Sunday, December 4, 2016

Another take at a Barn Swallow in flight

I had a 1.4x teleconverter mounted on the EF 400 DO IS II when this speedy, little bird passed near my position at one of the fishponds of Sto. Tomas (La Union). 

That slowed down the AF of my BIF rig a bit, but I was pleasantly surprised that the combo managed to isolate the subject  from the grasses in the distance and place the focus where it should be.

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Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica, migrant)

Habitat - Coast to above the forest in high mountains. 


Shooting Info - Sto. Tomas, La Union, Philippines, December 3, 2016, EOS 7D MII + EF 400 DO IS II + EF 1.4x TC III,
560 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000 sec, ISO 320, manual exposure in available light, hand held, near full frame resized to 800 x 533.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A sweet reunion with the uncommon Little Tern

The last time I saw one of these uncommon migrants was over twelve years ago, at Olango Island off Cebu. It was late October 2014, and the bird then was still molting off its breeding plumage.

I made a short visit yesterday afternoon to the fishponds of Binmaley (Pangasinan), and I saw a lot of water birds. When light started to turn golden, one particular bird passed by my position, and I instinctively raised my camera to take a burst. I have all but forgotten the capture, thinking it was just of a garden variety Whiskered Tern.

When I reviewed the shots in my computer, I noticed something peculiar - the bill was thinner and longer, and not all-black,  as compared to the Whiskered Tern. Likewise, the tips of the overwing are much darker. I quickly looked at my Kennedy Guide, and voila... what I got was the uncommon Little Tern!

This capture validated once more a personal rule that I practice in the field - when encountering a seemingly common bird, don't ask questions and dismiss the capture opportunity. Just raise the camera and get the shots, as these can be deleted easily in the computer later. Who knows, what initially appears to the eye as an ugly duckling might turn out to be a beautiful swan.

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Little Tern (Sterna albifrons , migrant, non-breeding plumage)

Habitat - Uncommon along coasts, bays and river mouths. 


Shooting Info - Binmaley, Pangasinan, Philippines, November 30, 2016, EOS 7D MII + EF 400 DO IS II + EF 1.4x TC III,
560 mm, f/7.1, 1/2000 sec, ISO 320, manual exposure in available light, hand held, major crop resized to 800 x 533.

For reference, here's my 2004 capture, with the newly arrived migrant still sporting some of its breeding plumage.

Shooting Info - Olango Island, Cebu, Philippines, October 22, 2004, EOS 20D+ EF 400 f/5.6 L, 400 mm, f/8, ISO 200, 1/2500 sec, hand held, major crop.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Supermoon over La Union

I dusted off my largest diameter birding lens and stacked a couple of 2x teleconverters to maximize reach in capturing this November's supermoon.

Shooting info - Rosario, La Union, Philippines, November 15, 2016 (03:36:59 am), EOS 7D MII + EF 400 2.8 IS + EF 2x TC II + EF 2x TC III, 1600 mm, f/16, ISO 100, 1/50 sec, manual exposure, 475B/516 support, two frames combined.

High-res 3600 x 2700 version

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Small version @ 800 x 800 pixels.

Crop - resized to 60% of original pixel level view.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Oriental Skylark in courtship flight

During my last two recent visits to the place, I noticed there were quite a number of this species ranging in a grassy area at Sto. Tomas (La Union). 

In the late afternoon, a few individuals do their courtship flight - partially hovering and ascending to as high as 25 to 30 meters while singing. Most of the previous courtship flights I saw were either at a  great distance, or the direction of light was unfavorable.

This Sunday afternoon, I returned to the area to check out the Sand Martins and the Eurasian Hobby. My two birds of interest were a no-show, but one Oriental Skylark did its courtship flight at a relatively near distance.  And it did this spectacular show while illuminated by the golden light of the 4:33 pm sun.  It was a pure luck that I got to see this behavior up close. I'm glad that my manual exposure settings were on the dot and the BIF gear did its AF job well.

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Oriental Skylark (Alauda gulgula, resident)

Habitat - Uncommon in open country on the ground. 

Shooting Info - Sto. Tomas, La Union, Philippines, November 13, 2016, EOS 7D MII + EF 400 DO IS II,
400 mm, f/4.5, 1/2000 sec, ISO 320, manual exposure in available light, hand held, major crop resized to 800 x 533.




Saturday, November 12, 2016

Barn Swallow - a body designed to slice the wind

From the tip of its short bill, to its small dark head and sleek body, to the forked tail - it seems evolution has designed this bird to be fast and extremely maneuverable in the air. 

It's a very common migrant, and I often see it hawking small insects while flying low. But its speed and unpredictable flight pattern make it a very tough customer to acquire and focus on, plus its contrasting plumage is an exposure challenge. Light quality and intensity have to be just right so the dark head can be illuminated well, while avoiding blowing out the white body. The plain sky background makes it easier to catch the bird in the viewfinder and to place it in precise focus.

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Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica , migrant)

Habitat - Coast to above the forest in high mountains. 

Shooting Info - Sto. Tomas, La Union, Philippines, November 10, 2016, EOS 7D MII + EF 400 DO IS II,
400 mm, f/5.0, 1/2000 sec, ISO 320, manual exposure in available light, hand held, major crop resized to 800 x 533.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Eurasian Hobby - my 281st lifebird!

Yesterday (November 10th), the skies were cloudless once more, so I hied off to nearby Sto. Tomas after lunch time to check out the water birds. I thought it would be a shame not to go birding and waste such good light.  I decided this time to explore a wide grassy expanse at the remote western portion of the town, bordering the South China Sea. The grassland is surrounded by ricefields and fishponds. 

Within an hour of my arrival, I saw a very small raptor flying low, circling an area about 200 meters from my position. From afar, I thought it was a Kestrel, as its size was too tiny for a Peregrine Falcon. I immediately took documentary shots of the tiny speck in the sky, as it started to fly farther away from me. 

Then, suddenly, it turned and flew northward, heading straight towards me. My heart started to beat like a high-revving Hayabusa engine and I barely managed to acquire it in my viewfinder. Once acquired, I didn't lift my finger off the shutter button until the bird passed me, in the process getting several dozen frames. 

I'm thankful to the avian gods that the raptor chose to fly over me  with a slight deviation to my left, getting some positive illumination from the sun at  my right. Had it chosen to fly to my right, it would have passed between me and the sun, and all I would've gotten are silhouette shots.

I'll go back to the same place in the next few days to get better captures of the Sand Martin, and hopefully have a return encounter with the Hobby. These birds became my 281st and 282nd lifers. 

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Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo, migrant)

A rare migrant to the Philippines, it's found in open country, farmland and marshes. 


Shooting Info - Sto. Tomas, La Union, Philippines, November 10, 2016, EOS 7D MII + EF 400 DO IS II + 1.4x TC III,
560 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000 sec, ISO 320, manual exposure in available light, hand held, major crop resized to 800 x 533.
 High res 1500 x 1000 version



Shooting Info - Sto. Tomas, La Union, Philippines, November 10, 2016, EOS 7D MII + EF 400 DO IS II + 1.4x TC III,
560 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000 sec, ISO 320, manual exposure in available light, hand held, major crop resized to 800 x 533.
1200 x 800 version

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Pied Triller in flight

This is supposed to be a common avian species, ranging widely in our islands. But I seldom see it, much less photograph it well. To catch it in the air is one of my obsessions, given the difficulty of acquiring the bird during its short flight from tree to tree.

Each time I see one foraging in a treetop, I wait with full anticipation, hoping that it flies towards my position. This morning, I was fortunate to be granted my wish. With the plain sky as background, my BIF workhorse had no trouble catching it in the middle of its undulating flight.

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Pied Triller (Lalage nigra, migrant, male)

Habitat - Common in trees in open country, gardens in towns, and open scrub in the lowlands. 


Shooting Info - Bued River, Rosario, La Union, Philippines, November 10, 2016, EOS 7D MII + EF 400 DO IS II,
400 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000 sec, ISO 320, manual exposure in available light, hand held, major crop resized to 800 x 533.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Whimbrel evades the 'delete' button

I noticed this Whimbrel only after it  had flown way past my position, and its flight attitude was no longer photogenic. Just the same, I instinctively raised my shooting gear, acquired the subject in a split second, and fired a couple of frames.

I intended to delete the shots immediately, but when I reviewed these in the 7D MII's LCD, I noticed some redeeming qualities of the captures, especially the second shot. Yes, the flight position was bad and most of the wing feathers are tattered (a result of the long migration journey). But light on the subject was good, and the background was pleasing. So, deletion was postponed until after I've looked at the image on my processing computer.

Later, during pixel-peeping in post-process, I saw the detail captured, as well as catchlight in the eye. I decided to stay the obliteration of the files for good. This image gives me something to aspire for on my next visits to the fishponds of Sto. Tomas. When light is golden and the feathers are replaced by new ones in time, the gear and the operator seem capable of catching this flying wader against a non-sky background. 

The ingredients for a great keeper will be in place - I only have to wait for a well-groomed Whimbrel flying towards me. Eternal hope that the next shot will be better than the last is what makes a birdnut continue doing and enjoying this tough pursuit.

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Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus, migrant)

Habitat - Along the coast in grassy marshes, mud and on exposed coral flats, beaches and sometimes in ricefields. 

Shooting Info - Sto. Tomas, La Union, Philippines, November 5, 2016, EOS 7D MII + EF 400 DO IS II + EF 1.4x TC III,
560 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000 sec, ISO 320, manual exposure in available light, hand held, major crop resized to 800 x 533.

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