Friday, December 24, 2010

Four to Geese

Twas the day before Christmas eve, and some of my friends were free
and so we thought we'd get together and go on a birding spree.
Bong said, "Let's go to Candaba since the weather is quite fair
and maybe we'll get lucky and see the white-fronted geese there."
I hemmed and I hawed because I've seen those birds before
but then I was reminded that Candaba has not just geese but even more.
So we went early in the morning while it was still very dark,
all four of us bird photographers, me and Gabs, and Bong and Mark.
As soon as we arrived Bong started to yell, "Javan Pond Heron!"
With a lifer to start our birding day, we knew we'd be lucky from thereon.
So we moved on and saw the ducks swimming far, far away.
Occasionally they would fly and that's when I saw the Garganey.
With that I got my second lifer of the day tucked under my belt
the smile on my face reflected the sheer happiness I felt.
I was in this elated state when I saw the white-fronted geese
flying towards us - a sight that no one among us could ever miss
Thirteen geese a-flying, four cameras a-clicking and I could see
my friends jubilantly rejoicing as I gladly shared with their glee.
Later on a a cute family of Little Grebes we were also able to find.
So much so that I knew my friends and I - we are of one mind
after having seen such uncommon birds, that for all four of us
This will be one very merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Return of the Naked

Okay, so here I was rather content on my photographs of the very uncommon Naked-faced Spiderhunter - you know those that show the entire underparts of  this  hyperactive bird - when to my surprise there appeared in facebook a whole plethora of fantabulous shots taken by my fellow bird photographers the day after we were at La Mesa Ecopark. What a difference one day made! 

I was envious! I was jealous! All those sins of vanity darkened my brooding heart. I went to bed that Saturday night with heaviness of spirit. A text message in the middle of the night got me jumping out of bed. It was my birding buddy, Neon. He said he will be going back to the Ecopark Sunday morning. Apparently he, too, was hit hard by those nicely-posed pictures of the spiderhunter and he, just like me, wanted to have the same. He will even pick me up from my home, he volunteered.

Now I am not a religious freak but I do know my spiritual priorities. So I politely declined Neon's proposal and went back to bed feeling at peace with my decision. Sunday morning I told my wife, Cynthia, about what transpired the night before. She suggested that we can go to the evening service instead of the 8:30 am one that we normally attend so that we can be with Neon to look for the spiderhunters. But I was firm. I texted Neon advising him that we will just meet up with him at the park at around 11 am and to please wait for us.

A little before 11 am we were at Commonwealth Avenue. Cynthia called Neon to confirm if he was still there and to ask for directions in getting to the park. We arrived about 10 minutes later. I was about to register and sign the waiver (required if taking photographs in the park) when the lady at the counter waved us off saying our friends already signed the waiver on our behalf. Next came the queue at the booth where the entrance fees were paid. Inasmuch as senior citizens residing in Quezon City are admitted free we bypassed the booth and just nodded at the guard at the entrance, who nodded back amiably.

Finally reaching the orchidarium, that quaint enchanted place where the naked-faced spiderhunter poses for photographers, we bumped into fellow birdnut DocMando who said that our quarry had been there about 10 minutes ago and now it's gone again.

Undaunted by this somewhat depressing news we joined the rest of the group: Neon and his wife Aphine, Bong, Bert, Mark, and Doc Chito. Although they already had some good views of the spiderhunters (there were two of them) earlier the gang was still hoping for more (and better) photo opportunities. For more than an hour we waited, sometimes under a soft drizzle, regaling each other with our avian encounters. At one point when I was feeling the onset of despair, I turned to my wife who was chatting with Aphine and gestured to her to pray. I uttered a silent one myself. At half past twelve, we were all getting antsy. Bert and Mark said they couldn't wait any longer and packed up their gears. We that remained behind looked at each other and came to an agreement that we will all leave at quarter to one regardless. Five minutes after Bert and Mark left, the sun peeped through the gray clouds. I told my buddies that the stage was now being set for the spiderhunters to come down to the orchidarium. It was then that we saw Doc Mando who was at the other side of the fence, point to the heliconia bush in front of us. Lo and behold the Naked-faced Spiderhunter was there and for the next five minutes or so gave us the looks that we all have been waiting for. By 12:45 the enigmatic feathered creature was gone, leaving five bird photographers breathless and exhilarated.

With that we turned our focus on our next endeavour...having lunch. As Cynthia and I were driving home, I was thinking, was it Divine providence that the spiderhunter showed up just as we were getting ready to leave? Was it Divine providence that the sun shone albeit briefly just at that precise moment? Did I mention that it rained rather heavily right after we left? I am not a religious person but I know that prayers do get answered.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Naked We Came

The warning on the waiver sheet was very clear: "All photographs taken in this park must be of wholesome nature." I was whispering to Neon, who was signing said waiver on our behalf, that our real purpose for coming was all about getting the naked..when he abruptly shushed me and flashed a disarming smile at the lovely park attendant.

Formalities having done with, all five of us (Neon, Rey, Alain, Doc Mando and myself) proceeded to the orchidarium united in a single purpose: take a picture of the Naked-faced Spiderhunter. We all already had a foretaste of this endeavour when right across from the parking lot we had glimpses of this legendary bird cavorting high up in the narra tree. But now we were spread out trying our very best to blend among the various heliconia patches with hopes that the spiderhunter would award us with its presence.

Patience finally paid off when it alit, not on a heliconia, but on another flowering plant. Where it was partially hidden from our view. Nevertheless, bird photographers never let an opportunity, no matter how daunting, go to waste. 

Three hours later all I had to show for my efforts was a full body shot...from below.

Meanwhile, back in Valenzuela, Bulacan, fellow birdnut Edu was texting everybody informing us that the migrant Black-headed Gulls were still in his "backyard". A quick meeting with my confreres resulted in an agreement that we all (except Alain, who will be joining his better half for their anniversary celebration) proceed to Bulacan. And to heck with lunch.

The pangs of hunger and the stress from going through an aggravating traffic situation all dissipated into thin air as Edu welcomed us into the hut overlooking the fishponds (known as Solomon's Place). There before us were literally hundreds of Black-headed Gulls. This time bird photography was as easy as it can get.

Having obligations later that day, Neon and I had to beg off from this pleasant undertaking. Thanking our hosts, we left at around two pm, trying not to think of the road battles set before us. I finally got home at 4:30 after dropping off Neon at the University of the Philippines where he will be joining his children at the Lantern Parade that night.

As I was processing my photographs that evening, I can't help but smile. Not only did we get two lifers that day, naked-faced we came and returned black-headed.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Size Matters

There was a time when I was a firm believer of the adage, "it's not the size of your equipment that matters, it's how you use it". However an incident in Los Angeles a couple of years ago made me reconsider my perspective on that subject matter.

My wife, Cynthia, was at work, and I, being retired, decided to go to the Los Angeles Arboretum for some birding. I was busy taking pictures of a Red-whiskered Bulbul using my 100-400 zoom lens when I noticed a pretty lady ogling me from a distance. She had a camera of her own albeit with a "normal" lens and she would occasionally take some shots of the various flora around her. Then her gazes toward me became more frequent and more intense until to my surprise she decided to approach me. She looked at me with desirous eyes and said, "You have a big one! May I hold it?" To say that I blushed with the intensity of freshly cut beef sirloin was an understatement. Flushed and frozen I just stared back at her. 

"I just want to know if a tiny woman like me can handle such size", she tried to explain.

 "W-wwell, my wife certainly can, and she's just about your size", I stammered. "As a matter of fact it is hers." Whereupon with trembling hands, I handed my camera with the zoom lens to her.

"Oh, it feels good!", she said with satisfaction.

Regaining my composure and trying to conceal my embarassment, I proceeded to extol the virtues of having this type of lens especially when taking pictures of birds (which she said she would be interested in trying.)

The choice of lens has long been the subject that interests most, if not all, of those who would like to go into bird photography. Allow me then to pitch in some of my points of view regarding this matter.

Bird photographers are almost always birders also and to some degree some birders also like taking pictures of the birds that they see. Birds, in general are tiny, active and skittish creatures and to be able to capture good images of them, a long lens is a must. If out on the field and your primary purpose is to see and hopefully photograph as many birds as there are possible to see, then a 400mm lens (but not the one with a maximum aperture of 2.8 - those are monsters!) would be your best bet. They are light enough to be carried along long walks and powerful enough to capture the images of the birds you encounter along the way.

On the other hand, if you intend to pretty much stay put in an area where birds come (or if you are strong enough to lug them around), then a 500mm lens is the equipment for you. These bulky things, by and large, should be mounted on a tripod for stability purposes, which, of course, adds to the setup's total weight. The results, however, fully compensate for the encumbrances of these photographic gear.

I was explaning all these things in even more detail to the lady when she flashed me a quick smile, uttered a quick "thanks!" and left. Jolted by her sudden departure, I looked at the direction she was headed and smilingly shook my head as I realized the reason why. There stood a man brandishing a humongous 500mm lens with an extender looking as virile as any bird photographer with this kind of equipment can get.

Size matters. Really.