A Wider Angle: March 2011 by Geoff Dickinson
A lone figure muffled against the elements staggers across a Hamilton car park into the teeth of a biting westerly wind. As he nears a dairy he notices a newspaper placard announcing “Severe Gales Set to Batter Waikato”. Congratulations Waikato Times, you’ve done it again. Another timely scoop. Nothing like being first with the news. Good job then that someone was more on the ball than our esteemed local rag in deciding to cancel the Miranda field trip. And that’s a pity because if you have never been to Miranda you should. It really is a magical place. I was there one glorious sunny evening last December and it was as far from a weather bombsite as you could imagine. I had the place to myself and a balmy breeze from the north kept the insects at bay. The sun glinted off the shell banks and there was much avian activity including the spectacular mass take off of godwits
I find photographing birds to be quite challenging and whilst I often bang on about the fact that it’s not about the camera, a decent long lens is a must if you want frame filling shots of small birds. My 300mm lens on my “cropped” DSLR gives me the equivalent of 450mm which I find more than adequate for my needs but small birds photographed at a distance are still a touch disappointing. Of course the long lens is all very well sitting on a tripod in the hide with birds that keep still but as soon as they start doing birdy things like flying it all starts to get a bit hard. Even with multipoint autofocus, burst mode and auto everything else you still have to spot the bird, aim/compose and fire away and hope it all works. Most of the time it does not. I can just about hand hold the 300mm lens for short periods.
I found that two things helped. First, watch the birds and you start to notice patterns of flying and landing which is an education in itself. That way you can predict to an extent what is going to happen. Second, play the numbers and take lots of shots. I mean LOTS of shots. Use burst mode if you have it. Miranda is not just about seabirds though. The best part of the evening came as I was leaving with the sight of a skylark ascending in full voice. I even managed a couple of passable shots of it although as mentioned above they are not exactly frame fillers. In the end though, it doesn’t matter as there are some things that a camera cannot fully capture however hard you try. Just being there was reward enough.
See you around, Geoff