I’d love to visit Africa someday, but that’s not going to happen any time soon. The next best thing then is a quick visit after work to the Oregon Zoo, just a few exits down the Sunset highway from our home. My wife and I recently purchased an annual zoo membership, mostly for our little year old boy to get some fresh air and growl at the poor animals. However, I just wanted to see the zoo’s newest exhibit, the lesser flamingoes.
This past week I popped in for an hour after work just before the zoo closed. The weather was overcast, but still quite bright, perfect for some nice soft light making portraits and tight shots of exotic birds. But, what I wasn’t prepared for was the smell. As pretty as these pink beauties are, they stink to high heaven, in spite of the African aviary exhibit being open to the air. I did have a great time, and in the hour there I thoroughly enjoyed watching and gaining an appreciation for the details and nuances of these birds that I would otherwise never see. The lesser flamingoes are one of six species of flamingoes and are native to central and south Africa. Aside from these birds being so tall and so pink, the part that stood out most was their radiant eyes. Each eye looked like a vibrant slice of an orange. Striking eyes are a dream for photographers, so I was in a smelly sort of heaven.
It was amused to see them each on one leg with their beaks tucked in their feathers catching a little siesta, until one would sway and bump another, ticking the other off and making a scene. Then, seeing these unique birds drink was a whole other point of interest. Their odd shaped bills functioned like a back hoe, as they hung their long necks straight down and scooped water and food with the underside of their curved upper beak. I underestimated how I would enjoy just watching them for an hour, never mind photographing these flamingoes.
At first all of the flamingoes were gathered in the wading pool and mostly facing the viewers. The closest bird was only about ten feet away, so as with the sapsucker shoot, I used a 12mm extension tube to shorten my 400mm lens’ minimum focus distance. Shooting over the railing didn’t give the most engaging perspective, as the lens was a foot or two above the bird’s eye level. The railing was supported by many bamboo posts that didn’t allow for much room between each pair, at least not for a telephoto lens. But I was able to brace my lens again the bamboo and get some eye level shots. For reasons I’m still trying to understand, I experienced auto focus difficulties when shooting through the bamboo, especially when shooting vertically. I suspect it may be from the lost light of the bamboo encroaching on the sides of the lens.
Time passed too quickly. Well, almost too quickly. Between crouching down and looking through a telephoto lens and bamboo posts, and inhaling flamingo fumes for an hour led me (a normally strong stomached photographer) to feel rather nauseous. It was near closing time, and I’d had enough. I do hope to return early some morning with some generous sun light to shoot these pink wonders in different light.