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Hawaii Akepa
Photographing nectar feeding birds is easy compared to the insect feeders. Of all the birds in Hawaii, insectivorous birds such as Alawi or Hawaii Creeper, Akiapola’au, and Hawaii Akepa are the most difficult to photograph, mainly because they are rare and have unpredictable behavior. They rarely, if ever, return to the same tree during the day, and are usually found high in the tree canopy. Generally speaking, without a 1,500 mm lens, forget it. But over the years, I have found that hunting specifically for these birds, and knowing their behavior, will help me to get closer when these species are, on occasion, lower in the canopy.

AkiapolaauMost of Hawaii’s birds breed December to May. Shortly after breeding season many of the insect feeding species form loose mixed feeding flocks. A number of species will gather together, singles and family groups, and join their neighbors in foraging through the forest canopy in search of little six legged creatures. It is suspected that this group behavior helps with predator avoidance, similar to schooling fish. The photographic advantage here is that these loose flocks will often come down into the under story and forage among the low branches and trunks, providing excellent opportunity to photograph them at eye level. But, where in the forest they will appear is unpredictable. Just setting up a camera and tripod in the forest for these birds won’t work, so expect to do a lot of walking in the forest searching for a flock. Generally the underbrush is very thick, getting in the way of long lenses and tangling in the tripod legs. Usually by the time I get setup for the shot, the birds are gone. Over the years I’ve learned to travel light. Instead of a “big rig”, I use a lighter, hand held, 100-400 or maybe 70-200 with a 1.4 extender, a flash and “Beamer”. This rig is easier to maneuver in the thick underbrush and provides the ability to make quick movements with the flexibility that I need to photograph these fast moving little birds.

 

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