BIRDS, BIRDS, BIRDS........Part One

.....or the Good, the Terrible and the Really, Really Ugly.

This little story had its beginnings near the end of July, 2013, when I purchased a new bird lens for my Canon 7D SLR camera. When I say 'bird lens', I mean, simply, that it's a lens with a focal length long enough to capture birds - and other native fauna - in the wonderful Aussie bush (i.e. forest).

Here's the lens:

It's a Sigma 150-500 mm f5-6.3 APO DG OS HSM lens, to give it its full title - and I reckon it's fantastic, despite its 1.8 kgs!

The OS acronym stands for Optical Stabilisation, which is the chief feature that I needed, because I have Benign Essential Tremors, so my old set-up just wasn't enabling me to capture sharp images. As you can see, this photo of the lens isn't sharp and that's because I took it using Canon's basic 50mm f1.8 lens, which doesn't have any means of counteracting my tremors.

However, with the 150-500 mm lens on the camera and the stabilisation switched on, you can actually see the image in the viewfinder stabilise, as you focus the lens. Needless to say, the results speak volumes for this relatively cheap lens, as you will see!

Straw-necked Ibis

Firstly though, this shot of a Straw-necked Ibis, Threskiornis spinicollis, is an example of what I was up against, prior to obtaining the Sigma 150-500mm lens. It was taken with the lens set-up that the Sigma replaced, viz. a Canon 200mm f2.8L lens + Canon 2x Extender, which I had used (and loved) for a number of years - but there was no image stabilisation.

Thankfully, that changed dramatically late in July, 2013, when I took delivery of the new Sigma lens. So, settle back, buckle up (?) and I'll take you through a year-and-a-bit's ownership of this wonderful lens: 

My first 'sortie' with the big, new lens was to a friend's farm not far from town, where my younger mate took me to a couple of likely sites in his farm ute. I remained inside the vehicle for these few shots.

Galahs and Crested Pigeons grazing together

This shot of Galahs and Crested Pigeons together was amongst the first shots taken with the new lens, so you must allow me a little leeway for it.....and they were more than 60 metres from me!

We moved to a different location and I managed to get a few shots from a more manageable distance, of which the following are examples.
Australasian Pipit
This was my first sighting of an Australasian Pipit, Anthus novaeseelandiae, let alone my first photo of one! This is a fair-sized crop from the full image but, as you can see, if you view the larger image, it is quite sharp.

Crested Pigeon, Ocyphaps lophotes

Galahs, Eolophus roseicapilla

Be sure and click on the shot above, so you can see the different eye colours of these birds. The female is the one with the red eye. All the images here are merely thumbnails.

Well, I was encouraged by these first attempts with the new gear but it was still two weeks before I headed out again, this time to Priddle's State Forest, about 20 kms from Grenfell, where I obtained a number of reasonable shots. The next four are examples:

Noisy Miner

There was a lot of squawking and other such carrying on at Priddle's SF and Noisy Miners, Manorina melanocephala, were the chief inhabitants - as far as I saw, at least.


There were also some Apostlebirds, Struthidea cinerea, just to break the monotony......


Here's a Noisy Miner in an unusual pose. I think he's the aggressive one in the following shot, too.
I've told you before........

I left the Noisy Miners and their neighbours to sort out their little disputes and it was yet another couple of weeks, before I ventured out with the large Sigma.

This time, I found a fairly large flock of Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, Cacatua galerita, in a different location, only a few kms from home. They were grazing in one section of a nature reserve but, as I approached them on foot, they took flight, However, fortunately for me, they all landed in a dead tree, not far from where I stood.

Smiley with crest raised - obviously.

I'm not sure whether groups of cockatoos have leaders but, if they do, Smiley seemed to be it for this bunch.

This is just a small section of the flock of Sulphur-cresteds, which consisted of about 25 to 30 birds. Although they are one of the most raucous species of birds, they seem to get along with each other quite well, unlike Noisy Miners.

Smiley again

One final shot of Smiley, before I looked around for other 'game'. That was when I found my favourite birds, Galahs, Eolophus roseicapilla, just a pair of them.

Actually, they aren't a pair, as in a mating pair, because they both appear to be males, although it is difficult to know for sure, because the eye of the bird on the left is in shade. Anyway, they were quite wary of my presence, so I was around 20 metres away, when I took this shot. I like the way the birds' pink colour stands out against the starkness of the background.

Because Galahs are regarded as the clowns of the Aussie bush, the word 'galah' has taken on similar connotations, when used to describe a person, though it's not often used in a derisive manner.

Grey Fantail

By the time I took this shot of a lovely, little Grey Fantail, Rhipidura albiscapa, on the slopes of the Weddin Mountains, we were already into September, 2013. This is the only reasonable shot I took that morning. Out of the camera, this shot was quite dark but, thanks to the incredible technology that is RAW capture, it was possible to resurrect it with no problem at all.

Common Starling

On 14th September, 2013, I went in yet another direction and just a few kilometres from town, where I obtained this shot of one of the introduced birds, the Common Starling, Sturnus vulgaris. Although they are pests in Australia, I've included this cropped image, because of its under-body markings, which you can check out more closely by clicking on this thumbnail.

The next three images are ring-ins, because they were taken with a different Sigma lens, the 18-250 mm. I was able to get close enough to the bird by remaining inside my car, while taking the photos.
Masked Lapwing, aka Spur-winged Plover

This Masked Lapwing, Vanellus miles, and his/her partner had set up their 'nest' in a very open and vulnerable spot, between a club's car park and the main road to Orange, NSW! How they managed to raise any chicks in that location is a mystery but I'm pretty sure they succeeded.

In this shot, I like the front-on aspect of the bird and in the one below, you can see the yellow 'spurs' projecting forward from its wings. This is where they get their other name, Spur-winged Plover.

 Now, this last shot of the Masked Lapwing WAS taken with the Sigma 150-500mm lens at the same spot and just a day and a half later. However, to get the sun coming from the right direction, it was taken from the other side of the road but I was still seated inside my car. It is one of my favourite images.

Now we come to the 'Really, Really Ugly'....although the first one is also one of my favourite images. Only a mother (and God) could love such a creature, though.
Noisy Friarbird

The bird in these shots is a Noisy Friarbird, Philemon corniculatus, which is Australia's largest honeyeater. That's why it's hoeing into the bottle-brush flower.

Hmmm, that bit looks good
After this little burst of activity, which was in October, 2013, I didn't take the 'big gun' out of its holster until after Christmas 2013, the 28th December, in fact. Don't know why....

It was then that I chanced upon some Superb Parrots, Polytelis swainsonii, feeding on spilled grain at the edge of a bitumen road.
Tucker Time

I was quite a long way away, when I took this first shot of some of the Superb Parrots. About 63 metres, according to the RAW data, so, of course, this one is not as sharp as I'd like it. I was somewhat closer for the rest of them but they are still fairly hefty crops, I'm afraid.

A young Superb Parrot high in a gum tree

As I tried to creep closer (with no cover!), all the birds on the ground took off, of course, but one or two stayed close by, so I was able to get a few shots of this young Superb and one of his parents (I think), plus a final shot of an Eastern Rosella, Platycercus eximius.

It's hard work getting up so early.......

Looks as though he's getting some quick shut-eye, doesn't it? Maybe he was or maybe it was just a fluke. Either way, I'll take it!

Superb Parrots, young (left) and parent
Here he is again with one of the parents, I suspect.

Superb Parrots

Just a slightly different shot of the same two birds and, finally, an Eastern Rosella below.

Eastern Rosella

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