The next St Helena tourism campaign probably won’t be based on visitors crawling between cowpats on Deadwood Plain. It’s not on many people’s list of things to do on the South Atlantic island, and yet that’s exactly what I was doing one morning.
This reasons for this curious pastime almost certainly needs clarification; I was attempting to get some acceptable images of the island’s only endemic bird, the wirebird. This is more difficult than it sounds, as the bird is especially skittish when protecting a nest with eggs or new-born chicks, and a relatively short focal length lens adds to the challenge.
I’m not really keen on birdwatching, but up for a challenge, and get quite excited when I manage to capture an interesting bird, even more so if in flight.
That’s why I found myself up close, and personal with fresh cow waste material, in handy, dish plate sized portions. The wiry legged birds were feigning injury, hoping to draw our group away from their nest. Performing their ‘dance’ around among the clumps of grass, and other sparse vegetation of the plain, hoping to distract us away from the precious contents of their nest.
The chicks are well camouflaged, and the eggs even more so, they’re really difficult to spot. Our National Trust guide even admitting to previously treading on a well hidden nest …… oops, not good when there are only around 360 adult birds.
The wirebird, isn’t the only bird that I stalked. Sneaking up on masked boobys roosting on volcanic rocks slick with guano, creeping up to the adorably named fairy terns nesting on high, coastal rock stacks, and snapping at dozens of speedy brown noddys in flight, flashing across my viewfinder.
The greatest challenge was capturing an image of the common, and brightly coloured, but tiny Madagascar or Red Fody. It is so small, and rarely stops in one place for so long, a fleeting, teasing visitor to a nearby branch. Almost every time one momentarily stopped, a game of blogger and bird was the result, it became a mild obsession.
On second thoughts, maybe crawling through cowpats isn’t such a strange activity after all. They might have to work on my suggested campaign slogan however ….. “Birdwatching on St Helena; it’s the shit!”
It’s certainly a good destination for birdwatchers, and stalking wildlife with a camera is preferable to a rifle anytime. Photographers are modern-day hunters, much more sustainable than the alternative.
There are even four species of albatross on the island, not seeing any was a minor disappointment; damn, sounding just like a genuine born again twitcher.