Cayman Birds & Butterflies

My wife and I had the great privilege of going to Grand Cayman Island in mid-June. This was mostly for "rest & relaxation" but I did manage to find some photographic opportunities.

I got together with a local naturalist, Geddes Hislop, who conducts birding, nature and wildlife tours on the island. We spent half a day together, visiting a number of birding sites on the island. He is extremely knowledgeable, and we had a great time together. If anyone is planning on a visit to Grand Cayman, I would definitely recommend spending some time with Geddes. His operation is called "Silver Thatch Excursions, and the website can by found by clicking here.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that a new site for "The Butterly Farm" had opened on Cayman a few months before our arrival. I got in touch with Tony Cox who manages this facility, and I spent a number of hours on a few different visits, photographing a wide variety of exquisitely beautiful butterflies. More information on the various Butterfly Farms in the U.S. and other countries, can be found here. And special thanks to Tony for identifying the butterflies pictured here. And for record, these butterflies are not necessarily native to Cayman.

Added August 26, 2004: I just learned of an organization, "Cayman Wildlife Connection" , a non-profit group building a site devoted to education about the Cayman Islands' natural environment, native wildlife, etc. A very worthwhile effort which I support.

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Snowy Egret over Turquoise Water

Image # 1564

Seven Mile Beach

Grand Cayman Island

Canon 100-400L IS and 1.4x II Teleconverter at 560 mm

ISO 400, f/11, 1/2000 second

Evaluative Metering at -1/3

Handheld

This image is an attempt to capture the incredible beauty of this scene - a beautiful Snowy Egret flying over the gorgeous turquoise water of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, it doesn't do justice to the original!


 

Snowy Egret at Cayman Shoreline

Image # 01571

Seven Mile Beach

Grand Cayman Island

Canon 100-400L IS and 1.4x II Teleconverter at 460 mm

ISO 200, f/11, 1/1000 second

Evaluative Metering at -1/3

Handheld

This was also taken at the same time as the shot above. Several afternoons in a row, this Snowy Egret came to an area of the beach near our condo, and spent an hour or two fishing at the shoreline. He'd fly away as various people walked by, but kept returning after they were gone.


 

Blue Morpho (Closed)

Image # 01551

The Butterfly Farm

Grand Cayman Island

Canon 100-400L at 300 mm with 20 mm extension

ISO 400, f/16, 1/250 second

Evaluative Metering at 0, 550EX with Stofen Omnibounce

Bogen Monopod/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick

These are simply beautiful, and extremely active, butterflies. They almost never touched down for more than a split-second under sunny conditions. But I visited one afternoon, when it was completely overcast, relatively cool, with intermittent rain. Most of the butterflies were relatively inactive, allowing me to photograph some species otherwise hard to capture.


 

Blue Morpho (Open)

Image # 01545

The Butterfly Farm

Grand Cayman Island

Canon 100-400L at 400 mm with 20 mm extension

ISO 400, f/16, 1/250 second

Evaluative Metering at 0, 550EX with Stofen Omnibounce

Bogen Monopod/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick

I put these two images in sequence, showing how different some butterflies look open vs closed. The blur iridescence is extremely impressive to see.


 

West Indian Whistling Duck Portrait

Image # 01535

Northside Area

Grand Cayman Island

Canon 100-400L at 300 mm

ISO 200, f/8, 1/640 second

Evaluative Metering at 0

Handheld


This species is scattered through the Caribbean, and its presence on Grand Cayman was once in jeopardy. Thanks to the efforts of several residents (Willie Ebanks and others), they were sustained and protected, and are present in good numbers today.
 

West Indian Whistling Duck Pair

Image # 01536

Northside Area

Grand Cayman Island

Canon 100-400L at 400 mm

ISO 200, f/8, 1/125 second

Evaluative Metering at 0

Handheld

This particular location had quite a number of these beautiful ducks. The green of the water is reflected from the dense vegetation around this small pond. If you look carefully, you can see an out of focus red dragonfly on the left side of the frame.


 

West Indian Whistling Duck in Flight

Image # 01540

Northside Area

Grand Cayman Island

Canon 100-400L at 285 mm

ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/800 second

Evaluative Metering at 0

Handheld

I had Geddes go to the opposite end of the pond, and see if he could get a few ducks to fly in my direction. It worked fairly well, and I got a nice sequence of shots of this particular duck as he came towards me.


 

Atlas Moth

Image # 01575

The Butterfly Farm

Grand Cayman Island

Canon 100/f2.8 USM Macro

ISO 200, f/16, 1/25 second, 2-second timer

Evaluative Metering at 0

Gitzo 1329 Tripod

Now this was an impressive moth! It apparently is the largest moth species in the world. They seemed to always cling to the enclosure screens, making good photos impossible. Tony Cox was kind enough to gently place one on a bush so I could take some decent images. The diamond shaped spots on the inner-wing area are translucent, helping them to blend in with their surroundings.


 

Atlas Moth 'Head-shot'

Image # 01554

The Butterfly Farm

Grand Cayman Island

Canon 100/f2.8 USM Macro

ISO 200, f/16, 1/250 second

Evaluative Metering at 0, 550EX with Stofen Omnibounce

Handheld

The fine detail on the antennae of these moths is just incredible. The antennae also seemed to move in response to light. When the sky was cloudy, they were relatively flat against their body, but when the sun came out, the antenna moved in the direction of the sun, as seen in the first shot above.


 

White-tailed Tropicbird

Image # 01517

Southside Area

Grand Cayman Island

Canon 600L/f4 IS with 1.4x II and 2x II Teleconverters

ISO 400, f/11, 1/1000 second

Evaluative Metering at -1/3

Gitzo 1329/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick

This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. Geddes took me to an area along the southern coast of Grand Cayman, and we spotted some of these beautiful Tropicbirds. I had never seen them before, and had a great time watching them, as they were always in the air, extremely fast, with rapid turns, etc. We saw a total of perhaps 4 to 6 birds at various times. They were quite a distance away from us, requiring stacked teleconverters to get them close to a reasonable size in the viewfinder. This was one of the most challenging shooting situations I've been in. At an effective focal length of 2184 mm, it was extremely difficult to even locate them through the viewfinder. And with their speed and unpredictable flight pattern, and bright sun, getting decent shots was tough! I've included one image which gives some idea of their beauty, despite the technical shortcomings of the image.


 

Clipper (Parthenos sylvia)

Image # 01548

The Butterfly Farm

Grand Cayman Island

Canon 100-400L at 340 mm with 20 mm extension

ISO 400, f/11, 1/125 second

Evaluative Metering at 0, 550EX with Stofen Omnibounce

Bogen Monopod/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick

Another of the new butterfly species I first saw down at Cayman. I generally shoot at f/11 or f/16 for sufficient depth of field, and can sometimes get away with 1/125 shutter speed to increase ambient light exposure in the background areas.


 

Emerald Swallowtail (Papillio palinarus)

Image # 01504

The Butterfly Farm

Grand Cayman Island

Canon 100-400L at 400 mm with 20 mm extension

ISO 400, f/11, 1/200 second

Evaluative Metering at 0, 550EX with Stofen Omnibounce

Bogen Monopod/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick

The "neon" green color of this species has to be seen to be believed.


 

Monk Parakeet Pair

Image # 01522

Southside area

Grand Cayman Island

Canon 600L/f4 IS and 2x II Teleconverter

ISO 400, f/11, 1/500 second

Evaluative Metering at -1/3

Gitzo 1329/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick

There were a number of these birds in the trees in front of a private residence, not too far from where we were shooting the Tropicbirds. As the lens choice indicates, these were also fairly far away. I really enjoyed shooting yet another new species in the wild.


 

Grand Cayman Amazon Parrot

Image # 01528

Northside area

Grand Cayman Island

Canon 100-400L/f4.5-5.6 IS at 400 mm

ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/3200 second

Evaluative Metering at +2/3

Handheld

Geddes took me on a walk through a forested area on relatively high ground, in the Northside area. I only took the 100-400 with me (it was pretty hot and somewhat buggy), and needed to be as mobile as possible to shoot the mostly small birds we were looking for. This parrot briefly perched on top of some trees, with decent sunlight more or less behind us making this shot possible. We saw a number of different species (Vireos, Warblers, Caribbean Elaenia, Bananaquit, Cuban Bullfinch, Loggerhead Kingbird, West Indian Woodpecker, Caribbean Dove, and others), and I shot some of them, but I didn't feel these were of sufficient quality to include here.


 

Rose Swallowtail (Pachliopta kotzebeau)

Image # 01558

The Butterfly Farm

Grand Cayman Island

Canon 100/f2.8 USM Macro

ISO 200, f/16, 1/250 second

Evaluative Metering at 0, 550EX with Stofen Omnibounce

Handheld

This was taken on the cooler and rainy day, when the butterflies were less active. I was able to get closer to them without 'spooking' them so took some shots with the 100 mm macro lens rather than my usual 100-400 zoom (which allows me a longer and more practical working distance when they're more active).


 

Clipper (Parthenos sylvia) [color variant]

Image # 01509

The Butterfly Farm

Grand Cayman Island

Canon 100-400L at 350 mm with 20 mm extension

ISO 400, f/11, 1/200 second

Evaluative Metering at 0, 550EX with Stofen Omnibounce

Bogen Monopod/ArcaSwiss B1/Wimberley Sidekick

Not much more to say here. Just another great butterfly. I tried to make the antennae more visible by shooting at an angle where they'd have the green leaf in the background to set them off (as they're easily lost in a darker background).