Oxymoron: (def). is a figure of speech that juxtaposes elements that appear to be contradictory.
Hence “Sneaking up on a Swamp Harrier”.
And just to be sure that I am clearly not misunderstood; there is no Book.
Just my bemused attempt of dealing with a bird that seems to be lightyears ahead of my feeble attempts to get a good shot. If there was such a book it would be very short on in pages. A real theoretical experience. And the first chapter would be the last. Sneaking and Swamp Harrier are not compatible.
They are the masters of the bunds along the Treatment Plant. Wafting in the breeze, dropping on unsuspecting prey, harriering the water birds until exhausted they fall easy pickings. And, I believe, they have the area ‘mapped’, so that anything out of place is either open to inspection or senses danger and the bird shys away. Do I then have some respect for these birds. Absolutely.
wouldn't you know it that was the moment the autofocus in the camera decided to recalculate and settle on the reed beds
So take your average evening light, hope its sunny, sit among the reeds and wait. Trying to chase them down only results in a flurry of white tail feathers disappearing over the next bund, and they don’t return.
The spot we’d chosen was on a short bund, with plenty of reed cover. The car was about 150m back buried in some more reeds. We set up the cameras and waited. There are some rules about this- not mine, just the birds. First: Don’t move. Second: Don’t Move Third Don’t MOVE.
Riders to said rule. Don’t get all excited and exclaim to no one in particular. “Look, its coming toward us”.
And don’t make that the moment that you move the tripod/camera for a better shot, or swing said camera toward the bird.
A head down searching Swamp Harrier is a committed bird. It knows what was down there last pass, and knows if anything looks out of place. And will react accordingly.
After about 15 minutes, (no fidgeting please), along the far bank a lone Swamp Harrier began its run. And about the same time, the sun slipped for the last time behind some cloud and the light went to porridge. Enough to make me prepare to go home.
However, back to said bird on said bund. By now it had worked its way along about half of the 300m or so of reedbed. I’d begun to take the occasional shot. Too far away for much detail, and not enough light now for much interest.
Mark Knofler (Dire Straights) wrote lines for such occasions. “Too far away from me. ” and “It’s just that the light was wrong, Juliet” (apologies for word change)
Because of the moderate breeze blowing, the most amazing thing was in the over 300m of its flight path, it didn’t flap a wing once. Just turned its body on an angle and simply sailed along like a kite in the breeze, or canoe crossing a fast running water.
Not sure what I was most impressed by, but the almost energy-less movement was certainly something to behold. With unconscious awareness it came on.
When it reached the end of the bund line, it changed direction, and wing tactics and began to pull up the reed bed in our direction. Lower now, because of the need for wing flapping, and also because the reeds were blowing over.
We waited. (see above)
And sure enough on it came. Head down, completely absorbed; in eloquent silence.
Then, the moment I had anticipated. It pulled up, saw a change that was unexpected. And turned in an instant. And wouldn’t you know it that was the moment the autofocus in the camera decided to recalculate and settle on the reed beds 250m away. I dream of the days of manual focus.
A bitter sweet result.
Yet I still have the memory of its almost effortless track across the bund. We shall go again.