This page will act as a photographic journal. What I'm using, why I like various bits of kit, how I set up certain shots. Stuff that on the whole would act as a massive turn-off for anyone not interested in wildlife photography. 

Florida - Brown Pelican

June 02, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

I never saw many Brown Pelicans, but when I did I often saw them spectacularly well. Typically there would always be one cruising up and down whatever beach I was on - the trick I never managed was being exactly parallel to the bird as it either dived or landed, but I had a lot of fun trying! They're enormous, so big that even I can manage to lock onto one in flight - as you may have gathered not exactly a forté of mine. I mostly concentrated on the waders on the beach, but when a Pelican came close I rose from my prostrate position on the sand, changed camera settings and had a go. Some of the images I really like, but as always I know I can do a lot better if I spent some proper time concentrating on them. The trouble with Florida is that there is too much to do. 

As an aside a dear friend of mine, now sadly departed, used to call Pelicans Pelihonks. He was not much of a birder to be fair, and his ID skills were somewhat lacking, but during a long trip we took together up and down the East coast of Australia many years ago I gradually got him to at least start looking at them. Predator Budgie was his generic term for any bird of prey, but it is Pelihonk that has somehow stuck with me for nearly two decades - so much so that whenever I see a Pelican of any species I am immediately reminded of him. So here's to Pelihonks and great guy who went too soon.

The image above reminds me of a 747 coming into land with flaps extended. They're actually quite nimble in the air despite their size, and like a Gannet can twist and turn at the precise moment to time their dive to perfection. I however had trouble timing my coordination to perfection, and did not manage a perfect dive shot. The image below is probably the closest I came.

All of the images above were taken on an uncharacteristically murky day on the Gulf Coast. On my final morning however the sun came out which made a huge difference. I probably already mentioned it but I was so unused to the brightness that it took me a long time to control my whites. Not that there is much white on a Brown Pelican, but on adults the neck can bleach out - as can be seen on a couple of these images. Not enough to worry me, but then bright whites seldom do!



Florida - other Terns

June 02, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Whilst Royal Tern was the dominant species in terms of numbers during my November visit to the Gulf Coast, some other species were present too - Sandwich Tern and Forster's Tern. They were most transient than the larger species, seemingly dipping in and out only briefly, particularly Forster's Tern. I managed a few frames of both in overcast conditions one morning.

The American form of Sandwich Tern, known by some authorities as Cabot's Tern, is a breeder on the atlantic coasts of the USA, and 90% of its population winters in the Gulf. Although the european version has made it across, the overwhelmingly likelihood is Cabot's - and they can be separated by better birders than I on a more robust bill structure and on moult timing at certain times of year. Sound tough? You bet, but below are two images of Cabot's from St Pete Beach.

Below are two images of Forster's Tern, which is a much smaller bird. I wasn't certain I'd ever seen one before as I didn't know what it was when it landed in amongst the throng. It didn't stay for very long unfortunately and I would very much have liked longer with it as it seemed very characterful. I'm racking up a good list of terns now, what with all the species in Dubai last year and then various odd birds on my travels, including a Black-naped Tern from Thailand identified from a nearly 20 year old 35mm slide!

Florida - Royal Tern

May 22, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

A very common bird on the beaches of Florida is the Royal Tern, generally roosting just above the waterline. When I went in November there were plenty around, many with fully-grown chicks continually begging for food. Here's a chick with an adult behind it.

I spent a bit of time photographing their antics, but mostly they just loafed rather than doing anything particularly interesting. They're large birds though, large enough that you don't need to use much focal length - I found a bare 500mm lens too much a lot of the time, but unfortunately I don't have anything else. Is it time to repurchase a 300mm f2.8, or could I get away with that new 100-400mm I wonder. I recently cut back on a few lenses, selling three that I have not missed one little bit. You can of course never have the perfect kit bag....

Not once did I see an adult actually give a begging chick any food. Perhaps this late in the season they are encouraging the youngsters to sort themselves out and become independent. This did not stop the chicks incessant calling however. I would be very interested to go back in the summer to see proper parenting behaviour - a photograph with the passing of a fish or eel would be a lot more interesting, and depending on when I went the chicks might be small and fluffy. I'd also be able to go to that Skimmer colony I have tucked away - time to start looking at flight sales perhaps, another cheeky weekend in 2017...



The Blue Zone

May 20, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

I've recently discovered a phenomenon which I call the blue zone. After sunset, a varying amount of minutes depending I am guessing on where you are in the world and what date, the sky when photographed with a longish exposure will go a deep shade of blue. I imagine that many photographers have known about this for a long time, but as I say it was a new one on me. It is no good for birds obviously, however for landscapes it is excellent. You will need a tripod, or be able to find a suitable perch for your camera which will keep it still (I often use my bag to create a level surface and simply rest it on that), and ideally a cable release. Using either a long exposure or the bulb feature where you can keep the shutter open indefinitely, the trick is just to experiment with different lengths of exposure until you draw out the blue - be warned though, the light only stays like this for a matter of minutes so you don't get many chances. Ensure you have done all your framing and so on well before you get to the appointed time!

Here are a couple of the Hungarian Parliament building on the Danube at Budapest, as well as one of Valletta in Malta. Well lit impressive buildings are the ideal subjects for these types of images. Just bird photos? Well, nearly! The Danube photos are 6 second exposures at f11 and f13, and the one from Malta is at 5 seconds at f11, all using ISO 50. The reason for the long exposures was to soften the water but it also seems to make the blues more intense.


Florida - Black Skimmer

May 15, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

On my first trip to Florida in March last year I didn't see a single Black Skimmer or Snowy Plover, two of my top targets. I had a wonderful time regardless. On my second trip about six months later, I was pleased to finally find some, though the circumstances were less than ideal. After my failure the first time, I put in a lot of research, even finding one of the breeding colonies on a satellite map of the area and working out exactly where it was via Google streetmap. Not especially relevant for a trip in November, but it shows I was trying! In the event I found about thirty birds on a Sunday afternoon in the most crowded part of Fort Desoto imaginable. My heart skipped a beat when I spotted a single bird in amongst Laughing Gulls, and then suddenly they were streaming in from the north. I managed a couple of flight shots but I wasn't really ready! Then came a difficult situation - the birds were all hunkered down facing away from the shore, and being late on the west side or the peninsula the afternoon sun was right behind them. I could get the sun behind the birds, but only if I waded into the water, and even then they were all facing away, and so tightly bunched together that I couldn't pick out a single bird and a plain background. There was precious little time to think, a stray football could bounce through the flock at any minute, there were people everywhere. So I waded in and got wet, trying to get the lens as close to the water as possible and attempting to get the images I wanted. What worked in my favour was that after a few minutes the birds started getting up in small numbers and flying off further down the point, into the roped off area, allowing a few single bird shots. And then of course the inevitable happened and a child charged the whole lot for a laugh. Sat in the surf I was dumbstruck, but also elated as I knew I had a few keepers despite the experience being very brief. The next day I returned to the same spot, and whilst it was devoid of people it was also devoid of birds. Looking south into the restricted area I could see a mass of birds of all sorts of species, including Skimmers, but they were beyond my reach. A couple of metal detectorists totally ignored the ropes and went right down into the bird sanctuary, but I was not going to do that. I am going to need to do a summer trip, and I know exactly where to go!


This final image is possibly my favourite, with the added people element. In the original photo the couple were much lower in the frame, and in order to use the photo for the title of my trip report I simply removed the middle slice of the frame to bring the people up. The right hand side of the image had to come up further than the left obviously as the lowest bird is below their level. I really like the result, even though there has been some manipulation - bet you couldn't tell though!