It was the end of 2016 and as most of us do I started thinking about what projects I want to work on in 2017. For quite some time I wanted to shift focus back to wildlife photography. After all, photographing wildlife was the main reason I bought my first camera, a little over 15 years ago.
Knowing I’ve been “out of the game” for at least 4 or 5 years, I wanted to start with some easy subjects and without having to travel too far. I knew I had to get reacquainted with all the autofocus features of the D800 and get used to handling the large lenses and tripod again.
So I started looking for some rather large subjects that are easily accessible, tend to stay in one spot and that -if they move- would not go too fast.
After some google searches for suitable candidates, I found out -much to my surprise- there are a large number of Flamingoes living in the Grevelingenmeer, in the south of The Netherlands, only 1 hour drive from where I live. Huh ? Flamingoes … who would have thought …
I admit, they’re not as appealing as lions chasing a gazelle, sea eagles catching fish or killer whales jumping out of the water, but I figured they would be good for practice. So the plan of action was to go scout the area, look for the birds, learn what kind of lenses are needed and see if I would have to bring a hide. With that knowledge I would come back later, bringing all the gear needed.
On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I arrived at Battenoord and parked the car next to the small marina. Right left of the marina, in a small bay of the lake, I could immediately spot the pink feathered birds.
Lessons learned : 300mm is very short for photographing these birds, even when coupled with a 1.4 teleconverter. So, although the Flamingoes are not shy and tend to stay close to the shore, more reach would have given more options for close ups.
A week later, batteries were charged, lenses cleaned and bags packed, all ready and set to go. Although it was a typical cold, wet and foggy December morning, the weather app assured me it would be sunny / partly-cloudy in Battenoord, Flamingo town.
During the 1 hour drive, I literally did not see any sunshine at all and when I arrived at the little marina, it was so foggy, I couldn’t even see half of the boats that were there. As I was walking towards the spot where I had seen the Flamingoes last week, I saw nothing but fog and could barely hear the typical sound these birds make.
I peered through my binoculars, looking for something pink in the water, and after half an hour I found the birds on the other side of the marina; a lot further away from the shoreline than last time and invisible to the naked eye.
With all this -very little light, a lot of fog and a large distance to the birds- I wasn’t expecting to get any decent shot. But, since I was here and the aim was to practice, I put down the tripod, installed the lens and camera and hoped for the best.
Lessons learned : stating the obvious here but you have no control over the weather. You just have to deal with it. That being said, I’m amazed by how good the AF of the D800 handled the very bad lighting conditions and was able to lock on the birds I couldn’t even see with my naked eyes. The 600mm lens helps a lot but -weighing in at 5.1 kgs- it’s a beast to handle and requires good long lens technique, even when mounted on a sturdy tripod. The fact that I was even able to get of some decent shots with the 600 coupled to the 1.7 tele convertor -giving 1000mm f/5,6- was even more amazing.
The next day could not have been more different from the day before. Bright blue skies, lots of sunshine and nice temperatures for the time of the year. The Flamingos where a bit closer to the shore and I had high hopes to get some closer shots, using the 600 and the 1.7 teleconverter.
I walked along the edge of the nature reserve separating me from the birds and ended up at the shore right outside of the restricted area.
When I was quietly setting up the tripod, I noticed a noisy bunch of “Nature Lovers”, all dressed in green camo, the mandatory Gitzo tripod with Swarovski telescope over the shoulder and WWF membership cards in their wallets going straight towards the birds, naturally ignoring the “No trespassing / Nature reserve” signs.
I knew it would only be a matter of minutes before they would disturb the Flamingos, chasing them away and ruining my chances to get some decent photos. I quickly put the lens and camera on the tripod -no time for the teleconverter-, focused and started taking as many shots as possible.
The series of photos below, from where the birds are at ease, resting and feeding over the shots where they get spooked, take off, fly away and land again is taken in a 7 minute time frame.
Needless to say the Flamingoes decided to relocate to a safer place further away from the shore and by doing so picked a spot right between the low bright sun and myself, making it -again- hard to get any detail in the pictures.
Lessons learned : always trust some idiots to disrespect nature, even if they think of themselves as the next Sir David Attenborough.
All in all I’m pleased with the images I was able to make in the 3 -albeit short- trips to the Grevelingenmeer and I hope you enjoyed them too.