It was bye-bye Finca Flores and head up north once again. We'd miss our meals there but from a birding prospective it had not been exactly perfectly placed but there again , where is? Most birding hotspots are distantly separated.
Leaving at the crack of dawn once more it was easy to reach Monfrague NP via the southern entrance by 8.00am. In fact we were at the highest point at the Castillo de Monfrague by that time and all set for some Vulture action.
As the sun got warmer the Vultures took to the skies and sailed past our vantage point at reasonably close distance. The views over the national park are magnificent from up there and the views of the Vultures equally impressive.
Black,Egyptian and Griffon Vultures each gave us a great view. We were both snapping away.
Once again I was having trouble locking on focus and when I did the pictures were not quite where I wanted them to be.
I asked Mike for a look at his and they were a sharp as sharp could be.
Some of my images were pure mush, others not quite so bad.
Nevertheless I felt defeated, incapable and pretty damned useless.
After an hour more we descended down to the view point below and were lucky to find another lifer for me, the Blue Rock Thrush. Although distant the sun was shining which helped matters and so did my 2.0x teleconverter.
I was using a tripod so there could be no excuse for failing to put the focus point on the exact place it should be even if my hand holding technique had been falling apart!
I decided I'd give my crop body 7D2 an opportunity to see what it could do. 500mm lens + 2x TC + 1.6 crop camera theoretically gave me a total reach of 1120mm.
As I reached in to my camera bag for the 7D2 a Griffon Vulture flew past. Instinctively I grabbed a shot as the camera was attached to the 100-400 lens.
Now that looked pretty good and I wasn't even trying. Was the 7D2 actually better than the 1DX2 at achieving focus? Surely not.
I tried the body on the longer lens and the result was inconclusive to me.
If anything the 1DX2 was the better of the two even if the image was cropped to a greater extent.
Moving on we stopped next at a bridge where there were hundreds of House Martins flying around but more attractive a target were a couple of Alpine Swift. I decided to revert back to the 1DX again but rather than use the light and portable 100-400 I would stick with the 500. I needed as much reach as possible as the birds were not very big and they tend to fly at some height.
Steve Round may well have long forgotten the time he well advised me to use all my focus points for swallows and the likes but I haven't. It's the only chance of locking on as far as I'm concerned.
My very first shots actually caught them fairly nicely.
I was encouraged!
Flying slightly lower they presented a bigger target too.
The only trouble with multiple points are they do get confused easily when the subject's background changes, especially when they are only small in the total frame.
Didn't do too badly this time though but unfortunately the sun couldn't have been in a worse position.
It doesn't take long to get exhausted both physically and mentally when you are playing with these targets so we decided to give it a rest and went and parked up in the shade in a lay-by.
I was reviewing my images taken that morning. Why was I going wrong?
How come the 7D had done so well on the 100-400?
I was playing around and ended up with the 7D on the 100-400 again but this time with the 1.4 TC on to give me a bit more reach. Could I crack the Vultures with this combination? I tried focussing on a near tree a mere 4 feet away and it locked on instantly. Impressive. I tried focussing on another 30 feet away and it simply couldn't. I exchanged the 7D2 for the 1DX2 and that wouldn't focus either.
I took the teleconverter off and passed it to Mike, who was sat next to me, to hold for a moment while I re attached the camera. As I passed it over I was sure it made a noise from within.
Mike gave it a shake. It actually rattled.
All had been revealed. I was both gutted and relieved.
My problem solved.
It wasn't me after all.
The relief was tempered by the lost opportunity.
I might not see the Bustards fly again, unlikely to get close views of a Montague's Harrier again. That was the bad news, the better news was I had found out the problem reasonably early on the trip. It could have been worse.
Why I hadn't realised what was the problem earlier I'll never know. You assume there are no moving parts that can cause fault and as I had tried rubbing the electrical contacts on several occasions to try and improve matters without improvement I assumed it wasn't the TC at fault.
Fortunately we still had 8 days or so left in which to make amends.
Too late for that day but if the opportunity arose I'd return to Monfrague for another crack at the Vultures, that's for sure.
For the time being we decided to push on back to Colera Y Chozas and check in at the hotel before investigating some local birding when the sun wasn't quite so intense.
As it happened the local birding was virtually non existent where we were looking so that was it for the day.
Tomorrow we, well I at any rate, would start again.
A clean sheet.
Where would we go?