Dawn on the Otowa bridge


A little-known fact about Ms. Le Thi Quynh Tram, Fulbright University Vietnam’s Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, is that she is an enthusiastic bird photographer. Having been to numerous national parks and wildlife reserves to capture rare birds, Ms. Tram aspires to show everyone the astonishing beauty of nature and help raise awareness about environmental problems and sustainable development.

She once held a small exhibition on Fulbright campus, titled “The Colors of Nature”, with photos taken from all around Asia. Apart from rare, endangered birds, she also captures more common, urban species. Some of the photographed birds are on the IUCN Red list, while others can be found within a small radius around the Fulbright campus. Tram intends to put her photos up for auction to raise fund for academic activities and projects at Fulbright that are related to art or nature conservation.

Ms. Le Thi Quynh Tram is an enthusiastic bird photographer

Among Tram’s artworks, some of the most breathtaking shots were taken on the Otowa bridge in the Tsurui-mura village, Japan. In the frosty morning air at -18 C, Tram and her fellow photographers had to get up at 3 a.m. to set up their equipment and patiently wait for the first rays of the sun to awaken the siege of red-crowned cranes.

Below is an excerpt from Tram’s journal:

“I have on me six layers of thermal tops, three layers of pants, two layers of socks and two layers of headwear, bolstered by warmers in my trekking shoes, gloves and jacket pockets to increase body temperature. Only while standing still for hours in this weather can one understand how cruelly the cold seeps in. My blood vessels are constricted, my fingertips and toes are numb and no matter how I try to warm myself up by running in place, it doesn’t help.

After just one night, the spindly, leafless branches of the trees are covered in a layer of white frost, like a scene taken straight out of a fairy tale. In the faraway river, the red-crowned cranes are sleeping, standing in a thermal spring that helps keep them warm.

A heavenly scene captured in the numbing weather

Thin curtains of steam evaporate from the river surface. The break of dawn is the coldest time of the day. As the temperature is below dew point, the air is saturated and water vapor condenses into mist. The lower the temperature is, the thicker the mist becomes.

The dark sky starts to brighten, first to a deep blue color, then shifting gradually to a yellow-pink ombre. As the rays of light gently touch the frosted treetops, they sparkle. One by one, the cranes wake up. After hours of finding the right angles and adjusting the cameras settings, we start to get to work. Blissfully, the whole scene comes to life under the sun. The humans, the cranes and even the landscape are all livened up by the sunlight.

Awaken by the sun

This ethereal scene only lasts a few ephemeral minutes. In order to capture such precious moments, besides the painstaking preparation of equipment, we must also hope for supportive weather, or as one of us jokingly says, the blessings of the “Photo God”. In this moment, we all forget about the cold, heated by our concentration and desire to take shots worth remembering for a lifetime.

Flying in the blizzard

At some point, I get carried away and take off my gloves in order to adjust my camera more quickly and precisely. I lose sensation the moment my skin touches the metal block that is my camera, seeped as it was for hours in freezing temperatures. I can’t help but keep going, despite the ruthless blizzard winds blowing at 85km/h.

Dance of the red-crowned cranes

The photos were the fruits of four hours on the Otowa bridge in the Tsurui-mura village. Although by the time we finish shooting, the cranes are yet to fully awaken and have not finished their morning dances, the glacial temperature and the marvelous sights are eternally engraved in my mind. Being able to witness such a breathtaking view of nature, I am forever grateful.”

Some other wonderful shots taken by Ms. Le Thi Quynh Tram:

Steller’s sea eagle


White Crested Laughingthrush

Yellow-fronted Leafbird

Black Drongo

Olive-backed sunbird

White-headed stilt

Silver-eared mesia

Red-tailed Laughingthrush

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