eXtensions - Travels with Cameras, a Mac and an iPhone (2): The Dance of the Red Kites (Amended - corrections)
By Graham K. Rogers
In the UK for a family event, I am using some of the time for travel and shopping. A plan to take photographs of a rural setting as the trees changed to autumn colours was hijacked by the appearance of three red kites.
The main reason I have come to the UK at this time of year is for my Mother's 90th birthday dinner. I have not been to any of her birthdays for years, but this was one I dared not miss. My stepfather, whose birthday is the day before, was 85. It is pointless travelling all the way from Bangkok to England for a single day, so I tagged on a couple before and a few afterwards. With a car to drive around, and a couple of cameras, I have not been at home too much.
After some business in the local town on my first full day, I went to the shopping mall in Milton Keynes, a city of just over 250,000 people. Compared to what I am used to in Bangkok, the shopping center is a little tame, although does have a number of major stores, as well as Apple and Tesla. Unlike the malls in Thailand or in the USA, which have their own characters, this is more a high street with a roof.
It is a drive of about 15 minutes from where I am based. I always use GPS as, despite the city being set out in a grid format, I have never been able to form the map in my brain. This time, the car did not have GPS, so I am relying on the iPhone and Apple Maps, which is generally sufficient but I did make one or two wrong turns: instructions for roundabouts and complex intersections sometimes came to late and left me confused.
I also confirmed something I had wondered about last time with the lack of verbal output when connected to the car. It was not a problem with CarPlay, but the sound is cut when the Lightning Cable is connected: I confirmed this with videos (when parked up) which only had sound when the cable was detached. On a long journey when the iPhone might need charging, this works against the user.
I went through Heath and Reach up to the roundabout on the main A5 road. A couple of kilometres north, just before the village of Great Brickhill was a field off to my right and the trees were beginning to turn orange as autumn approaches. I decided to stop later and take some photographs: easier said than done.
At Milton Keynes I made a few purchases, including licorice comfits (can't get these in Bangkok) and some film. A photo chain store (Jessops) carries film but last year had lower stock than my Bangkok sources. In a cupboard were several types of 35mm film but I could not see any medium format (120). It was on a shelf below, but the cupboard glass was dark, making it invisible. When the doors were opened, I saw a couple of rolls of Ilford XP2 (ISO 400) that I have never used before so bought one as an experiment for £7.50. I later saw this for £5.29 at Skears in Northampton.
I made a point of visiting the Apple Store, which is in a separate part of the same complex. I wanted to have my first look at the new iPhones and the Apple Watch 4 as these are yet to arrive in Thailand and this may take a month or two more. I asked a member of the staff about the devices and we had a long chat. There seems to have been some surprise about the interest in the newest Apple Watch. Shane had been working in China (not for Apple) so we had similar awareness of what it is like to be an expat. We are both informed about Apple products, although for different reasons. I asked about taking photographs. Although it is Apple's policy to allows this, I always feel it is as well to ask.
Apple Watch, iPhone Xs Max and iPhone Xs - Apple Store Milton Keynes
I also asked about buying a Watch as someone not liable to pay UK taxes and Shane explained the process of refunds at the airport. I am hovering here.
As it was mid-afternoon, I decided to head back and passed the area I had noted in the morning, but there was no safe place to stop the car on the side of the road. I turned round at a safe place and stopped in a lay-by, close to where I wanted to take photographs. I collected the cameras and lenses, then dashed across the road when there was a break in the traffic.
The width of the verge and the way it fell away from the road level meant I was not able to approach the fence closely, but as I was trying to set up, I saw a red kite wheeling near the trees about 300 metres away. I quickly changed the lens from the 50mm that was on the camera, to the 100-400mm Sigma telephoto lens I bought for just this situation. The first pictures against the background of trees were not what I wanted.
Additional Note: I was sent a message about some of the images displayed here. While at least one red kite was there, most of the images are of buzzards, although I am still pleased with the output. One of the images below does appear to be of a red kite: the forked tail is a giveaway. I checked the other photographs I had taken and most were of buzzards, with the red kits images of a lesser quality, which is why I did not use them.
The introduction of the red kite is a major success story. The breed was almost extinct in the British Isles, but a program was started a while back, using birds from Sweden and Wales (RSPB):
In 1989, six Swedish birds were released at a site in north Scotland and four Swedish and one Welsh bird in Buckinghamshire. Altogether, 93 birds of Swedish and Spanish origin were released at each of the sites, with the last birds released in 1993 in Scotland and 1994 in England.
I have seen them in the last couple of years high above my parents' home, at Ivinghoe Beacon (Chilterns) and a couple more sites in the Beds/Bucks/Herts area, none far from where I stay.
I initially saw one red kite, wheeling around, up and down, above the trees and close to the ground. Then a second bird appeared and, for a short while, a third. The photographs of the three together were not high enough quality, partly due to the distance from me. In three or four minutes, I took around 300 photographs, mainly in burst mode, and most tracking the single bird.
It was hunting, so I could occasionally hear its high-pitched cry as it turned its head looking down for prey. Some of the early shots had a background of trees, but with the distance the kite was camouflaged so only one or two images were worth keeping. Later it changed direction and I had the perfect background of a rich, blue early-evening sky.
It only took a few minutes, but I knew I had a number of shots of these birds that were of quite high quality, so I headed back to the road where I had to wait for a suitable break in the traffic before running back to the car.
It took me a while to download the images to the Mac: with photographs from the morning I had just over 400 images. Another problem was that where I am is an internet black hole. The family are not online so I rely on a slow 4G signal (3G in the kitchen): I will never complain about 4G links in Bangkok again. The house is in a dell, so with the trees that surround the property, there is major attenuation of signals. I cannot work in the kitchen at the back of the house as the signal is so weak, while at the front, it is better, but not as good as I am used to.
In the hopes of uploading the images to iCloud, I tried my sister's house, but her wifi was so slow that leaving the Mac connected for 5 hours only uploaded 10 or so images. I will have to wait until I return to Bangkok to finalise the uploads.
A considerable waste of resources occurs as all images need to be uploaded, even those that have been deleted on the Mac. This seems to be due to the "Deleted" folder that still needs to be populated, so that users may undelete images on any device. I am able to judge when any upload of images has been completed by the contents of albums: these are the last to be updated on the other devices.
I have been able to transfer some images from the Mac to the iPhone using AirDrop, although the number I have transferred has only been a small proportion of those in the library on the Mac.
Travels with Cameras, a Mac and an iPhone (1): Return to UK
Travels with Cameras, a Mac and an iPhone (3): Bells in the Streets
Travels with Cameras, a Mac and an iPhone (4): Live Railway Museum Visits
Travels with Cameras, a Mac and an iPhone (5): Linton Zoo
Travels with Cameras, a Mac and an iPhone (6): Walks in the Country; Apple Watch 4; a Delayed Flight Home<>/a>
Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)