Saturday Night Post #58 : The Joy of Light

Even at it’s best, photography is not an art, or a science, or a technical accomplishment. It’s not a new camera, or a new piece of software—”…that will bring out the hidden picture within…”, nor is it about clever application of ‘Artificial Intelligence’—’…harnessed to enhance your personal view…’.

It’s about Light. Sometime too much of it. Sometimes a lack.

As one of my mentors was oft to muse, “We don’t stuggle with the light, we keep working to illuminate the shadows, and when we get the balance of the shadows correct, – there is our subject.

My dear old Mum, (Well she wasn’t that old then!) introduced me to photography with the family Box Brownie camera.  A cumbersome black box, with an ‘always on viewing screen’ and no batteries.

Her ringing in my ears, one great piece of advice, as I stalked “Blackie”, our cat, on the lawn was.
“Keep the Sun over your left shoulder dear!”.
Such was this sagely advice, that for the next twenty years, give or take a few missing memory cards, was the way I dealt with sunny pictures outdoors.
You can probably imagine my suprise when I discoved that the sun over my right shoulder gave pretty much the same result.

And the answer is simple really. Photography is about light.

We’d had a morning couple of hours at the Werribee Mansion Gardens and Ornamental Lake.

The trees in blossom were such an attraction for all sorts of birds, and there against the blue sky was a group of Long-billed and Little Corellas making the most of the amazing golden offerings.

Sun over the shoulder, Sunny Sixteen rule for exposure-the good old Kodak Film Leaflet, white subject on blue.  The sunlight controlled the shadows, and kept others as mysterious blobs.
Dean Collins might have been ‘The Master of Light’, but my Mum knew a thing or two about it as well.


Saturday Evening Post #57: The Wonder of Flight

‘Tis true, we photograph birds for a range of reasons.
Technical, to study details
Recognition: to identify a new bird
Artistically: to give the bird a feeling in space and place
For the joy of it: Just being there and enjoying the time
And a whole host of others.

But it must be said, that when a bird we are watching opens its wings and takes to the air, our sense of wonder kicks in.
Down through the centuries, mankind has looked, watched studied and envied birds.

We can study aeronautics, and ornithology, grasp the technicalities of lift and drag, and the hundreds of other calculations that even the tiniest sparrow makes every moment, be able to talk of feather detail, muscle application and any other important flight theory, yet, on  what seems to me, to be a mere whim, that tiny sparrow flies effortlessly from my fence top!

In his book on raptors of Australia, Dr David Hollands says, “Wind! It affects every part of the bird’s lives. They live on plains that are by nature windy. They are hatched in wind, they are reared in the wind. They hunt in the most open and windy places…”

Watching small birds like Red-necked Stints, its hard to grasp how 40gm can fly 10,000 km on a return journey. How a hummingbird can navigate the length of the Americas, or a  godwit can fly Alaska to New Zealand, 12,000km without stopping, or a Latham’s (Japanese) Snipe can make the journey from the north of Japan to Northern Australia in just over three (3) days.

If I watch a small honeyeater plying its trade among the leaves, it is hard to gain an understanding of the mechanics involved.  A blur of wings and the tiny creature is across the paddock.  A fledged blackbird whirs away in my backyard, and eventually makes it up on to the top of a small rose bush. It’s all too quick.

I am it has to be said, quite guilty of feeding chips to passing seagulls. They not only accept the human condition, but can work a breeze to adeptly take a chip thrown in any direction.  They simply hang in the air.

When it comes to watching flight in action, the bigger birds are a fine choice because everything happens just that little bit slower, and a little bit larger making it easier to see the skills in action.

The 747 or Starlifters of the fleet have a much slower wing beat and its possible to detect some of the many functions going on.

A Wedge-tailed Eagle being pursed by  flotilla of aggrieved ravens and magpies, simply turns on its wings and uses very little energy as it swings from one updraft to another.  The pursuers on the other hand are working flat out to keep up, and eventually, energy expended, they must plummet back down exhausted. The eagle simply extends a fingertip feather and glides away on the next change of breeze.

Black Kites have the ability to make use of the slightest breeze and work it without a wing flap.  They seem to be able to follow a tractor across a paddock always at the tractor speed, and turn round at the end of the run and begin again. They seem to have a wonderful flexible tail that some times acts as a rudder, some as an oar, and other times as a sail. Flicking and twisting it as needed to keep station.

Pelicans, ungainly on land, and not much better on the water, seem to be able to carry that enormous body through the air with scarcely a check of instructions.

But, and we are getting to it all now young Skywalker, But, my hands-down favourite aeronaut is the Black Swan.
No rapid wing beats, a huge pay load and they enjoy water-skiing too.

We were out looking for an elusive Great Crested Grebe.
The Jawbone park area has many fine ponds that the swans use as a refuge to rest between feedings.

And they waft in along the narrow ponds making inflight relatively easy.  Pick up a swan in the viewfinder, wait, press the shutter, rinse and repeat.

What I find most fascinating is all the work going on as they check their speed from a fast high approach, set the landing point, adjust the wings, use the body and neck as an air-brake, hang out the paddles, line it all up, and then slide onto the water, sometimes one-legged skiing, sometimes two.

One of the reasons I keep going out, and ‘Swans’ is a major Keyword in my database.

I found this quote which says it all.

“…wings flap joyously With the pinion and plumage of love” Job 39:15


Saturday Evening Post #58 : A Step Closer

Continuing with the story of Brown Falcon at nest, and working inside the bird’s comfort zone.

She had been fed by the male. Looks like  a pipit. We were standing quite a bit far back from the action, when she took the food, landed on a tree nearby the nest and began to eat her fill.  The male stayed around and sort of ran interference against the marauding Black Kites, and she was so confident of his ability she didn’t pause from her food.

In the end, the Kites took the hint and moved away.

Next the story becomes interesting, as she took the remains of the pipit, and flew further out, beyond where we were standing, meaning we were between her and nest. Something she has not done previously.
After some more feeding, she picked up the pipit and flew around past us, and landed on a closer tree. Then she repeated the process again, landing just beyond where we were standing.

A look about to make sure all was safe and she launched, dropped to the deck, and swung past us about head height or so. Then with a few wing beats, she flew up toward the nest and landed on a branch nearby.
“She has a young one to feed”, was the obvious answer.

Regrettably, or on purpose, take you pick, she landed so the food transfer occurred behind the main tree trunk, and after a few minutes she flew out to land on a close tree-top and began her preening again.

We took the close flyby without aggression as a sign she has decided we are harmless to her cause and she’ll carry on around us. Hopefully she will allow us to share in the growth of the young one(s).

We’ll see.

Moments: The Stakes are High

The continuing saga of the Brown Falcon at nest.

She had come out to meet her mate for a food exchange.  Where this is actually taking place, and where she is dining is a bit of a mystery to me, as the surrounding thick pine trees block any view once they come down to the tree-line.
But once she has fed, she seems to favour a perch near the nest, I guess to keep an eye on what’s happening, and also to preen.

However, the same tree also is close to a Willie Wagtail nursery.  And both Willies came out in force to make the point she is not welcome. Gotta give Willies “A” for pluck.
If after the usual flyby chatter doesn’t work, then its time for  hands on aggression, as the male found out as he was returning with the food.
Willie attached to his back and proceeded to peck his head as both flew past.
Then when she returned they began in earnest to move her along.

The stakes are high for both birds, so it’s the immovable object verses the irresistible force.  And in the end, the Falcon will give ground.

High drama for both birds, the wagtails with their young charges to protect, and the Falcon with her commitment to the yet to be hatched egg.

Here is the moment by moment action.

Willie desperate to attach to the back of the male coming in with a small bird for food.
Once attached, the little bird pecks away incessantly at the male’s head. What is important to note is he is carrying a small bird, probably a pipit, so it’s a super bold move by Willie
Just when you settle down for a rest, the noisy neighbours start up.

Eventually both of the pair moved in to keep the Falcon unsettled.
And just when she might have thought things were settling down, the local Black Kites joined in the foray
Defence pose on the Kites. They are likely to rob him of any food he is delivering if they can get a decent run, which maybe why they are secretive in the exchange

Little Visits: Building a Thread with a Brown Falcon

Many of my early readers and followers of this blog will recall I am a follower of Jon Young, author of “What the Robin Knows”.

His book is not so much about robins per se as about making connections with birds in their world.
Jon is among other things a skilled tracker and an outdoors trainer. He was taught by some of the best trackers and hunters from his tribe with the Native Americans. His work, and humanitarian activities have taken him around the world and he often tells the story of a Sans Bushman from Africa who said,
“I see a small bird and recognise it, a thin thread is formed between me and the bird. If I just see it no thread is made. If I go again, and again, and recognise the bird, the thread will thicken. Each time I recognise the bird the thread will grow to become a string, a cord and then a rope. We make ropes to all aspects of creation in this way.”

He also tells of the time he was at a meeting in a glass-walled office suite and said to the folk in the room, “You have a cat in your courtyard”.  No, no, they replied, there are no animals allowed in the gardens.  A minute or so later, a cat strolled nonchalantly across the manicured lawns. How did he know that, they asked. “The birds in the garden were acting in a manner that suggested a cat was nearby,” Jon replied.

Over the years I’ve managed, and its not bragging, just the way I work, of building some fine rope connections with some birds. Perhaps because of their personality, or sheer inquisitiveness, but like Jon, there a several such stories I could tell, a few of them have been subjects of this blog in the past.

EE and I have located a Brown Falcon at nest. Dangerous really, as Browns broach no interference in this serious business, and someone, even with good intentions, sticking a camera in their work space is not taken kindly. So having worked out where the activity was taking place, I’ve made a wide berth of the spot.   I also know, from past experience, that if all is well, and I don’t press the boundaries, respect their business and keep to my side of the line, that eventually the line will become narrower, and I’ll be able to see just a little more. Then sometimes the bird graces us with the chance to enter into its world, and while I might not have free access, at least I’m treated benignly.

What worries me about sharing this is that some will drag out the ‘Photographers Code of Practice”, or some such and berate me for my impertinence.   However if I’m not invited, I don’t go.

Someone will ask ‘How do you know?”
To which I have to respond honestly, “Why don’t you go out and sit with a bird and find out for yourself.”  Operative point of that is— ‘sit with the bird’.

Here’s the scoop.  She sits the nest. He hunts.  A large gleeful cackle brings an instant response from her and she is off the nest and in the air to accept his delivery.  She will feed, preen, stretch and then return to the nest.  If I’m not wanted, then I don’t see any of that.
Where it gets really exciting is this Brown, feed, then landed on a branch quite close to where we were standing, and sat.

We waited.

She realised no movement from us, and after about 20 minutes, she began the process of putting all her nest crumpled feathers back in place. Then she waited, flew past a few metres out, landed on another tree, and repeated the process.  The shots here were taken over about an hour, and neither EE or I moved much more than a metre or so.
Again she preened, rearranged, and then stepped out, and circled to land in the nest.

Now I should also add that I’ve worked with the bird a few seasons before, so we are not complete strangers. In fact over the time she has taught me quite a bit about the world of Brown Falcon. Still so much more to learn.


Flying out to meet her cackling mate coming in with lunch
This is the male. He has, unusually, a yellow cere and eye ring.
I’d guess its a pipit he’s delivering
Off to the ‘secret’ hand over spot
The male on the way out again. Sometimes he’ll return and sit near the nest, just to check things out. Most times, its back out to the paddock for another food run.
Well fed she can attend to the business of brightening up her wardrobe. I love to see them zip up all the flight feathers.
Sometimes, the one-legged stance is a challenge, but here she is getting ready to line up the feathers.
Wing and tail relief all at once. The wing markings are a treat.
Time to go. Nesting duty calls. I’m pretty certain the egg is near to hatched or just recently hatched as she did spend a lot of time away.
All sails up.
Passing by with not even a glance. Every time that happens, the thread is strengthened.

Saturday Evening Post #57 : Nature Gives and Takes

Firstly a pause for to comprehend the massive destruction, “Cataclysmic, Apocalyptic, Total, Tragic, Devestating, Violent, and Undescribable” are words that have been used to describe the bushfires sweeping along the New South Wales and Queensland countryside as I write.

My heart goes out to all those who have suffered and lost and are bewildered if not overwhelmed by the speed and severity of the fires.  Heartfelt gratidue to all those brave volunteers who’ve put their lives on hold and on the line in so many ways to help and defend where possible. The task truly does seem overwhelming.
As a little, little tacker growing up on an orchard in a fire prone area, I remember my Dad being away for over a week or more a couple of times each summer to fight local blazes. In those days the major weapon was a small metal knapsack that held probably 20 litres of water.  Mum had several of them around the outside of the house and while they were very attractive and interesting to a small growing boy, they were not to be touched under any circumstance.

I hope that a weather change brings some relief to the drama.

But nature also gives; even at a very small level.

I’ve featured a nest branch of a pair of Little Lorikeet both here and on Flickr, and the other day, while we were looking for returning Sacred Kingfisher I took a little while to drop by the nest area, and at first it was quiet and I assumed they had flown the young. Back to the Kingfishers, and not long afterward I heard the distinct calls of the Loris and went back for a second look.
To my suprise both adults were on the top of the branch, and a little head kept popping up out of the hole. However in the time I was there it did not venture out, and eventually mumn and dad flew off to feed, and it tucked itself back into the nest.

May peace come on healing wings.

Moments: Rub-a-dub-dub, a Pelican in the Tub

I have written many times before about what I consider to be the preplanned actions of some birds.
It’s easy to see a bird fly round, or past, go to a tree, roam over the grass, or maybe sit quietly in the water and conclude that they just react from one situation to another without much planning or forethought.

Now I have no scientific measure for any of this, nor have I assembled loads of peer-assessed data, so at best it becomes anecdotal, at worse, biased opinion.

We were sitting on a bench near one of the small ponds at the Balyang Sanctuary on the Barwon River. We had, truth be told, gone there looking for nesting Australasian Darters.  These birds have nested along the river near the road bridge for quite a number of years and have had very successful colonies. But when we arrived there was only a single bird sitting in the sunshine.  The nesting trees were empty. And by the look of it, hadn’t been used in the past season. Perhaps the trees no longer were suitable, or maybe the birds have moved up or down the river. Maybe.

So we sat in the sunshine, watched some Little Pied Cormorants at nest, and a White-faced Heron feeding its bold, noisy young’uns.

When out of the blue, literally, a huge white shape circled the pond and came into land quite near to where we were sitting.

An Australian Pelican.

It quickly turned about and moved to the middle of the pond and began its bathing routine.  A pelican can throw up a lot of water.
Then slowly it paddled and washed its way to the far side of the lake.  The light was starting to go backlight and the water drops were sparkling.  I was hugging the lens close keeping the bird in frame, when on a sudden, it reared up, took a couple of jumps and a wing flap or two that carried it the top of a nesting box, so it could preen in the sunshine.

You clever bird, I said as it landed. It had the nesting box in mind all the time I think, just needed to clean up and move that way. Then a quick hop-step and flap and it had achieved its plan.
Now perhaps I read to much into it, and it would have flown to a tree, pole or fence post, but the positioning of the final wash and turn, put it into a perfect position for an effortless leap to rest.








Saturday Evening Post #56 : Street

When I was a much much younger photographer, and life was quite simpler in so many ways, I used to enjoy wandering the streets of a small country town with a camera, roll of film and the only lens I owned. Well it was a fixed focus, fixed lens so a brace of interchangeable lenses was not even on my ‘must have’ horizon.
And try as I might, I just couldn’t match the power, quality and story of photos that I saw in books by Henri Cartier Bresson or W Eugene Smith, that I could look at in my local library. But I was much too young to be introspective, so just kept click’n away recording the goings on in a town.

No one really took much notice of a ‘kid with a camera’, so most times my meager lens was sufficient. It certainly matched my limited vision. But I guess I did learn a thing or seven about making dark moody prints that epitomized the moment.

As I grew older and moved to the ‘big smoke’, I was able to rub shoulders so to speak with a number of photographer who excelled in making the most of street, and to hone to a fine tune, the art of ‘the decisive moment’. One Michael J. Hill springs to mind,  I guess I mention Michael, as I have a half baked blog that he features in, but still have to add the polishing touches.

I love following on Flickr a range of Street Photographers, and still mentor under David DuChemin from time to time.

EE and I were travelling the Bellarine Peninsula and had arrived at Drysdale. It is one of those charming towns the writers always say, “nestled in the…”  As if all charming villages nestle.  The same writers have ‘bubbling streams’, and ‘astonishing vistas’, along with ‘constant changing panoramas’, and the like.

Drysdale at present is in the middle of a huge roadworks project that will be a bypass road for traffic along the Bellarine. But, at present the town is somewhat ‘engulfed’ (I had to put that one in) by large heavy duty road making equipment, on the way into town. Which means that lots of little red witches hats and dangling plastic safety marking tape are all over the area.
Just past the guy holding the ‘STOP/SLOW’ sign, I noted a Grey Butcherbird by the side of the road. Totally unconcerned about the changes happening to its landscapes, there it sat making the most use of the strange perches and the opportunities for the food that was being stirred up from time to time.
I pulled off the road, and we watched as Butchy hopped from fence to witches hat to tape and then onto the ground with the big hardware rolling all around.

Cameras out, and I was a kid again. But this time with a much better defined vision, and an interchangeable lens. 🙂
Eventually got the shot I wanted, and on looking at it, thoughts of all those old prints came back, and I thought that a mono approach would bring out the ‘street’ feel.
A quick trip through one of my fav programmes, Silver EFex Pro gave me the desired result.  I also added a small selenium tone just to match the bird’s mood.

Oh, the colour version wasn’t too bad either.

I’m gone.