Bird Photography / Birding / Borneo / Rainforest

Photographing Birds with Your Ears

Photographing Birds with Your Ears

It is already challenging to look for an elusive bird in the rainforest in daytime, let alone searching for nocturnal bird at night. This is where ‘photographing birds with your ears’ comes into play.

Borneo has beautiful luscious green rainforest with rustling foliage by day and totally pitched dark with insect symphony sounds by night. While I was not expecting to see any birds at night, we still managed to use our ears to guide us to identify and locate their whereabouts.

Kubah National Park Sarawak
The liana in the tropical rainforest in Borneo by day.

Kubah National is west of Kuching in Sarawak about 40 minutes away by car. Mixed hilly primary forest rising to Gunung Serapi at 911m.

In October 2011, three of us visited Kubah National Park in Sarawak after dinner at around 20:00. We went to the famous frog pond in search of nocturnal birds. Earlier in the day, I had photographed the Rufous-backed Kingfisher and Scarlet-rumped Trogon. At night, that same pond was unrecognizable.   

Rufous-backed Kingfisher in Kubah National Park
Rufous-backed Kingfisher in Kubah National Park by day near the frog pond.
Scarlet-rumped Trogon in Kubah National Park by day near the frog pond.
Scarlet-rumped Trogon in Kubah National Park by day near the frog pond.

Photographing Birds with Your Ears

Our guide, Yeo Siew-Teck, heard something unusual which was worth pursuing. The distinctive call was a single, rather high-pitched, drawn out note hew, repeated at 7 to 10 second intervals (Davidson). He told us to be quiet and to stay 10 to 20 steps behind him while he tracked the call. In total darkness, Yeo walked quietly along the main paved road 2 to 3 steps at a time, then stopped and listened. He was listening to where the call was coming from and replying the bird’s call to locate its position. This went on for a good 30 minutes of listening and calling out in total darkness

Finally, he told us to stand next to him and to get our cameras ready.  He then pointed the torch light to where the call came from. We could not believe our eyes as it was a Reddish Scops Owl perched on a horizontal open branch with its big eyes staring back at us. The small owl was about 20 cm tall. It was a lifer for me.

I manually focused on the owl before our guide turned off the torch. I used manual exposure mode and flash to photograph the Reddish Scops owl. This was where photographing birds with your ears made the big difference

Photographing bird with your ears. Reddish Scops Owl in Kubah National Park.
Photographing bird with your ears. Reddish Scops Owl in Kubah National Park.
After 30 minutes, we finally locate the bird with our ears.
I quickly changed to a longer lens and took the shot below.

Photographing Birds with Your Ears

Photographing birds with your ear. Reddish Scops Owl
Photographing birds with your ears.
Reddish Scops Owl in Kubah National Park.
Finally, we had a very good view of the owl before it flew away.
Reddish Scops Owl | Birds of Borneo
ISO 1000, 1/125, f/3.2

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