ArtsBuzz Exhibition: Bird Crazy (4 – 18 May 2009)

Not too long ago, if you were to ask me to make a list of all the birds I have seen in Singapore, my list would have been depressingly short, probably limited to the ubiquitous “myna”, “sparrow”, and “pigeon”. Yet, Singapore has approximately 350 species of birds, of all shapes, sizes, and colors. In addition to their dazzling diversity, there is amazing variability in bird behavior and habits, making bird watching a particularly rewarding and educational pastime.

It’s easy to be a birdwatcher, and you can pretty much start by just watching them from your window. However, the experience of birdwatching can be greatly augmented by simple equipment. For example, it helps if you have a good pair of binoculars. Binoculars are described by two numbers (e.g., 10×40), where the first number refers to the number of times the image is magnified and the second refers to the diameter of the front lens element, which is associated with image brightness. Get the best pair of binoculars you can afford, since these are very durable and you won’t have to waste money upgrading later. Another vital resource is a field guide to birds in your area. One of the best guides out there is Morton Strange’s phototographic guide (see below), which provides photographs and vital diagnostic information that will help you quickly identify different species. The descriptions for this exhibition are all adapted from this classic reference.

I started taking pictures of birds in 2006, and it has become a very absorbing and fascinating hobby. Taking good shots of birds is constantly challenging, as you have to contend with heavy equipment and elusive subjects that are constantly in motion. The most important principle in bird photography is to get as much reach as possible. Unlike other subjects, most birds are not particularly comfortable around humans, and often disappear as soon as you point your camera at them. Most bird photographers rely on at least a 400mm lens, and to be comfortable, it’s better to go up to the 500 or 600 mm supertelephotos. However, these represent significant financial investments, and the lenses are so heavy that they require substantial support. However, if you are interested in getting started, a recommended combination will be Canon’s EOS 40D or EOS 50D, coupled with either the excellent EF 400mm f/5.6 L or the EF 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 L, and a good tripod. This will provide you with a relatively inexpensive entry to a fascinating hobby. If you need more information, Art Morris, one of the world’s best bird photographers, provides sage advice at http://www.birdsasart.com/faq.html.

Here are 26 birds that are relatively common in Singapore, many of them in the Singapore Botanical Gardens or the Chinese Garden. You will definitely have seen some of them, but some may look less familiar. The next time you are walking around, look around more carefully and you may be surprised at how many birds there really are in Singapore!

References:

Strange, M. (2002). A photographic guide to the birds of Southeast Asia including the Philippines and Borneo. Singapore: Periplus.

Melvin Yap
Asst. Professor, Department of Psychology

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