Friday, 30 May 2014

Bulgaria Day 5 May 22nd 2014

The morning was to be a visit to the Stone Curlew nest hide. There would be two of us, Christian and myself. Mike had been the previous day and seemed  to have enjoyed some interesting sights as well as the nesting birds so , although it didn't fill me with enthusiasm particularly, I went with an open mind. It was essential we got to the permanent hide and set up a second bag hide as quickly and silently as possible. Then, ensconced in our individual hides positioned next to each other we had to remain as silent as possible to minimise disturbance.
Within minutes of us settling down the female returned to sitting on her nest from where she had run to on our arrival. Obviously the tactic is to leave the nest to avoid drawing attention to it. She soon settled down and all that could be seen was her head above the grass. The male was stood out in the open on a distant hillside about 100 metres away.
It was like a game of statues. For two and a half hours nothing happened, well not with the Stone Curlews anyway. They were motionless. We did have regular appearances by a pair of Wheatear though, there was a nest right in front of the hide in a pile of rocks.The female was a regular


Annoyingly there were a few blades of grass that got in the way of every shot and it would have taken seconds to clear them with a pair of shears, something one person could do while another had set up the second hide. There would be minimum disturbance I'm sure. On the other hand if you got lucky there was a chance that the wind blew them out of the way or the bird chose the best position.
The handsome male
Northern Wheatear
and a bit of cheating with my electronic sheers applied here at home !
We did get one or two distant views, this Calandra Lark just too far away for a detailed shot but gives a nice sense of what it was like watching the sun come up over the Steppe grasslands
Calandra Lark
After two and a half hours the male made a move. In short darts, and with extreme caution he worked his way towards the hide. As the bird approached the final 10 metres, for some reason I decided to video the scene, I don't know why but I missed the opportunity for some still shots and as soon as the egg sitting exchange had been made the female headed up the hill and stood behind a bush. I couldn't get a clear view although Christian sat only a metre away managed to see the bird. He passed me some video he had shot on his mobile phone to keep me occupied, at least I could see the bird that way. Time passed by, a distant Pallid harrier was seen as well as Magpie and Jay. We were both bored and took the decision to call for an early relief, it was 11.00am and the sun starting to get harsher. No sooner had the call been made than the birds decided to exchange positions again. My luck was in again !
Stone Curlew
Never looking at each other, constantly scanning the horizon the bird on the nest started to rise.
Stone Curlew
The exchange of position was made
Stone Curlew
And this time the bird remained close by to give some photo opportunities! I have never witnessed such furtive behaviour, cautious to the extreme.
Stone Curlew
Interesting birds but..... well, I was glad to get away and leave them in peace.
We had a quick look at a nearby site for Masked Shrike and I got one half decent shot.
Masked Shrike
Then we returned to the hotel for lunch. The plan for the afternoon had been a little vague, whatever it was to be probably needed to be local. The Black Woodpecker site had been requested by Christian for a second visit, Mike decided to try another Wryneck vigil.... you had to admire his determination... I didn't fancy watching a hole in a tree for several hours, and besides Mike had requested he went on his own as I was a fidget !!!! Total concentration and silence would be required, the Wryneck are known to be cautious. Despite it being the third bird on our target list I didn't want to spend the afternoon as I had done the morning, stuck in a small hide, even less to see. Instead I decided I would request another go in the mobile hide... a car . The tracks and bushes would offer some chances for Shrikes, I was particularly interested in Masked and Woodchat Shrikes, but who knows, I might find something else as well.
And so after lunch I set off with Miro, Mike, after dropping off Christian at the Woodpecker went off to the Wryneck nest with Nicloi. On the way there Miro asked me for a favour, would I mind driving myself while he sat in the Stone Curlew hide. I was a little taken aback. He being the wildlife enthusiast and expert I had hoped he would find me the birds ! I'm a soft touch though and agreed but first we needed to communicate. I didn't have a mobile but he had two. He rang one with the other to leave me the number as the last call received and sent so that I could ring him if needed and so off I went, feeling a bit irritated, not only by Miro but myself as well. I was meant to be the client, if I wanted a self drive holiday I could have one at a fraction of the price.
I checked to the Masked Shrike site first. The bird was there, but in a poor position.
Masked Shrike
I drove away. A pair of Barn Swallow were sat preening
Barn Swallow
I decided to check out the drinking hide pool, so I parked up the vehicle and went round the vehicle checking and locking each door with the key. The hide , the only permanent one  they use, was a mess. Mike had had a session there and it had provided nothing. I decided to forget the idea and went back to the van. Starting up the ignition I triggered the alarm. I hadn't realised there was a remote locking system on the key ! With the alarm going I got out and tried locking and unlocking the vehicle. It worked thankfully and yet despite the fact that I was in the middle of nowhere, a distant figure was walking my way. Embarrassing ! I started up the ignition and it happened again. Alarm. Figure getting closer. Embarrassment. I eventually figured it out and set off but not before the passing man had given me a bemused look !
Driving back on a local road I came across a female Black-headed Bunting, I was a bit confused on ID as I dan't knowingly seen one before.
Black-headed Bunting
The males are so obvious the females less so.I'd hoped it might be Ortolan but that remains on my unseen list to this day.
Suddenly, on the other side of the road I noticed the male Black-headed Bunting was sat but much better still, a single Rose-coloured Starling remained from the huge flock of a couple of days previous.
I lined up the camera for a shot.
Rose-coloured Starling
and then the "I don't believe it" moment. The phone rang ! The Starling heard it, the Bunting flew. It was Miro. In very hushed voice, he was near the Stone Curlew nest remember, he asked "You rang me, you have problem ?" I replied that I didn't and he realised that the missed call he had was the one that put the number on the phone he had left me. He'd actually rung himself half an hour ago when he was with me but he'd only just noticed it on the phone ! Agh !!!!!
Fortunately the Starling was made of sterner stuff than the Bunting, in fact the Bunting having flown was an advantage and I got my first ever decent shot of the species.
Rose-coloured Starling
There were Lesser Grey Shrike in the area but their known territory tended to be inaccessible in the vehicle but suddenly, I spotted what I believed  was one of the pair at the top of a nearby bush. I managed a few shots as it performed acrobatics catching flies as they passed. It was only when I got home I discovered to my disappointment that it's a Wheatear behaving in a manner I haven't seen before.
Then another "I don't believe it"  moment sent the bird flying. The phone had rang again ! This time it was Nicloi who was a bit surprised to hear my voice but explained he needed to speak to Miro as his vehicle had broken down ( as it did on a daily basis it seemed). I told him I'd get Miro to ring back but the minute I hung up, the phone went in to the locked position and I couldn't figure out how to unlock it !  This was getting a bit farcical. I decided to head back to Miro without any pre warning stopping to take a shot of a Tawny Pipit.
Tawny Pipit
A good bird as I hadn't managed to take a decent one of the only other I remember seeing , and that had been a fortnight earlier in Lesvos.
Two text messages came through. They were not for me but they might be important, no one but myself knew that Miro didn't have his phone. I decided to open them and in doing so it unlocked the phone. I could now phone Miro which I did, without reading the text's. Miro was instructed to ring Nicloi to sort out his problem, he than rang me and we made arrangements for me to pick him up in an hour. Nicloi was sorted.
In due course I went to pick him up knowing that we needed to be as quick as possible to minimise disturbance. I decided to stop the vehicle just over the hill from the Stone Curlews to make sure the back tailgate door was open so everything could be thrown in quickly. It was, but when I started up the ignition the alarm went off again. After a couple of attempted solutions it seemed to have worked.
Thankfully, it hadn't happened by the nest !
 I picked Miro up and off we went, but first we needed to top up the fuel, then meet Nicloi who had actually broken down at the hotel, to swop vehicles for Nicloi to pick up Mike.
I requested that I went too as there was still the best of the evening light available so I might get some shots in yet. It seemed Nicloi was 30 minutes late for picking up Mike so he asked if we could go and get him first. Passing some superb opportunities I readily agreed though. Mike would be bored out of his box sat looking at the tree. Distant storm clouds were gathering but we were still in sunshine. Nicloi went to collect Mike and his bag hide while I remained in the van but he was soon back with the news that Mike wanted another hour as the Wryneck was in the nest ! He'd had four hours, he must have had some amazing shots. He'd had enough time on his own..I wanted a piece of the action too so decided to put a hide up next to his. If he thought I was a fidget before, I don't know what he thought this time because shut up in his hide he wasn't aware of what was going on outside. Suddenly there was a huge disturbance as I set my tripod, complete with my 500mm and brand new camera body attached, fell over and hit the ground. Embarrassed as well as concerned about my gear, I got in to my bag.
Mike seemed OK about it ! Anyway, before long the wind came up, then the clouds arrived and the start of a heavy rain shower which in all probability would stay for the duration. We decided to get out before it was too late and headed back to the van where Nicloi had parked up. Back in the van, Mike described his afternoon, how furtive the bird was. At first just the tip of the bill was showing, then half an eye. Eventually a full eye and then he got his shot. Fully expecting to be pig sick at the site of his superb capture I asked to see it. He did deserve to get something good with the effort he'd put in.
He showed it to me.
"Is that it?" I asked.
He was visibly taken aback.
"Is that it ? It took me hours to get that which you have just dismissively looked at"
Apologetic,I acknowledged that at least he'd seen the bird which was more than I had. Well, he'd seen about 10% of it, and had got an excellent picture of the bit he had seen !
Today had been farcical in every way. It wasn't over yet though ! What had happened to Christian in the Black Woodpecker hide ? Well he had found himself surrounded by machete wielding gypsies cutting firewood and creating a disturbance. One of the texts that had been sent through to me earlier had been a message to tell Miro he was leaving the hide. By the time Miro had read it Christian had walked back to the hotel which was some distance carrying all your gear. The other three had been to the Wallcreeper site but they too had fallen out with Lucky, their driver. Over what I never did find out but relationships had been soured there for some reason.
Whatever, they wouldn't be seeming much of him the next day because it had been arranged that Mike and I would move on to a new location on our way to the airport, stopping overnight for our last night somewhere different. The reason ? We had been assured that a contact there could show us Wryneck, as well as Hoopoe and Cuckoo, we also had an opportunity to spend time in a drinking pool hide too. We would set off on Friday lunch time using the harsh light of the day to travel.
We had one last morning in Bratsigovo, the question was how to spend it.
As we were going with Lucky, and his car was unsuitable for off road, the best option was the Bee-eater hide. Mike was in favour as his session the previous day had left much to be desired, Christian also wanted to do Bee-eaters on his last full morning too. I would have loved to have gone back to the Black Woodpeckers but indications were that they were about to fledge. A new guest had arrived that evening and it was only fair he had a crack at the 'peckers. I advised him he should ask to go, he told me he had been advised to go by the boss, Emil, who was now back in the hotel as he'd picked up the new guy from the airport.
With nothing much else open to me I said I would go looking for Shrikes in the area I had intended to but never made the previous evening once again
You never know, might get something worthwhile !

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Bulgaria Day 4 May 21st 2014

Right from the outset Mike and I had decided on our top three targets for the trip, so far we had achieved the Black Woodpecker, failed as yet on the Wryneck but hadn't yet had a try for our undisputed number one..... Wallcreeper !
This little bird is high on nearly every birder's wish list for many reasons but I guess it being difficult to see increases the desirability. They are found at highish altitude between 1000-3000m and choose the most inaccessible rock faces to live, feed and breed. Did we really stand a chance of seeing one ?
We had waited until the first day of forecast solid sunshine as we were told the lighting in the gorge where the bird was to be found was pretty poor and it was best to wait until the sun was likely to illuminate the rock face. Just to add an extra element, the sun only illuminates the rock for a couple of hours a day, the rest of the time it's in shadow.
The original suggestion put to us was all 6 of us went on the first day. I made comment that that wasn't the best idea as it would mean other single person hides being empty for a whole day, besides if the whole group failed to see the bird they would all have to return the next day. No a better idea was to split in two, if group one failed, group two would spend the second day looking, and if they failed we could all decide if it was worth spending a third day( and our last) or whether the better option was to abandon the idea. Not exactly rocket science, it would need two cars for everyone anyway so it made good sense to go on separate days. I was surprised our guides hadn't thought of it too, but the boss had not been seen since day one as he was away somewhere looking for new sites. The three guides were not sufficiently experienced at organisation in my opinion.
Anyway, Mike, myself and Christian were the first party to go in search of the elusive quarry ! It was a couple of hours drive but there was no point setting off too early because of the light. We had a lie in , leaving at 7.00am ! The journey took us up in to the mountains past some spectacular scenery and massive damns. At one point we saw some low flying Alpine Swifts, a species I have yet to photograph, but it was decided to press on as the longer we had, the more chance of seeing a Wallcreeper !
On arrival we were relieved there were only three,well four with our guide.


We were parked in a small lay by with room for a couple of cars but as it was right on the road and the rock face rose vertically on the other side, we had to step over the crash barrier on to a small patch of ground to set up our tripods. There was a sheer drop behind us so care was necessary !
Looking up the gorge the view was as this
Equally spectacular looking the other way too
There wasn't much traffic but a couple of cars stopped to take scene shots, one party in particular made us very nervous ( well Mike and me particularly) as they say right on the edge of the drop on an area of slippery grass and gravel.Crag Martin 2014-05-21
There was no sign of a Wallcreeper but there were a lots of  Crag Martins about. Sticking my 300mm f2.8 on the camera I decided to have a go at a flight shot.

My camera was set up for auto ISO and I was amazed how it coped. However, despite me never having photographed one before I decided I would not be distracted from the main target. I returned to the 500mm with a 1.4TC on. We were waiting for the sun to come around and illuminate the cliff face when suddenly we heard a strange sound. It was totally unexpected, the Wallcreeper had flown in under our radar totally unnoticed and had began to sing. The call was quite amazing and something I wish I could share., It was nothing like the guide books description, in fact our guide said he'd never heard anything like it before.
The sound was haunting, a call for a mate but a sad yet sweet high pitched tune. Absolutely mesmorising and an absolute delight. What a bonus !
Capturing a picture was the next objective. The bird is only small, around the size of a Great Tit, but the colours are spectacular when it opens its wings.
Wallcreeper 2014-05-21
Trouble is it opens and closes them in a fluttering motion and at high speed.
Wallcreeper 2014-05-21
Hopping in and out of variable light was a photographic challenge and I opted for sticking with auto ISO and concentrating on freezing the action with higher shutter speeds.
Wallcreeper 2014-05-21
Because the bird is so small I decided to stick a 2.0x TC on my 500mm lens which exacerbates the lighting problems. Maybe I should have settled for less reach ?
This one is the bare 500mm at f4, 1/4000th second to get the action frozen and ISO3200

Ah well, there were so many things I wished I had tried but during our 2.5 hours we had 4 visits and it still wasn't enough time. I have to settle for what I got which is a lot better than a lot of people have had the opportunity of.
Wallcreeper 2014-05-21
We tried for flight shots but that is really hard !
A tiny dot on the rock face across the gorge, this is magnified around 10x by the 500mm lens !

Wallcreeper 2014-05-21
Cropping the image doesn't give much better view
Wallcreeper 2014-05-21
only an idea of how spectacular it could look !
Wallcreeper 2014-05-21
I tried picking the bird up with a TC on my 500mm and tracking it across the gorge with no luck at all. I should have tried the 300mm with a 1.4 TC but I had lent that to our guide. Oh well, the what if's are part of the learning curved as well as the post event frustrations !!!!
As the sun was now out of sight we decided to go for lunch, it must have been 2.00pm. We had what was one of the best meals I ate in Bulgaria , It's called potatnik, but the spelling could be different. Sadly it had been pre ordered and was tepid but extremely tasty. We ordered meatballs on the side when we arrived and at last we enjoyed some hot food !
Pallid Swifts were nesting in the eaves of the roof and I managed a couple of distant shots, another species to add to my album.
Pallid Swift  2014-05-21
Well satisfied we headed off back towards the hotel, hoping the Alpine Swifts were still around. By now though the harsh sunlight made it impossible and the birds were not to be seen anyway. Not to worry.
Back in Bratsigovo late afternoon we decided to have another go at Souslik. Mike hadn't been yet and my images were less than satisfactory. It was something to pass an hour or so. I found my burrow and waited. It was a battle of wills. The little head was poking slightly out of the hole and I knew he'd come out eventually and after lying still for 20 minutes up he popped !
Souslik hold your attention for a while but the call of a beer had more appeal. We had success stories to share when we got back and we unanimously decided to call it a day !

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Bulgaria Day 3 May 20th 2014

The unsettled weather of the last couple of days had been nowhere as bad as forecast and today was no different. Some sunshine as well as a few dull spells but mainly dry. Myself and Thomas, one of the German photographers, were off to photograph Bee-eaters, but first we took a longish  walk to the the top of a nearby hillside to see if we could find some exotic insects. I'm not in to insects really so I'm not sure what we hoped to see, but whatever it was didn't happen. Still it was good to get some exercise for a change, if you are not careful you can spend the week sat down. We passed through a little village that had obviously seen better days, in fact one of the lasting images from Bulgaria is the amount of abandoned and derelict buildings. Mass migration has taken it's toll and certainly the hardship of rural life on a hill top has little appeal to the youth of today. It was sad to see this once proud village now inhabited by old people, struggling to survive with a few animals to look after.
The Bee-eaters were to be found on a bank of earth where the road had been carved out of the hillside. The two hides were on top of the bank and looking over the valley below. This was another example of poor planning and execution.The hides had been cobbled out of used pallets nailed together and the nails were standing out proud at eye level. Perfect for taking an eye out ! The floor was bare earth and there were no chairs in the tiny individual hutches. Fortunately our guide and driver for the day had a Ford Galaxy style vehicle from which you can detach the seats so we sat on a couple of those. The perches were badly thought out, depending on which hide you sat in resulted in a different background bokeh and unfortunately the birds preferred the one with the poor bokeh when viewed from my position. Add to that the unnecessary extra twigs on the perch that interfered in the shot and you were left wondering . Why ?
The Bee-eaters looked superb though and at least they were taking off and landing from both behind us and in front so giving alternative views.
Bad bokeh,too many twigs !
European Bee-Eater
Good bokeh, single twig !
European Bee-Eater
Those twigs are really irritating!
European Bee-Eater
Flight shots were extremely hard because the field of view out of your hutch was very narrow, the birds  flew out from below you on the bank and by the time they gained hight they were too distant. The only time I came close was this one I think, capturing it just before it landed.
European Bee-Eater
Overall, there wasn't too much action. Hardly a food exchange, or even food for that matter.I think the nearest to a bee was this one
European Bee-Eater
However, there was enough to keep me enthralled until lunch time as you can also concentrate on portraits when there isn't much else going on.
European Bee-Eater
Lunch had been arranged at a nearby bar/restaurant and with the promise of pizza cooked on the premises my appetite was whetted by the thought of a wood burning oven, delicious toppings etc. The journey so far had been a long way from a gastronomic treat but sadly it wasn't about to change. There was no choice of toppings as they were all identical and from the freezer,  cooked at gas mark 6 no doubt. Ah well,  never mind, we were there for the photography after all !
Afternoon activities hand't been organised so when a trip to the floating hide was suggested I readily agreed, it was just a case of finding someone else who wanted to go. I wasn't sure what Mike was doing and I had agreed to go there with him in two days time, but what the heck, I could always go twice if it was worthwhile. As it happened, on ringing his driver,Christian decided he'd come with me so off we went as soon as he'd been delivered to our bar. It involved a two hour drive but it seemed that we had time to spare when we arrived as it was only around 3.00pm and the target species of Little Bittern don't really appear until after 5.00pm.
We wandered around the banks of the fishing pond where the hides were to be launched and the sound of Great Reed Warblers rang out everywhere but they couldn't be seen.What did surprise me was the number of Grass Snakes in the water, they were everywhere.
Grass Snake
I thought of one or two people who might not be too keen to share a pool with so many of these pond dwellers, one of them was due there in two days time !
Grass Snake
The other interest was at least one pair of Coypu.
This one badly in need of a toothbrush and a dental visit I think !
The time to enter the water duly arrived, we had been told to expect it very cold and therefore our time had to be limited to a maximum of 2 hours, so we had hung on until 5.00pm. We were issued with waders, Christian got the neoprene pair which went further up his body than the pair of rubber ones I had. Still, the water didn't feel cold which is just as well as it seeped over the top of my waders when I went in deep water or bent down to try taking a photo.
Here's Christian re enacting the Battle of Jutland
Water battles !
This time the Royal Navy lost with me coming off worst. By the time I got out the water was up to my thighs inside the waders, Christian remained dry but we did have a good laugh about it !
On the photographic front I won. It was a case of right place right time. Pure luck.
When Christian has wandered off to deeper water a Little Bittern appeared briefly, but long enough for me to nail the shot I wanted.
Little Bittern
We had both been close by to a Great Reed Warbler when it appeared, in fact too close. With limited field of view especially through a 500mm lens, it was pure luck I found it before it disappeared up a reed.
Great Reed Warbler
My water adventure was cut short by the amount of water I had shipped in to my waders. It reminded me of the  incontinence trouser joke Billy Connolly used to tell. I think I took about 8 Little Bittern shots in one sequence and 4 Warbler shots in two more. Not a lot really  but it was worthwhile as they were both firsts, in fact I hadn't even seen a Little Bittern previously. Once in the water there was no sign of a snake, even the Coypu had vanished but a passing herd of cows entered the water for a drink as did a German Shepherd Dog out for a walk. At least I hadn't swallowed any water, that could have been nasty !
Lucky, the  driver asked if I had brought spare clothes ( as was suggested when options were discussed a couple of days earlier) but I hadn't had the opportunity to bring any as I hadn't been back to the hotel since the decision to come had been taken. It was typical of the organisation but I didn't care that I had to travel back in just my underpants and fleece top.. I had got my shots.
Great Reed Warbler
and that's what mattered.
Little Bittern
We were late to arrive back at the hotel but the beers went down well again with stories to tell, plenty of laughs to be had !

Bulgaria Day 2 May 19th 2014

Feeling a lot more in tune with my time zone I looked forward to my days plan with some anticipation. Mike was off to shoot a Black Woodpecker nest in the morning and I was going to shoot Sousliks, the European Ground Squirrel. In the afternoon I would get the Woodpeckers, I couldn't wait, it was another on our top 3 target list !
First of all the Souslik though. I was delivered to a field on the edge of town, only a couple of minutes away from the hotel. The sun had yet to appear over the hillside and illuminate the scene.
A very dirty grey White Stork was wandering around looking for food before taking off with a very wet and muddy load of nesting materials. No wonder it was filthy !
White Stork
Nicloi, my guide and driver for the day showed me where the squirrel burrows at the top of the field were and, laying on a provided mat and bean bag, I waited for their first appearance which was about an hour later.
One by one they started popping up all over the field, standing motionless at first whilst they decided if it was safe to come out.
But before long they were going about their business which was either eating
or delivering grass underground, presumably either nesting material or food for youngsters.
There's a limit to how many Souslik pictures you want, particularly ones that are obscured by grass so after taking a few more I wandered off to see what might by in the surrounding hedgerows and rose fields.
The answer was not a lot and so I decided to be more bold in my approach and stood up to take a few shots.The Souslik are quite approachable although some are braver than others !
I returned to the hotel having had an OK morning but was more interested to know how Mike had got on with the Black Woodpecker. One of the German guys had been the day before and had been disturbed by gypsies hacking down firewood in the locality of the nest, hopefully they hadn't returned while Mike was there. The good news was they hadn't and Mike had had a good session with around eight visits to the nest recorded over a 5 hour period. The only problem he had encountered was the back lighting, oh and getting to the site too. You had to traverse a small but fast flowing stream via a couple of stepping stones then climb a very steep earth bank . Exhausting when you have heavy gear on your back. Mike had ended with wet feet but seemed happy with his shots. He advised me that my 500mm on it's own would be more than adequate, and that was how I decided to approach the subject but first we had another photo opportunity at the hotel. On the previous day, an Aesculapian Tree Snake had been caught on the way to the hide and had spent the night in the hotel in a plastic box. Good job that we never had a visit from the room cleaners that day or any other for that matter. Maybe that's why !
Anyway, the snake was brought out after lunch for a photo session.
Aesculapian snake
Although Europe's longest they are totally harmless to humans.
Aesculapian snake
and keen to participate in a photo shoot too ! On the way back to the woodpecker nest we released it back where it had been found and after being tipped out of the box there was only time for a farewell snap and it was gone.
Aesculapian snake
And so to the Woodpecker. The stream crossed without incident, the very steep bank climbed with loss of breath,  I settled down in anticipation. The hide was a very temporary canvass affair, not too much room to manoeuvre but sufficient. It was dark in there too. Mike had offered a torch but I had declined. Mistake ! Still I managed.
I sat for nearly an hour when suddenly a burst of noise, the Woodpecker giving notice of it's arrival which I failed to anticipate and it was there on the tree folding it's wings. The visit lasted only 15 to 20 seconds and it was gone.

Black Woodpecker

I'd hoped to get flight shots of it's arrival and had set up my remote control but it had fooled me this time. I would be ready when it came back ! This time I stuck a 1.4xTC on the lens and stupidly put the camera in to portrait position.  At the first indication of noise I started snapping.
Black Woodpecker
Damn, I hadn't left enough room ! By the time the second shot fired it was on the tree
Black Woodpecker
Still , this time it stayed much longer and I took some nice feeding shots.
Black Woodpecker2
Black Woodpecker
I was now totally prepared for the next arrival. 1.4TC removed... Mike had been right.... landscape mode, finger on the trigger ready at the first sound. However, I now had an additional problem... the light was fading. The afternoon session hadn't started until 3.30.. sensible if you were out in the open in harsh light but here in the woods that wasn't a problem. It was now after 6.00pm and I was due to return at 7.00pm. I had one last chance at current visit rates. I decided to go for every option.
First capture the arrival ! Go for the bigger picture, no TC !
Black Woodpecker
It fooled me by arriving from a different direction so my compromised f number at f4 to allow more light in to the shot also meant less depth of field too as I was pre focussed on the tree. I had decided 1/1600th sec would be OK and the camera was set to auto ISO, which resulted in ISO 4000.
The next shot was slightly better as it neared the nest hole
Black Woodpecker
I had then decided to go for the close up. In the dark I had prepared myself to stick on a 2.0x TC which I executed in grand style not knowing what shot's I missed in the meantime. I knew the f number would automatically go to f8 but I didn't have time to do anything else before taking a couple of shots.
Black Woodpecker
The shutter speed was still at 1/1600th, the resulting ISO 25600. No attempt at noise reduction... not a bad job !
To be honest though a cropped bare 500mm image was pretty damn good
Black Woodpecker
and so I regret that I stuck the TC on now because I missed the shots in between changing and the bird flew immediately after before I got a chance too play with reducing shutter speeds.
Still, the chick was there and so I can see what I might of achieved at f8, 1/60th and ISO 1250.
Black Woodpecker chick
It had been a slightly frustrating session and yet magical. A photographic challenge which is what the whole point of the exercise. If you just hit the button and bingo, there would be little point. The Woodpecker was after all very near the top of our hit list and I was satisfied with what I'd got but I would have to let the others have a go before I had a second chance.
Two whole days had gone by, I'd spent a lot of time not seeing much and not getting much action either. I decided that the following day I would visit the Bee-eater hide. They were down the list of priorities but having seen one of the other guy's shots I decided that I could probably improve on my previous years efforts in Hungary.
Another indifferent meal, a few bottles of beer and bed. The company made up for the shortfalls in cuisine yet again.