Tag Archives: Avian Photography

Wah! WA… new dawning, nice morning and camera sensor adorning…

The Wyndham Resort & Spa had a nice breakfast to be availed of, which, to me at least, was about as useful as a misogynist at a beauty pageant. I’d got a hotel with bird photography awaiting around it and something as important as breakfast wasn’t going to interfere 🙂  .

Day two morning I awoke later than I’d have liked and my darling had made fresh coffee to reignite my senses. I revelled in this caffeine jolt and hoped my camera sensor would get similarly awakened that morning. I wasn’t disappointed…

Morning birdsong was in full  swing, with a truly melodious, singular birdsong cutting its’ way through what to a hangover victim, may well have been a tad too raucous. To me, the symphony of chorus was compelling, drawing me to finish coffee quickly and rush out to locate the singing virtuoso amongst the other choralists who were comparatively merely ‘warming up’.  It took me a few minutes before I located the songster and I waited a few more before the bird emerged into an unobscured view, so that I could photograph it…

A39T2887

A Mangrove Golden Whistler was found to be the master vocalist and that voice in and of itself was already beautiful enough. I didn’t expect the bird to match the song’s beauty, but as you can see, nature matched these very well.

I wandered on after the Mangrove Whistler had whistled his last in my earshot and taken fight to delight others afar. I saw what I thought was an Oriental WhiteEye and it sure looks like one. in Australia this bird is called a SilverEye and it’s not a stretch to see how it got its’ name. This bird was examining the trappings of a spiders’ web, doubtless unashamedly seeking to obtain an easy meal after the hard work in setting the trap had been done by another.

A39T0732

The gardens around the hotel led onto a lake, as mentioned, and then on to a pristine beach of considerable expanse. It was here that I noticed movement, at the periphery of the beach proper, where vegetation ceased and mere sand continued. It was a lizard, for sure, but what a strange looking creature.

A39T0963

Research has since confirmed to me that this is a Shingleback Lizard and that its’ tail really is that short. Kinda cute and if it had been upset or annoyed, I may have seen it’s vivid blue tongue. This fella seemed very unperturbed by my presence. I am not much of a beach person so walked back towards the lake.

There I spotted an Intermediate Egret.

A39T3352This bird is distinguished from its’ close relatives the Great Egret and Little Egret quite easily, if you know what to look for. I didn’t, at last not certainly, so had to consult my Birds of Western Australia Field Guide that I’d picked up from a local bookstore (I recommend this book if you’re in need of field ID’s of WA birds… it’s well put together and photographs are more than good enough for species ID)…

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 6.00.17 pm

I kept the Egret in my viewfinder, wondering which one it was at the time. Whenever i look at Egrets, I think of a friend some years back who cracked a joke whilst singing.  He sang, whilst looking at a member of this family of birds, Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”…

“EGRETS, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention”… LOL.

It tickled me pink at the time and I cannot ignore the smile this memory brings whenever I see an egret. Upon checking the recommended book (above) it’s clear that this is an Intermediate Egret… Yellow legs are a giveaway; the Great Egret has a comparatively extended neck, whilst the Little Egret has dark legs and yellow feet / toes. Here an Intermediate Egret happily discovers a prawn or similar, for breakfast…

A39T3358

I saw a few other birds at the lake and didn’t shoot them much as lighting was again in an unfavourable position… even the egrets above were hard to shoot being so heavily backlit in an intensifying sun.  It was quite amusing as after this prawn treat, the egret proceeded to completely ruffle, and then settle, its’ feathers.  This was quite a sight…

A39T3380

I hear more choral splendour and went in search of that instead. A warbling call, lyrical, familiar and yet not. Upon investigating I located the bird that added to the auditory landscape,  a White Breasted Robin. This was truly ‘robin shaped’, unlike Siberian Blue Robins or Oriental Magpie Robins I’d seen recently in Singapore…

A39T2779

I approached to shoot this bird in shadow, as despite the rising sun, this avian vocalist had decided to avoid direct rays, at least for now. I neared some more but the bird took flight – seemingly not because of my proximity but because it had other things in mind. I followed to assess its’ intentions, which quickly became clear. It perched on a nearby wooden fence for the briefest of moments, only to hop onto the floor. I was able to catch the robin there with relative ease.

A39T2796

Quick as a flash it hopped forward with some determination, and thereafter I espied what the robin had been focused upon for this time. A juicy breakfast of an unsuspecting and unfortunate moth ensued.

A39T2794

I’d barely chance to get this shot when the meal was gone with no remaining trace and with that, the robin made it’s exit too, with equal lack of attention to fanfare or ceremony. I wandered further to see what other bounties may be awaiting around the hotel gardens and lakeside. More birdsong was heard and I immediately thought that perhaps I was hearing another Whistler. Not the same, the song subtly different, yet not totally dissimilar. This time the bird was located with ease, though an unobscured clean shot of the bird was sadly not available before it took flight. This species was a Rufous Whistler and whilst perhaps not quite as vibrant in palette as the Mangrove Golden Whistler, was still a beauty in its’ own right.

A39T0722

Sadly the bird never took up a position where shadows were not being cast upon it, so this image was the best I was able to get. I never saw nor heard it again in the remaining days we were there. Perhaps next time? 🙂

We decided to visit the Lighthouse at Cape Naturaliste and put my newly acquired Canon 16-35mm L f4 landscape lens through its’ paces, and experiment with Lee’s Neutral Density Graduated and Little / Big stopper filters and filter system. That’s for the next blog post 🙂

Happy Days 🙂

 

Today’s Fotofact – Woodpeckers are amazing!! I didn’t know these interesting facts…

  • Woodpeckers are found globally, except Australasia
  • Many woodpeckers have fine feather bristles covering their nostrils to stop wood chips entering the nasal cavity
  • Woodpeckers have 2 toes pointing forwards and 2 toes pointing backwards to grip trees better – most birds have 1 pointing backwards and 3 forwards
  • Woodpeckers hammer their bill between 8-12,000 times per day!!!
  • Woodpeckers hammer their bill to loosen bark to find insects, to make holes for nesting, and during the mating season, also to communicate with one another
  • Woodpeckers have an unusually long tongue relative to their size, up to 4 inches in some species!
  • Their tongue has a glue like substance on the tip, which aids the process of catching insects

A39T2414-imp

Stalking the Stork Billed Kingfisher

A39T6244
Stork Billed Kingfisher

Stork Billed Kingfishers are majestic birds seen quite commonly in Singapore, that have remained true to their kingfisher heritage… they dine predominantly, though not exclusively, on fish.  Many naturalists categorise kingfishers these days into either River Kingfishers (like this one, and the Common Kingfisher ) or Tree Kingfishers (such as Collared, or White Throated).

I’ve had a fascination with kingfishers since around the age of 13, when a Common Kingfisher in the UK chose to use my fishing rod as a perch. The bird seemingly glanced in my direction and then proceeded to dive towards my feet with careless abandon, emerging from the water merely a few feet from where I was sitting, with its’ catch held firmly in its’ bill. The bird returned to its’ perch on my fishing rod, shook the fish against my rod, cast me another accusatory glance, and flew off to eat the meal in peace.

In Singapore, we are blessed with several types of kingfishers, each of whom have their own personalities, habits, and indeed habitats. The Stork Billed Kingfisher (SBKF) is perhaps not as widespread as other species, but surely is a beautiful bird. I’d recently bought a longer lens for my bird photography and wanted to practice Birds In Flight (BIF) photography. What better subject, I thought, than the SBKF. So off I went to Pasir Ris mangroves, in search of what has become one of my favourite birds…

At first I took photographs of the SBKF with a Canon EF70-200mm f2.8 lens, fitted with a 1.4x teleconverter, just to get a feel for BIF photography. I thought it would be easier to keep the bird in the viewfinder whilst it flew, given my unpolished skills. After that I traded up to a Canon EF 300mm f2.8 lens, with a 2x teleconverter, and eventually progressed to a Canon EF 500mm f4 lens, with a1.4x teleconverter, all over the space of a few weeks.

After a period of heavy rain in Singapore, the Pasir Ris council decided to release water from catchment drains, that flow into the Tampines River. I’d prepared myself to shoot the SBKF, but when an inflatable dam was released, the torrent of water that ensued was quite considerable, as it made its’ way out towards the sea. Fellow birders packed equipment and left, as the water was terribly coloured and it seems unlikely that the SBKF I could see, perched in search of its’ next meal, would be able to spot fish in all the murkiness. I thought I’d wait a while and see if this smart bird had other hunting strategies in mind… I’m SO happy I did! The SBKF eventually espied a fish on the surface, and launched itself towards what may have been its’ only meal until the waters’ cloudiness eventually cleared…

A39T0908
I Spy, with my little eye…

I followed the bird through my lens as it flattened out, uncharacteristically, along the surface of the water.

 

 

I hadn’t seen the fish, as it was easily 30 metres or more away from me, but I could see the bird was definitely after  prey of some kind. Then through the viewfinder I saw momentarily the outline of the fish, and I began shooting in high speed, with autofocus set to servo. What a thrill! I hoped I had managed to at least get a few good shots of this…

A39T0909
Gotcha!

The SBKF didn’t plunge into the water with verve, as it typically would; it focused more on grabbing the fish, almost casting abandon to its’ more traditional “missile shaped” attack and spectacular water entry strategies. But Mr Storkbill was victorious in securing its’ meal and pinned the fish between its’ mandibles, ensuring no chance of escape for the unsuspecting fish.

The splash, predictably, came, but not with the total disappearance of the bird for a microsecond, as is usual. The trajectory was too shallow to lose sight of the bird underwater, and given the waters’ ruddiness, it’s likely the bird is smart enough not to dive deeply, as underwater obstructions and debris surely would not be visible.

A39T0910
A more controlled ‘splash’ than usual…

The bird placed all emphasis on ensuring the catch was held tight. I’m guessing that chicks were nearby and needed to be fed… most likely the bird was going to consume the prey and then regurgitate later? At that point I didn’t know. The bird emerged from the water majestically  and took flight…

A39T0911

A39T0913

A successful hunting foray for the SBKF and a hasty return to a perch followed…

A39T0664
Back at the perch, now to get ready for my meal…

Kingfishers are very cautious and have a clear process that needs to be followed before merrily consuming their catches. It’s not just a simple case of gulping down the fish straight away, as its’ life would be endangered if it did that…

First of all, the fish needs to be killed or at least stunned, before anything else is taken into account. And that means the fish needs smacking heartily against a thick branch.

A39T0671
Get ready to be stunning…
A39T0672
SMACK! That’s going to do it…

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the fish is audibly thwacked on the branch, the protective membrane on the birds eyes are called upon for protection. This shields the birds’ eyes from its’ prey’s fins, tail or splashing water.

After all that, next comes the act of swallowing the fish – and another process that can’t be trifled with. The bird needs to make sure that any spines that are on the fish do not get caught up in the birds’ throat – it could easily choke, otherwise.

A39T0695
Let’s turn the fish around so I can swallow it head first…

So the prey is manipulated into swallowing position (always head first, so that spines and fins are all flattened), and then swallowing is simply a breeze.

Merely a large “gulp” and the meal has been sought with much patience, caught with total panache, and then handled with care and precision.

A39T0723
A-Hunting we shall go…

After that, all that remains is to seek out another fish… which is exactly what this fellow did!

 

Happy Days !