A Fascinating Hobby

All the usual warnings of images that contain material that may ‘offend’ some viewers, and the plea to be sure to contact the appropriate helpline.

Ahh, political correctness.

I have, it must be told not ever thought about Falconry as a pasttime.
Not the sport of the rich and regal, but rather the Falconer, and their intimate relationship with these amazing birds of prey.

That such a bird could in fact be domesticated in itself seems hard to grasp.

It is also true that I’ve never spent any more than a few glancing seconds with any of the falcon family (exception being Brown Falcons, but let’s face it, they don’t have the same mystic of the Peregrine or Hobby.)

So, to have a close encounter with a pair of Australian Hobbys (sic—my spelling of the plural) and their resulting young has been quite a thought provoking experience.  Over the past few weeks EE and I, Mr An Onymous, and Neil  A. have clocked up quite a few hours learning a little about their habits, character and approach to life.

In no particular order some bullet points from my field-notes.  I must stress this is not scientific research, and is quite anecdotal-bordering on the anthropomorphic. (Again the usual warnings also apply)

  • Hobbys seem to like to sit on the highest branches available. If there is a higher one, they will move to it.
  • Hobbys seem to favour nesting in the tallest tree in the area.  And they don’t build new nests, but rather inhabit existing, mostly magpie, nests.
  • They have a wariness of humans, but at the same time seem to have developed an awareness of human habitation and used it for their benefit.  We regularly see a pair hunting through a supermarket carpark. Hard not to be impressed with a bird at over 70kph skimming over the parked vehicles.
  • This pair have used the same area, and I think the same nest for at least the past three seasons.
  •  The female sits the nest. The male brings in food.  Unlike other raptors she does not complain until he arrives. She is usually quiet.
  • He too is quiet on arrival.  A couple of short croaky calls, and he then sits on an conspicuous branch and she quietly comes and removes the catch.
  • They are both masters of efficiency.  A glide will do instead of a wing-flap. The change over is precise and almost instant.
  • He always carefully watches after she takes the food, I have concluded that if she were to slip and it fell away, he would be on it before it had dropped more than a metre.
  • This pair have feasted on Wattlebirds, Starlings, occasional Welcome Swallows and quite a parade of young Fairy Martins.  Also other larger birds that were unidentifiable as he had pre-plucked before arrival.
  • Any passing raptor, or raven is chastised from afar, and if it still persists then one, or usually both, will take close quarter action. It consists of gaining height and rolling over into awesomely fast stoops on the interloper(s).
  • I can’t find a reliable reference, but it seems they can clip along around 85-90 kph in a straight flight.  In a stoop, the speed might be as much as 150kph  or more. They are only short bursts, not the long running dive of the Peregrine.
  • In Falconry, the male is called a “Tiercel”and Old English word meaning Third. Perhaps because he is as much as one third smaller than the female. Or is it she is one third larger?

From a bird I have had only the briefest of encounters with, it has given me quite an insight into why they could be trained and how much skill a falconer must have accumulated.

Here is an a couple of days activity before the young were flown.

Click on the Gallery for larger view and slide show.

Saturday Evening Post #114: Understated Elegance

Perhaps one of the greatest skills for a ‘portrait’ photographer is to ‘connect’ with the subject.

Some people I’ve met seem to have a natural aptitude for bringing out unique character traits of their subject.  A smile, nod, hand movement, a word or two, and suddenly there waiting for the press of the shutter is the ‘essence’ of the person’s personality.

There are so many reasons why people often (always!) say, “Oh, I don’t take a very good picture!”  Too true.
We want to have a candid photo approach, but we don’t want a candid result.

Yousuf Karsh, a Canadian portraitist from the 1930s to when he retired in 1992, was a refugee from Armenia. He apprenticed to first his uncle and then a prominent American celebrity photographer.

His photographs of the great and near great of his time include, what is regarded as the quintessential portrait of Sir Winston Churchill. The story of the making of the portrait is as great as the moment recorded.
Churchill, it is told, turned up at the photo session with his signature cigar.  Just as Karsh was about to make the exposure he walked up toChurchill and removed the cigar from his hand.
The result shows a ‘miffed’ Churchill, yet one that brings out the essence of the subject.

Different time, different subject, different circumstances.
Martin Luther King,
King’s life can only be described as frenetic. Always on the move, always surrounded by helpers, people congratulating him, or commiserating.  The famous portrait was made a quiet corner of a church. The simple setting enabled Karsh to bring out the qualities of leadership, visionary and engaging personality.

Another that is quite confrontational, and given the subject, so it should be is Fidel Castro.  Frame filling, piecing eyes and wisps of shadow glancing over the facial planes make a compelling image.

See more his portrait work here.
If you do visit this site, be sure to click on the Sittings page, and type in the name of one of the studies. Then  click on image and it will open up to a little of the background to the portrait. Fascinating.

Here are a few Karsh quotes.

Within every man and woman a secret is hidden, and as a photographer it is my task to reveal it if I can. The revelation, if it comes at all, will come in a small fraction of a second with an unconscious gesture, a gleam of the eye, a brief lifting of the mask that all humans wear to conceal their innermost selves from the world. In that fleeting interval of opportunity the photographer must act or lose his prize.

I try to photograph people’s spirits and thoughts. As to the soul-taking by the photographer, I don’t feel I take away, but rather that the sitter and I give to each other. It becomes an act of mutual participation.

Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.

And just because we’ll allow him a sense of humour,
The trouble with photographing beautiful women is that you never get into the dark room until after they’ve gone.

I’m often quoted—or misquoted—for wanting to bring out the character of the birds that we meet.
Some birds can be cooperative and its possible to spend sometime making sure things like, lighting, background, pose and the like are helpful. Others, are fleeting and gone.

If nothing else Karsh’s work hints at the need for outdoor photographers to adapt the camera to the subject. We don’t have the luxury of the formal studio portrait.

Yet that mobility enables us to be flexible and capture natural moments.

Bronson is a hard working Dad. We have had the good fortune to work with him through three clutches, and our presence is no longer seen as a threat.

I do therefore, take some liberties with his patience. But always out of respect.

No  photo is worth agitating a bird.

I am, I guess I need to add, quite a critic of my own close approaches, and like to think I have over the years become attuned to a wing flip, leg move, head shake or downright glare that indicates I’ve crossed a line.  Apologetic I retreat.

He sat in the soft early light, and the thought of “Elegance” struck me.  I then worked about to find a suitable background.  The small tree behind gave me an isolation for the head, and the branch gave him a feeling of place.
Waiting is something a Black-shouldered Kite is gifted with. I too needed to wait for the head turn, the piercing eyes surveying the field and the relaxed body.

Any relationship between this shot and Karsh’s “Grey Owl“, is purely coincidental, and no comparison is intended or suggested.


Saturday Evening Post #113: With Gratitude

Simple Post—With Gratitude.
When I was very much a young bloke, I was a member of a speaking club.  Mostly a social thing as I recall, and of course, a few business contacts never went astray.

One of the points that I recall from all that is the reviewer saying over and over.
“Make sure that you state the purpose of your message up front, early and clearly. So no one has to ponder what or where you are going. No one wants to listen for twenty minutes and then finally discover what the topic, and your point of view actually is”.  He probably didn’t end with a verb, but hey…

Magazine editors make the same demand of feature writers. If the lead is buried 5 paragraphs down, its either rewritten, or returned.

And So I find myself as we approach the end of the year, scarcely able to grasp where we have come this year, not only  physically and emotionally, but photographically.

And it lead me so far to be Grateful that I’m even here to write about it.

I’m also grateful to everyone who has kindly ‘Liked’ the blog, and to those special people who’ve taken a few moments to add their thoughts on the subject.
Me writing a blog does not make me the expert, and really it only exists if people take the time to read, and view the photos. Thanks to your all.

My gratitude to all those on the front line who have stressed and strained under the most dreadful conditions to keep us safe. What else can we say. Thank you.

To the coffee dudes in the local coffee shops who’ve struggled to keep their businesses afloat, to provide food and also a social meeting point that has helped to relieve some stresses.  Thanks.  And thanks to my plastic card that has tapped and gone so many times on cups of coffee to go.

Thanks also to the lockdown, yes I mean that.  As its given me the chance to sort out my runaway photo library. Now a svelte shadow of its former bulging self, I think I am confident the dross has been discarded.

And to the software manufacturers who have plied me with ways to “Bring out the Picture within my Photo.” with their special sauces and blends of technology. At least this year I’ve been able to play with them, and actually laid out money for one.

Thanks to EE, Mr An Onymous, Dave T David N, Len T, Chris L and so many others whom I have had the pleasure of sharing the bush, and the birds and their special patches.  It’s been a thrill each time.

And thanks to the birds. Without them ….asPoetry wouldn’t be as exciting to work on.

The Australian Hobby here is the female of a nesting pair.  She has just been delivered a meal for her young. Time to prepare it and feed her growing brood.

The eternal struggle to maintain the species goes on. Ohh ending on a preposition.(Be grateful I ended)

Saturday Evening Post #112: Staying Fresh

Been a bit of a review time this past week.

Among other things I came across a few blog posts that resonated with me at different levels.

One is from a local blogger. George Handel,  No not THAT one. 🙂 George and his family have been recording their walks, bike rides and explorations of places in our local area. (mostly).
I think one of the things the Corona lockdown did was to give us an opportunity to explore local parks and places that we probably would normally overlook. George takes us on a fine little visual journey through some of their family favourite locations.
The other thing the lockdown has given us is an appreciation for things local, and the chance to explore them.
It often concerns me that as birders, or photographers we travel for many hours to get to a spot, and on the way blindly pass by many other worthwhile locations that would no doubt yield many great sightings and photographs.
And finally George times many of their visits around Pie Shops.  No point in being out and about if you can’t find a decent pie, I always think.

Another came to me via a newsletter.  William Beem, talked about the sequels, using many movies as examples.
Star Wars, Lethal Weapon, Pirates of the Caribbean and Terminator, just to mention a few.
His point being if you strike an emotion with an audience visually, they want to you to keep doing it over and over again.

Which leads to the point, that sooner or later, there is no growth, and each shot is made to achieve the same emotional appeal, and your vision becomes stale and stunted.  Writers I think, call it “Writer’s Block”.

Does it happen to bird photographers. Absolutely, your current scribe stand as evidence for the prosecution.

But, we also have the seasons on our side as birds, and their behaviour changes across the seasons. Which I think makes it exciting to be out and about at any time. Hopefully that keeps us fresh.

Another interesting analogy came from Ken Rockwell,(Yep, the blog everyone loves to hate), where he was talking of complaints on the internet about camera colour rendition, and of colour perception.
He likened it to everyone’s ability to talk forever about how pianos are made, but for ordinary players the subtle variations of a concert piano are eclipsed by their own limitations of playing. To a Master the subtle variations are everything.

Reminded me of a scene from the movie “The Blues Brothers”. The band goes to Ray’s Music Store to pick up some instruments.
The keyboard player complains about the feel of a keyboard, trying to beat the price down.
Ray, the owner, steps out from behind the counter and proceeds to the keyboard, (Ray, is in fact Ray Charles, for those who haven’t watched the movie 99 times))

Ray sits down and belts out one of his famous numbers. Concluding that there is nothing wrong with the keyboard, and it might well be the lack of talent of the keyboarder.

As Ken finishes off, “Art its not the duplication of reality: art is the expression of imagination.”

Photographic Essay: I Thought Everyone Loved Me!

This is a story from earlier in the year.

The young Black-shouldered Kites had only recently fledged and were still in the process of learning how to use the muscle control of the wings, how the wind varies. and that it might be possible eventually to fly in something more than a straight line, and land by simply crashing into things.

As it turned out this youngster got to the air, but with a strong wind blowing it managed to drift away from the shelter of the nesting area and about 200metres out eventually land in the leaves of a tall gum tree.

What it didn’t know, and was soon to find out, was that a pair of Red Wattlebirds also had a nest in the tree and some fine youngsters coming on. And at that stage they had a zero tolerance policy for any bird, stray or otherwise from resting near their young.

After several swoops the little Kite realised an important lesson in life. Not everybody loves a cute little ginger and white Kite.

Under attack it took to the air, but it didn’t have the aerial skills of the Honeyeaters that mercilessly chased it from the area.  Taking out a beakful or two of back feathers in the process.

A week later it would have been a different encounter, but the Honeyeaters pressed their attack with avengeance.

Here tis.

Saturday Evening Post #111: The Almost Portfolio-Revisted

Or perhaps the subtitle, “The Ones that Never Quite Made It”.

Was revisiting a blog by Spencer Cox who wrote earlier in the year about the photos that didn’t quite make it into the portfolio.
The ones taken at the same time, same location, same subject. The one you share and are happy to show around.


The ones that never have a life beyond the hard-drive.

Now Spencer, to be told, shoots mainly landscape, architectural and portraits.  So on location, he is likely to make a few variations of the same subject.

For those of us who are working mostly with wildlife, and here on the blog with birds in particular, it’s not very often that we get out-takes that are so similar that we mull for hours over the choice of which one to use.
We either have it, or it’s a missed opportunity.

Sure, I can shoot a ‘bird on a stick’, and blast off 20 frames. But really, there will be so little variation that any one of the 20 will be fine. Or, we meet a moment, the action happens, and 20 more frames won’t hold that magic. It’s gone.

I’ve never been much for multi-burst. (old fashioned I guess), I never worry about the camera spec that tells how many frames I can get in the buffer before the camera stops taking shots.
Except: I do use it for some inflight shots. Mainly because I’ve got the bird in the viewfinder. If I try for single shots, I wander off the bird action very quickly.

It might be interesting to think of some of the great photographs that have been made over the years, and ponder what the ‘out-takes’ might have been like.
Steve McCurry’s Afghan Girl, Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, Paris–of the man jumping a puddle,  Galen Rowel’s Rainbow over the Potala Palace, Winter Home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Lhasa, 1981.

No doubt there were several frames one side or the other that were nearly as good.

Sometimes there was only one frame. Think Frank Hurley and The Endurance trapped in the ice

or Ansel Adams, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico

Because of the time, the place, the equipment and the moment, there are no ‘out-takes’.

I once knew a photographer, who travelled the world making shots for magazine and books to demonstrate various photographic techniques.  He also shot using a specially built camera panoramic shots on huge pieces of film.
On one occasion he was visiting Australia and a trip along the obligatory Great Ocean Road was in order. Unfortunately the day he went, the weather was atrocious overcast, rain and hail.
He did setup and use the pano camera to make a shot near Loch Ard Gorge and captured all the power of the surf whipped up by the strong winds. It was really a misty interpretation.
It did however get made into a large wall-mounted print that graced the hallway of a certain multi-national company. From memory the width of the print was close to 3 metres.
Interestingly he also shot quite a large number of 35mm transparencies. And after they were returned from processing, he set up a small light box and proceeded to edit them.  Out of 36 shots to the roll, he probably kept 2 or 3. Now the cardboard rubbish box he had contained some images that I would have loved to have made.
But out they went.

Spencer talks about why one of his images made the folio, and the other(s) didn’t. It can be a matter of lighting, placement, point of view, camera settings, changes in lens or simply movement of people.  In the end. One picture has to carry the story.

There are a lot of ‘almost portfolio’ shots from our morning with the Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos.
But in the end, I chose this one.
Because of the angle. Because of the wing action and because the light was over the face.  The few shots either side miss out on one or more of those elements.

And above all, for me, it is a little quirky, like the bird.

Photographic Essay: Mother Duck Said…

There is cute and then there is really cute, and then.  There is Pacific Black Ducklings.

EE and I had spent an evening in the formal gardens at Werribee Mansion in the warm afternoon sunshine.

The gardens support an ornamental lake, that on occasions has quite an eclectic mix of waterbirds.  But not so much at the moment.  I think the water is a little too ‘fresh’ because of all the rain run off, and the high water level doesn’t have much opportunity for wading birds.

Not so of course for your enterprising Pacific Black Duck.  These birds are quite the masters of adaption to the around.  While everyone else has been in lockdown or away from the area, we found a mother duck and her precious little bundles enjoying the lake practically to themselves.

At first we watched three or four scoot around on top of the water. Then another one among the reeds, then another further down the pool, and then another…

Mum decided all this water activity was good, but it was time for a sit in the dry on the grassy side of the pond.
So out she jumped and the little yellow bundles all followed behind. 1, 2, skip a few—10.

A little bit of preening, mini wing stretches and Mum decided a nap was on the list.  So she settled down, and they began to position themselves under her bulging wings.

We moved to the other side of the lake, and about 20 minutes later on the way out, found that it was time for the fluff balls to take a walk over the freshly mown lawns.  Funny to see them tumble about across the grass.


Click on a galllery pic for a larger view