One of the reasons I love nature photography is the myriad of challenges it provides.  It is not just about knowing how to use camera equipment and  settings.  One needs seriously endless patience – wildlife in particular has no interest in “posing” and in the case of birds often a shot must literally be taken “on the fly.” This makes it particularly difficult to compose the details of a shot – perspective, symmetry, leading lines, quadrants and thirds, angle and position of the sun, clouds, subject and background and more.  Most of the time I have to think ahead to where the subject might be and train the camera on that spot, hoping that my trajectory estimate is correct.  Now, add all of this split-second timing to doing all this on a moving boat, even if it isn’t moving very quickly.

When all of the above works in tandem, the result is so rewarding.  And, if the subject, in this case a bird, is of a species you have been trying to photograph without success for many years it is downright exhilarating. I believe my resonance with South India and specifically the backwaters of Kerala  helped to produce such perfect moments.

The bird in the top photo is an anhinga, a bird that I have been successful photographing previously. However, the varied green and very lush vegetation along the backwaters against the darkness of the birds provided great compositions. Same for the cormorant, below:


Even slightly hidden, this  long necked anhinga nestled in an island of hyacinth plants  is a pretty shot:

Now let me share the challenges of the day.  First, if you looked carefully at the video  of our houseboat gliding down the backwaters in a previous post, you might have noticed transverse wires overhead:

These are perfect perches for certain birds to sight their prey.  One of the birds I wanted to photograph was not the ones above, but rather one which are interested in bees, and us therefore called a bee-eater, since I had only been successful taking a photo once during my previous visit to India.

Once a bee is sighted, these birds will hover in the air for a split second and then speedily dive to spear the bee with its beak. It then brings the bee back to its perch, smacks the bee on the wire (or branch) to remove the stinger and then it’s mealtime!.

Bee-eaters are rather small birds – about 7-8 inches in length including the tail feathers.  It also moves very quickly to catch a bee..  Add to that mixture our boat which moved at about 7-10 mph.  Due to a quirk in physics, often the birds are not noticeable on the wires until the boat is practicality under the wire, soon to pass it altogether.

So, as mentioned, I had to estimate where the bird MIGHT  be and  focus on that spot and hope for the best.  Often I would end up contorting my body to keep the same perspective as the boat approached,  went under and then passed the wire.  My fellow travelers got a good laugh at that.

But – patience paid off:

I applied the same procedure for my best catches of the day – the multicolored kingfishers, who similar to the bee-eaters, perch on a branch until they see a tasty fish in the water and then dive down for the catch.  I had 5tried unsuccessfully in a number of countries to photograph these birds.

These backwater kingfishers also proved to be very elusive:

Suddenly, I  spied  a gorgeous turquoise kingfisher but before I could focus, the houseboat glided past.  Frustrated I jokingly called out,: “Stop!!!  Go Back!!!”.  And the captain did just that.

Bonus – a close shot of this blue winged beauty:

Sometimes, as Blanche said, you have to rely on the kindness of strangers.


Leave a Reply