A Wildlife Photography Hack to Make Your Life More Exciting (With Video)

For years, we’ve groaned about the changing of our clocks twice a year. It messes with our systems and causes sleep deprivation. The sun sets far too late or far too early.

Yet, for wildlife photographers, this biannual ritual can lead to some cool pictures.

So.

Embrace Daylight Savings Time.

The discovery of this hack occurred because I was simply lucky. April in the Southern Hemisphere means the end of Daylight Savings Time, and the “fall back” with our clocks had occurred the day before I visited the Orokonui (ore-oh-kuh-NEW-ee) Ecosanctuary just north of Dunedin, New Zealand. I felt fantastic with that extra hour of sleep, and the people I met had smiles on their faces and jovial spirits from being well rested.

The wildlife were not so jovial. The calendars they pin to the trees or bush they live in do not include such superfluous events as Daylight Savings Time (they celebrate holidays like Beginning of Worm Season or National Sleep Day or The Festival of Birds where they participate in contests such as the Brightest Feather Competion or Speed Bug Eating). Perhaps they’d had a Sunday night outing that left them especially hungry, but the birds that lived at Orokonui Ecosanctuary did not realize that that day, the humans who were supposed to feed them would be shockingly late in their daily ritual of feeding them.

One hour late, to be exact.

Two Takahe
Two of the four takahe I would see on my visit.

The takahe (TAH-kuh-hay) emerged from the bush for their feeding time at what they thought was still 11 a.m. But there was no food to be found in their feeder. Where could it be?

So they wandered around the area, digging through the soil and waiting for the ecosanctuary staff member who would pour specially formulated takahe feed from Massey University into their special takahe feeder in their special takahe-only area.

This is when I wandered in.

I had visited Orokonui before, during my January visit to Dunedin. Then, I had walked the trails and seen several bird species. It’d been too late to see the takahe, however, one of New Zealand’s flightless birds, and the last species I needed to observe in order to have seen all of the country’s flightless birds. So when it turned out that I returned to the Dunedin area for a few weeks for a wonderful stay at a sheep and beef farm, I resolved to revisit Orokonui so that I could complete my flightless-bird-sighting quest.

I called the ecosanctuary and confirmed what time the takahe were fed: 11 a.m.

DSCF2091
A road along the inside of the predator fence at Orokonui Ecosanctuary.

I arrived around 10:30, paid the fare, and walked down the ramp from the visitors’ centre to punch that day’s code into the keypad of the door set into the predator fence. This fence had weaving so tight even baby mice couldn’t crawl into the 307-hectare (758-acre) forested enclosure in Coastal Otago. Signs to check bags for mice hung on the doors. I walked in to a small cage, waited for the first door to shut, then opened the second door. Two doors ensured birds would not wander out and predators would not sneak in with the human visitors.

The takahe feeder was near the main entrance, so I didn’t want to wander far. I strolled down a trail I’d seen on the first trip, through a rock garden, with bush thick on both sides. Then, there was a clearing to the right, and there they were: takahe.

I recognized them immediately from pictures. They were the stuff made from second graders’ imaginings and drawings of birds: large beaks, shimmering feathers, thick claws, blues and greens glittering. They were big birds, too.

I had hoped this would happen, that I could see them scrounging through the bush before watching them at the bird feeder.

I took out my camera, set my camera bag down on the trail and started snapping away, entranced by the birds.

And now, I’ll let the video tell the rest of the story.

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