2017 Naturesbest Asia Photo Awards- Birds category winner

Just got informed that my photo of the fighting baya weavers got the winner award in the Birds category at Naturesbest Asia – Japan !



Location : Uran, Near Mumbai, Maharashtra, India
Species: Baya Weaver

September 2009: The period immediately following the monsoon is breeding time for a lot of birds due to, abundant  availability of water and food. On the western coast of India., June thru August are when the monsoons bring in rains and are the wettest months of the year. The location is a place called Uran which is about 70kms south of Mumbai. The entire coast is a made of fairly large wetland areas and is home to a lot of birds. This particular location sadly has since been leveled for building a huge corporate park. This seems to be the story pretty much across most of India today. Uran has been my favorite haunt for bird photography. This location was introduced  to me by Adesh Shivkar, one of India’s uber birding experts. Until the leveling for development happened, I was a frequent visitor to Uran. I was my favourite weekend bird photography spot.

On this particular day, we looked around for our favourite spots but were aghast to see then completely leveled. Only this particular spot where the Baya Weavers made their nests was standing. So we decided to do some “flight photography” of the birds flying in and out of their nests. Sadly, this particular location is also gone under “the dozer” now.

Getting birds in flight is always a challenge. And, I try it whenever we can. No props or baits were used here. I setup my camera on a tripod behind some bushes, prefocussed on a nest and tried to click as the bird approached the nest. My camera setup

Camera Nikon D3, Nikon 600mm VR lens + Teleconverter TC14IIE, ISO3200, 1/1600, F8, Off camera Flash SB-800 with Better Beamer fresnel lens to extend flash range mounted on wimberley flash bracket, Manual Flash at 1/64th power , Gitzo 1548 Tripod with leveling base and Wimberley II gimbal.

I was trying to photograph one nest ( actually its a colony of nests). I saw two birds keep chasing each other. It was pretty impossible to get these in flight since they are so small & fast. I was pre focused and hence was not trying to view thru the viewfinder. I was trying to trip the shutter by looking over the camera, by judging when the birds came into a zone I had marked in my mind.

This is when I was able to see , on the adjacent nest one bird had flown in and suddenly two more  dived in and hung. I instinctively shifted my camera to this nest, focused and shot a series. The entire incident would have probably lasted 3-4 seconds. I frankly didnt realise what was going on until after I analysed the pictures.

When I saw the shots, I went  “Yippe” ! Got a cool behaviour shot of what is essentially quite a common bird. Talk of being in the right place at the right time, with the right gear and most importantly looking in the right direction ! Had I been looking through  the viewfinder, I would have missed this action on the adjacent nest !

Weaver finches are very social birds and many species nest in colonies. In these situations it would be quite common to see males and females squabbling around the nest. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia write-up on the Baya Weaver (quite a good one IMO).
The males are polygynous, mating with 2 to 3 females one after another. Males build many partial nests and start attracting females. A male finishes the nest to its completion only after finding a mate, after mating the female lays about 2 to 4 white eggs and incubates them. The females are solely responsible for incubating and bringing up the brood. After mating with a female the male goes on to woo more females with its other nests. Females are known to lay their eggs in the nests of other females.

More Likely:-
From this I think you could hypothesise that perhaps two females are competing for the same nest, or perhaps one of the females was trying to lay eggs in another nest and was being dissuaded by the male and female who “owned’ the nest.

Less Likely:
If the bird in the middle is indeed an immature, I doubt that the male and female above and below are the parents, because of the apparent aggression shown in the image. Maybe the young bird is a recent fledgling from another nest? But since the bird in the centre was flying rather well, I would doubt it to be an fledging.

This behaviour is pwehaps not an unusual happening in itself. I am sure it happens quite often. Only not many of us are around to notice it even when it does 🙂