Saturday, August 18, 2012

Hungary for Birds-Day 6: All the Colours of a Rainbow

We had a later start on our last full day of photography in Hungary with a pick-up at 7am. I was excited about the morning session ahead where we would be photographing European Bee-eaters. All week I had been looking forward to getting my first chance to photograph these rainbow coloured birds. It took a while to drive to the hide and we soon turned off the main road and winded our way along farm tracks and it was about 8am when we arrived.  I was slightly disappointed to learn that our session would only last three hours as we to be collected around 11am. At this point I did not also realise that this 3 hours was also to be interrupted by some major disturbance reducing the shooting time even further.

The hide was located adjacent to a high sandbank that was being used by a colony of Bee-eaters for nesting. As we approached a number of birds could be seen circling in characteristic gliding flight and either entering holes in the sand bank or swooping up to land on telegraph wires along the top of the bank.

We settled into the hide and it was not long before the first Bee-eater returned. Your first sight of one of these birds close-up is memorable and you find you yourself slightly stunned by the riot of colours. The green-blue chest and yellow throat the red, orange and blue across the back. They are certainly a beautiful bird and a great photographic subject as they are so active.

I started with some portrait photos with a choice of the yellow sand bank or some distant bushes as a background for the photographs.

The birds were frequently returning to perches in front of the sandbank with a variety of flying prey that had been snatched from the air including naturally bees, hoverflies, dragonflies and butterflies. As you can imagine they are superb fliers to catch these insects on the wings, a flight that involves frequent long glides on stiff wings.

As with European Rollers and Red-footed falcons we had photographed earlier in the week, the prelude to mating was initiated by the male offering the female a recently captured insect as a 'gift'. In the photo below the male on the right offers a bee to the female on the left.

Given that time was so limited I decided I would try and capture some flight images. Given the restrictions of the glass in the hide for capturing birds generally flying around, I decided that the best approach would be to take some photos of the birds coming into one of the two perches.  This technique basically involves noting where the birds are tending to land, turning off the autofocus and pre-focusing on that point. A burst of photos is then fired off as the bird approaches and lands. A good depth of field and shutter speed is required for success.

During our session in the hide it was interesting to watch at distance a male Golden Oriole chasing a Bee-eater. That would have made a very colourful image! As we were sat in the hide, I turned to Gerhard and asked if he could hear geese. The answer soon became apparent as a farmer with dogs herded a flock of several hundred partially plucked birds along the top of the bank in which the bee-eaters were nesting. This obviously disrupted the photography for a while and was to be repeated a short while later when he herded the noisy gaggle all back in the opposite direction. All to soon the by now familiar rattling engine of the pick-up approaching signalled it was time to depart. I must admit that I left the Bee-eaters leaving slight frustrated that our photography time with them had been so short. During the afternoon we decided that we would see if it would be possible to squeeze in another short session with the Bee-eaters on the following morning before being taken back to the airport.

Our destination for the final afternoon was a return to where we had started the week, at the Tower Hide. Originally we had planned to spend the afternoon in another hide photographing rollers but decided to return to the Tower hide site for a couple of reasons. Gerhard wanted to try and capture the falcons mating and I had some unfinished business with the Hoopoes as I still had not managed to photograph a bird with its crest up. On arrival we went our separate ways and I went straight into the small raised Hoopoe hide.

All was quiet but it was not long before I could hear the familiar corvid like squawking calls and low triple fluty 'hooping' song of a Hoopoe close by. A few minutes later the first bird appeared in front of me.

A second bird appeared on the ground and started foraging around but the angle from the elevated hide was too great to produce attractive photos. I then heard the sound of small feet running around on the roof of the hide. A movement in the corner of the hide opening caught my eye and I had to smile as a Hoopoe head leaned in from the roof above about half a metre from where I was sat. One of the inquisitive young no doubt wondering what the occasional clicking sound was. This bird stayed for quite a while and it was a little surreal seeing just the upside down head of a Hoopoe at such close range. Obviously this was too close for photography but a wonderful intimate moment shared between me and the bird.
The bird on the perch in front of me had disappeared but soon returned and I manage to get my first images of the bird with its crest up for a few moments after landing when it returned.

This bird was then joined by a second and it was good to capture some interaction between the two.

Given that the Hoopoes were performing so well I decided to wander across to the Tower hide to let Gerhard know so he could share the action. Gerhard reported that it had been very slow with the falcons now all sitting on eggs in the nest boxes. I ended up staying in the Tower hide so Gerhard could have full use of the Hoopoe hide as good photos could only really be made from one end of the small hide. It was very quiet and I ended up only taking about a dozen photos of the male and female falcons as they swapped positions on egg incubation duties. It looked like we had been fortunate with our timing on the first day in Hungary to just capture the last of the pre-nesting action. I was hoping that a Roller might appear but the only other bird that showed in front of the Tower was.....a Hoopoe. It seems like it was my day for this species.

For the second time that day the sound of the approaching pick-up could be heard making its way down the dirt track across the grassland plains. On returning to the hotel, it was agreed that we could fit in one last short session with the Bee-eaters before being whisked off back across to Budapest for our afternoon flight back to the UK. The results of that brief session I will share with you in my next and final blog post from the trip.


Nancy J said...

Your time there seems to me to be a photographer's dream come true.I have no words descriptive enough to say how truly wonderful, so clear, inspiring,thankyou so much for sharing. Cheers from Jean.

Gene Debs said...

Amazing, beautiful photographs.

canvas print said...

your pictures are simply stunning

Christian said...

Wow Rich, the landing shots are dream captures. Tremendous stuff.

Friend of HK said...

Your pictures are incredible! The timing, the background and the composition are just perfect!

Stefano Mazzei said...

fantastic photos and moments
great work !


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