Green vs Wood Sandpiper

Green & Wood Sandpiper

The above photo shows two very similar Tringa waders. Note that the one on the right is slightly smaller, with a shorter bill and longer legs - this is a Wood Sandpiper [Tringa glareola] - a very common non-breeding summer visitor to Southern Africa. The bird on the left is a national rarity in Southern Africa. This is a Green Sandpiper [Tringa ochropes]. As far as the regional rarities are concerned they are among the more common ones, but still regarded as a rarity.

In general the spotting on the back in the case of the Green Sandpiper (GSP) is much smaller than for Wood Sandpiper (WSP) but be careful: the spotting becomes much more obvious towards the end of our summer as the birds begin to moult into breeding plumage before returning to their Northern breeding grounds. Compare the photos taken in December (2 below) when this bird was first found at Olifants North Game Reserve, Greater Kruger National Park to the ones taken in January at the same location and presumed to be of the same individual (top left and at the bottom)

WSP always show a very clear white supercilium which normally extends well beyond the eye but this can be confusing since the individual shown here (below) does not show this! If the bird does show a supercilium clearly extending beyond the eye it easily excludes GSP which also shows a clear, more prominent white eyering.

The above WSP also shows a "dirty" brownish wash to the upper breast and neck, in its non-breeding plumage - a feature I have never seen in GSP - they always seem cleaner, with dark streaks on a clear white background. Note that WSP also "cleans up" nicely in their breeding plumage.

One feature which really helps to clinch the ID is the underwing. GSP has blackish underwings with barred underwing coverts (below, left) while WSP have much paler underwings (below, right) - this is a consistent feature for both species.

With a little practise the difference in gizz becomes apparent and they can fairly easily be distinguished in the field. Most WSP's have very clear superciliums and they are always boldly spotted on the back while GSP's are much less spotted on their backs when they arrive here. The purpose of this write-up is to point out that the spots on the back is a good feature at the opposing ends of the spectrum but be cautious when using this feature towards the end of summer as the breeding plumage GSP's also feature prominent white spots on the wings and mantle as seen below. Also remeber that sometimes the supercilium can also appear short in WSP.

New Additions April 2016

Double-collared Sunbird                               Fiery-necked Nightjar                          Yellow-billed Oxpecker                          Spotted Crake

Yellow-throated Greenbul                                   African Finfoot                                   European Nightjar                                      Dusky Lark

White-headed Vulture                                 Ashy Flycatcher                         White-backed Night-heron                            Western Osprey

Ecuador

I have been very slow to update this site after coming back from South America. With thousands of images, mostly of hummingbirds from Ecuador I have a lot to do so this is a start.

Electronic media has certainly changed photography for ever and many photos never make it further than a computer screen where it is displayed at 72 dpi, often heavily cropped and saved as a jpeg for the web in sRGB with a very narrow colour gamut. This certainly aids in sharing your photos but to truly appreciate a high quality digital image it needs to be printed at high resolution on high quality paper in the widest colour gamut available - which is very striking these days! it is a real pity that so few images make it that far. I have cropped this image somewhat to try and include more quality but still the effect is very disappointing compared to the full file from the D810 at 36 MP - pity: our cameras are getting better and better, yet we share most of our photos as small jpegs over the internet! To me the challenge remains to obtain full frame images with the right composition in camera, perfect exposure through top quality glass on a top quality sensor - that is when you have obtained the trophy and this is what we need to strive toward - I am not saying I achieve this all the time! In fact I have very few images that I can claim I am totally happy with straight off the sensor as a raw file, but this should be our aim. Only then will we grow as a photographers.

So even though I have lost a lot of enthusiasm for sharing images over the internet here is one trophy from Ecuador which I had to crop to make it worth sharing since our monitors are so small and the resolution is still so far behind the printed media..

Western Emerald Chlorostilbon melanorhyncus

Working with available (poor) light

Trevor Hardaker, a good friend and fellow wildlife photographer recently asked his friends the following question: "When the light is poor, do you put away your camera as many purist photographers would do or do you just keep shooting because you actually enjoy the subjects that you are shooting way more than the idea of getting a technically good photo...?" This is such a nice topic that I decided to dedicate a Blog write-up to it.

First of all we all know photography is all about capturing light. When the light is good you have a great starting point: add an interesting subject or sometimes even just a basic one such as a beautiful tree, expose it properly - which is fairly easy in the case of good direct light - and you will easily take a good photograph... The challenge comes when you have one of those grey, murky days. I generally don't reach for my camera so often then but if you have a good subject it is surely worth the effort. Properly exposing the subject (which often means dialing in '+' exposure or adding light, since the camera's lightmeter tries to compensate for the bright grey sky as in this example) and combining it with a touch of fill in flash to colour in the shadows (the eagles eye in this case) can still yield usable images these days since we can crank up the ISO much higher than in the days when we were shooting 50-200 ISO slide film.

Immature Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus Exposed at 1/250 sec; f/9; ISO 800. Nikon D4s with AF-S 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR lens and SB 910 Speedlight with better beamer.

These eagles seldom allow a close approach and since this individual was perched next to a built up road in the Kruger National Park, with the tree being much lower than the road it provided a rather pleasing angle - just the light...was horrible with a dark obscure sky and it was in the middle of the day. Actually, when shooting in the middle of the day the sun is so harsh that I prefer overcast conditions.

The 800 combo for bird photography...

Nikon D800 body with the Nikkor AF-S 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR lens - a bird photographer's dream?

I have been using this combination for 18 months now and still marvel at the image quality and detail it is capable of delivering, especially for bird photography. Not every photo that one snaps away with this combo will be a winner though - this is a very unforgiving setup: 36MP married to a focal length of 800mm giving a 16x magnification in 36mm SLR terms. Any small vibration (if not handled well by the excellent 4.5 stop VR mechanism), the slightest defocus and very shallow, unforgiving depth of field can so easily lead to disappointment if you are new to this setup. Another trap many new owners fall into is that they try to use their long super telephotos to photograph distant specs on the horizon! At 800mm heat haze is a real spoil sport! But if you use proper long lens technique and give this combo the necessary respect it deserves the results can be truly out of this world! Do I think the 800mm is the ideal lens for bird photography? No, I don't - it is a highly specialized piece of kit, a real pleasure to use but certainly not a good all round compromise - if you plan on owning only one super telephoto you should strongly consider a 500mm or 600mm.

Another consideration is that of pixel density on your sensor and the apparent image size you are recording at actual pixels. Lets take a Nikon D800 body at 36MP with a 500mm lens (10x magnification) and compare it to a Nikon D4s with 16MP and put that on the 800mm (16x magnification). The D800 in 1.5 crop setting gives a 16MP image and 500x1.5=750mm - very close to the 800mm but much more versatile. So although I always feel the 800mm lens deserves the best body Nikon can offer i.e. the D4s one can get very similar results with a much less expensive and more versatile setup like a shorter lens with a higher pixel body. Off course one shouldn't compare the 11 fps D4s with the much slower D800 but if image quality is your only consideration then a high MP sensor married to top quality glass is the best combination: putting that 36MP sensor on the unbelievably sharp 800mm Nikkor and properly filling the frame just keeps on taking my breath away... and now there is the D810 body without an AA filter, a higher frame rate, larger buffer much more suited to wildlife photography with improved AF... watch this space to see what it is capable of :)

Red-billed Teal Anas erythrorhyncha - Nikon D800 with 800mm f/5.6 exposed at 1/1600 sec; f/7.1; ISO 500

Greater Painted-Snipe Rostratula benghalensis - Nikon D800 with 800mm f/5.6 exposed at 1/1250 sec; f/6.3; ISO 640 with a closer crop below.

Not bad for ISO 640... Bear in mind these are downsized jpegs.

I have no financial interest in Nikon...

Brown-backed Honeybird - a new species to our Gallery

Finally.... a New species added to our Bird Gallery!

Nowadays it is becoming increasingly difficult to add new southern African bird species to our regional bird gallery since we already have over 650 of our local species and strive to upload only images of a certain quality. I will be the first to acknowledge that this is not one of my finest photographs but this little bird has been decidedly tough to photograph - forcing me to go the point-and-shoot style; I normally don't like shooting from the hip up into a tree since it gives the sort of results one finds all over fb and the internet :) (I call them enema shots - you can guess why)... but if you stand a bit further away you can sometimes get a more acceptable angle. if you can't beat them join them :)

Brown-backed Honeybird Prodotiscus regulus / Afrikaans:Skerpbekheuningvoël, formely known as Sharp-billed Honeyguide but since it is not an Indicator Honeyguide I suppose the name change makes sense.