Brown Quail

Picnic Hill

On one photo excursion during my stay at Killarney, I decided to try following the Killarney – Barlow’s Gate Road all the way to Barlow’s Gate, a crossing along the Queensland – New South Wales border. This road is almost all dirt, and some sections are impassible in wet conditions. This particular morning was dry, although melting frost made some hollows a little tricky for the 2WD Ford Ranger. Navigation was also a little tricky, but the rabbit fence (a fence built along the border to try, fruitlessly, to keep rabbits from crossing over!) was a pretty good marker for my relative position. Although there were a lot of kangaroos and wallabies along the track, there was not all that much birdlife. Wood Duck were perched up in the trees, Red-browed Finch and Double-barred Finch were feeding on the grass seeds, Superb Fairywren were feeding along the track itself and every now and then a pair of rosellas (Crimson, Eastern or Pale-headed), Red-rumped or Red-winged parrots would be flushed from feeding in fields next to the road. Passing one of the very few properties along this road, I stopped to photograph the grizzly sight of a dingo carcass hanging on a fence – obviously shot or poisoned and strung up as a warning to others that might be preying on livestock in the area.

 

After running along the border for a few kilometres, I climbed a hill to a magnificent summit that had almost 360 degree views across the countryside. I immediately thought that this would be great place to observe different bird species, and it seemed others had the same idea – I soon noticed a flock of Red-browed Finch and Double-barred Finch feeding on commercial bird seed spread under some trees beside some shrubs. As I was photographing the finches, a pair of Brown Quail came out of the undergrowth to start feeding as well! Not to be outdone, a flock of White-winged Chough arrived noisily and took over proceedings. A Grey Goshawk made a pass over the hilltop, causing a commotion among the smaller birds, although the White-winged Chough were not too perturbed by it all. So it was a very nice experience to sit there in the car and photograph several species at close range. After the goshawk flew past, I walked up to a sign that was posted in front of the gate to a small cabin. The location was named “Picnic Hill” – very apt for such a beautiful, albeit remote, spot. In the grounds of the cabin, there were quite a few birds feeding on the lawn, such as Superb Fairywren and White-browed Scrubwren, while flittering between the trees was a Rufous Fantail. In the trees, several species of honeyeater were busy feeding on the nectar of the few flowers that had already started blooming.

Flame Robin

Girraween NP

While in Australia I spent a very short time with the family one afternoon at Girraween National Park, just south of Stanthorpe. Famous for Turquoise Parrots which I had hoped to photograph, the national park is host to many rare and uncommon species of wildlife and also magnificent granite outcrops. While I didn’t get to observe any rarities, I did have nice encounters with a male Flame Robin and some other birds.

Australian Logrunner

Carabeen Nature Refuge

Spring Creek Road, which runs from Killarney over the range down to the Head, has some great spots for not only wildlife watching but also magnificent natural scenery. Along this road there are Brown’s Falls, Dagg’s Falls, Queen Mary Falls, Carr’s Lookout and Teviott Falls. But perhaps most importantly from a conservation viewpoint, there is the Carabeen Nature Refuge. This patch of rainforest between Queen Mary Falls and Carr’s Lookout is home to one of the rarest Australian birds, the Albert’s Lyrebird. That this strip of natural forest remains is the testimony of an environmentally aware property owner who recognised how important this piece of land on her property was. She protected it and then bequeathed in trust to the Queensland Government for conservation status, and any future owners of the land will need to bide by her arrangement. Surrounded by pastureland, this strip of rainforest is home to many uncommon and rare creatures. I have driven through it many times and seen the iconic Albert’s Lyrebirds and Red-necked Pademelons that are relatively common here. But lots of other hard-to-see species are also active here. So even though I wasn’t really equipped to photograph in this extremely dark environment, I rather optimistically set out before dawn and found a quiet piece of road where I could park the truck and get fairly unobstructed views in both directions. I managed to get very poor images of a female Albert’s Lyrebird, Australian Logrunner and Red-necked Pademelon……this is definitely territory for a 300/2.8, not a 70-300/4-5.6!

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Today I received my new Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens together with Canon 2x TC MkIII and Canon 52mm C-PL Drop-in Filter. At the beginning of the year, I was interested in the new Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, but trips to Australia in June, July and August convinced me that I needed f/2.8 for low light shooting. And seeing as the new Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM weighs only a bit more than the 500, I felt it was better to save and buy that lens at a later date and get the new 300 instead of the 500. Another big consideration was the feedback from wildlife photographers who had used the new 300 with the new 2x TC MkIII – they all said the IQ was excellent especially when stopped down a little to f/6.3 or f/7.1. So having a relatively light, compact, effective 480/2.8; 672/4 (I already own the 1.4x TC MkIII) and 960/5.6 focal length choice was very appealing. Additionally, when I get my FF body (probably the 1Dx), I will have a choice of 6 different focal lengths (300, 420 & 600 with the 1Dx; 480, 672 & 960 with the 7D) – all with excellent image quality! I am also secretly hoping that Canon puts out a EF 800mm f/5.6L IS II USM, although with the latest pro FF bodies not AF-ing at f/8, the new 600 would still a better choice for maximum reach and versatility. Anyway, the 300/2.8 plus 600/4 combination is what I decided on for my wildlife photography going forward.

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM

Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM

So late this morning I picked up my new lens and headed for the Isahaya Reclaimed Land Areas for some shooting! As I was excited to see what the 300 could do with the 2x TC attached, that was the combination I used today. I will experiment with the other two focal length options later. Looking over the lens, it was pretty much the same as the version 1 IS that I was very familiar with. But even though the new version is only slightly lighter, the difference is noticeable. I like the way the switches are positioned in this new version, and immediately I set the IS Mode to 3 and the focus limiter to 6m – infinity. The new Mode 3 is one reason I wanted this lens, but it felt really weird initially! No IS at all in the viewfinder even when the shutter is half-pressed and an effective 960mm focal length handheld means a bit of hand shake, and when you fully depress the shutter it seems like nothing has happened! But, checking the shot in the rear display showed that the IS did indeed activate and work – amazing! I think if the majority of shots are of stationary subjects, then Mode 1 is probably better for handheld shooting, but if there is a possibility of having to quickly shoot a moving subject, then Mode 3 is definitely the way to go. Of course, you should also probably use a tripod if using the 7D/300/2xTC combination!

 

I was worried about the AF speed with the 2xTC attached. Having been using the 70-300/4-5.6L IS for several months now, I was in a good position to compare the AF speed of different lenses at f/5.6. I have to say that generally the 600/5.6 focused faster and more accurately than the 300/5.6, but only a little bit better. The Ai Servo mode was much faster to pick up and track subjects with the 600/5.6, especially against the sky. I can’t wait to see how good the AF is with the lens at its native focal length!

 

So all I needed now was the co-operation of a few feathered friends. Being the start of passerine migration, I was expecting to find a few interesting subjects and pretty quickly I spotted a couple of Sand Martin in among Barn Swallows at Chuo Reclaimed Land Area. A fairly easy first up test of the lens – I just pointed out of the window of the car at one of the martins resting on a power line and took a couple of shots. Next I went into to Moriyama Reclaimed Land Area and spotted something hiding in a tree – a cuckoo! This was a real test of AF ability, as the target was behind lots of branches. However more than half the shots were focused properly on the subject, so I was satisfied. Soon afterwards I observed a pair of redshanks in a flooded but unused rice paddy. This was very easy for the lens, as the redshanks contrasted nicely against the water.

 

And then the resident Northern Goshawk showed up! A great chance to test the AF on a fast moving subject, although as usual the raptor was fairly shy. I followed it around the Moriyama area, and got some good shots of it perched, but each time it flew, it flew away from my position even when it was flushed by farmers on the opposite side of the bird than I was! I was also experimenting with different AF point settings, so at times the AF wouldn’t focus on the bird in flight initially if it was against a cluttered, fairly close background. But once the subject was picked up by the AF, it tracked it well. Anyway, I will continue to use various AF point settings to get a feel of which one works better than another in a given situation (previously I always used the spot AF point setting for everything, but I have been reading that some of the other setting have a better hit ratio).

 

Soon afterwards it began to get cloudy and although I could have tested the lens at native focal length or with the 1.4x TC I decided to call it a day. I will have many opportunities over the next week to try out the lens in a variety of shooting environments and conditions!

Shimabara Peninsula Coast & Karako Lotus Ponds

This afternoon I went on a bit of a tour around the Shimabara Peninsula and then to the Karako Lotus Ponds. Basically this was just a scouting trip to see what stage the autumn migration was at with respect to shorebirds, ducks, etc. I ended up finding quite a good spot to watch for seabirds in the Ariake Sea – the lighthouse at Futsu Port.  Here I watched Streaked Shearwater and also spotted a 4W Mongolian Gull among a flock of Black-tailed Gull – a nice treat! Going around the peninsula there were plenty of gulls but other than the Streaked Shearwater and a few Brown Booby there was nothing much happening. I did observe some smaller, darker birds skimming the sea surface and thought they might be a storm petrel of some sort (probably Swinhoe’s given the location and time of year), but they were too far out to positively identify.

Mount Kinugasa

Rising up 870m and situated just to the west of Mount Unzen, Mount Kinugasa has a magnificent 360 degree panoramic view of the Shimabara Peninsula. To the east is the hot spring town of Unzen and then the peaks of Mt Unzen itself; to the south are the Amakusa Islands; to the west is Tachibana Bay and Nagasaki, while to the north is Isahaya. Mount Kinugasa is also one of the more easily accessible peaks in the Unzen range, with a well-marked 2km trail leading from the carpark at Shirakumo Lake. The hike up takes about 25 minutes or so.

Kinugasa was itself an active volcano that erupted hundreds of thousands of years ago, and now serves as a weather station mainly for monitoring winds but also for collecting other basic data such as air temperature, humidity, pressure, rainfall, hours of sunlight, etc. The summit has a lawn area about 30 metres square; an observation balcony that overlooks Unzen hot spring town; and the main wooden panorama observation tower. There is no shade or shelter, however, unless you want to sit under the tower itself (no view from there!), so you are pretty exposed on the top. For birders, Mount Kinugasa’s attraction is that it is one of the points to watch migrating Chinese Goshawk during September. Other migrating birds also pass by, such as Oriental Honey Buzzard, Grey-faced Buzzard, Asian House Martin, Pacific Swift, White-throated Needletail, but it is for the range-restricted Chinese Goshawks that it is the most popular. However, as some other raptor migration observation spots are more reliable and famous (such as Uchiyama Pass, Tsushima; Mt Hiyamizu, Sasebo; Osezaki, Goto Islands), the top of Kinugasa is usually pretty deserted even during September – just the way I like it!

Late this morning I hiked up after work and started observations at 11:30. Things were pretty quiet and there was no real wind to speak of. What wind there was was changing direction all the time, and basically went from NW to SW to SE to NE and then back again…when I left it was coming from WNW but winds this slight would not have much impact on migration. Anyway, at 13:30 as I was watching a Eurasian Jay on the west flank of the mountain, I suddenly noticed a fast approaching shape out of the corner of my right eye. I turned and saw a blur hurtling toward me and managed to get the camera up and focused as it came on in – a juvenile Chinese Goshawk! I took a burst of shots as it flew low straight over my head and then turned in time to see it bank sharply and try to snatch a dragonfly in mid-air…unfortunately it failed to grasp the dragonfly properly, although it seemed to have dealt it a killer blow. The young raptor then soared up, gained elevation and headed on south toward the Amakusa Islands. I immediately scouted the area to the north and east, expecting other birds to be close behind but, alas, it appeared as if this goshawk was alone – quite a rare occurrence.

 

At 14:30 a pair of White-throated Needletail swept past, but very low so I managed a few decent shots of them. Then soon afterwards I spotted a group of seven Chinese Goshawks spiralling upwards to the northeast. They were quite far, so I couldn’t make out whether they were adults or juveniles. Then at 15:30 another pair of White-throated Needletail flew past.

 

After that the conditions got murkier and murkier as the sun lowered behind increasingly thickening high-altitude clouds. But at 16:00 I observed another six Chinese Goshawks on the west flank of the mountain. Again, it was impossible to determine whether the birds were juvenile or adult or a mix, as they were silhouetted by the late afternoon sun….. Soon afterwards I called it a day and hiked back down to my car. But I was satisfied – any sightings of Chinese Goshawks on the Kyushu mainland are very rewarding! However, this is probably toward the end of their migration, so I doubt if there will be many more chances to spot them this year.

Moriyama Reclaimed Land Area

Late this morning I had a quick drive through the Chuo and Moriyama reclaimed land areas of Isahaya. Pretty quiet at the moment, but things should liven up towards the end of the month and into October when the passage migrants and winter visitors arrive. The only birds of note that I observed today were Intermediate Egret and a nice adult Northern Goshawk.

 

Chinese Goshawk | Accipiter soloensis

On my first excursion since arriving back in Japan, I wanted to finally get good views of one species that has been on my wish list – the Chinese Goshawk. Also known as Chinese Sparrowhawk and Horsfield’s Sparrowhawk, these birds migrate from as far north as the Russia Far East to as far south as the Philippines in early autumn. It is only relatively recently that they were noticed migrating in large numbers in western Japan, but now most of their routes are known. Birds that arrive in Japan usually migrate through the Korean Peninsula, across to Tsushima, then arrive on the northwestern coast of Nagasaki (Mt Hiyamizu is a popular spot to watch them), then head along the Nagasaki coastline. Depending on the wind direction, they can come inland as far as Mt Gokahara in Isahaya, but normally they skim the coastline or bypass it altogether by using the Goto Islands prior to heading further south.

 

I heard from a Japanese birder friend that around 8000 birds had left Tsushima yesterday, and so I thought that the northwesterly winds would push them across to the Nagasaki coast. Therefore early this afternoon I went to Mount Kinugasa, a peak on the western section of Mount Unzen to see if a few had taken this route. It seems the Chinese Goshawks use the peak as a navigation marker for one of their main routes south, with the next stop being the Amakusa Islands. I had tried previously to observe migrating birds at Mt Hiyamizu and Mt Gokahara, but always missed them. So this time I started trying for them earlier in the season, and this afternoon seemed like a good chance.

 

I arrived at Mt Kinugasa at 12:45, and within 5 minutes I observed 32 Chinese Goshawk migrating along the east flank of the mountain south towards the Amakusa Islands. Over the next hour, a total of 54 birds were seen and then at around 13:45 the wind changed to a southwesterly and no further birds were observed. But I was ecstatic! I had gotten some great views of the birds as they flew either low right over my head or flew past almost at eye level. I managed a few photos, and as far as I could tell there were about equal numbers of adults and juveniles.

 

 

Colombia Travel: What makes for a perfect vacation?

Colombia and travel were not previously thought of in the same sentence, but much has changed over the years and a visit to Colombia can be combined with a South American vacation in general.

Before getting to specifics, it might be useful to read up on some generaltravel information specific to Colombia.

What other adventures can you consider for Colombia travel? Well, there´s the possibility (although tricky to arrange due to permits) of an an Amazon jungle tour, or how about an Andes Mountains adventure? You can trekk up to the lost city and then lay back on a hammock on the beach in Tayrona park.

Alternatively, why not treat yourself to staying at one of the

How about driving up the winding mountain roads to visit Manizales or walking around the Colonial towns of Cartagena or Villa de Leyva – some of the more famous luxury hotels in Colombia?

How about driving up the winding mountain roads to visit Manizales or walking around the Colonial towns of Cartagena or Villa de Leyva – some of the more famous tourist attractions of Colombia?

There´s white water rafting, paragliding, surfing, diving, climbing and mountaineering and the list goes on.

There is a mix of cultural activities and wide variety of sports in Colombia,set in a beautiful setting and at a reasonable price. The infrastructure has greatly improved and it´s fairly easy to get online to check your email at pretty much all hotels and hostels.

If you´re thinking of a South American honeymoon, I know just the place in the Zona Cafetera called Hacienda San Jose, an old coffee farm converted into a boutique hotel just outside Pereira in the heart of the coffee country – one of the most elegant and romantic hotels I´ve ever been to!

Colombia budget travel is a real possibility and can be combined with backpacking in South America.

If you decide to travel to Colombia, the trick is to avoid the major cities where the prices can be much higher than in rural regions.

For nearly all nationalities, you do not need a Colombian Visa to visit. You automatically receive a 2 month tourist visa on arrival. If you wish to stay longer, you can apply for a 2 month extension at the DAS which is a fairly easy process that takes about half a day.

Colombia travel is exciting because of the possibility of exploring places that are very different from one another due to the size and geography of the country. Towering mountains, deserts, rivers, jungle and cool highlands, make it a varied and surprising tourist destination and naturally, brings about the question of transportation in Colombia.

The coast is different in culture and climate from the capital that is different from the other cities.

There is a wide range of ethnic cultures that has created the mix that is the Colombian population. You can even visit Providencia island where they speak pigeon English!

Colombia adventure travel is for everyone who is open to experiencing the land for themselves, setting aside preconceived notions of what you´ll discover and allowing the charm of its inhabitants grow on you.

This is a large and beautiful country with warm and welcoming people. Colombia and travel most certainly go together as you are sure to find out for yourself if you come for a visit.

Welcome to Colombia!

October 7 & 8 Birding Tour Report

On October 7 & 8 I had the pleasure of acting as a birding guide for my friend Jamie’s parents, who are keen birders visiting from England.

CONDITIONS:

Typhoon Danas was heading up from the Nansei Shoto so we only had really good weather on the first morning. The first afternoon was very cloudy and got progressively very dark, although there was little rain. The forecast for the second day was quite bad, with Danas expected in the vicinity in the late afternoon. However the typhoon stayed offshore and although it was windy and rainy, the conditions were not too bad although birding was slow. Due to the forecast we decided to end the birding early on the second afternoon, around 2 o’clock.

DAY ONE

We met up at Saga at 06:00 and proceeded to Daijyugarami. While driving we saw Common Magpie, Carrion Crow, White-cheeked Starling, White Wagtail, Grey Heron and Eurasian Tree Sparrow. In the fields around Daijyugarami were plenty of Eurasian Skylark, while overhead flew Asian House Martin and Sand Martin. On the mudflat there was a selection of the more common wader species, but also Broad-billed Sandpiper, Ruff, Ruddy Turnstone and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Unfortunately there were no dowitchers, nor did any Black-faced Spoonbill put in an appearance.

Leaving Daijyugarami around 10:30, we stopped briefly at a small lake in Kashima on the way to Isahaya reclaimed land area. There are four main reclaimed land areas at Isahaya – Oe, Chuo, Moriyama and Azuma. Our original plan was to tour these areas quickly and then spend some time on Mount Unzen, however the weather on the mountain was looking a bit stormy so we stayed on the coast.

At Oe we saw several species of waterbird and flushed a Eurasian Bittern. We also had glimpses of Zitting Cisticola.

At Chuo there was a nice surprise waiting – a juvenile Pied Harrier. We also observed Eastern Marsh and Hen Harrier, along with some waterbirds and passerines.

At Moriyama we toured the flooded rice fields with good results. One field had all four species of egret along with Grey Heron, while later we were able to find all three species of snipe that pass through these “wetlands” – Pin-tailed, Swinhoe’s and Common.

We visited Azuma briefly and saw a few duck species but a nice male Common Kingfisher was the highlight. With conditions becoming darker and darker, we called it a day at around 17:30.

DAY TWO

Again, weather dictated a change in plans and we decided to skip a morning at Mount Hiyamizu and head directly to Kabashima. We arrived at around 08:00 and parked at the lighthouse. Things were pretty quiet apart from great view of a pair of Peregrine Falcon hunting the headland, but we heard from a Japanese bird photographer that a Pleske’s Grasshopper Warbler had been seen the morning before at the small pond here, so we set up on that and waited. After about an hour nothing had visited the pond so we went back to the lighthouse and then proceeded out to the observatory at the tip of the island. Here we were visited by a mixed flock of passerines, mainly Japanese White-eye and Long-tailed Tit, but also a female Japanese Paradise Flycatcher and Kamchatka Leaf Warbler. We also enjoyed watching several seabirds fly by, including a Short-tailed Shearwater (or perhaps a Sooty Shearwater), some Brown Booby, a few Black-tailed Gull and two Japanese Cormorant.

With the weather deteriorating we left Kabashima and stopped in at Kawahara Lake, where we could observe a flock of Mandarin Duck on the far shore under some low trees, along with more Black-tailed Gull which were sheltering in the lake instead of being out on the breakwater as usual.

It was getting winder and rainier, so after reading that the forecast said things would get worse we decided to end the tour a few hours early.

RESULT:

75 species sighted; 2 species heard:

COMMON MAPGIE
WHITE-CHEEKED STARLING
CARRION CROW
WHITE WAGTAIL
EURASIAN SKYLARK
GREY HERON
ORIENTAL GREENFINCH
ASIAN HOUSE MARTIN
SAND MARTIN
OSPREY
DUNLIN
RED-NECKED STINT
EURASIAN CURLEW
FAR EASTERN CURLEW
LESSER SAND PLOVER
GREATER SAND PLOVER
GREY PLOVER
KENTISH PLOVER
COMMON GREENSHANK
GREAT KNOT
RED KNOT
RUFF
GREAT EGRET
SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER
CURLEW SANDPIPER
MARSH SANDPIPER
RUDDY TURNSTONE
BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER
EASTERN BLACK-TAILED GODWIT
BAR-TAILED GODWIT
ORIENTAL TURTLE DOVE
GADWALL
LARGE-BILLED CROW
BULL-HEADED SHRIKE
EURASIAN KESTREL
GREAT CORMORANT
EASTERN SPOT-BILLED DUCK
BLACK-EARED KITE
EURASIAN TREE SPARROW
ZITTING CISTICOLA
MEADOW BUNTING
EURASIAN COOT
COMMON MOORHEN
EURASIAN BITTERN
INTERMEDIATE EGRET
LITTLE EGRET
CATTLE EGRET
HEN HARRIER
PIED HARRIER
EASTERN MARSH HARRIER
EURASIAN TEAL
COMMON KINGFISHER
BARN SWALLOW
EASTERN BUZZARD
SWINHOE’S SNIPE
PIN-TAILED SNIPE
COMMON SNIPE
MALLARD
EURASIAN WIGEON
BLACK-TAILED GULL
PEREGRINE FALCON
BROWN BOOBY
SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER
JAPANESE WHITE-EYE
JAPANESE PARADISE FLYCATCHER
EASTERN GREAT TIT
JAPANESE PYGMY WOODPECKER
KAMCHATKA LEAF WARBLER
JAPANESE CORMORANT
GREY WAGTAIL
DARK-SIDED FLYCATCHER
LONG-TAILED TIT
BLUE ROCK THRUSH
MANDARIN DUCK
COMMON ROSEFINCH

HEARD ONLY:

JAPANESE BUSH WARBLER
BROWN-EARED BULBUL