Satin Bowerbirds and the extreme patience needed to photograph mating rituals.
One of the most notorious mating rituals in Australian birdlife is that of the Satin Bowerbird. Bowerbirds build amazing strawmade structures on the floor named “bowers.” These structures serve as a performance stage for males to court females and possibly mate with them. The intrinsic courting process relies on the male’s ability to decorate the bower and keep the bower tidy. It also depends on how talented the male is. He will not only need to prove that he has the best bower but that his dancing skills are, in fact, glorious. To do so, the male regularly practices his routine and also cleans the bower’s surrounding area. He also guards the area to ensure that other males will not come and try to destroy his work and effort. This generally keeps him busy throughout the day, while other males are also busy trying to hijack his bower. Males and females are entirely unalike. Males have dark blue feathers, white beaks, and vibrant purple eyes while females have olive feathers, yellow under-tails, grey beaks, and blue eyes. However, juvenile males also resemble females. This can be not very clear for an adult male Satin Bowerbird.
“The early bird catches the worm.”
Once having discovered the location of a bower and a calculating through observation a high probability of capturing this incredible phenomenon, I decided to camouflage myself in a photography hide and observe my subjects closer to identify critical characters and behaviors. This evolved by observing the bower for long periods while making notes and identifying crucial hours in which action was more likely to happen.
After notes were written, observations were done, and the equipment was packed, I set out to pack what I had intended to capture since the beginning. Equipped with a Canon 1dx mk2, a 70-200 f/2.8, a photo hide, and a tripod, I was ready to conduct my favorite part of the job…
Alarm clocks were my best friends for a long period. I would wake up at 4am in the morning to reach my location before dawn. My entire strategy relied on assembling the hide and being inside of it before the sun came up. Fortunately, I always had some spare time to camouflage it more. Stakeouts started at 5:30am and ended up at 12:20pm for almost 2 whole months. Most of the stakeouts were successful. However, none of them brought me the photo which I had in my mind.
After various attempts and multiple hours of sitting quietly inside the hide I finally came across a series of shots I deemed to be what I went for and just enough material to close the project and move to another one. Fortunately, I managed to capture an immature male Satin bowerbird sabotaging the adult male’s bower.