It was may last birding outing of 2023. A visit to Battery Point, Portishead. Huddled near the lighthouse at hightide with my friend Paul Joy we were trying to find shelter from the persistent drizzle. This wind swept rocky outcrop that juts out into the brown cold waters of the Severn Estuary is a local hotspot for a winter visitor.
The Purple Sandpiper (Calidris maritima) is a small species of shorebird that migrates from its breeding grounds that can be as far away as Canada, Greenland and Norway to spend the cold winters months along the shores of the Severn. They are very quiet birds and can be quite tame and accommodating to photograph.
A flock of about ten birds were foraging amongst the rocks. They were searching for small invertebrates that were hiding in crevices or washed up by the waters of the high tide. They scampered here and there across the rocks, hopping and skipping away from the waves breaking against the rocks.
The birds could be heard faintly calling to each other with the occasional contact calls. They rarely appeared disturbed by the two blokes pointing cameras at them a few meters away, getting a soaking in the rain.
The constant deluge of rain did not seem to bother them in the slightest and I marvelled at how good their waterproofed feathers are. Water droplets formed on their backs but never seemed to soak into their plumage.
Up close I could see a hint of purple in their plumage which gives them their names. The birds have orange beaks and yellowy-orange legs that make a good contrast against their winter feathers.
During this outing I was getting used to my new camera kit. I have started to move away from Nikon as my primary choice of camera equipment to Olympus.
I've been using a Nikon D850 and D500 ( both excellent SLR cameras in my opinion) for several years but paired with various lens setups I am finding them very heavy to lug around. I got my first taste of what a micro 4/3'rds system could do at the Welsh Photographic Federation Conference in September where I got to know one of the Olympus Ambassadors Andrew McCarthy and see some of his great pics taken using the OM-1 camera. I was won over particularly by how light weight the cameras and lenses were compared to my Nikon kit.
So at Battery Point it was my second time out in the wilds with the OM-1 that was paired up with Zuiko 100-400mm 5.6 -6.3 lens. The Zuiko lens gave me the focal equivalent of up to 800mm which is incredible for such a small lens. Its not one of the pro lenses ( the premium pro range was a little out of my current budget) but it more than matched my old Sigma 150-600mm C lens and was so much lighter to carry around.
The whole OM system I had dangling around my neck also had a real test in the rain and worked very well in the drizzle, although I was careful to dry it with a cloth regularly. The weather conditions were very testing as it was so dark. Due to the lack of light I had to bring the ISO up and the shutter speeds down. The Autofocus ( set in bird mode) was fantastic and in comparison to both the Nikon D500 and D850 it made these look like antiques in my opinion. The image stabilisation worked very well especially for the low shutter speed shots. The 50 frames per second also came in handy to get some nice sharp pictures without camera shake.
The autofocus rarely lost track of the birds and impressively focussed on their eyes. The only thing I missed later if I am honest was the reduced pixels available to me compared to my Nikon D850. The images in raw are about 20MP compared to 45MP that the D850 produces.
Most of the noise I had in the images was easily removed by using Topaz Denoise.
The morning spent with these very endearing waders was a great test for my new camera equipment and I came away feeling very pleased about my decision to switch to Olympus. My back was also feeling good as I did not have to carry around lumps of lead anymore.
I cant help but finish writing this post now with the "Prince Song" Purple Rain playing around my head ;).