Paradise for us, comes in many shapes and sizes, it comes in forms and feelings, in what we do and how we enrich our lives. Paradise may be in the crystal blue waters of an ocean getaway, it may lie in the pure white snowcapped mountains or it may hide somewhere deep within the Africa bush. It may not be something physical, but a feeling or an act, an act that can change someone else’s life, even in a small way. Paradise is not measured in writing, pictures or in books. It is measured by each individual and in the way they feel when they truly know they are in Paradise.
This certainly will have you thinking, it will have one pondering the outcome of this piece, and what one might gain from this read. I sit each day and think of a new paradise, one with endless plains and abundant herds, vast and open, as far as the eye can see. I picture a blue like no other, crystal clear, white sands beneath my feet and rolling waves. Wave after wave. Sometimes I envision mountains, pure white with snow, a chill in the air and a deafening silence. I picture jungles, with apes swinging from the branches, and birds echoing their love calls all around. But for me, this paradise I encountered recently, is one I have been searching for, for many a month.
Since the beginning of my guiding career, as I wrote in a recent blog, I have had a bucket list of things to do and creatures to see and photograph. This is no different. My goal was to find my own African Paradise Flycatcher nest and photograph a bird sitting on the nest incubating the eggs.
Last week, myself and 2 rangers set out into the bush for an afternoon of exploring and learning, our primary goal, birding and flower identification. Little did we know what lay within a Tamboti forest we ventured into.
A sudden flash of orange and the well known call of this beautiful creature had caught our attention. An African Paradise Flycatcher was close by. We managed to get a great view of him, and through some investigation managed to find a small nest. A neatly woven cup of twigs, bark and vines, covered in beautiful Lichens for decorations and camouflage. I knew it all too well. This was something I had spent 3 years waiting to find, and there it was right before my eyes!
I made it my goal from then to capture a moment I had been visualising in my head for all these years. I would return the next day, fully geared up, and hopefully get my shot.
Fortunately, having the morning off, I managed to scramble out of bed, collect my things and walk some way to the sight we had discovered. But prior to this happening, I had done some research on the happenings in and around the nest sight for observation.
African Paradise Flycatchers are territorial and monogamous, living in a small section of a well wooded or forested area. The nest we found, had been constructed by both sexes, with each individual bringing material independently on most occasions and may be complete between 2 and 9 days. A female lays a clutch of between 1 and 4 eggs, smooth, pale white with brownish/pink speckles. Incubation usually begins after the second egg is laid and the task is managed by both sexes. The eggs are incubated for up to 90% of the day, with an average of 20minute shifts, as the birds become agitated and restless after a while. The eggs usually hatch 11 – 19 days after being laid and the chicks spend approximately 10 – 16days in the nest before fledging, accompanied by the adults and by 3 weeks old the young birds are on their own.
So, with my newly acquired knowledge in the bank, there I arrived. A full set of camouflage overhauls hid in my camera bag and I set up. On arrival, it was the male sitting on the nest, but he saw my approach, recognised danger and flew off. But he did not fly far. From my research, I read they incubate for at least 90% of the day so surely I would get my opportunity. Time went by, as I was heating up in my gear and all I managed to get were a few pictures of the male in the distance. A few fleeting glimpses but nothing close to what I had anticipated. After 2 hours I gave up, only to return later that day.
Again, I strolled toward the nesting site, camo gear in toe. And patiently waited. This time however, I was fortunate enough to witness a “change over” between the male and the female. I watched as the male became restless being around the nest and began to call for the female. She arrived on cue and took over responsibility. But, I did not capture them in the nest, well not from close quarters at least. There was a brief moment when the male landed, perched on the edge of the nest, a split second, a flew off again.
4 hours of sweat, sun, and cramping legs and almost nothing to show for it. But I would keep trying, when I got a chance.
So this is where my story tends to bend south. The following day I was driving new guests arriving in the morning and so didn’t have an opportunity to head out to the nest. But, word had gotten out and there were others looking for the same picture. Enter David “Iceman” Dampier. An amazing photographer, known well on the blog, patient and an avid birder. He was out to get my picture. So that afternoon, when I was getting ready for game drive, I asked him what his plans were for the rest of the day, a whisper exited the corner of his mouth. He was on route to the nesting site. Tripod in hand, as cool as ice.
Well lets just say that David managed to capture some amazing photographs of these beautiful birds. He managed to sneak up undetected and photograph the male on the nest. What a feat. I arrived hoke from that evening game drive to a blown up colour picture he took of the male on the nest, stuck to my bedroom door, with a sly note in the corner: ” Thanks Suthers, I will let you get the first pic of the chicks!”
Kate Neill, accompanied David on their expedition and also managed to snap some fantastic pictures! Lets just say jealousy doesn’t run through my veins, however, in this case, I could not help but feel envy. My mission will continue and I will get the shot I am looking for! Hopefully after all of the rain we have experienced the nest is still intact and the chicks will be hatched soon. Look out for some pictures in the near future.
Written by: Mike Sutherland
Photographed by: Mike Sutherland, David Dampier and Kate Neill