This bird is responsible for our visit to India. Let me explain.
As I was beginning to morph into a dedicated bird photographer my time spent scanning bird and bird photography sites on the internet expanded greatly. I browsed way too many webpages looking at bird photos. I quickly found that I had a lot to learn photographically and with respect to birds.
One image I ran across stuck with me. It showed Greater Adjutant storks in magical light. I paused and did a bit of background investigation on the bird. First of all, they’re huge. They stand nearly 5 feet tall with a wingspan of about 98 inches. They’re endangered. The largest breeding population lives in a dump in India. I logged that info in my dusty brain and moved on.
We had a friend in Portland who is Indian. He would frequently challenge us to travel to India to see his country. Dianne was ready in an instant. Me, not so much. Over time Shyamal would share his photo trips with me and we’d talk birds and photography. One of his goals was to photograph all the crane species in the world. At the time, one of my beginner goals was to just get a sharp, well exposed image of any bird. One day as we sat talking Shyamal said ” when you come to India I will show you the Greater Adjutant”. And there you have it. I was ready to go.
Some months later Dianne, Shyamal and I sat with our driver in the city of Guwahati’s dump. The air was acrid and thick. Pickers we’re climbing over the piles salvaging items. Machinery was moving stuff around. Shyamal and I exited the car and set off into the dump to photograph the Greater Adjutants and the many other bird species that were there. 45 minutes later we got back into the relatively good air inside the car. My eyes burned and my throat was irritated. 5 weeks in India and this was the only time the air quality got to me.
The Greater Adjutants were familiar with the pickers and did not fear them. I, on the other hand, had the wrong skin color and was carrying a big black object with a long lens. They didn’t startle at my presence but kept their distance. Photography was not easy given the thick air that limited the light, the backgrounds were all trash, literally, and the birds would move to the far edge of my lens’ working distance.
It was an experience I’ll never forget. These great birds are forced to forage in a dump due to extensive habitat loss. It’s a tragic story of human occupation and resource use. Human trash and waste are supporting the limited population of the birds and the few people who live there and pick through the piles. I’d go back to the site with hopes that the light would be better, the air would be less toxic and that the birds would still be there to see and photograph. Until then I playback the experience each time I look at one of our images.