North Island Bird Photography

The past few weeks have been an absolute blur. I’ve been busy updating this website, making changes to my YouTube channel, and putting in some long hours working on my upcoming bird photography eBook. This article features a selection of New Zealand North Island bird photography images that I captured hand-held during our most recent trip. I did the best I could identifying the species in the photographs featured in this article. If any readers notice any incorrect bird identifications, please feel free to correct me as needed!

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Pukeko at the Blue Spring, New Zealand, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-2800

The main focus of our photography while on the North Island of New Zealand was landscape images. I brought my Nikon 1 V3 and 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm on the trip just in case we got some opportunities to photograph some birds. While at the Blue Spring we happened upon a Pukeko feeding along the water’s edge, which yielded the image above (a note of thanks to Russel Parkinson for correcting my error with species identification).

California quail near Coromandel Town, New Zealand, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-560

While having a picnic lunch on the outskirts of Coromandel Town I noticed some rapid movement in the bushes. I quickly grabbed my V3 and discovered a couple of California quail. The birds ran up the edge of a cement stairway. I was able to capture the image above after positioning myself so I could shoot upwards towards some buildings off in the distance. This helped blur them nicely, resulting in good subject separation of the California quail.

White-faced heron in flight along Seabird Coast, New Zealand, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 261 mm, efov 704.7 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-160

Native New Zealand birds have been under pressure from non-native mammal species like possums, rats and stoats for quite some time. If you want to photograph birds specifically during a trip to New Zealand, it is advisable to visit specific sanctuaries and protected areas. The Seabird Coast, where the above image of a white-faced heron in flight was taken, is one of the sanctuary areas on the North Island in New Zealand.

Australian Coot with chick at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour location, New Zealand, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 234.5 mm, efov 633.2 mm, f/5.6, 1/800, ISO-500

My wife and I both enjoy the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour and we made it a point to visit the site again during this trip. An added bonus at the end of our tour was discovering an Australian coots with its chick along the shore of a small pond at the tour site.

Paradise shelduck at the Blue Spring, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-560

Our visit to the Blue Spring also yielded a few photographs of a Paradise shelduck. I captured the photograph above just before it began to rain.

Black swan with signets on Lake Taupo near Motuoapa, New Zealand, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1600, ISO-320

During our drive from Napier to Taihape we stopped to have lunch along the shore of Lake Taupo in the town of Motuoapa. I spotted some black swans with their signets, and walked out on a long dock to investigate, capturing the above image.

Tui feeding near Kerikeri, New Zealand, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, 1/1250, f/5.6, ISO-160

While we were exploring the Kerikeri area we had a chance sighting of a Tui feeding. I had to shoot towards the sun, resulting in the Tui’s head and underside being heavily shaded. I spent a bit more time in post than I normally would trying to make the image usable. The Spot Weighted DxO Smart Lighting tool was helpful with this photo.

New Zealand fantail at the Blue Spring, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 270 mm, efov 729 mm, f/5.6, 1/1250, ISO-2800

As noted in an earlier article, the Blue Spring also provided us with the opportunity to photograph a New Zealand fantail.

New Zealand scaup near Whanganui, New Zealand, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 208 mm, efov 561.6 mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-640

During our drive through Whanganui we stopped at the Winter Garden on Virginia Lake for a picnic lunch. We went for a stroll along the shoreline where I captured the above image of a New Zealand scaup. The birds in this area are used to humans so I was able to get reasonably close to the scaup.

House sparrow at Hobbiton Movie Set Tour location, New Zealand, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/1000, ISO-560

Even house sparrows can be interesting photographic subjects, especially if they venture close enough as the one in the photograph above did. I captured this image while sitting on a picnic table at the Hobbiton Movie Set Tour staging area while we waited for our bus.

Red billed gull near Kerikeri, New Zealand, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 264 mm, efov 712.8 mm, f/5.6, 1/640, ISO-220

When photographing birds I try my best to compose images with backgrounds that can help highlight my subject bird. Moving about 3 metres (~10 feet) to my right allowed me to frame the red billed gull in the above image against a monochromatic green background. Luckily the gull cooperated and gave me a nice pose.

Photographing birds always has an element of luck involved in terms of being in the right place at the right time. While we didn’t get a huge number of bird images during our last visit to New Zealand, we did manage to capture some usable photographs.

If you enjoyed the images in this article and are interested in viewing more New Zealand information and photographs, you may enjoy our eBook, New Zealand Tip-to-Tip. It is available for purchase and download at a cost of $12.99 Canadian.

Technical Note:
All photographs in this article were captured hand-held in available light using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.

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Article is Copyright 2019 Thomas Stirr. All images are Copyright 2018 Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaptation of any kind is allowed without written consent. If you see this article reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use. Posting comments on offending websites and calling out individuals who steal intellectual property is always appreciated!

13 thoughts on “North Island Bird Photography”

  1. Hi Thomas

    Great shots as usual. The Fantail is a great capture, these are really hard to photograph especially with the fan out out. I’m pretty sure the “Takahe” is in fact a Pukeko (Swamp Hen). Takahe are very rare (about 250 total) and are mostly in sanctuaries and Fiordland. They look very similar but the Takahe are about twice the size.

  2. Happy new year Tom!

    Great birding images (as usual for that much I think is expected from you LOL). To add to the discussion of the earlier poster, I think one of the rewards of birding is learning to identify the birds, even much later on. Some sage said that to name something (or learn its name) is the first step to acknowledging the world and its wealth of wonders.

    Love all the bird shots but most specially, the white-faced heron, tui and the familiar fantail. You always amaze me as to how far you’re taking the Nikon 1 system. Reminded me when I finally sold the remaining Nikon mount lenses in my dry cabinet over the holidays as some people (my buyers) still think full-frame is always the way photography should be. No amount of counter-argument that it’s the wielder and his skills and creativity that matter seem to get through their craniums hahaha. Well, to each his own. I certainly am less saddled with the weight while hiking going back to APS-C, albeit this time, with a Sony.


    1. Happy new year to you as well Oggie!

      I am a neophyte when it comes to identifying birds. The expert knowledge that some people have in this regard totally amazes me. Not only can they identify male and female birds, but also seasonal plumage. There is just so much to learn about identifying birds that I have my doubts that my old, porous brain can fit it all in! From time to time I do give it a try, sometimes finding it rewarding as your comment notes… and at other times quite frustrating.

      It will interesting to learn how you like your new Sony APS-C kit as you use it more and more. I know a few other folks that have made that particular brand switch and the only common thing I heard was that the Sony menu was more difficult with which to work, and that it took some time to get used to it. Other than that the people I know really like the results they are getting.

      My upcoming bird photography eBook is focused on understanding basic camera settings often used for bird photography, frame rates, hand-holding technique, composition etc. It is not designed as a collection of photographs of specific, identified species so I’m not planning to note the species shown in individual photographs contained in the eBook. As a result, the eBook will likely appeal most to folks who are in a beginner or novice stage with their bird photography.


      1. Tom,

        It’s taking me awhile to get used to the Sony interface but at the same time, I want to challenge myself in learning another system’s interface. Anyway, as much as I want to stick to Nikon, it doesn’t offer a mirrorless counterpart anymore. Even when the Nikon 1 system was available locally (Philippines), lenses are hard to come by. I still have some Nikon lenses with me like the older generation, all-metal 60mm f/2.8 which I still use (manual focus) with my Sony A6000 through an adapter. Clipped on my backpack strap via the Peak Design clip, it’s a joy to hike again while having a camera close at hand. My Nikon D800 and D7100 used to go back to the backpack during hiking and trekking which means I really miss out on sights and portraiture opportunities. I guess to each his own; I don’t buy into all the trolling and bashing like what “photographers” and “wanna-be photogs” do all the time in sites like DP Review. Instead of all the talking, I’d rather be hiking and shooting, practicing my skills and expressing my creativity.


        1. Hi Oggie,

          I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before using the Sony interface becomes second nature to you. There’s an old saying that ‘the best camera is the one you have with you’. I certainly agree with that thought, and it may be why cellphone and tablet photography has been such a game changer in the camera market. Perhaps another key thought is ‘the best camera is the one that you actually use’. Since changing over to smaller and lighter gear I’ve found that I am out with a camera far more often than I ever was in the past. It sounds like you are enjoying having smaller and lighter camera gear as well.

          It will be interesting to see where the camera market goes over the next few years. I hadn’t been on the CIPA website for a while and had a quick look recently. The digital camera market continues to contract, especially the fixed lens camera segment… so all of the manufacturers have difficult decisions ahead. Over the next few years we will likely see a consolidation around mirrorless products, and a reduction in the total number of models offered. As technology keeps improving it may not be too long before DSLRs will disappear and be replaced with mirrorless cameras. From what I can tell, Nikon’s new Z-Series mirrorless full frame cameras are getting quite a bit of interest, and Canon appears to be doing well with their offering as well.

          I don’t know if you’ve looked at the Nikon Z6 and Z7. There are about 90 F-mount lenses that are fully compatible when used with the Nikon adapter. The Z-Series mirrorless bodies are quite a bit smaller than a D810 and the new mirrorless lenses apparently are quite sharp even wide open, and reduced in size when compared to F-mount lenses.

          I’m certainly not a ‘gear head’ and I’ve never spent that much time delving into camera specs. Regardless of the particular camera gear that each of us choose, the most important thing to me is using equipment that doesn’t get in the way of my creativity.


          1. Hi Tom,

            I think the Z6 is especially cool but the full-frame conundrum is still there for me. The Z series are also priced for an enthusiast/semi/full-time pro market so I think it’s not the way for me to go. I sort of come full circle since shifting, coming back to a near entry-level model (A6000) for the size and the price since I’m no longer doing it for a living.

            I also agree with what you said about mirrorless being the future. I would like to think Nikon is being respectful to its F-mount owners base when it came up with a declaration saying it would continue to support the F-mount along with the Z-mount. Somewhere along the way, something’s got to give. Maybe, there’s a Nikon in my future, maybe there’s not (after all, I’ve gone through six Nikon cameras in the last 12-13 years) but that will depend if Nikon will still be willing to cater to an APS-C market in the future.


            1. Hi Oggie,

              Full frame will never be in my future again either. While I enjoyed the cameras I had in this format, full frame just isn’t time efficient for me to use with my industrial video business. I’m so happy that I stumbled on the Nikon 1 system back in the fall of 2013. Nikon 1 is the perfect system for my needs, both personally and professionally. Hopefully I have enough gear to last me for at least the next 5-7 years. Once my Nikon 1 system is no longer serviceable I’ll need to figure out what to do… just like you have done.

              I’m lucky in the sense that I’ve always worked with clients that I enjoyed and respected. Now being semi-retired I let my days unfold as my spirit moves me and as my creative passions lead.


  3. Nice shots. You do a lot better job of identifying birds than I do. I usually go: small, medium or large bird.

    1. Hi William,

      That’s my basic approach as well… although I may add yellow, green, speckled brown etc. 🙂 (my knowledge is very limited in terms of species identification)

      For this article I did spend some time comparing my photographs to the ones I found on Google Images in my attempt to identify species.


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