August 12 – Some Relaxing and Photography in Cape Town

It rained today and, while part of me was saying, “Hey! This is my vacation!” the other part of me wasn’t complaining about being encouraged to take it easy. After all, this was only the second rain I’d had in 3 weeks!

I walked down to the waterfront to a coffee shop and relaxed there while it was gloomy. But, when it cleared up later, I was anxious to get out and about. Since the sun only started burning its way through at around 4PM, it was a great time to look for the Cape Sugarbird and Orange-breasted Sunbird I wanted to photograph: they should be more active than usual (following the rain) and the late afternoon/early evening sun would make for ideal lighting conditions. So I grabbed my camera and started climbing up into the fynbos looking for the birds and/or blooming Protea–their favourite food source–to stake out.

Camps Bay in the early evening © James Palmer

As it turned out, a bit of both was useful. That is, I knew these birds’ habits by now and knew that they were relatively numerous in this area, so I first located a pocket of birds, then edged my way toward a delicious looking Protea blossom with the light angling in from roughly behind me and waited to see if a bird would be brave enough to feed with me somewhat near by. This technique worked relatively well, but I was frustrated not to find trusting enough individuals to let me get the perfect photo. Obviously it’s important to be patient in a certain area and remain still, but sometimes, no matter how patient you are, the individual bird will be too wary to venture close enough. This reminds me of another very enjoyable thing about birding: you can get to know a species of bird as well as you want, but an individual bird can always surprise you with its behaviour!

Cape Bunting © James Palmer
Helmeted Guineafowl © James Palmer

So I moved higher to another pocket of birds. Here, I fared a little better. I managed good shots of Karoo Prinia and good ones of Cape Rock Thrush (the latter was a bit of a surprise).

Karoo Prinia © James Palmer
Cape Rock Thrush (female) © James Palmer

Then a few Cape Sugarbirds started acting up near me. With these birds these little skirmishes mean that they’ll change locations very quickly, but not drastically: in other words, get ready because they might land right in front of you, but only for a second or two. Well, boy did I get lucky. While I was focusing on one individual with particularly impressive two-foot-long tail plumes, others landed on my hoped-for tree with the lighting just right! I started snapping away and, before I knew it, the most elegant male in full breeding plumage perched on the most exposed branch, right in front of the mountain peak in the background. PERFECT!!! My heart started racing when he landed there with three other sugarbirds in the same photo on the branches below him. I snapped away at a perfect assembly of this beautiful species as their flowing tails blew in the breeze and decorated the tree in the evening sun.

Cape Sugarbird © James Palmer
Cape Sugarbirds © James Palmer
Cape Sugarbirds in front of Table Mountain © James Palmer
Cape Sugarbird © James Palmer

The Orange-breasted Sunbird took a lot more work, but I managed some good photos of a fledgling feeding on a Protea blossom with its mother’s assistance. I didn’t come away with exactly the poses I’d wanted of the male, but I was running out of light and these guys weren’t cooperating as I’d  hoped. Hopefully I’ll have the conditions to try again, but you can’t always get the photos you’d like. After all, if I’d wanted my subjects to be easy, I would have gone with plants!

Fledgling (still tail-less) Orange-breasted Sunbird © James Palmer
Feeding time with Mom! © James Palmer
Orange-breasted Sunbird © James Palmer
Orange-breasted Sunbird © James Palmer
Orange-breasted Sunbird © James Palmer

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