Indonesia's Raja Ampat Islands are well known for their rich marine life. Few know that there are plenty of colourful surprises above ground as well
Raja Ampat, the archipelago of more than 1,500 jungle-covered islands located in Indonesia’s West Papua province, is bound to figure on any diver’s wish list. The waters around them teem with marine life, from the small critters that macrophotographers love to big fish like sharks and giant trevallies.
Few know of the rich bird and animal life above ground. Even fewer know about the Wilson’s bird of paradise, a richly hued bird only found in the rainforests of the islands of Waigeo and Batanta in Raja Ampat.
Among birdwatchers, though, the Wilson’s bird of paradise is legendary. The small and colourful male birds put up an amazing courtship display to impress the rather dull, brown females. Besides dancing, they display a stunning green breast shield that I was lucky to capture on camera.
As the biggest island in the Raja Ampat chain, Waigeo has a large variety of birdlife. This includes parrots, cockatoos and kingfishers. I stayed on the island for five days, at a home-stay in the small village near the coast. The rest of the land mass is covered in thick forest.
During those five days, I hiked into the forest daily and set up my equipment in a hideout near the lek—the place where the Wilson’s birds of paradise come for their mating dance. It takes place close to the ground, making it quite a challenge to capture. After this, filming the mating dance of the red bird of paradise, which takes place in tree canopies, was much simpler.
Though both birds are stunning, the one that posed the harder challenge always lingers in memory.
The female Wilson’s birds of paradise are dull brown creatures. But the males do a lot to impress them, including sweeping the ground clear of debris and fallen leaves before performing the mating dance.
Wildlife and nature photographer Dhritiman Mukherjee, whose work has been showcased by, among others, the BBC, National Geographic, The New York Times and Unesco, spends more time in forests and oceans around the world than his home in Kolkata.