And so, we had reached the penultimate day already. Mike headed off for another session with the Bee-eaters, I had my final attempts looking for Shrikes along the hillside track I had originally intended for the previous evening.
In due course the Red-backed duly obliged. Both male
Compared to the Woodchat Shrike they were quite numerous. The Woodchat were not only low in number but more difficult to get close to.
I had all but given up when, as we were returning to the hotel,I saw this one high up a tree.
Close and much more confiding, probably because he knew he was safe up there. I gave up and headed back to the hotel to pack. We were leaving straight after lunch.
Packing didn't take long, I said farewell to my room and made a mental note that I had never stayed anywhere for quite so long without the room being cleaned, bed made etc. Still, I had been able to leave all my belongings in neat piles around the floor which was a lot less effort than finding homes for them or rooting in the suitcase all the time!
Down for a final lunch the first person to join me was Marcel, last nights new arrival. I was keen to hear if the Woodpeckers had shown but was taken aback to discover he'd been to the Stone Curlew hide as they were of more interest. If only I'd known I would have loved the opportunity for the 'peckers., once again the lack of communication had let me down. Mike was back soon after and it appeared his last morning with Christian hadn't gone down well either. Much of the time they had been surrounded by goats and a screaming goat herder ! More frustration, still, the good news was we could get away an hour earlier than planned. It was almost a relief to be leaving, the area didn't hold many prospects for the next few days other than cruising the tracks, we were better off with a change of scene. We bade farewell to our fellow guests and a two hour drive saw us arriving in a depopulated town where we were meant to meet another local bird guide who would take us to a good spot for Wryneck.
Mike and I had really built up our expectations as we had been told we had a very good chance of seeing one. Half an hour must have passed before the said guide turned up, and 10 minutes drive later we arrived at the Wryneck nest. In fact there were three within close distance. It had started to rain but we would put up with that to complete our trio of top targets.
It was then we discovered that we only had one bag hide with us . There was a Hoopoe nest not far away so maybe one could go for that while the other sat by the Wryneck. Instead we manoeuvred the car as best we could to get an angle on the nest hole. It was all wrong, even if the bird did come and go the chances were we wouldn't see it. It was raining heavier, we were decidedly cheesed off to discover that our expectations had been dashed at a stroke.
We all know that wildlife does not appear on demand, but information that it had been regularly seen turned out to be totally false. We had arrived ill equipped and it had been a long drive to get there, possibly for nothing. I decided to let Lucky, our guide, have one or two observations including the fact that now he'd brought us to Disneyland the only thing missing was Micky Mouse. He agreed on all my points, in fact he had only started the job that week and so was still learning the ropes. He's a pro wedding photographer by trade but looking for something different. A really nice guy, knows how to look after people but had been given no guidance on this job. It was par for the course.
Reluctantly Mike and I decided we had to abandon any ideas of getting the Wryneck and instead would both head for the Hoopoe. At least there was some possibility of action. I hadn't even bothered with the Hoopoe hide back in Bratsigovo, Mike told me the views were awkward and the chances of a decent shot poor. We arrived at this site and were pleased to see the setting was excellent.
Without hides we had to use the car which in turn had to be parked some distance away.
The overall view at 500mm on a full frame camera looked like this
A bit far, so I tried sticking a 1.4TC on the lens to increase the reach to 700mm
Not bad but what if I went 2.0x TC
Now that might work for static shots but once you had a couple the challenge was flight.
One of the big disadvantages of a 2.0xTC is the limited focus points offered, in fact only 5 in the middle, finding the bird and focussing in your viewfinder was difficult but I realised the bird was landing on a particular stone then flying a short distance to the nest. Always the same flight pattern, always at equal distance away. I decided to try manual focus, setting the focus on the rocks then locking it.
It worked to a certain extent.
But it proved slightly easier when the bird was flying away from the nest altogether.
The shots are far from perfect but they kept me entertained trying new techniques
Baring in mind that you have to have f8 as a minimum aperture and as the bird 's movement was quick I was shooting at 1/400th of a second and auto ISO was giving me ISO 6400. I had bought my new body, the 1DX, for the superior autofocus of the 5D3 and the higher frame per second rate and here I was using manual focus and the number of shots you could get in at that depth of field was only one or two anyway !
I tried the 1.4TC and auto focus.The same settings and a bigger crop for the final picture.
Not too bad, the light was against us and poor but occasional bursts of sun actually made things more difficult. Still our mood had lifted considerably, we were having fun !
Suddenly we had a Cuckoo arrive at a nearby tree. The light had improved and as it flew around the car the sun was behind us. The fast frame rate and the autofocus systems did their thing and 95% of my shots were pretty well nailed !
Most are at some reasonable distance
The best pose of the lot wasn't quite in focus.
but we had both been wanting this opportunity for a long time.
The day had turned in to a triumph after all the disappointment.
We headed off to our overnight accommodation in good spirits, and they were further raised wham we discovered the guest house we were booked in to was actually a block of three apartments built in the back garden of a house. Very comfortable, an outside table and chairs and Lucky provided us with some chilled beers to celebrate our success.
Best of all, within a short walking distance we found a lively little area of bars and restaurants were we had a hot, and I emphasise hot, and tasty meal. We had made good choices after all.