Giant Fruit Bat

Photo Diary: 10th December 2010. After having spent the best part of the past week wandering around bars late at night taking photos and collecting information for the site's new nightlife section, it made a refreshing change to once again take a short ride out to one of my favourite places on Ishigaki island – 'Banna Park'.

When I arrived on Ishigaki island two years ago we were welcomed by an unseasonal 28 degrees centigrade, today however the temperature was a far more pleasant 21 degrees. The sky was blue, the air fresh, and the humidity of the summer for once seemed like a distant memory. It's weather like this which makes living on a tropical island during the winter so special.

Whenever I head out to Banna I always pack my macro lens due to the sheer diversity of insects (particularly butterflies) which inhabit the park. However, it turned out that today's visit would offer something quite special. As I descended some stairs and stepped into a clearing which I've visited many times before I was brought to an abrupt halt by a sight which I could hardly believe.

giant fruit batFruit bats are a common sight at night in the city center, but this was the first time that I'd spotted one in the daytime.
Hanging from a nearby tree at shoulder-height, and staring directly at me, was a giant fruit bat ('ookoumori' in Japanese). Don't get me wrong, I've seen many of these while riding around the town center at night, but this was the closest that I'd ever been to one, and what's more, it was broad daylight. Giant fruit bats are native to Okinawa and their huge bodies and wingspans make for an impressive sight even at night, but seeing one close-up and in the cold light of day was something quite special.
birdBanna park is a great spot for bird watching

Luckily I had a 70-300mm lens on my 50D, having used it to snap some birds further back up the road. I quickly selected a combination of settings which I knew would produce an acceptable result before carefully pointing my camera at the bat, which was still looking at me directly in the face. I breathed a sigh of relief as I checked the view finder and realised that I'd managed to grab a few shots which would be good enough for the website.

Having achieved the bare-minimum I decided to get my tripod, which would enable me to take some low-ISO shots of the bat, which was almost completely motionless in the wind-sheltered forest clearing. However, my luck was about to run out. Just as I clicked the camera into place the bat finally decided that enough was enough and took to the sky, its yellow/orange breast catching the sun as its heavy wings beat through the air.

I felt a mix of both disappointment and excitement – yes, I knew that I'd finally grabbed a good shot of a giant fruit bat, but I was so close to getting a great shot. I wandered around the forest for about 15 minutes, gazing up in the hope of identifying the its new resting place, but I finally gave up as it swooped overhead and continued on into the distance. It was close to 5:30pm and it was time to head back to town before sundown.

It was dark by the time that I turned off the main road and headed towards my apartment. I suddenly saw what I thought was the silhouette of another bat shoot across the road in front of me. I turned my bike around and headed back up the hill; sure enough, there it was sitting in a tree, feasting on some fruit in a rather frenzied, yet amusing manner (if these things were carnivorous they'd no doubt be nasty pieces of work).

Fruit bat in treeAs soon as the sun sinks below the horizon the bats enter feeding mode, and this one wasn't willing to hang around.
This time I couldn't be as subtle. There was no way that my camera's autofocus would work in the available light so I switched to manual, guessed the focal distance, underexposed massively and activated my cameras onboard flash in the hope of getting something usable as I had a feeling that the bat wouldn't stick around for long. Sure enough just pointing the camera in its direction was enough to startle it, and as I hit the shutter button it was already taking to the air. It headed towards me for a couple of feet before arcing off above the trees. I once again packed up my gear and made my way back home thinking that, all things considered, today was a good day.
CaterpillarAlthough I was most satisfied with the bat shots this was probably my best photo of the day. Taken with my Tamron 90mm macro (possibly the finest lens in my kit).


When to Visit

I am differently coming for a visit. What is the best time of year. I know right now is Typhoon season. What are the price ranges for accommodations, example about a week, plus travel ?

I know this may sound crazy, but my only limitation is that I do not eat raw fish. Deep fried or broiled is OK. Can I assume that there are other options? I will be traveling alone, with my camera, of course.

Hope to here from you.


Rob Hawes