Two things I learned from bird photography

We are not cat people, Dariel and I. 

Although we—that’s you and us and gazillions of other people in the whole world wide web–love looking at cute cat pictures, love laughing at their latest batch of photobombs and beyond-crazy antics, and get into facepalm mode at the things only cats can do and situations only cats could maneuver themselves into, alas, we are not fans of the real thing.  Don’t hate me!  I say this as an intro to bird photography because we all know that cats and birds do not belong together, cute pictures of them together notwithstanding.

So we shooed away from our place any cat that showed as much as a paw.  Nope, sorry you can’t sit or sleep on my garden set, I said to a stray cat who wanted to adopt our garden chair as his home.  Less you think I hate animals, I don’t; I had a pet dog once.  It’s just that I never took to cats. 

Over time, the cats learned to stay away from our townhouse and the birds took notice.  A flycatcher had nested outside our bathroom window in our first year here—now the nest is gone but more flycatchers came; songbirds would wake us up with their loud trills outside our bedroom window.  They were increasing.   

A year or so ago, I bought a plant (whose name I had forgotten) in an effort to spruce up our place.  I was attracted to its beautiful white flowers.  It grew taller but because of space limitations, we had to move it into the front corner of our open garage.  Then the flowers died and I thought that was that, the plant would die next.  But the tree (more like a tree-let) continued growing taller and I was amazed.

A month, our help pointed out a nest that was sitting on a ledge on its branches; it was easily within sight—it was the cup-shaped nest of a yellow-vented bulbul, a songbird that is found plentiful in Southeast Asia.  Dariel and I were so excited at the chance to see the birds up close and personal.  Plenty accessible, too, to a cat who could certainly leap from our nearby table.  But we had not seen a cat anywhere near for sometime now so I felt our new pets were safe; they also seemed to think so.

Over the course of three weeks, I was able to set up my tripod some four feet away and record the unfolding events of the bulbul family who had nested on our tree.  Unfortunately, because of the unsafe height requirement, I could not go high enough in our ladder to be able to see into the nest when the chicks were born but I was recording the day after until they said goodbye the following week.  Fondly, I christened the two chicks Pippin and Merry, after the beloved hobbits, for their voracious appetites. 

I am not a bird photographer, but I saw this as a chance to get up close with Mother Nature.  It was serendipity.  It was a gift.  It was an opportunity not to be missed.

It's chow time!

"What about our ten-ses and eleven-ses?!"

"Mom, the stalker's back and she's staring at me!"

Of course, experiences like this come with their own lessons to impart, and here are two things I learned from watching Merry and Pippin:

1.  Multi-tasking is not always beneficial

As  with any genre of photography, patience is a virtue.  After all, it is about getting the right moment, or the elusive “decisive moment”, which in this case is a micro-second long.  I had been sitting on my stool in my hiding place watching Merry standing at the edge of the nest, unsure of what to do next.  Minutes before that, he and I had gotten into a staring contest until I declared him the winner and just sat down again, unsure as well of what to do next myself.  Boo to me then that I decided to get my phone to do some “work” while bird-watching in between, thinking I was doing the smart thing by multi-tasking. 

Then here comes Mama Bird, chirping loud in her high-pitched tones seemingly asking Merry why he was still standing there while Pippin was now gone.  She chirped loudly some more, this time seemingly urging him to just fly and do it.  Pronto!  Mama Bird had me in thrall.  Ding, ding.  That would be my phone.  I looked down at it for a second then looked back at Merry.  A second later, he suddenly made his move and flew up a branch.  It took me another second to react and switch my camera to video mode but I couldn’t focus properly and follow Merry who was now moving up again to another branch and another until with one final look back, he flew away.  The moment I had been waiting for all morning and the subject of an hour-long stakeout came and went and I missed it because I had allowed myself to become distracted. 

2.  Learn to trust your gut feelings

With no detailed information to be found on the web on the yellow-vented bulbuls, Dariel and I didn’t exactly know their life cycle, so I had to do some guesswork.  I had thought that it would take another three days till Merry and Pippin would launch themselves into the world.  I was mistaken.  Fortunately, I listened to my instincts that I needed to keep my eyes on them this day, their seventh day.  In the morning, they were fed, as usual.  By mid-afternoon, they were gone.   Glad I listened to my instinct and kept watch.

Now, this sentimental fool misses them.  As a tribute to them, I made this video – http://youtu.be/7W3v37MaoBQ (Livewriter can’t seem to upload my video properly so I’m placing it here as a link.)

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