“I must confess that I am rather new to the world of birding and bird photography. Apart from all the interesting observations posted on the BESGroup blog, I owe much to individuals such as Subaraj, Gim Cheong, Dr Ho Hua Chew, Danny Lau, Con Foley and Doreen Ang for showing me how to hear and see what I would otherwise miss out, whether in the forest or out in open habitats.
“That said, I would like to share some observations of group behaviour (of humans not birds) seen in the wake of the recent excitement over the Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher (Cyex erithacus erithacus). In the first week of the sighting of the bird at its location by a popular jogging trail, I am glad to have enjoyed the company and knowledge of a number of photographers who also delighted in the other avian fauna of the general area, from rambunctious drongos and curious woodpeckers to the bevy of babblers, bulbuls and Siberian Blue Robins (Luscinia cyane) that descended to a nearby pool for their evening bath. All this activity kept everyone occupied and entertained before the elusive kingfisher finally made its appearance. I am told latecomers to the site even enjoyed the additional sight of Buffy Fish Owls (Ketupa ketupu) and Brown Hawk Owls (Ninox scutulata).
“After a week away from the reserves, I took the opportunity to drop by another location (1, 2) where an Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher had been regularly seen. A group of 8-9 other photographers were already at the site. As mentioned, I am fairly new to this scene and so consider myself not too attuned to the norms of the pursuit. So while awaiting the bird, I just watched what the others were doing, or wandered off on my own to see if I could find anything interesting. A little away from the hotspot, a few bulbuls were bathing in a part of the stream that flowed beneath a thicket of lianes and low shrubs. After they were done, a couple flew up towards the boardwalk, giving an opportunity for some shots of what I believe are Cream-vented Bulbuls (Pycnonotus simplex), an uncommon and nationally near-threatened resident (above left). There was also a colugo (Cynocephalus variegates) which someone spotted on a tree trunk (above right). I could also see in the stream below various small schooling fishes being stalked by a snakehead (Channa sp.).
“Returning to the group where I met a friend who had just arrived, I found that somebody had switched on an audio recording of what appeared to be amorphous jungle sounds and bird calls. I am not sure if this is akin to the practice of using bird calls to draw out certain birds, as the sound was to me like static that blurred out the ambient forest we were in. The kingfisher appeared at last but confined itself to a distant perch above a stream that afforded just one passable viewpoint, to which the photographers took turns to occupy and shoot their target. I understand that on other days, the bird had chosen quite prominent and photographically ideal perches, and some photographers were able to catch it in action feeding on freshwater prawns and small frogs. This time, the bird remained steadfastly at its far off perch. At some point, one of the photographers climbed over the boardwalk and positioned himself by a tree trunk about 4-5 m away from the bird, where he shot a few photos which I gather he was quite pleased with. I must say it was quite tempting to join him down there, as I was one of the few there unencumbered by a tripod. Some voices then asked the photographer who went down to try to flush the bird, probably hoping to get it to fly to a more amenable perch. There were suggestions of shaking a branch or palm leaf or even throwing things in the direction of the bird to get it to move.
“At that point and after some discussion, my friend and I decided it would be better to leave as we were not quite at ease with what was taking place. It was a fairly sizeable gathering, so you could say I was too birdlike (i.e. chicken) to voice out in the face of uneven group dynamics. My friend kindly dropped me off near the place where I sighted the earlier kingfisher which I thought would have been fairly deserted by this time. There were only five photographers (including myself) who waited for the bird. In the meantime, a Stork-billed Kingfisher (Halcyon capensis) (above) fished nearby, while the bulbuls, babblers and robins turned out in sequence.
“A surprise was a female Asian Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone paradisi), which fluttered awhile around the kingfisher’s favourite perch (right). I did not know the other people there and as I was tired, I did not talk much to them. At some point, however, I saw one of the photographers descending into the vegetation with a pair of scissors. I asked him what he was doing and he replied that he wanted to remove a leaf blocking the view. I said he shouldn’t be doing that and he responded with ‘Why?’ But he returned to the boardwalk without completing his task and I decided against further conversation. A little later, a couple of fly fishermen came by and swung their rods almost at the spot where the kingfisher would perch. Fortunately, an elderly passer-by told them to stop, as this was not a designated fishing area, and they went off. The kingfisher showed up a little after sunset but personally I was no longer in the mind to shoot it as the evening’s observations had left me with uneasy feelings as to whether it would be wise to share such sightings with the community at large in the future.
“What do readers think?”
13th February 2009
Sometime in the early 2000s, a group of bird photographers approached the President of the Nature Society (Singapore) with an offer of revitalising the then dormant Photo Group. Unfortunately the photographers’ overture was spurned. Maybe birdwatchers then were uncomfortable sharing their turf and expertise with another group stalking birds. Be that as it may, the Nature Society missed it’s a golden opportunity to work closely with photographers and in the process share with these newcomers some of the birdwatchers’ field ethics, especially in stalking and photographing birds, accumulated through years of fieldwork. After all, the best of birdwatchers, with their deep concern for the welfare of birds, surely did not start off as angels in the field.