Winter blues / by Mario Mirabile

There's a park near home which is notable in being the only place that I've seen one of my favourite birds locally - the superb fairywren (Malurus cyaneus). At their most striking in summer when the males develop stunning blue and black breeding plumage, they are nevertheless attractive little creatures in their winter clothes. Even then, the males keep some blue in their tails, while the females' red-orange mask is a year round feature.

Sunday was as perfect a winter's day as you'd expect to see, and a total contrast to the wild weather of the preceding few days. As I hadn't been out all week, I thought I'd wander down to the park to see if there was any birding action on offer. I was surprised at the number of superbs hopping around in the grass feeding.  I even spotted a male in breeding plumage, but couldn't get near enough for a good shot. There were a few red-browed finches (Neochmia temporalis) about as well, a species I've only seen here once before. Hopefully it bodes well for the local bird population later in the year.

Tech Talk
Bird photography usually call for a long lens. My 50-200mm is a wonderful zoom, fast and sharp, even wide open at f3.5 at the long end. It is one is truly one of the gems in the Olympus Four Thirds system. But even with a 2x crop giving the equivalent of 400mm at the long end, it's not nearly long enough for these small birds in the wild. To try getting more reach with this lens, I picked up a 2x tele-converter a couple of years ago at a bargain price. I also had hopes of pairing it with the exceptional 150mm f2.0, if I could ever find one (I'm still looking.....) .

I did some tests with it on the 50-200 when I first got it and quickly dismissed it as not sharp enough. I ignored the teleconverter for the best part of a year, but pulled it out recently, did some more careful testing, and was quite pleasantly surprised with the results. This combination demands good light. With the tele-converter attached, the aperture starts at f7 at the long end of the zoom, and you need to stop down to f8 or smaller to get good results. It lacks the biting crispness of the lens on its own, but it's still a reasonable combination if the conditions are right.

Olympus E5, Zuiko Digital 50-200mm f2.8-3.5 zoom, Zuiko Digital EC-20 tele-converter.