I was kinda getting into desperate mode! It was shaping up to be another trip looking for certain species and because they are simply disappearing, vanished, gone from the planet, I was too late, again! The last couple of years I’ve been trying to photograph species that when I first started out in the 70’s I couldn’t because I didn’t have the means let alone the skill to go get the photograph. The last couple of years, I feel I’m getting more and more desperate as I make the journey only to find all too often, I’m too late! So it was on Kauai a few weeks back when I was laser beam focused on photographing the few remaining endangered bird species left on the island. By day three, we’d struck out and I was feeling pretty low. Our destruction of our wild heritage has been pretty thorough in the last forty years! After a frustrating morning at the top of Waimea Canyon looking a couple of endemic, endangered forest bird species with really no luck, I decided on a hail marry and head to a pond that looks like a bomb had gone off in the worst of light. There, we finally found a couple of endangered Hawiaan Stilts. Also, there was a State Wildlife office, a really nice guy. He told us to come back at sunset as many birds fly in to roost. We went on to successfully and safely photograph the Stilt (great group putting up with my hypersensitive nature with endangered critters) in that hard light and then went off to dinner. At dinner, I decided to return to the ponds to see the “fly-in.”
We arrived back at the pond with just a Stilt or two in sight, nothing else. With my luck that week and in the past year, I didn’t really hold out much hope. So as we waited out the setting sun for better light, we stood by the van waiting. Then as the light started to get nice we ventured out along the dike to see if we could as a group get close to the foraging Stilt. You gotta remember that my motto has been as always will be, No Photograph is Worth Sacrificing the Welfare of the Subject. And with all the grievous things I’d seen in the past month by photographers in the name of getting a photo, there was no way we were going to be part of that problem (which is freakin huge!). So we slowly ever so slowly walked out towards the Stilt. I choose that one subject because of a couple of factors. The first and most overriding which will make no sense is my “gut” feeling. Something told me to head that way. At the same time, if there was to be a fly-in, the birds would be landing INTO the wind. With the direction of the wind and the sun being on our backs heading to that one Stilt, all that added up to head in that direction. It took at least fifteen minutes to walk those fifty some yards but when we arrived where I wanted to be, the Stilt was still there feeding. Then its mate called from another pond and up it flew and the two of them went off together to a pond quite a ways from us to take care of their young. There we stood with glass on nothing! In my mind, all I could say was, “Not again!” We were left with no subject.
We heard them call at first so we scanned the sky and there was a small flock of a half dozen endangered Nēnē (Hawaiian Goose) flying by. Flying by! Then we watched as the small flock made a big turn and started to dump air from their wings. They were coming in for a landing! At first, they looked like they were going to land in an adjacent pond, not at the one we were standing at. I told everyone to freeze, lenses, hands, feet, freeze! We were after all five shooters with big glass standing out in the middle of nowhere in a pond with no cover. It’s not like we were hiding by any means. The Nēnē made a slight flight adjustment and within seconds made a splashdown so close to us that at first, I couldn’t focus on them! The last light of the day was fading so the ISO was cranked up to ISO400 (only way to freeze the motion) and exp comp set to -1. I was shooting with the D5 / 800mm and they were so large in the viewfinder I thought I had my 1.4x attached so went to take it off only to find, it wasn’t attached. Then for twenty minutes, we stood there photographing what to all of us turned out to be a very emotionally and photographically rewarding time with, geese. They were on the most perfect spot with those tiny white flowers, the light just kissing their killer colors of their plumage with a perfect background. And the Nēnē went on as if we weren’t even there! Perfect! Then it got too dark to shoot so we walked out as slowly and carefully as we entered so not disturbing the Nēnē. We were guests in THEIR home! To this day, every one of us in that group talks very fondly of that time with the Nēnē, Javier coming away with the best photo telling the story of our special time with this critter. But that’s really not what is important to me. What is that they all came away with a deeper appreciation of their own skills, photographs and most importantly of their wild heritage, especially the Nēnē.