It's kind of ironic that I wanted to work in natural history film making but wasn't really into doing nature photography. I have my reasons. The main one was that I just couldn't afford the lenses. I know, it's not about the gear, but if you're serious about wildlife photography, you really do need some big lenses to get close to the critters. Especially when they're birds.
The other thing is that I've never really had enough patience. That's ironic too, because as a freshwater angler I've needed tons - not to mention a willingness to go home empty handed. But having Orokonui Ecosanctuary so handy, there's really no excuse for not getting out there and practicing, so that's what I've been doing on my last couple of excursions. I decided to apply the golden rule of trout fishing.
1. Sit and watch. Instead of my default tendency to run around trying to take everything in as fast as possible, I just found a spot the birds were likely to appear at and waited for them to come to me. In this case, it was near a feeding station. Smart fishermen do this too, before blundering into the water and scaring fish they haven't already seen. Often you'll discover a behaviour pattern - like a repetitive feeding beat that you can take advantage of. What I discovered here was that half of the time, the birds landed on a particular branch to eye up the food. That let me pre-focus on where they would land and give me a more natural background than the station itself.
I had my camera set up on a tripod with a 2x extender on my Canon 70-200 IS 2.8 zoom, giving me a potential 400mm focal length, which is about the minimum for serious bird shooting. Wide open though, the results can be pretty soft, and the narrow DoF can mean that if you prefocus on the landing site, your birds eye may not always be tack sharp. I was using my wired remote to get these shots, but basically had to sit by the tripod anyway. Next excursion, I'll think seriously about losing the extender and getting the camera closer, maybe in a tree, using my Joby Gorilla pod. I'll also use my wireless remote trigger, as soon as it's repaired.
So no trophy winners from my trip, but I'm a step closer to getting some next time. I especially want to nail a better version of this - a bellbird with a dusting of blue fuschia pollen.
If you're from Dunedin and haven't checked out Orokonui yet, do yourself a favour and get up there. The birds aren't as bountiful as Karori or Tiritiri Matangi yet, but it's early days, and all you need to see something special is a little patience.