Fantail with tail fully spread

Fantail, Piwakawaka, Rhipidura fuliginosa

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Our daughter Anne is visiting for a week and I took her and our three Border Terriers over to Lee Bay to give the dogs a run on the beach. And on the road back came across a trio of fantails playing above the road, and I had my camera for once.

Fantails are really difficult to photograph. A bit like the Riflemanthey have the avian equivalent of ADHD syndrome. Never sit still, and even while perched they are continuously hopping about through 180/270 deg. And of course when flying they use their huge tail to flit about chasing insects.

The small flock I found were quite close, but as it was a dull day my camera had issues with exposure and shutter speed. But on the upside has a very good burst rate. I tend to just “keep the finger on the button” and will do a sequence of 15 to 20 frames over 3 or 4 seconds before the buffer fills. Using a high speed card helps enormously. A slower card would probably limit a burst to perhaps 5 to 8 shots. Add in a stabilised lens and out of the 50 or 60 photos I took, actually managed to “keep” around 5 resonable images.

These birds were all “pied”. The all black morph is much harder to find, although there is at least one living around Observation Rock. But as usual when I do see that one it’s sans camera. A couple of years ago I came across a pair with a juvenile… all black. I had never seen a black pair, let alone a trio and have heard the ration pied:black is someting like 40:1. Interestingly there doesn’t seem to any “half pied” birds. The “pied” are pied and the blacks are totally black, not a sign of a white feather.

This Black Fantail was filmed on Ulva Island some time ago. The darting flight is absolutely typical of these insect eaters.

Fantail with tail fully spread
Fantail with tail fully spread. This huge tail area gives the bird high maneuverability for chasing flying insects.

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I have never seen them feed on other than flying insects.

Peter Tait

Peter Tait

Peter Tait is a professional nature guide based at Stewart Island, New Zealand, and he works primarily on Ulva Island Open Sanctuary. Peter has been resident on the Island for over 40 years and was one time Forest Ranger in Charge of Stewart Island. Fishing followed forestry and was in turn followed by Talisker, a 17m charter yacht. He is qualified Skipper Deep Sea Fishing Vessel. In addition to guiding Peter and his wife Iris are hosts at Sails Ashore Lodge.

Peter Tait

Peter Tait

Peter Tait is a professional nature guide based at Stewart Island, New Zealand, and he works primarily on Ulva Island Open Sanctuary. Peter has been resident on the Island for over 40 years and was one time Forest Ranger in Charge of Stewart Island. Fishing followed forestry and was in turn followed by Talisker, a 17m charter yacht. He is qualified Skipper Deep Sea Fishing Vessel. In addition to guiding Peter and his wife Iris are hosts at Sails Ashore Lodge.

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Robin List
Robin List

Hello Peter. Nice photo! You’re so right – ADHD. My new camera does burst sequences, so I’ll try that on the fantails round here. Thanks for the tip. Cheers, Robin