Birds are difficult to photograph. They are, with a few exceptions, small and nervous, and they move quickly. They fly. They hide in thickets. They can disappear in a flash. Just sitting still they can become invisible. From a photographer’s point of view, when they perch they are usually too high or too low. 99 times out of 100 they are too far away, regardless of what lens you have on your camera. Rob has a theory that birds can read the focal length engraved on the front of a camera lens and know exactly how far away they must be to taunt the photographer, so it’s no use changing the lens for a longer model! To add to a photographer’s woes, so many birds are most active at dawn or dusk when the light is approaching its worst in the deep thickets and under the forest canopy where birds spend so much of their time.
But there are exceptions and it is for these special times that photographers spend their days behind their cameras. Days of waiting for a split second exposure.
Recently the Kruger National Park delivered such an exception. We came upon a Levaillant’s Cuckoo perched in the open, reasonably close to the road and, at 5.30 in the afternoon, in fair light – and he (or she; the sexes are alike) didn’t fly. He had located a patch of sparsely vegetated veld rich in hairy caterpillars and was not leaving!
For several minutes we sat and watched his antics as he feasted, downing a dozen or more caterpillars in half as many minutes. From the car the angle for photography was not ideal, but just watching him was enthralling.
Typical of what happens in any national park, several folks stopped to see what we were watching and moved on disappointed when seeing that it was “just a bird”. The cuckoo was not offended.
Levaillant’s Cuckoos are not rare; they are fairly common breeding migrants to Southern Africa, where obliging Bulbuls and Southern Fiscals generously raise the next generation for them, but we still felt privileged to witness this little feeding frenzy.
The identification of this particular bird has caused some head-scratching in our circle. We were undecided whether it was a Levaillant’s Cuckoo or a Jacobin Cuckoo. The Jacobin has a pure white breast, however, the streaking on this cuckoo’s chest is not very heavy. If any of our readers feel strongly that we have misidentified this bird, please feel free to drop us a line. We would welcome your input.