This very large, chicken-sized bird (16 inches length) is becoming more uncommon in our islands, most probably because its large size makes it a prime target for hunters and poachers.
In the last few years though, a population of this unique-looking species has steadily grown in numbers within the protected area of Candaba wetlands. These birds feed on aquatic vegetation and invertebrates, both abundant in the big lush ponds of the wetlands.
I chanced upon this individual while it was in the open, basking in pre-sunset golden light, on my way out of the wetlands. Using my vehicle as a blind, I got close enough to fill the frame with my hand held 1D MII + 100-400 IS. My copy of this lens is so sharp at full zoom wide open, that a 20″x30″ print of this shot for a museum exhibit shows very decent feather detail even when viewed from 10 inches away.
Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio, resident)
Habitat – Uncommon in freshwater and brackish wetlands.
The first ever country record of the Tundra Bean Goose was reported by fellow bird photographer Alex Loinaz April last year at Candaba wetlands. This single individual became a superstar overnight among local birders, and I was fortunate to catch it in flight over one pond in the wetlands.
This large goose (roughly 30″ length and 60″ wingspan) breeds in northern Europe and Asia. It winters further south in Europe and Asia, and has reached the Philippines in 2010 with this record.
Tundra Bean Goose (Anser [fabalis] serrirostris, migrant)
Habitat – Rare in wetlands, this individual being the first record in the Philippines.
A Purple Heron glides over dense vegetation as it comes in to land at one of the ponds in Candaba wetlands. Despite the featured background and the incoming flight trajectory, my 1D MII’s AF had no trouble catching the target.
Light was not as bright as I wish for birds in flight, and I was forced to slow down the shutter speed to 1/640 sec at the risk of camera shake or subject motion. I got lucky in panning and the feather detail turned out decently sharp.
These large birds (length of 1.145 m and wingspan of 1.90 m) are fairly common residents all over our islands, and they are a guaranteed catch at Candaba wetlands at any time of the year. They are so slow in the air that I sometimes refer to them as ships-in-flight. 🙂
My website’s banner photo above is a composite of 5 frames from a burst at this species.
Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea, resident)
Habitat – Fairly common in all types of wetlands.
This uncommon waterbird is secretive and solitary. It is medium size, being 23 inches in total length, and a resident at all major Philippine islands.
The Black Bittern’s shy nature and dark plumage make it tough to see when in cover. It took me several years of birding at Candaba wetlands to get a good glimpse of the bird.
This one was flying low over the grasses of the wetlands when I chanced upon it. My manual exposure settings were priorly set for mid-toned birds, so I quickly reduced my shutter speed from 1/1600 sec to 1/1000 sec for a 2/3 stop boost in the illumination of the dark subject. The 1D MII’s AF did a great job of locking focus on the dark plumage despite the featured surroundings.
Black Bittern (Dupetor flavicollis, resident)
Habitat – Uncommon in wetlands from ricefields to mangroves.
The White-breasted Waterhen is a very common bird found in all major Philippine islands. It is more conspicuous than most rails and can be found even in city parks and grassy areas. It is often seen foraging on the ground, always close to cover where it runs to when disturbed. Both male and female look alike, and it is medium large in size (11 inches total length).
This bird takes to the air in short, low flights. It is not photographed often while airborne because of the tough challenge of catching it in such brief moments.
I have many detailed captures of the bird while it is foraging on the ground. But this one in flight, with out-of-focus pond water and vegetation in the background, is probably my favorite because of the difficulty of capture.
White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus, resident)
Habitat – Wetter areas like grasslands, marshes and mangroves.
The distinctive large bill of this uncommon migratory duck makes identification in the field quite easy. This female was flying full speed in a slightly upward trajectory when I caught it at Candaba wetlands. The background was out-of-focus pond water and vegetation.
This duck is medium large (19 inch length and 31 inch wingspan). When coming in to land as a group, their swift flight makes an audible swoosh sound as their wings slice through the air. They feed by swimming with their neck outstretched and lower mandible below the water, sifting floating vegetation.
Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata, female)
Habitat – Uncommon in fresh water marshes and shallow lakes.
I got this Cinnamon Bittern as it was flying with a slightly upward trajectory over Candaba’s ricefields in 2009.
The 5D MII’s AF using the center point with surrounding assist works very well for flight shots, even with a 1.4x TC on the 500 f4 IS. The camera actually has the same reach as my old 20D in terms of pixel density. What’s deficient in the 5D MII for BIFs is the slow 3.9 fps frame rate. I was just extremely lucky to get a good wing position in this shot despite the anemic fps.
Cinnamon Bittern (Ixobrychus cinnamomeus , resident)
Habitat: Ricefields, marshes and mangroves.
Lighting and shooting angle were pretty bad on this one, but it’s not often that I get the chance to catch extreme action like this – just milliseconds after the Bittern’s bill has speared the gourami fish.
The spearing motion was so quick that 1/800 sec wasn’t fast enough to fully freeze the bird’s head and neck, though quite good enough to stop the wriggling fish and the water droplets.
The clear plastic-like dome at the lower right was actually the frozen splash of the luckier second gourami which jumped and dove back to the safety of the water, while its schoolmate was destined for lunch.
Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis, resident)
Habitat – Freshwater wetlands.
In some places, jacanas are called the “Jesus bird” because they can walk seemingly on water. In reality however, their overly long toes can spread their weight over a large area and this allows them to walk on floating or emergent vegetation near the water surface. This gives the illusion of walking on water.
When in breeding plumage, the Pheasant-tailed Jacana sports an elongated tail and the nape turns from pale yellow to golden yellow. Such adornment makes this bird an ornately beautiful subject to photograph, particularly when it’s in the air where the long tail, thin feathertips of the wings and very long toes are very visible.
It’s a shy customer though, so it’s not easy to approach and capture well. I’ve been wanting to photograph it in flight each time I visit Candaba wetlands, but luck wasn’t on my side always.
My fortune changed for the better on July 2008. I saw this particular individual making numerous trips between its presumed nesting site in the middle of the pond and an area in the adjoining ricefield. An earth dike ran in between the two places.
As soon as I saw it land in the ricefield, I immediately hid myself on the earth dike and waited in an ambush position along the expected flight path back to the pond. Sure enough, the bird rose above the rice plants after a few minutes and headed my way. My 1D MII had no trouble locking focus on the contrasty target, given a plain sky as background. I probably filled my RAW buffer to capacity, and this particular shot was my pick because of the good wing position and eye contact.
Pheasant-Tailed Jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus, resident, breeding plumage)
Habitat – In wetlands with floating or emergent vegetation.
I have many captures of the endemic Philippine Duck in flight, but this one should be my favorite. I just like the way the wings were frozen in the full downstroke position, and the angle of light was just right to show the iridescence of the speculum * well.
(* colorful patch on the wing)
That herons and egrets can fly is not too impressive to me – their large wing area and light slender bodies allow them to soar even in the slightest wind. Duck flight is a different matter though. Beneath the streamlined curves of the duck’s body, there are hints of powerful flight muscles that enable this relatively heavy bird to get to the air even with stubby wings.
Quackers fly by sheer muscle power, and when they come in to land on the pond water (belly-flop, actually), they drop almost like a rock as soon as their wingbeats slow down.
This frame came from the middle of a burst of over half a dozen shots, most in good focus and each shows a different wing position. The background was out-of-focus pond water with some vegetation. Amazing what modern autofocus technology and fast frame rates can do at birds-in-flight photography.
Philippine Duck (Anas luzonica, a Philippine endemic)
Habitat – Freshwater marshes, shallow lakes and ricefields.