From September up to April, the vast fishponds of Sta. Cruz ( Zambales province, Philippines) are a favorite spot of migratory birds gorging on easy-to-catch farmed fish.
I dropped by the area yesterday (April 26, 2011) to check out the visiting birds. There are still quite many migrants around, but I ignored the waterbirds and instead concentrated on catching a raptor species that’s a fishpond regular – the Osprey.
These are the closest captures I’ve ever taken of the Osprey. I counted at least 5 individuals of this migratory bird of prey, fishing all day and presumably trying to stock up on fuel for the forthcoming long migratory flight to their breeding grounds.
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus, migrant)
Habitat – Associated with water both along coast and inland.
The first ever country record of the Tundra Bean Goose was reported by fellow bird photographer Alex Loinaz April last year at Candaba wetlands. This single individual became a superstar overnight among local birders, and I was fortunate to catch it in flight over one pond in the wetlands.
This large goose (roughly 30″ length and 60″ wingspan) breeds in northern Europe and Asia. It winters further south in Europe and Asia, and has reached the Philippines in 2010 with this record.
Tundra Bean Goose (Anser [fabalis] serrirostris, migrant)
Habitat – Rare in wetlands, this individual being the first record in the Philippines.
A medium large raptor with a long, slender chicken-like neck, the Oriental Honeybuzzard feeds on ants and bees taken from nest and hives. It ranges in most major Philippine islands, except Bohol and Masbate. It has a length of 0.585 m and a wingspan of 1.420 m.
A group of these birds of prey can be seen regularly at the Quezon National Park. I waited at first light atop a ridge through which a winding road snakes up. Apparently coming from its perch at the tall trees on a slope higher than my position, this individual started soaring in mid-morning. It was an easy target to catch for the AI servo AF of my 5D MII.
Oriental Honeybuzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus, resident/migrant)
Habitat – Seen soaring above or near forest below 1500 m.
A medium small egret (19 inch length), this white bird is very common locally. It stays close to cattle or carabao to catch insects the larger animals disturb.
This bird was foraging at a ricefield being prepared for planting at the Iwahig Penal Colony (Palawan). As it flipped the insect for better swallowing position, I pressed the shutter button for a short burst. One of the frames got the prey in the air between the mandibles.
Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis, resident/migrant)
Habitat: Common in pastures, ricefields and marshes.
The distinctive large bill of this uncommon migratory duck makes identification in the field quite easy. This female was flying full speed in a slightly upward trajectory when I caught it at Candaba wetlands. The background was out-of-focus pond water and vegetation.
This duck is medium large (19 inch length and 31 inch wingspan). When coming in to land as a group, their swift flight makes an audible swoosh sound as their wings slice through the air. They feed by swimming with their neck outstretched and lower mandible below the water, sifting floating vegetation.
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata, female)
Habitat – Uncommon in fresh water marshes and shallow lakes.
It is not easy to fill the frame with this colorful migrant, given its shyness and small size (6 inches total length). This kingfisher is found all over the Philippine islands from late August to June, but it’s not as common as its name implies.
An effective way to get close is to look for fishponds where the kingfisher is used to seeing people around, then stake out near a favorite perching spot. This was what I did at San Juan, Batangas, in 2008. I used the trunk of a coconut tree as cover and hand held the 1D MII + 700 mm from a kneeling position.
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis, migrant)
Habitat – Along coasts, fish ponds and open rivers.
Whenever two birds start acting hostile to each other, I get excited and immediately set my gear ready to catch some action.
One of these Marsh Sandpipers was foraging at a fishpond when the other flew in to share the bounty. The first bird apparently didn’t welcome the incursion and a feathered fight is on. I let go of a burst until the 20D’s RAW buffer was full. The duel lasted just a few seconds and all I saw in the viewfinder were flashes of bright feathers and splashing water.
It was only when I reviewed the shots on the camera’s LCD that I noticed one of the frames caught the combatants in a peak moment – one bird’s toe was caught in the other’s beak.
These birds are uncommon migrants to our islands. They are of medium size, with a length of circa 9.5 inches.
Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis, migrant)
Habitat – Uncommon, in marshes, ricefields, and fishponds in shallow water rarely on exposed mud and coral flats.
A common migratory waterbird, the Grey-tailed Tattler flies low over the water when flushed or when transferring from one feeding spot to another. It’s medium sized, with a total length of 250 mm.
Its neutral plumage moving fast against a background of contrasty water surface is an autofocus nightmare even for the best DSLRs on the planet. Acquiring and tracking a white egret in flight against the busiest and contrastiest background are child’s play in comparison.
One has to pan well and maintain focus lock by keeping the AF bead on the fast flying bird at all times during shooting. Otherwise, the focus can easily jump to the shimmering water surface. I have a very small percentage of sharp shots of this species in the air, specially if it’s flying low and there’s a very short distance separating the bird and the water surface.
This instance was among the few ones when my panning worked decently enough, resulting to a sharp capture.
Grey-tailed Tattler (Heteroscelus brevipes, migrant)
Habitat – Along coast on exposed mud, sand and coral flats, on rocks, and also ricefields.
Once considered uncommon as listed in the Kennedy Guide, these Night-Herons have increased their numbers impressively and are now almost everywhere, even in urban areas. The same book lists this species as migrant, but it has been documented that it’s now breeding locally. This is a medium sized waterbird, with a length of 0.56 m and a wingspan of about 1.12 m.
I was tracking this flying bird at Manila Bay’s Coastal Lagoon through my 1D MIV’s viewfinder when it suddenly executed an abrupt banking maneuver. I immediately fired a short burst to catch the flight surfaces in a photogenic full spread.
The camera’s AF and 10 fps frame rate didn’t disappoint.
Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax, resident/migrant)
Habitat – Variety of wetlands from ricefields to mangroves.
Here’s a simple portrait of a Brown Shrike, a common and widespread migrant, showing the delicate feather detail of its back. This one was a male (the female has barring on breast and flank).
It would’ve been more exotic sounding to say that I saw this in a remote location after travelling and hiking many hours, but I actually captured this photo in my garden.
The bird’s habit of perching at a conspicuous spot for extended periods was perfect for a fully manual focusing and exposure technique, a necessary workflow when shooting 1120 mm with AF not workable. The subject was in the shade, while the out-of-focus grasses in the background were illuminated by an overcast sky. With a total length of 7-1/2 inches, the bird is slightly larger than lifesize when viewed with 96 dpi screens. The Sigmonster’s image quality impresses, even with a 1.4x TC!
Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus, migrant, male)
Habitat – Common in all habitats at all elevations.