November was my first full month birding down in Cornwall, armed with my new Nikkon D311 and a Sigma 300mm zoom lens I was ready to roll .. or was I ?
Why do It ?
I think my overriding reason was that I find that being outside either gardening or looking at wildlife, and walking is a great escape from the stresses of life ( especially IT work), All of my life I've been engaged in technology, so I think a swing to the natural and artistic side should do me some good.
Before I brought the camera I did plenty of research and it was fairly clear that the choice of lens is going to play a big part in the quality of the photos you produce, and the very best cost BIG money. It soon became clear that a 300mm lens really doesn't cut the mustard unless you pretty close to the bird, and it's nice and bright weather. So, a month into the process these are my thoughts :-
As my first DSLR camera I'm happy with the Nikkon – but I've never had anything to compare it with.
When I first got the camera with it's standard lens 18-55mm I new I'd need a better zoom to get pictures of birds, So in the shop I got the camera from they had a 70-300mm lens which they said was a very good quality, but it was manual focus. After 1 week of trying to get pictures with it I failed miserably, virtually every picture was out of focus. So I took it back to the shop, and they took it back and I got a Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 DG lens. There was no stabilisation in this lens.
So after a month of using the system, I'm getting some reasonable pictures, but not quite as sharp as I was hoping for, especially at a distance – even with a tripod. Basically if the bird you're trying to photo fills the viewfinder then the picture will be excellent, unless it's moving fast. This means you need to be less that about 30m away. Anything further away you'll end up needing to digitally zoom in using Photoshop. That means the picture is often good enough for an ID, but invariably not sharp.
To keep the pictures as sharp as possible, I find myself setting the camera to 800 iso, and sometimes 1600 if it's a dull day, this ensures a fast shutter speed. I'd be really interested to compare the results of the lens I have to one with image stabilisation.
So, for the time being I'm going to stick with what I've got, and I think my next upgrade will to be to a 500m lens with IS.
Armed with my Bill Oddie bird book ( £3 from the local book discount store) I was ready to ID the pictures of the birds I'd taken .. but guess what ? – I really struggled. So I hit the web and google searches which usually brought up the RSPB site, which is pretty comprehensive, but nevertheless a bit hit and miss for a beginner. Then I found www.birdforum.net and WOW, there's a bird ID forum, where you post your picture and an army of twitchers respond, often in minutes. I really can't recommend this site enough, the people on the forum must have amazing patience when the likes of me posts a picture, where my initial guess is a mile off.
I then upgraded to one of the Collins Bird Guides off Amazon ( new for £11 ish) which is a lot more comprehensive, although it still uses drawings. I think a combination of this book with google, and maybe a book with actual photographs will finally sort me.
The subtle differences between a common bird and rarer variety is often so minute that I can see the whole learning process is going to be very gradual.
The other website that I've found useful is www.cornwall-birding.co.uk . This site has daily reports of what bird sightings have been made in the county. From here I've learned some of the better locations to go to, and also found some amazing locations that I've never been to before – such as Loe Pool near Helston. The only downside is, that it is easy to become a bit of a "twitcher" and when something is reported want to go and see the bird. Almost invariably this has to wait until weekend.
At the beginning my poor ID skills were very evident. There were reports of a Black Kite over Drif reservoir, when I eventually had a look I got all excited thinking I'd got the bird, when what I'd clocked was a Common Buzzard – nevertheless a fine bird.
Here are some of the rare Birds I've been lucky enough to Photograph over the last month, may there be many more 😉 I'll start with the better pictures, and then down to the fuzzy results from a loooong way away
Snow Bunting taken at Marazion Beach, Cornwall, November 2011
Black Tailed Godwith, Ryans Field, Hayle RSPB November 2011
Short Eared Owl ( one of 2) Porthwarra Cornwall November 2011
Rare Bufflehead taken on Loe Pool Helston, before digital zoom
Same Bufflehead picture, but zoomed in with Photoshop .. fuzzy but thats the boy !