbird in-between the wooden slates of the bridge railing and some orange netting that local authorities had placed there. The bird seemed distressed and I could not locate either of its’ parents. I picked the young bird up and returned it to sanctuary in a nearby hedge. It seemed comfortable and continued chirping.

photo 4I thought it would be fine and returned to my camera set up. Merely a few moments later I heard chirping again and observed the young sunbird flying towards me. I stood still. It came to rest. On my shoulder! LOL. My goodness. So now I was to become a father again??? The other photographer was kind enough to take a few shots with my iPhone, which are shown here. not good quality, obviously, but nonetheless a record of the event.

I took the sunbird in my open palm and walked. Then stopped. Awaited the fledgling to chirp, which it incessantly did. It took me around 10 minutes of walking and stopping, covering an area of maybe 50 square metres, before the youngsters’ chirps were answered. I placed the sunbird carefully into a bush, and its’ mother was in the top of this plant. The sunbird flew back onto my hand. The mother came down the bush to examine the proceedings. But made no sound. Just watched. Very carefully. Gingerly. I placed the bird back a further 3 times, and each time it flew back to me, landing on each hand and an arm. Still I placed it back in the bush. And FINALLY, ‘mum’ called to its’ youngster. The youngster immediately acknowledged the mother… both were reunited.

Whilst this was going on, i couldn’t carry my photography gear with me, so I didn’t get to shoot them both together; by the time I went back with it, they were both gone.  but mum and youngster were reunited, so I was happy. Mum had probably taken the fledgling for lunch. I thought it was time I did the same. So off I went… resplendent with a smile that stayed with me, for quite some time. I’m smiling even now, as I am typing this. I feel very fortunate that this bird ‘took to me’. Animals often do, and I am always grateful for this. They say that creatures can sense whether a human means them harm or not. This fledgling sunbird seemingly felt I’d take care of it. Smart bird, despite its’ immaturity. It could have picked few better people, to transfer it back to its’ mum. 🙂  .

I’m glad it chose me. The bridge has joggers and cyclists passing over it regularly. I couldn’t leave the bird there. It could have been harmed. Killed even. And with the regular human traffic travelling in a variety of ways, ‘mum’ wasn’t going to come and rescue its’ chick. So I thought it best to plan a reunion. I’m glad I did 🙂  .

Happy Days. 🙂

Oh well, the chance has gone… there will be a next time!.. UPDATE

Got up early this morning. Wanted to see, before working hours, whether the Blue Tailed Bee-Eaters were still feeding their chicks, or whether they had flown already. Sadly for my photography, but happily for the birds, they had gone. Not a photographer in sight was seen on approach and at that point, I knew all I needed to know.

A39T7554-impBut I had been going through other shots I had taken on a different memory card. Haven’t processed them all by any stretch, but found a couple that add to the album thus far.

Just a few shots that help tell this wonderful birds’ story a little more completely.

A few shots that for me at least, bring me pleasure seeing them.

A39T7555-impIt will be another year before these birds breed in Singapore again and that’s quite a wait when you think about it.

But that’s just the opportunity to shoot them whilst they are breeding.

A39T8494-impThere will be other opportunities to photograph these birds up until September, until those beauties  choose to leave our shores for alternate climes.

A39T8402-impSome chances to see and shoot  them some more, no doubt, and maybe even to photograph the newly fledged youngsters too.

A39T0478

 

 

And come September when they have commenced their journey across the miles, our other species of Bee-Eater, the “Blue Tailed”, (left), will be arriving to provide further photo opportunities.

So the chicks have taken to the air which is a mighty fine thing. Mum and Dad raised them beautifully and doubtless right now they’re on the wing, sharpening their flying agility and learning to catch their prey. I may be lucky enough to see them doing this… who knows?

If I do, I’ll surely update you all with a posting on this blog. But until then, here’s a few more shots of this gorgeous bird!

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Happy Days :).

No light, No Camera, but at least I got some Action!

A few days ago i wrote i was disappointed with the shots I’d gotten of the Blue Throated Bee-Eater. And I was. Hoped to go back and shoot the bird again. And I thought that might be today. but looking outside of the window after sunrise this morning, the weather’s not great. Not raining. But not bright – and to shoot birds in flight (BIF), you need light and plenty of it. Oh well. But I have been looking through the images I shot in the fast hour I spent visiting this bird the other day.

AaAnd I feel a little better now about the outputs from the shots I took.

They’re not Nat Geo quality. They’re not going to win awards (and I don’t enter competitions anyway – I have some way to go before I believe i am a good enough photographer to do that 🙂 ). And the set up for these pics, if I am honest, was not the best it could be.

aBut they’re decent enough images to show you. They’re decent enough for me to look at and bring a smile to my face.

They tell a story. My story of wanting to shoot and then being able to shoot this bird with a more decent background.  The birds’ story… how it flies, hunts, lands and then diligently takes food to the nest.

And considering this bird and its’ beauty, I like this story . In fact, I love it.  Some of the images may well be a little “noisy” because of the high ISO’s, but I guess I did still ‘get the shots’.

A39T8226-impAT least I managed to capture ‘some of the action’.

And I have some shots of this bird now, that I’ve waited to shoot for an awful long time.

Even at a focal length of 700mm, this bird remains small in the frame when it has been shot. So cropping images 100% is a ‘no choice’ type image post-processing action and when you do this much cropping, noise on the images will multiply as sure as a different type of noise will multiply if you enter a school playground at ‘morning break time’. It is what it is.

A39T8331-impI may get the chance to go back and briefly shoot some more frames of this bird. I am really busy this weekend though, so come Monday, the opportunity may have gone.

If I can still go capture some more images, then that will be a mighty fine thing. And if I cannot, then  I at least got to shoot a might fine bird already. Do I have “That Shot To Die For”? Not yet. But it’s possible. Maybe before Monday. Maybe next breeding season. Maybe somewhere else entirely. But whichever… “That Shot” is still possible…

Isn’t that exciting? The quest, as ever, continues…

Happy Days 🙂

 

What a morning – birds young and birds new, birds followed and birds blue…

It was my birthday recently and for that birthday, my darling spoiled me rotten. I got a whole load of new bird photograph equipment and whilst I knew about some of it, the rest was a TOTAL surprise.

8D3A9192 - Version 2I had the chance to pick up this surprise equipment (video head for my tripod and camera body / lens stabilisation railing system) from a Malaysian based bird and landscape photography guide, photographer and online retailer – Liew WK.  Great guy and over the course of a few days had a great time with him. I am happy to now call him a friend and seriously respect what he does and the passion he has for it.

I was invited to join an informal group on a trip to Genting Highlands in Malaysia, just for a few hours,  to ‘put my new gear to the test’ and at the same time shoot some mountain bird species I had never seen before, let alone photographed before. Great people in this group and made more new friends… Happy Days :).

I followed the group to the place we were going to be shooting and had some excitement (my first time to not only try out the gear but also to shoot mountain birds in Malaysia – the chances were that most every species I’d see, would be a first for me – a ‘lifer’). I set the equipment up in a position I was advised would give good visibility and shooting opportunities. And I didn’t have to wait long before birds started to arrive…

A39T4144-imp
Very pretty – this one shot at distance… the others were almost under my nose!

Firstly, within 3 feet of me  came the prettiest little bird, and it was at eye level, in bushes to my left. I just smiled. The lens I had was as you see above, ‘not exactly a short telephoto lens’ – and I could have shot this little bird with a 70mm lens very easily, it was that close. A 500mm prime lens was a little over the top for this job :).

1
You can see why this birds’ “AKA Name” is the Spectacled Laughing Thrush

Next came, according to the other birders there, “predictably”, the laughing thrushes. I’d seen a couple of those species before, in Singapore and also in Central Vietnam. But these were a first for me.

3So whilst others may have thought that this bird was less than interesting, I merrily snapped away, enjoying seeing these for the first time.   Yehey!AND, I was getting to give my new gear a ‘workout’ too, so all was well :).

LN2Next came one of the bluest birds I have ever seen in my life. It was stunning. Not rare. Just STUNNING.

A whole family of these beauties showed up. On the left here is the male, AKA “Dad”. I was thrilled to be able to shoot this bird up close, and then his mate came…

LN3She was less vibrantly coloured, as if often the case in the  world of birds, but nonetheless she was pretty.

She was a little slighter than the male, as is to be expected.

LN5After around 5 or so minutes, a merry chirping led my ears and then my eyes to see the youngster in this group.

Looks like a male and with the “full blue” regalia yet to be complete, this mottling of browns with such rich blue is very beautiful indeed. I think the juvenile is probably the prettiest of them all, and that’s very unusual as juvenile birds rarely can compete with adults when it comes to plumage and colour.

LTS2I was as “happy as Larry” with these species so far. What a treat for me! Then a bird I had seen earlier, which despite its’size had been displaying much agility to feast on moths, showed up on a perch. Nice! And to make sure the moment was enjoyed fully, another of the same species, a Long Tailed Sibia planted itself on the same perch. How accommodating! 🙂

The other birders in the group left to go to other places, but I thought I’d hang around for a while.  I didn’t shoot any more species in this place, but i still enjoyed seeing ones I had seen already, and I happily clicked to my heart’s content.

Later that day, we descended from the mountain heights; still within the hills, but not as high. What we saw there was very special… but that’s for another post, on another day.

So new equipment was tested and much appreciated. New friendships were commenced, And new species had been seen, and photographed, in an extremely nice place. I’ll go back there in the future, I’m sure. After all, I know of more exotic species that can be shot there, if you’re lucky. And if I’m really lucky, maybe some of my new friends will be going too.

Happy Days 🙂