Saturday 28 December 2019

Top ten bird images from 2019

I didn't take as many photos this year as previous years, it appears that I am swinging back to being a birder. That said I have never been just a bird photographer, or at least that is not how I see myself. I am birder who takes photos, and I am equally happy doing that as I am just birding. Sometimes I concentrate on taking pictures, and sometimes I concentrate on seeing how many birds I can see. This year I have simply done more of the latter on my trips away, and less of the former. This makes it a lot easier to filter my output down to just ten, and in fact when I first started typing this post I worried that I might not get there at all!

Oriental Magpie-Robin from the Singapore Botanic Gardens in March. I did not take many good photos in Singapore, it was simply too hot and I was knackered. I fell back to yet another of my hobbies, and instead spent the weekend with my head buried in tropical plants, marveling at the extraordinary verdancy of the island. Of the decent photos I did take, I really like this pose. I was on a raised walkway above a pond, and this bird was with its mate seemingly investigating nesting holes in some dead stumps. I predicted it would land on the top of one of these which it almost immediately did. 

This Olive-backed Sunbird was also in the Singapore Botanic Garden early one morning. I spent over an hour amongst these plantings as a small number of birds came and went, and even though they are lightning fast I managed to get a few shots, of which this is the most pleasing for being, at least in my mind, quite artistic because I've stayed back to try and get the whole flower in the frame.

This Cyprus Wheatear was taken on one of several productive early morning birding sessions on Cyprus over Easter. I was on a family holiday but snuck out every morning for a couple of hours as the sun rose before returning for breakfast and a day of sloth. Of course this wasn't a birding holiday at all, but ironically enough it was by far the most productive for bird photography of the whole year. I suppose this is because I was returning to a location that I have been to several times before and knew exactly what I wanted.

Spectacled Warbler. This is another image from Cyprus taken on Cape Greco in the lovely light about one hour after dawn. The cape was about ten minutes from our hotel and I visited nearly every morning. Spectacled Warblers are extremely common, and whilst normally quite skulky I found a bird that had claimed a bush with a perfect singing perch.

Ruppell's Warbler. Yet another from Cape Greco, and a bird I was seriously pleased to find. It was the only one I saw on the trip, mid-April is quite late for them. It was feeding in a series of low bushes, and would spend a nano-second perched on top of each before diving into it. I missed the bird each and every time on the first few bushes so raced ahead a few bushes and crossed my fingers that the same thing would happen again. It did!

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Texas. Pure luck this one, the bird was perched on a wire fence and I happened to press the shutter at the precise moment that it flew up. Lucky me. It's not the greatest photo ever, almost every element of it could be better, but it's a bit different and if you squint it looks ok. And look, it's a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, so pretty much any photo of it would be a thing of beauty.

Bulgaria is carpeted in Black-headed Buntings, singing from what seems like every bush. I took very few decent photos in Bulgaria this year, the trip in 2018 was a lot better.  It was longer, and the weather was better, and I was just more in tune. Sometime it is like that, and I fail to click. Other times it seems to go well almost from the outset. I've said it before and no doubt I'll say it again, but there seems to be correlation between how much bird photography do and how well it goes. And also whether I improve or not. Right now I am on a plateau and beginning to slip backwards. At least I recognise that though! I do already have a trip booked to Bulgaria for 2020, so let's see how that goes.

Red-backed Shrike, Bulgaria. One of the most common and easily seen birds in the country thanks to a thriving insect population. I remembered them as being easier to take photos of that they in fact are, and opportunities were quite limited. Because I couldn't get especially close I aimed to get a whole plant in, a bit like the Sunbird from Singapore. This is a tactic I should try and employ more. It doesn't have the wow factor of every last feather detail, but it actually takes a bit more thought to achieve.

This is the only photo in this year's selection that was taken in a hide. I don't like hides! However it did provide excellent opportunities to photography song birds at very short range. On the morning I was there Tree Sparrows were amongst the very few species that came into feed and bathe, and I like this over the shoulder pose along with the nice perch, even though it just screams "hide".  

I am still going through the many wader photos that I took in Florida in November of this year. So far I like this one, a Piping Plover, at exactly eye level which meant that I got very muddy and also hurt my neck trying to peer through the view-finder at such a low angle. I like to think it was worth it, and at some point in the next few weeks I hope to go through all the photos I took and put together a few galleries.

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