Tag Archives: Bird In Flight

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…

Whydah Heck would you want to photograph an escapee?..

SUPER early start for me today. AND, I’m far from a ‘morning person’. so what dragged me kicking and screaming from a super comfy bed and restful sleep you may ask?
A39T3561Hmm. Pin Tailed Whydahs. Not endemic to Singapore. Escapees. Probably have Permanent Resident status by now. So many might think, as mere escapees, WhyDah Heck would you want to go photograph this. Haha.I guess it’s about beauty. And behaviour that’s awesome to watch and compelling to photograph. “Whydah” is actually pronounced ‘widder’, phonetically, though you’d never know that from how it is spelled.

A39T2917Pin Tailed Whyndahs have elaborate mating rituals which may make one imagine that parenthood is taken seriously. It is taken seriously… these responsibilities are seriously DELEGATED to a surrogate pair of birds. I.E. the Whydah parents lay their eggs in the nests of other hapless birds, who then proceed to take on the parental duties and responsibilities of the Whydah, on a surrogate basis, and akin to the behaviour of a cuckoo.

A39T3757The mating process is systematic and whilst appearing wonderfully romantic given the elaborate displays that the male Whydah performs before females, actually has circumstantial process steps that either enable, or prevent, mating from taking place.

The ritual performed by the male Whydah is jaw-droppingly elaborate and joyous to witness, as flight patterns that are not typical of birds are performed with adeptness that defies all but spiritual consideration.

A39T2901Laws of physics and as an extension flight, appear to be subordinated to mere ‘considerations for other birds’, as the male performs manoeuvres that defy logic and feed the optic nerve with sensorial bliss for the onlooker. Dips and dives, with plumage a flutter – never a stutter, as descents are traded for ascents, a flick of the tail and gravity assailed.

A39T2899Only when the female has located suitable surrogate parents will she give herself to the male, and it is at this point that all that motion splendid aerial posturing may be even entertained, let alone considered.

A39T2892Furthermore, the male is then further vetted for suitability based on its choral mimicry ability – he has to be able to imitate the surrogate parents’ calls, in order to ensure the surrogate nest is not abandoned once egg placements has occurred.

When the female is satisfied that the male can suitably match up to all these criteria, then a mating session occurs and unwitting surrogate parenting ensues from unsuspecting birds of carefully selected species.

A39T2898What a convoluted process to procreate. One might say the male is led on ‘a merry dance’. And after procreation and the mating season ends, those resplendent tail feathers that provide such motion to the dance of passion, merely are shed until next breeding season.From my perspective, witnessing and capturing this display surpasses mere merriment and paints the sky with an aerial ballet that is lacking purely in the absence of music.

A39T3767If I were to add music to the scene, it would not be from a ballet. I’d choose Strauss, and By The Beautiful Blue Danube.

This music has crescendos, grace, an enveloping quality that simply draws you in and caresses your senses.

A male Pin Tailed Whydah’s display grabs me like that too. So WhyDah Heck would I get up so early before work to photograph this bird? Well now you know… and here’s some closer shots from earlier that morning… Happy Days.
Pin Tailed Whydah, Punggol, Singapore, April 2015.

 

 

What a place to stay… WA, birds… yehey… YEHEY!!!

After that lovely “impromptu” visit to Vasse Wonnerup estuary, we arrived at our destination just outside Dunsborough, WA.

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 8.15.29 amWe stayed at the Wyndham Resort & Spa, which may sound a little ‘5 star-ish’  but 5 star it is not. Nor did we expect it to be. But it was a wonderful place to stay and great value for the money at that time. This is basically a very upmarket motel with great facilities if you want to use them. Room nights were very affordable and our expectations were not high. I was surprised. VERY surprised. It was dark by the time we arrived and thankfully we explained that we’d been travelling and for a short time, the hotel agreed to keep the kitchens  open, so after dumping luggage in the room, a hearty meal was taken. As we were kind of pleasantly surprised to be greeted this way, indulgence naturally followed and a great steak coupled with recommended Margaret River wine was enjoyed fully. The desserts were great too! what a great start to a Margaret River photography visit! And it just got better and better…

Next morning I awoke eager with anticipation. I’d asked for a room on the ground floor with access to the gardens though I’d not much idea how extensive the gardens would be. How pleasantly surprised was I? I’d not even finished my early morning coffee and cigarette ritual when the desire to get camera, lens and tripod became overwhelming. Birdsong? Lots! Recognisable? Nope. Gotta go SEE where this chorus is coming from…

So camouflage clothing was donned with verve and outside I went. Kids at the resort were doubtless still in the land of nod, so a relative quietness was appreciated, save for nature’s splendid orchestra that caressed my ears and served up auditory ecstacy. I commenced an amble around the resort. No plan, just a mere wander. I was first greeted by a small group of New Holland Honeyeaters. I’d seen a couple of these near Yanchep but hadn’t managed to shoot them.

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Here you can see the trademark of nectarivores, with that long tongue partially protruding beyond the beak – I imagine this bird and just finished extracting nectar from a plant and this is the equivalent of ‘licking its’ lips’.  I walked further and caught a glimpse of motion in the distance. And much noise. Couldn’t tell exactly what all this hullabaloo was about,  save for it was coming from a bird. A swimming pool began to come into view and the noise and motion was coming from a shower head where bathers rinse off the pools’ chlorinated water. And all became clearer. The light levels were still very low so I set the camera to compensate for exposure, lightening the scene by about EV +2 stops. I could see wings beating furiously, a hovering, and knew a fast shutter speed would be required. And then with a shutter priority in the camera and a shutter speed set to 1/2500 of a second, focus was achieved. I was enraptured with the sight my eyes were presented with and chuckled heartily…

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A juvenile Splendid Fairy Wren had seen its’ reflection in the chromed shower head and took exception to its’ own image, doubtless imagining this was a rival of sorts. Haha.

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I watched and photographed this gorgeous little bird, in very low light, for several minutes before it finally figured out that its’ potential adversary was not going to be either thwarted or defeated.  It was very nice to witness this lovely little bird in action though and surprising to hear such volume emanating from such a small package. For readers around the world, this bird in size is akin to a juvenile fledgling wren in Europe, a fledgling Tailor Bird in Asia and around 50% of the size of an American Chickadee. I have no idea whether this bird is the typical Splendid Fairy Wren or the desert morph subspecies (the former has white cheeks when adult and the latter cyan cheeks). From the photo I’d guess it’s definitely male and most likely the desert morph subspecies.

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With hotel gardens behind me I ventured out behind the property. A lake was right before me… Happy Days indeed! There was a portion at the hotel end of this expanse of water that was heavily weeded and seemingly shallowed, so I made a beeline for that. Instantly a few birds could be seen to be wading and I approached with some caution, fearing I’d cause them to take flight.  First in view was a Yellow Billed Spoonbill, typically moving their bills beneath the water from side to side, trying to identify and locate a hearty meal.

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The spoonbills number four and I focused on the nearest as it turned towards me. The bill emerged and then the bird proceeded to throw back its’ bill to manouevre it’s catch into swallowing position…

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As I looked at this bird through my viewfinder I chortled freely, as the positioning of the body and thereafter bill reminded me a little of a hippo. Haha. Nonetheless the bird seemed more than happy with its’ spoils from prawning and proceeded to toss one back into it’s gaping bill.

Light was less than friendly whilst the sun strengthened, as the direction from which i’d have preferred to shoot the birds meant shooting into a strengthening sun… not a winning photography scenario. I was blessed, though, as in the distance I espied a raptor. It was a long way away and much too distant to photograph meaningfully. I got the bird in my viewfinder, focused accordingly, took a shot and proceeded to magnify the image ‘in-camera’ to identify what I thought might be an Osprey. Sure enough an Osprey is exactly what it was, circling and gaining height on the distant thermals. I picked up my tripod sand camera gear, (cumulatively weighing around a good 8 kilos and somewhat cumbersome in size and balance),  and jogged as far towards the bird as pathways would allow…  any further and I would have needed a boat or helicopter. I hoped it would venture in my direction and thankfully a higher power was smiling on me that morning. The Osprey ceased circling and proceeded to glide with such lack of effort that if I didn’t know better, I’d have described it as positively lethargic. Ever closer it came and my pulse quickened. And closer. Still closer…

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Perhaps for some an Osprey is not such a great find. This one is an Eastern Osprey and against an unruffled sky, this bird seemed to me to be the personification of majesty, at the very least a prince of the skies, and lord of avian anglers. It glanced purposefully in my direction and I hope it realised the respect in which i held this bird. Perhaps it did 🙂  ?  Whatever, it neared some more. What sheer joy that such glorious elegance could be bestowed upon my camera sensor that day, from such an exquisite creature.

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The bird flew on, perhaps unaware of the pleasure it had just given me, as I savoured its’ every move and considered the irony of the birds’ posture; the epitome of calmness riding the wind, yet with a latent potential for hunting and ensuing savagery upon whatever prey it targets.

Western Australia was being lit considerably at this time. The morning sun was casting light into what recently was shadow,  with predictable illuminations and generous warmth. And aside from that, my smile alone must have added considerably to the available light that day, in Geographe Bay.

Just when I had started to wonder if this photography trip may be ‘front end loaded’, with such marvellous sights captured at the beginning few days of our visit,  Western Australia just continued to further delight and take my breath away. I was marvelling. And if  anyone had asked me to set music to what I had experienced thus far, (and in hindsight now, what was to come), then Bachman Turner Overdrive would have headed my playlist.

“B-B-B-Baby, you just ain’t seen nothing Yet…”

What a place. Great landscapes, fabulous wildlife, super friendly people throughout, awesome food. Oh YES! OMG! I almost forgot!!! Australians amazing a Brit with their fish ‘n’ chips? Surely not? Well, they DID! I will try and dig out the impromptu restaurant we had that experience at… but that’s or a later post. I DID, however, ask what fish they had used. They said Spanish Mackerel. I was in hysterics and asked to see the chef. NO WAY that Spanish Mackerel could be served that way… filleted and battered? You gotta be kidding! But the chef showed me the mackerel. and described the filleting method. And WHAT an outcome. The surprises just seemingly kept coming…

Happy Days indeed!  🙂

Twas a nice morn in Tuas, that took a Tern for the better…

A few days ago I received a Facebook message. From a good birding friend in SIngapore. And with a map too. I was enlightened “there are Terns in Tuas that are feeding their young… not so easy to find, but great for Bird In Flight (BIF) shooting!” I felt sad. Because typically when I hear something like this, work commitments can’t be simply subordinated to provide time to grab the photography gear and RUN! And last week, I didn’t have the luxury of dropping work commitments for even the briefest period. Too much to do and with unsurprising reality, too few hours to do it in. So running towards these terns, was not a happening thing.

wanted to run. But alas, no. And for those of you who have met me, you’ll recognise that my ‘frame’ is not particularly accustomed to running 🙂  . I’d pretty much given up on the idea of going to photograph these Little Terns, and fully expected that the birds would have left already, by the time the weekend came and I could get out there to shoot them. Oh well. “There’ll be a next time”, I thought.

Yet whilst looking at SIngapore birding posts on Facebook yesterday, a buddy of mine had posted that he had been shooting these Little Terns. I messaged him and he confirmed that earlier that day, he’d taken these photographs. THEY WERE STILL THERE! Sadness ‘terned’ to excitement in a nanosecond. And Tuas twas the place to be on Sunday morning. Yehey! my mind began to fill with anticipation. I could get my turn to shoot a few terns. Some aerial shots of Terns making their aerial turns. Perhaps see the chicks. Possibly they’s be getting fed. Maybe they’d be taking turns. I guess my mind was ‘terning’. So off to Tuas on a Sunday morning… I knew this would be interesting.

UntitledThe location of these birds in Tuas wasn’t exactly in a ‘mainstream’ location. If there was an airport in this place, its’ airport code would be ‘MON’, an acronym for Middle Of Nowhere. And I fully expected my GPS (Global Positioning System) device to change its’ meaning in Tuas to Generally Pretty Stumped. And I was right. It was stumped. It had as much chance of getting us to where we needed to go, as having Stevie Wonder drive us there in a Comfort Citicab. Turn after turn after turn, to find a tern, which turned out in the end, with assistance from the cellphone and google maps. We got to the recommended place.

There was much activity. Plenty of photographers. But things took a tern for the worse. The Terns had gone. Chicks had fledged. No feeding activity. Oops. But anyway I thought I’d chat with a few fellow bird photographers and they remarked that maybe in a different place in Tuas, we could have more luck.

A39T0485-impSo after getting directions, off we went. On the away back to the car, I saw a Black Shouldered Kite. And then another, perched on a fence at some distance. I didn’t get really clean shots, but nonetheless, It was nice to see 🙂  .

We arrived at the spot which, thankfully, was made clearer because some photographers were leaving. I knew some of them and they confirmed the birds were still there. Around 450 metres away. In open(ish) ground. SO off I went, taking care to watch the floor to make sure a Tern chick wasn’t inadvertently trodden on. They’re very well camouflaged, you see. Think albino Polar Bear on a glacier, and these chicks will blend in better than that.

A39T0597-impFinally we found other photographers that had their artillery like long lenses trained in all manner of directions. But facing downwards. So I guessed that the chicks were still in situ and I prepared to photograph them.

A39T0927-impI guessed that the parents would come to feed the chicks and waited with anticipation, scanning the sky for a Little Tern with a fish in its’ beak. The first parent arrived within my view fish-less and landed a few yards away from the chick.

A39T0939-impThe chicks chirped merrily and it seemed to me that the chicks were doing their level best to stay out of the sun that was now warming Tuas with some vigour.

A39T0964-impThe parent and one of the chicks made their way towards each other, and unison.

The chick proceeded to plant itself under the parent, and avoid those nasty sun rays. I have to say that this scene is way beyond ‘cute’ and reflects a bond that’s joyous to see, and a delight to shoot.

 

A39T1217-impI thought I’d try my hand at BIF (Bird In Flight) photography. The parents were airborne much of the time and displayed their aerial agility with consummate ease.

A39T1048-impTime after time the parents would swoop and dive, with turn after turn, omnipresent and ever interested in their chicks, and possibly the veritable throng of photographers within proximity.

A39T1029-impI was trying out a recently purchased video head on my tripod, so aside from the obvious pleasure of watching these majestic birds, I had the chance to shoot them on the wing and put the new video head through its’ paces. I had appointments later that day, so knew time was not elastic and maybe 45 minutes shooting was all I had left.

A39T1040-impUnruffled by the pressure of time, I merrily tried over and over to track the birds in flight, letting off a burst of shots when I thought focus had been achieved… a somewhat ‘hit and miss’ affair at best, and I hoped above all hopes that perhaps I’d had a few lucky terns.

A39T1118-impAgainst a reasonable sky and with EV pushed upwards 1 stop, the 1DX trademark ‘machine gun’ shutter was unleashed. I turned up the shutter speed in Tv mode to 1/4000 of a second, given the brightness and given the ease with which i could keep ISO levels, and ensuing noise, to a minimum.

A39T1216-impQuick checks in the LCD screen told me little, as no sooner had I started to check, than further opportunities to shoot presented themselves. I was having a blast, at last. I guess it was my tern to have fun this morning 🙂  . The time to leave quickly raised its’ ugly head and with much disappointment, the reality of exit was dawning upon me.

A39T1258-impI didn’t get to see the parents return with fish to feed the youngsters. I took a few more shots of the parents whilst grounded, and hoped in my last few minutes that a fish bearing parent would return.

A39T1269-impAlas this was not to be. Nonetheless, I had a great time shooting these gorgeous birds and observing the boundless accuracy with which they ply their wings in the breeze, maintaining a hovering position for a few seconds, before changing direction so fast that their ability to ‘corner’ could be likened to electricity.

Time to go 😦  .  But a lovely adventure. Twas a morning in Tuas. And I got my turn, tern and terns. What a great start to a Sunday, and indeed a new week.

Happy Days 🙂  .

My heads’ got a radar and I’m not going “Ga-Ga”… a ‘Tern of events’…

A radar? In my head? Yup… AND, so have you! Cool, huh? Well it’s not a radar as such, but then again, it kind of is…

In our brains we have something called a Reticular Activating System, (RAS), that mainly controls our ability to sleep and wake, and be aroused. From an arousal perspective, it controls our ability to move almost instantaneously from a mental state (whatever that might be) to one of high alertness. And this cognitive mechanism “tracks” for things we are interested in. That could be anything. A new car perhaps. Member of the opposite sex, maybe. Anything that takes our fancy and is somewhat ‘top of mind’, in fact.

A few weeks ago I was driving along, “singing a song” merrily with the iPhone belting out a chosen playlist, and my RAS decided to ‘stop the music’. The music didn’t stop, of course, but to my mind it actually did.

A39T3042-impI had seen in my peripheral vision something white flying some distance away from me.

And then another, plus another.

I thought “they’re terns” and promised myself that at a later time, I’d go and investigate. Later that week I parked nearby the Kallang River in Singapore, and walked. With tripod, camera body and lens balanced carefully on my shoulder, and with the sun slipping towards a path that will light a different hemisphere, I started along the river’s footpath. I walked. After that, I walked some more. This was followed by more walking. I was beginning to regret not having brought my passport with me at one point. I began to wonder whether this was a bad idea. Maybe it was not my Tern to photograph that day?

A39T2891-impThen a flash of white around 400 metres away. And another. Plus erupting water.

YES! My quarry had come into view :).

I hurried along the footpath as best I could and placed my tripod down in a fashion that seemed less than gentle and organised. The camera was ON… settings selected already, in anticipation… Shutter Priority Tv mode, 1/2500 shutter speed, servo Autofocusing, focusing restricted to the back button of the camera with exposure isolated on the shutter button. High Speed Continuous shooting mode. Spot metering.  I was primed!

Saw the bird dive and tried to follow it. Hmm. Struggled. This guy (or gal) is kind of quick. Got some shots away, and reviewed in the LCD screen. Nothing. As in ZIP! No images? Huh? Oops… no memory card. I let out a series of profanities and if my memory is right, it had something to do with ducks.  Or something that sounded like ducks… I can’t recall 🙂 .

I was rifling through my camera gadget pouch on my belt. PLEEEEEase let their be a memory card there. Please. I usually have spares but my mind was full of doubts. Couldn’t find any. Maybe my RAS was scanning for negatives? But then my eyes GLEAMED. My velcro card pouch was hiding behind the spare camera battery. SAVED! In went two 32Gb Compact Flash cards and we were ready to shoot. And the birds, are… Gone.  AAARRGGHH! What an idiot! I hadn’t noticed, peripherally, anything fly by me, so I thought I’d better keep walking. The birds are either a head, or merely a memory in my head.

A39T3042-imp After around 500 metres or so, I espied the birds again. Diving. And heading for me!

Happy Days :).

So with gear at the ready, I began to follow the flight of one bird, whilst another would dive. I’d dumbly try and focus on the bird that had dived then, but by the time I had gotten the lens trained anywhere near where the calm surface had been disturbed by the bird, it was airborne and en route elsewhere. I noticed these birds are fast. I have tried researching  how fast but cannot find any empirical data. But what I do know is what I was observing, and that from a height of around 8 metres, they hover, select prey, and then plummet to the water to catch their prey. From hovering to breaking the surface is MAXIMUM one half second… probably less. But even then at one half second, the bird’s diving speed can now be estimated. So… one half second to travel 8 metres  is equivalent to around 58KM per hour. NO WONDER I was struggling to photograph them!

I needed a strategy. SO I decided to loosely follow the flight path of just ONE bird (of the three) and ignore the others. Then when THAT one bird decided to hover, it was preparing to dive. And directly underneath where it was hovering, is where the water entry point is going to be. Hmm. Well, my camera’s 12 frames per second shooting speed was tested. I got shots of all manner of things. Water. Ripples. More ripples. Bird-less splashes. Out of focus white shapes. Concrete river sides. I couldn’t pan and track the bird in the right place and at the right speed.

A39T2801-impBut eventually, I started to capture the bird diving and exiting the water.  I could predict the speed and location of the plunge a little better.

It took a while and thankfully these birds did not always emerge triumphantly from the river, having caught fish. So my opportunities to shoot them were exponentially increased. PHEW!

A39T2800-impBy focusing the camera on the water’s surface nearby where I thought the bird would dive, this helped speed focusing when it DID dive. The lens ‘travel’ was thus somewhat minimised.

I didn’t have time to look in the LCD screen of the camera to see if I was getting this action clearly – the action was frenetic. Just a quick glance at the end of a series of shots, where the LCD screen was depicting the last shot taken.  I hoped above all hopes that some of these shots would be in focus. I had absolutely no time to check as the birds were diving so regularly and I knew they would not be around for long. So I decided to “Press on” … quite literally, from my shutter button’s perspective.

I was trusting that my camera settings were pretty much ‘on the money’. I gambled that this was the case and despite the temptation to stop and check images I had taken already, I kept shooting.

aWhen home I looked at the images and thankfully I managed to have a few that made me smile :).

I had so many images where either the bird was totally out of focus or the autofocus had majestically gotten water splashes that were pin sharp (but no bird)… LOL.

eBut I got some “keepers” as I’d call them. Decent ‘record shots’. I’m not going to win any photographic awards from the Smithsonian with these shots, but nonetheless I’m happy.

I was shooting these birds at reasonable distance, probably about 20 metres away in the main, and often further than that. For some reason they hung around, merrily diving and scouring the waterway for prey for around 15 minutes, I’d estimate.

bI wasn’t going to complain and was happy to witness them diving so often. Whilst focusing on one bird in the group, at times another would dive within 5 metres of where I was standing. They seemed totally unperturbed by my presence.

cEventually the birds were catching fish with more regularity. I felt it wouldn’t be long before they were satisfied, fully expecting them to fly to new places. I wasn’t wrong.

gAll of them left without ceremony, no final foray, no announcement I could detect; it was merely a case that they all flew off together. I have no idea how they knew to do this. There was no cry or call. No sound save for the previous splashes as one after another of these gorgeous Little Terns caused pockets of water to reach skyward, in protest at the birds’ disturbance.

It was as if the birds just knew. It was time to leave. Had some kind of 6th sense. An internal radar of sorts. An RAS maybe?

I’ve seen them since on several occasions flying along this waterway. But not diving and fishing. I imagine when I shot them doing that, they had good reason to catch fish with abundance and vigour. Chicks needed feeding maybe? I’ll never know. My radar can’t tell me that. But I’m glad my radar caused me to locate these birds in the first place. Which it did. Maybe I’m not going “Ga-Ga” after all.

Happy Days 🙂