Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bicentennial Park - A Bit Of Macro And Stuff

When it gets really stinking hot you just have to bring water and you will have a great day in Bicentennial Park - every other sane Sydneysider will be at the beach! However, be careful about leaving the water in your car (even if it is white!) Since it will be close to boiling when you get back - consequence being that you drink 0.5L and turbo sweat 0.5L as a result thereof :-)

Suddenly having an extra lens there is not straight forward! Having been used to the Bigma handling 95% of my shooing; long, short (with stitching) and semi-macro makes it very hard taking it off. However, my new macro lens has some qualities that makes it superior for certain types of photography - one of them obviously being proper macro - I just need to learn to shoot that type of photos.

A great example is the two Golden Orb Weaver spider shots - the one above is taken with the Bigma at about half zoom, somewhere around where you get the best magnification ratio (at 500mm the minimum focus distance is significantly increased). The picture below is with the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 Macro and you suddenly realize that when you get really close a hole new story is unfolding. The macro shot is actually not really good, I had a hard time getting a sufficient depth of field, at least to cover the travel of the insect while they were being blown around by the wind :-/ Handholding macro shots outside under windy conditions will be one of the things I will have to optimize in 2010! :-D

Finally having gotten the Macro on I decided to keep it there for a little bit and had a bit of luck finding a Leaf curling spider that had established its home in a sunny and less windy spot.

A super smart little spider that is truly taking advantage of its surroundings. They are very common here around Sydney, but often people do not notice them since they sit inside their little leaf only having the legs resting on their web, detecting any vibration caused by potential prey.

When you get optimal conditions - and a preying spider might be one of the most still and optimal targets you can hope for - my new Sigma macro is scary sharp ;-) If you press the picture above you are taken to a higher resolution version, for a bit of spider leg-hair examination.

Well, after a while the prime lens got a bit restrictive and I returned to the Bigma for a bit of water shooting. Having a leaky underwater camera has hurt the underwater content of this blog badly so I will try to make up for it with a few wet ones.

I was happy about the eel above, I have tried to get a similar photo before, but maybe because of the heat and the consequential low oxygen level this day the underwater creatures where swimming closer to the surface ... or the fact that an entire 7 membered family was standing bombarding the water with old bread next to me :-)

Fantastic stuff! The possibility of carbon loading (or once again the low oxygen levels?) also attracted a couple of turtles - they look pretty scary close up!

Great day in the park! Bicentennial park is a fantastic package of various habitats and therefore packs an excellent selection of wildlife to look at. From a photographic point of view it is nearly as good as going to the zoo - the park being one of the busiest in Sydney has made the wildlife very relaxed about having screaming human activity around them, so relaxed indeed that you are more successful by walking straight towards a bird and shoot your pictures instead of trying to creep towards it .. crawling in public parks have been known to be considered suspicious behavior ;-)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bicentennial Park - Double The Fun? Additional Material

There you go! I was so sure that the Godwit in the previous post was not the Bar-tailed since there was not even shadow of barring under the tail, however, I am very privileged having some expert birders reading the blog and it was pointed out that the slightly up-turned beak is not a feature normally associated with the Black-tailed G. So can it be a Hudsonian? (a bird I did not even consider, since it is in the vagrant bird section of my book, Simpson & Day - Morcombe has included it in the main section though) Or is it just a Bar-tailed without bars?

Suggestions are most welcome :-)

It is quite embarrassing that I probably did not choose the best picture for my potential cuckoo - sorry! Some of you know my approach to taking pictures; if you are not that good you just have to take a lot more :-D so I had quite a few of the little feathered guy in question. Here is a few more showing the coloration around the tail and the shadow behind and around the eye.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Bicentennial Park - Double The Fun?

Getting the jet lag under control, I managed to drag my carcass out of bed an early Sunday morning and fire up the Magna. Not having little G. here I felt that I should take advantage and visit a particular smelly, but fantastic, bird spot in Bicentennial Park - Triangular Pond.

A few specialties of the pond had returned this year, the Lewin's Rail and Spotless Crake, whom I had acquainted myself with nearly a year ago at the exact same pond. Problem is, however, that you need to time your visit; if it is to dry the birds will have left and if the water level is up high they will not need to leave their papyrus plant hideaway to eat. Well, I was too late and hence had to take the full brunt of smell fuming of the near dry pond.

Well, luckily Bicentennial Park has much more to offer and I happily left the stinking swamp for some fresher waters.

Running around with the camera there is always a challenge, despite having seen nearly all (see below) of the birds that inhabits Bicentennial Park, I do not have pictures of all of them and in particular I miss good pictures for a large part of them. The Black-tailed Godwit below should be sorted now though - I have close up of the no-barred tail as well ;-)

I might have been a bit fast while claiming that I have seen nearly all of the BP birds, the one below has me puzzled and once again I would like suggestions from the readers of the blog. Seeing the barring below the wing had me thinking Cuckoo, but ...?

I think, I have said before that the ponds in Sydney Olympic Park are some of the best places around for (water-)bird in flight photos. Also, because of the constant exposure to (noisy) humans it makes it one of the best places to get really close to birds without them taking off. The male Darter below was obviously very happy with its seat and decided to try to fool me into believing that it was a part of the branch rather than having to fly away.

The photo looses quite a bit of the sharpness by being down sized to 640 * 400, but I can promise you that the original is spot on! If just all birds was that photogenic :-)

... will have to bite this post into a few postings: To be continued.

Centennial Park - Just Around The Corner

Back to wonderful long days with glorious amounts of light! Not bad at all :-) Photography wise it just makes everything so easy - hand holding the bigma at 500mm (750mm full frame equivalent) is no problem at all, give the ISO button a little tap and park the aperture at f/8.0 and you get shutter speeds so fast that you do not even need to cut down on the morning coffee.

Choosing a gentle start to the year with a visit to (underrated?) Centennial Park just up the hill from Coogee might not exactly qualify as an encounter with the wildest wild of Australian wildlife. So, claiming that Australian animals are less shy than the Danish equivalent based solely on this visit could arguably be seen as an non-random unscientific selection of data points, however, there is no doubt that a visit to the park is very rewarding when it comes to the posibility of getting bird close ups. I should point out straight away that the pictures in this post has been obtained without the help of unsportsmanlike methods .. i.e. bringing bread or making bread like noises ;-)

Apart from seeing plenty more turtles than I usually do, it was very much the usual gang of birds being in charge of the entertainment. The Little Corella is always around this time of year and on a plank in the lake was a little love triangle unfolding - the female to the left, in the picture below, seemed very relaxed about the drama when two male Hardheads started fighting over the spot next to her - the initial looks they gave each other not much different from what you see in the pub late a Friday night.

All good - Centennial Park is close and a great spot to kill a few hours, I might try to do it on the bike next time and let the camera stay home though.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What A Difference 16190 km Makes :-)

After a great New Years eve celebration in the vibrant township of Bredetved, we managed to make your way to a frosty Frankfurt via Copenhagen airport. After taking full advantage of little G's newly acquired gold frequent flyer status and the associated lounge privileges, we finally found ourselves strapped in and ready to take off towards better weather. Funnily, I finally got the possibility of seeing just how much labor is associated with the deicing of aeroplane wings - I once worked on a project aiming at making the wings ice repellent and hence self-cleaning - maybe I should take up that project again :-)

Sadly it would be night during most of our traverse across Australia, I very much like the possibility of sitting up there looking down and planning/dreaming about when I will be able to make a quick escape there taking a close look at all the exciting stuff happening down below.

Entering mainland Australia we straight away got a very real reminder of the difference between Danish winter and Australian summer. A tropical storm was raging down below hitting the area north of Broome with a cascade of lightening strikes. While sitting in safety 10 kilometers above we saw multiple bush fires starting as the result of lightening strikes - a truly amazing and scary sight.

Approaching Sydney we got one of those great accelerated sunrises where everything happens really fast, while still up high, you get the benefit of clean air and a canvas of clouds below that the sun can paint in all the warm colors.

I started getting slightly excited, since coming from the north-west, we would be passing most of the Sydney landmarks and who would not like a few pictures of the Sydney Opera House from above. Unfortunately Sydney summer mornings do not always give you crystal clear air and warm colors, instead we were treated with clouds and a mist reducing visibility significantly :-/ Under such conditions your pictures will often look very dull straight from the camera, you can make them slightly more punchy and interesting by pumping contrast and broadening the histogram i.e. making the dark darker and the brights brighter. If that sounds complicated then just push the "I'm feeling lucky" button in Picasa :-D

The difference between the two pictures of the Sydney Harbour Bridge above should be evidence enough :-) Below is the ANZAC bridge, where the Magna drives across twice every week day.

Farewell Denmark - See You Soon Again

That was it! We had to leave Denmark and all the snow behind and once again make our way down south and a bit out to the right to our lives in Sydney. Having been en-gifted with a 16GB memory card I suddenly had heaps of room to play and was embracing the new found freedom with a bit of memory hungry high dynamic range (HDR) photography. Shoot for example 5 raw photos of the same scene, at -2, -1, 0, +1 and +2 stops exposure compensation, My Nikon D300 has a bracketing function that will allow you to do this automatically (up to 9 photos at various exposure intervals), but it is easily done manually. Combining all the photos with some HDR handling software (I use Photomatix Pro) you get a picture, where the details in the dark as well as in the light have been preserved, making the scene more similar to how our eyes see - actually our eyes cheat by changing the aperture (the diameter of the pupil) when switching between bright and dark areas not much different from how you cheat when making a HDR photo :-)

Stacking 5 pictures, however, is very revealing when it comes to exposing how dirty your sensor is .. so before I get a flood of comments about the spot(s) in the photo I can just as well admit that it is about time the good old Nikon gets a scrub - most was handled with a simple image sensor vibration, but I might have to do a wet clean one of these days - if you think the HDR looks dirty, I can assure you that having acquired a macro lens is even more revealing than HDR stacking :-/

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


The day before leaving Balling we decided that we needed a little treat, we had thoroughly acquainted ourselves with the walking opportunities around Balling and after a request for ideas from nature knowledgeable friends it was clear that we simply had to get in the Volvo and visit Klosterheden! .. which probably qualifies as a slightly larger treat ;-)

Despite being a plantation, it is one of those types of Danish "controlled" nature that actually ends up delivering some fantastic wildlife. Sporting an area of 6700 hectares it was even decided one (probably) late evening before 1999 that it was time to introduce an animal that had been eradicated from the Danish landscape by human activity (such as hunting them to extinction) - a mammal of a good size would be great, since it is something that people notice .. and it will not just fly away again. Great idea to sort of try to reverse the wrongdoings of the past, indeed an idea that any Dane should be proud of ..

Unfortunately politics creeps in everywhere. The obvious choice would be wild boar as was pointed out by an army of biologists, they were hunted to extinction less than 200 years ago and would actually naturally find their place in Denmark by immigration from Germany into Denmark, if it was not for a government supported shooting of any boar close to the Danish border - we cannot risk the presence of boar due to our pork production!! :-D

Wolves was off the plan as well,which is probably fair enough, despite having the same association with Denmark as the boar (eradicated 200 years ago). Instead the politicians needed a "sweet" animal that would not do harm and would stay put in an restricted area - so beaver it was :-)

Funny story, do not misunderstand me; I like the idea of the beavers being in Klosterheden and despite them not having been in Denmark for the last 1000 years, there is no doubt that they have adapted to the Danish environment really well. In 1999 eighteen beavers were released and now the population has reached at least 100.

We did not see any beavers, but we saw traces of various beaver activity, which is apparently what most people see. Dipping on the immigrants was well and truly forgotten when we got ourselves an unexpected bird treat of colossal proportions! Walking around we had seen very little life, except for ticking a Goldcrest (Fuglekonge), which is the smallest bird in Europe, it had been very very quiet - minus 10 degrees reduces activity quite a bit.

Walking the last few meters towards the car, we noticed a person walking around with a camouflaged camera and lens setup that made the Bigma look like kindergarden gear :-) Carefully starting the chat with a few camera and bird related comments we were soon in a fruitful discussion on what Klosterheden had to offer and when and how to catch it with a Nikon D300 equipped with a prime 500mm f/4.5 handheld - fantastic stuff. Even more exciting was the reason for bringing out this monster of a lens. The White-throated dipper (Vandstær) had been spotted at the creek running along the carpark in Klosterheden where the Volvo was located, indeed while I had been standing admiring the prime lens, Gemma had been standing looking at a strange bird sitting on a rock out in the freezing cold water :-D

Great guns! Some great camera chat, I managed to get a picture and we all saw this peculiar bird, which is capable of swimming in and walking on the bottom of fast flowing freezing cold creeks all for the purpose of seeking out small critters living between the rocks in the water.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Geddal Tidal Meadow and Sønder Lem Creek

I never knew while I was living in Denmark, but apparently I have had one of the absolute best Danish birding locations in my backyard - less than 8km from home is Sønder Lem vig & Geddal strandenge. The Danish ornithological society has been so kind to produce a proper English guide to the Danish birding hotspots, which include SLV & GS. The guide can be accessed by following this link SLV & GS is fourth on the list.

This quite restricted area, only covering 1670 hectares, boasts an absolutely astonishing 227 species seen at the location, that is about half of the bird species in Denmark - all crammed into a bit of wetland close to home - Guess it will be a bit of fun if I ever make it to Denmark during the summer months! :-)

Once again the birds were super shy and unless this gets better during the summer months I will have to consider gearing up with a teleconverter and some solid support, since as you can see above and below, the bigma was pushed to the limit .. The Grey Heron (Fiskehejre) above was, according to Google Earth, 210 meters away - not optimal conditions :-D

Time in Denmark was slowly running out and we decided to give the walk around Balling a final go. I still hoped to get a better picture of the Common Snipe and there is always the possibility of something unexpected jumping out in front of us, as a final reason we would be walking in the afternoon giving a very different type of light compared to what we had been treated with during our morning walks.

We had a great trip! The white bum above was this years first proper(?) picture of a deer. During our walks we probably saw deer 5 times, but always at a far distance. This one was close and gone in 3 photos :-)

Also, I finally managed to get pictures of both Blue Tit (Blåmejse) and Great Tit (Musvit) not rare at all, but considering how I struggled during the first week, I actually started feeling that I was getting a bit of an edge on the temperamental Danish wildlife.

Great stuff! It will be fantastically exciting to see the valley again this summer, no doubt it will be different and hopefully there will be a bit more light around.

As I mentioned earlier we were walking in the afternoon and in the end of the walk the sun was hanging very low in the sky, exactly the conditions I had hoped for. Out of the valley you have to go up this sunken road with scrubby windblown trees on the western side, one of the days we had had the most fantastic light going up there - and I had forgotten the camera! Not this time though. :-)