SUPER early start for me today. AND, I’m far from a ‘morning person’. so what dragged me kicking and screaming from a super comfy bed and restful sleep you may ask? Hmm. Pin Tailed Whydahs. Not endemic to Singapore. Escapees. Probably have Permanent Resident status by now. So many might think, as mere escapees, WhyDah Heck would you want to go photograph this. Haha.I guess it’s about beauty. And behaviour that’s awesome to watch and compelling to photograph. “Whydah” is actually pronounced ‘widder’, phonetically, though you’d never know that from how it is spelled.
Pin Tailed Whyndahs have elaborate mating rituals which may make one imagine that parenthood is taken seriously. It is taken seriously… these responsibilities are seriously DELEGATED to a surrogate pair of birds. I.E. the Whydah parents lay their eggs in the nests of other hapless birds, who then proceed to take on the parental duties and responsibilities of the Whydah, on a surrogate basis, and akin to the behaviour of a cuckoo.
The mating process is systematic and whilst appearing wonderfully romantic given the elaborate displays that the male Whydah performs before females, actually has circumstantial process steps that either enable, or prevent, mating from taking place.
The ritual performed by the male Whydah is jaw-droppingly elaborate and joyous to witness, as flight patterns that are not typical of birds are performed with adeptness that defies all but spiritual consideration.
Laws of physics and as an extension flight, appear to be subordinated to mere ‘considerations for other birds’, as the male performs manoeuvres that defy logic and feed the optic nerve with sensorial bliss for the onlooker. Dips and dives, with plumage a flutter – never a stutter, as descents are traded for ascents, a flick of the tail and gravity assailed.
Only when the female has located suitable surrogate parents will she give herself to the male, and it is at this point that all that motion splendid aerial posturing may be even entertained, let alone considered.
Furthermore, the male is then further vetted for suitability based on its choral mimicry ability – he has to be able to imitate the surrogate parents’ calls, in order to ensure the surrogate nest is not abandoned once egg placements has occurred.
When the female is satisfied that the male can suitably match up to all these criteria, then a mating session occurs and unwitting surrogate parenting ensues from unsuspecting birds of carefully selected species.
What a convoluted process to procreate. One might say the male is led on ‘a merry dance’. And after procreation and the mating season ends, those resplendent tail feathers that provide such motion to the dance of passion, merely are shed until next breeding season.From my perspective, witnessing and capturing this display surpasses mere merriment and paints the sky with an aerial ballet that is lacking purely in the absence of music.
If I were to add music to the scene, it would not be from a ballet. I’d choose Strauss, and By The Beautiful Blue Danube.
This music has crescendos, grace, an enveloping quality that simply draws you in and caresses your senses.
A male Pin Tailed Whydah’s display grabs me like that too. So WhyDah Heck would I get up so early before work to photograph this bird? Well now you know… and here’s some closer shots from earlier that morning… Happy Days.
Pin Tailed Whydah, Punggol, Singapore, April 2015.
On Saturday I went to Pasir Ris to practice BIF (Bird In Flight) photography, and after a couple of hours my camera shutter was not exactly getting worn out. In fact, it was about as likely to be engaged as Britney Spears at a Mother Of The Year convention.
After a little while, I began to hear whistles. Quite a few whistles. And to be honest, I paid little heed to this, not having won any ‘world’s most attractive man’ awards. But some frantic waving caught my eye from an observation hut around 350 metres away. I trained my lens and saw a few birding buddies, beckoning me to join them. So the tripod and gear was duly slung over the shoulder, and off I went. When I got there it became apparent why I was being beckoned.
Not just for the camaraderie (thought that in itself was enough reason to go join the group), but because an Oriental Pied Hornbill was perched nearby, and providing much food for my bird photographer buddy’s camera sensors. Cool. 🙂 . Happy Days!
So I set up my gear and began to delight in the Hornbill’s coy movements and preening.
I shot the Hornbill quite a few times but in all honesty, it wasn’t THAT close and it was sunbathing. The light was pretty harsh which meant it was difficult to render much detail in the shots I could take from my position. Nonetheless it was great to catch up with a few birding buddies and have a ‘chinwag’.
It wasn’t long before I noticed, some distance away , that a pair of Blue Throated Bee-Eaters were feeding on what seemed like a bounty of various insects. Apologies for the clarity of these shots, taken against a bright sky background, and at distance (not a winning scenario for crisp shooting). I trained my camera on them for a little while, whilst trying to ignore the fact that it was way past lunch and I was getting very hungry. A Coppersmith Barbet joined them soon after, which I told the birders as they were still happily snapping the Hornbill.
The Barbet wasn’t content, evidently, with these Bee-Eaters sharing its’ perches, and took an aggressive stance.
I decided to train my lens on the scene, in anticipation of the Barbet getting aggressive. Sure enough it decided to cause both Bee-Eaters to take flight and return to a perch they had occupied earlier, much farther away.
Many of the birders saw this fast sequence of events, though I don’t think anyone else captured this. In any event, I said my goodbyes and headed back to the bridge across the Tampines River, for a final ½ hour and to see if the Stork Billed Kingfisher would return. I’d promised myself that I would go and eat after that. I set up my tripod and all on the bridge and one other bird photographer was present.
I heard a chirping. A loud chirping. It seemed near but I couldn’t locate the source of it. Finally I saw a recently fledged sunbird in-between the wooden slates of the bridge railing and some orange netting that local authorities had placed there. The bird seemed distressed and I could not locate either of its’ parents. I picked the young bird up and returned it to sanctuary in a nearby hedge. It seemed comfortable and continued chirping.
I thought it would be fine and returned to my camera set up. Merely a few moments later I heard chirping again and observed the young sunbird flying towards me. I stood still. It came to rest. On my shoulder! LOL. My goodness. So now I was to become a father again??? The other photographer was kind enough to take a few shots with my iPhone, which are shown here. not good quality, obviously, but nonetheless a record of the event.
I took the sunbird in my open palm and walked. Then stopped. Awaited the fledgling to chirp, which it incessantly did. It took me around 10 minutes of walking and stopping, covering an area of maybe 50 square metres, before the youngsters’ chirps were answered. I placed the sunbird carefully into a bush, and its’ mother was in the top of this plant. The sunbird flew back onto my hand. The mother came down the bush to examine the proceedings. But made no sound. Just watched. Very carefully. Gingerly. I placed the bird back a further 3 times, and each time it flew back to me, landing on each hand and an arm. Still I placed it back in the bush. And FINALLY, ‘mum’ called to its’ youngster. The youngster immediately acknowledged the mother… both were reunited.
Whilst this was going on, i couldn’t carry my photography gear with me, so I didn’t get to shoot them both together; by the time I went back with it, they were both gone. but mum and youngster were reunited, so I was happy. Mum had probably taken the fledgling for lunch. I thought it was time I did the same. So off I went… resplendent with a smile that stayed with me, for quite some time. I’m smiling even now, as I am typing this. I feel very fortunate that this bird ‘took to me’. Animals often do, and I am always grateful for this. They say that creatures can sense whether a human means them harm or not. This fledgling sunbird seemingly felt I’d take care of it. Smart bird, despite its’ immaturity. It could have picked few better people, to transfer it back to its’ mum. 🙂 .
I’m glad it chose me. The bridge has joggers and cyclists passing over it regularly. I couldn’t leave the bird there. It could have been harmed. Killed even. And with the regular human traffic travelling in a variety of ways, ‘mum’ wasn’t going to come and rescue its’ chick. So I thought it best to plan a reunion. I’m glad I did 🙂 .
When you know that birds have been busy making nests, making out, laying eggs and finally rearing young, it’s always nice to go back to a place and see how youngsters are doing. Yesterday, I thought I’d go and see how Sunbird youngsters that had recently fledged were doing…. just for a couple of hours.
It amazes me how such a beautiful bird can construct a nest that’s pretty messy, AND with total disregard at times for the proximity of humans and their potential interference. This nest (left) was suspended from a plant that meant the nest was literally less than 3 feet beneath an HDB ground floor apartment window, in Tampines. Whilst I saw the ‘messy nest’ here, out of respect for the birds and not wishing to disturb them, I made this nest’s location known only to the occupants of the apartment; that way their children could marvel at what was so near to them, and hopefully encourage them to keep the sunbirds and their nesting process ‘dear to them’. They hatched successfully 😉 .
So, back to yesterday, Saturday, August 2nd. I made a quick trip for a couple of hours at Satay by the Bay, in Singapore, to see how youngsters that had fledged the nest were doing. Ran into a birding friend too, Vincent Ng, 🙂 . It’s great when you meet up with someone who is just as passionate about nature photography as you are and especially if you enjoy their photography skills. I certainly enjoy seeing Vincent’s shots. So meeting him for the first time in quite a while simply made the morning even nicer as we caught up for a good old “chinwag” in between shots, sharing tips and tricks, places, faces and all… really nice 🙂 . Not all photographers are willing to share and when someone does, it’s kind of special… thank you Vincent, as always!
Aside from an impromptu catch up, the morning presented some nice photo opportunities. Nothing overly spectacular, but nonetheless most enjoyable. Those of you who regularly follow this blog will know how much I love sunbirds here in Singapore. They’re beautiful, have great character and are reasonably abundant; I’d say we are blessed to have such birds here and I have blogged about them a few times. So today I wanted to get a “little practice” with a new video head I had placed on my tripod and at the same time take a few shots of the sunbird ‘youngsters’ that maybe I’d see. I was in for a treat…
I threw all traditional “rules of ⅓ ” out of the window today. I thought it may be a pleasant change to show you these lovely sunbird youngsters ‘up close and personal’ given their relative proximity to where I was standing much of the time. In fact, the camera lens was most often set to minimum focal range, i.e. within 10 metres, for much of the practice shoot.
Our most common sunbird in Singapore is the Olive Backed Sunbird (OBS) variety.
It was little surprise that I saw so many and that the youngsters were doing well. Most were feasting on nectar from Heliconia and Ginger plants in the main.
Whilst the male OBS (above) has gotten much of its’ blue throat in place, it was nice to see other males that were ‘not so far along that journey’, with those trademark blue hues only just beginning to emerge.
I saw quite a few males throughout the morning, in varying conditions of development and corresponding plumage development too.
At time those radiant hues ‘weren’t quite there yet’ for some of the birds.
For others, that transformation into sheer beauty had taken shape and so a spectrum of plumage development was seen… not perfect yet, but getting there.
On some of the shots, nature’s wondrously engineered sunbird tongue, specifically geared to extract nectar from chosen plants with supreme dexterity, could clearly be seen.
As the rising morning sun began to kiss the various plants, the sunbirds were extremely active in securing their energy needs, as more and more plants produced nectar under the sun’s encouragement.
The birds were flitting and skating to their hearts content, from one flowering bud to another, repeating that same pattern of relieving the plant of their nectar.
Female OBS’s were in abundance too, as you may expect. It was interesting to see them at various stages of their development too, and all too often whilst they were in ‘nectar gathering mode’, a male would show up and they both would leave the scene together, aerobatically playing games of ‘cat and mouse’.
(Left) is a female about to take flight under the distracting influence of a male in proximity. If you look carefully you can even see that this startled female has lost some of the nectar droplets she was gathering.
It wasn’t long after that another (perhaps the same?) female arrived at a nearby ginger plant.
I expect this is possibly the same bird, having returned once the male’s attentions had been suitably dealt with by eluding him in the playful chase. Whichever, the bird seemed unperturbed.
This female bird stayed around a little longer, unharried by others, and took full advantage of this period of ‘solace’. She was happy flitting from bud to bud, uninterrupted.
A male OBS did put in an appearance after 5 or so minutes, but this time the female seemed less playful and merely retreated to a nearby branch and let out calls that surely confirmed a lack of engagement and a ‘leave me alone’ intent.
OBS’s were not the only sunbirds to put in an appearance. I was lucky enough to see the Brown Throated Sunbird (BTS) variety too.
This species were also in the ‘plumage development phase’, as can clearly be seen (left). That gorgeous natural palette around the throat is some way along the path towards splendour, but as yet, the journey remains in progress.
I only saw one BTS male; all other birds of this species were female.
They’re identifiable through the prominent ‘half eye ring’ and also the red eye itself.
Whilst vey young, it has to be said that female BTS’s have yet to become attractive. That red eye and evolving plumage presents a somewhat foreboding appearance to any observer. Several came and went whilst I was watching; they often chased off OBS’s yet that ‘male/female’ cat and mouse behaviour wasn’t seen with males of their own species.
The chasing was more of a ‘warding off’ towards OBS’s, in order to gain sole access to nectar providing plants.
Once the other sunbird species had been ‘encouraged to leave’, the BTS’s would arrive back at the ginger plant to begin their own nectar gathering.
They regularly ‘came and went’ as the morning progressed, though not with the frequency of the more common Olive Backed Sunbird variety.
So all in all the morning was very pleasing. It was good to catch up with a birding friend, lovely to see the sunbird youngsters flourishing and developing nicely, and a pleasure to shoot a few frames to share with you.
If you get the chance to see a sunbird or two today, then Happy Sunbird Sunday. If not, then have a great Sunday in any event and I hope your binoculars or DSLR are graced with some natural images to bring a smile to you.