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Scarce Bird photography highlights

Scarce Bird photography highlights

I can't often be accused of twitching but below are some photography highlights from a few occasions when I have dropped in to observe and photograph a rarity.

Oriental Pratincole, Pagham Harbour, Breach pool, 29th May 2009

I am not a big fan of birding in a crowd and so despite the lure of a 'Possible Collard Pratincole' in neighbouring Sussex I hadn't taken the time to go and have a look, partly because I assumed wrongly that 'possible' meant it was showing so badly or infrequently that it wasn't even identifiable as a Pratincole! Well I was wrong. As I recall I was birding at a bit of a loose end that day and Andy Johnson had taken the time to go and have a look at this bird. Andy rang me and informed me that it was showing well in flight and that it was well worth seeing and photographing because (he said at the time rather confidently) it was an 'Oriental'. I'm not sure if he was 100% certain but he was right! On site the bird was coming in above Breach pool and whizzing around feeding over the water and overhead at good range with the light behind us. It would then disappear into the distance and presumably land out of view to rest for short periods before returning to the pool. A fantastic experience made all the better since there was only a handful of other birders present. As it turned out my photographs became an important factor in confirming the identification and acceptance of the record and received the accolade of 5th place in British Birds photo competition for 'best Rare Bird photograph'.

A composite image from a burst of flight shots from this session.

Canon EOS-1D Mark III, and Sigma 500mm f4.5.
F/7.1, 1/1250sec, ISO400.

An early evening in May with the sun low in the sky and behind me but still bright made for ideal conditions, allowing a fast shutter speed to capture this fast moving bird.

Red-flanked Bluetail, Lynchmere, West Sussex, 7th November 2010

This bird showed well during the short period I spent with it. It appeared to be doing a feeding circuit of the area if frequented but it was, as far as I know, only observed on the one small track were it was found, it returned periodically there ones or twice before I had to leave but it was fairly tolerant of the observers present allowing for some reasonable photos. Interestingly this bird had its right eye missing presumably as a result of a lucky escape from a predator; it had arrived as part of an impressive influx of this species into the UK that autumn but despite being looked for it was not seen the next day. Given that it was a late date and I think the last record of the influx and given its injury which no doubt upped the likelihood of it being predated, you have to wonder if it sadly ended its days nearby.

Canon EOS 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6,
F/5.6, 1/160sec, ISO800.
Dull Autumn light under trees resulted in the need for high ISOs just to get the shutter speed as high as 1/160sec!

Long-billed Dowitcher, Juvenile, Poole Dorset February 2011

A photographers dream this one, a rare american wader frequenting an easily accessible area and showing with no fear down to a few meters in good light. You can't ask for much more than that. Perhaps not the most colourful or striking bird to look at but it certainly had a subtle beauty and provided an excellent opportunity to give the species a proper look over.

Canon EOS 7D, Sigma 500mm f4.5,
F8, 1/1000sec, ISO400

Pallid Harrier, Sussex, 21st September 2011

To watch any harrier, or bird of prey for that matter, doing its thing in good light at good range for a prolonged period would have been a pleasure, but a juvenile Pallid Harrier must take some beating for shear majestic elegance. I mean just the colour of the thing alone, just magnificent.

Canon EOS 7D, Sigma 500mm f4.5,
F8, 1/400sec, ISO400

Black-bellied Dipper, Wareham Norfolk, February 2013

One of the highlight of a rare trip to Norfolk for me, again what I enjoyed most about this bird was its confiding nature and having it to myself. It had been around for quite some time before I spent a long weekend in the area and so interest had dwindled. On arrival at site I was a little confused about where to look but luckily another birder pointed me in the right direction. Dippers are fantastic birds anyway but this one had the added appeal of being a different species from the east that is subtlety different to the more familiar bird that frequents rivers and water bodies in parts of the uk.

Canon EOS 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6,
F/5.6, 1/50sec, ISO800.
The river running through woodland hardly helped with the light but use of a tripod certainly did!

Richard Ford