12/18/10

2010 National Wildlife Photo Contest Winner

This image of mine won the First place in the 2010 National Wildlife Photo contest (U.S.A) ! The  NWF Photo contest is one of the Premier Wildlife Photo contests in the world.

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http://www.nwf.org/News-and-Magazines/National-Wildlife/PhotoZone/Archives/2010/Photo-Contest.aspx

Some absolutely amazing pictures here.  Mine is the third from the bottom of the page.

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:
———————
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 🙂

09/13/09

Uran Today – Baya Weavers

Took a trip to Uran today. Well the land filling of the marshes are well underway. The bushes that screened the water are all chopped off. The pools are smaller and my favourite temple pool where the spoonbills land, will soon also be filled up . All in all, Uran and its ecology is pretty much gone. The birds are fewer and, those that are there are much further away. A steller birding area close to Mumbai is at its death throes.

Temple Pond being filled
temple_pond_being_filled_with_sand

Well, I did find a nice Baya Weaver nest and made  some flight image. The only way is to pre-focus and let the motor drive do its stuff. Even then , had to predict where to prefocus. Really tough ones these and they are still not where I want them to be.  But any case, here goes.

Yep “almost”  got them.
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Finally,  something a bit more usable…..
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And here is a funny one where these birds ended up fighting over the female and between two females !
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09/30/06

Shriked Out – Uran, 30 Sep ’06

Long weekend and for a change, decided to stay back in Mumbai. But, today morning we woke up at 4 AM, grabbed a cuppa Kaapi a.k.a coffee. BTW mine is Mysore filter coffee to be exact Peaberry is the seed variety. By 5, we were rolling towards Uran which is on the outskirts of Bombay. Slight drizzle but we hoped the sun would peak out by the time it would be 7 AM.
Driving beyond Panvel was not exactly great with the roads all cratered. We reached Uran about around 6.10 AM and, it was getting to be first light. I tried a few shots but, even at 1600 ISO, it wasnt happening. So we waited in the car, watching a flock of Black Tailed Godwits in the salt pan. Suddenly the whole flock took off…and we could see a marsh harrier approach. On this instance Mr Harrier did not get his breakfast. That chase was some sight !
[#Beginning of Shooting Data Section]
Nikon D2X
Focal Length: 370mm
Optimize Image: 
Color Mode: Mode II (Adobe RGB)
Long Exposure NR: Off
High ISO NR: On (Normal)
2006/09/30 06:54:11.7
Exposure Mode: Manual
White Balance: Color Temp. (7100 K) 
Tone Comp.: Less Contrast
RAW (12-bit)
Metering Mode: Center-Weighted
AF Mode: AF-C
Hue Adjustment: 0°
Image Size: Large (4288 x 2848)
1/200 sec - F/8
Flash Sync Mode: Not Attached
Saturation: Normal
Exposure Comp.: 0 EV
Sharpening: Medium high
Lens: 50-500mm F/4-6.3 D
Sensitivity: ISO 800
Auto Flash Comp: 0 EV
Image Comment: (c)Krishnan V                       
[#End of Shooting Data Section]
After the harrier attack, most of the birds moved over to the pond where there is a submerged temple. The bad part about this was that, the sun was now right into my lens…so no chance to get some good shots. In the pond were a large number of Black winged stilts and egrets. I also spotted cormorants, grey and purple herons fishing. There were some spotted billed ducks and glossy ibises seen flying too far for any meaningful photography. All the time we could hear a Shrike calling out but, couldn’t locate it.
We went into the track opposite the JNPT police station the place for smaller birds like prinias. I was happy to get this cool shot of a Prinia with a catch. The bird was in shadow, hence I tapped in a little flash to bring out the details.
[#Beginning of Shooting Data Section]
Nikon D2X
Focal Length: 500mm
Optimize Image: 
Color Mode: Mode II (Adobe RGB)
Long Exposure NR: Off
High ISO NR: On (Normal)
2006/09/30 07:26:04.3
Exposure Mode: Manual
White Balance: Color Temp. (7100 K) 
Tone Comp.: Less Contrast
RAW (12-bit)
Metering Mode: Center-Weighted
AF Mode: AF-C
Hue Adjustment: 0°
Image Size: Large (4288 x 2848)
1/250 sec - F/8
Flash Sync Mode: Rear Curtain
Saturation: Normal
Exposure Comp.: 0 EV
Auto Flash Mode: i-TTL
Sharpening: Medium high
Lens: 50-500mm F/4-6.3 D
Sensitivity: ISO 640
Auto Flash Comp: -3.0 EV
Image Comment: (c)Krishnan V                       
[#End of Shooting Data Section]
Could hear a Long tailed Shrike call out but it was behind some branches. We tried to get a shot but, the guy kept hopping from tree to tree, not giving me a chance to setup a quick shot. Then I tried not getting out from the car. That worked and, I was able to get this nice capture.
[#Beginning of Shooting Data Section]
Nikon D2X
Focal Length: 500mm
Optimize Image: 
Color Mode: Mode II (Adobe RGB)
Long Exposure NR: Off
High ISO NR: Off
2006/09/30 08:23:03.4
Exposure Mode: Manual
White Balance: Color Temp. (7100 K) 
Tone Comp.: Less Contrast
RAW (12-bit)
Metering Mode: Center-Weighted
AF Mode: AF-C
Hue Adjustment: 0°
Image Size: Large (4288 x 2848)
1/500 sec - F/8
Flash Sync Mode: Not Attached
Saturation: Normal
Exposure Comp.: 0 EV
Sharpening: Medium high
Lens: 50-500mm F/4-6.3 D
Sensitivity: ISO 250
Auto Flash Comp: 0 EV
Image Comment: (c)Krishnan V                       
[#End of Shooting Data Section]
Shooting from the car..I also got this grab of two Baya weavers. Usually I am a F8 and be there kinda person but for this shot, I stopped down a bit. I focused on the branch between the two and stopped down to F13. I guess I should have gone F16 the lower bird is just barely in focus 🙂 ..In retrospect..since I was almost behind the bird and the sun at my 3 ‘O’ clock position I should have remembered to tap in some fill in flash, point to remember next time! The shirke was calling out here too and was on a branch below the Baya weavers.
[#Beginning of Shooting Data Section]
Nikon D2X
Focal Length: 500mm
Optimize Image: 
Color Mode: Mode II (Adobe RGB)
Long Exposure NR: Off
High ISO NR: Off
2006/09/30 08:28:44.2
Exposure Mode: Manual
White Balance: Color Temp. (7100 K) 
Tone Comp.: Less Contrast
RAW (12-bit)
Metering Mode: Center-Weighted
AF Mode: AF-C
Hue Adjustment: 0°
Image Size: Large (4288 x 2848)
1/320 sec - F/13
Flash Sync Mode: Not Attached
Saturation: Normal
Exposure Comp.: 0 EV
Sharpening: Medium high
Lens: 50-500mm F/4-6.3 D
Sensitivity: ISO 250
Auto Flash Comp: 0 EV
Image Comment: (c)Krishnan V                       
[#End of Shooting Data Section]
We then drove up to the viewpoint, and swigged a much needed cuppa tea from the thermos we had carried along. We saw coots with chicks, kingfishers and jacanas in the pools near the railway track.

By now it was 9AM and was getting warm. We decided to drive back. A quick SMS to a friend and he wouldn’t want us to risk a parantha breakfast at Vashi. So we drove on to a restaurant Guru Kripa at Sion, where I thought Id get some nice Aloo Paranthas. But, It was not to be. No Paranthas on the menu but, we had masala dosai plus a plate of Samosa ( not exactly a substitute for Parantha but a hungry guy gotta manage right ?!!! Topped this with yummy sweet lassi. Burp, now I could think again !

All in all a nice morning. For the second time I actively shot from inside the car. I had carried along a cushion, which I used as a bean bag while leaning out of the window.

I was thinking what if I had a 200-400 today. If I had shot at 400 my reach would have been reduced. But, yep 200-400 + TC 14 = 560mm @ F5.6 wide open which is better than my 50-500 Sigma at F6.3 wide open. Analysis for the small birds bigger is better so if I don’t find my Nikon 600VR lens anytime soon maybe I could consider the 200-400 VR. VR for me is gonna be an absolute must. Grr….Nikon where is the 600VR ??? Nikon….move it guys.
Want to do some wading and low level (eye level to the bird just above the waterline kinds) photography one of these days. The birds will take flight when you set up also, the birds might not return since there is a large selection of foraging areas ( there are so many pans here) I need to investigate more on bird behaviour now !