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Alex Rogers' Big Year 2019 (a slow starter!)

Alex Rogers

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You seem way ahead of me. I have not worked out how to do Manual focus yet and  did not even know there WAS a 'birdwatching setting".:o

There is a common denominator problem in all this phaffing about. The darn bird. Landscapes stay put, even mammals are relatively stable but them pesky feathered friends just won't (or rarely will ) sit still for several goes at getting it right. So almost every situation is unique in lighting, distance, stability etc.,

Like in real shooting maybe there is a market for "Clay pigeon photography" where we can practice under controlled conditions til we get it right?

I have had really nice photos at full zoom where the conditions are optimum. Bright light and close too so the photo is 'full frame' to start with. Obviously what I call 'lens shake' was minimal at that distance and it is lens shake that does the damage. I have never computed it geometrically but .5mm movement at the lens cap/filter thread must be many cms out at 10 metres that even 1/500sec wont stop so we get blur/soft results.


And I agree that at extreme zoom the lens itself is not up to the optical ability of the "Long toms".

Like you I use 'P' as the starter and ISO200 but as my confidence in higher ISO grows (post Fuji) I may raise that.

But in the absence of 'controlled' conditions, where the shot can be replicated exactly, to assess and compare the end product we just keep soldiering on.

I like the P900 but the viewfinder and the slow electric zoom drive me nuts! But then now and again it does the business and I get a photo that compares well with my friends DSLR and 500mm Bazooka and I feel better all round.

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Yes, if there is direct sunlight on the bird (of almost any quality) I can get reasonable to good results. But if not (as is very often the case) I find the camera really struggles with focus and shake. 


Focus - I'm generally using Spot for focus, and trying at least to lock that on the bird, and if possible its eye, before recomposing and shooting. In bright light it is pretty good, and if I really concentrate I can often get it accurate even through twigs & leaves. But in anything other than decent light, it really struggles. Unfortunately manual focus is almost completely useless for birds - only really useful for Macro / tripod work, or moon photography. I was talking about Manual exposure mode rather than Manual Focus


Birdwatching Mode is under Scenes - select Scene, Menu, then scroll through the scenes to get Birdwatching. It has a bunch of camera pre-sets specifically tailored to what Nikon thinks is good for bird photography - generally not far off the mark, its very good in many circumstances, worth a try if you are using P mode as I've had much better results with Birdwatching.


P mode I find hit & miss - camera is setting both speed and aperture, and (for me) normally sets the speed too low (for my shaky hands). You CAN adjust the paired settings to a degree by upping the shutter speed (and aperture will move with it) - but given the aperture is likely to be 6.5+ anyway at long zoom lengths, this is not really satisfactory


U mode gives you a lot more control - you can for example choose Aperture priority, set Auto ISO with a minimum shutter speed so that essentially you choose shutter speed, aperture is almost always 6.5-8, and ISO is free to go up as needed to get the right exposure. I'm finding that I get much better results from 1/500th upwards if I'm anywhere above 1000mm equiv - I don't have particularly steady hands. You can set all the other camera parameters in this mode, including continuous high burst rate, centre-weighted metering, focus mode to spot, auto white-balance, highest quality etc. and save them all as a super-custom setting for bird photos.  I also set the zoom start position to 1000mm equiv, which I find most useful for finding a target, then not too far to zoom in to take the shot.This saves some time when switching the camera on to taking the first shot.  I also often use -0.3 to -1 EV as I think the camera habitually overexposes shots that are not directly sunlit. 


I've tried Manual exposure mode, but you cannot set the ISO to Auto (or you can, but it will only select ISO 100). I will probably do a lot more experimenting with Manual, but it is hard to quickly change ISO settings, making this difficult to use in quickly changing light. I still haven't really got to grips with the histogram and other tools for assessing exposure in manual - and need to. But for now I'm getting some results with my "Manual + Auto-ISO hybrid" in U mode. 


Yes, the electronic zoom sucks enormously (and the snap-back preview function is next to useless, should have called it creep-back preview). How hard would it have been to put a manual zoom collar on that lens? And the viewfinder is simply awful - sometimes I just shoot when I think I'm in the right place and have been surprised to find a bird there in the finished photo. Another massive bugbear is how sensitive it is to sunlight on the lens - even backlighting on the subject degrades the picture considerably. I find the camera really struggles with high contrast shots too, blowing out whites and blacking out blacks simultaneously - I think the sensor and JPG combination just struggles with dynamic range. 


All that said - the long lens is amazing, spotting-scope capability in a zoom, and it is fabulous for ID shots on birds that I hardly saw by eye / binoculars. In decent light from behind it really works amazingly well, and I'm learning to work around (or at least with) some of the limitations. And it is amazingly compact for its capabilities - which means I take it on work trips, climbing trips and just about everywhere I go - so I'm getting shots (of whatever quality) that I'd never get otherwise. 

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Sorry @Alex Rogers, hi-jacking your BY and turning it into a 'how to use your bridge camera' thread, but I just thought I would throw in how I use mine while we are on the subject.

I use a custom setting for birds which is set to Aperture Priority at F2.8, the camera can keep this throughout it's zoom range and it lets as much light in as possible. Flexible focusing and live view continuous shooting.  I watch the histogram and the 'blinking highlights' and use exposure compensation all the time.  I have a preset button set to easily change the size of the focusing box which I also use all the time, helps to find the bird amongst the branches (sometimes!)  And I increase the shutter speed by increasing the ISO.  The zoom is a pain as you both say so I have got used to 'zooming in' as soon as I switch on before I have eye to viewfinder.

It can be quite limiting and frustrating but I am always really pleased when it all works and I get something half decent.


Interesting to read how you use yours, Alex, you are certainly getting some nice pictures.

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Hi @Zim Girl thanks for the comments - no hijack, I brought this up and the main purpose of my BY is to improve my photography, so all good. 


Do you use a P900 too? As I understand mine, the max aperture is constrained by zoom length - as you zoom out, the max aperture drops (no matter if you are in AP mode) and from about 1000 mm equiv / half zoom, you are constrained to max aperture of f 6.5. So I am trying to use shutter priority in a custom setting, with ISO ranging up as the light dims. 


I do need to get to grips with the histogram and blinkies like you, then I'll feel more confident trying it in manual mode. Such a pity we can't assign ISO to a custom button to adjust quickly and easily. Thanks also for the tip on assigning focus, I'll give that a try, I've generally stuck to spot, but sometimes that causes hunting and a wider focus area would be more appropriate, so I'll try it. Cheers

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No, I have a bridge camera but it is a Panasonic FZ330.  It's main USP when I bought it a couple of years ago was that it maintained F2.8 throughout it's zoom range.  ISO has a dedicated button on the back of the camera so easy to adjust quickly.  I must admit I haven't used it in manual mode, it felt slow and cumbersome when I tried it and I didn't persevere so I should really have another go at it.

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A very willing and attentive pupil is paying attention to all this information. Thanks to both. Hell. I did not even know there WAS a U /mode. As a paid up Luddite I tend to ignore 'pre-sets' and having just mastered the on/off button I am getting to grips with the Fn.

I am currently sitting in a nice Hotel in Alzey (Germany) having left home at silly o'clock yesterday to take two ferry crossings.

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Well - back to the birds. Most of these taken in AP, 1/500th minimum, with ISO free, handheld. 


I had a work trip up to QLD - took a walk in the Boondall Wetlands, Nundah Beach, right beside BNE airport. Lovely boardwalk through the mangroves. 


129) Pied Butcherbird - like the Grey, a fierce hunter with a beautiful song




130) Rainbow Bee-eater - our only bee-eater, and a gorgeous bird like all of them. 




131) Leaden Flycatcher - struggled to identify her a bit, as she is quite different from the males of the species. She was fast  moving, but eventually let me have a shot. 




132) Torresian Kingfisher - this beautiful bird was also new to me - unfortunately didn't get a picture from behind, his wings and back are beautiful blue & green




And a day later managed a quick walk through the Emerald Botanical Gardens - some lovely birds there, but it was getting late and really challenging light for photos. I managed a couple of ordinary shots of some pretty cool birds. 


133) Straw-necked Ibis




134) Apostlebird - these cheeky little guys remind me very much of the arrow-marked babblers back at home in their looks as well as gregarious, noisy behaviour




A bonus cockatoo (sulphur crested) just cos we like them



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Dave Williams

The more recent images are certainly showing you are starting to get the most out of the camera. Trial and error the way to go! keep it up.

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Thanks Dave. Certainly having fun trying :-) 


Had a good morning down at the little local Landing Lights wetlands. In between Airbuses flying overhead, had a good couple of hours before breakfast trying to photograph birds. Got some nice shots, most of birds I've posted here already, but great to improve a bit on the quality of some. And a couple of new birds for me - I've never been any good at shorebirds / waders, but am going to have to learn. 


135) Sharp-tailed Sandpiper






Did you spot the anomalous bird? 3rd in line there is somebody new to me - haven't worked him out yet, but think he may be a Curlew Sandpiper with the remnants of his breeding colours  - am working on confirmation with the locals before I claim him :-) 


And then had some fun with trying to balance high-contrast birds, playing with exposure compensation and trying to preserve whites and blacks. Not entirely successful, but getting better. 


Great Egret (previously claimed) 






Royal Spoonbill (already claimed) 




145) Pied Stilt. Love this shot, he was calling his mate, and I can hear him when I look at this. 





Egret, great DSCN3627_cr.jpg

Edited by Alex Rogers
Hadn't previously claimed the stilt.
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136) Identified my mystery bird as a Curlew Sandpiper - a new one for me. Not great photos, but pretty exciting all the same :-) 





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Congratulations on the solved mystery. And what a nice coincidence they were with 'The other Alex' and I on the same day.

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You are getting some really nice photos, so your efforts are paying off!

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Thanks @TonyQ  :-) 


It has been a while since I posted, so I have some catch up to do. Here are some of our more common backyard birds all in a batch: 


137) Australian Raven - our version of a jungle crow




138) Chestnut Teal - common dabbling duck, prefers saline water 




139) Common Myna - a pest bird in Australia - some councils trap & kill them, but I'm a bit squeamish, don't really want to kill things. Try to discourage them by blocking up their nesting holes in our roof etc. 




140) Common Starling is very close behind the Myna in terms of being an introduced pest, with similar habits and habitats (if not as aggressive)



141) Little Wattlebird - might be small for a wattlebird, but pretty large for a honeyeater. They are in full breeding display and song at the moment - this isn't a great photo, but I like the tension in the bird as he sings his heart out. 




142) Pied Currawong - while a little crow-like, they are much more slender and elegant, and have a lovely call. 




143) Rock Dove or feral pigeon as it is better known. Ubiquitous. 



144) Australian Pelican







Edited by Alex Rogers
Numbering stuff up
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And then some from a recent trip to Katherine in the Northern Territory. Work, but managed to spot a few birds after and before work. Most of the birds there are completely new to me. 


(note re-numbered an earlier bird 145 - Pied Stilt) 


146) Bar-shouldered Dove




147) Black Kite - these were very common in Katherine, huge flocks in the streets of the town. 






148) Grey-crowned Babbler




149) Red-tailed Black Cockatoo. Huge cockatoo with implausibly slow wing beats, bright red under the tail, but couldn't capture that,. 




150) Forest Kingfisher - a glorious blue and white kingfisher. but I didn't get a great shot. Forest birds are hard. 




151) Silver-crowned Friarbird - big honeyeaters with a peculiar hump on the beaks. 



152)  White necked Heron 




153) Blue-faced Honeyeater. Mad pose, he peered at me upside down for about 5 minutes then ducked off into the shade. 




154) Red-collared Lorikeet - only recently declared a full species instead of being a race of the rainbow lorikeet, so I'm claiming it :-) Note full orange chest and collar, no yellow 



155) Torresian Imperial-Pigeon - a lifer for me, had been hoping to see these, and caught this pair in a tree at the airport on the way out :-) 




And I think that brings me up to date


Edited by Alex Rogers
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Just now, Alex Rogers said:

nly recently declared a full species instead of being a race of the rainbow lorikeet, so I'm claiming it :-)

Too right. Beat the splitters and lumpers at their game.


Some lovely birds you got.

Edited by Galana
additional comment.
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A great set of additions again from the north. That Black Cockatoo is an impressive bird!

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  • 2 weeks later...

I did a work trip to Western Australia, we are building a solar farm out near Geraldton - and I managed to spot a few birds along the way. 


156) Western Corella - endemic to the region, and a lifer for me. Had a great sighting of them on the nest 






157) Also only found in SW Western Australia, but introduced from Africa - the Laughing Dove. A very familiar sound from my SA days. 




158) Rufous Whistler - a poor shot I'm afraid, but didn't manage to get a better one. A lovely songster and very widespread in Aus, but unfortunately prone to singing from the depths of a bush!




159) Australian Ringneck - a lovely parrot, but I only got a fleeting glimpse and couldn't get focus lock through the trees. I normally wouldn't post such a desperate EBC, but I'm not likely to see this species again for a while, so here it is (sorry) 




I paid a very early morning visit to the Greenough River mouth and was rewarded with 2 lifers (and some other lovely birds including pelicans cruising in to the sunrise waters, singing honeyeaters singing the sun up, etc)


160) Red-capped Plover - a tiny shorebird, they ran me up and down the beach until the sun came up and I finally got a photo. Lovely little things, and coping well with the dog walkers. 




and 161) Red-necked stints. Had to spend some time looking these up to be sure, as they were new to me. They have a cool clockwork-bird action, very sweet. Another tiny wader where you wish you had bigger & better optics, but just end up leopard-crawling to them. 






A walk along the Chapman River in Geraldton yielded a couple of photos


162) White-plumed Honeyeater - a familiar and quite common bird, I finally got one to pose for me showing the characteristic neck-plume. 




I also had a lovely sighting of a Singing Honeyeater family - a family that sings together stays together - and am posting the pics to make up for a pretty poor EBC pic earlier. 






#163) is the Sacred Kingfisher. They have lovely green and blue backs, but I only had a fleeting opportunity to capture this as he landed on a tree high above me then flew off. 



Edited by Alex Rogers
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And then a couple from closer to home. From Sydney Olympic Park


#164) Bar-tailed Godwit



#165) Buff-banded rail. Very exciting, I've seen these once before for sure, and possibly a few other times, but they are fast and furtive normally. But this was one of a pair who didn't spot me, and spent some time out in the open while I clicked away at max zoom, so the first photos I've ever taken of them. 




#166) Caspian Tern - a single juvenile resting with a mixed flock of seagulls and waders. Not the best shot, a long way away. 




167) Red-whiskered Bulbul. Another African introduced species, these are doing rather well in the Sydney area. I couldn't tempt these guys out of the shade into the sun, they were enjoying the (introduced) mulberries too much! 




168) White-bellied Sea Eagles - this pair were perched on a mangrove tree across the Parramatta River - they are raising a pair of hatchlings in nearly Sydney Olympic Park, and Birdlife Australia are protecting the site and have a webcam on the nest - you can see the two juveniles live here 



I was very happy to see the adults, even at a distance, as you can't get anywhere near their nest for obvious reasons. Awesome birds. 




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Good to see you are putting that long  zoom through its paces. I can picture you doing a leopard crawl along a wet beach on a Stint hunt. Focus lock is a pain with P900. If I get troubled I just fire off several at a nearby object to the target and that often gets a sharp subject in cover.


Small geographic correction.

Red-whiskered Bulbul is an Asian species not African.

Keep em coming.

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Great additions, the Rail is especially beautiful 

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Lovely additions. the rail is a beauty and so are the Torresian imperial pigeon and the oddly beautiful white-plumed honeyeater

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On 10/5/2019 at 8:36 PM, Galana said:

Small geographic correction. Red-whiskered Bulbul is an Asian species not African.


Thanks for that. They are a familiar bird from growing up in Durban - but looking it up, I see they were introduced there as well! Thanks for that. 

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Thanks @TonyQ, @Kitsafari. Yes, the rail is a stunner, looks like he has been painted by hand. Kitsafari - about a year ago when I was first starting to check out AU birds, the honeyeaters drove me mad as they all looked the same, nondescript greeny yellow birds - but once I started to get to know them, I agree with you, I love them too. And while some are truly spectacular when you look, even the smaller and less conspicuous ones are very pretty. 

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