Tag Archives: South East Asian Birds

Oh well, the chance has gone… there will be a next time!.. UPDATE

Got up early this morning. Wanted to see, before working hours, whether the Blue Tailed Bee-Eaters were still feeding their chicks, or whether they had flown already. Sadly for my photography, but happily for the birds, they had gone. Not a photographer in sight was seen on approach and at that point, I knew all I needed to know.

A39T7554-impBut I had been going through other shots I had taken on a different memory card. Haven’t processed them all by any stretch, but found a couple that add to the album thus far.

Just a few shots that help tell this wonderful birds’ story a little more completely.

A few shots that for me at least, bring me pleasure seeing them.

A39T7555-impIt will be another year before these birds breed in Singapore again and that’s quite a wait when you think about it.

But that’s just the opportunity to shoot them whilst they are breeding.

A39T8494-impThere will be other opportunities to photograph these birds up until September, until those beauties  choose to leave our shores for alternate climes.

A39T8402-impSome chances to see and shoot  them some more, no doubt, and maybe even to photograph the newly fledged youngsters too.

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And come September when they have commenced their journey across the miles, our other species of Bee-Eater, the “Blue Tailed”, (left), will be arriving to provide further photo opportunities.

So the chicks have taken to the air which is a mighty fine thing. Mum and Dad raised them beautifully and doubtless right now they’re on the wing, sharpening their flying agility and learning to catch their prey. I may be lucky enough to see them doing this… who knows?

If I do, I’ll surely update you all with a posting on this blog. But until then, here’s a few more shots of this gorgeous bird!

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Happy Days :).

My heads’ got a radar and I’m not going “Ga-Ga”… a ‘Tern of events’…

A radar? In my head? Yup… AND, so have you! Cool, huh? Well it’s not a radar as such, but then again, it kind of is…

In our brains we have something called a Reticular Activating System, (RAS), that mainly controls our ability to sleep and wake, and be aroused. From an arousal perspective, it controls our ability to move almost instantaneously from a mental state (whatever that might be) to one of high alertness. And this cognitive mechanism “tracks” for things we are interested in. That could be anything. A new car perhaps. Member of the opposite sex, maybe. Anything that takes our fancy and is somewhat ‘top of mind’, in fact.

A few weeks ago I was driving along, “singing a song” merrily with the iPhone belting out a chosen playlist, and my RAS decided to ‘stop the music’. The music didn’t stop, of course, but to my mind it actually did.

A39T3042-impI had seen in my peripheral vision something white flying some distance away from me.

And then another, plus another.

I thought “they’re terns” and promised myself that at a later time, I’d go and investigate. Later that week I parked nearby the Kallang River in Singapore, and walked. With tripod, camera body and lens balanced carefully on my shoulder, and with the sun slipping towards a path that will light a different hemisphere, I started along the river’s footpath. I walked. After that, I walked some more. This was followed by more walking. I was beginning to regret not having brought my passport with me at one point. I began to wonder whether this was a bad idea. Maybe it was not my Tern to photograph that day?

A39T2891-impThen a flash of white around 400 metres away. And another. Plus erupting water.

YES! My quarry had come into view :).

I hurried along the footpath as best I could and placed my tripod down in a fashion that seemed less than gentle and organised. The camera was ON… settings selected already, in anticipation… Shutter Priority Tv mode, 1/2500 shutter speed, servo Autofocusing, focusing restricted to the back button of the camera with exposure isolated on the shutter button. High Speed Continuous shooting mode. Spot metering.  I was primed!

Saw the bird dive and tried to follow it. Hmm. Struggled. This guy (or gal) is kind of quick. Got some shots away, and reviewed in the LCD screen. Nothing. As in ZIP! No images? Huh? Oops… no memory card. I let out a series of profanities and if my memory is right, it had something to do with ducks.  Or something that sounded like ducks… I can’t recall 🙂 .

I was rifling through my camera gadget pouch on my belt. PLEEEEEase let their be a memory card there. Please. I usually have spares but my mind was full of doubts. Couldn’t find any. Maybe my RAS was scanning for negatives? But then my eyes GLEAMED. My velcro card pouch was hiding behind the spare camera battery. SAVED! In went two 32Gb Compact Flash cards and we were ready to shoot. And the birds, are… Gone.  AAARRGGHH! What an idiot! I hadn’t noticed, peripherally, anything fly by me, so I thought I’d better keep walking. The birds are either a head, or merely a memory in my head.

A39T3042-imp After around 500 metres or so, I espied the birds again. Diving. And heading for me!

Happy Days :).

So with gear at the ready, I began to follow the flight of one bird, whilst another would dive. I’d dumbly try and focus on the bird that had dived then, but by the time I had gotten the lens trained anywhere near where the calm surface had been disturbed by the bird, it was airborne and en route elsewhere. I noticed these birds are fast. I have tried researching  how fast but cannot find any empirical data. But what I do know is what I was observing, and that from a height of around 8 metres, they hover, select prey, and then plummet to the water to catch their prey. From hovering to breaking the surface is MAXIMUM one half second… probably less. But even then at one half second, the bird’s diving speed can now be estimated. So… one half second to travel 8 metres  is equivalent to around 58KM per hour. NO WONDER I was struggling to photograph them!

I needed a strategy. SO I decided to loosely follow the flight path of just ONE bird (of the three) and ignore the others. Then when THAT one bird decided to hover, it was preparing to dive. And directly underneath where it was hovering, is where the water entry point is going to be. Hmm. Well, my camera’s 12 frames per second shooting speed was tested. I got shots of all manner of things. Water. Ripples. More ripples. Bird-less splashes. Out of focus white shapes. Concrete river sides. I couldn’t pan and track the bird in the right place and at the right speed.

A39T2801-impBut eventually, I started to capture the bird diving and exiting the water.  I could predict the speed and location of the plunge a little better.

It took a while and thankfully these birds did not always emerge triumphantly from the river, having caught fish. So my opportunities to shoot them were exponentially increased. PHEW!

A39T2800-impBy focusing the camera on the water’s surface nearby where I thought the bird would dive, this helped speed focusing when it DID dive. The lens ‘travel’ was thus somewhat minimised.

I didn’t have time to look in the LCD screen of the camera to see if I was getting this action clearly – the action was frenetic. Just a quick glance at the end of a series of shots, where the LCD screen was depicting the last shot taken.  I hoped above all hopes that some of these shots would be in focus. I had absolutely no time to check as the birds were diving so regularly and I knew they would not be around for long. So I decided to “Press on” … quite literally, from my shutter button’s perspective.

I was trusting that my camera settings were pretty much ‘on the money’. I gambled that this was the case and despite the temptation to stop and check images I had taken already, I kept shooting.

aWhen home I looked at the images and thankfully I managed to have a few that made me smile :).

I had so many images where either the bird was totally out of focus or the autofocus had majestically gotten water splashes that were pin sharp (but no bird)… LOL.

eBut I got some “keepers” as I’d call them. Decent ‘record shots’. I’m not going to win any photographic awards from the Smithsonian with these shots, but nonetheless I’m happy.

I was shooting these birds at reasonable distance, probably about 20 metres away in the main, and often further than that. For some reason they hung around, merrily diving and scouring the waterway for prey for around 15 minutes, I’d estimate.

bI wasn’t going to complain and was happy to witness them diving so often. Whilst focusing on one bird in the group, at times another would dive within 5 metres of where I was standing. They seemed totally unperturbed by my presence.

cEventually the birds were catching fish with more regularity. I felt it wouldn’t be long before they were satisfied, fully expecting them to fly to new places. I wasn’t wrong.

gAll of them left without ceremony, no final foray, no announcement I could detect; it was merely a case that they all flew off together. I have no idea how they knew to do this. There was no cry or call. No sound save for the previous splashes as one after another of these gorgeous Little Terns caused pockets of water to reach skyward, in protest at the birds’ disturbance.

It was as if the birds just knew. It was time to leave. Had some kind of 6th sense. An internal radar of sorts. An RAS maybe?

I’ve seen them since on several occasions flying along this waterway. But not diving and fishing. I imagine when I shot them doing that, they had good reason to catch fish with abundance and vigour. Chicks needed feeding maybe? I’ll never know. My radar can’t tell me that. But I’m glad my radar caused me to locate these birds in the first place. Which it did. Maybe I’m not going “Ga-Ga” after all.

Happy Days 🙂

 

When is a common kingfisher not a common kingfisher?

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?

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Common Kingfisher, migrant in Singapore

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.

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White Throated Kingfisher – Singapore’s most common kingfisher species.

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.

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The “sentry” stands guard on a man made perch…

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.

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A ‘more natural’ perch and pose.

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…

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Low Trajectory flight over water espying fish close to the surface.

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.

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Fish jump out of the water in alarm as the WTKF embarks on its’ hunting foray…

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’.

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Hunting by “touch”, skimming the surface with dexterity and precision of flight.

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.

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An “in motion, fly-by catch” sees a fish captured with some precision.

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).

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Gotcha!

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 :).

 

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OK… let’s go eat!

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.

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On lookout duty…

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 🙂