Marvellous Mandurah

 

Little Egret

Little Egret (Coodanup Reserve, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@840mm), F6.3, 1/2500, ISO1600. 

 

Why Mandurah is a Winner for Beautiful Bird Photography

If you are a bird photographer living in Australia's south-west then this is the article for you. 

The Mandurah area is undoubtedly one of the best places in the south-west  to take beautiful photos of waterbirds. Why? Because it is has vast expanses of accessible flat water (the estuary environment) teeming with birdlife such as Little and Great Egrets, White-faced Herons, Yellow-billed Spoonbills, Pied Stilts, Black Swans, Banded Stilts, Australian Pelicans, Australian White Ibis, Pied Oystercatchers, cormorants, terns and a milieu of migratory waders. Really - you couldn't ask for much more.   

I especially love to be there at sunrise or sunset on a windless day, when you can see the perfect reflection of pink, purple or orange in the water, allowing for that little extra something to transform bird images from ordinary to breathtaking (if you are lucky of course). 

The purpose of this article is to show you a selection of my best photos (though for time and space reasons I had to leave out quite a few favourites!) all taken from one particular area, Coodanup.  I have actually only been to Mandurah 4 or 5 times over the last 10 years and I'm not familiar with all the other locations that might be suitable for bird photography in the area. However, I can say with some confidence that Coodanup Foreshore Reserve (and nearby) would be hard to beat.  In the short time I have been there, it has delivered some of my favourite waterbird images, including my image of the Great Egret which won the Australian Photographic Awards Wildlife category.

For more information on where to go to see what birds in the Mandurah area, as well as a list of bird sightings in each area, check out BirdLife WA's 'Birdwatching Around Mandurah' - Bird Guide numbers 19a and 19b. (For other bird guides available in WA click here).

The Location

The area in which all the photos in this article were taken is marked in red on the maps below. Generally, it is the Coodanup Foreshore Reserve from the eastern edge of the Creery Wetlands all the way around (several kilometres) to just past the Nairns Bird Hide (for simplicity purposes I will refer to the whole area as Coodanup Area).

Large area map showing loccation

More zoomed in area showing Coodanup reserve

Coodanup Area is good because not only is the shoreline easily accessible (clear beaches all around), the birds are also relatively habituated to human activity in the area (such as boating and crabbing).  All this adds up to an excellent opportunity to get clear, close shots of some of the world's most elegant birds.

Before you Go

Before you head off to take your best waterbird images ever, there are a couple of things you should check to make sure that you will get the most from it:

- Tides: There is a tide and if it's out, the birds can be out with it! 

- Wind: If you want beautiful light and reflections, its best to pick a day when there is little or no wind (Mandurah can get very windy).

- Boots: It's a good idea to wear gum boots or even waders if you want to go out into the water. Personally I stay on the shoreline and sometimes use a yoga mat to lie on for very muddy areas. It's better, though, if you can just wear clothes that you don't mind getting dirty because the mats tend to flap (and scare birds). They also reduce your flexibility to move easily.

- Time of the Week: Because Coodanup's a popular place for families, it's best to go mid-week and try to avoid the busiest times of the year (school holidays).

- Time of Year: As I mention below, there will be more migratory waders in our Australian summer. However, there is also a crabbing season during late summer and that means lots and lots of people, especially on a weekend. Check dates. The other thing to note is that, around November, the Egrets are breeding (elsewhere) and tend to be few and far between. On the upside, if you do find one close by it will likely be in breeding plumage which, for Great Egrets, means it has a gorgeous band of green around its face (see below for an example of this).

The Photos

To spice things up and give you an idea of the kinds of images that you can take I have divided them into the following categories:

- The Regulars

- Migratory Waders

- The Magic of Light 

- Slowing Things Down

- After Sunset - Challenging the ISO

As always, under each image is the equipment and settings used.  In almost every photo, I took the image by lying down and waiting for the birds to come closer to me, or crawling closer to them from a lying position (and yes, you get dirty!). 

 The Regulars 

Regular photos of the most regular birdies.

Little Egret in flight

Little Egret (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@840mm), F6.3, 1/3200, ISO1600. 

 

Yellow-billed Spoonbill

Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II, F4, 1/1000, ISO3200. 

 

Pied Stilt

Pied Stilt (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II, F6.3, 1/4000, ISO400. 

  

White-faced Heron

White-faced Heron (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II, F7.1, 1/3200, ISO400. 

 

Willie Wagtail catching flies

Willie Wagtail (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II, F7.1, 1/4000, ISO400. 

 

Pied Oystercatcher

Pied Oystercatcher (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@840mm), F6.3, 1/4000, ISO320. 

 

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X, Canon F/4.5-5.6 100-400mm IS USM Lens II, F5.6, 1/4000, ISO320. 

 

Great Egret

Great Egret (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X, Canon F/4 500mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@700mm), F7.1, 1/1600, IS01250. 

 

Little Egret

Little Egret (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@840mm), F5.6, 1/2500, IS0400. 

 

Pied Stilt

Pied Stilt (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II, F4, 1/8000, ISO320. 

 

Pied Oystercatcher with worm

Pied Oystercatcher (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II, F7.1, 1/3200, ISO640. 

 

Galah

Galah (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II, F4, 1/2500, IS0320. 

  

Australian Pelican

Australian Pelican (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II, F5.6, 1/500, ISO3200. 

 

Australian Pelican

Australian Pelican (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X, Canon F/4 500mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@700mm), F5.6, 1/125, IS01250. 

 

Silvergull

Silvergull (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II, F7.1, 1/4000, ISO400. 

 

Pied Stilt

Pied Stilt (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II, F4, 1/5000, ISO320. 

 

Black Swans

 Black Swans (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X, Canon F/4 500mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@700mm), F8, 1/2000, IS01250. 

 

Great Egret

Great Egret (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X, Canon F/4 500mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@700mm), F5.6, 1/125, IS01000. 


Migratory Waders 

Mandurah usually has several migratory waders present most times of the year, though more so in the  Australian summer months as this is when they return from breeding in the Arctic circle and beyond.  They tend to be located close to the Nairns Bird Hide area.

I have seen Bar-tailed Godwits, Black-tailed Godwits, Great and Red Knots,  Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Grey Plovers and Common Greenshanks (though admittedly I see these everywhere!). However, if the sightings in the guide (referred to above) are anything to go by, there are countless other species that turn up in this area from time to time.

You must take EXTRA CARE not to flush or otherwise disturb migratory waders as they need to reserve all their energy for the long migratory flights they make. In fact, I have to tell you the story of one Bar-tailed Godwit, romantically named E7, who several years ago recorded the longest distance in a single flight by a bird. So how far did she get non-stop? I hope you are sitting down for this one.... she  flew

11,700km in 8 days!!!!!

 

Incredible right? So let's not get too close and disturb these wonders of nature. If you want to see E7's actual flight path, go to WaderQuest.

By far the best way to get close enough to waders (or any bird for that matter) to get a good photo is to let them come to you. Yes.  It happens and this is how you do it, as explained in my article, How to Get Close to Birds:

"For wading birds, lying down is by far the best method (and also gives you the best angle).  When I see wading birds, I will take a large circle around them and position myself on the ground around 40-50 metres away but in the direction in which they appear to be feeding. I lie prostrate, do not move and hope that they continue feeding in my direction.  By adopting this approach I have been able to get close to many normally very skittish waders over the years. Some birds have come so close to me, while feeding, that I could no longer focus on them with my large lens ...  I have also gotten very muddy so I highly recommend a yoga mat or similar to lie on." 

 

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit with worm (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@840mm), F6.3, 1/2500, ISO320. 

 

Grey Plover

Grey Plover (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@840mm), F6.3, 1/3200, ISO500. 

 

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II, F7.1, 1/2500, ISO400. 


Great Knot

Great Knot (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II, F7.1, 1/2500, ISO400. 

 

Great Knot

Great Knot (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@840mm), F6.3, 1/3200, ISO500. 

 

Common Greenshank

Common Greenshank (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@840mm), F8, 1/1250, ISO640. 


The Magic of Light

We so often get told in nature photography to shoot with the sun at our back. But if that is all you do you are missing out on some fantastic opportunities for images. I find that shooting into the sun gives an image more atmosphere and drama than a traditional image. You can also get some pretty colours and backlight.

Pacific Black Ducks

Pacific Black Duck (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@840mm), F5.6, 1/1250, ISO250.  

 

Little Egret

Little Egret (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@840mm), F5.6, 1/2500, ISO400. 

 

Pacific Black Duck catching flies

Pacific Black Duck (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@840mm), F5.6, 1/640, ISO1600. 

 

Little Egret with Fish

Little Egret (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II, F4, 1/3200, ISO320. 

  

Little Egret at sunset

Little Egret (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@840mm), F5.6, 1/800, ISO2500. 

 

Little Egret

Little Egret (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X, Canon F/4 500mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@700mm), F5.6, 1/125, IS01000. 


Slowing things down 

As most people know by now, I LOVE to experiment. One of the ways I do this is to use extra slow shutter speeds. Sometimes it works. Most times it is blimmin' awful. Obviously, you are getting the only two that worked (at least in my opinion. This is one of those areas of nature photography that you either love or really, really HATE!).

Stilted Blur

Stilted Blur (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X, Canon F/4.5-5.6 100-400mm IS USM Lens II with 5 Stop ND filter, F6.3, 1/15, ISO100. 

 

Nankeen Night-heron

Nankeen Night-heron (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II, F8, 1/13sec, ISO640. 


After Sunset- Challenging the ISO

I hate going home after the sun has set when there are still birds to photograph so, one evening, I decided to challenge my camera's ability to handle digital noise at high ISOs. The golden rule with this kind of photography is NEVER underexpose the image at high ISO. In fact, if anything, I slightly overexposed each of these images. I think you might be surprised to see how good they look.

ISO6400 

Great Egret

Great Egret (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@840mm), F5.6, 1/640, IS06400. 


 ISO8000

Great Egret

Great Egret (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II + 1.4x teleconverter (@840mm), F5.6, 1/640, IS08000. 


 ISO12,800 (completely dark!)

At this point, the light had completely disappeared. O.K. So there IS a lot of visible digital noise (graininess) and if I try to reduce the noise too much the image will lose all structure. BUT, I think it's not bad for 12800 ISO! In fact, the image almost has a vintage quality courtesy of all those itsy bitsy grains.

Great Egret

Great Egret (Coodanup Area, Western Australia): Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, Canon F/4 600mm IS USM Lens II, F4, 1/500, IS012,800. 
Did you find this article helpful? Is there anything else you'd like to know about bird photography? If so, please be sure to leave a comment.
I would really love to hear from you!
 

3 comments

  • Breathtaking photos Georgina. They really are inspiring, thanks for sharing them. I’ve been to this area a couple of times over the past 12 months or so. Got some nice photos of Banded Stilts last time I was there.

    Jason Moore
  • Brilliant article thanks Georgina along with an array of stunning photos. You never cease to amaze and inspire. On a practical level, there is so much relevant info I should really be driving down to Mandurah this second. Will definitely be heading there with my yoga mat and armed with the article and maps soon. In this article there are so many images to love but I do think the slow shutter speed ones and the backlit ducks are quite beautiful (love them all really!). Thanks again for such an informative and beautifully illustrated article.

    Sue Harper
  • I recently found your blog and I must say it’s one of the most well written ones out there! So many great tips and absolutely amazing images, it’s a pleasure to read!

    Mathilda

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