Six am and I was alone at the mini forest in La Mesa Ecopark. My wife, Cynthia, decided to sit this one out due to family matters. There I was sweating profusely from the intense humidity even that early in the day. A flash of azure wings caught my eye. "Hooded Pitta" I assured myself. But it disappeared like magic. I sighed and walked slowly. Another flash of wings whoosed above me and landed on a twig. For about ten minutes the Common Emerald Dove just sat there posing as I took shot after shot at it. That photo session made me forget, at least for a short period, the inundation of my clothes from the incredibly endless perspiration that flowed from my body.
Eventually the dove flew off and I moved on. Time slowly passed. After about half an hour, my birding friends arrived. First were Bram and Kath, soon followed by Peter and then finally by Irene. It didn't take long for super spotter Bram to find one of the most sought after birds in the Ecopark. We took our positions as the Slaty-legged Crake meandered on the leaf strewn forest floor - too dark to enable good pictures. To our surprise, there were actually two of them. They even crossed the path right in front of us several times. Even when we already anticipated these crossings we were still unable to get one good shot at them. There was a time that one walked nonchalantly just a couple of feet from Bram's feet! Still no photos! But we were a patient (and sweaty) bunch of birders and that patience finally paid off when one of the Crakes paused from its food hunting and posed for us. It was as if a cool breeze suddenly blew away the warm, suffocating air.
Happy that we got this skulker, we now concentrated on locating the Pittas, either the Red-bellied or Hooded or preferably, both. We spread out to increase the chances of sighting our target birds. It was when I was alone and wiping my wet brow that the friendly neighborhood male Mangrove Blue Flycatcher alit in front of me with an unidentified object in its beak posing beautifully for me. Ok, no sweat there.
I called Peter but the flycatcher left before he could plunk down his tripod. As if to compensate for his disappointment, the other friendly neighborhood denizen of the park decided to model for us up close. The Ashy Thrush (now jokingly referred to as the Thrashy Thrush since it had become so common here) was indeed a welcome respite for both Peter and myself.
Soon local birder Anthony came and announced that he saw the Pechora Pipit. We all followed him and while the rest of the group were trying to get its picture, Anthony and I decided to let this one pass. Our conversation was rudely interrupted by the loud chattering of a Grey-backed Tailorbird. Now this was another hyperactive tiny bird that always poses a challenge to the most imperturbable of bird photographers. For one of their ilk to pose and sing in the open is a welcome refreshment in this sultry weather.
There was even a bonus in the form of a Lowland White-eye.
It was now half past ten, the heat getting more intense. For all of us, it was now Pitta or bust. The Hooded had been teasing us all morning - singing invisibly and tantalizingly close, or offering brief glimpses and then promptly disappearing in the dark understory. But now we were more resolute. Once again it played hide-and-seek with us. Until, thankfully, it ceased its exploration of the forest floor and posed, albeit partly hidden, for the briefest photographic moment.
We heaved a collective sigh of relief. Now it was time to go back to our own homes and enjoy the refreshing comfort of our airconditioned rooms.
Carolina Wren at Myakka River State Park
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