FANtastic and FANatical… becoming a fan of fantails

I’d seen fantails several times in the past. They’re very cute birds and have some personality in  the way they flit, skit and aerobatically extract insects from the air with surprising agility and surgical precision.

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Partial map of Pasir Ris Park, courtesy of National Parks, Singapore (these guys do a wonderful job by the way… http://www.nparks.gov.sg)

Much fanfare was made in the Singapore birding community when it became common knowledge that a pair of Pied Fantails were nesting in Pasir Ris Park.

Pasir Ris Park has long been popular with birders and general nature lovers, as it is well kept, has a very interesting mangrove section with boardwalks, so you can stroll through at your leisure and take in “all that is mangroves” and see creatures that are resident and depend on this habitat.

There are bridges at the beginning and end of the mangroves and many go there to photograph all manner of species; if ever there was a “Key to the Mangroves” bestowed upon the most prolific visitor, I’d probably be in the Top 5 candidates for receiving this. There’s a lovely little “Eco Pond” near the entrance to the mangroves and it is here that a pair of Pied Fantails decided to build their nest.

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Mum “at home”.

I photographed the female on the nest during brooding when I first discovered this nest was there. I did not return and had no plan to do so, as I didn’t want to disturb the birds and at times in Singapore, once news is out that a nest may be photographed, what looks like an artillery battery of long telephoto lenses seems to descend upon the location.  I learned around a week later, however, that the nest had been partially destroyed.

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Aisan Koel (female) shot feeding on berries.

It was reported that a large member of the   cuckoo family decided to try and help the fantails become surrogate parents  for this bird and apparently a female Asian Koel had tried to lay an egg in the fantails’ nest.  This is not a winning strategy. A fantail’s nest is very petite. A fantail itself is pretty small too at 18cm, just slightly larger than a House Sparrow.  An Asian Koel is a rather large bird at 42cm. To put that pretty much exactly into perspective, think of a common crow – it’s the same size.  So this female Asian Koel basically decimated the fantail’s nest by trying to lay an egg in it. I guessed the fantails would give up on this site and go make merry someplace else.

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The bottom of the nest is ragged, seemingly messy and in disarray.

But to my surprise they didn’t… they rebuilt the nest and restored it to its’ past splendour.

A fantails’ nest is a tale of to extremes. The bottom is quite a ragged affair and just hangs loose with no planned rhyme nor reason.

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Beautifully crafted top of the nest, literally, an egg cup.

But the top of the nest, the cup? Well that’s another story completely. It’s like a perfect little egg cup, which, in essence, is exactly what it is until the chicks hatch.

It’s woven together with tremendous precision, as you can see (above), and amazingly, the reason why the top of the nest looks so smooth is because it has been made smooth, with spider’s webbing.

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Male Pied Fantail (without the spider’s webs)

Male Fantails return to the nest under construction, especially in the later stages of the nest building, with their heads covered in spider’s webs. These are used to not only smooth the shape but also adhere the plant fibres together… like a glue, in essence. How cool is that?

It seems I am becoming a true fan of fantails… Recently I went to India on business and sadly, through sheer bad luck, I had really bad tummy problems. Nothing life threatening, but enough to even now be able to paint that hotel bathroom from memory, be able to recall the symphony my digestive system was performing, along with real unpleasantness throughout. So despite having birding photo gear with me, I did not shoot much… I could hardly hold the camera and my 500mm lens.

On the last day however, just as the sun had left us for the day, I heard a familiar song outside the office building in Powai, Mumbai, that I was visiting.

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Spotted Fantail

I knew it was a fantail of some sort. Despite feeling pretty awful, I was damned if I was going to leave Mumbai with not even one birdshot, after having schlepped all that equipment that far. So back upstairs I went, grabbed the camera, and took a few shots handheld.

A39T6437-impI was soooo shaky it wasn’t funny, as I still felt dreadful. But I snapped a few shots anyway, with ridiculously high ISO’s owing to no light (street lamps were already on outside).

Still, at least I got a bird photo from India and pleasantly it was one of my favourite little bird types, and a new species of fantail to boot!

Earlier today, July 19th, I went to Pasir Ris Park again. I’d fitted a new video head to my tripod and wanted to try it out for birds in flight photography. My target species were Stork billed Kingfishers.  I saw quite a few, but they were not in the mood for diving and feeding, sadly. On top of that, it rained. As in Singapore Rain. The kind of rain that bounces and descends in sheets, duvets and all but the mattress. The kind of rain that at the outset, leaves large coin shapes on the walkways, from just one raindrop. I sheltered, and decided to call it a day… the light was awful and I was as wet as a fish’s bathing costume.

But as ever, my mantra rang true and clear in my mind… “get that one, LAST, shot!”

So I walked not far from where the fantails had been nesting, despite this being a longer route to leave the park. And there it was. THAT sound. Again. One of those fave tunes of mine, from my mental playlist.

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Pied Fantail (juvenile)… great to see them doing well 🙂

A fantail. Yehey! I went looking for it and certainly found it. And here it is… juvenile, I believe, and a flitting and skating to its’ little hearts’ content. And it’s doing well!

Seems like mum and dad fantail’s perseverance paid off. And I guess my looking for “that one last shot” paid off too. I actually got several and will post them later.

Happy Days 🙂

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