The nature reserves that I hold so dear and frequent regularly were becoming awfully dry; ponds were all but moisture free and creatures were modifying their behaviour accordingly.
I was trying to photograph Common Kingfishers (CK’s) in early March, before they left our shores for alternate climes.
The ponds where I was ‘camping out’ in full camouflage regalia, (such an attractive sight – NOT!), were drying to the point of becoming a mere dampened mud patch with adhoc puddles of water present in only the most low lying of places. I’d previously watched these CK beauties and shot them from afar; clearly their diet became ever more skewed towards prawns and amphibia, rather than the fish they craved, which had gone MIA.
Lack of water has other impacts too… birds need to bathe; those feathers must be kept pristine in order to fly well and predictably. In the absence of water, this is not an easy task at all. Eventually, a little rain came. It was a blessed relief, albeit initially a mere respite from the intense heat and sunlight that was torching much of Singapore’s greenery into more of a “brownery”. I was out photographing when a swift downpour came, and I espied a flash of red in between some bushes that had very waxy leaves. I was some way away and trained my lens on the bush, as the rain caressed the foliage, quenched the parchedness, and moisturised me for merely a brief time.
There were a few gaps between the thick foliage of this waxy bush and before my eyes came a lovely sight into view. All thoughts of me getting soaked to the skin had long gone and I smiled as not one, but two heads appeared in those gaps, simultaneously. I saw the heads, the ‘portraits, of a pair of Flameback Woodpeckers, smartly taking advantage of this bush’s waxy leaves. They were using the water that was being caught in the curvature of leaves, and the naturally made wash basins were taken full advantage of. I could have taken shelter from the rain. But if I had, the Flameback’s would have been missed… I’m glad I took pleasure in the soap-free shower.
A few days later I returned to the nature reserve and it wasn’t too long after I arrived before the sky’s grey bounty was released with wanton abandon, as nature did its’ best to compensate for recent failings to quench the earth. The initial natural sprinkler lasted for the briefest of time, as the “sprinkler rose” was removed and the downpour that resulted felt as if it was coming directly from a giant hosepipe. With camera gear covered and aware that my ‘slight frame’ was not porous :), I made my may to a nearby shelter. Whilst progressing through sheets of downfall, water was running from the peak of my baseball cap, my camo T shirt clung to me for dear life, and the bottom hem of my shorts perpetually leaked running water, as if my socks were also in need of quenching.
Upon reaching the shelter, I placed down my camera gear, used a dry towel to mop those few places where water had evaded the rain covers, and gazed with a renewed penchant towards the nature reserve and its’ welcome for this refreshment. At this point I saw some movement, around 25 metres away. It was hard to make out in the greyness and my camera lens was battling to provide me with a view as the intensifying humidity had announced its’ arrival via the “fog” on the front of my lens. I knew it would take at least twenty minutes for the temperature on the inside of the lens to balance with that outside; hopefully whatever I had seen moving may still be around – I could see no movement anymore.
It was around forty minutes before the earthbound torrent began to lose its’ momentum, as it slowed in pace, with droplets less frequent though expanded anew, bouncing on nearby stones. My lens had collaborated with the environment, and the remaining small amount of external mist was removed with a lens cloth, great care, and mild repetition. So with tripod set and lens pointing towards a nearby well-established tree, I gave the Canon 1DX a further drying caress, and turned the camera back on.
The rear autofocus button was depressed and held, as I surveyed the nearby landscape, in proximity to where I’d seen previous movement.
I felt joy and sorrow all at once, as a female Laced Woodpecker came into focus and began to fill my viewfinder. The light was poor, the weather conditions were awful yet welcomed by the nature reserve embracing the watery respite. This bird was doing its’ level best to save what was left of its’ natural beauty from the dulling and reshaping qualities of the storm.
I was about to gaze elsewhere, having taken a few shots of this unusually bedraggled bird, when she began to venture upwards.
I followed her through the viewfinder and saw her adjusting her position as she moved, until she was almost hanging from the tree and protected from the relentless emptying of the sky’s gifts. She climbed higher, and then stopped. It was at this point that I noticed she had ‘sought out some company’.
A male Laced Woodpecker had chosen the same tree to shelter from the torrid rain, equally hanging suspended at a gravity defying angle, to enable the ‘drying out’ process to begin in earnest. It seemed the male had managed to locate this position of relative dryness a lot earlier than the female.
His plumage was less soddened and his shape was more regular and typical.
He wasn’t his normal resplendent self, but it was clear that this transition back to splendour had begun.
I had previously not taken the opportunity to even think of what birds might do to escape the rain. I just imagined “they stayed dry somewhere”, not really considering in earnest the strategies that might be deployed to save the feathers from becoming waterlogged.
It was still raining reasonably hard, and as I was pretty much as wet as I could get, I thought I’d venture out to see if other birds behaved similarly. If these Laced Woodpeckers chose trees that were angled and positioned in such a way that the tree provided a shield from the rain, then maybe others did similarly?
It wasn’t long before I had my answer, as I made sure my camera and lens were fully enveloped by their respective rain covers.
Within 50 metres I saw a rufous woodpecker also similarly holding onto a tree that was shielding it from oncoming rain. This bird was wet too, but nowhere near as wet as it would have been, if it had merely perched in the open. I thought I’d press on and see what other birds may be sheltering, in one way or another. I saw a Flameback Woodpecker adopting exactly the same strategies again.
I couldn’t get a totally clear shot of her, as a growing wind was moving branches across my line of view.
But the picture left gives you the general idea that it’s evident woodpeckers have the same ‘gravity defying’ strategies for minimising the impact of heavy rain… find a solid tree that’s thick in stature, has a bough that’s partially inverted and in a direction that provides cover from the rain, and go hang on there until the rain subsides.
Singapore’s greenery has been somewhat restored now, compared to a few months back. And the Woodpeckers have been restored to their natural beauty too. Here are a few shots of them, looking more like, ‘their usual selves…
I guess sometimes when the heavens open, you might look skywards in angst and seek shelter. Alternatively you may look to the heavens and seek inspiration…
You might just be surprised what unfolds before you, if you protect your gear and put up with a little ‘dowsing’. The shot above was taken at a wetland reserve in Singapore, in torrential rain… I just played with shutter speeds until the rain gave the shot the desired effect that I wanted.
So I like to walk in the rain. And I don’t just get soaked… I watch natures’ rainbows appear.
Happy Days 🙂