08/8/17

Chiplun – ODKF Hide photography

I had planned along with Nitin, a sneak day to photograph the brilliant Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (ODKF) this monsoon.

This is an extremely small and very colourful birdie that breeds in the western ghats during the monsoons.

Nandu Tambe has a hide setup in his farm at Shiravli village, Chiplun, Maharashtra. This location is of his cousin Shriram which is where you will stay and also have your meals. Nandu’s farm is a closeby.

 

The driving directions from Chiplun

Nandu’s farm is a protected area and he has made hides for photography,  with minimal disturbance to the birds that go about their business as usual. He even ensures the photographers moves out of the hide from time to time and let the birds (ODKF)  be completely on their own. Nandu started his conservation efforts after he hand raised a few abandoned chicks some time in 2012. That got him interested in the birds and conservation around his farm.

The Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher  nests in mud banks and breeds twice in every monsoon. Two sets of chicks are fledged.  One clutch hatches in about 15 days or so and the chicks fledge in around 20 days. The only time/ season  to see this birdie is July to early August ( monsoon onset / early monsoon time frame)  since it breeds only in the monsoons and, can be seen easily. The male is smaller than the female. The female is slightly rounder in shape than the male.  Dimorphism

The accommodation is super spartan with typical Indian style loo.  The local vegetarian food served by him is extremely good. Do pack in your towel and soap as also mosquito repellent. Dress dull colours, wear full sleeves and a full trouser with shoes. Expect a lot of mosquitoes, water and mud pools ! Expect lots of rain 🙂 Take a poncho and a plastic bag to cover your camera gear. Preferably, make a hole in a garbage bag and slip it over your lens. This will be required if the hide is out in the open field. Take some small eats to munch while waiting and,  carry a water bottle.

For me , one session is good enough for hide photography. I kind of find it a tad boring and prefer the open walk , bird and shoot. At the farm, I did spot a bunch of other birds too ! I spotted,  Black hooded orioles, Babblers, Golden backed woodpecker, white bellied drongo, Indian pitta, Blackbird, Vigors sunbird etc.

To reach , the best is to take a train , Tutari Express from Mumbai (Dep-0005H)  to Chiplun (Arr-0520H). And for the return one can grab another train the  Janashabdi express Chiplun at 1730H which arrives into Mumbai at 2300H or there abouts. You can arrange an autorickshaw to Nandu’s farm which is about 30kms away. Route Chiplun-Guhaghar highway. Turn Left after Rampur at Gudhe Phata  towards Pathardi village.  Cross the village and keep going a km or so till you see a large tree on the right. Turn right into  the dirt track at the tree and follow the road. Nandu’s contact +91 84080 66060. Alternatively call Rahul Belsare on  +91 86050 14989 . You can get only BSNL and JIO cellular network at the farm ! Someone had a full blasting JIO LTE and was running a full blown guided tour of the property on a video call while, at the same time,  we were having a hard time even sending an SMS !

For the return trip, one can also get a private bus , You need to catch it from here “Mehta Petrol Pump, Chiplun” See map below.

For hide  photography at Nandu’s farm, even a standard 300mm consumer lens is fine, though anything larger will be great. The bird is very small and one does need focal length to fill the frame. Low ISO is good and use a tripod ( see the setup pics below!).  But in lower light higher ISO would be a big asset. While we were there, it wasn’t too cloudy and we had intermittent sunshine. So overall the light was pretty good that day. But if it rains as it usually does, it would be quite low light.  You would be quite near from the bird, say about 15 feet / 5 meters would be the subject distance. I was very near the Min Focus distance (MFD) for my 600mm. Had to actually,  move back a bit.

Photo tips for what I did while photographing the ODKF from the hide

  1. Use a low/ medium ISO ( since using a tripod )
  2. Use a tripod
  3. Aperture F8 / F11 is best. This is because of the close focus distance, the DOF is very shallow. F8/ F11 helps keep full bird in focus.
  4. Lower speed is ok since you are on the tripod. Click when the bird is motionless
  5. Press on top of the lens while shooting,  to stabilise the entire system.
  6. Leave space around the subject to be able to crop later
  7. Take both landscape and portrait shots
  8. You can increase the Exposure compensation by 1 stop (+1 EV) to get more light on the bird
  9. Focus on the eye of the bird
  10. A variation, focus on the prey in its beak using a wide aperture to throw the bird out of focus while, bird is facing you.
  11. I like some vegetation in the background to give a sense of the location and habitat
  12. Dont forget to grab a few videos ! I mostly forgot 🙂

View from Chiplun railway station

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Room with the hide 🙂

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The seating inside the hide. This is just one hide. There are other open area hides too. But at this time, this was the only place where one could see the birds.

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All pics Nikon 600mm FL + Nikon D5 / Nikon D800 + Gitzo 1548 tripod with wimberly head

Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher from krish photo on Vimeo.

 

ODKF – Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher

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Other birds

Indian Pitta, wing stretch

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Brown Headed Barbet gorging on papaya

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Blackbird Female

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Black hooded Oriole

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Golden backed woodpecker

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And my favorite image  from the trip , Indian Pitta

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And a screen grab from a video. These buggers are faaast !

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Side note: If you want to experience some local Malvani food, you can try Hotel Abhishek at Chiplun for some authentic stuff.

 

All the pics in the gallery below

 

 

07/23/17

Macros from -SGNP

I decided to mix things up a bit and get myself into a Macro workshop at SGNP.

SGNP is a place to definitely go in the monsoons. I pulled out my eight year old and not yet used F2 Macro arm from wimberly and added a SB-600 speedlight to it. To diffuse the flash I used a foam sheet and “rubber banded”  it to the flash. Bottom line, workable but a bulky setup. Hard to maneuver too. I used my Nikon D3 with a 105mm F2, VR macro lens. Occasionally I used a kenko extention tube. Holding focus and working depth of field is tough ! Another thing to watch out, set flash to “Front curtain”. I had a bunch of “arty shots” thanks to flash rear sync 😉

Some great macro advise here > http://edocfile.info/macroshooting/3days.htm

 

We walked the Shilonda Trail upto the stream.

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Mushroom side lit by a “LED Torch”

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Red Mushroom ( Arty rear sync flash)

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Snail besides the stream

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Robber Fly

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Fuzzy but, I  really like it 🙂 – “By chance”

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Then there was this cute kitten that was most interested in the presentation 🙂

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07/3/17

2017 Naturesbest Asia Photo Awards- Birds category winner

Just got informed that my photo of the fighting baya weavers got the winner award in the Birds category at Naturesbest Asia – Japan !

http://www.naturesbestphotography.asia/en/gallery/index.html#birds

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Location : Uran, Near Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Species: Baya Weaver

September 2009: The period immediately following the monsoon is breeding time for a lot of birds due to, abundant  availability of water and food. On the western coast of India., June thru August are when the monsoons bring in rains and are the wettest months of the year. The location is a place called Uran which is about 70kms south of Mumbai. The entire coast is a made of fairly large wetland areas and is home to a lot of birds. This particular location sadly has since been leveled for building a huge corporate park. This seems to be the story pretty much across most of India today. Uran has been my favorite haunt for bird photography. This location was introduced  to me by Adesh Shivkar, one of India’s uber birding experts. Until the leveling for development happened, I was a frequent visitor to Uran. I was my favourite weekend bird photography spot.

On this particular day, we looked around for our favourite spots but were aghast to see then completely leveled. Only this particular spot where the Baya Weavers made their nests was standing. So we decided to do some “flight photography” of the birds flying in and out of their nests. Sadly, this particular location is also gone under “the dozer” now.

Getting birds in flight is always a challenge. And, I try it whenever we can. No props or baits were used here. I setup my camera on a tripod behind some bushes, prefocussed on a nest and tried to click as the bird approached the nest. My camera setup

Camera Nikon D3, Nikon 600mm VR lens + Teleconverter TC14IIE, ISO3200, 1/1600, F8, Off camera Flash SB-800 with Better Beamer fresnel lens to extend flash range mounted on wimberley flash bracket, Manual Flash at 1/64th power , Gitzo 1548 Tripod with leveling base and Wimberley II gimbal.

I was trying to photograph one nest ( actually its a colony of nests). I saw two birds keep chasing each other. It was pretty impossible to get these in flight since they are so small & fast. I was pre focused and hence was not trying to view thru the viewfinder. I was trying to trip the shutter by looking over the camera, by judging when the birds came into a zone I had marked in my mind.

This is when I was able to see , on the adjacent nest one bird had flown in and suddenly two more  dived in and hung. I instinctively shifted my camera to this nest, focused and shot a series. The entire incident would have probably lasted 3-4 seconds. I frankly didnt realise what was going on until after I analysed the pictures.

When I saw the shots, I went  “Yippe” ! Got a cool behaviour shot of what is essentially quite a common bird. Talk of being in the right place at the right time, with the right gear and most importantly looking in the right direction ! Had I been looking through  the viewfinder, I would have missed this action on the adjacent nest !

Weaver finches are very social birds and many species nest in colonies. In these situations it would be quite common to see males and females squabbling around the nest. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia write-up on the Baya Weaver (quite a good one IMO).
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The males are polygynous, mating with 2 to 3 females one after another. Males build many partial nests and start attracting females. A male finishes the nest to its completion only after finding a mate, after mating the female lays about 2 to 4 white eggs and incubates them. The females are solely responsible for incubating and bringing up the brood. After mating with a female the male goes on to woo more females with its other nests. Females are known to lay their eggs in the nests of other females.
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More Likely:-
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From this I think you could hypothesise that perhaps two females are competing for the same nest, or perhaps one of the females was trying to lay eggs in another nest and was being dissuaded by the male and female who “owned’ the nest.

Less Likely:
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If the bird in the middle is indeed an immature, I doubt that the male and female above and below are the parents, because of the apparent aggression shown in the image. Maybe the young bird is a recent fledgling from another nest? But since the bird in the centre was flying rather well, I would doubt it to be an fledging.

This behaviour is pwehaps not an unusual happening in itself. I am sure it happens quite often. Only not many of us are around to notice it even when it does 🙂