Alden Boon

Bird Photography at Lower Seletar Reservoir, Singapore: Breakfast Is Served for the Grey Heron

15/12/2018

I stand at the end of the boardwalk that juts out into the lake, preoccupied with photographing the rising sun. I wait for it to pierce the many lumpy clouds. A fellow photographer tells me that at 7am I have missed the window for a good sunrise photograph (and I was so proud of myself for having woken up at 5:45am). Still, spurred on by the prospect of photographing a sunburst, I adjust my tripod up and down, and I sidle left and right, pinpointing the exact spot where the sunlight hits the petal-shaped roof and refracts. An hour passes without my knowing, and then another. Now fully emerged from the shrouding clouds, the morning sun paints the lapping waves an enchanting aureate.

The silence that I have hitherto enjoyed is suddenly broken by the whirring of an engine. Unbeknownst to me, a mowing boat has crept up on the eastern side of the lake, its exterior already peeling and blotched with rust, the paddle wheels generating ferocious waves. I turn, and I espy first a few birds resting on a huge green nest of weed that is laid on a platform. Out of this group of white-feathered egrets the grey heron stands out, taller than others, black streaks running down its neck. With alacrity I abandon my sunrise-photography assignment, and swap my wide-angle lens for the telephoto one.

The birds watch with rapt attention as the mowing boat is steered away from the platform. When the collecting rake is submerged into water, the birds flap their wings, glide ever so gracefully, at times skimming the water, and come to perch themselves on the rotary arms of the boat. They stand in formation, like stage performers right on their marks. Working in the manner of an excavator, the boat hauls weeds from deep under the water. The operator manoeuvres the harvester, returns to the platforms, and empties the heap of freshly extricated weed on to the existing one.

This choreography repeats: Each time the collecting rake is immersed under the water, the birds flock to it. “A bird’s playground,” I think. It is fascinating to me that birds, free to go wherever they desire, require transport. I relish the opportunity to photograph these birds circling the vast body of water, flaunting their wings and speed.

Lower Seletar Reservoir Bird Photography Grey Heron Singapore
Lower Seletar Reservoir Bird Photography Grey Heron Singapore
Lower Seletar Reservoir Bird Photography Grey Heron Singapore
Lower Seletar Reservoir Bird Photography Grey Heron Singapore
Lower Seletar Reservoir Bird Photography Grey Heron Singapore
Lower Seletar Reservoir Bird Photography Grey Heron Singapore
Lower Seletar Reservoir Bird Photography Grey Heron Singapore
Lower Seletar Reservoir Bird Photography Grey Heron Singapore

Through my camera’s viewfinder, I trace the movements of these birds, and suddenly I bolt upright at what is unfolding: The sole grey heron has a fish snugged in between its beak, and in one gulp devours it completely! An animal with its kill — it is every wildlife photographer’s money shot. So that is the reason why these birds fly back and forth like clockwork — it is not that they enjoy the experience, like how we enjoy standing on the bow of an ocean liner, wind in our hair. Of course it is for sustenance! I chuckle as I realise I am not the sharpest tool.

How smart the birds are, no longer foraging for food like cavemen, instead letting us human beings do the heavy lifting. But each haul does not necessary bring fresh catch, and as they wait patiently for breakfast to be served on a green platter, so must I if I want to capture the moment again. But my luck runs out, as the sun reaches its zenith and the birds go into hiding. My curiosity is forever piqued though, and I wonder about the genesis of this mutual agreement, if these birds were the first to broker it, and if there are others who are privy to it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alden Boon
Alden Boon is a Quarter-finalist in PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. When he's not busy writing, he pretends he is Gandalf.

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