Monday, November 28, 2011

Action on the Sand

Male Maleo defending nesting territory
I spent much of the last few weeks in the company of wild maleos, an endangered species on the island of Sulawesi. It was hot, hard work, but I felt privileged to spend time in the company of a fascinating, lively, and slightly weird bird. As I mentioned a few days ago, maleos gather near the coast to lay their single, enormous egg in the hot sand, there to be incubated by the heat of the sun.

They spend most of their time digging, as I mentioned, which allowed me many opportunities to capture that behavior (see below) but there was more going on as well. For birds that share a communal nesting area, these guys don't seem to get along very well!  When they weren't digging their own nests, the males of each maleo couple spent a lot of time chasing away other birds that had the temerity to try and nest too close. This process put the birds in some pretty striking poses, like this male huffing himself up to look big, and scary, to another bird that strayed into "his" area.

Working with a 600mm lens in a tiny blind, I managed to get some good close-ups, but was constantly plagued by the shallow depth-of-field at that focal length. Essentially, I had to lock onto the face (since even if nothing else is sharp, the eyes must be) with my auto-focus and try and stick with it, as the birds ran circles around me and one another. In the end, I lost more pictures than I got - including some spectacular aerial fights that I just couldn't lock onto. But I still managed to come away with some nice behavioral coverage..

Dig, dig, fight, dig, dig, fight

Nikon D3 with  600mm lens

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