Saturday, 28 February 2015

Hunter Wetlands Centre

The Birdlife Photography workshop was held at the Hunter Wetlands Centre. Jo and I visited this centre 30 years ago, a few months after it had opened, and it was fantastic to see the vision become a reality.

After some great workshops in the middle of the day, we opted to take some time in the afternoon for a walk around the wetlands and managed to capture some great birds in the Azolla-covered pond right in front of the visitor centre.

Australasian Grebe, Hunter Wetlands Centre, Newcastle NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/11 1/400
Intermediate Egret, Hunter Wetlands Centre, Newcastle NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/5.6 1/500
Little Black Cormorant, Hunter Wetlands Centre, Newcastle NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/11 1/500
Magpie Goose, Hunter Wetlands Centre, Newcastle NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/11 1/640
Plumed Whistling Duck, Hunter Wetlands Centre, Newcastle NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/5.6 1/500
Dusky Moorhen, Hunter Wetlands Centre, Newcastle NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/11 1/160

More birds were spotted a little further afield

Australian White Ibis, Hunter Wetlands Centre, Newcastle NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/5.6 1/6400
Wandering Whistling-Duck + Grey Teal, Hunter Wetlands Centre, Newcastle NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/5.6 1/6400

but the highlight was when we returned to the main pond and an Intermediate Egret landed in the Casuarina tree close by.

Intermediate Egret, Hunter Wetlands Centre, Newcastle NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/5.6 1/1000

Ash Island

First day of the BirdLife Photography workshop began with an early morning trip to Ash Island, or Kooragang Wetlands, part of the Hunter Wetlands National Park in the Hunter River estuary. The morning was warm and humid with fog hanging around for the first hour or more.

First thing we noticed was the plethora of spider webs with dew drops glistening in the morning sun.

Ash Island, Newcastle NSW
Photograph courtesy of Joanne Smissen

and a few ducks, including this pair of Pacific Black Duck, cruising around a large pond in the morning mist.

Pacific Black Duck Ash Island, Newcastle NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/5.6 1/400
while these two Pied Butcherbirds yodelled together for about 15 minutes.

Pacific Black Duck Ash Island, Newcastle NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/5.6 1/500

The next bird to stop the convoy was a Whistling Kite perched in a dead tree close to the track.

Whistling Kite, Ash Island, Newcastle NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/5.6 1/2500
Whistling Kite, Ash Island, Newcastle NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/5.6 1/3200

In the meantime, a female Superb Fairy-wren was doing it's best to attract our attention, displaying and chattering at us on the other side of the track.

Superb Fairy-wren (female), Ash Island, Newcastle NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/5.6 1/1250

One of the birds I was hoping to see here was the Mangrove Gerygone so we spent some time walking along the track beside a stand of mangroves searching amongst the foliage for small birds. There was a lot of activity going on in the mangroves and we caught quick glances of finches and fantails and for a few seconds, I spotted this little character--just long enough for one shot. Not the best view of this bird but a lifer for me, even if 'only' a juvenile. It turns out that I was lucky to capture this one as this was the only one I saw for the whole four days.

Mangrove Gerygone (juvenile), Ash Island, Newcastle NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/5.6 1/100

Several other small passerines were spotted among the reeds and other vegetation around the ponds.

Australian Reed-Warbler, Ash Island, Newcastle NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/11 1/200
Golden-headed Cisticola, Ash Island, Newcastle NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/5.6 1/2500

Perhaps the highlight of the day, though, was this tree in the middle of a swamp--a perch shared by White-bellied Sea Eagles and Whistling Kites. We couldn't get any closer without getting very wet and muddy (not to mention damaging the environment but it was great to just stand and watch these majestic birds at a distance.

White-bellied Sea Eagle + Whistling Kite, Ash Island, Newcastle NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/5.6 1/1600

Friday, 27 February 2015

Allyn River

We took a trip to the Allyn River region north-east of Newcastle today to visit a rainforest habitat with the hope of spying some new birds.

The meeting point for the trip was the picnic ground in Paterson and we managed to spot an immature Dollarbird high in the branches of a tree. The very dull light (it was 7:00 AM) and distance away from any sensible viewing point - if the bird allowed me to get any closer I'd have been looking straight up at it - made this just a record shot but as this is the first time I'd photographed this species, it was a good start to the day.

Dollarbird (immature), Paterson NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 800, f/5.6 1/125

We went on several walks through the rainforest with sounds and fleeting glances of several interesting birds but as is normally the case with forest photography, there were few good photographic opportunities.

Photographing birds on rainforest track, Allyn River NSW
Photograph courtesy of Joanne Smissen

The best birds of the day were a handful of Bassian Thrush that were hanging around a picnic ground and car park at one of the stops. I was very pleased to finally capture this species on camera. It had become one of my bogey birds in Victoria - I'd seen them many time but either did not have a camera with me at the time or they were in such dense vegetation that photographing them had been impossible - until today! The only problem (photographically) was the highly contrasty light with the birds seeming to prefer to remain in the shade with bright sunny backgrounds. A little fill flash helped.

Bassian Thrush, Allyn River NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/8 1/180 (fill flash)

The fill flash also helped when the birds remained in the dark undergrowth at the edge of the grassy picnic area.

Bassian Thrush, Allyn River NSW
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8 (x2 adaptor), ISO 400, f/8 1/180 (fill flash)

While I was wandering down a track pursuing a pair of Rufous Fantails (unsuccessfully), Jo caught this thrush 'sunbathing'.

Bassian Thrush, Allyn River NSW
Photograph courtesy of Joanne Smissen

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Port Stephens Pelagic

Birders are weird people, bird photographers slightly weirder and those who not only go on but enjoy pelagic boat trips are simply perverse! Paying for the privilege of spending eight hours on a small, cramped, uncomfortable boat - pitching, rolling and rocking on choppy seas - with one or more people getting seasick, all while trying to frame and focus on birds flying past or sitting on the surrounding water would be torture to most sensible people. To others it is paradise!

14 such sturdy characters boarded the good ship Argonaut at Nelson Bay just after sunrise and headed out to sea on this misty Thursday morning.

Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 400, f/5.6 1/2000

As we left Port Stephens, we spied a fishing boat engulfed in a cloud of seabirds. The skipper assured us that our experience would soon be the same.

Fishing boat, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/3.5 1/3200

First to arrive was a Wedge-tailed Shearwater - my first confirmed lifer for the day (while this bird is common on the central eastern coast of Australia, I'd never managed to confirm an ID of sightings in the past, having only ever seen 'shearwaters' from shore; I am pretty sure I saw many of these at Stockton Breakwater yesterday but could not confirm the ID)

Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/4.5 1/6400

shortly followed by a Pomerine Jaeger - lifer number two!

Pomarine Jaeger, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4 1/5000

Mick, our tour leader, started 'berleying' to attract the birds with immediate effect - Wedge-tailed Shearwaters soon appeared from all directions

Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/5 1/2000
Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 92.5mm, ISO 400, f/4.5 1/1250
Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/4.5 1/2000
Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 140mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/2500

some staying still long enough among the chaos to allow close-up portraits

Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/4.5 1/1250

before taking off.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/4.5 1/1600

Whilst all this was going on, two more rarities were spotted, making Buller's Shearwater and Black Petrel lifers three and four for the day.

Buller's Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4 1/3200
Black Petrel, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 400, f/3.5 1/2000

There must have been something wrong with this bird's right eye as it was an opaque blue colour in every shot I took so it's not an artefact of the reflection off the ocean.

We were underway again, being followed by a team of shearwaters. 

Shearwaters, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 107.5mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/3200

The rolling swell and inconsistent chop on the surface made for some 'interesting' photography with many shots turning out like this

Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 150mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/3200

but occasionally scoring a good fly-by shot.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 107.5mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/3200

Several Pomerine Jaegers were following the boat, circling around us providing great views of their highly variable neck, breast and belly plumage.

Pomarine Jaeger, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4 1/4000
Pomarine Jaeger, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/3.5 1/6400

Pomerine Jaeger, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 115mm, ISO 400, f/3.5 1/4000

One 'landed' and squabbled among the shearwaters for a feed.

Pomarine Jaeger and Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4 1/1600

When we reached the continental shelf, we stopped the boat and drifted for a couple of hours and waited for more birds... 

A Shy-type Albatross flew by for a look. This is the best of the photographs I have and it looks more like a White-capped Albatross (Thallasarche steadi) than the Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta) typical of the Southern Ocean. I find it really difficult to tell the difference as there seems to be a fair bit of variation in the bill and facial colouration of both but I'm going with White-capped Albatross until convinced otherwise...

White-capped Albatross, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4 1/14000

Lifer five for the day was this Flesh-footed Shearwater (again, I am sure we had seen these earlier but had not managed an ID-worth photograph until now)...

Flesh-footed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 130mm, ISO 400, f/6.3 1/1600
Flesh-footed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/4.5 1/1250
Flesh-footed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4 1/2500

...soon followed by number six. The Grey-faced race of the Great-winged Petrel has recently been split off as a separate species by Birdlife Australia. While I have seen and photographed Great-winged Petrels before, I've never seen or photographed the Grey-faced Petrel so will take it as a new species pending the split being confirmed.

Grey-faced Petrel, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4 1/1250
Grey-faced Petrel, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/4000

As we were admiring this new find, a Wandering Albatross flew in

Wandering Albatross, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-3, Sigma 300mm f/2.8, ISO 400, f/4 1/6400
Wandering Albatross, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 170mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/8000

and took a few practice runs to clear the runway for landing (large albatross, like the Wandering and Royal Albatross, will often make repeated test landing and take-offs before settling on open water because they are unable to take off from water if there is insufficient wind)

Wandering Albatross and Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/8000
Wandering Albatross, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/6400
Wandering Albatross and Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 122.5mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/6400

before settling among the shearwaters.

Wandering Albatross and Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 87.5mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/5000

Wandering Albatross and Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 180mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/8000
Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/1600

As we headed back to port, we were followed by hundreds of shearwaters

Shearwaters, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 87.5mm, ISO 400, f/6.3 1/1250
Wedge-tailed Shearwater, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 130mm, ISO 400, f/6.3 1/800
and at least three jaegers that put on some aerial acrobatics trying to catch berley in the air

Pomarine Jaeger, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm, ISO 400, f/6.3 1/1250
Pomarine Jaeger, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 92.5mm, ISO 400, f/6.3 1/2500
Pomarine Jaeger, off Port Stephens
Pentax K-5, Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 140mm, ISO 400, f/4 1/8000

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