1 Aug 2016

The Moment Birds Take Off

Great Cormorant © HIH Princess Takamado
Great Cormorant © HIH Princess Takamado
By HIH Princess Takamado

'Through the Lens', Fujingaho Magazine, August 2016

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Photos and text: Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado

English Translation: Asia Club, WBSJ Volunteer Group (YOKOYAMA Kazuko and KASE Tomoko)

Whooper Swan © HIH Princess Takamado

When our children were little, we would often let them out in the yard to play in a plastic kiddie pool or with a watering-hose. We, the parents, also got water-soaked, but, winning the heat over to our side we enjoyed it as a fun.

Remembering such old summer days, I chose some photos for the present issue from those taken overseas. Now that we are too grown-up to play with water, why not watch some photos of birds running up over the water with a spray?  It would help you to get the heat off your mind for a little while.

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People who have seen my photos of birds in action sometimes asked me how I could grab the photo opportunity. It seems instinct of my own did work, but after all, most of my interesting shots could not have been taken without good luck. Actually, I have quite a few failure stories, but strangely enough, a single nice shot makes everything enjoyable.                              

Sooty Shearwater © HIH Princess Takamado

Birds take flight from the water in different ways, depending on the shape and size of their wings and the weight of their bodies. As the water has less repulsion, large birds like swans need to run on the surface of the water before taking off. However, smaller birds like greater white-fronted geese occasionally take off straight from the water. Water birds like cormorants and grebes that dive to feed have stream-lined bodies with larger webs to increase propulsion in the water and their feet are placed far back. It is also one of their characteristics that their wings are rather smaller for their body weight, because powerful flight ability became unimportant in the course of adjusting themselves to swimming life.

Not only shorebirds but also pelagic birds that live in open oceans dive to feed. Shearwaters have long, narrow wings suitable for gliding over the sea. The moment they find fish, they fold their wings and swiftly dive straight into the water, but according to my observations, their wings look ineffective for take-off, because they have to run on the water for a pretty long distance before taking off putting their feet forward one after the other and fluttering their wings.

Horned Grebe © HIH Princess Takamado

By the way, we have a saying; a bird does not foul the nest it is about to leave, which admonishes that you should clean up a place before leaving. It seems to come from the legend that the water is clear without anything floating after birds fly away. From a distance, the water surface appears to regain calmness. Nevertheless, through a scope or telephoto lens, we can see that the water is rather turbid, with mud and waterweeds rolled up and feathers floating in some cases.   Birds often empty their bowels before taking flight in order to lose weight, so particularly when they fly away in a group, “they foul the nests they are about to leave.” If the saying goes “Wait for a while after a bird has left, then the water returns calm and clear as though nothing had happened”. I cannot but wonder whether it could be a “good lesson”.

Greater White-fronted Goose © HIH Princess Takamado



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