Whimbrel (Numenius Phaeopus)

As promised in my last post with the little egret, here are some photos of the whimbrel (numenius phaeopus).

Seeing the whimbrel scurry along the rocky shore was a daily delight. It was hard to spot though, as it is very fast moving. One second you see it, then it disappears behind a rock, and before you know it, it appears again several metres along. After watching it for a few days from the balcony, the birds daily routine became obvious. It would fly in and start on the rocky shore to the left or the right of the rocky sweep before us, then scurry along the rocks to the other side, before flying off again.

One morning, I spotted it on far on the right, starting it’s move. So I grabbed my camera, rushed down and headed to the left. I sat down on the stairs leading down from the the pavement to the rocky shore and patiently waited. Within minutes I spotted it, and it was, as expected, heading my way meandering through the rocks. Due to a fairly high tide, the whimbrel was close and it’s lateral move past me gave me the opportunity I had been waiting for.

I suspected it to be a curlew, so I had a look on the internet and found lots of images that seemed to confirm my thought, it possibly being the slender billed curlew. On returning home I consulted the Birds of the Atlantic Islands. It turns out to be a whimbrel (numenius phaeopus), a regular to the Canary islands especially in winter, and not the slender billed curlew, a very rare vagrant visitor. The small dark crown divided by median strip was the tell tale sign.

Little Egret (Egretta Garzetta)

Wildlife and birdlife is fairly sparse on La Gomera, especially in the winter. But for those keeping their eyes peeled, there are still some special birds to be seen. While staying in La Puntilla, with a view from our balcony directly onto the rocky shore, an egret and a whimbrel were a daily delight. Amazingly, the tourist walking along the shore were completely oblivious of their presence.

It was wonderful (and relaxing!) to just watch these birds looking for food while wandering along the rocky shore and dodging the incoming waves. The egret looks predominantly for fish in the incoming waves, while the curlew spends his energy poking its long beak in the holes in the volcanic rocks, looking for little crustaceans. Unfortunately, both were mostly too far away to get any decent photos.

One morning, with a lot of patience and careful negotiation around some large volcanic rocks to remain out of view, I managed to get close enough to take a couple of photos of this lovely little egret, before it was scared away by the tourists congregating on the pavement along the shore, wondering what I was up to with that big camera and lens.

I will share some photos of the whimbrel in the next post.

Urban grey heron

While walking back home from the Glasgow Mela in Kelvingrove Park to Dowanhill, we spotted this urban grey hero fishing in the shallow waters in the park, completely unperturbed by the hustle and bustle of the festival.

Painted stork

While on safari in Yala Nature Reserve in Sri Lanka, our tracker told the driver to stop and then pointed out some small crocodiles sunbathing in the mud on the other side of a fair sized bit of water. He did very well to spot them without binoculars, but he would have been extremely disappointed if he had known that I was not in the slightest bit interested in taking shots of these little crocodiles, and instead was busy shooting away, capturing this wonderful Painted Stork (Mycteria Leucocephala) that was prancing around on the near side of the water.

Kingfisher

On the last day of our holiday, we went on a short river safari up the Balapitiya River in South West Sri Lanka. Not the best choice of river for watching birdlife, as the banks of the river were covered in mangrove trees. Consequently, there were no ibises, storks, herons, egrets and other waders, that we had seen in abundance elsewhere in Sri Lanka, to be seen.

The boat trip marked by a very noisy outboard and with the continuous diesel fumes was disappointing, although there were a couple of highlights. The first highlight was this kingfisher, perched on a post sticking out of the water. The kingfisher was, surprisingly, unperturbed by the noisy outboard motor, so we managed to get very close, giving me the opportunity to take a couple shots.

I will leave you in suspense with what the other two highlights of this boat trip were, as each will deserve its own post.

Swallow singing it’s heart out

Our swallows are back from their African sojourn. At least four pairs have returned the very lengthy journey and are, once again, swooping through the fields, round the cottages and over the loch catching insects.

This swallow is one of a pair nesting in the eves of our cottage, high above our kitchen window, and has made this pole that is stuck in the fence just outside the kitchen window as his favourite perch.

With the high winds this weekend, their speeds are phenomenal, with absolutely no chance of shooting one in flight. But there is plenty of time this summer to try and capture these beauties in flight.

Freefall

At the weekend, we finally got a couple of lazy days at the cottage, with time to enjoy some sunshine on the deck with a book, watching the birds and a little photography. We had an abundance of small birds frequenting the trees beside our cottage and scuffing themselves on thistle seeds and sunflower hearts on the feeders. The noise of the chirping and bird song was at times deafening.

I tried some photography with the same approach as a few weeks back: manually focussing on the plane between a branch and the seed feeders, and triggering off sequences of shots when a bird is about to jump of the branch or fly into the frame. I really need to get myself a wireless remote, as I cannot place the camera close enough to the feeders while staying far enough away from them not to scare the birds.

Unfortunately, I had less success with shooting birds in flight than two weeks ago, coming away with a lot of ‘nearly wonderful’ shots, particularly of the colourful siskins, gold finches and lesser redpolls. These two images of a siskin in freefall are the best of the lot and are in fact two different crops from the same photo.

I just cannot make up my mind which one of these two photo’s I like best. I love the one above for it’s simplicity and making you wonder what is going on. I also love the bigger picture below, with the goldfinch’s look and expression, also wondering what is going on.

Would love to hear what your thoughts are.

Chaffinches galore

The seed feeders in our garden attract a large variety of finches and tits. The chaffinches are, without a doubt, the most numerous, easily outnumbering the green finches, gold finches, blue tits, coal tits, great tits and siskins combined.

While enjoying a warm late morning with a mixture of sunshine and cloud on the deck, I decided to do a little experiment. I set up the camera with my 400mm lens combo and remote trigger release on my tripod, composing a frame just to the left of one of the seed feeders, manually focussing on the plane containing the seed feeder and setting the camera to aperture priority at f8. Every time one or more birds were about to fly into the frame, I triggered a burst of three to four shots.

After quickly deleting the large number of shots with empty frames, I set about selecting the ones that are sharp as well as showing a nice flying pose.  What actually amazed me was the high success rate of sharp and nearly sharp images with a first attempt.

Once I had my shortlist of images, I set about cropping these to a tighter composition round the chaffinch, generally 20% to 25% of the frame, boosting the contrast slightly and brightening the shadow areas a little to compensate from shooting into the sun.

I am pretty pleased with the results and will definitely repeat this approach with a few tweaks. The next time I will place the camera much closer to the feeder with a tighter composition and at a slightly different angle using my 70-200mm lens at 200mm. This should bring the focal plane more in line with the common flight path and provide some extra sharpness and wider depth of field. The tighter composition will probably affect the success rate, but should require less cropping and therefore, better quality images.

The male chaffinch is actually a colourful and wonderfully striking little bird, as illustrated by this series of seven images. They are often overseen by photographers as they are so common, but should deserve much more attention.

These three images show a female chaffinch in flight. Not as colourful and striking as the male, but still a cute little bird and a worthy subject.

To illustrate the nearly sharp images, here are three shots that would have been great if they had been sharper.

Hunting for prey or popping by for a coffee?

While making a coffee in the kitchen, Dowanhill Bob, our local sparrowhawk, swooped into the tree adjacent to our kitchen window, perching on a branch about one metre from the window. He happily sat there for a while, looking round for prey, not bothering with us behind the kitchen window at all.

For the first time in weeks, I did not have my Canon handy so I grabbed my little Lumix LX5 compact and took a few shots at it’s maximum zoom of a meagre 90mm. These two images are cropped a little, but not much, showing how close Bob actually was.

I then went downstairs to get my Canon and Lola ran after me barking her head off. Surprisingly, on my return to the kitchen, I found Bob still sitting on the branch. I aimed the camera but saw nothing. While I removed the lens cap, Bob had enough and flew away.

Dipping amongst the scrap

It still amazes me how many people always congregate at the weir in the River Kelvin to admire the heron fishing on the far side, and how few people actually notice this lovely loud and active little bird when walking along the river.

The dippers loud call ‘zit, zit, zit’, similar to that of the wren, is a dead give away. On hearing bird’s call, it is always easily spotted due to its white chest and continuously bobbing movements.

This afternoon, I spotted this dipper on the other bank with the wreck of a car as a backdrop, making for a contrasting image. After the bird moved along the bank a little, I got the opportunity to take some shots ‘unspoiled’ by men, getting as close as possible by stepping on some stones in the water. When I turned to step back onto the bank of the river, I realised that I was the attraction of passers by. My jaw dropped when they asked me what on earth I was taking a picture of.

It’s a very wise dipper, staying on the safe and dark side of the river, as far away as possible from the walkway, busy with people and dogs. The little dipper is undeterred by the action on the other side of the river, and is continuously bobbing on the rocks and dipping in and out of the water. Occasionally, it will swim on or even below water in search of food.

Unfortunately, the river is too wide at this point to get close enough, even with 400mm, so the shots below are heavily cropped, in addition to being taken at high ISO and slow shutter speeds.

Dowanhill Bop

Dowanhill Bob, our local sparrowhawk, has been ruling the roost in the West End this winter, terrorising our garden residents, including siskins, goldfinches, robins, chaffinches, great tits, coal tits, blue tits, tree sparrows and even wood pigeons. The only birds that stand up to him and chase him away are the crows.

Our garden used to be teeming with little birds, but since Bob has appeared on the scene, it has been extremely quiet. And when the birds are in our garden, they are visibly on edge, looking round from a branch in the undergrowth, swooping into the seed feeder, grabbing a sunflower heart, and swooping off into the undergrowth to eat it. A complete contrast to last winter, when literally hundreds of birds were in our garden feasting on the seeds, fighting for a spot on the feeder.

We have been seeing Bob daily, when he swoops into Athol lane and perches on the tree at the back of our garden or sometimes on top of the seed feeder in the middle of our garden. Unfortunately, the tree in the back is too far away to get any decent shots, but when he is on the seed feeder, he is within good range as you can see.

He is lovely coloured male and hopefully I’ll be able to get some shots of him in flight soon.

Goosander (Mergus Merganser)

While walking along the River Kelvin, halfway between the Botanics and Kelvinbridge, I spotted a pair of Goosanders standing on the rocky shallows in the middle of the river. The drake had it’s head tucked under his wings, probably having a well earned siesta on the chilly afternoon, but the duck was busy cleaning herself.

I think that, unlike with most ducks (and birds), the duck (female) is actually more beautiful than the drake (male). And I just love the combination of the detail of her feathers with the turned head with crown.