Tag Archives: Bird Photography

NEW BOOK made more available… Birds, Words, Creatures & Features

Finally I have gotten my first book, “Birds, Words, Creatures & Features” into PDF format that may be downloaded by anyone, and not restricted to Apple users outside Asia… Yehey!!!
It took a while, but we got there in the end!!! smile emoticon … CHECK IT OUT and hope you like it!

https://payhip.com/b/NKBu

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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…

The sun sets on the breeding Whydah for another year…

What joy to see a male breeding Whydah displaying for it’s mate, with that aerial dance, that stupendous display, gravity defying and aeronautically bewildering.

I revelled in this sight. I revisited the place in Punggol where I photographed this beauty on Sunday, but I’d gone with the intention of shooting other waxbills if i am really honest. The location was awash with avid bird photographers. Many were seemingly far too near to the birds’ aerial stage. It was a lens rich zoo, to all intents and purposes. Others were taking shots with all manner of devices, including cell phones. One young girl that was there with a group was particularly annoying. She was in ‘let’s do selfies’ mode and then proceeded to join her friends for snaps with her, as if some natural beauty had reached unassailable levels. Beauty was indeed, all around her, but it came from a bird. She was merely, Wet, Wet, Wet. Had all the ability for noiseless behaviour as a male elephant briskly charging forward – on bubble wrap, underfoot.

5O8A2610I gave up trying to photograph the waxbills amid all this hullabaloo and noticed the sun was setting rather splendidly. Most of the noise providers had gone, leaving few photographers to try and capture the day’s final Whydah mating dances, before light called a close to further aerial displays of majesty.

I noticed the sun was getting pretty. Really pretty. And so I approached this birds’ preferred landing perches, and resplendent in camouflage clothing, lay down on the bare dirt where water once was in wetter months and now mere contoured reminders of evaporation remained. I waited. Patiently.

Watching a distant silhouette etch itself into the skyline, a rhythmic contortion of flight, aimed at a female showing abject disinterest.

5O8A2615-2I hoped the male bird would venture towards me. In pursuit of the female, most likely. And eventually they did…

I captured a brief mating display in silhouette and the female left as abruptly as she arrived, leaving the male alone, his outline framed by an ebbing orange orb set to soon slip away for the day as night emerges strong and shadows abound.

5O8A3035I won’t get a chance to photograph this male display again until next mating season perhaps. But what a show I’d seen, captured, and revelled in. So bye for now Mr & Mrs Whydah, as the male sheds respondent tail feathers until next year, when amorous pursuits recommence and aerial concerts once again, command the skies.

Happy Days.

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.

 

 

Colour popped barbets, bittern and cuckoo… yahoo!

“Colour popping” is a term coined to describe a photograph that has had its’ natural background desaturated, and thus monochrome, leaving the subject ‘popped’… here are some recent shots with post processing treatment accordingly… respectively, a Lineated Barbet, Lineated Barbet “fly-by”, Yellow Bittern and Banded Bay Cuckoo… all Singapore in recent weeks…

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Happy Days 🙂

 

A colony anomaly, dreamscapes and landscapes… WA delivers…

SO after an early morning bird photography treat, off we went from Dunsborough to shoot landscapes. The first point of call was  Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse, followed by Cape Naturalise National Park proper and Yallingup…

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I had a level of excitement and anticipation, as I was going to try out my new Lee Filters for landscape photography, along with my new landscape lens too. Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse was well frequented by tourists and whilst many went inside the lighthouse itself, photography inside or from the top of the lighthouse was not permitted; so we skipped the tour and proceeded to take landscape shots from other locations around the lighthouse.

We approached the lighthouse on foot as access to the lighthouse itself was prohibited for motor vehicles. So up we went, photography gear in tow…

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It wasn’t too much of a trek to be honest but the vistas from the top, and just beneath the lighthouse itself from the pictured road, were really beautiful. The previously flawless azure skies of days previous were now peppered with cumulus clouds that provided some contrast to a wonderful canopy that stretched forever, and the clouds navigated their way across the blues and hues, via a hurrying wind aloft.

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I found it quite strange at this point, to be thankful for cloud. In Singapore, being tropical and a mere 1 degree north of the equator, the thought of having pristine blue skies are so far removed from considered possibility, as to render such thoughts as mere wishful thinking at best.  Upon reaching the top of the small rise, next to the lighthouse itself, I decided to try and show cloud movement in the photographs of the lighthouse, by effectively using a filter to delay the shutter speed overall by 10 stops, and with a polarising filter to enhance the sky held hues.

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I like the dreamy and creamy effect that this movement, with filter, has on the sky, coupled with an expression of extended time.  Given that the lighthouse itself has stood for many years and shone brightly across many an evening and night sky, elapsing time seemed appropriate.

After the lighthouse we drove to Yallingup and whilst looking for nice landscape vistas, I noticed some white shapes on rocks in the distance. My landscape lens wasn’t going to provide me any clues as to what these shapes were, but I figured it was a bird colony of some kind – the question was, which birds were colonised there? The landscape lens was caressed back into my gear bag and the EF 500mm f4 with a 1.4x teleconverter soon was appended to the Canon 1DX. And lo and behold. A turn and terns for the better. Yehey! Tripod was switched quickly to my birding setup with video head, and off we went – my darling armed with landscape gear and me with all the equipment necessary to take my tern.

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A colony of a hundred or so Greater and Lesser Crested Terns were in situ on rocks that had been made affordably accessible by an ebbed tide. Surfers could be seen in the distance, plying their trade with much dexterity, tremendous core strength and yet with grace that when compared to the terns, had all the fluidity of granite. Terns are, after all, passé-partout of the skies, taking aerodynamics to new levels and a banking or cornering adeptness rivalled only by electricity. Many were close to a distant beach, merrily dipping themselves in pristine waters and preening drenched feathers by design.  After preening, the birds singularly began to return to the colony and I took the opportunity to follow them in the viewfinder, snapping them merrily upon proximity to the colony and a selected landing site.

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Bird by bird they arrived, freshly groomed, feathers resplendent and aerodynamically renewed. An unwitting ability to hang on the wind, naturally suspended above perilous rocks, their colony associates, seemingly frozen momentarily in time.

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I have to say I find terns fascinating, having shot them many times in SIngapore. Flying, feeding, diving with verve, and breeding too. And I never tire of those trademark flight manouevers, resplendent with those tell tale tail feathers dispersed deliberately and always geometrically perfect.

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After revelling in these stunning creatures, I released that my darling had begun to shoot her landscape shots and that I had said I would join her. I checked my watch. Over an hour had passed and time had simply lost all plausibility, whilst I had been engrossed with my terns for the better. Nonetheless, landscapes awaited, so with some verve, rocks were navigated, slippery rocks avoided, birding gear deposited back in the hire car and landscape gear was on my shoulder to descend towards the search for a pleasant vista. I have to say in WA that finding a vista is Sooooo difficult. There’s so much to shoot… where do you even begin to look? We settled on Canal Rocks, close to Yallingup and part of Cape Naturaliste National Park for our sunset shot. We still had time, however, to shoot some other landscapes before the sunset was in full swing.  First off I drove around the coast road at Cape Naturaliste and we happened upon a bay that had a degenerating jetty leading out into the bay, and with distant sandstone cliffs in view along the coast. I’d heard that some tourists go absailing down these cliffs yet saw no evidence of that, on this day. I hadn’t instantly seen this vista as a “must shoot”, but my darling beckoned me to look as I drove by and if she could have pressed the brake pedal, I’m sure she would have :).

To her, a vista like this is instantly seen. I have to stop, clear my mind, and purposefully look for it.

The shot below I call “dreamscape”. I don’t know why. I just look at this shot and that’s the thought that pops into my head. Open. Unobtrusive. Calming. Serenely peaceful. And when we visited, it was quiet. Not a human sound from anywhere interrupted nature’s deafening silence, save for the gentle lapping of the ocean waves on re-submerging water’s edge features. My imagination was harking back to ‘what may have been’ yonder times and the activity that once was perhaps quite vibrant at that jetty, which now stood flaring, yet drawing one’s eye still to sea.

I just HAD to shoot this vista and I was so grateful that my darling’s mind’s eye had instantly selected this scene as we drove nearby…

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I thought of Wordsworth for some inexplicable reason whilst here. Wordsworth isn’t particularly a favourite poet of mine. Yet into my mind his prose emerged and I felt sad his daffodils had not been the sea perhaps, as I played with that poem’s prose in my mind…

“I wandered lonely as a cloud,

that broke the sapphire ceiling shroud,

and came to land from ‘cross the sea,

that cotton, approaching, playfully

above Ma Nature’s inlet scene,

with memories of what once had been

serenity present, my  heart a-flutter,

whilst beauty stifles a camera shutter

Behold the sight, that did unfold

and stories left, perhaps untold”.

I hoped my camera had maybe captured the scene for some of those untold stories and thoughts to be imagineered. For me at least, the captured scene does exactly that 🙂 .  Time was passing quickly now, the sun was noticeably losing intensity,  and so back into the car we jumped and sped to our selected sunset shooting location, at Canal Rocks.

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I was excited to shoot a sunset; new lens, new filter set up, no real clue as to how exactly I as going to get a decent shot and we had arrived with sufficient time to prepare and for me to give some thought as to the effect I was hoping to achieve. Landscape photography is not intuitive to me… I have to think. It’s not like the best vista and from what position jumps out at me. in the picture above of Canal Rocks themselves, I thought about achieving several things. Firstly I wanted to find a foreground that could frame the shot, whilst leaving the Canal Rocks themselves to draw the viewers’ eye towards the setting sun. Secondly I wanted to be sufficiently high to provide for the setting suns’ beam to illuminate the sea both ocean and bay side of the rocks… bringing the rocks themselves into focus as an interruption to what would otherwise be a vast expanse of featureless sea. Thirdly I wanted the sea itself to take on a misty calmness, a flat like appearance that could provide for that mirrored beam in a broken, yet undistorted way. Fourthly I wanted to ry and capture actual sun rays emanating from that glorious setting sun. And lastly I needed to fool the camera into thinking the available light was way less than reality was reflecting… leaving the shutter open for much longer than san Aperture Priority program would provide at an f-stop of around f16… then I could grab more colours in the sky, smooth the ocean and reflect some, but not too much, movements of sunset lit cumulus clouds in the sky. Phew! That’s kind of a lot for a noob to try and achieve!

A colony became an anomaly as I hadn’t set out to shoot birds and the Terns demanded their turn. Landscapes evoked thought, prose even,  amid dreams of what may have once been amid beauty that still was. And thereafter a sunset to die for. What subjects for me to experiment with and revel in the moment. So there you go… a lovely morning’s bird photography was more than ably supplemented later in the day.

Mother Nature laid forth the vista – so glad I hadn’t missed her.

Happy Days indeed!

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…

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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.

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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.

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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)…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 🙂