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Giant's Castle Nature Reserve - Vulture hide, April
Another thing that I was really looking forward to was to try out my new Nikon 600 VR. I have been working on the Nikon system for almost a year now but it was going to be my first time in the hide with the Nikon system and the new 600.
Since we only received the booking for the hide on short notice and the reserve was hosting a cycling event we could not find any accommodation in the park and had to look for something outside. Accommodation was bit lousy but we did not let it put a damper on our excitement.
The 3 of us woke up at 4 am and we were at the gate at around 5:30. We made arrangements with the staff of the reserve to leave the key at the gate and they kindly agreed to do so. Before the sun broke over the wonderful berg we were on the scene, quickly scanning, clearing some unwanted grass sprouts and then we set up our cameras. And so the waiting game had started. Jan suggested coffee just as the sun shone on the ledge next to the hide. We were ready.
It was not too long before the action started with some Ravens. Sometimes one would sort of wish for them to go away and make space for the more charismatic birds but we realized that their activity would spark the others to come and investigate. Besides, it was good to get in a few practice shots before the big boys came.
We just started to enjoy the Ravens when we suddenly saw a Jackal Buzzard coming in land. Well what did we do…? We fired away! We got in some nice shots of the buzzard and all were pleased. The rest of the day can only be good.
I started playing around with the Nikon D3’s custom functions. Jan, Rudy and I shared some ideas while practicing a bit more on the ravens.
After playing around for a while I decided to stick to the following custom functions on the D3:
AF –Area I chose to select 21 points setup in the custom functions.
I selected the Dynamic –Area AF.
After playing around with the custom function a4 (Focus tracking with lock-on) I decided to set it to Normal. I think if a person is good at tracking birds in flight and have a steady hand (unlike me) one would want to consider choosing the Short setting instead of Normal. I have also tried the Long setting but boy, does that then cling the focus onto a flying bird. The disadvantage then is, if you do miss the bird on initial focus and it locked onto the mountain on the background it’s hard to get it back on the bird fast enough, so for me the Normal worked very, very well.
I can only imagine the quick birding guys will want to choose Short. Using this custom function was great. This feature really makes the D3 a great tool. Because of this custom function I can now track a bird with great success again.
Shown here is an example of the image of a Vulture coming in to land and a raven obscuring the path of focus; the focus never left the Vulture for an instant.
Something else I dabbled in was to select AF-S Priority selection to Focus. Well how frustrating to press your shutter release to fire and it just refuses to fire because the subject is not in focus. I still chose to keep it there and quickly learned to live with it and let it work in my favor. I ended up liking the feature. I recon why take the shot if not in focus, were as I know many others might feel they would want the photo, regardless if it is 100% focused or not.
I am sharing these experiences since it was my first real birding trip with this equipment. Since last year when I started using the Nikon system I only had time to photograph mammals, slower moving, in various conditions with different settings. As for my first experience with the D3 and e 600 VR I can now tell everyone how thrilled I am.
Regarding any other setting I can say that I basically kept the camera as default as possible and on metering method I chose Center
weighted and around 1/3 to 2/3 underexposure for most conditions. I did have to go over to manual metering once and again as
conditions changed. At some stage the mountain in the back was fully in the shade of the cloud coverage; and the cliffs, where the Vultures landed, was in the sun. I had to adapt to manual metering for that.
Well after playing with the Ravens and after a good practice burst or two on the Jackal Buzzard the action started. We had a few fly-pasts of Juvenile Bearded Vultures and we kept on calling for their dad.
As we were sitting and admiring their gracious flybys we saw in the distance the mature Adult male closing in. The adrenaline started pumping, as fast as the winds were pumping outside. Thanks to the wind and the adrenaline we got a few good burst in on our first “big