Which bird would be your favourite Apex Predator if you had to choose ?
There is no doubt that it would be difficult for me to choose just one, but any type of Eagle I guess would top the list.
With that in mind, I decided to ditch my wellington boots (wellies) and to switch lens’ from my Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM (focussed on waterfall photography during winter) to my big Canon EF 400mm DO IS II.
Back to my photography roots!
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy landscape photography but for some reason the thought of pointing my big 400mm lens at a subject and clicking a few frames is really the ultimate for me! Bird photography also has sentimental value to me as that was how I started my journey into digital photography.
Next problem – what location to visit ?
I heard in various social media platforms that Black Eagles were spotted up the West Coast recently so it was a fairly easy choice – time to charge the batteries and pack the bag!
Day Trip – Velddrif
As we wanted to get there at sunrise we were woken by the alarm at a rediculously early hour as it was a +- 2 hour drive to Velddrif (along West Coast of Western Cape) – chasing light and leaving when everyone else is still asleep is a common trend across all genres of photography!
Ensuring that we had packed the camera gear essential for bird photography (see list below) we headed out into the darkness:
- Canon EF 400mm DO IS II lens
- Canon 7D mk2
- Canon Extender Ef 1.4X Mk III (for extra reach as often far from small subject)
- Bean Bag (for stability)
There is just something special about being out and about in nature before sunrise, the fresh smells, dew lined spider webs and equally important the lack of crowds!
As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to start photographing during the golden hour (2 hours after sunrise and 2 hours before sunset) to get the low light angle to prevent any shadows on the eye of the bird due to the deep eye sockets of the birds (higher sun angle from above is to be avoided if possible).
We arrived in good time and searched the various farms and pans (salt pans) for our main subject, sadly we blanked (a term which means that we were unsuccesful) but were hopeful to find other species to photograph as the light was special.
Luckily there are other locations up the West Coast and when turning onto yet another gravel road we spotted our first bird of prey of the trip, a Jackal Buzzard.
We slowly positioned our car to have the morning light behind us, but before I could even pick my camera up this super alert Buzzard took flight!
We headed further along this gravel road and slowed as I spotted the next bird perched on a fence. I needed to get on the other side of the bird to get the light behind me, so I carefully approached the bird. It was super aware of me driving past and as I pulled alongside it I could not believe my eyes, it was a Lanner Falcon.
I tried to remain calm when positioning the car as I have not seen many of these in the wild – all the while feeling my heart racing in my chest.
We sat dead still for a few minutes before trying to open the windows – I wanted the bird to calm down (very alert to our presence) and accept that we were no threat.
After a few minutes I grabbed my camera and bean bag and held my breath as the electric window slid down – luckily it was now relaxed and I managed to grab the following photo:
Some interesting facts about LANNER FALCONS:
- Size = 43-50cm
- Wing Span = 95-105cm
- Diet = Birds and bats that are killed in mid-flight (horizontal attack compared to vertical attack of Peregrine Falcon)
Tips for Bird (Avian) Photography
- Best light is early morning and late afternoon (low angle) to prevent shadows on eye sockets as some birds have deep sockets.
- Focus on the eye of the bird – the most important feature to get sharp
- High shutter speed – this is to freeze motion but to also increase bokeh (out of focus background making the bird stand out)
- Always use a form of support (tripod, bean bag) as lens’ are often heavy due to size and hence could cause you to shake resulting in soft images.
- Try and place your subject to the side of your frame allowing space for it to move into (see my photo above, room on left for bird to move into)
- When first arriving at scene, sit VERY still and let the bird relax (I often wait for the bird to continue eating or preening as these are tell tale signs of a relaxed bird)
Despite not finding the Black Eagles, it was still an amazing trip and made better knowing that we will be hitting the road again soon to continue the search.
Till next time…