An Eye for Binturong

    An Eye for Binturong

    Binturongs are a type of Bear cat that inhabits the forests of SE Asia. It’s a shy and secretive animal seldom seen and photographed.

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    Lake Panic One of the World's Best Wildlife Photo Hotspots

    Lake Panic One of the World’s Best Wildlife Photo Hotspots

    Lake Panic hide near Skukuza camp in Kruger has to be one of the best photo hides in the world for close up bird and wildlife photography. This shot was taken at a distance of about 10m. Fantastic!

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    Bird Ballet

    Bird Ballet

    A gentle approach to the water by a Black-winged Stilt!

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    Early Bird

    Early Bird

    And what does an early birder catch…A crowing cockerel!

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    Upside Down Down Under

    Upside Down Down Under

    An Eastern Spinebill hanging out upside down, Down Under!

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    Another Good Looking Ugly

    Another Good Looking Ugly

    Another good looking ugly bird, this time an Australian Brush Turkey. These guys are an Aussie icon. They are everywhere. You can even see them in town centers, strutting around scratching dirt everywhere!

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    Blog Roll

    Bower Power

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    I don’t think there is a bird photographer in the world that does not want to photograph a Bowerbird in it’s bower. So, when you get the chance, you grab it with both cameras! Closely related to Birds of Paradise, Bowerbirds are absolutely stunning and a must have in any bird portfolio.

    This past weekend we decided to head up to Lamington National Park, a great birding location about an hour inland from the Gold Coast. The drive us is winding and in many parts narrow with great views out over forested hills. Once up you arrive at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, an absolutely great rainforest birding location that is home to a few species of Bowerbirds that are easily to photograph. Better still, down near the picnic spot is a well maintained Satin Bowerbird bower. The resident male was busy attending to his showpiece. The area around the bower was decorated by a collection of bright blue objects ranging from blue feathers to pieces of plastic, bottle tops, and even a few blue straws. Any loose leaves or sticks messing up the bower were quickly and efficiently dispatched in the hope that they would not discourage the females interested in the display.


    Male Satin Bowerbirds are absolutely wonderful looking birds with dark blue-black glossy plumage and bright purple eyes. Females are an attractive green, also with bright purple eyes. The Bower, a curved grass structure with a tunnel through it’s center. It is an absolutely amazing feat of engineering considering it is sitting on hard ground. We watched as the bird delicately replaced a few strands  that had come unstuck. The purpose of the bower is purely to attract a female mate. Obviously, like modern humans, the man that can build and clean a house gets a girl easier than the guy who is messy. Unlike humans, actual Bowerbird nesting is done elsewhere in the form of a bowl of sticks in a dense bush or tree away from prying eyes!




    Another species of Bowerbird frequently seen at Lamington is the striking Regent Bowerbird. The male has a really an absolutely splendid yellow and black plumage. The female is a dull mottled brown, more plain than it’s satin cousin, but still beautiful non the less.



    The difficulty in photographing Regent Bowerbirds is the stark contrast in feathers; dark black and bright yellow is just too difficult for the camera to swallow. Add low light to the problem and all you can hope for is the bird sits still long enough to allow you to make the right adjustments.

    But what a fantastic experience it was. Got to go back again sometime soon!



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    Don’t Mess with the Stilt Boss!

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    The past few early mornings have been spent patrolling Buckley’s Hole on Bribie Island in the hope of some unusual stuff. With the exception of a nesting pair of Black Winged Stilts which vigorously chased any bird coming within 10 meters and a dead fish which very nearly made me puke it was a pond filled with the usual stuff.

    I like Buckley’s because it usually offers a chance for some good birds-in-flight photography, and this time round was no exception with some very nice Royal Spoonbill flight shots going in to the camera. But it was the stilts which really stole the show. They aggressively attacked any bird; ducks, spoonbills, ibises and even grebe’s that came within ten meters of the nest. So it was more or less a case of setting up and sitting down to wait and watch for something to happen.



    I started off in a nice spot right low at the waters edge; perfect for everything. While setting up I smelt a rotten smell, but thought it was the exposed mud and just ignored it. But every time the wind shifted the smell was really bad. Nothing much was happening so I decided to have my breakfast of tea and a rusk and just had the rusk in my mouth when an almighty rotten stink settled down on me. It was bad, too bad to be mud, so holding my mug and rusk I stood up to see what could be the cause of the smell. Then I saw it, about 2m away from me in the reeds was a big dead fish crawling with maggots……! I don’t have to tell you what happened next. The tea, rusk, previous nights dinners, lunch and everything else I had eaten for two days was rushing up my throat as I stumbled out of the reeds onto the path. It was Bad!!!

    Needless to say after that clandestine exit every bird within a hundred meters was instantaneously gone. Then to make matters worse while recovering the camera the tripod legs got caught on a stump sending me and the kit sprawling. Fortunately the ground was soft sand, but everything now needs to be cleaned.

    Anyway after a while life in the pond returned to normal and the resident waterbirds eventually worked their way towards the stilts nesting site giving a great opportunity to photograph its defense.




    The best series of shots were those between Stilts. For these birds, territorial fights are high jumping, legs kicking Karate stuff. While it made for great photography it would have been even better if the rotten fish was not polluting the best photography location! I’d like to say I stuck it out and swallowed the stench in the name of art, but it was just too rich a sight and smell for me. So you are stuck with photos from the second best angle!



    Stilts are delicate graceful birds and I would call their fighting more a rigorous threatening dance than an all out damaging fight. But it’s an interesting event to photograph. In order to catch the birds it’s necessary to watch the aggressive bird and when you sense there will be action immediately focus on it, because the whole scene is over within a few seconds. Fortunately it’s quite easy to see a change in the birds demeanor from quietly feeding to purposely walking towards the opposing target. After that it’s a jumping flight with both legs and beak used in attack. Even much bigger birds like Spoonbills quickly got the message and left the nest area.

    So, once again Buckley’s Hole delivered!


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    The Possum and the Python

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    Very rarely do you get to witness nature raw. But today was one of those rare days. We never even had to travel thousands of kilometers into the bush. It happened right next door. Unbelievable!

    It started out like any other Friday, until Lynette out in the backyard frantically called me after seeing a big snake catch something in a tree and then fall to the ground in the next door neighbors yard. Looking over the fence we could see what turned out to be a Carpet Python wrapped around a Ringtail Possum which was wriggling and making frantic sounds as it desperately tried to escape. But it soon became apparent that there was no way the possum was going to escape the death grip of the python. As the python slowly choked the possum it looked at me with pleading eyes to get it free. But it was beyond help. Shortly afterwards it gave up the struggle and closed its eyes and succumbed to the inevitable.



    What transpired next was the slow process of the python swallowing the possum whole. At first it seemed that it was going to be an impossible feat as the possum was many times bigger than the snake. But, it articulated it’s jaws and gradually, millimeter by millimeter managed to swallow the possums head. After that it was a case of the snake using its strength to crush the bones of the possum and then using it’s muscles progressively swallow and ingest the remainder of the animal. Barely an hour later it was all over bar the tail. After a short rest, that too dissapeared and the event was over and done with.






    After a very brief rest the snake started to move off behind a tree. Knowing that once the snake settled it would not move for a while and assuming the neighbors would not like to come home and be told there was a 2m python in the yard we decided to catch it and relocate it in the bush next to the creek behind the complex.

    Witnessing such an event is a once-in-a-lifetime event. You see this stuff on TV, but somehow seeing it unfold live in front of your eyes is a totally different experience. On one hand it’s sad to see an animal die in front of you. On the other hand it’s a privilege to watch the scene as it unfolds. And to see this all, in the middle of suburbia is quite incredible.

    Fortunately the camera was ready to capture the event and share it with you.




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    Fly Baby Fly

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    It’s early summer in Australia and it’s bird breeding season in our back yard. For the past few weeks we have been observing a Brown Honeyeater nest in a dead Fir tree. About a week and a half back the first signs of two nestlings became apparent when they started poking their heads up every time a parent landed with food. Ever since then they have progressively got bigger and gained feathers.

    The whole nesting experience has been an interesting one to observe. The first sign of unusual behavior was when the two adult birds began stripping spiders nests in the trees along the edge of our small yard and constantly fly in and out of the dead Fir. It was not long before Lynette’s sharp eyes  spotted the well camouflaged nest taking shape; a small cup of leaves suspended and glued together with spider silk. The nest is so well camouflaged that it blends perfectly with the surroundings. If it were not for the regular bird traffic in and out of that part of the tree we would never have been able to spot the nest. Simply put, it is a perfect example of engineering using readily available natural materials. How the birds know to use spiders silk to suspend and glue the nest together is quite amazing. It really is a wonderful example of how nature works!


    The past few days has been particularly interesting as the chicks took their first tentative steps towards bird freedom by standing up on the edge of the nest and flexing their wings in preparation for the big leap of faith every bird must eventually take in order to survive. Their growth and progress from featherless to fluffy has been quite amazing to watch, and we expect that within the next few days they will leave the nest. At first, without tails to aid their balance the birds were very very close to falling out the nest as they precariously perched on the edge and flexed their wings and preened their feathers for the first time, all the while anxiously watched by the parents.




    Finally, today was the day the birds took off. After two days of precariously balanced on the edge of the nest flexing their wings and preening baby feathers they are gone. The bolder of the two hopped out of the nest onto an adjacent branch and then flew off up into a nearby tree, leaving a bewildered sibling behind wondering whether to chance following or to hang tight. Ten minutes later it too was off up into the tree, closely shepherded and encouraged by the two noisy adults.

    This last shot below is the last frame of the two of them before leaving the nest.


    So, a sad day for us because now there is nothing to watch, but a happy day that both survived predators and managed to take flight within a short time ending up together in the same tree and not scattered in different directions.

    With such a start they should have a good chance of survival.




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    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 ( 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.




    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.




    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.



    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.


    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.



    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!



    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.


    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  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.




    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.






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


    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.



    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.


    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!








    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.




    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.



    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.



    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!


    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.




    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.



    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.




    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.


    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!




    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 (  )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!



    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!




    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.





    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.








    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!



    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.




    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.






    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.


    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!






    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.


    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.




    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.



    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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