Monday 21 September 2020

Ho Man Tin Strikes Again! Fairy Pitta!

September is an excellent time for migrants, the unpredictable weather may have brought in some interesting birds the past week. We were getting intense showers throughout the week and easterly winds. At migrant hotspot Ho Man Tin, other than the Tiger Shrike (which I missed again), a Fairy Pitta turned up on the 16th of September. As always it caused quite the stir and a lot of photographers and birders flocked to this little hill to try their luck. I was very lucky and connected with the bird quickly, where I was at the right place at the right time, as the Pitta perched up in a tree and stayed still for at least 3 minutes!

Fairy Pitta - a species that never fails to impress

Fairy Pitta is a regular but rare migrant in Hong Kong, their secretive nature makes them difficult to observe in the wild. No breeding records as yet in Hong Kong, but they do breed in the forest of Guangdong, so perhaps breeding pitta is not too far fetched a dream. This young Fairy Pitta only stayed one day, it wasn't spotted the next day.

Fairy Pitta

Other interesting birds at Ho Man Tin I encountered includes a pair of Scarlet Minivets, a species that seems to occur at Ho Man Tin annually in small numbers, likely dispersing pairs of individuals from forested sights. A male Plaintive Cuckoo was sighted while I was looking for the Tiger Shrike, while the only shrike I managed to find is a Brown Shrike...Yellow-rumped Flycatchers were in no short supply this year, although I never found a male anywhere.

Scarlet Minivet

Plaintive Cuckoo

Brown Shrike

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher

A juvenile male Siberian Blue Robin was also present for a few days, long enough for photographers to set up a feeding station. This was a nice bird to see, but what I really want to find is an adult male Siberian Blue Robin, which I have yet to see in Hong Kong.

Siberian Blue Robin - juvenile male

Elsewhere, San Tin had been quite productive of late, and I enjoy being able to bird in the car when weather gets bad. Here are a few more common species found along the fish ponds, such as the White-breasted Waterhen, Black Drongo, Black Kites, Eurasian Collared Dove etc...A few Oriental Turtle Doves also arrived.

White-breasted Waterhen

Black Drongo

Black Kites with Eurasian Collared Dove

Oriental Turtle Dove

The only wader of interest I found the other day was a nice looking Long-toed Stint. Little Ringed Plovers are always fun to watch as they run along the side of fish ponds. Zitting Cisticolas have just started arriving, and I saw quite a few in the tall grass, along with a few Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers, Oriental Reed Warblers and a Manchurian Reed Warbler, none of which wanted to be photographed. Eastern Yellow Wagtail have also returned.

Long-toed Stint

Little Ringed Plover

Zitting Cisticola

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

A Black-winged Kite had been frequenting the fish ponds at San Tin as hunting grounds, I caught up with this beautiful raptor in the dimming lights. It was also a perfect opportunity to test out the tracking capabilities of my EOS R6, which did nothing but impressed. I was shooting with my EF 500 F/4 IS II lens with 2X extender, and the results were mind blowing. With my EOS 7D mark II I was never able to track flying birds when I have 2X extender attached, the camera simply can't keep up with the subject at F/8, let alone in gloomy conditions like that day.

Black-winged Kite

At one point the Black-winged Kite dived straight towards me, and the camera was able to stay focused on the bird on most frames! On a few occasions even when the bird was quite far away and flying in front of a noisy background of buildings and trees, the camera still recognise the bird in frame and tracked it with relative ease. This opens up a lot of opportunity for BIF shots even in darker conditions.

Black-winged Kite - BIF shots with EOS R6

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