Wednesday, December 30, 2009

White Wagtail

The wagtails walk a lot with an aristocratic air which is a great pleasure to watch. This White Wagtail (Motacilla alba) landed on board and was fascinated by a big dead insect, which later it began feeding upon. I sat next to the dead insect, and this bird did not mind me intruding on its lunch. It was a good chance to photograph this bird at such a close range.
The White wagtail has many subspecies, and subtle variations in colouring may be seen based on the birds geographical location. The bird is pretty well distributed in India too, although this particular one was sighted in the Eastern Mediterranean.
One trait that I noticed about this bird was that it walked continuously searching for food, and even when I followed it, it continued walking faster rather than fly away. The bird never returned to a spot previously visited by it.
The first 4 photographs were clicked in a shaded area, while the last one was clicked in bright sunlight, resulting in an image with hardly any contrast. The bird in the shade was spot metered for the black area and the image turned out well exposed, for both shadows and highlights.
image details : f/4.5 , 1/200 sec, ISO 100, F.L. 210mm ,

Hooded Crow

Whenever my ship has to enter the black sea from the Mediterranean, we have to transit the Bosporus straits, which is a small water body, which separates Asia from Europe. A sure shot visitor there are a murder of Black Hooded Crows (Corvus cornix ). It was the first time I saw a crow that was not fully black and was such a shocker to me, because since childhood a crow has always been black to me. There are four recognised subspecies of the hooded crow, these are the C. c. pallescens.
The second photograph was a bit difficult because the water in the back ground was reflecting light and the crow was getting underexposed. I spot metered the head of the crow and which gave a shutter speed of about 0.5 sec. I had to boost the ISO to 400 to increase the shutter speed to about 1/100 sec, so I could shoot it hand held. If I had a polarising filter, may be I could have reduced the background glare and get some details off the water too.The polarising filter is very effective in cutting off reflections and reflected light.

This post is dedicated to my best friend Ashwin, who always complained that I never featured a crow on my blog. ( This one's for you mate)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Winter Wren

Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) is a common bird for Europe but in India its a local resident of Himalayas and may migrate to lower latitude only during winter. When I saw this tiny bird on board my ship, it was not shy and I was able to photograph it easily from a close range. The tiny bird was about 9 or 10 cm and was foraging for flies in the ships mooring ropes. It frequently entered into crevices which are formed when a rope is coiled and exited from another adjoining opening.
The bird was photographed off Greece and the first thing I remembered when I saw this winter Wren was a Aesop's Fable about the wren. The birds once hold a contest to crown a king, the bird which can soar the highest was to be the king. The eagle soared higher than all the birds and when the eagle started to tire, the clever wren which was hiding in eagles feather came out and soared far above and was crowned the king. Aesop must have closely watched the Wren, because I realised that the bird was not only tiny but also liked to hide and spotting it in between the similarly coloured rope was quite a task.

Photo details : 300 mm lens , f/5.4 , 1/640 sec , ISO-200

Saturday, December 26, 2009

European Bee eater

Compliments of the season to all of you and mega apologies for not updating this blog for such a long time. I was out sailing for the last 8 months, on what was suppose to be a 4 months call of duty. On the brighter side, It was an lovely opportunity to photograph some beautiful migratory birds that landed on board my ship.My ship was trading in the Mediterranean and black sea and most of the birds I encountered were the ones migrating from Europe to Africa or vice-versa.For the next couple of days I will post photographs of some of these birds and will now start with my first encounter that happened on May The bird was the colourful European Bee eater (Merops apiaster), a bird which breeds in southern Europe or north Africa . It migrates and spends its winter in Tropical Africa reaching all the way to India and Sri Lanka. It is a very rare visitor to India but there are many sightings of this bird in India.
Like all other Bee eaters this one too prefers flying insects and lets alone insects that have landed.
Poor light made photography difficult when these colourful birds landed on board, nevertheless, it was a pleasure watching such rainbow of colours flying all around. Its nearly useless having a tripod on board a ship, the vibrations of the engine are transmitted onto the camera, via the tripod making sharp images at slow shutter speed nearly impossible. Hand held camera shots are the only solution and eight months on board with no tripod did help me to improve my hand held images.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Common Golden-Backed Woodpecker

I could not come as close as I wanted , to photograph this Woodpecker ( Dinopium javanense) but will try my best the next time I come across him. The bird closely resembles the Lesser Golden-Backed Woodpecker. The bird works up on stems of old trees, tapping them to find rotten and hollow wood and then drilling hole to eat the beetles and insects hiding withing them. They also feed on ripe fruits ans sometimes nectar too.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cattle Egrets

I have previously featured Cattle Egret ( Bubulcus ibis) on this blog, the reason I am featuring again is because, this time I spotted them in this special plumage of buff orange. This is the birds Breeding plumage. When in non breeding the bird resembles a little egret but in this season it is unmistakable . The bird is called a cattle egret because it is mostly seen with grazing cattle, stalking energetically alongside the animals , running around them and in between their legs, all for seizing insects that are disturbed by the movement of cattle.

Continuing from the previous post.
Mistake no. 6 : Setting up the tripod in a hurry: When photographing birds, the key is to be quite and still. Once you perch at a place, it is important you move very less. Hence it becomes very important to set yourself in a nice vantage point. Importantly keeping in mind the position of the sun and the favourite perching positions of the birds. It has has happened many times that when I get excited seeing a new bird, I just forget all of it and end up chasing away the bird.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Pied Kingfisher

In my September 2008 post I had featured a Pied Kingfisher sitting on a power cable; this time I was lucky enough to spot one engaged in fishing. Though I must admit that I could not get good close up images, but hopefully these convey its fishing technique.
The bird hovers over a potential fishing spot at about a height of 15-20 meters for a considerable period of time. When a fish comes within striking depth, it speeds itself towards the prey, with wings pulled by the sides. It dives into the water emerges with its prey and flies off to a convenient rock or branch, where the prey is battered before being swallowed. This is a very spectacular scene to watch and I enjoyed every bit if it.

Continuing From my previous post: ( 10 photography mistakes I knowingly commit)
Mistake 5:Using the Wrong Choice of metering:What would happen if you chose matrix metering for a photograph like the ones above?. The kingfisher forms a tiny part of the photograph, which is mostly sky otherwise. Hence the camera would expose for the bright sky and would choose a faster shutter speed. The sky would come very beautiful with all its clouds, but what would happen to the kingfisher? It would be a dark blob on the photograph. Fortunately for the above photograph I had used spot metering and metered the bird. But this does not always happen to me, many times I have photographed flying birds or birds at sea with the wrong choice of metering with the resulting photograph being truly unusable. Today I have made it a practice to look at the metering mode chosen before I venture into the clicking business. But we all have our memory limitations.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Tickell's Flowerpecker

Like I said on the post on 7th, I did wait for the bird under the tree to get a closer photograph and this is the best I could manage. The bird is such a restless one, that it hardly sat at any one place for more than a few seconds.

Continuing from the previous post ( Photography mistakes that I commit even after knowing)

Mistake4: Not carrying sufficient memory or charge: This one is self explanatory- carry extra memory and spare battery and its better to have large number of small capacity cards than one big card. If something goes wrong with once card, at least you have others. Now honestly, I don't have an extra memory card or a back up battery, in such a case the least I can do is download photographs at the first available opportunity and keep the memory card blank and ready. Similarly keep the battery charged up. But this is easier said than done and there have been times when I realised my memory was full and I had to return back with my task half accomplished. I know it but I still do it.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Black Kite

Black Kite ( Milvus migrans) is as large brown hawk and can be easily distinguished from similar birds by its forked tail. This is India's commonest raptor and found in most cities and towns. The bird is a masterful flier and scoops down of food scraps even in traffic congested roads avoiding the mess of telephone and electricity wires with ease. From earthworm to young disabled birds, from termites to lizards it eats it all and generally engages in regular tiffs with the local crow population. The bird spends a lot of time in air, circling in the sky and makes effective use of thermals for soaring.

Continuing from the previous post:
Mistake 3 : Not Shading my lense: Lense flare occurs when light hits the lense at an angle and starts bouncing around the inside of the lense. This causes light to do weird tricks including reducing contrast and making the photograph look hazy or sometimes even creating halos. Use the lense hood to prevent this , in a compact camera you can even use your hand to shade the lense. Just hold your hand cupped around the lense, in the direction of the strongest light source.
Ex. Both the photographs above were taken on the same day, from the same place and nearly at the same location. The first photograph was clicked as soon as I reached the spot and started to click, forgetting to fit in the hood. I fitted it once I noticed my mistake. Its only when I uploaded the photograph on the computer did I realise the difference the hood could make and felt it would be a nice example to put it up.
Sony A350 , 300mm , f/5.6 ,ISO 100 ,spot metering,

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tickell's Flowerpecker

Until I clicked this photograph, the smallest bird I photographed was the Spotted Munia this Tickell's Flowerpecker is about 8 cms, which is 2 cms smaller than the Munia. Also called as the pale billed Flower Pecker (Dicaeum erythrorhynchos) the bird landed up on a cherry tree on my backyard and flew off with a semi riped fruit. It then sat up on another tree a little further away and swallowed the entire berry, in one gulp! You can see in the photograph how big the fruit is with respect to its head. The bird loves the berries of Dendrophthoe and Viscum, two plant parasites of the mistletoe family and is responsible for the flourishing of the parasitic plant.
If the bird keeps visiting my backyard, then ill have to sit under tree one day to get a closer look at it. This bird very closely resembles a Plain flowerpecker, but this one has a flesh coloured beak compared to the black beak of the Plain flowerpecker.

Continuing from previous post:
Mistake No. 2 : Cluttering the frame: Trying to cram in too many things into one single image can mess up a photograph. This is especially important when shooting wildlife. With too much of attractive greenery around its tempting to stuff them all in and the creature only may get lost in the image. Ex. In the photograph above, there are just two elements, the bird and lots of leaves. When in fact, just beyond the frame there were 2 cherries and below the bird there was a sunbird. Had I moved my frame a little up I would even have got the blue sky. Now don't you think the small birdy would have got lost if I had tried to stuff in all these elements in the frame?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Inca Tern

Inca Tern (Larosterna inca) is a bird with a mustache or so it looks like. This bird is exclusively found in the islands of Chile and Peru and is a threatened bird today.
Sea birds like this Tern face a special food hazard, because of their lifestyle. The hazard is salt, which in large doses is poisonous, leading to dehydration and a overload on the kidneys. Yet seabirds inevitably absorb large quantity of salt water while feeding. The excess is disposed of by special salt glands in the head. The glands discharge a highly concentrated salt solution into the nostrils, from where it drips back into the sea. So efficient is this built in desalination plant that sea birds never need to drink fresh water. They extract all they want from the seawater. This I specifically noticed and mentioned in a older post on the Booby, where they spent 4-5 days on my ship feeding on fish at sea and never needing water to drink.

Sony A350 , 200mm lens, ISO400

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Black Headed gull

Nearly a year ago I had put a post on the Black headed gull ( Larus ridibundus )at Fujairah, now these are from England. Like I said then, when in breeding plumage the bird acquires a brown hood. Now the bird in the second second is a young one and facing its first winter, unlike the first photograph, which is of an adult. You can see the difference in the beak and the dark brown carpal bar. Here in India it is a winter visitor and prior to every migration at the end of March they acquire the brown hood.

For the next 10 posts I'll posts 1 mistake each that I have knowingly made in photography. There are probably many more, but these still tend to happen
Mistake 1: Forgetting camera shake: I had the perfectly framed photograph, well exposed and well balanced. It looks good on the cameras 3 inch preview screen but when I uploaded it on my computer, I get the shocking news of the camera shake. In spite of the Image stabilization and all precautions to hold the camera sturdy, its very difficult to get a steady shot hand held especially when using telephoto lenses. Now I try to use a tripod as much as possible but if I cannot use one then the following tips can help.
1. Use a shutter speed of " 1/your camera focal length" or faster. Ex. if you are using a 300mm lense use a shutter speed of 1/300 sec or faster.
2. Hold the camera firmly with both hands, with hands close to the body and the camera touching your face.
3. Use any strong structure the lean on to or let the camera touch any sturdy structure and that will partly help.
4. Breath slowly and steadily.
For both the photographs above I could not use a tripod but the light was sufficient to use a faster shutter speed. the 1st one used a 1/250 sec and the 2nd one 1/200 sec shutter speed and I used a 200mm lens and achieved a relatively sharp image.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mallard Duck

If any duck has to take credit for being the most well know and most commonly found then it is this one, the Mallard Duck ( Anas Platyrhynchos). In India it is a Winter visitor and mostly found in North west India and very rarely South of Mumbai.
In the Photographs above the Lower one is a drake while the upper ones are female ducks. Both were photographed at Eton.
The Mallards belong to the family of dabbling ducks; Dabblers feed by tipping tail up to reach aquatic plants, seeds and snails. They require no running start to take off but spring directly into flight.
The male stays with a Female until she lays eggs, after which a Male leaves her and moults into the plumage resembling a female and then almost three months later re moults into his original plumage (1) . A large percentage of Mallards show homosexual behavior, the percentage could be anything from 17-19% ( especially young ducks deprived of females during imprinting period)(2), instances of necrophilia are also noticed in Mallards.

Source (1) : Popular hand book of Indian birds - Hugh Whistler
(2) : Homosexuality Re-examined. by D.J. West, London: Gerald Duckwort & Co. Ltd,

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sea Anemone

To break the monotony of the birds, which I have featured now continuously for months I have posted this Sea Anemone. Sea Anemone is actually a predatory animal and named after Anemone a terrestrial flower.
One end of the Sea Anemone is a adhesive foot, which attaches itself to the ground, while the other end is the mouth surrounded by stinging tentacles containing neurotoxins which helps to defend and catch its prey.
A hermit crab often carries a sea anemone on its shell as a bodyguard. The Sea anemones stinging tentacles deter predators and in return the anemone gains mobility and thus a wider feeding range and well as scraps of crabs food. Hermits crab used abandoned mollusc shells as body protection, when they move out from one shell to another they do not leave their bodyguards behind. When about to move the crab gives the anemone a warning tap so that it relaxes its hold on the shell, then the crab lifts the anemone with its claw to the new shell.
A similar arrangement exists between the clown fish and the Anemone. The clown fish protects itself from predators by taking refuge among a anemones stinging tentacles. The fish secretes a coat of mucus which counteracts the poisonous discharge from the anemones stinging cells. The anemone seems to benefit because the clown fish acts as a lure to protect unprotected species and the fish benefits from eating up leftover scraps of the anemones food.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Common Coot

This slaty dark bird, the size of a hen is called the Eurasian Coot in England and Common coot in India ( Fulica atra). The bird is entirely blackish grey with a highly contrasting white shield on the face. Their population in India swells up during winters, when birds from central Asia and west Asia migrate and land up here.
The bird is a reluctant flier and if it has to fly a short distance with skitter along the water half running half flying. The bird is eaten in some parts of India thought westerners may not like the fishy taste and not hunted for this reason.
The sun had set when I was photographing this and I was not able to get a good exposure the get the details around the eye, the dark colour too did not help. ISO: 400

Monday, April 27, 2009

Great White Pelican

These beauties are the Great white Pelicans ( Pelecanus onocrotalus) and were photographed at St. James park in London. They are also found in India as partly resident and partly winter visitors. If you closely look at the first photograph two of the birds have pinkish hue and one is white with black wing tips, the pinkish hue is acquired during breeding season.
These are massive birds as big as 6 feet and wing span of 10 feet, when you first look at a Pelican you can even doubt if this bird can fly. In spite of its massive size the bird is a graceful flier and like most other birds "Born to Fly".
The bones of the birds are so completely adapted to the need to conserve weight in flight that a bird's feathers usually weigh more than its entire skeleton. The bones are hollow, braced by internal struts and honey combed with air sacs. The sacs are connected to the lungs so that during flight air flows through them, speeding the supply of oxygen to the body tissues. Even the beak is made to save weight, instead of being made of bone, it is made of lightweight horn and contains no teeth. The bird weighs about 10-15 kg, even thought its size is that of a human its weight is just 1/5th, perfect for flight.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Egyptian Goose

The Egyptian Goose ( Alopochen aegyptiacus) is a African bird which was introduced into Britain and is today commonly found in most of its parks.
The bird was sacred to the ancient Egyptian and I spotted it at Diana memorial in London.
Because of the distinctive brown eye patch this goose is easy to identify.
If you notice the photograph closely you can see that the body of the bird is come sharper than the face, this is because, I focused on the body, instead of the face ( The head was bobbing while the body was steady making it a easier target) a fundamental error, but I was helpless, the bird flew as soon as it spotted me.
Sony A350 , 200mm lens, f/4.5

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tufted Pochard

This Tufted Pochard, Aythya fuligula is a drake and is difficult to locate. The bird has highly contrasting black and white plumage. The bird is a Winter visitor to India and breeds in Europe and Central Asia. This duck is a diving duck, a group which is distinguished by the possession of a broadly lobed hind toe. Its legs are set far back in the body and hence not very well suited for walking, but this makes them superb swimmers and divers. They spend considerable time under water and once this duck has dived, expect a long wait for it to resurface. The bird also migrates to America during winters.

The dark head of the bird was difficult to photograph, since the bird was constantly swimming a long exposure meant a blurred photo. After about 40 attempts I managed to get a relatively stationery pose and the G spot for the exposure was the black back of the bird.
I tried metering the head, but it was so dark that the shutter speed was too slow to freeze the bird.
Sony A-350, 200mm , f/4.5 , 1/800 sec . The image was photographed in RAW format, hence post processing I increased the exposure level by 1ev, without any introduction of noise.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Common Moorhen

Nearly a Year ago I had a Post on Purple Moorhen this one is the Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus). Although this is a common bird in India, this one was photographed in London. Here in India the bird rarely comes out in the open like this and is very happy to be within reeds of marshes. Since this bird is distributed nearly all around the globe, its name too has been varied.
Its walk seems like a sulking one but is very elegant when in water.
Feeds on worms, mollusks , insects ,grains and certain marsh plants.

Both the photographs were shot with spot metering , although for the first one matrix metering too would have done a commendable job. Matrix metering works well most of the times, especially when there are varying tones in one frame. But when concerned with a small area of the frame, or when shooting dark images in bright background, centre averaged or spot metering works best. Though I find that with Spot metring, one needs to click lots of photographs metered at various points on the frame.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Canada Goose

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) is the most familiar and common of all goose. The bird is basically an American one and was introduced in Britain about 300 years ago and is today found all over UK. The bird easily approached me and was happy to eat bread when I hand fed it. It was a first time experience to feed a bird and the snapping beak does hurt, even though they have no teeth.
This one is not found in India, unlike other birds that I had mentioned earlier.

For this Photograph I tried to meter and focus on the bright part of the beak, which has a tiny water droplet, I wanted that drop to be in sharp focus.
Sony A350; 200mm , f/4.5, ISO 100

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Common Pochard - Female

My previous post was on the same bird, but this Pochard is a female. The females have a rufous brown head but this one had a more or less reddish hue to it. Like I mentioned previously though this bird is found in India, this one was photographed in London. They are found abundantly in the North of India but very sparse in the south.

Metering : Most of the cameras today have 3 modes of metering - Spot ,centre Averaged spot and matrix metering. The spot meter takes into consideration just the centre of the frame to determine exposure. The Centre averaged gives maximum weight to the central 40 to 60 percent, while matrix metering , measures each section of the frame individually, eliminates those sectors that are difficult to judge, compares the image to its on board reference images and arrives at a exposure level.When I photograph Wildlife, I mostly use Spot metering or Centre Averaged spot metering. My intention is to get the subject properly exposed for all its details. The background comes next. The Sony A350 I use has an additional feature of D-range optimization, which is very handy when photographing subjects with well lit background. The camera determines such scenes and brings out details in the shadows.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Common Pochard

This Duck , is found in India too although this one was photographed in London. It is a Winter visitor to India and the ones that come here never let me approach them this close.
This Common Pochard (Aythya ferina) is a male and are generally found in large flocks. The forage by diving and feed on aquatic plants , small fish and mollusc's.
The light was not very good when I was photographing the bird and I clicked lots of photographs on spot metering mode and metered every colour on the bird. Just one of the 10 photographs got metered properly.
Its best to photograph ducks when they have just come out of water from a dive, the body will be covered with tiny water droplets that give the photograph a nice look.

Sony A-350 / 200mm lense. ISO-200, f/5.6 , 1/320 , RAW image

Monday, March 30, 2009

British Robin

The British Robin (Erithacus rubecula) is a common garden bird in Britain, but is a novelty here in India. A very small population of Female Robins migrate to Europe from Britain during Winter and Robins from Russia migrate to Britain to escape from the harsh Russian winter.
I found the British birds to be less shy and more approachable by humans than their Indian counterparts. The birds are used to humans and don't find unsafe near them. I may be wrong but the only reason I could conclude was may be because of our habit of shooing birds that come to peck the food we eat or that come on the fields.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mute Swans

For the next few post Ill be showcasing a few British birds. I recently culminated an one month long trip to England, and though I did not equip myself to photograph the wildlife, I could not resist the temptation to photograph the occasional bird that I came across.
These are one of the most common bird's of Britain and found in most of the parks and rivers.
They are called mute because they are not as vocal as the other swans. These birds are really pretty and their courtships are a pretty sight to watch.
All unmarked swans in Britain are owned and protected by the Queen since the 15th Century
Camera: Sony A-350, 200mm , ISO:100 , ( Photographed at Bristol)