Green-capped Eremomela at ISO 2000 with a European Honey-Buzzard putting in a star appearance!

Our friendsTrevor and Margaret Hardaker spent a day with us.. it was high time! We only had a morning and decided to bird the Seringveld Conservancy this morning. The light was horrible with dark, overcast conditions and intermittent rain. We concentrated on Green-capped Eremomela as the capetonians wanted to photograph this species. It was good to share our bushveld birds with them but the light challenged the sensors of both the Nikon and Canon systems... ;-)

Green-capped Eremomela Eremomela scotops, Nikon D3s with 600mm f/4.0 VR lens and 1.4x converter resulting in a maximum aperture of f/5.6. Remember that one loses one f-stop when using a 1.4x converter (2 full f-stops with a 2x converter). Shutter speed 1/800 sec, handheld (with the 5kg 600mm VR lens and another 1.5 kg for the camera body and 1.4x converter!). ISO had to be pushed up to 2000 to enable a reasonable shutterspeed for 850mm to be handheld (it is interesting to note that when you combine a 600mm lens with a 1.4x converter you get 840mm if you do the math. This is exactly what you will see in your exif data if shooting Canon but in the case of Nikon it gets recorded as 850mm... makes me wonder) - also bear in mind that these are very lively little birds and often their movement yields a soft image so a higher shutterspeed is desirable.

It still amazes me to see what top end modern day digital cameras are capable of. In the days of film photography I would not even have taken the camera along... This is both a tribute to high ISO photography and vibration reduction technology. Next year the two major DSLR manufacturers are sure to raise the bar even higher... Already we know Canon has now joined the high ISO full frame sensor race when they announced the EOS 1Dx, expected in the first quarter of 2012. I am sure Nikon has something up their sleeve and hot rumours have us believe we will know early in 2012. Let's wait and see.... ;-

Back from the Seringveld we were enjoying brunch on our veranda when Lizet noticed a raptor flying overhead. It's pale undersides fooled some of us momentarily making it resemble an African Hawk Eagle!!.. but Trevor was quick with his camera and easy inspection of the image on his camera LCD made it clear that this was a European Honey-buzzard Pernis apivorus with very pale undersides. Careful examination revealed the diagnostic barring on the tail with the two dark bars at the base of the tail very difficult to detect through binoculars. The dark carpal patches and very slender bill lead to a unanimous ID.

This is the second Honey-buzzard for our garden list this year!

Warwick Tarboton's Roberts Nests & Eggs is finally here!

It's here! Well-known ornithologist, writer and photographer, Warwick Tarboton's new book "Roberts nests & eggs of southern African birds" is now available in all retail book stores. This is a comprehensive guide to the nesting habits of over 720 bird species in southern Africa,  illustrating 1200 eggs of 680 species life size! This fieldguide is the same size as all the other bird guides like Sasol & Newman's and in softcover, ideal to take along on birding trips!

Front & Back Covers


Text & Plates

Three-banded Courser at the nest

Lizet and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary on 18 November 2011 and to spoil and surprise me she booked us in at Pafuri Camp in the Maluleke concession in northern Kruger National Park. I was ecstatic when she announced the surprise.. especially since I knew that Bruce Lawson had found a Three-banded Courser Rhinoptilus cinctus nest in this area! I just hoped that the eggs had not yet hatched... We met a very pleasant and enthusiastic young guide but he had not seen the nest! Actually this turned out to be a good thing since he got us onto the right road but I still had the pleasure of discovering the nest!

Three-banded Coursers are reasonably common in the Zambezi valley and my first experience with the species was more than 10 years ago at Nyamomba fishing camp on the banks of the Zambezi where they were calling all around us but we never got to see even one! Later on the same trip we stumbled across a pair in the Matusadonna National Park. Since those days in the nineties the species has eluded us and Lizet still needed it as a lifer!

What makes this even more special is that as far as I know (personal communication with nesting guru Warwick Tarboton) only one previous nest had been recorded in South Africa.

Note how the eggs get buried in the sand.


Camera details:

Camera body: Nikon D3x

Lens: AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4G ED VR

Exposure mode: Aperture priority

Shutter speed: 1/80 sec

F-stop: f/7.1

ISO 400


Comment on settings:

This is a very slow shutter speed but I needed the higher F-stop (smaller aperture) to obtain a bit more depth of field since the depth of sharp focus is very shallow with such a strong telephoto especially at close range. It was imperative that both the eye of the subject but also the two eggs are tack sharp. The Vibration Reduction (VR) helped to make a sharp photo possible with the aid of a monopod as this was taken from a gameviewer  to keep disturbance to a minimum.

When using a very high resolution camera like the Nikon D3x with 24.5 megapixels focus is extremely critical. Noise also becomes much more of a problem when the pixels are small and dense and therefore I did not want to go above ISO 400. When you get it all right the detail is mindblowing.. this was only cropped slightly into a vertical format.



Go to the Three-banded Courser Gallery for more images of this species and its nest. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did getting the shots! Johann

See Lizet's post below for more on this trip.

Richards Bay & St Lucia in 24 hours

For an early Christmas present Johann bought me a return ticket to Richards Bay and on top of that he said I could twitch the Crab Plovers while he would do the babysitting at home. So that is how I found myself in St Lucia on Friday morning with Themba the local guide to photograph the Sooty Tern and then went for a quick stroll through the town forest...

Sooty Tern

Red-capped Robin-Chat

Green-backed Cameroptera

Yellow Weaver Female

Black Kite

Birding Friday afternoon with Sifundo the local guide, back in Richards Bay, was not great, as the Crab Plover spot faces to the West, so the glare on the water made bird spotting and photography very difficult. I did managed to ID Terek Sandpiper running around - in the end I counted 3 individuals, but no Crab Plover. We returned early this morning and after scanning the horizon for more than an hour in rainy and very windy conditions my luck turned. First I spotted an Eurasian Curlew and after another half hour the Crab Plover - there are two individuals present at the moment but must admit very far off and without a spotting scope impossible to see... With the rain just poring harder down on us I decided to return home completing my 24 hour birding trip.

Lesser Crested Tern

Red-headed Quelea

Pafuri Wilderness Camp

I decided to treat Johann for our 11th wedding anniversary and booking long in advance secured a weekend at Pafuri Wilderness Camp. Conditions were very hot with temps reaching 44°C at stages. The area is also still very dry with minimum grass cover. We counted a total of 201 birds but overall birding was difficult and because of the heat between 10h00-16h00 non-existent. We still had a wonderful time and I could add another lifer to my Southern Africa Life list bringing my total to 844. Here are some of the highlight species I photographed.

Three-banded Courser

Broad-billed Roller

Square-tailed Nightjar

Brown Snake-Eagle

Red-winged Pratincole at Kannie-dood Dam

Mosque Swallow

Abdim's Stork on the way back home