The End of Another Lazy Day

    The End of Another Lazy Day

    The end of another day lazing around in the river….time to yawn and start looking for something to eat!

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    Himalayan Striped Squirrel

    Decided it’s time we posted something a little different. So today’s photo is of a Himalayan Striped Squirrel munching on a tasty seed pod. These little guys can be found in the high mountain forests from the Himalayas through northern Burma and southern China to Thailand and Peninsular Malaysia.

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    Feast or Famine

    Feast or Famine

    It’s amazing what you find in your garden if you take the time to look. Spotted this Bar Throated Locust warming itself in the early morning sun. It was huge, at least 50mm-60mm long and wondered what it would be like to get caught up in a swarm of these guys!

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    Reflection

    Reflection

    Reflections of an Australasian Grebe as it cruses the absolutely still waters of Buckley’s Hole, Bribie Island. The blue water was itself a reflection of  the clear blue winter sky!

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    An Eye for Headlice

    An Eye for Headlice

    Natures way of dealing with headlice and ticks. Pain free and efficient!

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    Stepping Stones of the Wild Kind

    Stepping Stones of the Wild Kind

    Birds are not dumb. They fly the shortest routes and in the case of this African Jacana walk the shortest route to where it is headed!

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    Blog Roll

    The Need for Speed

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    Once in a while you get lucky and what starts as a bummer of a day turns out to be full of welcome surprises!

    The past few days the wonderfully mild Brisbane winter was turned  upside down by a front of crappy cold wet Melbourne weather that made its way up the coast and screwed up the weekend for everyone in Brisbane! After weeks of alternating between traveling and re-working the images for the new upgraded wildeyeview website (www.wildeyeview.com) I was looking forward to a few days of photography. But the cold wet rainy weather looked like putting a damper on that. Fortunately, by mid morning today it cleared enough to be able to go outside and we decided to take a walk down along the creek behind out apartment complex.

    And that’s where the weekend turned from a bummer to being one of the best in terms of interesting photographs taken for a long while.

    The rain had flooded a low area of concreted pathway and the local Welcome Swallows were loving it. Hundreds were swooping in, dipping and stopping to fill their mouths with mud for building nests. Now, I’m not dumb enough to look a posing swallow in the mouth and walk past without trying to get a few shots so I settled down in the middle of the path about 5m back from the edge of the water to see what I could get. It was easier said than done.

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    The Swallows were more than welcoming and were actually not at all fussed by my presence, flying in and settling down to fill their mouths with soft mud. Photographing a bird on the ground is easy stuff and in five minutes I had enough swallows with mud in the mouths shots that I needed. What was difficult was photographing them as they landed or took off or swooped overhead. These birds are fast…dammed fast. It didn’t take too long to figure out that not only did I need to sharpen my trigger finger, but also needed to get the shutter firing at maximum speed and then find a way to pre-focus on a spot and get the timing right.

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    After a few hundred useless frames with either nothing in them or a blurred edge of a wing or foot I figured I needed a better approach. After watching the birds for a while it seemed that some seemed to routinely return to the same patch of soft mud. So I repositioned myself as low as I could to get the widest horizontal view of the various patches of mud. Then I upped the ISO to 1600 and set the aperture at f5.6 which gave me a shutter speed between 1/2,000 sec and 1/4,000 sec depending on how the light changed.

    After that it was a question of anticipating when the bird was likely to take off which was at best a hit and miss thing as more often than not I pressed the shutter after the bird departed. After a while, I changed tactics and started firing short bursts as the birds mouth got filled with mud. This resulted in more success, although the number of dud frames still far outweighed anything captured. But at least we we were starting to get something.

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    The best chances came when groups of birds arrived and descended at the same time. This meant they needed to swoop past and then hover before landing. Looking over the lens and not through the eyepiece I managed a few fluke frames with very sharp images, but it was still a process of shooting off volume to get something worth sieving out and keeping. At the end of the day I reckon I fired off about a thousand frames to end up with five or six nice shots and about ten others that were also not too bad.

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    The moral of the story…you want to photograph swallows…you need speed. If you are a fraction of a second too slow on the shutter the birds are gone and all you get is a blank frame. If your shutter is not fast enough it’s just blurred. This was probably the most annoying, knowing you had the bird in the frame, but didn’t work the camera properly and it was a chance blown, never to occur again.

    But it was fun!

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    The Little Bird Creating a Big Flap

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    This is the Yellow Bittern creating a huge stir among Australian birders. Native to Asia no one knows how this little guy ended up in a creek pond of an upmarket suburban housing estate in Brisbane.

    According to media reports this is the first sighting of this bird in mainland Australia for as long as anyone can remember, which explains why the road in front of the pond is crammed with cars and at any one time upwards of ten birders and bird photographers are stalking the banks of the pond. However, much to the relief of the non-birder residents across the road from the pond the circus is likely to end soon as there has not been a sighting since last Thursday.

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    What was very interesting about this sighting was the fact the Bittern was not at all shy and openly stalked the pond vegetation less than 10m from the camera resulting in my coming away with tons of good shots of it going about it’s business oblivious of it’s fame.

    To be honest, I find the reaction of  the presence of this bird in Australia is quite amusing. Having spent years photographing in Asia I would not normally give two seconds to it. But being down here sort of obliged me to get off the couch and go down and make an effort to press the shutter. Having said that, I was pleased I did because I met a number of interesting people and got loads of tips about good birding sites that I would otherwise never have learned about. So I suppose I should at least thank the vagrant immigrant for that!

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    Reading one of the on-line reports about the sighting it seems some bird watchers witnessed the other resident Bittern in the pong; a Little Bittern  having a territorial dispute with this yellow trespasser. Unlike the yellow bittern, the little bittern is very shy and only periodically sticks its head out from the dense reeds in the center of the pond. Now for me, this is a much more interesting bird to photograph as I have not got shots of it before, and in it’s own right is a bird seriously under threat. Unfortunately the distance from the bank to the reeds was quite far and I had to use a converter on the lens to get anything worthwhile. Unfortunately when you do this you have to live with the lack of detail. But, now I know where this bird lives, I will be back to try and get more shots of it some other time.

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    For anyone interested in checking out the pond the GPS Coordinates are 27 deg 12′ 35.9″S, 153 deg 01′ 19.9″E. The Eremaea Birdlines website at  http://www.eremaea.com/BirdlineRecentSightings.aspx?Birdline=7  is a good link as it has frequent updates on this as well as other sightings.

    Happy Birding!

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    When Africa Blooms in Australia

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    What a sight it is to see African Aloes in full bloom down under in Australia. The aloe section of the Brisbane Botanical Gardens is presently a mass of splendid nectar laden flowers and the local birds are more interested in getting a suger high than worrying about cameras. It’s a splendid mix of bright colors that every nature photographer just has to take advantage of while the going is good. In Africa the aloes attract a constant stream of Sunbirds, In Australia it’s Lorikeets and Honey Eaters. Both differ but are equally beautiful. In Africa the birds feathers shimmer whereas in Australia its a brash splash of color with the common denominator the aloe flowers.

    We came away with so many good shots it was difficult to decide what to start with. But given that I think that the colorful Rainbow Lorikeets are everywhere I should start with them. What can I say about these birds…obviously god spilled the paint when he was working on them and they must have protested loudly. But the outcome was an incredibly colorful and extremely noisy member of the parrot family. Lorikeets are also unbelievably fast in flight and almost impossible to photograph on the wing, so getting a few nice open wing shots of them as they came into land on the aloes was very pleasing. They may be as common as sparrows around here, but lets face it they are really attractive birds.

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    Next up is another very common local bird the Noisy Miner. Places and things in Australia are named very simply, usually directly describing the sight, plant or object and the Noisy Miner is no exception. It is a very gregarious and vocal member of the honeyeater family with large and varied repertoire of songs, calls, scoldings and alarms. Compared to the Lorikeets it is a dull bird, however it is not unattractive and perched on and within the aloes proved to be quite a photogenic subject.

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    This following shot of a Miner was taken with water sprinklers going in the background. Lets just say the effect is a little different!

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    The third poser in this bird and aloe blog was a pair of Blue-faced Honeyeaters. These are extremely beautiful birds, but birds I have found very difficult to photograph as I just can’t seem to catch them in a reasonable pose. Either they fly off before I’m ready or they are partially hidden behind branches or some other obstruction. So, getting a chance to photograph them from a relatively close position in a more open and colorful setting was a big bonus. The problem was that the resident colony of Miners was constantly harassing the honeyeaters and whilst I took many shots, none of those of the male with his distinctive blue eye patch came out, so sorry for this.

    Later in the day while watching the Miners we realized they had a nest with young in a tree very close to the aloes and this is why they didn’t want any other birds around.

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    To close off the blog, I decided to insert one shot I took with the 300mm of the flower of an aloe from Madagascar, which when processed almost looks like a studio shot. In fact the black background was very dark foliage of tree’s in shadow behind the plant.

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    The moral of this story…if you are in either Africa or Australia and there are aloe plants within your vicinity get out the camera because they are in bloom and the birds are out!

     

     

     

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    Shine The Light On Me

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    For the second time in as many weeks, this morning I found myself photographing into strong early morning backlight on todays trip to Buckley’s Hole on Bribie Island.

    Normally I sit down near the waters edge on the eastern side of the hole, but today the birds were all on the opposite side, so hoping to get some flying shots I upped-sticks and set up again on the other bank. The trees along the eastern edge of the pond cast a dark shadow across the water which complicated things because half of the water was dark and the other half bathed in strong sun.The first few shots I took were complete rubbish; varying between either strongly over exposed to completely under exposed. I tried spot metering, but it didn’t help. So I decided to hell with it all. I was just about to pack up when a Silver Gull flew over me and made a big circle heading right in front of where I was set up. Tracking it down into the dark patch I figured it was going to be too dark but fired away anyway as it came into land.

    As it landed the gull stuck its head underwater, leveled up and immediately took off with me tracking and shooting as it lifted up into the light and headed back out towards the sea.

    Quickly looking at the shots I was pleased to see they were sharp and almost perfectly exposed…Happy Days!

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    OK…so its a gull…but what the hell, gulls are birds, right!

     

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    Yes Sir!

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    If you were asked to describe the colors of Australia in three words they would have to be Olive Green, Sky Blue and Red Earth. But when it comes to Australia’s psittacines or parrots their range of colors is astounding.

    So you can imagine how it was driving round a bend in Bowra to come face to face with a pair of Major Mitchell’s Cockatoos. They were named in honor of  Major Sir Thomas Mitchell a Scottish surveyor and explorer responsible for some of the early mapping of Australia. Describing these birds Mitchell wrote  “Few birds more enliven the monotonous hues of the Australian forest than this beautiful species whose pink-colored wings and flowing crest might have embellished the air of a more voluptuous region”.  Words, so true even today. They are absolutely stunning birds that bring a dash of color to the earth tones of inland Australia.

    Expecting them to fly off I very slowly got out the car and tentatively aimed the lens at them. Surprise, surprise they didn’t budge so I slowly advanced briefly stopping every few meters to fire off a few shots before moving forward some more until I was about ten meters away. Eventually they flew off, circling round allowing me to get a few flying shots besides those of them feeding on the ground.

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    Feeding together with the major Mitchell’s were a pair of Galas a grey and pink cockatoo whilst common is also a very nice looking bird. The few times I have tried to get close to photograph these birds they have taken flight early so this time round I never managed any flying shots. But to complete this piece I decided to add in a flying shot previously taken.

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    The third cockatoo species photographed in Bowra were Little Corellas; incredibly noisy birds. The difficulty photographing white birds like this is always getting the light right. I always struggle with this and whatever adjustments I make in the camera always seem inadequate. If it were the days of film I would be bankrupt buying film, but lucky for me these days we have Photoshop which allows me to shoot as many bad shots as I can for basically no cost and then refine the off-spec camera adjustments into something more suitable for uploading into the blog.

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    I was hoping the trip out west would have resulted in some shots of more of Australia’s parrot species but it was not to be. But then there’s always next time…who knows!

     

     

     

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    Big Birds in the Land of Big Sky

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    One of the most striking things about Australia is the contrast between it’s blue sky, olive green plants and deep orange-red soil. But most of all it’s a land of big sky. Big sky made all the more bigger and colorful by the absolute lack of pollution and more stunning by the big birds that live in this land. So, what better a topic for a blog than one about the big birds in the land of big sky!

    Our recent trip out to Bowra in the west of Queensland was a trip through the land of big sky into the land of big birds. Unfortunately the sad fact about the roads into the outback is that they are literally littered with dead wallabies and kangaroos taken out by road trains and big trucks. Basically these animals are dumb and have not been able to adapt to traffic. They have absolutely no road sense. Instead of running off into the bush they seem to just head in the direction they are facing, and if this is towards the road, then it’s towards the road they hop. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that given the number of dead animals you pass on what are very low trafficked roads that the risk of hitting one is high. Our vehicle has no protective roo bars so we were very cautious and slowed right down whenever we spotted any as we just could not afford to wreck the car a few hundred km’s from the nearest town. But even then we had our share of near misses. One time after slowing right down near a group of kangaroos which were about 20m off to the side of the road and were actually at the point of passing them they took flight and hopped right in front of us. This tells me they are a dumb species with a death wish. I also now understand why every vehicle out there except ours had strong protective bars fixed to the front!

    The rotting carcasses are easy pickings for a myriad of ravens and raptors that take to the early morning skies scavenging for breakfast. It also seems that the bigger the carnage and the more rotten the carcass the greater the bird life. On a few occasions we came across huge Wedge Tailed Eagles feeding on dead carcasses and stopped and staked out the site hoping for the birds to return, but after half an hour the stench and flies were just too much to stomach and we just left. But I think that on a cool day a proper set up upwind from a suitable carcass would prove to be a very productive photographic location. Maybe next time!

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    Anyway, despite not being able to get any shots of Wedge Tailed Eagles which are absolutely magnificent birds with a massive wing span we did come away with some good shots of Whistling Kites circling low overhead some of the roadkill; sightings that made the rotten smell and flies almost bearable.

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    The grasslands of the Bowra sanctuary itself is a great location to photograph Black Kites which effortless circle overhead unconcerned by your presence beneath them. I have photographed these birds elsewhere but somehow the ones at Bowra are special.

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    Probably the most common of Australia’s birds of prey is the Brown Falcon and you see these everywhere in Bowra and along the roads perched on an exposed branch waiting the opportunity to swoop down on it’s prey of small rodents, lizards and invertebrates such as caterpillars and grasshoppers.

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    Coming from Africa it’s hard not to compare Australia’s bush with that of Africa. The fact is without wildlife, and I don’t count a few kangaroos as wildlife, Australia’s bush is quite boring. So it was quite fantastic to come across a pair of Australian Bustards in the shimmering early morning light of a patch of grassland. I love these birds and having more or less all the African bustards on file getting a few photos of these Australian ones made the whole trip worthwhile.

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    Another great Australian outback bird; almost is Ostrich-like in appearance is the Emu. I’ve sen these in local sanctuaries in Brisbane, but seeing them in the wild is something special. If looks are anything to go by, rough looking faces and feathers indicate life in the outback is hard for these birds. Surprisingly with one exception when a pair walked right past our vehicle, I found these to be quite shy birds that walked away every time we slowed down or tried to get close. They are also obviously more intelligent and have better road awareness than kangaroos, as we never saw a single dead emu on any road!

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    In closing all I can say is that Australia is definitely a land of big sky and big birds, both of which make for great photography!

     

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    Too Many Woodswallows To Swallow

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    One thing in a wildlife photographers life that is for sure is that no two days of photography are ever the same. One day you can be scratching for shots, the next you get more than you can ever hope to process. It’s strange how sometimes you can drive a track and see absolutely nothing for hours. So, tired of all the dust and rattling your teeth on corrugations, you call it quits and turn round and head back only to come across a completely different situation with animals and birds falling over themselves to pose for your camera.

    Since arriving in Australia we have struggled to find spots within a reasonable drive time that I would rate as good wildlife or bird photography locations. If there are birds, they always seem to be the same birds and the diversity and volume is just not there. In Malaysia we had to work hard and sweat it out for a result, but down here it’s definitely a lot harder and you have to travel further to get what you want. Fortunately on a recent foray to Lamington National Park we came across a wildlife videographer and stopped to talk to him. He told us about Bowra, a bird sanctuary near Cunnamulla in western Queensland owned by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy ( www.australianwildlife.org  )According to him it offered both a good variety and volume of bush birds. So, taking advantage of the recent long Eater weekend and short working week we decided to drive to Cunnamulla and check it out. It was a long drive, nine hundred odd km’s, but well worth it. The two days we spent in Bowra were very productive. As productive as we have ever had in any single place in Africa where birding and wildlife photography is exceptionally good.

    What I is really good about Bowra is the polite, uncomplicated and professional way the volunteers from Birds Queensland manage the sanctuary. I also was very impressed at the way visitors to the sanctuary respect the environment and it’s inhabitants. Having visited hundreds of sanctuaries and parks all over the world over the past thirty years this is a very, very unusual and pleasing situation. I salute the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and Birds Queensland for this. They are doing a really great job.

    Getting back to the topic of today’s posting; of all the photos taken at Bowra the ones which please me the most are the ones of various species of Woodswallows that I managed to capture.

    Top of the pile has to be a series of shots of a cluster of Little Woodswallows that huddled together on a branch in perfect light. They were not at all unsettled by my gradual approach to within good lens range. In fact I would say they almost seemed happy to be photographed as they busily preened themselves and sometimes the bird next to them, and of course I was more than happy to oblige!

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    Everyone who follows this blog knows I can’t resist trying to get birds in flight. Bowra delivered in abundance in the form of large flocks of Black Faced Woodswallows that spent the first few early morning hours feeding on high flying insects. What fascinated me about these guys was the fact that they would hover just like kites before swooping down on their prey in a manner similar to that of a Bee Eater. So, they just had to be photographed. Lucky for me we live in the age of digital photography and not in the age of film photography, otherwise the hundreds of frames of junk I took to get these few half decent shots would have bankrupted me!

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    Not to be outdone Bowra’s White Browed Woodswallows put on an equally pleasing in-flight feeding display with the first photo below really showing the power of modern digital photography as a bird swoops in for the kill on a tiny bug that only the bird and camera could see. Later on in the afternoon a few more good frames of this species were also secured making it altogether a good day of variety of this bird.

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    Leaving the best for last, one of the top prizes of the two days was a nice series of frames of a perched pair of White Breasted Woodswallows that were absolutely unconcerned that I was just a few meters away below them. I had just set up the camera when one of the birds ducked off and came back with an insect which it then offered to the other. I couldn’t have timed it better and managed to get a good sequence of frames of the interaction. It was very, very pleasing knowing that whatever happened next I had some great shots in the bag.

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    What else can I say…Bowra…absolutely a  top spot for Woodswallows and a host of other birds still to grace this blog. Stay tuned!!!

     

     

     

     

     

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    Dive Bathing

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    It’s not often that you come across a bird that has a clean feet obsessive compulsive disorder. At least that is the conclusion we came to after watching White Plumed Honeyeaters drink and bath.

    White Plumed Honeyeaters are common throughout a large swathe of Australia. They occur in loose flocks noisily feeding on gum tree nectar and insects; basically normal birds going about normal bird business until it comes to drinking and bathing. That’s when their normal bird behavior takes an interesting twist.

    Observing them drinking we realized that they always land on a stick or other perch which provides access down to the water and never land on the ground at the waters edge like other birds. Rather they stretch down to reach the water all the while keeping their feet firmly away from any wet soil or mud. Clearly a Honeyeater with dirty feet is one dirty honeyeater!

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    But what is really most fascinating to watch and also to try to photograph is their bathing behavior. Flying out to the middle of the water they suddenly dip themselves into the water before rapidly lifting back up and off to a nearby perch. This is repeated a number of times before fully wet they sit and preen. Fortunately their repeated dipping always seems to be in roughly the same spot, so its possible to pre-focus on roughly the same spot of water and then reacting immediately they enter the water. The bathing process takes a fraction of a second, so quick reactions are needed to get the shot. It’s photographic snap shooting that’s exciting and challenging. Plus, it’s an activity that takes place at midday when good birding opportunities are few and far between.

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    Getting a few in-focus shots of these birds having their daily bath is greatly satisfying; to my mind every bit equal to that of catching a fish eagle in action or Hippos fighting!

     

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    The Ultimate Poser

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    Sometimes it’s very difficult to find fresh stuff to post up on the blog. The past few months have been especially challenging due to a mix of extended business travel and the general lack of new photos. Birding in Malaysia was hard work and I expected it to be easier in Australia. But it’s not the case. If anything I’d say it’s much harder down here. Firstly you have to drive quite long distances to get variety and even then the volumes of birds are just not there. Finding new subjects to post every week is starting to become a mission!

    To solve the problem I decided to go back into my files and see if I could find any unprocessed photos from previous African trips. I was quite surprised what I managed to find…literally hundreds of shots that were just dusting away in the hard drives.

    One nice series that I think deserves to be posted are these shots of an African Darter taken from the Lake Panic hide near Skukuza in Kruger on our 2012 trip there. Now, anyone who knows Kruger knows of this hide. It has to be one of the absolute best public photographic hides in the world for Hippo’s and bird life. Right in front of the hide there is an old tree stump and every day this darter suns itself on the stump. In good light, it’s almost impossible to take a lousy shot of this bird.

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    I think you will agree he’s a real poser. The moment the cameras start to go off, he huff’s and puff’s. It’s almost as if he knows he’s the center of attraction.

    Of all the camps in Kruger Skukuza has to be the least desirable. It’s just too big and impersonal. But it has one attraction less than 15 minutes drive away and that is the Lake Panic hide. This hide is so good it’s almost worth arranging your trip round it. The floor of the hide is a most six inches to a foot above the water so you get superb low angle viewing and at any time of the day you are more or less guaranteed to see Hippo’s and a variety of birds. It’s only downside is it’s proximity to Skukuza which means there is constant traffic in and out the hide, and not everyone understands the need to be quiet.

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    So, next time you are in the southern parts of the park, make a point of stopping by at the hide. It’s bound to be productive!

     

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    Artsy Fartsy Postcards

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    After yesterday’s washout in attempting to get some new photo’s for this week’s blog, today we were washed out by rain. So there was nothing else left to do but spend a few hours at the computer exploring the power of Photoshop.

    To be honest I’m not a Photoshop expert. My knowledge is actually quite basic. Normally I open and process my photos using Lightroom, sometimes using a Nicksoft plug-in like Viveza 2 for background editing.  Basically I have never managed to get my head round Photoshop CS. I know it’s a powerful tool, but it’s just too complicated for me. So my use of Photoshop starts and stops at Elements. If Lightroom and Elements can’t do what I need to do I trash the photo.  The fact is that any lousy shots will always be a lousy shots and no amount of Photoshop expertise can recover them.

    Anyway, given today’s crappy weather I decided to play around with Photoshop to try and create a series of artsy fartsy postcard type photos that exploit the high key features of the software. Of course not every photo lends itself to this treatment, so the first step was to select a variety of shots that I thought would work.  The results for a first play were quite pleasing and because there is nothing new to write about in the Blog this week this is what you get to see….John Smith’s high key Photoshop for Dummies experiment!

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    With all the above the idea was to wash out the colors, but not completely destroying them. The first photo I played with was this one below of a Brown Hooded Kingfisher. The result is almost that of a colored pencil drawing and I like it a lot. The subsequent ones above are what happens when you push the limits a bit more.

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    Next weekend we are heading out into the far western parts of Queensland to check out if the outback is everything everyone talks about. Rumor has it, that’s this is where the interesting Australian animals, lizards and birds live. It should be interesting. Let’s see!

     

     

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    Swan Lake

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    Trust me, early morning birding after a late night drinking are activities that don’t go down well together! The older you get the harder it gets to drag the old bones up and out especially when you drank too much the night before. But what is one to do when good bottles of Australian red with legs thick like honey and smelling like ripe fruit are lined up in front of you….you do what any man in his right mind will do. You drink and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. Well today was one of those tomorrows! But as we have been so starved for good photo opportunities the past few weeks that there was no choice but to get on with it.

    Originally I wanted to head up to Lamington National Park, a wonderful forest birding spot inland from the Gold Coast, but that was just not going to happen. So we headed back up the coast to Buckley’s Hole on Bribie Island hoping to catch a few good flying bird shots. The hole was full of water, but not full of birds. The only interesting target was a pair of Black Swans. So today’s blog it’s all about Swans.

    Black Swans are endemic to Australia. Until the Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh sailed up the river that runs through modern day Perth in Western Australia in 1697 and came across a flock nesting along the river, the world believed that only white swans existed. To honor the find De Vlamingh named the river the Swan River after these magnificent birds. He was so fascinated by his find he captured three birds and carried them back to Indonesia as evidence of their existence. Black Swans also existed in New Zealand but were hunted to extinction by early settlers until re-introduced in 1860. Since then they have recolonized many old habitats. Similarly, the swan was a favorite source of food for early Australian settlers. Whilst their numbers were decimated they somehow managed to survive.

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    Black swans are nomadic birds that range over large parts of Australia breeding in coastal and inland fresh water habitats in the south west and south east of the country. Large colonies also are found in flooded inland lakes. When the lakes dry up the birds relocate back to permanent water elsewhere. As the photos show, Black Swans are absolutely magnificent birds with white wing tips and bright red beak and eyes. They are stunning to photograph and are one of those birds that are hard to take a lousy shot of.

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    Now that I have a few good shots of these birds on file the challenge will be to get them in flight. Much as I hoped for a flight shot today, it didn’t happen. But who knows, maybe next time, right?

     

     

     

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    Garden Fairy’s

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    I  couldn’t have timed it better. I just arrived back in Brisbane after three weeks on the road in China and Malaysia to find that the family of Superb Fairy Wrens that were nesting in the back yard were about to leave the nest. Now, three weeks without a single photo is three weeks too long for my liking so it didn’t take too much to break out the gear and pull up a chair for some close up first flight action.

    Fairy Wrens are quite interesting bird species. Whist being sociably monogamous they are sexually promiscuous meaning that although they form pairs between one male and one female, each partner will mate with other individuals and even assist in raising the young from such pairings. Usually one male travels with a small harem of 3-5 females defending a defined territory from interloping other males. They are restless feeders that hardly stay still for a micro second, making them very difficult to photograph.

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    However, in this case the bird-on-guard at the nest usually perched high up on a neighbors cactus or on an exposed pine branch near the nest facilitating some half decent shots of the male and females attending to the two juveniles in the nest. The nest itself is a small domed structure nestled deep inside a pine hedge tree, with its opening perfectly placed facing the lounge doorway less than 3m from the nest. Perfect for photography. Yes, except that the small size of the birds and their superfast flight in and out it proved impossible to photograph. The best I got of the nest was this shot of a nestling peering out of the opening, and some shots of the females perched out in the open checking to see everything was safe before flying down into the nest.

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    The male, having done his stuff for the moment is in the process of shedding his bright blue breeding plumage for a more non-distinct grey winter plumage. Birds in the process of changing their colors are always interesting subjects and this guy, was no different. Luckily, like the females he perched in the open checking the scene long enough for me to come away with a few shots worth showing. Despite a lot of worthless attempts to catch the birds in flight, it was just hopeless. I just could not anticipate when they were about to take off and were just too fast for me to react. Consequently the best I could get of any wing action was the male in the process of turning round on a spiked cactus prong. Unfortunately you can’t see his head, which is a pill because it would have been a great shot.

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    Finally after a few hours one of the nestlings decided to leave the nest and I managed to catch him as he found his legs on the outside of the tree for the first time.

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    Although the nest is now empty, it will be interesting to see if it is used again in the spring breeding season, as this is the second nest in the same tree and the second time in the last four months it has been used. Certainly the bird bath we installed near the nest is a favorite lunchtime bathing spot, so for sure this will not be the last of this family of beautiful birds.

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    Hanging Out Down Under

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    As a break from birds and spiders we have been researching known Flying Fox roosting camps with a view to photographing these interesting animals. My interest in these animals was piqued when driving home from the airport at dusk one evening hundreds and hundreds of the animals blanketed the sky as they flew off to feed. One camp in dense creek vegetation not far from Sandgate station provided a fine series of shots of Black Flying Foxes through a small few square meter gap in the trees from the top of a nearby grassy bank.

    Flying foxes are colonial animals roosting communally in camps containing anything from hundreds to thousands of individuals. They play an important roll in the pollination and distribution of seeds of native Australian plants, so protection of their habitat from destruction is becoming increasingly important, even though they are not listed as endangered. The Sandgate camp seems to comprise mainly Black Flying Foxes although Grey Headed Flying Foxes are also known to use this roost site.

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    Watching them, especially in the late afternoon when they begin scratching, stretching their wings and squabbling with each other is quite an interesting experience. Their tough leather wings aside these animals are quite dog-like in appearance, and its not difficult to understand how they got their name. Through the lens you can clearly see lice or fleas moving in their fur and it does not take long to the point where you start scratching yourself.

    The other interesting thing is to see how big these animals are, and its quite hard to imagine them being able to fly, which of course is my ultimate aim; catching a shot of one in flight. I was hoping for this in time for this blog, but it was not to be. Despite quite a few late afternoon trips to the camp, the weather has always conspired to scuttle that goal and each time we have had to leave wet and miserable long before they started to leave the roost.

    Never mind…its a quest that will have to continue!

     

     

     

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    A Corella Family Squabble

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    Australia Day is supposed to be a day of fun in the sun for the whole family. But not for this family of Little Corellas who insisted on squabbling over who had the right to perch on a stick!

    Normally I would not give these birds the time of day but the squabbling and fighting went on and on until I decided to investigate. Two Corellas high up an old gum tree seemed to be fighting over a perch protruding off the main branch. The bird on the right, obviously the dominant one would not tolerate any other bird  landing on the branch to his right (our left) and aggressively attacked any one that dared to try to perch there.

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    Corellas, otherwise known as Bare-eyed Cockatoos or Blood-stained Cockatoos were known as Birdirra among the Yindjubarndi Aboriginals who use the feathers as headdress decoration.

    Don’t you agree with me that it is quite interesting that an Aboriginal tribe who’s culture goes back tens of thousands of years would call the bird a “Birdirra”, very close in pronunciation to the word “Bird”.

     

     

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    Buckley’s Hole

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    It’s not often that you find a honey pot of a spot and have a great day of photography with loads of good stuff in the bag. Today was one of those days. In fact I’d rank today at Buckley’s Hole as one of my best days of bird photography for a long time.

    Buckley’s Hole is a bird sanctuary at the south west bottom corner of Bribie Island just to the north of Brisbane. The hole is a large natural fresh water pond behind the beach dunes. It’s home to an amazing variety of waterbirds and is a must visit spot for any birder or bird photographer. The great thing about the hole is that there are a number of spots where you can get very close to the birds, with a well situated hide being one of them. Along the banks of the hole a broad sand track hidden from the hole by reeds facilitates great close up viewing without scaring the birds. Arriving early in the morning I settled down into a fishing chair with the lens on a tripod within the reeds right at the waters edge and just waited. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the birds came to me.. It was about as easy as it can get. Set the camera, aim, fire…and file the stuff!

    So, where to start…! OK.  Anyone who follows this blog knows how much I enjoy photographing birds in flight. Today’s gems came in the form of a bunch of Royal Spoonbills which flew in facilitating in the face lens filling shots of them landing and feeding. These birds are common and can be found throughout much of Australia with the exception of the arid interior, which will be great for me because they are superb photo subjects.

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    Apparently Glossy Ibis, whilst also a common Australian bird is considered a rare visitor to Buckley’s Hole. So, of course it had to be photographed. It’s an interesting bird with ruddy reddish-brown plumage which makes it quite difficult to photograph in bright conditions. Fortunately this guy positioned himself well and it was pleasing to come away with these shots as the first of this guy in the files.

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    Buckly’s Hole is such a hive of activity in the morning that there is hardly a few minutes when there is not something flying past or overhead. One of those that made frequent forages over the camera were some Caspian Terns; fantastic birds that a bright beak that effortlessly cruise the sky’s looking for something to swoop down and scoop up.

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    The hole is home to a wide variety of small waterfowl including Australian Grebe which are plentiful and easy to photograph as they cruise within camera range. These are really very photogenic little guys and while again, common, are nice to photograph.

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    How can one resist it when a Black Swan comes calling. One of Australia’s best known birds, Black Swans are the only ones in the world that are predominantly black.OK, a swan is a swan, but lets face it, they are really good looking creatures!

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    Of Course no Aussie bird pond worth its salt would be a bird pond without an Australian Pelican being present. At Bribie these guys are on the top of every second lamp post, so they are no big deal. But when they come in for a swooping skidding water landing right in the face  of your lens you would be stupid not to blast off some shots! See what I mean about Buckley’s Hole being an in-your-face birding site…fantastic!!

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    No waterhole birding would be waterhole birding if you don’t get a few good shots of Egrets. Today was my lucky day with Great Egrets in flight abundance.

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    Another first for me was to see and come away with a few shots of a pair of Comb Crested Jakana’s that are apparently not that common down in the SE of Queensland. So, it was nice to get something on file. They are really attractive birds that warrant more time and we will definitely make another trip targeting these birds, but next time I will have to get really lower down at water level so as to better  to highlight their incredible agility as they travel across water plants.

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    Another very colorful bird; a Pied Oystercatcher shot in a small pool behind the dunes immediately adjacent to the hole that just has to be added to the blog to illustrate the diversity of bird life that can be found and easily photographed in the vicinity of the hole.

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    Finally to close, what better than to insert a tongue-in-cheek shot of another Australian icon feeling a little bewildered trying to understand why he was left out of the action.

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    Buckley’s Hole, Bribie Island…A 5 Star birders paradise!

     

     

     

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