The Flat Battery Conundrum – (guest author – Daniël Cloete)


All of us enjoying the sunset next to Tambopata River. From left to right: two tourist ladies who’s names I can’t remember, Anouk, Marco, Kevin and Chrissie and I sitting at the back)

Life has this ingenious way of occasionally presenting the most rewarding experiences from something that can initially seem quite negative. Chrissie, Kevin, Anouk and I took the opportunity to go up to Colpa Chuncho on the 18th of September so that we could hopefully experience the mass gathering of parrots and macaws at the colpa (or clay lick) the next morning. On the afternoon that we arrived we took a walk with Marco, our guide, and two Explorer’s Inn guests so that Kevin and Anouk could make use of the opportunity of being at Colpa Chuncho to place a camera trap in the dry riverbed. Before coming, we heard many accounts of encounters with big mammals such as Jaguar and Tapir on the Colpa Chuncho trip and we were hoping to get some nice footage of these animals on the camera trap.

Kevin and Anouk setting a camera trap on the dry river bed, while Chrissie and I "supervise" proceedings.

Kevin and Anouk setting a camera trap on the dry river bed, while Chrissie and I “supervise” proceedings.

Later in the afternoon, we took a walk down to the river to do some birding. As we reached the river, Chrissie bemoaned the fact that her camera’s battery was almost flat but decided not to go back to camp to get a replacement as light was fading fast. Anouk got quite giddy with excitement as she belonged to the school of thought that having a flat battery is a sure sign that you will surely see something amazing. We (that is to say – mostly Anouk) thus excitedly took off on our walk with a bolstered hope that we are now well on our way to seeing something worth writing home about.

Within a 100m or so a Nightjar, possibly a Ladder-tailed Nightjar, shot up just a meter or two in front of us and ducked into the scrub to our left. As Kevin and Anouk moved further down the beach, Chrissie and I decided to investigate where the Nightjar went with the hope of getting a better view. As I managed to get a glance of the Nightjar before it took off again, I also heard a rustling in the scrub a couple of meters to the left and it sounded like something quite large. I called Chrissie to come and take a look and we started to move through a gap in the scrub but only managed to see the movement of a biggish branch as whatever made the noise moved away. Chrissie and I left to catch up with Kevin and Anouk further down the beach just as they were trying to get a better view of a beautiful little red bird, which we later managed to identify as a male Vermilion Flycatcher. Chrissie got a little bit bored, as the rest of us were still desperately trying to get a clearer view of the Vermilion Flycatcher, and she decided to take a few slow shutter artistic shots of the river with the last of her battery power. If only she knew what her next potential subject was going to be…

The illusive Vermillion Flycatcher

The illusive Vermillion Flycatcher

The next moment Kevin said, with a presumably straight face and in a very calm voice (which up to this point we only associated with his teasing dry sense of humour), “There is a Jaguar”. Anouk, which is usually at the receiving end of his humour immediately reprimanded him for talking nonsense. While pointing in its direction, Kevin intently replied in a semi-hysterical tone of voice “I swear to God there is a Jaguar”! It was then that Anouk and I also spotted the beautiful beast calmly looking at us.

The river Chrissie so painstakingly tried to capture on her camera...if only she knew.

The river Chrissie so painstakingly tried to capture on her camera…if only she knew.

Kevin and I both hissed at Chrissie to stop taking pictures of the river and to come take a look at the Jaguar before it ran away. Initially she was ignoring us as she was at this stage a bit fed-up of taking ID photos of inconspicuous LBJs (Little Brown Jobbies as we say in South Africa for inconspicuous little birds that are hard to identify) with her super-zoom camera. After a couple more unmanly screeches at her, she finally turned around and saw the Jaguar and, as it was destined to be, her camera promptly shut down.

Anouk managed to get a shot in with her camera, but with the light being poor and her shaking nervously, she only managed to take this blurred image which is of course much better than Chrissie’s last photo of the river which could also have been of the Jaguar. With the Jaguar not moving away and just calmly sizing us up, Anouk huddling up to Kevin and became a bit concerned. She started to assess her chances of survival with a couple of pertinent questions along the lines of: “Are we safe here!” and “Can Jaguars swim”! After about half a minute the Jaguar moved back into the scrub and we thought it was gone, but as we moved forward to get a better look, we saw that it was still looking at us and (from Anouk’s concerned perspective) we had another sizing up from him for about a minute before the Jaguar disappeared. It was only then that we discovered that the Jaguar vanished from us (of course) at the EXACT same spot where earlier Chrissie and I were exploring to see what cute fluffy animal we might happen to see…

Unmistakably a jaguar! the blur only adding to the drama of the moment.

Unmistakably a jaguar! the blur only adding to the drama of the moment.

After making our way back to the camp (just about walking in the river and constantly looking behind us), we felt kind of bad, but still excitedly shared our memorable experience with Marco and the guests that did not accompany us on our little birding walk.

So, now the conundrum remains… is it necessarily a bad thing when your camera battery runs out of power at a seemingly inopportune moment? A further thought along the same line is that in this day and age of easily accessible digital photography how many times do we actually take the time to just appreciate the magnificent scenes and subjects that we have the opportunity to encounter without urgently trying to capture some sort of fixed impression of it through a viewfinder? I’ll leave you with these life important questions and hope that you will also soon have the opportunity to see something as magnificent – unexpectedly and preferably whilst on foot.

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