Road trip – Raglan/Kawhia/Mokau

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We may have lived in New Zealand all our lives, but have we seen all our country?  This past week we visited an area where we had never been – the coastal area from Raglan down to Mokau in North Taranaki. A six day road trip was most enjoyable, visiting harbours, estuaries and small villages we did not know existed. The journey offered great photo opportunities of rural New Zealand, with lots of birding along the way.

At two impressive waterfalls I was able to test slow motion pictures (around 6th of a second) that give a smooth look to the falling water.

In total, a great week, good roads – and high recommended.

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Camera / scope photo comparison

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I had the opportunity at the weekend to try photographing birds that were half a kilometre away, with my Canon 1DX, 500mm lens and 1.4 converter, and using my Samsung Note 4 with my Swarovski scope at 60 x magnification. We were at Lake Omanu near Foxton, and across the other side of the lake were two “white” birds, just dots to look at with the naked eye. The test was to see which would give the clearest photo for ID. Without doubt the phone/scope combination gave me the best picture, as you can see below.

PS. The camera white balance was set wrong hence the unusual colour cast in that photo.

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Plant trees that attract birds

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Just a few years ago we planted some trees in our back yard, known to attract birds, and now it is paying off. I spent an hour last Saturday photographing tui in a flowering kowhai and am very pleased with the colourful pictures I obtained. Birding is a hobby that can begin at home, and planting the right trees is a good start to bringing the birds.

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Photographing white birds

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Winter is not a great time for bird photographers in New Zealand but this season does offer some opportunities that are unique. At river estuaries you find a different range of birds from what is seen in summer. It is also the time of the year when we are busy in the accounting office. At the weekend I braved the cold and checked out the Manawatu River Estuary and happened upon a white heron, right close to the sunset walkway. It gave me the chance to test my skills with a white bird, against a dark background. I often use centre-point focus, with centre-point metering and if the bird is in the centre of the picture a good photo is achieved. Otherwise it is best to stop down the camera a couple of stops to get the bird right even though the surroundings may be under-exposed. If you blow-out the white areas they are unrecoverable, but dark surrounds can be lightened in Photoshop. I was pleased with the photo below, where you see the heron with its neck fully extended, doing so to get a peep at me hiding behind a bush.

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Advertising – Wheel Cover

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With a new vehicle I decided I may as well use the wheel cover for some advertising – and it works. You take it everywhere you go. Several people have asked about our books as a result of seeing it and parking outside our offices every work day puts it in a place with a lot of passing people. Attached are some pictures from the weekend, when we spent a day in the back-country of Whanganui, enjoying the birds and bush.

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Farewell to Godwit AJD

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This special bird has been with us in Whanganui since 16 November 2015, and yesterday AJD left once again to begin his migration north to Alaska. I checked up on him at the estuary every week and over time observed his plumage change from browns into orange/red as he moulted into breeding plumage – see pictures below taken four months apart. During his stay in Whanganui he did do some touring, as at least once he was spotted at Foxton during a very high tide. A jaunt of 60 km for a godwit is just like a walk around the park for us! We hear today that AJD is back at Foxton, likely to join up with a migrating flock, and if like previous years, he will leave on the 25th March. Once before, in 2013, he was observed migrating from Foxton.

25 March 2016 – I have just received word that AJD departed Foxton with a small group of migrating birds at 5 pm – right on his usual departure date.

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Whanganui River Raft Race

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This year the raft race was organised by Plumber Dan and for photographers it is a colourful and action-filled opportunity for some Whanganui pictures. About 26 rafts were entered and hundreds of people lined the river banks to watch the fun. Good to see the community get behind such a great event and on this occasion all profits were donated to the local Plunket branch. For me, a good few photos were added to my Wanganui collection.

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New Wheels – another just the same

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After ten years of taking me all over the country birding I’ve upgraded my vehicle, not with some big flash 4 x 4, but with another just the same – another Suzuki Jimny. It was not easy to part with the old Suzuki that has taken me to so many places birding, and not once let me down – apart from when I foolishly took it into mud on the Whanganui River estuary and got well and truly stuck. No fault of the vehicle. Very happy with the new wheels though, and the colour is great for a wildlife photographer.

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Patience Pays

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Most wild creatures get accustomed to humans if they are around them enough, and birds are no exception. At the house we use at Foxton, located on the Manawatu River estuary, I recently spent the morning sitting at the front door watching a white-faced heron feeding nearby. After some considerable time the bird judged I was no threat and began feeding close to me, frequently in the ‘frozen motion’, neck coiled, ready to strike at its prey. Bird photographers need patience and lots of time, and good results will surely follow – I’ve proved it many times.

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New Glass – Swarovski Optics

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As a birder part of your kit is a good pair of binoculars and a decent spotting scope. I recently upgraded my optics by making a decent investment in Swarovski glass, and so far there are no regrets. A lot of my birding these days is done on estuaries where finding and identifying a bird comes before stalking and photographing it – and good optics help. In the photo below I am sporting my new kit at the Manawatu River estuary. The binoculars are EL 10 x 42, and the scope an ATX / STX with 85mm objective lens, and magnification of 25 – 60. I sometimes take photos on my phone using the spotting scope, and the photos are great for identification.

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