Photographing wildlife and nature in general is extremely rewarding, of course in terms of the sheer beauty of it all. However, occasionally one can become disenchanted with the effort to reward ratio. Far often it’s too large! For those of you not mathematically inclined, this just means too much effort for too little reward, which further translates to “I’ve spent all this time and effort in waking so bloody early and all I’ve gotten is a picture of a mockingbird laughing at me, which I’m probably going to delete later anyway.”
Anyway, the tried, tested and trusted remedy for this condition is a visit to a location where your subjects are guaranteed. A location where you have to do little more than sit down and absorb what’s around you. For me that special spot is the Pointe a Pierre Wild Fowl Trust – a local non profit organization that was established decades ago by some forward thinking folks who understood the importance of preservation. Once you get past the fact that it’s a thriving waterfowl sanctuary nestled in the middle of an oil refinery – yes you read that correctly – you will begin to appreciate the multitude of avian life that would have been frequenting every inland waterway in historic times. As I child, I used to visit this sanctuary with my grandfather – who was actually the first person to entrust me with a camera – and I used to marvel at the different species of birds walking around freely. From the hand-painted Wood Ducks to the Canada Geese that used to honk and chase visitors, I enjoyed every bit. Although those species are no longer present at the Trust, a visit does allow one to secure excellent views of some valuable native species.
Native species that do not include Indian Peafowl actually. These large Asian birds wander the grounds in search of snacks they sometimes grab from the picnic table. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the males trying their hand at courtship. A semi-circle of shimmering peacock “eyes” that can span twelve feet across dazzles onlookers of any species. Unfortunately in recent times I’ve noticed the males missing their tails and limping.
Speaking of courtship, I watched these two Striated Herons square off on separate lily pads, both birds attempting to look as menacing as possible. The battle for breeding grounds and territory lays the foundation for future wooing of a potential mate. Unfortunately for me (but obviously fortunately for the birds involved) this confrontation ended up being only visual; a lot of huffing, puffing and threatening postures eventually caused one of the birds to make good his escape.
Within freshwater ponds on both Trinidad and Tobago swims a bird that was formerly known as the Common Moorhen. Five years ago it all changed. Reason being that the Common Moorhen supposedly inhabited both the Americas as well as Africa and Eurasia. Keen eyed observers noted that not only did the birds look a little different, their vocalizations were entirely different. Long story short, the Common Moorhen was erased from field guides and replaced by the Common Gallinule in the western hemisphere and Eurasian Moorhen across the pond. Not the literal pond from earlier, but the Atlantic. Figure of speech. Yeah.
Keeping within the lines of blues and purples, a male Violaceous Euphonia is always the stunner. With all the waterfowl present at the Trust, most folks ignore the smaller birds. But these little bundles of energy are almost always present.
Once faith is restored in my craft by that feel-good pill of easy shooting, I can then resume my usual, albeit tiresome battle of rousing at some ungodly hour and heading into deeper forest in search of more reclusive species. At the end of it all, the simple act of breathing clean, crisp forest air at sunrise really is a special kind of invigorating feeling that one just does not get within the boundaries of city life. Now the act of seeing and photographing a bird such as this Rufous-breasted Wren is a real bonus. These birds are notorious for driving photographers (more) crazy. You will hear their rich whistle from seemingly three feet away and will never be able to lay your eyes upon a single bird. This was one of the few times I have gotten a clear view of one of these.
Aside from listening for the whistles and calls of birds, there are some species that let their presence known by their actions. Any drumming within the forest is almost definitely a woodpecker. The clear “V” on the back of this woodpecker seals the identification: Crimson-crested Woodpecker.
While on the topic of identifying birds, it should be noted that although the size of a bird is the first aspect that we may notice, it should factor last in actually identifying the bird. Not only do birds have some level of variation in height and length, but they are covered in feathers. Feathers that can be sleek or fluffed, both giving a very different look to its wearer. Check out these two Semipalmated Plovers. A couple seconds after I took this picture, they resumed looking like two identical birds.
By now you must be wondering about what furry friend I was referencing in the title of this blog post. Well here it is. Do not stroke its fur though – it will leave its mark in your psyche forever.