Excellent Photo Adventures…Alaska Wild…Bird Brains

Once we land at the lodge, we put away all electronics that communicate with the outside world.  We are essentially “unplugged” from the rest of the world (except in emergencies) for the week.  After all the years of returning to the lodge, I feel the change almost instantly and am soon right in rhythm with the pace of the Alaskan bush where the tides dictate your day more than sunrise and sunset.  In fact, early June, there isn’t much of a sunrise or sunset unless you count that brief few moments somewhere in the middle of the night when the sky does turn a ltitle pink and then the light fades to a 3200 ISO before immediately brightening up with the beginning of a new day.  Suffice it to say,  “June days are very long in Alaska!”.

We were blessed with some unusually warm and sunny days with nary a drop of rain the whole week.  Making the most of the situation we spent all day, every day in the field photographing the springtime and the wildlife in the Alaska Wild.

We found a pair of nesting Oystercatchers who have returned to the same location the last three years to raise their young.  They do not build elaborate nests, they simply nestle down in the rocks and lay their eggs.  When a predator approaches, they chase them, use the broken wing trick or simply run around screaming to draw attention away from the nest.  So, it was with great pleasure and an honor when this parent felt comfortable enough in our presence to sit on it’s eggs so we could photograph it on it’s nest.  We were careful to keep a respectable distant to avoid alarming the birds and to prevent our scent attracting a predator to their nest.  I chose a wide aperture to avoid great depth of field that would bring the background into sharper focus distracting from the oystercatcher…

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Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II ISO 100 f5.6 @ 1/750 sec  -.5 EC


When we encountered a Semi-palmated Plover a couple of days later we used the same technique of sitting very still and waiting and they came right back to their nest with out so much as a look of concern in our direction…

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Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm fr VR with TC-20E III ISO 100 f8 @ 1/500 sec -.5 EC


Eagles got an earlier start and it appeared that all the active nests had chicks.  We were able to climb a hill for a quick view from across an expanse of water into the nest witout disturbing the adults who were perched nearby.  The chicks were up and calling for their dinner.  I was hand holding my 500mm lens and wanted a fast enough shutter speed to obtain a sharp image.  By raising the ISO to 200 I was able to close the aperture down to include both chicks in focus and still reach 1/500 sec…

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Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II ISO 200 f11 @ 1/500 sec -.5EC


Capturing eagles in flight as an awesome thing and when you add the dramatic background of snow covered mountains it’s pure photo bliss.  Having the mobility of a boat increases our chances of being in the right place to capture in flight images and the other is being able to hand hold from a boat.  That’s where the new AF-S 80-400mm 4.5-5.6 VR II was so very handy.  It’s light weight and zoom range made it the perfect lens to compliment the 500mm along with teleconverters…**

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Nikon D4, AF-S 80-400mm 4.5-5.6G VR II (handheld from boat) ISO 200 f8 @ 1/2000 sec


The Kittiwakes were in full nesting mode, some flying to and fro with nesting material while others were sitting eggs.  A rogue Raven snuck in and grabbed an egg while the parents were out causing quite a ruckus.  Once again the 80-400mm was the perfect lens to have the mobility to pan with the raven as it took flight with the egg in it’s beak…**

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Nikon D4, AF-S 80-400mm 4.5-5.6G VR II (handheld from boat) ISO 200 f8 @ 1/1000 sec -.5 EC


The Kittiwakes all nest on the cliff faces of off shore rocks and they mostly get along but, on occasion one will fly to the wrong nest or get too close to another’s mate and then they go at it in mid-air, weooping and diving at each other at high speed.  Having a fast shutter speed to stop the action is essential and yet I wanted a bit more depth of field than wide open would provide in order to capture both birds in focus…

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Nikon D4, AF-S 80-400mm 4.5-5.6G VR II (handheld from boat) ISO 200 f8 @ 1/1500 sec -.5 EC


It was like watching a fast paced, mid-air ballet…

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Nikon D4, AF-S 80-400mm 4.5-5.6G VR II (handheld from boat) ISO 200 f8 @ 1/1500 sec -.5 EC


And if we drifted to close to the rocks, it was photographer beware as they came close overhead threatening to drop poop bombs on us if we didn’t keep our distance.  We took note and kept our distance, thank you very much…

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Nikon D4, AF-S 80-400mm 4.5-5.6G VR II (handheld from boat) ISO 200 f8 @ 1/1500 sec -.5 EC


All in all I have very favorable impressions of the new Nikon AF-S 80-400mm VR lens.  It was wonderful for photographing birds from the boat hand held.  It’s light wieght was a godsend after several minutes of hand holding, the zoom covered a great range for moving in tight for distant or frame filling shots and pulling back as the subject got closer while continuing to shoot.  The AF-S was responsive and the VR enabled me to confidently hand hold from the boat.  There is a permanent place in my camera bag for the 80-400mm VR now.  It is not replacing the 70-200mm 2.8 VR II, I will still continue to use it when I need the speed or the lack of depth of field that the 2.8 aperture provides.

**Note: On the eagle in flight image and the raven with the egg, I was photographing during bright sunny conditions and the contrast was greater than I cared for.  I processed each image in Photomatix Pro 3 to birng out more detail in the shadows.  I like the effect but, will have to work on my technique to lessen the hdr look.