Friday, 28 November 2014

Great Grey Shrike and Canon 7D mk 2

For some of you this is old news but since my last posting I have been into hospital and had the salivary gland plus it's resident stone removed leaving me with a 2.5 inch cut and I daresay scar but overall things went well, I didn't suffer any nerve damage to the nerve that controls the left side of my mouth so I can jabber away just like I used to. Whilst I felt pretty fragile for a week or so I am now feeling pretty good; better in fact than for 4 months (the time it's taken to get the problem sorted).
To aid my recovery I invested in the Canon 7D mk 2. The on-line reviews seemed good and Steve Ashton and Mike Gould seemed to think it did what was advertised so in I jumped. The camera only arrived Monday afternoon so my experience with it to date is limited.
Straight out of the box I slapped my 400mm f5.6 on it and fired off a few shots Ahhhhhh......they were rubbish. So it was out with the ruler at 45 degrees to check the focusing. Same as with my old 7D - it was front focusing (so is probably the lens and not the camera that was at fault) - so it was time to locate the AF microadjustment. A quick look suggested the degree of correction required was very similar to before at +7.
The next day I spent a little time at Restharrow trying out the tracking - which is superb,  and the focus array options - which I'm still trying to work out. What I will say is that once it has locked onto a subject (ie flying bird) it does stay on it superbly my only problem is that with the wider arrays of focusing points I have no control of where it actually focuses and it's as likely to be the wing tip as the birds head/beak/eye. Still if it was easy.............
On the noise front I was hoping for an improvement and I've got one. Thus far I would say that ISO 800 with the mk 2 is similar to ISO 400 with the mk 1 but there may be more to come in that ignoring the noise controls the amount of noise is very dependent on the "Threshold" selected on the DPP sharpening tool. Certainly the shots I've taken at ISO 800-1000 have been usable with only the minimum of work (and this was before finding the "Threshold" adjustment).

Now for the shrike.
Today was the third time I've gone to see it. The first was a couple of days after my op and I was too tired to hang around waiting so I missed it when it returned for the afternoon. The second time was a week after the op and I dropped in on the way to the William Harvey (to have the stitches removed) and again on the way back but it was a no show for most of the day so I missed it again.
Today I arrived around 8.45, it was cloudy and murky but Ron (I've forgotten his surname) had been there since dawn and pointed it out in the hedgerow adjacent to the playing field. Tick achieved; now the wait for it to come close and hopefully for the sun to come out.
Around 9.00 it came out of the hedge and flew into the large hawthorn by the stream (on the Canterbury side of the bridge). Ron got his scope on it and saw that it was ripping a mouse/vole apart that it had impaled there - I'm sure it had nothing in it's beak when it flew across so this must have been an earlier kill. The shots I got were rubbish but here's one for the record:

Mouse breakfast...yummmy
It stayed there for 10-15 minutes then moved further away to another bush by the stream then onto the top of a small dead tree that was quite close (relatively) to where the stream goes under the A28. I went off to see how close it was. The answer was closer but still not close and the traffic flying past and lack of pavement meant it was not a comfortable place to be. Still I fired off a number of shots and got quite enthusiastic as the sky started clearing.
Whilst there I tried a few changes to the micro adjustment ranging from +7 to +10 but ended up at +8.

It stayed there looking around and attacking the top of a twig for about 15 minutes then at 9.30 it flew to the wires by the Branch road bridge. I was actually relieved to get off the A28.

Caught in the act!

The distance to the bird was very similar to that I had from the A28 but at least I wasn't dicing with death. After a while it flew off and when I refound it it was in the row of bushes over towards the Bagham road. From there it went back into the playing field hedge where it stayed for quite some time though at one point it was on a post in the middle of the field then in the hedge quite close to the playing field pavilion.

Trying to look innocent

Then I lost sight of  and was scanning the distant hedges when some people who just turned up pointed out it was right above me on the wires (I was down by the pavilion where the wires are closer to the road). Fill your boots time the only problem being wires don't make great pictures.

It continued to fiddle about in it's original hawthorn bush, tried chasing a couple of long tailed tits who seemed to want to torment it after it had failed and even chased a snipe but eventually it returned to the wires near the Branch road bridge. The light was now brilliant but those wires are further away than you think.

On it's way back to a distant hedge

All in all a pretty pleasing morning.
A bit of sun, the bird came close, a few people to chat to, (though I'm left wondering whether Mark threw his camera into the river as he threatened) and even Mr Ashton couldn't spoil the fun - despite phoning me every time he drove past along the A28 in his truck..........and his tooting of his horn as he went past.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Desert Wheatear at Reculver

My day started in the hide at Restharrow seeing a lone Mr Ashdown who was busy counting teal - there were a lot to count. I then wandered off to the sea front hoping for some snow buntings to go with my recent Lapland (and not so recent Ortolan bunting) shots but I'd only seen a short-eared owl come in-off when I got a text alert saying there was a desert wheatear at Reculver.

I have seen desert wheatear before,  the one at Sandwich a few years ago,  however after constantly complaining nothing ever turns up locally (I always manage to forget anything good I've seen) and in the knowledge they normally hang around I went.

As I passed the towers I could see a group of people up towards Cold Harbour and another loose group opposite the oyster farm........obviously it wasn't preforming for the crowd and when I reached the oyster farm contingent they told me it was on the roof of the shed. Well I could see something on the roof but the light was right into my eyes so couldn't tell what it was.
After a while the bird disappeared from the roof and I was just about to make my way around the back to look for it when it was spotted on the sea wall.
Half a dozen scurried off after it stopping evry so often to get some shots then moving closer. We actually got very close though the light direction was somewhat sub-optimal being side on.

A few walkers were trying to get along the wall and very kindly hung back until we had got shots as good as we were going to get and when they went past the bird they walked on the inland side of the road (as we'd asked) so increasing the chance it would be flushed onto the shingle.....which it duly was.

Now the bird was down-light of us but it rapidly moved down to the rock pile about 400 yards east of the towers. The bird stayed there for a while (everyone staying on the sea wall) then it made it's way back west towards the towers along the shingle.....we all followed.

Once back at the towers it moved onto the rocks beside the railing and it was here it was the closest and the light direction was good. Unfortunately it didn't stay long in any one place and when it did it was facing us but I managed my best shots here.

After a short while the bird flew back along the beach to the eastern rock pile and everyone moved after it. I did think about leaving because I doubted that I would improve on what I had in the bag but I wanted to catch up with Steve and Mike and probe them about their new 7D mk2's.
We sat on the shingle as the bird fluttered around the rocks and shingle but it never came quite close enough (in comparison with my earlier views).

If it stood still it was very difficult to see on the shngle

Eventually it went back to the tower rocks and sat for a long time just watching us watching it - brilliant views but just a little too distant for my 400mm lens. It did however have a scramble up one of the rocks and showed off it's tail brilliantly.

It sat on the rocks for quite some time then disappeared west which was when I gave up.

Turning out to be a good week really .......and I've ordered a 7D Mk 2

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Lapland bunting at Swalecliff

As most of you will know I've not been out much these last few months but the light is well and truly at the end of the tunnel.
I have been suffering from a stone in my salivary gland and it's a whopper - 1.7cm long and 1.2 cm wide. It's blocked the salivary duct so saliva builds up in the gland and the result is I have a lump on my throat the size of an egg but the real problem has been the infections. Since this started (July 18th) I've had 6 weeks on anti-biotics and a week on antifungals (I managed to get oral thrush; a common problem with prolonged antibiotic treatment).
Anyway I'm to be operated on next week when the salivary gland will be removed and hopefully that will be the end of the matter. It will mean one night in hospital (possibly 2 depending on how much bleeding takes place and when the drains come much detail?)

Today started at the hospital for a "Pre-assessment clinic" where blood tests, an ECG were run and a lot of forms filled in. After it was over and because the sun was out and because you can park close I drove up to Swalecliff to try my luck with the Lapland bunting.
I've not had a lot of luck with Laplands over the years, I've never found my own one and normally I can't find the ones other people have seen and when I have located one I've either failed to get clear shot or the weather has been poor (normally both).
Anyway as I arrived a guy with a camera was leaving but he told me where it had been - near a white sign -  and where it had gone - out onto the shingle. I could see another case of  "you should have been here 10 minutes ago" looming along with the disappointment.
I wandered along the seaward path past the white sign and on to the wooden bridge (where all the reports on Bird guides say it is) and back several times then finally found it back near the sign. It was on the small bit of shingle between the path and the water but it flew off onto the seaward shingle banks almost as soon as I'd spotted it and certainly before I'd got the camera onto it.
Still, I now knew where it was so it was a matter of waiting and hoping. I didn't have to wait too long before it returned and I was as happy as Larry clicking away to my hearts content.
It did return to the shingle banks a couple of times as people/dogs wandered past but always returned pretty quickly. The last time it was in camera range I was clicking away some 6-8 yards from it when 2 dog walkers (plus dogs) walked past and it totally ignored them!!! They couldn't have been more than 3 yards away from it.
This was by far the closest I have got to a Lapland bunting and the only time I have seen one when the sun was shining. All my previous shots have been binned!!!!

A shot to show it's red neck

The chap I saw first up had also told me of some black redstarts in the church yard so after taking some 300 shots of the bunting I went over there. As I approached I could hear a black redstart calling and on the fence - 20-30 yards away - was a cracking male. Only downside I was facing into the sun.
Anyway I moved into the churchyard and sneaked up on him - still on the fence.

Male black redstart

He actually spent a lot of time in the trees, sometimes very close, but getting past the foliage without spooking him was a struggle as was shooting into the sky.

I did take a few pictures of the female but most of the time was spent on the male.
By now it was 3.00 pm I'd been in the field 2.5 hrs and after a morning at the hospital I was well and truly cream crackered.