The Zoologist/4th series, vol 5 (1901)/Issue 722/Photo-trapping: Purple Herons and Spoonbills, Lodge

Photo-trapping: Purple Herons and Spoonbills  (1901) 
by Reginald Badham Lodge

Published in The Zoologist, 4th series, vol 5, issue 722 (August, 1901), p. 290–293


By R.B. Lodge.

It was in 1896 that I described, in 'The Zoologist,'[1] a visit to a well-known breeding-place for Spoonbills in North Holland, and I then expressed a desire to spend a week in the attempt to photograph the adult Spoonbills. This wish was gratified, as far as the week goes, in 1897, but, though I exposed two plates on adult Spoonbills on their nest, both plates were found to be fogged and useless on my return home. In the same year I attempted the same birds in a Spanish lagoon, and failed, and I began to think that Spoonbills were not to be photographed. However, in my albums a blank page was left for them, and my determination was fixed to have another attempt. Not until this year has this been possible, and my blank page is now filled to overflowing.

A week was spent in the same "meer," and hopes were fixed on a new automatic electric photo-trap of my own contrivance; but directly I reached the colony I found it was too late to use it, as far as the Spoonbills were concerned. The eggs were hatched, and the half-grown young ones were walking about restlessly, and would certainly have sprung the trap before the arrival of the parent birds. Other methods therefore had to be resorted to, and the electric shutter was released by means of a string on to the switch from a hiding-place the other side of a narrow channel cut in the reeds, from which place, waist deep in water, I also used the tele-photo lens with good effect. Finding that the birds came much more readily than on any previous occasion, I took a whole-plate camera, and hid up with it about seven yards away from the nest, and got my boatman to cover me over with reeds. Here I soon had two splendid chances in a very short time. Once both the old Spoonbills and their three young ones were in front of me; the young birds, after teasing the old ones for food, would insert their beaks into the parent's throat, and there feed like young Pigeons.

All the adult birds seen had a curious mark on the throat, which, both in shape and colour, gave them the appearance of having their throats cut. I do not mean the orange gorget at the base of the neck, but where the head joins the neck is a mark the colour of dried blood, and just the shape of a gash across the throat with a knife. I do not remember seeing this described.

It was a splendid sight to see these beautiful birds alight at such close quarters, with lowered beak and legs, and a tremendous flapping of great white wings; while the young birds kept up a continuous querulous "chipping," like chickens.

Purple Herons, as usual, were nesting in close proximity, and constantly visited their nests, to an accompaniment of their customary grunts and growls. They too had young, but not far away we found two late nests still containing eggs. Here I tried the photo-trap, but without success, the water being deep and the camera awkward to hide. Another nest was subsequently found better situated, and here we built up a platform of cut sedge and reeds, on which the camera was just raised above the water, and well covered with more sedge and wet water-weeds. A dry-cell battery was hidden with it, and wires carried round to the nest connected with a specially designed switch, on which it was hoped the bird would tread, and so connect the battery, and expose the plate. This was about 10 a.m., and on visiting it in the middle of the day, great was my delight to find the shutter had duly gone off. Looking at the nest, the first impression was that I had been lucky enough to photograph not the Heron, but a Marsh-Harrier in the act of stealing eggs; for four eggs had been left, but we could see but three; the nest was smeared with blood, and a dead reed which formed the lever of the switch was broken short off.

In connection with this state of things, the fact that we had disturbed a Marsh-Harrier from the adjacent reeds as we approached seemed rather significant and suspicious. However, a search revealed the missing egg in the water under the nest, and the conclusion was formed that the Heron herself had ejected the egg, breaking it in doing so, and also snapping off the reed.

Resetting the shutter, and covering all up, the trap was left again until after 6 p.m., when a second visit again found it sprung, and the plate duly exposed; while on a subsequent day—the last one of my stay—she came on again. The first Heron, I think I may safely say, to photograph itself with electricity, but probably not the last.

Ardea purpurea automatically photographed by itself.

If this method succeeds with a bird of such extreme shyness and timidity as the Purple Heron, it should prove of great service in obtaining records of birds and animals hitherto impossible. Not only birds at their nest, but any bird or animal, large or small, diurnal or nocturnal, which can be attracted by a bait, or which habitually uses the same path or run, can now be photographed. Of course, for nocturnal animals the inclusion in the circuit of a flash-light, to be ignited by the same current which operates on the shutter, is indispensable.

Besides the Purple Heron, the trap was tried at the nests of a Marsh-Harrier and a Great Crested Grebe. These attempts, from the difficulty there was in concealing the camera, were failures.

Before leaving England experiments were made with the trap at a Lapwing's nest, which were successful three times out of four, only so far as that the bird duly went on and released the shutter. This at first was uncovered and rather noisy, and the bird "jumped"; the fourth try, the shutter having been improved and covered in, was entirely successful. The Lapwing, however, this last time sat on the switch for a couple of hours, and completely exhausted the dry battery,—this contingency not having been allowed for. An automatic cut-off has now been made, and, after the release of the shutter, no more battery action can possibly take place, however long the switch is kept pressed down. The shutter, by the way, was made from my designs by Messrs. Dallmeyer, of Newman Street.

  1. Zool. 1896, p. 321.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1937, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 85 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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