Monday, 14 September 2020

User review for EOS R6 & More Migrants

My EOS 7D mark ii is at the end of its service, the built in flash failed to work long ago, body grip is falling apart...Despite the subpar auto focus and tracking ability, I have taken some pretty decent photos with it throughout the years, it had been a solid piece of field equipment. I have been waiting for Canon to develop a replacement for the 7D mark ii, but the rise of mirrorless cameras meant that never happened. To my delight, they finally announced the EOS R5 and later R6, which I was quite excited about, not only will I finally get to replace my camera without having to jump ships to Sony or Nikon (I wanted to keep all my EF lenses), but the new autofocus system and animal tracking capabilities sounded too good to be true. So, I made the plunge into mirrorless with the R6, partly because it is slightly cheaper than the R5, the dual SD card vs CF compact was a huge draw, plus I am not really a videographer, meaning I probably won't be using the 8K video very often.

Canon EOS R6

Comparing with the EOS 7D mark ii, the EOS R6 is clearly smaller, but not so small that it grips badly, it still feels pretty solid, which is important for wildlife photographers, as I rely on sturdy gears in rough conditions...The general setup feels very similar to other canon DSLR cameras, which I am glad they kept, as it makes the transition to this new camera very easy. When canon announced the new cameras will be fitted with R mounts I was slightly worried, but the EF-R Adapter Mount worked better than I expected, focusing speed feels native with no noticeable lag. The down side from switching from a cropped censor camera to a full frame camera is that I don't get the crop factor anymore, meaning all the birds that are tiny to begin with is now even smaller in the view finder...

Canon EOS 7D mark II & EOS R6

Canon EF-R Adapter Mount

I have been using the R6 for two weeks now, and it have showed great potential. I have been pairing it with my EF 500mm F/4 IS II lens, and this combination have been working fairly well for me. This is by no mean suppose to be a professional camera review, I am only commenting based on hands on experience with the camera. One of the key feature that captured the imagination of wildlife photographers world wide about the R5 & R6 is the new Animal Eye Detection system. I have tried it, and the animal eye tracking was able to pick up and lock onto the bird's eye on most occasion, the camera was able to keep the focus locked onto the eyes of this Hainan Blue Flycatcher without my need to constantly having to make sure the focus point is on the bird. The second shot here is of a Red-whiskered Bulbul, which had a few branches in front of the bird, the animal eye tracking system was able to pick up the bird's eye and lock on.

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - male

Red-whiskered Bulbul

With quicker moving subjects, such as this Mountain Tailorbird, Eye Detection AF was not able to lock onto the eyes initially, so I have set the default focusing to point AF, and set the * button to Eye Detection AF, once the subject is more or less in focus I immediately press the * button and the camera is usually able to lock onto the subject's eyes fairly quickly...Although on a few occasions the camera just doesn't recognise the eyes and decide to focus on a branch behind or in front of the subject instead, that is particularly the case if you are trying to photograph birds in the forest. So, while the Animal Eye AF is not perfect, it does helps on many occasions, just don't expect it to do all the work for you to begin with.

Mountain Tailorbird

One thing I find slightly irritating so far is that the R6 sometimes does not register smaller subjects, such as this Asian Brown Flycatcher perched in the open, it wasn't even that far away but the camera had a hard time locking on at first...Especially for flying birds at a greater distance, the camera sometimes just doesn't register the subject and doesn't want to lock on! One of the short comings of the R6 compare to the R5 is the resolution, with just 20 mega pixels it does not allow a lot of cropping to be done, compare to the R5 which boast a 45 mega pixels sensor, you can get  lot more details from further subjects.

Asian Brown Flycatcher - uncropped (the camera had slight trouble picking up the subject)

Asian Brown Flycatcher - cropped

However, the R6 shares the same sensor to the flagship 1D X Mark III, and I have been very impressed with the overall noise control. Most shots are very smooth and retained fine details easily at ISO1600, such as this photo of a Blue Whistling Thrush. I encountered this Lesser Shortwing at 6pm the other day, and cranked the ISO all the way up to ISO 20000, but the results were better than I expected, don't expect it to be a crisp image, but it was certainly usable. What impressed me the most was that the Animal Eye Detection even worked in such dark conditions, and was able to lock onto the Lesser Shortwing with relative ease behind all the branches!

Blue Whistling Thrush - shot at ISO 1600

Lesser Shortwing - shot at ISO 20000

The R6 works with both 1.4x and 2x extender, I used the version III with my EF 500mm and results had been fairly good. For example this female Siberian Stonechat that sat in the open for a good photo, the focusing was still pretty quick despite the lousy background, the camera locked on to the eye with no problem. An added bonus is the new IBIS (In Body Image Stabiliser), which is a huge plus for me as I shoot hand held most of the time, for example this shot of the juvenile Hainan Blue Flycatcher was shot at just 1/60th of a second @ 500mm, on normal circumstances the image would likely be blurred, but with the help of IBIS I was able to get a steady shot of this bird. Overall, I think it is a very all rounded camera, considering the features packed into this compact body, and at this price range, it is a good choice for existing canon users to upgrade their gear. Although if budget is not your concern, I would go for the EOS R5, which allows heavier cropping in post production.

Siberian Stonechat - with 2x extender

Haian Blue Flycatcher - shot at 1/60th of a second hand held

Back on the subject of migrants, Ho Man Tin have been productive lately, although I haven't been able to see all of the good migrants passing through, I was entertained by a few Arctic Warblers, an Asian Brown Flycatcher and a female Yellow-rumped Flycatcher. Someone spotted yet another male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher but no luck for me, a few Siberian Blue Robins as well as Tiger Shrike is also present, hopefully will stay a little longer for me to catch up on...

Arctic Warbler

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher - female

I visited Tai Lam one afternoon and had some decent birds, including a large bird wave with most of the resident species such as Yellow-cheeked Tit and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch. Both Amur and Japanese Paradise Flycatchers were also seen, both travelling with the bird wave. juvenile Paradise Flycatchers can be confusing in the field, but Amur are usually more rufous on the tail and head more glossy blue, while Japanese have darker mantle and tail and a matte black head.

Yellow-cheeked Tit - male

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Amur Paradise Flycatcher

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher - juvenile

San Tin have been quite productive lately, with more waders feeding on half drained fish ponds, numerous Black-winged Stilts, a few Common Greenshanks, the usual Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpipers, and Green Sandpipers. A few Pin-tailed Snipes were also present along with Long-toed Stints. The best bird though was a very cooperative Ruddy Turnstone, which allowed close views.

Black-winged Stilt

Common Greenshank

Ruddy Turnstone

Oriental Reed Warblers are starting to arrive, along with at least one Manchurian Reed Warbler which was too quick for me to get a photo of. A few Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers were also present, I flushed one out and it perched just long enough for me to grab a record shot. Brown Shrike is also fairly common at this time of the year. There were surprisingly few marsh terns, with just a single White-winged Black Tern with one Whiskered Tern.

Oriental Reed Warbler

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler

Brown Shrike

White-winged Black Tern (left) & Whiskered Tern (right)

Other than birds, I was lucky to come across this beautiful Chinese Mountain Snake at Tai Lam, they are one of the most docile snake in Hong Kong, they never attempt to bite. I was able to get this one to calm down for a few photos before letting it continue on whatever it was doing, likely hunting for skinks along the forest trail.

Chinese Mountain Snake

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Finally...Migrants! Flycatchers and More Flycatchers.

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher

 The long awaited autumn migration has begun! My local patch started it off with a brilliant Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, a classic autumn migrant in Hong Kong. While we get most Narcissus Flycatchers during spring migration, more Yellow-rumped Flycatchers passes through in autumn. For some reason, we get more male Narcissus but less adult male Yellow-rumped. While this is clearly not an adult male, I highly suspect this as a juvenile male...Either way it was a nice bird to start the autumn with, the bird only stayed for one day and was not seen again.

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher - female or juvenile male?

Along the catch water I also saw a few Hainan Blue Flycatchers, including one male and a juvenile. The juvenile clearly indicates they were breeding in the area.

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - male

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - juvenile

Nearby at Wu Kau Tang I also found a Dark-sided Flycatcher, another species we often see in autumn. Other than that, Wu Kau Tang been awfully quiet of late.

Dark-sided Flycatcher

One of the more exciting migrant was this Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher at Ho Man Tin, we usually only get a few recorded annually, this young bird stayed long enough for me to catch up on. Like other times I encountered this species, this individual preferred to stay lower down and occasionally catching prey on the ground. Due to habitat loss, this species is now listed as vulnerable.

Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher

Other sightings back at my local patch, a few White and Grey Wagtails have been frequenting the catch water now that there is actually some water in there. Crested Goshawks were observed on two occasions, none stayed long enough for a photo. The local Indochinese Green Magpies had been very active, although none of them were willing to have a photo taken, they frequently gave inflight views over the road or catch water.

White Wagtail

The Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers in the area were far more friendly, a few were seen foraging by the side of the road, no matter how many times I see them, they are as good looking as ever! I was also quite lucky to find a very vocal Common Emerald Dove singing one afternoon, I rarely get to see this shy dove well in Hong Kong, but this beautiful individual certainly was my best encounter with this species.

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

Common Emerald Dove

Finally, a walk around Brides Pool yielded no migrants of any sort, I was however rewarded with good views of a pair of Speckled Piculet, found amongst a small feeding flock of Japanese Tits and White-bellied Erpornis. It is remarkable to think that the Piculet was not too long ago a rarity in Hong Kong, now we get to see them regularly, doesn't make them any less interesting though.

Speckled Piculet

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Birds and Herps in Early Autumn

I have not spent too much time birding recently, but seeing other people started seeing some returning migrants I thought I should try and look for some myself. Although the migrants at Tai Po Kau was slightly disappointing, with a heard only Eastern Crowned Warbler and a seen only Arctic Warbler. I did however got a nice selection of resident species, including an Asian Barred Owlet, which was being mobbed constantly by smaller birds.

Asian Barred Owlet

I encountered up to three flocks of Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes, I kept a look out for Lesser Necklaced but with no luck. This species is in general less common than the Black-throated Laughingthrush, which to my surprise I saw none.

Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush

After breeding season most birds are now behaving 'normally', with many congregating in 'bird waves'. White-bellied Yuhina is one of the key feature of such flocks, I counted no less than three in the biggest 'wave'. 

White-bellied Erpornis

The very handsome Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler is always a welcoming sight, they often move in small flocks at this time of the year. They are very quick birds, so I was even more pleased when one decided to show well, allowing some decent photos to be taken.

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

Two of the most abundant species at Tai Po Kau is the Huet's Fulvetta and Silver-eared Mesias, I encountered several large flocks. Silver-eared Mesias are especially nice to see when they show well up close.

Huet's Fulvetta

Silver-eared Mesia

Yellow-cheeked Tits are usually present in larger feeding flocks, most of them stayed higher up, but I did saw this female feeding on a large caterpillar. Its easy to forget that Mountain Bulbul used to be considered a rarity years ago, now they are a regular breeding species at Tai Po Kau.

Yellow-cheeked Tit

Mountain Bulbul

I saw up to three Hainan Blue Flycatchers, but I only managed to photograph the female. Their breeding season is now over, I expect them to be departing very soon. They don't sing their melodic song at this time of the year, more often you can detect their presence by their 'tak-tak-tak' calls.

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - female

Recently we went gorge walking along Tai Shing Stream at Shing Mun, it was a nice change from regular trail walking. Also gave me a chance to use my TG5 to photograph some local fish. One of the most common sucker belly loach is the Pseudogastromyzon myersi, despite their camouflage, the dorsal fin of adults are quite colourful. Juveniles are more clearly marked than the adults.

Tai Shing Stream

Pseudogastromyzon myersi

Rhinogobius duospilus is the most common species of freshwater goby in Hong Kong, they are incredibly curious and quite often will swim towards you if you stay still enough. Males are quite nicely marked with red dorsal fins. They are also highly territorial, males will chase away any intruders.

Rhinogobius duospilus

Another common hillstream loach is the Liniparhomaloptera disparis, they are slightly longer than the Sucker Belly Loach and have bolder markings.

Liniparhomaloptera disparis

I've had some luck with snakes of late, including two juvenile Red-necked Keelback in one morning. This species is both venomous and poisonous, although being a rear-fanged species bites from this species are rarely dangerous. Juveniles are quite colourful, with bluish grey head, yellow and red neck.

Red-necked Keelback

During the monthly night bird survey (with barely any birds) I had a very nice looking Greater Green Snake, while a big Burmese Python certainly was the bright spot of the evening. This individual was probably over 2.5m, although this one is already quite big, it still have a lot of growing to do! They can reach 5m, but largest ever caught in Hong Kong is slightly over 4.5m long.

Greater Green Snake

Burmese Python

Mock Vipers are quite charming little snakes with lots of attitude, this little guy was no exception as it posed nicely for a photo. My snake of the month however goes to a Chinese Slug Snake found by my friends, it is a species I have wanted to see for a while, same as the White-spotted Slug Snake they are extremely docile and very gentle.

Mock Viper

Chinese Slug Snake

Recently with help of my friends I was able to finally see one of my most wanted reptile in Hong Kong, the Big-headed Turtle! Wild turtles are in serious decline due to illegal trapping for the black market and pet trade, the Big-headed Turtle is one of the species heavily affected by this. In fact they are now listed as an Endangered species. Seeing this juvenile in the wild have me remaining hopeful that this species will continue to thrive in the wilderness of Hong Kong.

Big-headed Turtle