One of the good things about having a father-in-law who is also an amateur photo fanatic is having family trips organised with at least half an eye to taking photographs (another one is having someone else to keep you company at a particular spot long after any rational person would have lost interest and wandered off). And family days out are fun too.
It was one such trip a few months ago that saw us all visiting the Hawk Conservancy in Andover. The Hawk Conservancy is a bird of prey conservation charity and sanctuary, full of a wide variety of birds and running numerous shows throughout the day (end advert). From a photographer’s perspective that means plenty of opportunities to capture birds in flight.
On the flipside, there was also the opportunity to use the fences of the cages some of the birds were in to create a ‘prison shoot’ feel.
Fortunately, however, a lot of the birds kept far enough away from their respective fences to let me take unimpinged shots of some of these beautiful creatures.
Not all of the birds were in cages, however many were allowed to roam free, especially when they were part of a display.
Okay, in all honesty, that shot wasn’t from a display. It was just a cheeky heron stealing some lunch from the kites, which are apparently a bird now and not just a flying toy.
There wasn’t all birds to see either – at one point I caught sight of a rusty old thing (I know not what it was) that made quite a nice shot.
Now, if you’ve read any of my previous wildlife-related posts, you’ll know that I’m monumentally useless at identifying species. I think I’ll do well with some of the obvious ones, but I’m afraid for the most part you’ll have to make do with me taking a wild stab at an approximate genus. Like this one, which I think is an owl of some ilk.
I quite like the combination of expression and fence in that one.
Some of the birds were out in the open but tied down at the foot. Seemed to be a bit of a tease if you ask me but they seemed happy enough – and it allowed me to get some decent closeups without worrying about fences.
One of the amazing things was that the free birds were mostly wild – you’d be in the conservancy looking around and there’d be a wild kite flying overhead, waiting for feeding time.
We soon picked our spot for the first display, which featured a variety of birds of prey in action.
Whilst waiting for the show to begin, I set up my camera to be best suited to capture what was about to occur. I set the shot rate to high burst mode to take as many shots as possible, set the autofocus to AI servo to constantly be following whatever I was focussing on, and used the backfocus button to keep the camera focussing without interfering with my pushing of the shutter. Basically, a lot of the techniques I learnt the last time I went out and shot a bunch of scrawny, long-necked birds.
It worked, however.
I absolutely love the colour of this owl’s eyes.
With how I’d set my camera up I was able to have the owl fly right at me and still get the shots.
Admittedly I missed the frame from time to time, but in my defence there was a bird of prey flying right at my face, and it’s really hard to judge distance down a telephoto lens.
It wasn’t just owls in the display, there was also this thing.
One of the problems on the day was the wind. It wasn’t really affecting the birds – in fact, they loved the wind – but it was blowing the clouds through at quite a pace, meaning the sun was constantly appearing and reappearing, making the light bright and almost too harsh one moment, and dull and flat the next. You can see it in the image above – suddenly the blue skies of the other images is gone, and the light on the bird is a bit flat. Still, it soon came out again.
Nicely, the Conservancy was nice enough to set up photo opportunities for people like me.
The most unusual looking bird of the day was almost certainly the secretary bird. Named for its long resemblance to a 1950s secretary (and which doesn’t seem at all sexist in hindsight) it is a brightly coloured, funny-looking thing.
It looks just as funny up close.
The first display ended with a duck race, because why not?
After the display we had the opportunity to see a few more birds, including this iconic eagle.
And this eagle…
… who seemed quite a bit confused with my presence.
Whilst we were waiting for the next display, we again caught sight of some free birds, waiting.
The display was of other varieties of birds of prey, starting with this falcon.
I was pleased to capture a shot of this bird at all, it moved around with such speed you could barely see it, so I’m not sure how my camera managed to get a lock on it.
Another bird in the display was a bunch of turkey vultures, a creature cursed by evolution to have a face like a sunburnt scrotum.
When they took to the air, however, these things were majestic.
They were also big and fast and when they flew overhead they flew low.
I have no idea what this is. I think it’s a kite or an eagle.
This is definitely an eagle.
Obviously all these birds were being directed by handlers. There were only a few occasions when I managed to get any serviceable shots of them.
Not the most flattering of images, I’ll admit.
The final display we attended was a woodland animal display. It was a bit tricky to shoot as it was a smaller, more cramped area limiting my mobility (and ability to see over people’s heads), plus it was getting later in the day so the light was fading, something made worse by the cloud cover. Still, it wasn’t too bad then things weren’t moving about too much.
There was one bit of light however that made a great spot to catch a bit of action. Fortunately the display allowed several runs so that I could practice my focus and hopefully get it right.
I’m pleased with the timing of this one, but I’d have loved to be in a bit of a better position.
It was great to visit somewhere that was a little more involved; it wasn’t just staring at birds through fences, giving me a chance to get some great action shots.
The Hawk Conservancy has a long-running photography competition to fill their calendar for the year – are any of these worth entering?
—————————————————————————————————————-London Fashion Weekend
Birds in Motion
By the Thames (again…)