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Posts Tagged ‘bird photography’

Nestled on the banks of river Periyar, Thattekad is home to a variety of resident endemic and winter migratory birds. Amogh, Anush, Deepa and I spent 3 days in Thattekad with god-of-thattekad, Eldhose, as our guide.

5:15pm – Train from Bangalore city.

4:30am – Ernakulam junction

4:45am – Taxi to Thattekad

6:30am – Photographing Red Spurfowl without even brushing teeth :))

This is how crazy the trip was. On reaching Thattekad, Eldhose took us to Spurfowl area before we could check into our room. After spurfowls, we went to Salim Ali bird sanctuary in the hope of sighting a Black Baza. 3-4km walk, but no Baza.

Ceylon Frogmouth, a nocturnal bird, that had not been sighted since Salim Ali, only to be rediscovered in 2000 by Eldhose was a treat to watch.

Spend 3 hours at Thattekad resort, and headed to ‘flycatcher area’ by 3 pm. Trekking through rubber plantations and forest area, we reached the famed waterhole. Spent couple of hours without much action, but then as the light faded those small and beautiful flycatchers made appearances. Could make only terrible images, but I enjoyed the variety of birds sighted.

Blue-Throated Flycatcher (female)

Next day morning, woke up at 3:30am. Yes, you read it right – 3:30am. A short drive, and 15-20minutes walk on moonless pitch-dark reserve forest area. We were looking for rare Owls, Spot-bellied eagle Owl and Oriental Bay Owl particularly, but neither was seen. As the sun rose, lots of other birds started their daily routine – Crimson backed Sunbird, Hill Mynas, Asian Fairy Blue Bird, Small and Scarlett Minivets. Plenty! We even saw a Bay-Banded Cuckoo.

Asian Fairy Blue Bird – ‘I’ve got a berry!’

In the evening, we sighted a flock of Black-throated Munias, but was really difficult to get a photograph. Late evening, Eldhose took to Pitta area. Amogh and I had not seen a Pitta. We were excited. Waited for an hour for the beautiful bird to make appearance. It was pretty dark at 6:20, and fill-in flash helped make some decent image.

Indian Pitta

Jerdon’s Nightjar was the next bird sighted at about 7:30pm, and it was totally dark. I could not get even a record shot. Next day morning, photographed the Brown-Hawk Owl that perches at the same place, perhaps for a few years now, and left for Cochin and then to Bangalore.

Eldhose was a fantastic guide to have for two days. Thanks to Anush.

Bird list:

Day 1

Bluebird, Asian Fairy
Bulbul, Grey-headed
Buzzard, Oriental Honey
Cormorant, Little
Crow, House
Crow, Thick-billed
Cuckoo-shrike, Black-headed
Darter
Dove, Spotted
Drongo, Ashy
Drongo, Racket-Tailed
Drongo, Spangled
Egret,Cattle
Egret, Small
Frogmouth, Ceylon
Flowerpecker, un id
Flycatcher, Asian Paradise
Flycatcher, Asian Brown
Heron, Pond
Hornbill, Malabar Grey
Junglefowl,Grey
Kingfisher, Small Blue
Kingfisher, White-breasted
Leafbird, Golden-fronted
Mynah, Hill
Oriole, Black-Naped
Oriole, Eurasian Golden
Sparrow, House
Sunbird, Purple-rumped
Spurfowl, Red
Swallow, Ashy Wood
Treepie, Rufous
Treepie, White-bellied
Warbler, Greenish Leaf

Day 1 evening
Babbler, Dark-fronted
Babbler Puff-throated
Drongo, Ashy
Drongo, Bronzed
Drongo, Racket-Tailed
Drongo, Spangled
Flycatcher, Blue-throated
Flycatcher, Brown-breasted
Flycatcher,Tickell’s Blue
Flycatcher, Rusty-tailed
Flycatcher, White-bellied Blue
Goshawk, Crested
Minivet, Scarlet
Minivet, Small
Shrike, Nilgiri Wood
Thrush, Orange-headed Ground
Treepie, Rufous
Waterhen, White-breasted
Woodpecker, Black-rumped Flameback
Woodpecker,Rufous
Woodpecker, White-bellied

Day 2
Barbet, Crimson Fronted
Bulbul, Red-vented
Bulbul, Red-whiskered
Bulbul,Ruby-throated or Black-crested
Bulbul, Yellow-throated
Cuckoo, Bay-banded
Dollar Bird
Pigeon, Green Pompadour
Pigeon, Green Imperial
Owlet, Jungle
Nuthatch, Velvet-fronted
Robin, Oriental Magpie
Sunbird,Crimson
Sunbird, Purple-rumped
Tern, River
Tern, Whiskered
Wagtail, Pied

Day 2 evening
Bee-eater, Blue tailed
Bee-eater, Small green
Munia, Black-throated
Munia, White-rumped
Pitta,Indian
Nightjar, Jerdon’s

Day 3
Owl, Brown Hawk

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painted-stork-at-ranganathittu

Located at a distance of 125km from Bangalore, Ranganathittu bird sanctuary is one of the most popular bird sanctuaries in India. Large number of migratory birds arrive here during winter from across the world.

My plan of visiting this place was to shoot a supermodel of Ranganathittu, the Pied Kingfisher. Almost everyone who has been to Ranganathittu in the recent past has come back with a good shot of the resident Pied Kingfisher, which is hard to shoot at other places. Since initial plan to go on 31st Jan didn’t work out, i planned to go on 7th Feb. Most of my friends, who had initially asked me to plan for 7th Feb so that they could join backed out on Friday evening. I somehow convinced Karthik and Chinmay to join me. Dantis confirmed at 11:30pm. Sam sent me a message at 2am expressing his interest to photograph the irresistible supermodel.

I left my home at 5:30am, and picked Sam, Dantis, Karthik and Chinmay from different parts of Bangalore. We were on Mysore road by about 7am. Total disarray of plan. I wanted to reach Ranganathittu by 7:30am, but we weren’t even close. Didn’t stop either for Sam to get cash at an ATM or for Chinmay to have breakfast. Dashed to reach Ranganathittu by 8:45am.

Route: Bangalore -> Ramnagaram -> Bidadi -> Maddur -> Mandya -> Srirangapatta -> Ranganathittu

Distance: 125km or 78 miles

Stork billed kingfisher first catch

Stork billed kingfisher first catch

First up, we got very co-operative Red-whiskered Bulbul. As we reached the boating area, we spotted a Stork-Billed Kingfisher. There were hardly any tourists at that time, and could manage to click a decent shot of the bird before it flew away. There were plenty of Cormorants, Painted Storks, Openbill Storks, Spoonbills, Egrets, Ibis, Night Heron, and Spot-billed Pelicans on the islets of the river Cauvery.

We took a boat for 5 of us at Rs.50/- per person. I asked the boatman to head straight to spot where we can find the Pied Kingfisher. It was already 9am and the sun was getting harsh. I didn’t want the sun to come overhead and spoil the good lighting for photography. We clicked few Painted and Openbill storks and also a pair of Stone Plovers before we reached the spot of supermodel.

Open billed stork, obvious why it is called so, isn't it?

Open billed stork, obvious why it is called so, isn't it?

Since i insisted on clicking the kingfisher, the boatman got little skeptical of finding it, and said Sir sometimes you’ll find them straightaway and at others you don’t get them even when you wait for an hour. Cautiously moved the boat around, but we couldn’t get a sight. I told him, i’ll not leave without clicking the king, with a good tip. Just then, we could spot a Pied Kingfisher under the canopy, near to the shore. Once we spotted, it’s not hard to click the supermodels. They are so used to people here! May be as a challenge, i should click a good shot of Pied Kingfisher elsewhere.

Next target species was River Tern for me and Mugger Crocodile for Sam. Moved around the rocks where Swallows nested. Could spot a croc in water, but that’s not how Sam wanted it. At a distance, we could spot a River Tern. As we got closer, a chic came towards it mom. It was a great sight. The boatman told that there are 3chics around, but we could see only one. It was close to 10am and the sun was getting harsh. Managed to click the River Tern with its chic, but not to my satisfaction. The shadow of its head was on its body and face, covering its eyes at times, and i couldn’t get a sharp eye of the bird.

cormorant-in-flight

We left the spot, and clicked few shots of Pelicans. My attempts of getting a good shot of Painted stork in flight went in vain. Tipped the demanding boatman again, and left for breakfast.

Pied Kingfisher

pied-kingfisher

River Tern with a chic

River-tern-with-chic

Stone Plover couple

stone-plover

Myself and Sam walked along the edge of the river for some time. Sighted an Asian Paradise Flycatcher, and also pied wagtail. Couldn’t reach the place where we sighted the Pied Kingfisher as the fields on the edge of the river were slushy and we hadn’t equipped ourselves for it.

We left for Bangalore by 12:45pm. With an hour break for lunch at the hyped and over crowed Kamat restaurant near Ramnagaram, we reached Bangalore by 4pm.

Couldn’t resist one more image of Pied Kingfisher:

pied-kingfisher-01

All shots are shot with Canon EOS 450D and Canon 55-250mm IS lens, post processing on Canon DPP and Adobe Photoshop 7.0 (I know i need to upgrade).

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What’s a super telephoto lens?
Lenses with focal length greater than or equal to 300mm.

Most important aspect to consider before you buy any gear is to decide what do you want to photograph. This might seem trivial, but it is the most important thing going forward. This is as important as deciding to shoot on DSLR up from a P&S.
Why do you want to buy a super telephoto lens? Candid shots of people, Bird/Wildlife photography, sports photography or something else?

When you say focal length is important, ask yourself why is it important?
Can’t you do with a 70-300mm (Nikon/Canon/Sigma) standard telephoto or 70-200mm f/4L or f/2.8L lenses?
To quote someone: ‘ The best zoom lens i have is my legs.’
If you take a few steps towards the subject, your range automatically increases.

Ok, once you have a concrete reason to go for a longer range lens, we’ll proceed.
Lets assume, we have a standard telephoto lens of about 300mm max focal length, and a 1.6 crop sensor camera.

Why is 70-300mm/55-250mm lens not enough?
1. Can’t approach the small birds close enough to capture them, filling the frame (forget full frame!).

2. Actions are happening at a distance from where you can photograph (sporting events).
2. Quality of images, cropped, are not as the best.
3. Not fast enough. Whines to focus on the small bird, even if i have Center point focus.
4. < something more ? >

So, what options do i have?
Say, we are interested in Wildlife photography.
(If you want to shoot candid portraits 70-300mm is sufficient, if you think it’s not enough, you got to work on your technique. Mind you these birds won’t fly :P).

Super telephotos are mostly used in wildlife and bird photography, where photographer is at a safe distance from the subject. Super telephoto lenses are also used in Sports photography, but these are very fast lenses like 400mm f/2.8L, which costs nearly $7000 and hence we’ll exclude sports photography from the discussion.

For mammals, you need shorter focal length whereas for birds you need the longest focal length one can get.
Here, the decision of what i want to photograph comes handy. If you want to click birds predominantly, you ignore the shorter focal length and buy a prime (use another lens for shooting mammals) or buy a good zoom lens covering the entire range.

Options:

Zooms
1. Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM
Termed as the best wildlife lens. Covers a good range and has IS. 400mm is when focus is at infinity. Gives about 385mm under normal shooting circumstances.
Advantages: Very good image quality. Good build. “L series” lens. Flexibility of zoom from 100 to 400mm. Perfect for wildlife, especially mammals.

Disadvantages: The push pull zoom (if you aren’t comfortable). Probably little more heavier than 400mm f/5.6 Prime.

No other disadvantage as such, but if you want to photograph birds, the reach of this lens isn’t good enough. With Tele Converters (TCs) you’ll lose Auto Focus, unless you are on pro bodies (1D MK-III). Taping pins only improves the situation slightly.
Price tag: about $1350

2. Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3 EX DG HSM APO RF
No other lens matches the range of ‘Bigma’. EX lens, Sigma’s “L series”. Good for mammals and birds, provides excellent range and good image quality.
Advantages: Huge range, good IQ when used properly.
Disadvantages: Bulky, need to get used to it before you get good images out of it, tripod necessary (only adding to the weight), not a very fast lens. Actual reach is little under 500mm.
Price tag: about $1000

3. Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 AF APO DG OS HSM
Next generation of Bigma, BigmOS comes with OS which actually works albeit little grumpy. Good range. No EX tag, but they say IQ is as good as the ones with EX.
Advantages: Light weight (can shoot hand held). OS comes in handy, and it works too! IQ pretty good.
Disadvantages: Makes little noise with OS. As with all zoom lenses, actual range is under 500mm, about 460mm. Heavier than Canon 100-400. Image quality at 500mm not very impressive, Canon 100-400 at 400mm extrapolated to 500mm gives better IQ. Also, aperture is 6.3 at 500mm. But Have a look here for IQ before you write off this lens.
Price tag: about $900

Primes
4. Canon 400mm f/5.6L
An “L series prime”, but without IS.
Advantages: Excellent “L series” image quality. Perfect lens for Birds in flight and focuses really fast. 400mm actually gives 400mm.
Disadvantage: You’ll need another lens to cover the range up to 400mm, especially for photographing big mammals. If you have a 70-300mm or 70-200, this lens could be a good addition.
Similar problem as 100-400 with TCs, may be slightly better. Monopod is handy, to make up for the loss of IS.
Price tag: $1100

5. Canon 300mm IS f/4L + 1.4x TC
Another L series prime, but comes with IS. Faster than all other lenses above when used at 300mm. Add a 1.4x TC, giving you 420mm at f/5.6 with IS.
Advantages: L series prime quality. 420mm reach with IS. AF works well.
Disadvantages: Range, as with 400mm f/5.6L, need another lens for covering up the focal length range. The price for the combo is little more than you’d pay for others.

Price tag: about $1050 + $250 for Canon EF 1.4x II TC, total $1300.

P.S.:
1. I have listed only lenses under $1500.
2. I have listed only Canon lenses, as i am more familiar with Canon. Nikon too has similar lenses at similar price tag (Like 80-400mm instead of 100-400). Exception is Nikon 200-400 f/4G VR, which doesn’t have an equivalent in Canon, and is in a different league altogether at $5000+ a piece.

3. I’m researching for an upgrade and this post is to make it easier for amateurs in the same boat. I still am not sure whether to buy Canon 400mm f/5.6L prime or Sigma 150-500mm OS.

update:

This compilation and the prices are on the day of the article written. And are subject to change.

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