I just picked up the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM for use with my 1D X. I had heard a lot of positive things about this lens, both from review sites and more importantly from my friend Rick, who swears by it apart from AF performance. The biggest negative thing about this lens from the review sites was that many copies had front focus AF issues – so bad that they couldn’t be corrected by the lens micro adjust function that many DSLRs have these days. So obviously that was the first thing I checked in the shop when I picked the lens up – just a quick “do you mind?” to the sales girl after I’d set the 1D X to single shot, one-frame, spot AF point and taken a shot focused on her eye! I zoomed into 100% on the 1D X rear LCD and saw that the focus seemed spot on. So with that out of the way, I stopped quickly at a shrine on the way home to give it a basic test. All these shots were hand held, and no sharpening or noise reduction was applied. First I shot at f/2, but then I took a few at f/1.4. All in all, a pretty positive start! I should also add that AF performance on the 1D X was excellent, so it should be good on a 5D MkIII as well. I should also add that the bokeh at f/1.4 is superb!
Umagase is a famous sunrise-watching place in Hyuga city, Miyazaki prefecture. I actually hadn’t heard of it, but when I visited Hyuga on Sunday night, some patrons of a bar recommended it to me upon learning I was a photographer. So in total darkness at 05:00 on Monday morning, I duly went in search of this spot. I wasn’t sure whether I was in exactly the right location they were talking about, but it was the best I could do at short notice – I had a boat to catch at Kadogawa at 08:00!
At sunset last Sunday I took the ferry from Shimabara to Kumamoto in order to drive around to Hyuga, Miyazaki Prefecture. There are two ferries to Kumamoto from Shimabara; the fast one (Ocean Arrow, 30 mins) and the slow one (1 hour). I usually take the slow ferry as it has a nice deck out the back from which it is easier to observe and photograph from. So I got on the slow ferry which left at 17:50, the last ferry for the day. As usual, dozens of Black-headed Gull followed the ferry as it left port, eager for handouts. People often feed them with prawn-flavoured snacks (which I am quite fond of too, actually!), and so the gulls follow every ferry in eager anticipation. I like to use these times as photography practice – lots of fast moving, close in action to test the reflexes, camera settings and photography technique. And the lack of light, as well as mostly back-lit subjects, made getting decent shots of the gulls much more difficult on this particular trip. After practicing on the gulls for a while, I took the time to capture a magnificent sunset over Mount Unzen.
This morning I went to Chijiwa town in Unzen city for a change of scenery. I was hoping to see some seabirds and perhaps get lucky. However there was not so much activity, and most of the interesting birds were very far from the shore. There were several Black-necked Grebe and perhaps even an Ancient Murrelet. Closer in were the usual Black-tailed Gull, Northern Pintail and Eurasian Wigeon, while along the small river were Black-crowned Night Heron and Little Egret. I then stopped at Tachibana Shrine before heading back over the flanks of Mount Unzen to Shimabara. Tachibana Shrine had Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Pale Thrush, Meadow Bunting, Eastern Great Tit, Brown-eared Bulbul and Oriental Greenfinch.
This morning I revisited Dazaifu and took more photos of Brown Hawk Owl. I was able to photograph both parents and one juvenile, although local birders reported that 3 juveniles have survived from this year’s nesting. Seems like they are ready to move deeper into the forest, so today was one of the last chances to get some photos. I also took a few photos of Kanzeoji Temple (once the most important temple in Kyushu and where Japan’s oldest temple bell is located) afterwards.
Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be invited on a boat trip in the Amakusa islands to search for Japanese Murrelet. I had been meaning to visit these islands for some time, and this was the perfect chance for an introduction. I took the ferry from Kuchinotsu, Shimabara Peninsula to Oni-ike, Amakusa, and then drove to the small fishing port of Miyada. Here I met other birders and took a fishing boat out for the search. Although we were unsuccessful in locating Japanese Murrelet, I did photograph some “firsts” and got better photos of other species. Highlights included Japanese Green Pigeon, Slaty-backed Gull, Blue Rock Thrush, Buff-bellied Pipit, Long-tailed Tit. But the best was a close encounter with a Finless Porpoise! The lack of seabirds was a bit of a concern; it seems the colder waters of this year have depleted the fish stocks around the islands, so birds may be breeding more to the south than in usual years. In addition to the birds photographed, I only saw one Brown Booby and two Temminck’s Cormorants – no Streaked Shearwaters or any petrels…. All photos taken with the 7D, 300/2.8, 1.4x TC, handheld.
This morning I changed my plan to go to Azamidani after I heard that the Eastern Marsh Harriers had arrived for winter already. So I went to Isahaya instead, specifically the reclaimed land between Moriyama and Isahaya. It was great weather and many birds were active. Lots of raptors around as well, and I was able to get shots of Peregrine Falcon, Eurasian Kestrel, Black-eared Kite and, the pride of place, Eastern Marsh Harrier. The peregrine was very interesting – it seemed intent on hunting migrating flocks of Brown-eared Bulbul! There were also a few waders around, and I photographed Spotted Redshank, Marsh Sandpiper and Common Greenshank (if my id’s are correct!). I also spotted a pair of Hooded Cranes at dawn, and also Northern Lapwing. Finally, I also got a shots of a male Bull-headed Shrike and a Richard’s Pipit.
From October 7 to 11, I guided Dr. Paul Wirtz of the Netherlands on a birding tour of parts of Kyushu. After picking Paul up from Fukuoka Airport, we headed for my home in Shimabara, arriving after dark. The birdwatching had already started, however, with a quick trip to a Black-crowned Night Heron roost near my house before a yakitori dinner. The next morning we birded Mt Unzen, where we had great views of Siberian, Japanese & Eyebrowed Thrush, as well as a female Copper Pheasant and several more common species, before taking the ferry from Shimabara to Kumamoto, seabird watching along the way. We then drove to our base hotel at Kirishima Hot Spring spa resort town. The next morning saw us driving to Mi-ike lake. The weather was very rainy, so we first headed to a small river near the lake where we had a drink and saw some wagtails. We then went back to Mi-ike and birded the lake before hiking the dedicated birdwatching trail. The rain was quite heavy, but our efforts were rewarded by spotting a variety of sought-after species such as a male Copper Pheasant (subspecies ijimae), Japanese Woodpecker and Mandarin Duck. Unfortunately, the trail was rife with leeches, which I hadn’t expected this late in the year. Both of us got feasted on a fair bit! We then travelled back to Kirishima Shrine, where we saw a few more new species, and then headed back to the hotel. The next morning was bright and sunny, and we travelled to Ebino-kogen plateau. Unfortunately, though the weather was great, there were not that many birds being active. We saw some new species, but not as many as expected. So we cut Ebino short and went to a back-up birdwatching site at Takachiho Stock Farm, where we were lucky to see Japanese Pheasant, Bull-headed Shrike and other species. We then returned to the river near Mi-ike lake to explore its banks more closely, which was very rewarding. The final day we headed to Kanemi-dake, a famous location for Grey-faced Buzzard migration. The spot really lived up to its reputation, with dozens of birds observed! We then tried a few other locations near Kanemi-dake and turned up a few more new species. Finally, we drove back to Kumamoto port and spent a hour searching the mudflats, finding several species of waders. In total we were able to see and identify 77 species of birds, with a few others heard. We also saw Sika Deer, Japanese Hare, Racoon Dog and Yellow Martin (although the latter two were DOR). Several species of reptiles and amphibians were also observed.
Full Bird Species List (77) (in basic order of when first observed)
Black-crowned Night Heron
Oriental Turtle Dove
Eastern Great Tit
Japanese Bush Warbler
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker
Copper Pheasant (female soemmerringii; male ijimae)
Great White Egret
Pacific Reef Egret
Blue Rock Thrush
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Asian Spot-billed Duck
Pacific Golden Plover
Lesser Sand Plover
This weekend I had the pleasure of guiding Pam & Jeff Gunn of the United States around my part of Japan. The guiding was a mixture of general touring and bird watching. We dedicated yesterday morning to seeing some of the birds of Mount Unzen. Unfortunately, neither pheasant species made an appearance (due to a combination of less than ideal weather conditions and presence of a relatively large number of other birders), although many other sought-after species were viewed. Below is the species list, including a couple of herps:
We also saw various other species around the Shimabara area during their stay, including Black-eared Kite, Black-crowned Night Heron, Grey Heron, Little Egret and Great Egret.