Saturday 30 March 2013

Get thee to a Nunnery

So said Hamlet to Ophelia, and if Ophelia wants to see a Black-bellied Dipper, it's still good advice. The Nunnery in question is in Thetford, home of the British Trust for Ornithology, and the bird has spent the winter nearby, next to Three Nuns' Bridges, off Nuns' Bridges Road, in case you hadn't got the nun-based influences on the area. I was guessing that one of the BTO staffers stumbled across the bird in their lunch hour and so it seems.

Black-bellied Dipper, Thetford
I was itching to road test my new Canon 7D, and what better way to put a camera through its paces than taking photos of a small dark bird in a small dark place? Taking photos of a small dark bird with a white breast in a small dark place full of shimmering water, that's how - a scenario guaranteed to test the exposure skills of even the best camera and photographer. The forecast was cloudy with sunny spells, which also boded well for trying out the new gear in a variety of light conditions.

For those who give a toot about such things, this shot taken in slightly better light at 1/200th sec, f5.6, ISO 400, tripod and shutter release cable. Same settings for the shot above except 1/125th sec.
After an early start from Dorset I was on site just after 0800.The Dipper took a little while to locate but the telltale sign of a man in camouflage gear lying in mud on the river bank gave it away.

1/160th sec, f5.6, ISO 400

Another dozen or so photographers then appeared from downstream - good to see a friendly face in the form of James Lowen among them - I thought they might be following the second Black-bellied Dipper which turned up at the same site recently, but it soon became clear they were in pursuit of the local Otters.

Otter. Shame about the twig. Life's too short for Photoshop. 1/640th sec, f5.6, ISO 1600
I joined them as a very compliant Otter swam around at close range and climbed out of the water amongst slightly less compliant vegetation. The light was still pretty poor so James and I returned to the Dipper to comfort it with the now familiar sound of whirring motordrives. It gave a few bursts of song in return, so clearly a male. After a couple more hours I had managed a variety of shots in degrees of light and shade, and used up all my memory cards, so decided to call it a day.
Otter. Aperture Priority (f5.6) 1/400th, ISO 3200)
So the wildlife performed, but what about the camera? This is not the place, and I'm not the man, for a full technical review, so let's just say I was very pleased with the results - sharp, good colour rendition in the circumstances, and capable of a very fast burst of 8 frames per second. It's also reasonably idiot proof, a bonus for the idiots among us.

The Dipper used this large stump mid-stream as a songpost.
I took a few test shots with the 40D just to convince myself I hadn't wasted my money on the upgrade, and they were reassuringly trashy. I shan't be pensioning it off yet though - as well as a treasured item, it'll make a pretty good spare body when I get the shutter button fixed.

Catching a rare bit of sunshine, allowing a dizzyingly fast shutter speed of 1/250th sec.
 The 7D was a bit grainier at higher ISO ratings than I was hoping for, but these were pretty extreme conditions, and I think my expectations were probably unrealistically high. I suspect I'll still be grateful at some point for the maximum ISO rating of 6400 compared to 1600 on my 40D. Any more criticisms? At this stage, I have to say Nun. See what I did there?

Just time to tick and run Stone Curlew in the Brecks on the way home, an early spring migrant overlapping with the not yet departed wintering Fieldfare (out of focus top right).

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