- Woodpeckers are found globally, except Australasia
- Many woodpeckers have fine feather bristles covering their nostrils to stop wood chips entering the nasal cavity
- Woodpeckers have 2 toes pointing forwards and 2 toes pointing backwards to grip trees better – most birds have 1 pointing backwards and 3 forwards
- Woodpeckers hammer their bill between 8-12,000 times per day!!!
- Woodpeckers hammer their bill to loosen bark to find insects, to make holes for nesting, and during the mating season, also to communicate with one another
- Woodpeckers have an unusually long tongue relative to their size, up to 4 inches in some species!
- Their tongue has a glue like substance on the tip, which aids the process of catching insects
So many times I have been out photographing nature and upon deciding to go home for the day, for some reason have the thought “some of my shots are OK today… but not great – I’ll see what I can do to get that one, last, shot”. This thought has resulted in me getting quite a few pleasing pictures and so whenever I am out shooting these days, and preparing to go home, my mantra now is
“get that one, last SHOT”!
Some simple thoughts I try and hold dear and tell myself when I am in ‘last shot mode’. and about to go home..
- Nature IS GOING to surprise you – Be Prepared!
- If my camera is turned “OFF”, that’s OK… as long as I have no more batteries. Otherwise, it stays “ON”. As in ALWAYS ON!!!
- Leave my camera in “P” mode (not fully auto – NEVER fully auto). One wheel spin to the left or right and I have either a faster shutter speed or more depth of field… FAST!
- Get the ‘one last shot’ first in “P” mode and switch modes later for creativity if your subject’s still there… get “the shot”, first.
- The photograph you want is there… you just haven’t found it yet
- Your subject is there – LOOK harder!
- Was that a sound?.. go find where it came from
- Did something move or did I imagine it?.. it was real – go find what it was.
- When I put my camera in the car, make sure I can get to it… quickly… even if it’s a body with a 500mm lens!
- ALWAYS keep a bean bag in the car that you can get to, so your car doorframe can be your impromptu tripod that is ‘good to go’, for when your traditional tripod has been collapsed and packed away.
I hope these thoughts may help you get your ‘one last shot’ in future :).
Sometimes I’m walking with tripod and camera on my shoulder back to the car and get that last shot. Sometimes I’m driving from the place I have been shooting and my camera gear is in the car and accessible to get the “last shot” (until I get home, I leave the camera and lens ready to go, turned on and in a backpack than can accommodate it without having to detach things). Other times I’ll deliberately walk back to the car a different and longer way, and see if opportunities present themselves. They often do. Not always. But often. Here’s a few examples of shots I have taken in just the last few months when really focusing to get that one, last, shot shot…
Fresh from being dowsed in the rain, just like I had been.
To see them both was a thrill, if only briefly.
Not a place I expected to shoot birds. Or anything else for that matter.
But nonetheless this cutie put in an appearance. As my camera was in a backpack on the back seat of the car, still set up and ‘good to go’, I managed to capture this shot impromptu.
This Sunda Pygmy Woodpecker was less than 35 metres from my car.
So cute, and so unexpected.
Several times when leaving Lor Halus a ‘surprise opportunity’ has presented itself. On the way back to the private road that connects the dam to the main road, this Long Tailed Strike showed up with a beak full of nesting material.
Only the briefest of moments were available to shoot this but the bird obliged with a nice pose.
I always carry a bean bag in the car so that if I’m alone, and driving before or after shooting, I have a “hide and tripod” ready to go.
These Baya Weavers were shot this way, whilst driving out of Lor Halus. Here the mother is feeding her fledgling at the side of the road and at the edge of very tall grass.
I shot this Paddyfield Pipit handheld, at relatively close proximity.
A similar thing happened at Satay By The Bay. I was next to the car and my tripod was in the process of being collapsed, when two birds landed nearby on bare branches. A total surprise. Again a few quick handheld “last shots” captured these beauties before they flew off.
Sometimes a respite before going home presents the opportunity. I’d been sheltering away from seriously heavy rain in Pasir Ris, but had still got soaked en route to shelter. I just wanted to go home. It was windy, and in Singapore terms was cool… I was starting to feel cold. This little guy seemed to not care about the downpour. On this occasion I’d turned the camera off as everywhere was so wet. I quickly turned it back on and got this shot before he, and I, sought a drier environment.
It’s not lways the case that birds show up to give me the last shot. From my perspective, if a subject is not human and has a heart beat, then the likelihood is that it’s interesting enough to shoot…
This fella, in full breeding colours to attract a mate, was shot opposite Tampines EcoGreen in a small tree at the side of the road.
I was waiting for my ride home and had started dismantling my gear in preparation. Then a flash of orange caught my eye.
I enjoyed the vibrance of his colouration and hope he managed to seek out the mate he was in search of.
Nonetheless I saw this butterfly. It’s common here in Singapore, but pretty (at least I think so). So I took this shot ‘on the fly’ and noticed its’ eyes were looking at me when I had the image on a bigger screen.
So when nature is going to surprise you, and it will, be prepared.
Be prepared for that “one last shot”.
Happy Days 🙂
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 🙂
The answer is simple… when it is not a Common Kingfisher, but actually is a common kingfisher. Confused? I’m not surprised…
In Singapore, we’re blessed with several species of Kingfishers. Recently I posted a blogpost about a River Kingfisher, the “Stork Billed Kingfisher” whereas today’s subject is a Tree Kingfisher, the “White Throated Kingfisher” (WTKF). In Singapore they’re very common, whereas the Common Kingfisher, a completely different bird, ironically isn’t so common and only graces our shores between September to March. So what’s in a name?
Common Kingfishers in Singapore are the same as we see in the UK… after all, the UK really only has that one species of kingfisher.
These birds are sadly not with us year round, as they are really pretty. The example (left) was taken earlier this year and shot from a distance of around 30 metres.
Singapore’s “common” kingfisher, from a frequency of distribution perspective, is called the White Throated Kingfisher and they are very widespread indeed. As they have evolved into “tree kingfishers”, WTKF’s are happy to take fish, though they more commonly dine on other prey. This includes large insects, amphibians, small reptiles such as ghekos and other lizards, to name but a few.
Most anywhere you go around the island, you’ll see these birds, whether in urban, forest / jungle or around waterways. The bird is highly adaptable and for its’ size is sufficiently aggressive to stake out territories in which it hunts and feeds.
They’re most commonly seen perched, as if ‘standing guard’ over their hunting areas that have been staked out as their own. They’ll happily be every bit as at home perched on a man made structure, such as steel fencing, street signs and the like, and this is where they are often seen most.
Additionally, they’ll undertake their guard duties and hunting activities from natural perches, and often within proximity to urban life and dwellings.
There are rich pickings to be had in such habitats for a bird such as this, who despite its’ hunting skills, has evolved to master scavenging type feeding activity without any problems whatsoever. I imagine this is why its’ distribution across the island is so widespread.
Some of these WTKF’s live in very close proximity to waterways and in these instances have a greater affinity to behave more like a river kingfisher. Fish becomes elevated as a food source… not to the exclusion of other food, but as a higher priority.
I’ve been watching WTKF’s fishing for some time now, and unlike river kingfishers, it is clear that the WTKF does not prefer to get itself wet. As a result it has developed hunting strategies and techniques that differ materially from river kingfishers. The latter dive with extreme gusto, causing the water to erupt, the bird to momentarily disappear, to shortly thereafter emerge from the water with either its’ prey, or obvious disappointment. WTKF’s do not undergo this perpetual diving / emerging / feeding / drying / preening / diving cycle; their hunting forays seem less ambitious, more conservative, perhaps practical even, and definitely less flamboyant. Or so I thought…
The WTKF chooses to have a very flat trajectory over the water, as it searches out fish that are either on, or very near to, the surface. The bird has seen activity when perched and then proceeds to “zoom in” for a closer look in the place(s) where they believe their prey will most likely be able to be caught.
At times the bird is in such close proximity to fish that are near the surface that the potential prey is clearly visible. In the picture (left) you can clearly see the fish jumping out of the WTKF’s flight path as they deploy their avoidance strategies in order to avert becoming the ‘next meal’.
The bird at times adopts strategies somewhat similar to “Skimmers” in India, for example, and upon seeing prey on its’ flight path, proceeds to dip the bill in the water in order to locate and entrap their prey.
When prey is located, the WTKF will then proceed to arch the head backwards to catch the fish, all whilst still I’m motion, and all the time remaining as dry as possible! The flight may be slowed at this point to enable the subtle entrapment of the fish in the birds’ mandibles (kingfishers typically fly at around 40- 50+ Kmph in a straight line).
Once the prey is caught, then the bird adjusts its’ posture to remain in flight and regain a more traditional flight pattern, all the time making sure that the prey is held onto tightly.
The prey is pulled free from its’ watery home and both bird and fish take to the air, one willingly and the other with far less enthusiasm :).
After that it’s merely a case of returning to a perch where the meal can be enjoyed in peace.
These birds may well be common, but I never tire of seeing them proudly perched aloft, surveying their patch, hunting therein and defending their territory with vigour and astonishing volume when agitated or angry.
So there you have it.
A common kingfisher in Singapore that’s not actually a Common Kingfisher.
And certainly one that does not behave in traditional kingfisher ways in its’ pursuit of prey.
I hope I get more chances to photograph these birds in future…
Happy Days 🙂
As posted recently, I went in search of Bee-Eaters on several occasions, now that the Blue Tailed variety has migrated and the Blue Throated variety has inevitably revealed itself within Singapore’s shores.
So one gloriously sunny recent weekend, I went back to Lor Halus for an hour or two and despite having Bee-Eaters in mind, ending up shooting a totally different species of bird, purely by accident, in more ways than one. Not only had I not planned to shoot this bird, and hence the ‘accidental reference’ on my part, but the bird is and of itself, in Singapore at least, an accident too.
This is because originally, the bird is not a resident here. Nor anywhere else in Asia, either. The bird in question is a Golden Backed Weaver, often referred to as “Jackson’s Weaver”.
This male shown on the left is in ‘tip top’ condition, resplendent with his breeding plumage for maximum effect with his potential female partners.
The bird is a resident of East Africa and Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan and Burundi in the main. But, having either escaped, or having been released, this bird has established itself locally in Singapore, bred successfully in the wild, and in localised places is now a fairly regular sight, if you know where to look.
These birds build interesting nests, as most weavers do. At the outset, the nest shape looks like a carefully knitted ‘parcel’ and reminds me of a Lo Mai Gai ( 糯米鸡) dim sum parcel, to begin with.
But it seems that whilst the nest is constructed with characteristic Weaver bird precision and dexterity, the nest isn’t completed until the pairing of male and female is complete.
So a parcel it remains, and the male then seeks to attract a female, with a ritual that’s gorgeous to watch.
Whilst shooting this bird, females came and went regularly and I could always tell when a female was in proximity as the acrobatic ‘mating display’ began in earnest and for quite some considerable time. I was really stunned by the beauty of this little bird, that in size proportions, is roughly equivalent to a common House or Tree Sparrow…
The male would suspend himself from under the partially constructed nest or different branches in proximity to the nest, and then unleash a breathtakingly stunning wing beating display, hanging suspended himself for maximum effect and visibility to females.
Well, as a casual observer ( on this intimate scene, an intruder, perhaps?), all I can say is that this “yellow fest” ritual would be hard to miss.
The male would suspend himself in all manner of gravity defying positions, seemingly to ensure that the unleashing of his spectacular display, whilst frenetically beating the wings, would be seen from many different angles by a potential mate. He’d periodically stop to look eagerly around, scanning the nearby branches and bushes, to see if he was being noticed by a suitable and interested mate.
The male would also fly here and there, to maximise the visibility to a potential partner that may be casually observing nearby.
I do not know how long this ritual goes on for, days wise. I know I looked on and was aghast by this beautiful yellow spectacle that was gracing my viewfinder and became a feast for my eyes.
I saw another nest that was some way ‘down the track’ towards completion, as it had begun to dry out already and more of a weaver ‘nestlike shape’ was emerging.
The female of the species is comparatively drab compared to the male with all that wonderful breeding plumage to literally, ‘show off’. I wonder how many of these ‘initial par built’ nests the males have to construct, before the females finally succumb to, or apply their selection criteria towards, the males’ antics and exhibition?
The females don’t just sit back and relax throughout the entire nest building process though…
It seems that once selection criteria has been applied to get the right mate, the partner has been chosen, and the basis for the nest has been built and also selected, then she too gets in on the act of helping to construct the final nest.
I guess I got lucky to be able to witness this awesome display of colour and mating ritual from these Golden Backed Weavers. I definitely did not go in search of these lovely little birds, that’s for sure. And I didn’t really get my ‘close up’ shots of the Blue Throated Bee-Eater either.
But that’s fine. it was a privilege to witness those birds displaying and building a new platform for the next generation. And even though this bird is theoretically an escapee, a released bird, an “accident”, well that’s of little interest to me. It’s display was not an accident and when I saw the beauty of what was unfolding before me, the photographing of this Golden Backed Weaver wasn’t an accident either… 🙂
How lucky was I on this day?