The impossible Hobby

Discussion in 'Nature' started by bill_thorlin, May 20, 2006.

  1. A pair of Hobbies ( falco subbuteo ) have moved in quite nearby and I am pretty
    chuffed, estimated to be 500-900 pairs in the UK. I "think" I have seen them in
    the past but they were really not even on my "possibly" list. Now they are on
    my certain list ( one shot past about 20 feet away ) and what an impressive
    bird they are. They are described as being like a large swift and they are
    certainly very swift and their flying display is quite spectacular. I first
    spotted them flying up and down a small stream catching insects, with a
    backdrop of a range of dark trees.

    Now the impossible bit. Do I even stand a prayer of getting anything more than
    a blur or a blob ( I am not a total novice ).Lenses to hand - 80-200 f2.8 (
    arriving tomorrow I hope ! ) 400 f5.6 and if pushed a 70-300 f4.5-5.6.
    Teleconverters 1.5X & 2X. Camera Dynax 7 with pretty rapid autofocus - the main
    reason I got one. Film 800asa which I am happy to use from past experience.

    Your thoughts please.

    ( Before anyone says go digital - you will get 4 foolscap pages of why not at
    the moment :) - )
  2. mbb


    Bill you should go digital :), sorry. Cost of Canon 20D (30D) is about 100 rolls of pro slide film = 3600 shot = about average day of my work. Changing shutter box cost is nothing (about $211 looking at the last invoice) and is good usually for 100-120K shots. What is most important: really rapid predicted auto focus, 5 frames per second continuous shutting (or you need a motor drive). That said 400mm 5.6 is one of my favorite lenses for flight shooting. With or without 1.4X. In nice light 400ISO is more than enough. Good panning technique is the most important factor.

    Overslept and have to run, and drive like crazy about 75 miles, so have to leave now but wish you the best luck. Best regards, Mark
  3. I would suggest that before you take any photo, film or digital, is to watch them, even
    occasionally taking a shot or two to judge the results. Watch for times they're not moving
    swiftly and where you can set up and get shots of them in the nest, taking off, landing,
    feeding, perching, etc. In other words, study them for awhile to find the best locations to
    photograph them. Getting them in flight will be hard under the best circumstances, but
    you might if you have the angle correctly or have some luck.

    As for the film and/or digital. If you use film, yes, you have to be discerning to avoid rolls
    of wasted shots. If you go digital, you can shot away and always delete (and replace
    batteries). I'm more old-school (film) and would go with watching and waiting, then
    photographing at the best available times, get the best they offer. I agree 400-800 ASA
    film is the better choice to add the shutter speed. Good luck.
  4. Bill, If you have the opportunity , I would set up a blind and shoot from that. Your movements from inside the blind will not spook the birds and you can get much closer that without one. If the area the birds are in is near where cars and people go, you might be able to park your car in the early morning before light , and shoot from the car. If its off the beaten path you might take a camping tent ,set it up the night before so the birds get used to it and then go to it early in the morning before light. I did this with some burrowing owls and was able to get shots from very close without disturbing the nest.Its important that if the birds are nesting that if they are showing distress that you are there, that you leave immediately. Good shooting.
  5. Hi Bill,
    Hobbies! - You lucky so and so, I've never even seen one.
    I imagine the 400mm f5.6 will be most useful for perch or nest shots, and maybe for flying as they are so small, though the 80-200mm f2.8 will allow much faster shutter speeds for flight shots if you are close enough.
    As suggested, watching and noting their habits is the route to success. If you can find a regular perch it will make life a lot easier, finding a nest will be unlikely, but possible, and I know you already fully appreciate the need for sensitivity near nests.
    By the sound of it the stream may be the place to focus on, as it will provide a good supply of insects for them (these birds can actually catch a flying dragonfly - how skillfull is that!).
    Other than that it is simply a matter of time and patience. I have recently been spending 3-5 hours twice a week or more photographing the Peregrines at the usual site, and it can take an hour or two before a couple of minutes action occurs.
    Tragically the savage winds (60mph+) hitting their cliff full on during the week has brought and end to this years chicks. There were 4 in good health last weekend, but on Thursday the nest was empty, all blown off the cliff and into the sea. I checked again yestereday in case any had found a crevice to hide in, but nothing, just the mother returning to leave her kill behind a bush away from the nest. Very sad.
    I have put a selection of shots on my website , the ones of the chicks feeding themselves were the last photos I took. I hope your Hobbies fair better.
  6. Hi, Bill. Without knowing the details of the situation, I think the 400/5.6 is your best bet,
    especially for flight shots. I would try to find somwhere the birds use regularly and wait to
    see if something happens. Keep a TC handy in case they perch -- you would be very lucky
    indeed if they perched within unaugmented 400mm range.

    Like the other Mark, I'd recommend thinking very carefully about going digital. It's been
    nothing but good for me.
  7. Bill, where do you live?
  8. I think they are still in the courtship/pre-nesting phase as it seems to be early for them. The stream is probably a very useful feeding source and I am keeeping a watching brief, but carefully as they do not mind the car but soon move off from human presence - half a dozen sightings and some reading and I am an expert on Hobbies :) . I have had a word with the local gamekeeper, we maintain a state of armed ( he with a shot gun and me with a camera ) neutrality, who is not too anti the predators, despite his pheasants and partridges, and he will keep a look-out - they do have their uses !

    Mark B - have continuous autofocus and 4 fps which will have to do. Thanks for the ideas on the rest and will dust off and polish up my panning technique. "Overslept" - that will teach you to go on the razzle on a Saturday night :) hope the rush was worth it.

    Scott - good points and as I said I am keeping a watch - I detour that way home all the time now. The area is a bit tricky terrain wise made worse by osteo-arthritis flaring up in one knee but am working on it. Thanks for the thoughts on film and the good wishes.

    Michael - I have been a bird-watcher for nearly 40 years now and am very careful - I am not being prickly as I am glad that so many people have the interests of the birds at heart, the more there are people like you/us the better for the birds and this beleaguered planet. The only place I can set up a hide is on a cultivated field and will need the farmer's permission - could be tricky, so will be a last resort but will be kept in mind.

    Matt - hope you are in good form. The usual sensible thoughts and I agree that finding the nest will be hard ( hence gamekeeper contact ) and the stream is target No.1

    The last 12 months have been great - two families of Marsh Harriers and a flock of Whimbrel ( 15 foot away ) in North Norfolk, both firsts. There has been a Red Kite in the area ( re-introduction programme not far away ) and a number of Buzzards ( seem to be moving eastwards ) and the Sparrowhawk is now a permanent visitor. If I get to know the Hobbies well I will suggest that let the others know how good it is down by you if you will do the same for me with the Peregrines :). The news on the Peregrines is awful - no chance of a second brood I suppose ? More good shots on the website.

    Mark C - the usual worthwhile contribution and sadly I think you are right on the perched shots.

    Mark B & Mark C - you know I value your input but this time, on going digital, we will agree to differ and I will not subject you to my reams of reasons - unless you are really interested ?!

    Thanks all - I guess some good old serendipity would come in really useful.

    Peter - near a place called Ware, Herts - on the A10 about halfway between London and Cambridge. How is the finger wagging in this wonderful climate ?

    ( PS - am also working on a way to get some shots of the Grass Snake who has taken up residence in the pond except for when it is cold when he/she is in the compost heap - but that is a whole new thread ! )
  9. Hello Bill, the white coat job is cold and wet.

    Red kites; if you are interested, there are lots of them in my part of the world.

    I often see one between Maidenhead and Cookham, I see two to four where I work in High Wycombe, on a daily basis. They range up towards Thame in Oxford and Princes Risborough in Bukinhamshire. Well worth seeing but I still don't have even half decent images.

    Cheers. P
  10. Peter - all places where I used to don the whites, tread the green, project the red and waft the multicoloured. If I had known then what I know now I could have got two for the price of one - and probably of less than the desired standard in both :(

    Why is it that when I pick up my camera it has the same result as when I used to pick up the coffin ?

    My research continues but typically yesterday when I tried to show my wife they were playing at another ground ( yes she loves cricket and has become an avid birder as well ).

    Thanks and good light to you.
  11. mbb


    Bill first the main subject. Seems like you are well equipped for your mission. 4 fps are more then enough for flight photos. I learned a very important tricks with continuous auto focus - control your emotions and always be sure you locked your focus before start pressing shutter full blast. When you are panning camera and keep focus point on the subject sometimes it won't lock instantly - I found it is better (faster to get focus) to release button and try half press again, sometimes even a few times. Once locked it usually is good for at least a few shots. With 400mm lens you should have not much problem with aiming. Nowadays I am often using for flight photos 500mm + 1.4X and fast, precise aim at the small flying bird can be a challenge.
    My adventurous days of frazzled Saturdays nights are long gone, only memories left :). I just came back very late from a few hundred miles afternoon trip and tried to go back to location next morning. And yes rush was well worth it. On the top of another photos I finally got in fly photo I wanted. It is still not as perfect as I wish but will do for now. After I took it I thought of this thread. For over two years I was trying to get a flying Least Bittern in the full flight. Not flying off or landing (got plenty of those) but just in middle-air. They are very small and flying rapidly, often a short distance. What make it even worse they fly often very low, close to water surface and that can confuse auto focus a lot.
    As a matter of fact I would love to hear your reasons for only using a film, especially for birds' photography. I know that you are far from being a fanatic or like others to do what you find good for you so your reasons can be interesting readings.
  12. Hobby are Schedule 1 species, you need a license to set up anything anywhere near the nesting sites

    Hobby are getting more common, in Reading, Berks we get up to 5 birds at once displaying over gravel pits in May before dispersing as breeding pairs, you just need to get lucky in the morning/evening that they will pass close when feeding.
  13. Read this thread. same bird last year

    I tried with a Minolta 500Si super film body and sigma 400mm, lens no chance. Although the day spent trieing was still a high light of last year

    The guy next to me with a Canon 500 f4, 1.4 TC and 1D mark11 was doing alot better. Sounded like a machine gun to my untrained ears

    Here are his pictures
  14. Mark - thanks for the further advice, will give it due thought and experiment and see how I go. Problem has arisen in that I think the 4fps has got an autofocus problem ( second one! ) and may have to revert to back up at 3fps. Will have to spend time checking it out, not a happy puppy but mellowing a little with the secongd large glass of red.

    Can see that the trip was worth it - good shot - memo to self :- factor in more patience and perserverance. If I ever get across the pond again could you use a free assistant with a dodgy knee :) ?

    As to my thoughts on digital, I had thought of posting but no wish to start a war - very emotive issue as a look through the archives will show. Mulling it over.

    Mike - "It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly ..........." - I pretty much know that verbatim and have quoted it at others. I think the licences are to do with special scientific situations relating to research, ringing etc requiring close proximity to the nest.

    With so many Hobbies around on a regular basis at a convenient location you must have some good shots. Will have to make do with two for the moment.

    John - will check the thread out when I get a chance.
  15. mbb


    Bill, the reason I was interested in your preferences to use film to be posted here is that there is a minimal chance to start a war. In another threads, you are right, too many people posting let?s called 'strange' opinions.
    It seems that your thread brought me luck, in last couple of days got many more, better Least bittern shots in fly.
    It would be great if you cross pond to pay visit here. If you ever go back to visit Africa let me know too as I have to make that trip one day to see Black Heron and some grebes there and can use one with expertise about the region :). I never liked organized trips.
    Knee is the last thing I would worry about (I often spend whole day with just one bird trying to know each other better rather than chasing something for snap). But you have to have resistance to mosquitoes and deer flies bites. Sometimes you can be cover by them on wetlands here. My friends from Texas marshes will let you get close and even share the food with you. Well, maybe only on photos.
  16. Mark - life at the moment is a real pain - camera trouble with the 4fps one ( dispute on the cards ) - have added a +1 eyepiece corrector to the viewfinder and have found that it helps - the weather is lousy and have not seen the Hobbies for a couple of days.

    Have always been what they call an independant traveller, we book all our European trips ourselves ( the biggest benefit of the internet for me personally - it saves money and gives us what we want ). The Goliath Heron is one stunning sight and the Squacco Heron and Little Bittern are the colourful ones of the Ardeidae. Happy to be a guide and show off my knowledge :) Must dig out the old slides and learn how to scan and post - a winter job I think.

    Mosquitoes are a fact of life in many places, followed by ticks but they do not really seem to like my taste - must be the red wine and nicotine.

    Wish I could claim some credit for another great shot !

    Go well.

    ( PS still ruminating over the film prejudice )
  17. Mark Bartosik'
    Just a question. Do you really average 3600 shots a day? Every day? That averages to one shot every 16 seconds continuously for 16 hours out of every day. I realize you're probably shooting some bursts of 3 or 4 frames a second here and there, and I'm not questioning your honesty... but an average of 3600 shots in a day seems incredible to me!

    Anyway, I just do this for fun, but I don't think I've put 3600 shots on my 20d since I got it in October. Guess I gotta get out & shoot more;-)

  18. mbb


    Jim. Misunderstanding. I should maybe say it is not every day. I shoot usually 1-2 days a week from sunrise to sunset (10-14 hours or so) plus couple of evenings or mornings during the week. Say now are about 14 hours days and I shoot from 3-5 thousands photos a day. Yes I always shoot in continuous mode 5 fps. I am mostly trying to document interesting behavior of a few selected species. Even that most shots are good I only chose the best frames to work with. Now math: 3600 (it was only used in relation to cost of film but is probably good number anyway) divided by 14 hours equal about 257 photos an hour divided that by 60 gives about 4 photos a minute. It might sound scary but in real life it is usually a several hundred photos in say 15-30 minutes periods when the action has a peak. Trust me it is not only possible but very easy to do. To catch some special moment often takes many, many trials. And 5 fps often is not fast enough to make the job done. My old Oly with 15 fps rate was doing much better job but it was only 1.5MP camera so not much use for printing. Today evening was with only a few interesting moments and I took only 844 (plus about 20 deleted) shots in 4.5 hours and I spent 3 hours driving, just came back now. You may also ask then where are those chosen photos. Waiting :). Say Least Bittern - in published papers there are 7 feeding behaviors described so far. I have 13 new ones documented on photos in last couple of years, will not show those photos at this moment for obvious reason as I did not finish my work yet. Again, to catch a moment you have to start shooting before action starts or is over if you wait to see it started.

    Bill will get back with you here soon - too tired now.
  19. mbb


    Bill, hope this was a great weekend for you and your Hobby. Again you brought me a lot of luck which was continuing over last few days. Knock in no-painted wood :) ? don?t want it to stop.. I cannot believe I just got a full frame of a male Least bittern in fly. Below is original frame taken on last Sunday a few days ago. Something which is going to be extremely difficult to repeat in the future. Half or quarter frames are difficult and hard enough to get.
  20. mbb


    I will add a few more words about practice to get ready for interesting on wing photos.
    Did anyone try to catch action of Gull-Billed terns hunting? Last Sunday I had a chance to spend a few hours observing and photographing those birds foraging. Many other tern species just dive straight down and picking up the prey from water surface. Not very easy to get shot but can be done with patience. But to get a real challenge (and have wonderful practice) I recommend gull-billed or similar bird. This tern is totally unpredictable in action. From mid-air 'patrol' fly high over the water it can either make rapid dive or came down very fast to water surface but always before the target point. It will then fly a short distance to prey just a little above the water surface and moment before reaching a target it will put its lower mandible in water (almost skimmer alike), catch the prey and its head, when grabbing the prey, is thrown backward under the body when holding the prey in bill (often with some weeds). Fraction of second later it is up in air consuming the fresh meal. Whole action is so fast that my 5fps camera can usually catch (if I lack focus first of course) 1 or 2 described moments, so to have them all it takes many, many trials on many different passes of sometimes different birds. Why I recommend this for practice? Terns usually come back over and over to the same spot rich with food so it gives opportunity for repeating actions. It is next to impossible to point and shoot when gull-billed tern grab the prey as is no way to predict point on the water where this going to happen so one has to start panning way before and follow the mid-air flight, dive and short fly over surface to have a chance of catching a peak of action in viewfinder. I am using handheld 500mm f4 with 1.4X for those photos but would not recommend this setup for beginning of practice. 400mm f5.6 will be much easier to handle, find the bird in viewfinder and to keep it in view when panning. This tern will provide shooter with steps of growing difficulty in panning. From quite easy to get mid-air fly part, more difficult mid-air turn and dive to very difficult fast moments of skimming and picking up the prey. Even if usually those photos are not winners in aesthetic, one day when everything is right: part of the day with good light and crystal clear blue water with no obstructions one can produce an extra ordinary photo when is already prepared for it. When looking for practice target one should find similar bird living near by and just practice, and have a lot of fun. After that frame like this is a peanut :).
  21. mbb


    Jim, from the last few days shooting time it will be easy to illustrate more why I am taking so many shots as I have them at this moment handy on my computer. I was also, as usual at this time of the year, spending most of the time with Least Bitterns. Here are a few examples of what they were hunting. As you can see from some shots often I am taking them between reeds. More you take the better is a chance to catch the right moment. My philosophy in wildlife photography is: find the interesting subject and spend as much time as possible to be sure you do not miss chances. There were many times I spent the whole day with one bird or group of birds which hold my interest. Experience from past: when having wonderful light and interesting subject for no reason I decided to look for something more interesting and up with nothing. Next day light was gone or birds were not there. Or both. Lesson learned.
  22. mbb


    And also I am interested in sequences of displays, comfort movements etc. Here, as an example, is a very simple one of rising up the crest and shaking the head.
  23. mbb


    And also I am interested in sequences of displays, comfort movements etc. Here, as an example, is a very simple one of rising up the crest and shaking the head.

    Also, as many people never would bother with photos like those, here are examples how bitterns are holding stalks with their feet, and in the same time, close look of those feet. As you can see I have no problem to keep me busy and occupied all day long :). Just give me an opportunity to observe one of my favorite species - my bitterns, grebes and nighthawks All photos shown as examples are either full frames or very slightly cropped.
  24. Mark - life has been less than straightforward lately - will respond when I have had a chance to give your posts the attention they deserve.

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