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. 

Willet

April 17, 2015  •  1 Comment

Willet was by far the most numerous of all the waders I encountered in Florida. I don't know if this is repeated all the way up the east coast, but if it is it's amazing that there has never been one in the UK! Unlike the Plovers, these birds were constantly on the move, feeding in and along the surf, running and probing like a typical Shank. An excursion along Blind Pass Beach on Sanibel Island was rather a failure due to the time of day and sheer numbers of people, however an early morning session on Fort Myers Beach the following day was fantastic, and where most of the images were taken. Whereas I'd stayed relatively clean with the Wilson's Plovers, to get these images I got very wet and very sandy!


Wilson's Plover

April 17, 2015  •  2 Comments

Wilson's Plover were not common on the Florida beaches that I went to, but proved to be exceptionally confiding when I did find some. Typically they were in small groups of around four birds, and they would stick closely together, however their preferred strategy was to hunker down low in the sand just marginally above the tide line. This was a new species for me so I was pleased to get up close and personal with them, distant fuzzy ticks can be very underwhelming. As was the strategy with all the other birds, this was another lying down on the sand job. I'm aware I'm beginning to appear a bit of a one trick pony, but I am loving the results. That said, it is bloody hard work and can be extremely painful, as I do not use an angle finder, I just twist my neck -  did recently got some correspondence that suggested that this could end up being really bad in terms of permanent health issues, so I may need to rethink how I do this. In some instances I've been unable to actually get my eye to the viewfinder and so have been attempting to line up the focus point, which is highlighted in red, with the bird's head and rely on the accuracy of the AF. My keeper rate drops dramatically when I do this but if it saves my neck it's probably worth it. What I really want is an angle finder that works at about 45 degrees as at 90 degrees, and thus looking vertically down, I wouldn't be in a position to hold the camera - you never actually lay the camera directly on the ground as you'll lose the bottom half of the image. Instead you need to be an inch or so above the ground which is usually achieved by laying your left forearm and hand on the ground, and then raising your fingers very slightly whilst also offering some support of the camera body with your right hand. I cannot imagine doing this whilst looking vertically down an angle finder. Note that I use a low-profile lens foot to aid with carrying the lens and to reduce weight. If I used the foot supplied with the lens, this would likely give me the height I need, but would not solve the neck issues. 

Here are a few images. For me the favourite is definitely the first one though, the clarity of the birds and the complete absence of any background whatsoever are exactly what I am looking for. When you get low and the geography is on your side, you can blend the foreground into the background such that you cannot tell where one ends and the other begins. No horizon in other words.

 


Grey Plover

April 07, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Here's a selection of images of Grey Plover from my spring 2015 weekend in Florida. Known as Black-bellied Plover in America, it's a common bird on beaches, and still in winter plumage at the time of my visit in late March - I think it still has to count as spring though as the first Warblers were arriving! I found one particularly cooperative group of these birds on Fort Myers Beach, adjacent to Little Estero Lagoons, and with the superb early morning light I had a fantastic time trying to isolate single birds. Equipment used was the Canon 1D Mark IV camera body, along with the 500mm f4 Mk II lens and sometimes the 1.4x converter. I did not use any support other than the ground, even though I had packed both my monopod, my skimmer pod and my Wimberley head. I swear that a year ago I was touting my monopod as the best thing ever, but in truth I am now using it less and less. What changed? I am not sure, though the superb handling characteristics of the new 500mm make hand-holding that much easier and the more I realise I can get away with it, the more I do without. It could just be that as I aim to get lower and lower, so the monopod just doesn't quite allow that and so I find myself resting on the ground more often than not, even if that means getting mucky. Anyhow, I carted all that extra gear across the Atlantic and used it for perhaps 20 minutes in total, so that should tell you all you need to know. The ground is currently my preferred support. It weighs nothing, and costs nothing. What's not to like?

 


Wheatear arrival

March 22, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Arrival singular, as we only have one bird at the moment, but unusually for a Spring bird it has lingered nearly a week. I was initially worried about it, but it seems pretty perky, and getting close to it is time-consuming. It does tend to become accustomed to my presence, though there is a definitely a minimum distance it is comfortable with. Trial and error, but I think I have it sussed now, and if I keep that and am still, it does sometimes hop closer. Today I photographed it twice, and predictably the final encounter was the best. This time I used a tree trunk as cover, resting my lens on the slight curvature as it met the earth. This physical barrier seemed to reassure it for some reason, and it remained closer than it had been all weekend. Or maybe that was just how it appeared as today I had my 800mm with the 1.4x converter bolted onto it ;-) My favourite is the first one in the "This afternoon" section - it has everything I like in a bird photo - a nothing background, a sparkling eye, low to the ground, and.....a Wheatear!

Yesterday (500mm)

This morning

 

This afternoon


Eider Duck

February 22, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

The following series of images comes from the coast of Fife at a small village called Elie. Whilst (notionally) on a family walk I spotted this drake bird very close into the rocks off the eastern beach, and each time it dived made a little ground towards it, including behind a convenient large rock. Eventually I made it to the seaweed covered rocks, lying flat on my stomach with the bird somewhere under the water. As it popped up fairly near me I could have jumped for joy. I had pre-metered for bright white while some distance away and my first series of shots confirmed I was basically on the money, but I made sure to check as often as the situation allowed. On a cloudy day the light can change quite quickly so if the bird dived or faced away I quickly checked and adjusted as necessary. After my first series, and with the bird aware of the shutter noise, I expected it to drift further out but happily seemed not to care - perhaps prone on the seaweed behind a lens didn't register as a human and thus something to be feared. Each time it popped up I rattled off a few more, with the camera sometimes getting confused by the sloshing water and throwing the bird of out focus. I probably spent over half an hour with it, and these easily outshine my best previous shots of Eider, and indeed looking through my gallery reveals only one image that I've previously thoughts cuts the mustard - I'll be deleting it shortly as I now realise that it doesn't! I am however quite pleased with these. All are handheld with the 1D Mk IV and the 500mm + 1.4x, albeit with the lens resting on a nice bed of seaweed covered rock. I keep on reading about the 7D Mk II, and some new 50mp full-frame bodies and thinking wouldn't they be nice, but I have to say that my battered old MK IV continues to eclipse both my needs and skill levels. I have no idea how many clicks I've put through it, but it continues to just go and go and go. Probably hexed it now - when I go on my next major expedition (Florida!) I'll be sure to take a spare body. Anyhow, the sun was out in a brief break between clouds, and so I was up at 1/3200s at f8 which is not a common occurence in Scotland in February! Lying flat, I was probably only a couple feet above the water, but the tide was going out so I was in little danger. And in full waterproofs and wellies, in other words ready for Scotland in February, I was properly dressed for the situation I found myself in. 

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