I hope you are all well, and staying safe wherever you are. I’m continuing to dig into my archive to share some favorites and some unpublished Bird-of-Paradise images. I’ve chosen the Blue Bird-of-Paradise to feature this week.
The Blue Bird-of-Paradise is one of the most legendary of the Birds-of-Paradise because of its phenomenal coloration and relative rarity. I journeyed to the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea to photograph this species, and it turned out to be one of the most challenging I have encountered. This was not because the bird was hard to find, but due to the fact that I wanted to photograph the male performing his courtship display. Displays, I found, were extremely unpredictable. It turned out that unlike some Birds-of-Paradise that are quite reliable once you find a display site (like the Western Parotia I shared in the last Wildlife Diaries), the Blue bird has not one, but many different display perches in the forest. It was almost impossible to be at the right one that he would choose to display at on a given day.
After many days of failure at display sites, I decided to concentrate on photographing at a feeding tree where we had seen the male visiting regularly. Indeed, he came to this tree several times a day, and by waiting him out, I captured a number of interesting feeding shots. This image is my favorite, because he was on a low branch with a clean background, posed at a beautiful angle across the frame, and the light was such that his blue plumage seems to glow from within.
As you can perhaps imagine, as I have traveled around the New Guinea region photographing and filming the many species of Birds-of-Paradise, there have been times when things didn’t work out the way I hoped. My goal is always to capture the courtship behavior, but sometimes that just doesn’t work out in the time I have in the field. The Blue Bird-of-Paradise was one such case. Although my collaborator Ed Scholes succeeded in filming some of the crazy upside down courtship behavior of the male at the sites he monitored on this trip, every time I set up in a blind where Ed or one of our local guides had seen the male display the day before, the bird would display somewhere else that day. I resigned myself to possibly only being able to capture some shots of the bird feeding, but at least wanted to do that well, so I put my time into sitting on a hill overlooking a fruiting tree. This was successful, but I also was in for a surprise one afternoon. I don’t know if it was because he saw a female nearby, or just felt an urge, but the male flew to a nearby tree to my right, and suddenly flipped upside down and started buzzing and shaking his plumes and performing a practice display. I slowly spun my unwieldy 600 mm lens around on my tripod, trying to get the bird framed quickly without making any sudden movements that would alarm him. Fortunately he stayed upside down long enough for me to capture the image below!
I was very pleased to have captured at least a documentary shot of the male in his display pose. At the same time, there is a lot of room for improvement in making an image of this upside-down display. I’d love to have a cleaner background, better light, and a female present, watching him! So while I had to be satisfied with what I got on that trip, I do hope to get back one of these days to have another crack at photographing this incredible species. I think this is one of the most interesting things about pursuing wildlife photography. There is no such thing as a perfect shot. Every image I make, I can always think of ways it could be better. It’s a perpetual quest.