Bird Of Paradise- Bird Photography of a Lifetime
Photographing the Bird Of Paradise was like a dream come true for me. I badly wanted to see these beautiful highly evolved bird species on earth after watching the documentary by Cornell lab Of Ornithology. Many thanks to my dear friend Sabu for arranging such a wonderful trip.
My travel started from Bangalore International airport, India. I had the connection flight from Singapore to reach Papua New Guinea. I had 12 hours of waiting time at the Changi Airport in Singapore. While I was sitting in the lounge I saw the plane landing with the design of Raggiana Bird Of Paradise on the tip of its tail, moving towards the connection bridge. I boarded the flight and its around 6 hours journey to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. We were a group of 7.
I would be spending 4 days in a place called Mount Hagen, which is at a higher altitude, on top of the mountains. So, I need to catch a domestic flight from Port Moresby to Mount Hagen. It is around 1 hour journey. We landed in Mount Hagen. We were welcomed by the beautiful birds in our lodge, which included the Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, one of the birds of Paradise.
Ribbon Tailed Astrapia – The Long-tailed Beauty
The male Ribbon Tailed Astrapia is more beautiful when it is in flight because of its long twin wite tails. The tail reminded me of the Asian Paradise Kingfisher seen in India. There were slight drizzles in between during the daytime. This was an added advantage to bird photography since it makes the colors more saturated. After 5’o clock in the evening, the entire Mountains would be covered in fog and there won’t be much light for photography. So, we had time only till 5’o clock in the evening to photograph the bird beauties around the lodge.
It is not easy to capture a full body image of the Male Ribbon-tailed Astrapia. this is because of 2 reasons. It has a beautiful long tail and the bird keeps on swinging it. Secondly, it has a shiny black body with beautiful irradiant patches of green and blue on its face. Ther is a reddish brown collar in its neck too. So, one needs to be very careful with the Image exposure. If you expose for the body then you may end up burning the tails and face.
Another BOP seen around the area was the Brown Sicklebill. This BOP also has a long brown tail. I could only see the female bird. It has a long sickle-shaped bill. The way it tosses it’s food and catches it with its tongue is a good opportunity for a photographer to freeze an action. I made some good portrait shots of the Brown Sicklebill. I walked through the forest area around the lodge. The forest was full of different variety of ferns and mosses. I felt it like the “Alice in Wonderland”. Tim Laman’s photographs of BOPs were my source of inspiration.
Photographing Lesser BOP
Next day, our main target was to photograph the Lesser Bird of Paradise. We had to walk for around 15 minutes inside the forest to reach the place where the Lesser bird usually comes. Just a few minutes after we reached we heard the bird call. It was behind two trees. We didn’t have good visibility. The male bird was displaying in the shade with two female birds watching the show. I could not photograph the display since it was far and was inside the bushes. Very soon it stopped making calls.
When we looked behind, suddenly the bird flew from a perch behind, which was at eye level with a green background. We missed a good photographic opportunity. We saw it flying to a big tree nearby and it sat on top of a tree trunk. There is absolutely no sound when the bird is in flight. The feathers of this bird reminded me of the Deadcat microphone cover. This is used in microphones to remove Wind noise. The same design can be seen on this bird. We can notice it flying only through its vibrant colors of yellow and brown. We made some photographs when it perched on top of the tree trunk.
Photographing Blue Bird Of Paradise
Blue Bird of Paradise is my favorite bird amongst the Birds oF Paradise. So, I badly want to get a good photo of this beautiful bird. Since it is a canopy bird. It rarely comes down. Next day, we were going to watch and photograph this paradise beauty. After walking for around 15 minutes, our guide told that we will wait at that place. The Blue BOP comes to that area during morning time. I had set the tripod and Camera in that place.
After 10 minutes, we had a surprise visitor. It was the Superb Bird Of Paradise. The bird was sitting very far on top of a tree. We can hardly see it through the camera. I was using Canon 1DX Mark ii with Canon 500mm f4 L IS II Lens. Canon 1.4X converter was used along with this camera and lens combination. I clicked some record shorts of Superb Bird of Paradise. It was displaying in the tree trunk to attract the female counterparts.
Just after 5 minutes, we heard the sounds of Blue BOP. It was somewhere inside the canopy. We saw it flying from one perch to another. It was the female one. The lighting conditions were not good for bird photography. After few minutes, we heard sounds of the Blue BOP from our backside. By the time, I turned myself and camera in the opposite direction, the bird flew away. For me, It was a costly miss since this is my favorite BOP. The bird had come down for feeding. I just missed the chance of an eye-level shot. it is always recommended to capture birds at our eye level while doing bird photography. Again, the bird went inside the bushes.
There were mosquitoes constantly singing in the ears. I started applying the mosquito repellant spray all over my body and patiently waited for the Blue BOP. After half an hour the guide showed us the Blue Bird of Paradise feeding in the top of a tree. I made some shots. I was not happy with the images since it was against the sky with a white background. So, we waited for some more time.
After an hour it came slightly down and sat on the tree trunk and started calling. I made some good shots since this was a little closer than the previous opportunity. There were green and yellowish leaves in the background which made the photo look much better. Finally, we have decided to leave this place. When we were packing our cameras and tripods, the guide showed us the Lawe’s Parotia, another BOP. But, it was quite far to make a good shot. I managed to click some record shots. I had a tough time focusing and adjusting the exposure since the bird was in pitch black color. It had black eyes encircled in a sky blue color, with tentacles on its head.
King of Saxony & Stephanie’s Astrapia
On the evening, we have planned to see and photograph the King of Saxony bird. This is one of the beautiful BOP. It has got two long tentacles like structure on the head. The body of the bird is very small when compared to its two tentacles on its head. We walked inside the forest for around 20 minutes and reached the edge of a mountain. We positioned ourselves over there and waited for the bird to come. Our guide told that the bird will come in the big tree which was quite far from us. We waited for more than 1 hour, still no sign of King of Saxony BOP.
After some time we were surprised to see another paradise bird on the same tree. It was the Stephanie’s Astrapia. This was a Bonus bird. It had two long tails, similar to Ribbon-tailed Astrapia. We made some shots, even though it was a little far away. Still no signs of King Of Saxony. We waited until the light faded and decided to leave since we need to walk along a path which is slippery. So, we decide to leave the place since there is no sign of the bird. We will give one more try the next day morning before going to the airport to see the King of Saxony.
We had only 2 hours to spent. No sign of Saxony even after waiting for 2 hours and we decided to leave. Suddenly the guide told he saw something moving inside the faraway tree, inside the bushes. We looked through our cameras fitted with long telephoto lenses. It was the King of Saxony. But, unfortunately, it is not fully visible to capture some images and we didn’t have much time to wait for it to move to another branch. We had to leave.
Magic of Photographing Displaying Raggiana Bird Of Paradise
Now, we were done with our time with high altitude paradise birds of PNG. So, we are now returning to Port Moresby to see and photograph the lower altitude paradise birds. Here, our main target is Raggiana Bird Of Paradise. It was a real tough task to photograph the dispalying male Raggiana. I realized this on the first day in the field. It is a canopy bird. So, it perches on the top tree trunks. It makes loud calls to attract females, sitting on the trunk. This is followed by the display if the female comes nearby.
This display happens in poor lighting conditions and window of shooting is very limited. There will be 3 to 4 male birds. One needs to position himself in such a way that he can see the bird fully in between the trees trunks. This is a good challenge for any photographer. It displays only up to 7’o clock in the morning. After that, they move on. It is a lifetime sight to watch the male bird bending his head down and spreading out its feathers in the form of a flower while displaying.
We need to shoot at High ISO values because of low light conditions. The situation demands a higher shutter speed since the bird is on the move, walking along the tree trunk displaying. The wind factor makes it more challenging as the tree trunks start to move around. A good Full Frame DSLR camera body is required to shoot this action. It would be good to use a tripod or Monopod for getting better shots. I would recommend using a good Gimbal head along with a tripod or Monopod for Bird photography. If you have to walk long distances inside a forest then Monopod would be an ideal choice. Always shoot in RAW so that you can capture all the details and fine tune it later.
We decided to give one more try next day since we were not satisfied with the photos. We managed to capture some display shots of the male bird as well as some bird portraits. Finally, the wonderful trip to this paradise land has come to an end. I enjoyed every moment of this bird photography trip. The seven day trip was full packed with bird photography, both portrait and action shots. I would love to visit this place many times.
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