Peacocks and the rise of the Turkey Terminators.

August 2017 Monthly report.

Winter is now officially over and spring has sprung.

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House keeping announcement.

First up is an apology from me , as it seems we had a bit of a hiccup with the blog, which resulted in 2 false post notifications being sent out to some peoples and the emails playing up.

The month of August

August was yet another busy month full of adventures for me .

We, Steve and I started the month over on the Kapiti coast enjoying a glorious early spring day  chasing Grey Warbler’s  ( riroriro).
Even with it being very early in the season , these birds are already in their full breeding colours and already building their nests because  in late September early October the Shining Cuckoo will arrive in New Zealand.
Shining Cuckoos  target the riroriro, laying their eggs in the riroriro nest, leaving them to be hatched and raised by the  poor riroriro while the cuckoo summers over here without a care in the world.
However the clever little riroriro gets in at least one clutch and sometime 2 and raises their chicks before the bulk of the Shining Cuckoo arrive.

A riroriro with nesting material

The grey warbler or riroriro

The swamp where I love to shoot these birds is filled with raupō and at this time of the year a lot of last years growth is now dead and the stems and leaves turned light golden.
Shooting late afternoon means your going to get a beautiful golden background that really bring the colours of these birds to life.

After some great success and the sun sinking lower and lower in the sky we left the swamp behind, but on the way home  we spied a Cock Pheasant silhouetted in the sunset  so I just had to have a shot of it.

A beautiful silhouette of a Cock bird, even if I say so myself lol

Cock Pheasant

 

Stagland’s Wildlife Park

The following week it was off to check on the action out at Staglands with Nomad Kath.
I had not taken much notice of the Turkeys down on the farm before,  but today I was to learn just how awesome these birds really are as they come into their breeding season.

Being the person that I am, I have always talked to the animals, today would be no different and I could not giving the locals a   gobble, gobble, gobble.
Most times in the past I have received a pretty quick response from the local Toms, but this time what I got, was not what I expected.

 The colour on this birds face changed rather dramatically  from this.

Turkey

 

 In a matter of seconds to this.

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I was very intrigued, so more gobbles were needed which were enthusiastically  responded to.

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Next thing He posed and strutted around for me and for the first time I saw what a truly magnificent  bird the Turkey was.

The turkey strut

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A Ram looked on in mild amusement. 

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We left the strutting Tom to his girl friends and dropped in to see our old mate  Rocky where I continued his training.

Tony the bird whisperer training an attentive  Rocky .

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The Peacocks

Next up came the Peacocks.
Ive been taking photos of birds for years, but never much in the way of Peacocks and Peahens.
This summer the good Lord willing I’m going after them big time and I’ve been watching the tails grow on the males through out this winter.

Im still learning how to capture these birds in a way that gives them the credit due them.

The close up seems pretty peachy.

Peacock

 

But full frame shows off the whole deal.

Peacock

 

Or is the sweet spot somewhere in between ?

Peacock

 

Maybe a real close up might make a good  print on the wall.

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Or even  a  closer one?

Peacock

 

Every now and again in this game you get a shot that is one in a million I guess.
I was shooting a Peacock when a Peahen decided she was going to take the lime light , She waltzed in front of the Peacock  and fanned her tail out perfectly in front of the posing Peacock resulting in truly a remarkable image.
Its perfect.

Peacock

 

I am looking forward  the rest of spring and summer to work on Peacocks.

 

The Red Stint

Next on the agenda came about when word filtered down the pipeline that the Red Stint that visited us a few years ago as a juvenile was once again seen at the Manawatu Estuary and this time he was in his breeding colours.
Immediate invasion plans were formulated and executed promptly in case he decided to move on.

Nomad Kath did not have any images of Red Stints so we made it happen.

These birds are half the size of a house sparrow .

Mr Red Stint wearing  his best outfit.

Red Necked Stint--14

For a tiny bird He takes big steps 

Red Necked Stint

Red Stints love to hang out with Wrybills  and this bird was no different.

Wrybills

The classic close up portrait shot has its place, but also keeping back a bit and taking in the birds surroundings and placement in its environment adds yet another dimension.

The front bird is placed in the centre, right in  front of the bunch, giving symmetry.

wrybilled plover, ngutuparore

Now for the close up.

Mr Wrybill, l trying to get this sand out of his ear lol

wrybilled plover, ngutuparore

 

Mr Shoveler Duck was also out showing off his new attire for the year

Australasian shoveler or kuruwhengi

Once we had the Red Stint in the bag we were off home .
We had a trip back to Staglands  planned in the next few days and so it was to be.

 

The rise of the Turkey Terminator.

I had noticed there was 2  big male Toms at Staglands , each commanding a area of their own , The top bird up on the hill was pretty harmless and busied him self with showing off to his girlfriends, the other on the low lands was a different creature all together.

I had had a bit of a run in with him but he had kept his distance the first time we met although he seemed keen to get to know me on closer terms after I had talked to him a little bit, I was trying to get his face to change colour like his mate up on the hill.

When we met next time how ever he seemed to recognise me immediately  and launched an immediate  full on assault from 20 meters out.

Introducing the Turkey Terminator.

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I was fine if I met him being head on but as soon as I tired to get away and turn my back I was set upon lol.

 

Terminator attack courtesy of a laughing out loud Kath making suggestions from a safe distance as I battled for my life .

 

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Photo By Barbara  Kaths sister

Locked in Mortal combat,the bird was relentless .

Birds are not the only thing on offer for the Photographer as Staglands Wildlife Park.

There is always something to catch your eye if you look.

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Retiring for lunch we set up next to a tree where we knew there would be something to watch while eating .

A tui dropped in to say hi.

tui

 

Followed by Mr or Mrs  White Eye, I don’t know the difference.

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I could fill this post with hundreds of images but we must move on.

Kath is a Falcon lover, she sponsors 2 native falcons at Wingspan, a place where falcons are cared for when injured and where the public can have close encounters with trained birds .
As sometime happens the incredible occurs.
One day in the middle of suburbia Kath looks out her window and there perched in her kohwai tree four meters away sits a male falcon.
I was invited to come up and photograph this bird as it had made Kath’s place part of its daily food collection route, preying on the small birds that feed on Kath’s lawn and in her hedge.
These chances just don’t turn up all that often, we are truly blessed.

So here he is in all his glory , a truly magnificent wild creature, totally unafraid of humans.

kārearea or New Zealand Falcon

It’s such a blessing to encounter these birds .
these falcon are making an impressive come back due to heavy pest control in our valley, may they increase to bless us all.

kārearea or New Zealand Falcon

 

I think this is about enough for this post.
August was full on, so I will leave you with my favourite shot of the month  a riroriro and one that is destined for my wall.

This print will be available for sale later in September.

The golden background and soft light really complements the bird.

riroriro the Grey Warbler.
Bless ya all heaps peoples.

The grey warbler or riroriro

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to improve your bird photography Part 3. Timing

The art of timing .

Timing is everything” so they say, this is true of any kind of photography, but is especially true of wildlife and landscape photography.

This photo below looks simple enough, but it took a wee bit of patience to get what I wanted.
I could see the burst of sunlight shooting downwards through a hole in the cloud and I could see a triangle shaped stack of drift wood on the sand  in front of me .
I could track that sun burst and  knew if if the cloud did not close over, it would shower down behind the stack setting it apart from the rest of the image, so I waited for more than a few moments to get the shot.
Putting some thought into the shot and being patient  can really give the photographer a great deal of satisfaction. The result  speaks for itself.

Sun Burst  

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For landscapes the rule is get there early and prepare to stay late.
Sunset and sunrise

 

Bird Action .

I consider bird photography the most challenging of all photographic disciplines, esp small birds that never sit still for long .

Here is a perfect example  of one such species of bird, the Grey Warbler or riroriro.

Small, flighty, jittery, hardly ever still and in one place for more than a split second , very quick  off the mark, these birds demand your total  %100 concentration .

Whoops too slow on the shutter this time, the birds head is facing away from the camera, no score Tony.

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I timed it right and nailed  this one .

The Grey Warbler,  or riroriro.

 

Way too slow.

Well yes  this is  a lovely image of a stalk  but not much else , bad , bad boy, Tony lol

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This Time I was on to it , good boy Tony.

The grey warbler or riroriro

 

So how do you prepare for birds like the Warbler.

1.  pre-focus  your lens to where you expect your bird to most likely sit. This way the lens doesn’t waste time hunting  for the bird.
With little birds you expect them to be close so set your long lens 300mil and longer to focus on the 2-3 meter setting most lenses have.

2. get the light right, you want it coming from behind you over your shoulders, this can really help speed up the focal system to lock onto your target.

3  Don’t muck around with your shot. As soon as you know the focus system is locking on to your bird  fire off a burst of images at high speed.

Watching the light through the view finder.

Lying flat on the ground I was tracking this Wood Duck (below) in the early morning light.
The bird was moving and I was locked on to the bird keeping it in the frame and focused. Click went the shutter
The profile was awesome, the focus was perfect, but I had failed to notice that the birds head had moved in the shadows.
The light was now falling on the body of the bird, but not on its head.
Without light on the birds head this image is destined for the recycle  bin .

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The bird did an about turn and came back and I tried again, this time I got the lighting right but the birds posture was not as dramatic.

Oh well you cant win them all I guess.

Wood Duck

 

Once again I timed this shot wrong , not only did I not see the floating bird, but the focus locked onto it instead of my intended target.

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I stayed on the bird and tried again.

This is how we roll.

red billed gulls--4

 

 

Tracking and staying on target.

We have all seen the classic English Spitfire vs the German Messerschmitt 109 sequences at the movies.
The hero in the Spitfire hunts for his target , finds it, tracks it, locks onto it , fires away and eventually blows it out of the sky.

Photographing small flying birds is not that much different.
The trick is to get that bird in the centre of the view finder and let rip and keep shooting  while trying to keep that bird dead centre.
Just because the bird moves away from the centre  and goes out of focus, don’t give up, don’t just stop, keep firing and try and re-acquire the bird.

Below is a sequence , I lost the bird , a small Cape Petrel as it flew past very close but I stayed with it  shooting all the way,  until it landed, or in this case crash landed on the surface of the water.

Just wing it but dont give up.

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As the bird swung round the end of the boat I kept shooting,  catching up with it as it crash landed , had I not stayed with it, I would have missed out on this very amusing image.

Cape Petrel--2

 

When things go right because you pre-empt .

Getting to know your target species can give you some real advantages .
These four last images are a good example.
Ducks when washing  will dip their heads and backs completely under the water 2 -3 times before rising up and wildly flapping their wings.
When you see this behaviour you can get ready for the shot.

Here goes the dip.

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Now we are ready for the flap.

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Once again I saw the dip and prepared to catch the coming eruption.

Wood Duck

 

My timing was perfect with this female Wood Duck

Wood Duck

I hope this has been helpful  to you peoples out there.
Photography can be a very richly rewarding hobby or obsession, its a journey of discovery and most certainly  one about ourselves .
How we go about that journey and treat other people that are on their journey says a lot about who we are  as people.  ❤

Up coming events :
Cook Straight  Albatross adventure

We still have a few seats to fill for our pelagic trip out of Wellington  on the 12th of November.
$150.00 per person,
Max 12 people on board, per trip.
7am – 2pm  , 7 hours on the water with the birds
1 hour steaming out and back with the birds chasing us all the way back in.
Roast Chicken lunch provided .
Snacks and tea on board on demand.
Deep sea fishing also available  for an extra $30.00.
This is a wonderful opportunity  to sea Albatross and a variety of deep sea birds right up close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

July Monthly report 2017

July is mid winter here  in New Zealand , this means our  Rugby Season is in full swing and our national team the All Blacks are  furthering our designs on world domination.

While most of our country is in a fever pitch, warm at home in the comfort of their lounges, screaming at thier television sets , some of us more hardy souls venture out in the weather, tasting what nature has to offer, while trying to squeeze it all through our lenses and record it onto our digital sensors.

This July past, was no exception, the month started of for me with a Father and Daughter team workshop, at Staglands Wildlife Park.
Corinne, (Wren)  and her Dad, Adam, (The Blade), , had booked a sunny but freezing cold day with me .

Adam is a saw doctor, hence his nick name (The Blade) , thats saw, not sore doctor lol .

The Saturday morning  started out warm enough in the Staglands cafeteria.
We were parked up beside a large roaring fire, with cups of coffee resting on a warm wooden table.
All was very cosy as I drew diagrams of cameras and explained their mysterious workings and how we could go about fooling them into behaving for us.
It didn’t seem very long however before I ran out of words, coffee and diagrams and we forced to head outside to face the cold head on and try and put into practice what I had just been teaching  them.
This was not our first time out together as this dynamic  father and daughter duo had booked a workshop about the same time the  year before  and they got right down to business building on what they learnt last time.

Wren keeps her eye on her target, in this case a Kea .

Wren 2-

Mr Mute Swan  is always a popular subject for my clients  and he was next up.

Mute Swan--3

 

Sometimes I do take photos  of non birds, these mushrooms  grabbed my attention.

Mushrooms--2

 

Next on the agenda was Rocky the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo.
Ive become quite good at coaxing him out of his warm nest box,  up on the hill  above the track . Most times I can get him to come  down for a few treats, where he can be patted and made a big fuss over.

Wren and Rocky the Sulphur Crested Cockatoo.

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Once Wren and Rocky ran out of conversation we went off in search of something else to challenge us .

Mr Peacock has been slowly growing his tail feathers  for mating season in a few months time.

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A visit to the Mandarin Ducks  was next on the agenda.

Mandarin Ducks

 

Soon it was lunch time so we filed back into the warmth of the cafe for a bite to eat  and then put in another hour before calling it a day.

This peacock was posed just too nice, to pass up on.

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Mrs whio looked a bit grumpy as it was getting colder by the minute as the light was fading, so we packed it in and headed home.

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Mid winter at Staglands is a real challenge for any  photographer, there is not a great deal of light available for most of the  day, however during the summer  the sun floods in all day long.

As we drove away we were being watched by a Silkie chicken, his hairstyle is very similar to mine lol.

Silkie  chickens --3

 

Thus ended a wonderful day out with Wren and Adam and as they had already booked for yet another adventure in 3 weeks time and  I was looking forward to seeing them again soon.

Pelagic Paradise. 

The highlight of the month was to be our pelagic trip out into the Cook Straight.

The boat launches from Seaview in the Wellington Harbour and is the only boat that I know of  that caters for Bird photographers.
In fact I think its an unbeatable deal for those living in the lower North Island  wanting to photograph Birds that inhabit the Pelagic zone.

What is The Pelagic Zone 

Twelve people turned up besides myself, for our event out on the wild sea.

The trip  lasts  for 6 hours, One hour steaming out and one back with an amazing  4 hours  where we would meet up with birds that never come ashore  save for breeding which is in the sub- antarctic regions of the Southern Seas.

This trip was going to be the highlight of the year for me personally and as it was the first event on this scale I have ever undertaken to organise, I was more than a little nervous.

I had nothing to worry about  as it turned out, as the quality of the people who came on the trip and the professional staff of the the fishing vessel Seafarer II made it  a very enjoyable excitement filled event indeed.

Most if not all of the people on board knew each other through my facebook page . 

The team for the day, two of which came all the way from the south Island .

the pelagic team

 

As day broke, our team embarked onto the boat, we given a quick safety talk and we were off .

Last year I was invited to go on a trip with 19 other birders out onto the Cook Straight.
I had a ball  but with 19 other folks on board, the boat was pretty crowded and most of them were birders but not photographers .
The trip was amazing, but as soon as I got home I decided I would organise  my own event next time  and  design it just for bird photographers and limit the amount of people on board .

The Birds

I have a gazillion images from the team to post, so what I will do, is post a full trip report in a few weeks time  showing off some of the amazing images  these enthusiastic people captured .

For now Im happy just to post a series of images of some of the species list of what we saw on our trip.

First up a Giant Nothern Petrel cruised past the boat.

Giant Petrel

 

Last year I saw lots of Buller’s and White Capped Albatrosses, but only one fairly weather beaten Salvin’s Albatross.

I really wanted some tidy looking Salvin’s this time out and they turned up in numbers, I was thrilled.

The Salvin’s Albatross. 

Salvins Albatross

 

 

Next up to visit us was the huge Southern Royal Albatross.
This is the heaviest bodied Albatross in the world  and only a fraction shorter in wing span from the largest, the true wandering or Snowy Albatross, by a very small margin.

Still being early in the morning, the light still has a soft pinkish glow to it.

Southern Royal Albatross.

Southern Royal Albatross

The close up

Southern Royal Albatross

 

From the biggest to the smallest bird for the day and another species I desperately wanted, the Fairy Prion.

These tiny sea birds are just stunning and so fragile looking,  yet they live  their entire life out on the open angry Southern Ocean.
To say I was over joyed with this shot would be an understatement, it made my trip. They hard hard targets to track up close on the moving boat, a real challenge.

Fairy Prion

Fairy Prion

 

Next up was the Black Browed Albatross

Black Browed Albatross

The close up

Black Browed Albatross

 

Next the Northern Royal Albatross

Northern Royal Albatross

 

The Northern Royal Albatross has heavy dark coloured wings that remain constant through out their life span , where as the Southern has a dark wing that fades from dark to white, from the leading edge of the wing towards the back, that increases as they age, until very little colour remains

Northern Royal Albatross

 

The cape petrels were next on the list  and these two came round like two little jet fighters on a strafing run.

Cape Petrel

 

Cape Petrel

 

Salvin’s, I just couldn’t get me enough of these birds that day.

Salvins Albatross

 

Albatross often have their wing tips  dipping into the water.
Its become a bit of a challenge to me to catch this behaviour.

Salvin’s  dipping his wing.

Salvins Albatross

 

A White Capped Albatross .

White Capped Albatross

 

These little Fairy Prions were a real challenge.

Fairy Prion

 

The trip was so successful we have immediately booked another trip  for the 12th of November and all ready we are half booked out.

 

That’s it for this month, I will leave the last word  to Mr Salvin’s

Later dudes and dudesses   ❤

Salvins Albatross

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monthly report for June 2017

Landscape Workshop Waiakane

June kicked off my winter workshops at Waikanae on the Kapiti Coast, with  a lovely couple from the South Island  that were just starting their road trip up the North Island and back.
Glennys  and her Hubby came to me fresh from the Inter-Islander ferry,  full of enthusiasm and excitement  and were looking for a few pointers to help them get the best out of their new investment (their camera).
The sun was out in all its glory and we set to work, I gave them my  preliminary talk about how the camera works, how it sees and interprets and converts all the information outside the camera into a digital image on the inside and then off we went.

Once out in the field the focus changed more towards  the composition and creative side of things.
We were then blessed with a visit from a local of some renown, a very friendly kōtare or Sacred Kingfisher.

This bird is super friendly and even though Glennys did not have a camera setup suitable for birds, she got images that would be the envy of her mates.

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As the sun started setting  the light became soft  and clikerty click went the shutters as our new friend allowed us to take amazing photos of him in the wonderful soft light.

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pa  pango or scaup  were also available.

A Male pa pango showing off his colouring. 

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I have a very nice place to take sunset photos of Kapiti Island which is a little different from where most  people take photos of the sunset .

I like a foreground interest if possible, just so long as it leads us into the image and doesn’t  compete with the main subject .
The river and plant life in this shot adds an extra  interest, while the river it self, leads our eye through to the back of the image and the sunset and clouds, nothing is lost and all is gain.

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Thus as the sun set I said farewell to Glennys and her hubby as they headed north  and I went home and prepared  for my next workshop on the following morning.

Sunday dawned a cloudless winter day, a classic to be out on the Kapiti coast in winter.

I met Louise at the car park and we spent an hour together walking around the place , looking at the birds, taking a few photos and discussing how we were going to tackle the day ahead of us .

The tide was huge and fully in,  not ideal for the start of the workshop, but with 4 people heading our way fast,  we were in with a grin as they say.

waikanae

 

These posts are a feature in the area , everyone it seems wants a picture of them.

waikanae --2

 

Once everyone had arrived, Lou gathered them together like her own little flock and I drew diagrams on the ground of a camera and repeated the information I shared with Glennys  the night before.

Once I was confident the group had understood the basics and they had had, all their questions answered we hit the ponds .

Here is a sample of some of the shots our group got.

First up is Jakes, he was pretty happy with his days efforts.

An adult Red Bill Gull

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Next up is Samantha’s effort.

A young and very obliging Pied Cormorant poses for the team.

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Terry one of our members of our little group is more or less confined to a wheel chair .
The good thing about Waimanu Lagoons, is that we can  cater for those with limited mobility .

Terry locked and loaded ready for action.

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Terry was very pleased with this shot of this weweia of Dabchick , to tell the truth I would be pleased with it too.

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As we made our way around the ponds  Danger Mouse, ever the enthusiastic assistant,  helped Terry out of her chair and assisted her, up close to a family of Black Swans hidden from view behind some flax bushes.

Terry up close and personal with a family of Black Swan.

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At the end of the ponds we made a u turn and  returned to the car  on the opposite side of the  of the ponds for lunch.

After lunch, a trip out to the river mouth along the spit was called for .

This shell like object  became a object of great interest when held up to the light.

shell-

 

Five hours on the trot seems to be enough learning for even the most keen of Photographers, so we headed back to the car and after a debriefing, I  dismissed the group.
I thought they would all head home but how wrong I was .
The real fun was just about to begin, the shenanigans was just starting lol

Louise aka Danger Mouse  and Terry up to no good in the bushes  

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Jake is trying hard to catch them doing something he can post later on face book.

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This black shag cant make head nor tail feathers of anything thats going on .

Black Shag

 

 

The gang  called it quits went home, but Jake stayed on for sunset with Danger Mouse and I .

It looked like an interesting sunset heading our way,  but as the sun descended , the cloud thickened  quite a bit  over Kapiti Island  ,  I looked for the positive and focused in on that.

With the sunlight bursting out from both the top and the bottom of the clouds I saw an opportunity to place some flax stalks within the bottom sun burst to add additional interest .

sunset  waikanae

 

As the sun dipped lower in the sky the top sunburst was gone but a hole in the cloud opened up  providing an opportunity for a strong  light to beam  downwards  and I could see that the cloud moving as the breeze drove it, that the beam of light was going to drift over  a stack of driftwood, shaped in a pyramid like fashion, so I waited and snapped the photo when it happened.

waikanae sunset-900

 

As that say that was about that for the day.

I returned later that week for another crack at the sunset  but alas this time the cloud dissipated.

Please note I have three elements kind of lined up here
the dead branch, then further into the picture a stick and then past that the reflection of the stacked wood.
This line leads us naturally yet quite unconsciously  through the image .
The bright light on the water and the strong colour in the reflection acts like a magnet pulling us into the image as well.
All in all I was very pleased with this image.
It was not the sunset I was hoping for, but Im proud of the image I did get.

Sunsets-

With  another day out planned for the following weekend,  June was a very busy month for me.

A big thanks to those who came on my workshops and to Danger Mouse for helping me and keeping the troops in line and well… for just being  the ever enthusiastic Danger Mouse willing to go that extra mile to get the shot lol

Bless ya heaps  folks ❤
For more info on my workshops please look here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posture. How to improve your bird photography, part 2.

In our last article on how to improve our bird photography, we looked at composition from the photographers side and what we can do to position ourselves in such a way as to  get the best possible composition here .
In this short article  we will look at the posture, position, or if you like, the attitude of the bird.

Patience. 
Being patient is the key here, wait till your subject is in a good posture or position  to show themselves off before tripping that shutter.

In this example below, the bird has wonderful, interesting, early morning light, falling on the face of the  bird, we are positioned correctly, sun is behind us and we are down low so the profile is great,  but I pressed the shutter with the birds  head in the wrong position.
It doesn’t take much to ruin the image or to lessen the impact the image, could have had if one had been patient.

Having the birds face angled away from us like this, detracts from the image.

Wood Ducks-1509

 

Remember, you are trying to show the bird off at its best, your photo should be all about the bird.

This image below has the bird looking alert with the face in a good position.

Wood Duck--19

 

Here is another example of how not to take a picture of your bird.
Going away, head facing away, just about everything about this image is wrong .
Bad boy Tony lol.

tētē the  Grey Teal-2569

 

Not all going away photos are bad.
This image still works well, because the all important face of the bird is still a strong feature in the image, especially the eye .

wood ducks-113-Edit

 

This next image should need no further explaining as to why it simply sucks.

It might be a tad over stated, it might be a bit on the extreme side, but we should be getting to point.

Lady Amherst's pheasant

 

Be  patient, wait, wait, wait,  till you get a chance of a shot that flatters the bird and shows him or her off at his or her best.

Lady Amherst's pheasant

 

This week I am starting a series of images on my face book page here  that showcase New Zealand landscapes  in the format of a virtual road trip.
Starting from the top of the North Island we will work our way down to Bluff at the bottom of the South Island on the West Coast side and then work our way back up on the East Coast.

We start our journey at Cape Reinga (Te Reinga or Te Rerenga Wairua in Māori), which  is basically ,the northern most point of New Zealand.

The joining of two oceans, the Tasman on the left and the Pacific Ocean to the right , certainly  no place to float a dingy .

Cape Reinga  or te rerenga wairua

 

Tourists watch the year ending as the sun slips quietly out of sight behind the horizon.
Sunset New Years eve 2012

Cape Reinga (Te Reinga or Te Rerenga Wairua in Māori)

 

 

 

How to improve your bird photography, part 1. Composition

All anyone really gets to see on my blog, is my best shots of wildlife and landscapes.
I don’t normally keep, let alone post my mistakes and failures for all to see , that is until now.
Some examples are intentional for this series, others are just plain bad form.
In this series of articles we will look at some of the most common mistakes we make that, all though for many, may not  completely ruin the image, certainly detract from what it could have been had we been more careful and been PATIENT.

Everyone makes mistakes  and in this first series we are going to cover 4 common mistakes  we need to correct if we want to excel at our art.

1. Bad composition.

2. Bad posture of your subject

3. Bad timing

3 Unwanted distractions

Part 1  Composition. 

First up we will look at  composition, from how we position ourselves for the shot to the aspect ratio or how we crop and frame our finished image.

The Photographers posistion

The ideal position in most cases for birds is going to be lining the camera up on your subject at the same height  level as the head of the bird.
This often means getting down low when shooting over water and sandy beaches.

This often means getting a wet bum.

Below Steve on the right and I on the left have chosen this washed up log to use as a rest for 3 reasons.
1. Keeps our bums off the wet sand while giving us a low profile .
2. Puts us low to the ground
3. Gives us a semblance of cover.

untitled-3711-Edit-Edit

Steve used this log to break up his profile to kind of conceal himself and scored a back rest at the same time lol.

Tara the White-fronted Tern (Sterna striata)

If you cant find cover  do what ever you have too, to get down low.

Not every one can get down onto the ground and get back up and its getting harder for me as each year passes .
May I suggest to purchase a small but stable unfolding stool to sit on.

Me laying down on the job.

Tony-3955

This is not the way to do it and wont work on many birds 😀

Lake Rotorua-1422-Edit

 

Cropping and positioning .
The composition of this Male Wood Duck is pleasing, the viewer is looking right at the bird.
I was down low to take the shot initially and then in the processing stage I cropped the bird so that the eye was in the top third of the image.
The early morning light on the bird add impact to the shot as well.

Male Wood Duck

pāteke or Brown Teal

pāteke or Brown Teal-9987-Edit

If for some reason you cant get down low  it may be possible to raise the bird up to eye level, in this case I asked my new assistant to raise the bird up, it helps if it is fluffy and cuddly  as Louise shows, she’s more than pleased to oblige me lol.

Lousie the duck cuddler

 

Next week we will look at the birds posture.

Finally with winter here, its full speed ahead for my winter workshops on birds and landscapes in the greater Wellington area.

For INFO  check out my workshop pages here

 

 

 

April the month of seasonal transistion.

Well April has bittern-ed the dust and we have past the first quarter of 2017.
The seasons here in New Zealand are moving past late autumn and into the start of winter.
Things are slowing down in the birding world as the migratory birds have headed off up to the northern hemisphere to breed and do some sun bathing, leaving us behind with our local birds.
Being out with the camera during the winter months means  shorter days and getting home at a more decent hour at night  and an hour or more extra sleep in the morning, much more civilised for this budding photographer I’m thinking.

The month of April
April started off with Phil the Bittern still  being the new kid on the block so its was up to Foxton in the Manawatu to visit him.

Phil was waiting for us and he put on a great display.

matuku the Australasian bittern -0779-Edit
A Bitterns territory can cover many tens of miles, so the bird may be in a certain spot one day and miles away the next, never to return to that very spot  , so NEVER EVER look a gift horse in the mouth when I comes to Bitterns.

Take the opportunity when it comes and make the most of it, tomorrow may produce  nothing more than  a Bittern taste in your  mouth.
Ok no more bittern jokes, I promise.

Spot the Bittern, Phil’s temporary home on the Manawatu Estuary. 

Foxton, Manawatu
Phil is out in the open here so with no grass  directly in the way of his head and neck, so one can get away with using the cameras multi point focus system and you will get great results , we will look a bit later on how to acquire focus when birds are in tighter cover in our next article.

matuku the Australasian bittern -0925-Edit

I got three opportunities  with Phil  and then he was gone and has not been seen since.

The Glossies

Next on my highlight  list was when  the word came down the pipe from Imogen, aka,  Wonder Woman , (so named because she has the knack of finding  rare birds).
This time it was not just one bird, but 15 Glossy Ibis.
Glossy Ibis have been on my wanted list for a few years and it didn’t take much encouraging to get Steve motivated and THE plan was conceived and almost executed to perfection, almost but then the plans of mice and men being what it is ………….

A few Glossy Ibis pop over from Australia for our summer each year, but last year some were recorded successfully rearing young in New Zealand for the first time.

Large groups of Glossy Ibis are a very rare sight here in New Zealand so Imogens find was big news. We believe its most likely that the whole flock were blown over here by Cyclone Claire  from Australia.

As I said we almost executed the perfect plan , we figured out where the birds were likely to be given the tide and we made our way towards the spot but this was as close as we got to these nervous birds.

We cant have enough Glossies so we hope they will stay.

This was as close as we got as the whole flock took to the air seconds after this shot was taken.

Glossy Ibis-

We both felt a little deflated watching the Glossies fly upriver until we could no longer see them, knowing full well that  we could not follow them up there, so we decided to have a look around for some other  subjects that we hoped would prove to be  a bit more user friendly.

First up was a squadron of Lesser knots that had decided not to breed this year and stay on in the land of the long white cloud (Aotearoa)  that is the native name for New Zealand.

A squadron of Knots curling in to land in front of us.

Lesser Knots-

A Royal Spoonbill  flaring away from us was next.

Royal Spoon Bill

And then to top the day off, I got a shot a had always wanted  of a Little Tern on the wing.

We went home that day very happy indeed.

Little Tern-

On the way home we dropped in to Waikanae and were treated to a great sunset .

A young Pied Shag passing over head in the late evening. 

Young Pied Shag

A group of Mallards, 2 weeks from now Duck shooting season will be upon them.

Good luck little Duckies .

Mallards-1774

Silhouette Black Swans on the water. 

Black Swan

 

Staglands Wildlife Reserve

Kath “Hey want to go to Staglands Wildlife Reserve , I will shout”

Tony ” Im in, after all  how could I refuse such an offer lol ” and so it was to be, that Kath and I shared yet another exciting photographic adventure.

It had been many years since I had visited  Staglands Wildlife Reserve and I had often wondered about its value for running workshops up there.
So Kath was to be my pretend student for the day .

I discovered that Staglands Wildlife Reserve ticks most of the boxes for a great workshop venue, consistent wildlife, great amenities, easy access and minimum fitness is required.

Another factor is that most of the wildlife is up close so you don’t need a long lens.

Staglands is  ideal for people who are just starting out,  but also it has some very challenging  situations  for more experienced photographers where they can learn heaps and come to grips with some more advanced techniques for difficult lighting situations.

Kath and I planned our attack and mid morning found us at the beginning of our big day out.
First off we encountered pāteke or the Brown Teal and a male Chestnut Breasted Shell Duck

A male pāteke or brown teal

pāteke or brown teal  -3618-Edit

The male pāteke is a bit more fancy then the female model but thems the breaks.

pāteke or brown teal  -3621-Edit

Chestnut-Breasted Shelducks are native to Australia but a rare sight in New Zealand .

This Male  is well fed and has no intention of migrating back home. 

Chestnut-Breasted Shelduck-3540-Edit

I cannot figure out how they came to be called Chestnut-Breasted Shelducks, got any clues 😀

Chestnut-Breasted Shelduck--2

 

Now I have to admit , one of the reasons I love birds is because Im a real colour junkie, I love light and colour and one of the reasons I wanted to go to Staglands was because of two very special (at least to me )  ducks , the Wood Duck and the Mandarin Duck, both unbelievably colourful birds.

Wood Ducks.

Kath and I found the Wood Ducks first, they were  hiding under the over hanging sedges and ferns  of the pond .
The light was not good as the sun was not high enough in the sky and I knew that my exposure system would want to flood the scene with extra brightness to even out the dark shadowy portions of the image.
So I dropped the exposure settings by 2/3rds of a stop  so as not to blow out the highlights and give me just a little bit more shutter speed.
I took a shot and checked  in the preview window just to make sure I wasn’t out of the ball park.
All seemed well exposure wise,  but my shutter speed was still too low for my liking.

The rule of thumb is to try and get  your shutter speed up to  at least twice the speed of the focal length of your lens, I was hitting 150th of a sec at F.8 with the 300 mil lens, so I doubled my speed by opening the aperture up by one full stop, which was F 5.6.
This gave me 300th of a second and I know I can get pretty good sharp static images at that speed , just so long as the subject is not moving around a lot.

You can practice your steadiness till the cows come home,  but if your subject is moving around fast and a lot, your going to need the raw speed to freeze the action.
Thankfully my subject was resting on the edge of the shadows so just to make the most of it , I lay on the boardwalk covered in duck poos  and rested the camera on the wood.
This gave me a very good profile of the bird and kept the camera steady.
I was pleased with the results.


Having the camera set to shoot 2/3rds of a stop under what the camera chose as ideal, I got more speed and did not over expose the bird, as the camera sees the dark background and tires to lighten it up, thus over exposing the bird.
Experimenting and experience teaches us little tricks that save the day.

A Male Wood Duck.

Wood Duck-3427-Edit

A Female Wood Duck

Wood Duck-3363-Edit

The Male again

Wood Duck-3011-Edit

Finally a close up head shot

Wood Duck-

 

I could hear Kath furiously clicking away once, I had given her my settings  and she was away, but being a lady she was unwilling emulate me lying flat on the deck  liying in the duck poos .
How ever Kath had a big smile across her face and when we had finished it was time for lunch.
We decided after lunch to have another go with the Wood Ducks  so back over to the pond we went in search of both the Wood ducks and the Mandarin Ducks which we had been unable to locate on our first attempt .

 

Mandarin Ducks

We finally found the Mandarin Ducks, but this was where it got real tricky, the birds were in an enclosure for the winter and there wasn’t much light at all.

I open the lens to F.4 and upped the ISO to 2,000
This was far from ideal as my depth of focus (the depth of the  area that is in focus) was halved.
Shutting down or sometimes called closing down  the F.stop, is  like squinting your eye,   it lets less light in through the lens to register your image onto the sensor,  but increases the distance from the front of the area of focus to where focus starts to  fade off .
In this case I increased the size of mt aperture from F.8  to F.4.
This increased the speed of amount of light needed for a good exposure by twice, but also lessened the depth of field  by twice as much.

But to take what you get in this business and clikerty click went the shutter

 

Notice that the front of the bird is in focus, but the focus fades quickly as your eye moves towards the back end of the bird.
The area in focus is called the depth of field .
The higher F.stops  you go, the greater that area of focus becomes,  but the less light comes in through the lens to strike the sensor to make a successful on your camera making for a slower shutter speed.
Also the slower the shutter speed, the more likely you are to get motion blur as the subject moves around and you cant hold the camera steady for  the longer period of time the shutter needs to be open, letting the correct amount of light strike the sensor and register your image.
Most lenses  go like this.
F.4…… F.5.6…….F.8……F.11……F16……F22..
Each F.  number called a stop and either halves or doubles  the amount of light that enters through the lens and onto the sensor, the higher F.stop you go halves the light the lower doubles it.

Over all I was pretty pleased with the results considering.

Mandarin Duck.--4
But man it was tough going.

Mandarin Duck.-4693-Edit

 

At this stage we were both fading so we headed back to the car dropping in on the Woodies on the way.

Wood Duck-3004-Edit

 

April is not just all about birds in this country.
The first few weeks of April the deer are in mating mode known as the roar, the highlight of the deer hunters year .

A fine stag roaring his defiance to the world.

Red deer-7236-Edit

 

All in all we had a pretty good April .
I will be starting our winter workshops in another month so if your up to it contact me and we can take you out and start to show you how to master your camera and take wonderful pictures of birds and landscapes.

I hope this article has been helpful and bless you peoples, heaps and heaps. ❤

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three for the price of one.

This year has started with a hiss and a roar.
First I had my Christmas trip report to finish, which took a fair bit of  time, this is the first entire Christmas trip report I’ve done to date and what a relief it was to get it done.
Next up  for years I have wanted to start my own Bible study/ Christian group   on Facebook and early this year I decided was the right time, however there was  a heap of study on early Church history and the Roman and Byzantine empires, up to the end of the middle ages, that I needed to complete  before I could start  my new group.

This has taken me  months to complete, but once I felt I had a reasonable grasp on that period of time, I felt free to launch my Christian group  “A letter to the Ephesians”  here on Facebook ,

So to bring us up to speed, I’m going to cover the three summer months Jan, Feb and March of this year in one post and you lucky peoples  get three months for the price of one lol.

The summer months of 2017
The summer of 2017 in the Wellington area did not even start to feel like summer until early autumn.
This was bad news for the sun bakers and swimmers out there, but great news for bird photographer’s.
Let me explain why.
Heat shimmer is a sure fire, demon killer, of good sharp clear images during the summer months.
On hot days, heat rises in the form of shimmering waves, distorting the air above the ground and wrecking the chances of getting sharp in focus images.
Because of heat shimmer during the summer months, the bird photographer is reduced to photographing early morning and sometimes on cooler days, early  evening.

If you look close at this image below, you can see the effects of heat shimmer .
Everything is distorted, nothing is sharp,  it gets even worse at ground level, esp over rocks and sand and  esp if you have a lens 300 mils or longer.
I will cover how to minimise heat shimmer effects in a future article , summer is not kind to the bird photographer.

Heat shimmer.

Sunset Onoke spit-6604
This year however, we had record low temperatures for the Wellington, Wairarapa and Kapiti/Manawatu areas  and that made it  peachy ,all summer, even out on the sandy beaches.

January. 
First out of the blocks for the year was a mid-January, 3 day workshop, with my mate Bruce.
Bruce and Linda have a wonderful beach house close to the Otaki river mouth on the Kapiti coast, where we launched our exploratory expeditions from.
Bruce is fit and we had 3 days to bring him up a few levels in his camera skills, so we went for it.
We had a heap of fun and got some fantastic images.
With both of us having  spent a great deal of our lives in the mountains  hunting , we have both developed  a certain flavour of humour.
Spending time with mates in the mountains and wilderness, does produce an optimistic upbeat sense of humour, this would be because  often one is forced to find the funny in all sorts of difficult and uncomfortable situations when you battle the forces of nature.
Hence  no opportunity went begging for a good laugh .
At the end of our first night on the coast, we were treated to a wonderful Kapiti coast sunset.

Otaki river mouth.

untitled-4640-Pano-Edit

 

Hot tip.
Use natural features such as the creek to introduce added colour and interest.
The Rangiuru Stream running through the centre of the image draws you into the image as well.

untitled-4615-Pano-Edit
Day 2 had us out looking for Moreporks or ruru  down the coast at a spot I knew had two adults and a young bird near by.

Mrs ruru poses for us during the daytime

ruru-1722-Edit

 

 

Up next was a walk around a local pond to photograph the Grebes or Dabchicks as some call them.

This time of the year Dabchicks  are busy feeding on Tadpoles and Frogs.

New Zealand dabchick or weweia.-900000-2
Later that day we went to the Waikanae Beach.
There is a lot more to bird photography, than just clicking the shutter button.
We practised our stalking skills, inching our way closer and closer on our bums across the sand right up to  a group of White Fronted Terns  out in the open.

When you are the right Tern, you get your turn, to make a Tern. 

White Fronted Terns-4895-Edit
Other Terns had already had their turn and had to take turns to feed their Tern.

White Fronted Terns-4853-Edit
Others were still in the courting stage, a male tries to entice a mate with a fishy gift.

Apparently the way to a females heart is through her tummy as well. 

White Fronted Terns-
We got back just in time for another crack at the sunset

Rangiuru Stream, Otaki

 
Day 3 had us heading south again to Waikanae, the wind had really picked up but we were brave and tried to make the best of it.
The wildlife and landscape photographer looks for the positive in all weather conditions.

It was a perfect day to go fly a kite, a really, really big kite lol

sunsets
A Black Shag on the move.

Black Shag-4750-Edit
We made it back home after three days, tired but satisfied with our efforts.
Bruce was pleased with the new skill he had learnt.
We can learn through reading books, but nothing compares to being shown the tricks of the trade and being able to try them out immediately out in the field.

 

 

Eastern Rockhopper Penguin, South  Wairarapa Coast .

Word started filtering down to us that a Eastern Rockhopper Penguin, moulting on the South Wairarapa Coast had been spotted.
Penguins must come ashore and stay put when moulting for about 3 weeks.
This means a forced fast from food and long boring days staring longingly out to sea.
This would be  the first ever official recorded sighting of a Eastern Rockhopper Penguin in the North Island of New Zealand.
My contacts soon came in handy and after a short exchange of emails, Steve and I had a pretty good idea where the bird was to be found and how long it had been there, so we waited till the bird had basically finished his moult and would be looking his best, then went looking for him.
We found him after doing a great deal of rock hopping ourselves, as the bird had chosen a hidden, quiet place, to moult , away of the prying eyes of the public.
He was tucked away in one of the many  crevices among the rocks looking far from happy.

We had to do heaps of rock hopping ourselves to find our prize .

Rockhopper penguin-5774-Edit

I was over the moon to see my first Rockhopper, a lot more so than the Rock hopper was pleased to see us , but we tried to keep the disturbance to a minimum.
The Rockhopper merely tolerated us as he sat there in his luckless state, still unable to launch himself out to sea where food and freedom beckoned.

My first ever Rockhopper.

Eastern Rockhopper penguin-

 

 
He didn’t seem to have lost too much condition during his 3 week stay on dry land
He left 2 days after this photo was taken.

Eastern Rockhopper penguin--5

 

 
He was not a happy chappie being forced into a 3 week stay on dry land, while his new water proofed outfit for the coming year  was being tailor fitted.

Eastern Rockhopper penguin--6

 

The Rockhopper was totally surrounded by loud energetic fur seal pups, that kept him on his toes with their comings and goings .

Give me a truck load of baby seals any day and they will keep me amused and busy photographing their antics all day long.

They are not the brightest looking creature on Gods planet for sure. lol

New Zealand Fur Seal-
But there is never a dull moment

New Zealand Fur Seal or kekeno-5501-Edit
And they do consider themselves supreme beings  lol

New Zealand Fur Seal or kekeno-5504-Edit

 

February

Next on the list was a photo-shoot where I covered a presentation to our minister of health at Parliament, that was an eye opener.

I cant show images from inside so here is one from the out side.

The Bee Hive,  Parliament the seat of power in New Zealand. 

Parliament

The next day was followed up with a workshop with Anna from Auckland who accompanied her husband Scott, who did the presentation at parliament.

We chose the Zealandia Wildlife Centre in the heart of Wellington city for our workshop, as our Anna had a hankering to photograph the cheeky kākā.

Zealandia is the  place to photograph  kākā , they are so successful at breeding them there completely wild, that they provide many juvenile kākā  for re population projects around the country, Zealandia IS  kākā central.

I love running workshops at Zealandia , no where that I know of, can provide the amazing diversity of New Zealand native birds with such easy assess to them in a wonderful bush setting.

Mr kākā perching at head height.

kaka-7581-Edit
We shared a wonderful, warm afternoon with the kākā and Anna got some great photos .
Anna also had a great time with the Bell birds, North Island Saddleback,  or tiekeshags and Red Fronted parakeets or kākāriki.

 

You get NO points for guessing why they have the name Red Fronted Parakeets 

kākāriki -7545-Edit

 

There are Tuatara at Zealandia , supposed to be the oldest living link to a now extinct line of lizards.

This one seems unimpressed with his valuable lineage.

tuatara
North Island Saddleback,  or tieke

Saddleback or tieke-

 

Very young Pied Shag chicks.

Pied shag

 

kākā are similar to the New Zealand kea, only different  😀

kaka-7375-Edit

 

It was two exhausted, but happy people who staggered back down the track to the car late in the afternoon.

Some private Crake therapy .

Next up it was time for some personal Crake therapy.
Both Steve and I had learnt a great deal more about Spotless Crakes or or puweto as they are called by the Moari, just by being able to watch them up north over Christmas and armed with a that new information and raw  enthusiasm, we hit the swamp with a soul full of hope and pretty soon  gumboots full of water.
I had my spot sorted for the evening  and I settled in for the long haul and gave a few calls on the cell phone. No answers though……..
I had my coffee flask, bananas and peanut butter sammies, to keep me company.

One hour turned into two and still no sign of any activity, but I knew there were Crakes in the area so I stayed put…………………………….. then I heard one answer my call.
Soon I had two calling on their own and I could track them moving around in the dense raupo forest across the water from me and then one simply materialised right in front of me.

There is nothing like a Spotless Crake appearing suddenly, out of the gloom of the raupo, to send your heart racing up into your throat and take your breathe away.
You know, often all you have is a few  seconds to get the shot, before it streaks back into thick cover and its gone for the night.

And suddenly it was right there, on the edge, between darkness and light.

Spotless Crake or puweto--13
Then bless his little soul, he came right out into the open, before wheeling around and darting back into the thick raupo, never to be seen again , leaving, me with a wildly beating heart and praising God lol.

I was happiness filled with this shot .

Spotless Crake or puweto--18
Spotless Crakes love raupo ,this is a prime Crake habitat, a raupo swamp at the southern end of Lake Taupo, its thick and has good cover from flying predators like hawks and full of insects and bugs.

Tokaanu Lake Taupo

 

Next up  was a general get together with Louise AKA (Danger Mouse) and her Hubby Dean aka Oscar,  for a crack at some newly hatched dabchicks on a pond we all visit.
We were joined by a surprise visit from an old friend Danny and the fun began.

Young dabchicks ride on their parents backs, hiding under the wings out of view, until they feel safe, then they poke their heads out demanding to be fed.

Pretty cute eh?

New Zealand dabchick or weweia--5
There was a horse jumping event going on across the paddocks, so i wandered over and took a few shots.
This  was the first time I had tried photographing horses , I really enjoyed the experience, I will be back again when the jumps are on.

Wellington Events  Horse Jumping event-

Wellington Events  Horse Jumping event-8798-Edit

 

Wellington Events  Horse Jumping event--2
Back to the Dabchicks again

New Zealand dabchick or weweia-8722-Edit

 

But wait there is more not many I promise lol

The end of March found Kath and I booked in for a day on the Foxton estuary, hoping to photograph some Bartail Godwits before they return to the northern hemisphere to breed.

Once again word came down the internet pipeline that a Bittern Had been in Foxton just the day before,so the idea was to proceed with plan A (the Godwits)  but keep a keen eye out for the bittern.
As it turned out the Godwits had all left and so had our joy,  when I turned around for some reason, just in time to see the bittern land 300 meters away right on the edge of the swamp.
There we were 300 meters across , 1200 meters around the edge and he was completely out in the open.
Kath I said in my best convincing voice, we got to get round there , you may never get a chance like this again in your life time.
Now Kath may not be  a spring Chicken, but she is made of stern stuff.
We made haste slowly over the sand and mud down and around to the other side of the estuary, not one complaint was heard from poor Kath as she made her way determinedly towards our goal.
An hour later we had manoeuvred our way in and where meters from the Bittern and Kath got some wonderful pictures of a bird, very few people including hard core bird photographers get in this Country.
Bittern over seas might be quite tolerant of humans close by, but not in this country.
Im really proud of Kath with the amount of effort it took to get round the edge of that swamp to get her shots.
When Kath and I got close to the Bittern, we went to town on that bird making the most of it.

 Opportunities like this, do not come round very often .

matuku the Australasian bittern -9977-Edit
You just do not see this everyday.

matuku the Australasian bittern -0302-Edit
Such a graceful bird in flight.

matuku the Australasian bittern --5

One last one , my favourite. 

matuku the Australasian bittern --6
The next post wont be half this long, I promise and for those who read all of it , a great big thank you and bless ya heaps and heaps.

For those who I had the pleasure of spending some exciting times together with our cameras, bless ya even more ❤

 

 

 

 

The great Crake quest prt 2

Read part 1 Here

 Part 2 of the great Crake quest.

I apologise up front for the length of these posts, Im determined to cover at least ONE Christmas trip in its entirety and I did not want it to go on for four parts.

Day 1 , Shakespear Park, whangaparāoa peninsula
Boxing day dawned cold and windy at the southern end of lake Taupo.
A short sortie out to the old wharf at Tokaanu and it was back into the warmth of the wagon and our 2 heroes were headed north to the whangaparāoa peninsula, just north of Auckland.
 The plan was to meet up with two members of our , facebook group, NZ bird image, Donald Snook and his often side kick/ assistant Anna Arrol, the next day.

The eastern side of lake Taupo whizzed past as we pushed the Toyota into the stiff northerly wind and we chattered like a couple of excited chipmunks, as already, this trip had far exceeded our expectations and now we were excited about what may lie ahead of us yet.
Mid afternoon found us at one of our much anticipated points of interest for the trip.
Earlier in the year a Black Kite, a Hawk like raptor and native of Australia 2,5800 kilometres away across the Tasman sea, had been spotted in the area.
 Since bird sighting records began in this country only 7 of these birds have been reported, having been blown over here by strong trans-Tasman winds and this bird had been seen often enough trading up and down a particular road we had great hopes of seeing and photographing this bird.
 So up that road we went, slowly, eyes scanning the vast sky , then right at the very end of the road we spotted it circling a distant 300 meters away, practically a dot in the sky but easily identified through my binoculars by its shape, esp its tail.
Nothing was going to bring that bird our way, so we begrudgingly made tracks for Auckland, the city of insanity and beyond, comforting each other that we had at least seen the celebrity bird.
 By the time we hit whangaparāoa and on down to Shakespear Park at the end of the peninsula it was Late afternoon , still we had enough time for a quick look around.
That first night Steve and I decided to stake out a likely looking spot for a Banded Rail, we opted to use the wagon as a blind.
We had asked about Spotless Crake in the area and been told that no one had seen one for years, well that was about to change big time.
I was perched on the off side passenger’s seat looking over Steve’s shoulder out through the open window, my gaze fixed on a small muddy pond where we both felt a Banded Rail was likely to visit before dark when I sensed more than saw Steve’s body go stiff as he hissed that he had just seen a Spoltess Crake race out of cover and race back in just below my line of sight.
We waited , an hour passed , we waited some more, the light was almost gone  so I went for a sneak around the marshes  and spotted my first Banded Rail and managed to get a shot , it wasn’t the best of shots, being a bit far away but I was on the board.

My First Banded Rail image.

Banded Rail or moho pererū -


 Up and back through the cover along the side of the road I went but I was constantly being dogged by two adult Pied Stilts who had an almost grown baby to protect, this made it very hard in the sneaking department so I made my way back to see if Steve had seen his mystical Crake again.

poaka  the very, very  loud mouthed and annoying  pied stilt, made my Rail stalking a nightmare.

Pied Stilt- poaka

The reason for all the noise, a baby poaka tucked away behind some mangrove bushes and  no doubt it too, will grow  into an adult  loud mouthed poaka just like its parents. 

Pied Stilts-0117-Edit
Steve although not having seen the Crake again, he was adamant that he had indeed seen  a Crake, there was no mistaking it for anything other than a Spotless Crake.
These birds are tiny and well you know the cover is thick and when your looking hard over a length of time and a bird not much bigger than a sparrow scuttles through…well you know,  Steve’s sanity was being called into question.
But no, Steve stuck to his guns, it was a Crake and hell or high water he was going to prove it lol.
 For three nights Steve was on the stake out and in the last hour of our last night he finally saw the Crake again and got a shot of its backside as it scooted back into cover. Steve bathed in his success and I had to cancel his appointment with the Looney bin.

Day 2 Shakespear Park, whangaparāoa peninsula
 Our plan was to rendezvous with Donald at the gates of Shakespear Park at 630am , giving us just about enough light to photograph the Banded Rail .

This bird had now become NO 1, on my most desperately wanted list and sleep did not come easy as we had not been able to find anywhere safe for me to sleep outside the wagon so we settled for the front seats of the wagon.
 Donald arrived bang on time and we clambered aboard his van with the side door open, it felt like the beginning of the movie Predator but without the chewing tobacco, the red flashing light and long tall sally blasting away in the background, we were certainly on a mission lol
 We snuck around that park for one and a half hours and not a Banded Rail or a Predator did we see.
 Don being the ever enthusiastic guide took us over the hill to the sea shore on the other side of peninsula  where  we found wonderful opportunities of shooting all sorts of shore birds except the Banded blasted Rail.
 On the way over to the other side of the peninsular we spied a number of Brown Quail.
These birds  were introduced here in New Zealand in the 1800s as a game bird.
Once upon a time I loved hunting these birds over my pointing dogs.
The  Brown Quail

Brown Quail-0290-Edit

 

 Walking up the beach Our first encounter  on the beach was this pair of variable  torea-pango or baby oystercatchers that were perfectly camouflaged among the rocks .
 Do you think they can see us  lol

variable oystercatcher or torea-pango-0309-Edit

Next up was Mr New Zealand Dotterel or tūturiwhatu guarding his nest in the sand behind him.

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 Even young New Zealand Dotterels are well camouflaged when not running around in the open.

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 Further along the beach we met some more Oystercatchers with more mature young.

I dont think these birds are on the level.

variable oystercatcher or torea-pango-0394-Edit

After a cup of coffee , Anna our second guide for the day turned up and we all walked through the forested part of the park.
Much work has been put into this park and it showed, the bird life was prolific as the war on ground dwelling pests is being won.

First up in the bush was the native bush pigeon the kereru.

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We saw Bush Robin, Saddleback , Grey Warbler in good numbers and a hour later we  retired back to the wagon  for lunch and a quick snooze.
Evening rolled around and it was back into the search for what up to this time was the elusive Banded Rail.
Steve went back to his Crake quest and I stalked the edges of the swamps among the sedges and tussocks and finally I scored a decent shot.

The sun had disappeared but there was still enough light for the 1DX to do its thing at ISO1600.

Banded Rail or moho pererū --13

 Another chance soon followed, I was on a roll .
Banded Rail or moho pererū, number 3 for the trip was on the memory card.

Banded Rail or moho pererū --2


 Soon it was too dark to take photos  so I joined  Steve in the wagon and once again I was subjected to Steve trying to convince me that there were Spotless Crakes in the park.
His claim was starting to attract some attention as Donald spread the news among the local bird fans of a possible Crake spotted in the park.

Day 3, tawharanui Regional Park and waipu, Northland
Day 3, started  at whangaparāoa, where I  once again hunted for the banded Rail as soon as there was enough light and Steve was on stake out once again .
I manged to get my first pretty much out in the open  images of a Banded Rail when one stepped out from behind some rushes and failed to see me .

At last one brave enough to come out into the open and give me a decent look at him.

Banded Rail or moho pererū --5


On the way back I got some more shots and all was well with the world .
Steve had not seen the Crake again, but did get a visit from a Rail and had some very nice images to show for his patience .

Steve and I  had decided we needed  to visit tawharanui Regional Park north of Auckland .
Donald  and another member of the Face Book group, Oscar were to guide us and they  travelled up in Dons van,  Steve and I were in the wagon as they had return early for work commitments,  while Steve and I had plans to push further north to waipu to check out the Fairy Terns , so we had ourselves a convoy.
 tawharanui Regional Park has been managed for bird life for a number of years now and it shows.
Bush birds are there in great numbers, in fact I would class this park as a must see place for anyone interested in birds.
 The park has open coastal areas , heavy bush and swampland to explore by using any of the gazillion walking tracks available to the public.
The place is a real gem and first thing that became apparent was the massive number of Brown Teal or patake.
They inhabited all the areas from dense bush sides creeks  to open coastal areas and every where in between.

Ive never seen even close to the number of patake there.

patake the Brown Teal.

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Pairs of Brown Teal were all over the place

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 Unfortunately the landscape photos of this part of the trip were taken on my 5D mrk11  which was stolen the next day so I am unable to share with you peoples just how fantastic this park is.
Mrs Tui was having a bit of a singsong to anyone willing to listen .

tui-

 

Waipu, Northland
 Later on in the day we travelled north to Waipu to try and photograph the rare Fairy Tern The Fairy tern is considered vulnerable  but the subspecies that breeds in New Zealand only,  are classified as critically endangered but thanks to a dedicated team of people protecting them , their future looks tentatively promising .
Weather was drizzly and the light was soft , my favourite conditions.
Beautiful soft light made it ideal to capture some New Zealand Dotterels in the cover off the beach.

Soft light, soft rain, soft coloured birds and soft cover, just lovely.

New Zealand Dotterel -1164-Edit
I will do an article one day on complementary colours, how to look for them and use them to your advantage.

 Subdued colours of the cover match the colour of the birds.

New Zealand Dotterel -

Oyster Catches were also nesting in the cover  , we were approached by one particular menacing one , so we backed off and went on our way.

variable oystercatcher or torea-pango-1179-Edit

 

Ruddy Turnstones  were feasting on shell fish

Turnstones-

 

 I found a New Zealand  Dot  with crabs

New Zealand Dotterel -1094-Edit


Meantime we were being constantly  buzzed by Oystercatches

variable oystercatcher or torea-pango-1143-Edit
We returning  to the car resigned to not seeing our Fairy Tern when one landed 200 meters way and the long stalk in over completely barren ground began ending with a long shot, we were wet and the bird flew away with purpose so we continued to the car and back to my beloved Banded Rails.

One Fairy Tern and this was as close as I got .

Fairy Tern-

 

We got back to Shakespear Park just in time for Steve to return to his stake out, while I tried to sneak around the place.
That evening Steve got his Crake shot, redeemed him self and caused a great deal of excitement among the natives as now he had proof that the park held Spotless Crakes.
I have to say I never doubted him for a second 😛

Day 4,  Whangamarino Wetlands, Waikato
 I got a few more shots of the Rails  that night and Tony was a happiness filled .

We were off for Miranda in Thames today but first we spent the morning hunting Rails yet again.
While hunting for the Banded Rail with Don, I saw what looked like a great little spot for Spotless Crake, I mentioned this to Don and then  thought nothing more of it.
Little did I know the place was going to become the Crake Arena, but more on that later in part 3 of the great Crake quest.

 I got another Rail Shot  that I was very pleased with, sorry last one I promise  lol

Banded Rail or moho pererū --6


Mr kotare let me get pretty close to him so click went the camera and we were on our way south.

This has to be one of the most colourful kingfishers I have seen to date.

kotare-

 

The day was warm and  slightly over cast and we were on the way, heading south again, I was feeling so relaxed, I had my Marsh Crakes and  Banded Rails in the can, life was good.

Whangamarino Wetlands, Waikato  and Miranda wildlife sanctuary ,Thames

 Whangamarino Wetlands here we come and another chance at Spotless Crakes and perhaps a Bittern.
Rumour has it that  about 70% of the bitterns in New Zealand breed in this huge swamp, one would be forgiven for expecting to see at least some of them, but  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO lol

Last time we had visited the Whangamarino Wetlands it was stinking hot and we walked for mile after fruitless mile, this time it was a lot cooler but I guess I gave into residual memories  left from our last expedition deep into the heart of the huge swamp and lacked the enthusiasm I should have had.
We had walked a good many mile without sighting a single Crake although we did hear a few and we were almost back to the car , in fact in sight of the car 50 meters away and I was tired and a little hungry , pointing right, Steve said lets go down this side road and have a last go.
I looked at the crappy cover and then back at the wagon and said those words one learns to regret, Im going back to have lunch, you go on and have a look see.
This is how it goes.
I just knew what was going to happen, it was eating away at me while I ate away at my tomatoes sammies  .
Steve did very well hiding his excitement as he casually saunters up to the wagon while I was on my seat outside enjoying my lunch.
He  swung the camera in front of my face and showed me the back , there on the screen was a wonderful picture of a Spotless Crake, He got about 8 of  certainly the best images I have seen of a Spotless Crake, it had walked out, right in front of him.

I was no longer feeling relaxed lol
I was however, really pleased for him and we celebrated with a few hand shakes and back patting and I had learnt a very important lesson, never ever, ever, give up.
We had lunch then went back to look at where Steve had seen the bird and just as he was reliving his experience and showing me where it appeared from, it did it again and we got more shots at it.
  Clikerty click, click, click, then silence as the bird went out of sight.

Spotless Crake or puweto-
 Then we both cracked up laughing and jumped back into the wagon and headed for Miranda wildlife sanctuary.

 Miranda wildlife sanctuary ,Thames

 Well there is not much about this part of the trip that I haven’t already expressed here.
All my camera gear got stolen in the car park while we were out in the field.
The windows were smashed and the next morning we made a dash for home to get the wagon fixed.
Steve’s parting words that night as he dropped me off at home was we aint letting those thieving B!£$tQ&^DS wreck out trip and as soon as the wagon was fixed we went back up north for part 3 and our destiny at the Crake arena .

This is why people flock to Miranda 
Birds, birds and more birds

 

Godwits at miranda

 

 

 

Rakes, Crails and the great Crake quest prt 1.

Once a year Steve and I plan and a trip away, with something special and specific in mind.
Most years we target certain birds that we have on our “TROPHY LIST”, some of which have eluded us many times on our previous trips.
Hope springs eternal though and after all It wouldn’t be much of a trophy list  if the birds were easy to get  would it?
So each year we set out determined to knock the top of the list off.

As Steve nor I have family  commitments for Christmas  the plan was that we would hit the road on the 22nd of December.

The over all trophy list grows smaller each year and those harder to get birds, get crammed up the top of said list, to sit there to taunt and poke fun at us.
At the very top of the list is a set of three birds that belong to the Rallidae family.

The Rallidae family, consists of Rails, Crakes and Coots.
In this country, on the mainland, we have the following that belong in this classification.
Australian coot
Banded rail or moho-pererū in maori
Marsh crake – koitareke
Purple swamp hen – pūkeko
Spotless crake – puweto
takahē
Maori  woodhen or weka

At  the very pinnacle of our trophy list sits  the  koitareke or Marsh Crake, a tiny, very secretive bird that lives in swamps throughout New Zealand in small family units.
This bird is so hard to find that we have never known really where to start.
These birds as do most Crakes move around  as the environmental conditions change.
We did not expect to get this bird ticked off the list anytime soon because of its difficulty in locating a family of them.
We had never seen one or even heard them call to date.
Next down the list was the Spotless Crake or puweto, another small, secretive, swamp dwelling bird about the same size as a House Sparrow.
I was on the board with this bird, but the one shot I had was not up to my standard’s and taunted me no end , each time I looked at it, Steve on the other hand had a few good shots of immature birds, but no adults thus far.
But the good news was that we were getting on to them Spotless Crake critters  and had learnt a lot about the bird as we had been targeting them locally with limited success.
Both of these Crake species  are semi nomadic and can move to a new area overnight due to  the ease of the acquisition of food and good dry protection from predators ,mainly from  over head
There one day, gone the next, maybe to return next year, maybe not.
Who knows what goes on in a little Crakes mind?
Next of great importance was the banded Rail or moho-pererū.
We had friends up north I had made through my Face Book group that could help us out there, as they had some in their local area that were fairly reliable to get shots of.
Not having any of these Banded Rails down our way, we had not notched up any real serious time under our belts hunting these birds, so we had accepted the invitation to stay with these wonderful peoples.
One of the reasons I started my group on face book is to network people together and its working, people from  all over New Zealand in the group are meeting up with each other and sharing information.
Might start a dating site one day lol.
Anyway I  was super excited at the prospect of getting a chance to photograph the Banded Rail for the first time. They are glorious birds and being a colour freak  I am mesmerised by them.
As for the other birds on the Rallidae list , we had them nailed long ago, so the Marsh and Spotless Crakes along with the  Banded  Rail was to be the BIG 3 of our trip.
We intended to end our trip as has become  our custom, with yet another go at our beloved long tail cuckoos or koekoeā on the way home at the end of our trip north.

Sometimes things just go your way.

As we prepared for our trip, (Steve is more the map look-er-over-rer and researcher, Im more the public relations officer that deals with human contacts, organising meet ups and such because I like to talk heaps), word came through the national network of bird watchers just 3 days before we our trip was planned to start, that a family of Marsh Crakes was spotted by some very keen and reliable bird watchers.
That was a long sentence, you can take a big breath now lol.
The Marsh Crakes were not on our intended route north being on the other side of the North Island, but we quickly made changes to our travel schedule like excited monkeys, planned our tactical assault   and lost the ability to sleep the last few nights before our departure.
But the 22nd of December came eventually.
Having not been to Napier for a few years it was great watching the road slip away under the tires of the Toyota, knowing that we would soon be revisiting a favourite hunting ground that holds such exciting memories for both of us.

Marsh Crakes here we come.
Steve had us booked into a caravan park 10 minutes from where the crakes had been sighted so I hurried to pitch my little tent, Steve gets to sleep in relative comfort and luxury on a mattress in the back of the wagon while I get to sleep in my little tent everywhere we go …I cant really complain , I have a stretcher and Im really quite comfy .
With the tent up, all the stuff stashed away, we were off for our first encounter with the Marsh Crakes.
As we approached the spot where the Crakes had been reported, a major problem became glaringly apparent.
The afternoon sun was in the wrong place for our subjects shining directly at us and down the barrels of our lenses and it would be impossible to get the sun at our backs. Shooting directly in to the sun is a big no, no and leads to abysmal images normally, but there was no choice for us.
As we approached the spot where these tiny, tiny, birds, were using as their temporary home, we saw our first Crake.
Unbelievably small, they busily darted out of the cover, into the open, onto the sticky mud, sucking up insects and small worms and darting back into the safety of the sedges’ again.
I was not prepared for just how small they were and how quick they darted back and forth.
I was going to be on my game that was for sure.
We had given ourselves 2 full days with these birds, so there was no hurry for now, now  that we had found them and with the sun not being in the right position.
I took a few shots of the little blighters just in case anything went sideways like the weather in the next few days and then went off to shoot some waders along the water edge out yonder where I could get the sun in the desired position.

Once I had the sun at my back I began clicking the shutter

A Pectoral sandpiper dancing on the water

Pectoral sandpiper-

 

Pied Stilts were dancing in the late afternoon sun

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Chopped the wing tip off this one but hey Im not perfect  lol

Pied stilts-6341-Edit

The sweet taste of success. 

We figured next morning, the sun would be perfectly placed for us and our subjects and thus it was so.

430.am arrived on time and I kicked myself out of bed , well stretcher and staggered to the communal kitchen, chucked hot water in the flask along with the desired amount of coffee and milk and did the morning (old man ritual) of taking a selection of pills for various  ailments, and others just for good luck.
Old age sucks but Ive had good use out of this body so I don’t have too much to complain about.
The sun  rose where it was suppose to and as we made our way to our little spot we found our little friends were already hard at work converting insects into energy and it was full on for the next 3 hours.
The sun was exactly in the right place this time and red eyes of the birds were really showing as well as the light being soft enough to show off the fine feather detail.
I had plenty of room to get down low to the ground and shoot along the top of the water and shoot the birds at their head level, this is the best profile to go for most subjects , so if you are  not down low, covered in mud and wet, then you aint no kind of wild life photographer lol.
Right off the bat the birds were too busy feeding to pay us much mind and just so long as we stayed pretty still they got on with it .

my opening shot

Marsh Crake-6645-Edit
Soon the birds ventured out further from cover and closer to us.

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I was completely absorbed by these pretty dainty little birds

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As you can see here in this image, being so small and secretive spotting these birds without knowing exactly where they are living would be a difficult task.
They dont stay out in the open for very long before scurrying back into the safety of cover

Marsh Crake-6712-Edit

Three  hours later when the sun became  too high in the sky and the light once again became too harsh it was time to go find something else to photograph.
The best time for great photographs of birds is 1-3 hours after sunrise and 2 hours on wards before sunset.
To say we were very pleased would be an understatement.
As it happened, we were to get that evening with the birds and that was that because the weather spat the dummy and rained and flooded the whole place, however the sun was over cast that last evening and we got another spectacular session with these birds. No glaring sunlight this time.

Without the glaring light that evening, we  got some great images.
Yummy yummy food for my tummy

Marsh Crake-8124-Edit
We were very lucky as with the place being flooded the next day and the mud being covered in water, the birds remained hidden in the sedges where they could stay dry and moved on to better pastures within days of us having our little feast of them. We had just got there in time.

Time to move on.

With the rain pelting down we left the Hawkes Bay area and Napier behind us in a cloud of watery spray and headed cross country to Taupo and then south to Turangi .
The idea was to spend Christmas in the area before heading to the Whangaparāoa Peninsula to rendezvous with Donald and the Banded Rails, day after boxing day.
Our trips are full on, no days off, long days and short nights.
There are few places I enjoy more than being on the old wharf at Tokaanu just out side of the little township of Turangi at the southern end of Lake taupo.

The southern end of Lake Taupo

Southern end of Lake Taupo

 

The old Tokaanu Wharf Lake Taupo
Heaps of birds trade back and forth above this old wharf

The old Tokaanu Wharf Lake Taupo
I have spent many an enjoyable hour striding up and down the wharf,  trying hard to get sharp focused shots of flying grey teal, pāpango or other wise known as the New Zealand scaup ) which I had failed at doing up until this year.
These pāpango are the real speedsters of the Duck and Teal world, they fly low and very fast.
From the wharf you  can get heaps of opportunities at them as they fly up and down the lake.

At last I have a flying shot of a  pāpango that I can be proud of

pāpango the New Zealand scaup

Other birds I managed to capture from the wharf

The Karate Coot

Coots--4
A couple of Welcome swallows resting in the early morning light

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A Black Swan and her youngsters

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and this Little Black Shag.

Little Black shag-
So after 2 days of chasing Teal, Bitterns, Spotless Crake, we had some pretty good shots of the papango, but not of the others and it was time to push north past Auckland and meet up with Donald and Anna  on the great Crake Quest lol
Join me for Part 2 in a few weeks time and bless you peoples heaps ❤