About Me

Wells, BC, Canada
Richard is a working photographer and writer in B.C. His camera focuses on natural history. archeology, travel, and documentary photography. His photography blog may be found at: http://richardtwright.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Photographing Hawks in Hong Kong

The Cotton Tree Black Kites of Hong Kong

A Black Kite takes flight into the Clearwater Bay jungle on a foggy day. D7000, 
Nikkor 18-105mm f3.5-5.5G ED, ISO 400, 100th sec, f5.

On my second journey to Hong Kong I had posed myself a question: How to best photograph the famous hawks - the Black Kites.
The Black Kites of Hong Kong were one of my favorite subjects and favorite birds during my months on the island and mainland. As I have written before I had the advantage of a 3-story blind which overlooked the jungle and a large Cotton Tree which 2 or 3 kites used as roosting spot.  Usually if a sat and waited the birds did not arrive, but the alarm cry in the house was "Dad - your bird is there." Sometimes I had time to grab a lens and camera and shoot.  Sometimes I set up and waited.

The first decent shot I got was in 2011. I had waited and waited, and then one day before I flew back to Canada I had time for 7 shots.

On a January afternoon at 4:30 p.m. a kite swept into the tree and roosted for several minutes. This is a crop. Nikon D7000, AF-S VR Zoom Nikkor, 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 G IF-ED, at 300mm (effective 450), f5.6, 1/250th sec. I was pleased with this shot and particularly the sharpness of the medium prices lens and the bokeh, but the branch position was less than perfect.

When Amy and I returned to Hong Kong in February/March, 2012 the kite was one of my first photographic goals. It did not take long for the first chance. Two days later we were exploring my favorite village of Lei Yue Mun, and down swooped a kite. I only had a chance for 4 shots but one was reasonable.

Lei Yun Mun harbour kite. As above but 1/500th, f5.6.

Over the next weeks I managed to get a few more in-flight shots. I had been thinking of getting an FX telephoto lens while I was here as I had pre-ordered the D800, but after much checking on the web and around Hong Kong I could find nothing. Then one day Amy and I visited Kowloon and walked into one of the largest retail camera shops - Wing Shing Photo Supplies. Vancouver camera stores pale in comparison.
"Do you have a Nikkor telephoto," I asked. Yes, they had the 600mm cannon and the Version 1 of the 200-400mm, at $1000 Cdn less than a VII. Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

An hour later we were out the door, laden down with the lens (I let them keep the carton) packed in the bag it comes with, a Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod, the Manfrotto 393 Gimbal, and a 1.7 Nikkon Teleconverter.  
Not surprisingly, my images changed.

Lei Yue Mun harbour, a couple of weeks later. Nikkor, zoom, AF-S VR, 200-400mm f4. D7000 at 400mm, effective 600mm, f6.7, 1/125, mounted on a Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod with the Manfrotto 393 Gimbal.

Lei Yue Mun harbour. Nikkor, AF-S VR, 200-400mm f4. D7000 at 400mm, effective 600mm, f4, 1/250, Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod with the Manfrotto 393 Gimbal.

Mai Po wetlands reserve. Nikkor Zoom, AF-S VR, 200-400mm f4. D7000 at 400mm, effective 600mm, f4, 1/1250, mounted on a Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod with the Manfrotto 393 Gimbal. Minor crop.

In terms of in-flight shots one of the most interesting was back at my Portofino blind, my son's home,  when I saw what I took to be two kites in a mating flight over a far ridge. If I had to guess I would say they were perhaps a kilometre away. I managed a dozen shots, but they were too distant to be of much interest, until I downloaded. First I realized how much I could crop with the 200-400mm and then, that this was not two kites, but rather a Kite and a Crested Serpent Eagle disputing territory. We were sure by this time that the Kites were nesting in a large tree about a 1/2 km up the gully below the house.

Black Kite and Crested Serpent Eagle. D7000, 200-400mm, ISO 320, f4, 1/1600th sec., cloudy day,
 effective aperture 600mm.

So back at the Cotton tree things were beginning to blossom. The blossoms attracted other birds, like the Large-billed crow, Red-whiskered and Chinese bulbuls and others too small to clearly identify.

These two shots were a just as the tree began to blossom.
The distance from window to tree is 98 feet. Minor cropping, at 600mm.

I spent many hours at the window blind. One day a tropical storm swept in while one roosted, with its back toward me - which was unusual.  He stayed and I waited, clicking away, knowing the shot would be literally washed out by the falling rain, but waiting for that drop of rain to run off his forehead, down his beak to momentarily linger on the tip of his bill.  Yes, there is was. Click.

Same lens and camera but with the 1.7 converter,
 so an effective focal length of 975mm, at 1/30th sec, ISO 1100.
Then in mid-March the Cotton Tree seemed to burst to life, changing the images and the reflected color of the Kite and the background yet again.

Same camera and lens as previous shots and similar settings.
I took hundreds of shots of these Kites, always waiting for the perfect shot.  At the harbour a Kite dropped in and plucked a fish, but it was diving away from me and too far away. And for some reason I did not manage to capture any with the D800. 
They gave me several pleasant hours of watching. One shot in particular seems to catch the essence of the Black Kite for me, and as I am unlikely to get back to Hong Kong it will remain my favorite.

Black Kite at Clearwater Bay, D7000, 200-400mm Nikkor, f4.5, 1/320th sec., cropped.
All photos copyright Richard Thomas Wright 2012.

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More photos of Hong Kong and other subjects may be found at:
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