After a brief diversion into the world of politics I return today to my traditional heartland, birds. I have no idea whether they are right or left wing.
The alarm was not necessary this morning as I was awake already when it buzzed. Soon I was in the car heading North West to Mai Po. At 6am it was dark on arrival and I stumbled my way along to the Tower Hide. I could see a large congregation of what I assumed to be Spoonbills and Egrets in the corner of the pond but they all moved off at 6.15am. As usual however there was plenty of coming and going as the sun rose and I used the absence of any significant dramatis personae to check my exposure settings. I usually start at ISO 1600, F5.6 and 1/125 and as the light improves I lower the ISO gradually to 400, open up another stop to F8 and target a minimum shutter speed of 1/1000s but usually I can get 1/2000 for birds against the sky. Birds against the water or reeds sometimes need to drop down to 1/800s or have the ISO pushed back up to 640. As the light and background change I am constantly checking the settings against the histogram.
Soon however the spoonbills returned and over the next 3 hours or so the light was gorgeous. I was distracted early by a distant peregrine falcon. This is a very large crop and you can see the noise in the image quite clearly but it is a nice juvenile bird.
This was an early spoonbill in flight.
It is a cleaner shot but I would have preferred slightly better eye contact.
Very often you find them feeding singly or in pairs, the rhythmic sweeping of their spatulate bills almost synchronised. Today though they numbered over 100 and they circled the pond in large gangs.
Mid-morning I noticed an impostor in their midst. A Eurasian spoonbill had snuck in whilst I was not paying attention. Here it is together with a BFS for ease of comparison. Notice also how shallow the depth of field is at F8 with an 800mm lens. The BFS is not sharp.
And here it is going solo.
My old friend the Oriental Stork did put in an appearance but was again reluctant to pose for the camera.
There were of course plenty of other birds. Ducks, herons, egrets, a Common buzzard, a distant unidentified Harrier and a decently close Common kingfisher. The best appearance however was what I assume was a Small Asian Mongoose, which almost tripped over my feet as I left the hide. A deep chestnut red colour, this small chap (or chapess) was rather too close to photograph as I had only my 800mm lens to hand – a focal distance of roughly 4′ wouldn’t work.
In all honesty the light deserved a better photographer but I did my best. The birds need to come pretty close to fill the frame and it a frustrating fact that even with the monster 800mm lens and a 1.4x tele-convertor the birds are usually going to be at a stretch distance . The difference in quality between the rather rough shot of the peregrine and the smoother close up of the spoonbill feeding is self-evident. Nevertheless I always come away sated when I have drunk at the font of the spoonbills. Tomorrow alas is not a bird day as Lulu is going to the vet for her rabies booster. I am going along to make sure the vet doesn’t come to harm.
I hope you enjoyed the birds. Vote for the birds, you know it makes sense.