Chukotka #5 – Ruffs

Ruff on the lek - not an easy thing to photograph around here.

Ruff on the lek – not an easy thing to photograph around here.

One of the great joys of travelling to faraway places with only one single objective, in this case to photograph birds and nature, is that one can really immerse oneself in the endeavour. At home, or on trips with more objectives, there is always a clock ticking and something else waiting. This wasn’t the case on my Siberian trip.

When we weren’t out on the big SBS caterpillar tour we were based in the unusual town called Ugolnye Kopi – it has been described in an earlier blog entry. The place is absolutely teeming with bird life in the beginning of June; there were several Ruff-leks within walking distance of the hostel. I visited this lek on two occasions, once from the East and once from the West. My approach options were limited by the terrain – from these two sides I could sneak up on the birds by using the relief in the mostly flat tundra area. Both times I was there I spent a couple of hours just lying on my belly with my camera in front of me, enjoying the spectacle, and getting increasingly frustrated by the fact that there was a small knoll on the lek which the birds would invariably be behind when they were fighting, meaning the very great majority of my images had too much vegetation between the camera and the birds – but a few turned out all right.

The actual spectacle is something of an odd show. The males are on the lek to compete for the right to mate with the females, and hardly bat an eyelid at each other until a girl actually shows up – then the games commence, but with what I interpreted as very little vigour. They are absolutely mute while they play-fight, and to me they don’t appear to take it very seriously. Some scientists have even observed a tendency for the girls to prefer males who are not in this over-the-top breeding plumage, and I don’t blame them – it must be a bit like being attracted to drag queens. And the less conspicuous males, who don’t participate in the play-fighting, certainly have more time to devote to actually wooing the chicks…

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This gallery celebrates the drag-queen nature of the Ruffs on the lek – click on an image to view it in large size, and feel free to share your thoughts on the subject below the actual post.