Birding in Barleycove
I was in Cork recently when news broke of a Red-flanked Bluetail on Mizen Head. This Eurasian Taiga relative of the Robin was only recorded in Ireland for the first time in 2009 - search with “Red-flanked Bluetail” on Irish Birding for a list of records. This was the sixth record, in quick succession to the fifth earlier in October at St. John’s Point in Co. Down. It was giving itself up for Fionn Moore on its second day on the 24th – but I couldn’t get there then!! Nonetheless, I was very hopeful early the following morning as I left Cork on the little-known “shortcut” to Dublin via Mizen Head! After missing out on trips to Dursey Island back in 2009, and to St. Johns Point recently – surely this would be third time lucky . . . ??
But to misquote Allen Saunders
“birding is what happens when you make other plans”
(John Lennon was just one of many copiers when he included a version of the quote in his Beautiful Boy song!)
So there wasn’t a sign of it for the whole morning until I had to leave at lunchtime. At least, it didn’t dig the knife in like the St. John’s Point bird which, after I spent most a day looking for it to no avail, turned up again the following day grrrr!
Despite all this, there are a lot worse places to spend a morning dipping, as you can see from this seven shot stitched panorama of Barleycove Beach – taken from the garden where the Bluetail . . . wasn’t. Still, it was good to make new birding friends and catch up with old ones.
I also spent a lot of time practising my long lens technique on the common birds in the area – and this shot of a Dunnock or European Accentor was the best of them. I say European Accentor, because its cousin, the Siberian Accentor, has had an unprecedented European irruption this autumn with over a 100 records in Europe and 12 in Britain – hopefully one will struggle through to Ireland and answer to prayers of many Irish birders before the autumn migration closes in the next few weeks!
The settings for this shot were 1/1000th of a second, f5.6, and ISO 3200 at 400mm on my Canon 100-400mm MkI lens. I get so many blurry shot bird shots that I sometimes I start doubting my kit – but when I get one like this, it reminds me that the weakest point in my setup is always . . . me!
Anyway, I was pleased at the quality of the image, despite the high ISO. This was actually set automatically by my Canon 7D Mark II because I was using Auto ISO in Manual Mode – check out Steve Perry’s great video on this technique. This is brilliant for birding shots where you are constantly switching from dark to bright conditions as birds move in and out of bushes. I set my aperture to 5.6 because that’s the widest I can get at 400mm - and my speed to 1/1000th of a second because I find that, even when small birds appear to be stationary, they seem to have subtle tremors that you don’t see when you are shooting. The key point then, is that Auto ISO automatically changes to give you the correct exposure – unless it’s too dark even for the highest ISO (16000 on the 7DII) - and then your aperture or speed readings will start flashing in the viewfinder. You may end up with a noisy shot – but if it’s a good record shot of a rarity you want – noise can be dealt with later but lack of sharpness due to motion blur is fatal! I also use Spot Metering to get the correct exposure on a small bird in the frame – as well as the central focussing point set to Spot AF mode. The latter minimizes autofocus distractions from surrounding leaves and twigs – check out page 196 in Douglas J Klosterman’s excellent “Canon 7D II Experience” for more on Spot AF and why it’s better than Single Point AF for these kind of shots.
Keywords: Barleycove, Dunnock, Ireland, John Coveney, John Coveney Photography, Mizen Head, Prunella modularis, auto ISO, auto ISO plus manual, beach, bird photography, birding is what happens when you make other plans, dipping, panorama, twitching, www.johncoveney.ie
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