Lifer at Home!

Blustery day with a warm wind after the cold of the last few days. Rather unpleasant outside, so I sat in the lounge and re-read my Damon Runyon.

– the view from my couch – thank goodness for Zeiss binnies! –

What’s that in the birdbath copse? Just Cape White-eyes. And that? Ah, a Yellow-bellied Greenbul in the afternoon sunlight. I took a couple shots for the record with my little Canon compact with its lovely 25X zoom.

What’s that behind him? Two canaries, No, next to them. A mannikin. Now two of them. Wait, they look bigger. Thank goodness for my binocs. I’m sure . . . I’m not twitching, am I?

Must take pics. One from the lounge with the little Canon on full zoom:

Then some from much closer, on the cottage deck using my tripod. Upper beak silver, not black? Check. Chest white, less dark below the chin? Check. Dark shoulder flash? Check. That broad orange bar on the flank? It is! It’s a Magpie Mannikin! Bogey bird of mine for decades; and after searching all over for it, up and down the east coast, I nail it in my own front garden!

Luvverly! Lonchura fringilloides

Great Excitement!

I got a wifi-enabled camera! My cellphone can now operate the camera remotely! I am going to set it up on a tripod and sit somewhere comfortable and take pictures of unwitting birds. No, man! Feathered ones.

I’ve long wanted this. Having it would have been handy to see what the hyenas and bushpigs were doing outside our hut late at night in Mfolosi game reserve last month.

Being a cheapskate I waited for the Canon Powershot SX620HS. It’s a tiny little compact camera so I can carry it easily in my top pocket; Advantages over the phone camera: 25X optical zoom and a bigger sensor give surprisingly good pics. Now, a bloke with a small willy could never be seen with a camera like this, but obviously I’m fine with it.

– small willy – – – – me –

So now I’ve got the camera on the tripod aiming at the birdbath waiting for the first exciting shot.

– remote camera on tripod – poised –

Hmm, problem one: Getting the camera and phone to talk to each other on wifi has taken way longer than I thought. While I was sukkeling, two spectacled weavers, a golden-rumped tinker, an olive sunbird, two brown-hooded kingfishers, a fork-tailed drongo and a speckled mousebird hopped on and grinned at me. Now that I’m rigged up, nothing so far!

Ons sal sien what comes of this! Maybe word got out in the bird world that the binocular pervert who always stares at them while they’re bathing now has a camera?

Thutty long minutes later I spot another small problem: My attention span! Problem two. This is not really a sport for someone who hops from twig to twig and makes frequent forays to the fridge, the whine box and/or the kettle. One olive sunbird has been photographed, small and blurry; moving fast and olive-greenish against an olive-brownish backdrop. Meantime various ostriches and vultures might have taken gulps of water while my attention was elsewhere. Even moas and dodos; I wouldn’t know.

– look! a bird! – look carefully! – steep learning curve ahead! –

I can see I need auto-shoot with a movement detector so I can leave it and go to sleep and then see what happened in my absence. And so the drive for ever-more expensive equipment starts!

Another little challenge: Battery life! Problem three. After waiting a few hours the whole setup suddenly switches off: “Re-charge Battery” it commands. That’s when the Angola Pitta lands in full view and smiles . . .

Later I got a new phone and set it up again. While watching the pic on my camera I moseyed over to the birdbath. Suddenly someone’s knees were in the picture! Oh. Mine. I had to kneel down to get my face in picture. So that’s about 35m distance on 25X zoom.

So whenever you see a great bird picture, take your hat off to the patience and perseverance and expense required to get those shots! Also: the weirdness of the nerdy perpetrator. I luvvem.

I now remember the stories Neville Brickell used to tell me about how he got his bird pics. He would find a spot where his target bird was likely to be. He would give a big bag of the right seed or feed to someone living nearby and ask them to put a handful out every day for a few weeks. He would then go back and set up a hide. A week later he’d go back and sneak into the hide under cover of darkness; wait; wait; wait; and – if lucky – get his picture! His resident feeder would be rewarded for that ultimate success so he had a reason to keep up the feeding. A lot of planning, work and patience!


Sukkeling – battling

Ons sal sien – we’ll see; time will tell

**Neville Brickell is a prominent S.A. avicultural photographer and researcher who used to get his handsome spectacles from me at Musgrave Centre. He wrote books and articles and . . he signed his duck book for me.

Ducks, Geese and Swans of Africa and its outlying islands – book, 1988

Introduction to Southern African cage and aviary birds – book

The Cuckoo Finch Anomalospiza imberbis – Avicultural Magazine Vol.116 No.4 2010