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.
At 17.5 inches total length, the Green Imperial-Pigeon is among the largest pigeons in our islands. It ranges all over the Philippines.
I observed this individual gathering nesting materials from a specific spot at Subic rainforest and flying along a predictable direction, presumably to its nesting area, then back again. I positioned myself with my hand held 20D + 400 5.6 L along its expected flight path, taking care to have the morning sun behind my back.
Sure enough, the bird emerged shortly from its nesting materials gathering area and flew right in front of me with a photogenic twig in its beak. My ancient 20D’s AF was good enough to catch the fast pigeon, given the plain sky background.
Green Imperial-Pigeon (Ducula aenea, resident)
Habitat – Lowland and middle elevation forest.
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.
This uncommon waterbird is secretive and solitary. It is medium size, being 23 inches in total length, and a resident at all major Philippine islands.
The Black Bittern’s shy nature and dark plumage make it tough to see when in cover. It took me several years of birding at Candaba wetlands to get a good glimpse of the bird.
This one was flying low over the grasses of the wetlands when I chanced upon it. My manual exposure settings were priorly set for mid-toned birds, so I quickly reduced my shutter speed from 1/1600 sec to 1/1000 sec for a 2/3 stop boost in the illumination of the dark subject. The 1D MII’s AF did a great job of locking focus on the dark plumage despite the featured surroundings.
Black Bittern (Dupetor flavicollis, resident)
Habitat – Uncommon in wetlands from ricefields to mangroves.
The White-breasted Waterhen is a very common bird found in all major Philippine islands. It is more conspicuous than most rails and can be found even in city parks and grassy areas. It is often seen foraging on the ground, always close to cover where it runs to when disturbed. Both male and female look alike, and it is medium large in size (11 inches total length).
This bird takes to the air in short, low flights. It is not photographed often while airborne because of the tough challenge of catching it in such brief moments.
I have many detailed captures of the bird while it is foraging on the ground. But this one in flight, with out-of-focus pond water and vegetation in the background, is probably my favorite because of the difficulty of capture.
White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus, resident)
Habitat – Wetter areas like grasslands, marshes and mangroves.
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.
The Collared Kingfisher normally takes to the air only when swooping at a prey or transferring from one perch to another. There it usually stays for many minutes, with its head constantly bobbing, and its eyes looking for potential meal.
This bird was flushed from its rock-perch at Manila Bay by a shell-gatherer who was walking along the shore . The bird whizzed by me and it flew just above the seawater surface towards another rock-perch. I got lucky…. I was able to acquire the subject fast enough during the short flight for this shot.
Collared Kingfisher (Todiramphus chloris, resident)
Habitat: Coastal areas to open country, but seldom in forest.
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.
I got this Cinnamon Bittern as it was flying with a slightly upward trajectory over Candaba’s ricefields in 2009.
The 5D MII’s AF using the center point with surrounding assist works very well for flight shots, even with a 1.4x TC on the 500 f4 IS. The camera actually has the same reach as my old 20D in terms of pixel density. What’s deficient in the 5D MII for BIFs is the slow 3.9 fps frame rate. I was just extremely lucky to get a good wing position in this shot despite the anemic fps.
Cinnamon Bittern (Ixobrychus cinnamomeus , resident)
Habitat: Ricefields, marshes and mangroves.
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.