Saturday Evening Post #137 : Travel

“All journeys have a secret destination of which the traveller is unaware, ” so wrote philosopher, Martin Buber.

Mr Buber, certainly lived and wrote in a world out beyond the ken of your average blog scribe. But at the risk of doing him a bit of a mis-service, his basic go-to was about the relationship between ourselves and others. It get’s complicated after that, but extends to between ourselves and the around. And that has for me, connections with the Dao, that these days, of pop psychology gets, labelled, “Mindfulness”.

Medical Update. #kneetoo is moving about at home and getting mindful about her new knee. Hasten slowly is certainly the order of the day, and now we are all back in Covid Lockdown again—at least, hopefully temporarily—we don’t have anywhere to go anyway.

A blog I follow, is by Robin Whalley, The Lightweight Photographer and he has been discussing his choice of gear for his outdoor landscape rambles. And it struck me, at least I thought obviously, that while it’s nice to have a range of equipment to choose from, you know:
This camera,that lens, this ISO, that Filter, Use Flash, work with Early, or Late Light, and the myriad of other decisions we might encounter,
Sometimes, for us wildlife photographers, the secret destination, or subject, presents itself and we might not have that ‘special’ piece of hardware with us.

And I find myself having, excitedly—not limited by—to work with something that hasn’t been there before. To See Anew.
It happens in the backyard, out in the field, by the water, among the wonderful forests and of course involved with the surprising life of birds. And it takes on such an amazing range.

Here is the master, Lao Tze at this best,
Watchful, like men crossing a winter stream,
Alert like men aware of danger,
Simple as uncarved wood
Hollow like caves
Yeilding. like ice about to melt
Amorphous like muddy water

The early Hebrew poets said it this way.
Be still, and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)

Each trip small or large out behind the camera small or large, has the unlimited potential of a secret destination, I enjoy being able to flow with the world around and be shaped by eternal forces

It is a wonderful journey.

Jacky Winter says all that, but uses a lot less words.

From the FieldNotes Book: Little Troubles

We were, Mr An Onymous and I, out looking for some elusive Flame Robins around the 100 Steps to Federation park at Altona. The park was previously a rubbish dump, and as Mr A is oft to quote, “Some of my rubbish is under that hill!”

They were here the last time I looked. But, not today. We did find and get close to one lone female, and were consoling our selves that a trip back to The Esplanade and a coffee from The Norfolk Cafe and a sit on the beach area and watch people instead of birds for a while would be a fine thing to do in the warm sunshine.

In the meantime the antics of a pair of Nankeen Kestrels kept us amused as they swept in and out of a tree-line. Just too far away for photos, but I volunteered, “Let’s go check it out anyway on the way back to the vehicles.”

When on a sudden a dark shape quite close swept over my head, —big bird I thought.
By the time I’d looked up and around it had gone to ground about 20m from where I stood. The best I could determine was a big brownish wing being folded down behind the saltbush.

Options were Whistling Kite or perhaps Swamp Harrier, or maybe, well I can dream, a Spotted Harrier.
We could sit and wait, but there was a little of the ‘thrill of the chase’ in this one, so we negotiated the old barbed wire fence and worked our collective ways toward the saltbush. Not too close else if it flew, it would overfill the frame, so we only needed a few metres inside the fence.

And we waited.

The action started when a small flotilla of young Magpies turned up, and decided that what ever was behind the bush needed a good bit of hurry up, and so they set to diving on the bird on the other side of the saltbush. First one, then another, and another. Regroup then return and repeat. The numbers of young Magpies wanting to join in increased and the bush was repeatedly swooped with urgently calling Maggies.

I waited, figuring the bird would take off from behind the bush and up and away from me.
It must have had enough room behind the bush, out of my line of sight to get airborne and swept out from behind the bush directly to my left, low and fast.

A Little Eagle! And the flotilla of Maggies in hot pursuit. This is the type of action they love. Slow moving bird, plenty of support to control the direction and distract it from gaining speed and height.

The chase was on.

Thrilled with the opportunity to harass the Eagle the Maggies pressed home their attack. The big bird circled wide out to escape and I guessed that would be the last I’d see, but the clever Maggies drove it around, and I guess that an updraft of the edges of the 100 steps hillside would work to its advantage. So it tightly circled past me came around, found some air and began to climb. The Maggies were now having to work very hard to maintain station. They still had the speed to attack, but the Little Eagle now had the advantage of its larger wing surface in the rising air, and wasn’t using any energy. The resolute defenders of their airspace began to lose steam, and slowly began to drop away and only one or two, then only one continued the fruitless cause.

The eagle now reached a comfortable cruising speed and altitude and the Maggies were done.

While the Little Eagle drifted away in the breeze, the Magpies landed together on a nearby tree and called out to congratulate each other on a job well done, and to brag about who had come the closest to the victim.

Saturday Evening Post #135: Confiding Jacky Winter

Medical Update: #2
#kneetoo is home from hospital and beginning to move about on crutches.  No big walks yet, but is keeping balance and doing the physio exercises.  Still a fair bit of pain as the body is not yet quite ready to accept that it has an invader, and the immune system is punching out plenty of antibodies, so the area is still very swelled.  Hopefully all being well, things will improve.
Thanks to all who have passed on their best wishes and kind thoughts.

One of the last walks we did on the old knee was in the Eynesbury Grey Box forest.   Every time we do a trip out there, we spend a bit of time on a forest edge track as it can be a likely spot of Jacky Winter. I wrote about the last trip in a bit more details here. # 131 Laughter

There is something special about Jacky. It is certainly not the most colourfully marked bird in the forest, but its colour scheme harmonises with the grey box surround and makes it hard for predators to spot.
When they are hunting, they have a habit of tail spreading to reveal the white edges of the tail feathers and then landing on a branch and ‘tail wagging’ much like a Willie Wagtail.

Often out of breeding season they hunt together and having found one, a second one will be close by.
We eventually found a pair hunting along a sunlit track. Getting ahead of them, and sitting or standing still, allows them to come into the area at their own pace and relaxed and usually they are quite fearless in their approaches.

This pair seemed happy hunt from one branch to a small shrub across the road and quickly got into a stride of landing and flying between the two spots.  As they were quite close it wasn’t too long before they were brave enough to land within arms reach.  The sunlight through the trees gave plenty of opportunities to choose great backgrounds.

Jacky seemed to enjoy the attention.

Little Visits: The Flight of the Brolga

I was going solo at the Western Treatment Plant.  #kneetoo was tucked up in her wide view bird-hide at the hospital, and as the sun was shining in a clear blue sky, I thought a quick trip to check to see if any Flame Robins could be making the most of the weather and the paddocks at the Plant.

However after a bit of fruitless searching it was obviously not going to be my day for robins.

A final quick trip around the “T Section” area just in case a Brown Falcon or two might be present and then home was my plan.

As I unlocked the entry gate to the area, I heard the long rasping call away off in the distance of Brolga. A scan around the horizon and it was not likely I’d spot any as the calls had been a long way off, and had now stopped.

I prepared to shut the gate and another birdo was approaching to go out, so I held the gate open and said I’d lock it as they left.  Then, just as I swung the gate across the road, that rasping cry filled the air, and this time I’d id’d the location. Sure enough in the air were three Brolga. Then as the shapes grew more distinct, it was likely that they were not only coming in my direction, but would perhaps make a pretty close pass by.

Locking the gate, I grabbed the camera and hoped that the pass would be on the sunny side of iAmGrey.

The more I watched, the more I became aware they would be using the roadway behind me as sort of navigation aid, and would pass right over the top of me.

And they did.

They disappeared behind one of the bunds, and I wondered where they had ended up.

Satisfied with  the fly by, I went on to look along the roadways. Time for a cuppa, so I pulled up at one of the cross tracks and pulled out the doings.

Then the croaking call rattled over the ponds and I looked a bit further along the track and the pair were in head stretch calling mode, and engaging in a little pair bonding.  Cuppa forgotten, I moved along the track for a better looksee.

They settled down to some preening and feeding and the juvenile with them was feeding in one of the shallow ponds.

I went back for my Cuppa and sat and watched until they moved off the pondage and up on to the track, and moved further along to continue their morning routine.

Satisfied, I packed up and headed off for a visit with the patient.



Saturday Evening Post #134 : View from the Birdhide Window

Medical Update #1

#kneetoo has been for surgery and after several days of recovery and learning to walk again, I had the good fortune to collect her this morning.

85 steps before breakfast,  the physio said. So how does 90 sound. 🙂
20 more steps per day, means 140 more per week, which equates in one of those logarithmic graphs to a 1000 in just a week or two, and then 5000, and well you get the idea, #kneetoo will be back in the field before I can recharge the camera batteries. 🙂

Seriously, but. Lots of work to do, crutches, walking frame (thankfully Dolly the Trolley has been waiting for this moment) heaps of physio work—coincidentally many of them looking like Tai Chi moves.  I’ve got to do this…  Oh, I said you mean “Part Wild horses Mane”.

I’m not one that is much into blood and gore, so most of the medical stuff gets by me. I go into panic on a paper cut, a slip the kitchen knife is enough for me to sit down for awhile. So most of  Mr Slice’n’Dice’s handiwork is not something I’m going to pursue.  However I am fascinated by the mechanical process of the production of the replacement knee joint. And more particularly how the robotic process results in such a precision job. The attachment joints are something that my old woodwork teacher could have only dreamed about.

Here’s what #kneetoo’s looks like.

Her suite at St Vincent’s In Werribee overlooked Hoppers Lane.  David Nice’s patch. A large window gave her a grand view of the roadway, and traffic and more importantly the gardens and trees on the Uni Campus across the road.  (PS you can just make out the trees over the road in the xray shot, as I took it against the window)
So, in her secure Birdhide window, I’d get daily reports.
What the local pair of magpies have been doing, where they are feeding and roosting.  How the local Willie Wagtails and Magpie Larks were in regular dispute over feeding rights. The three young Hobbies that flew past. And the numbers of Purple-crowned Lorikeets feeding among the flowing gums.  Perhaps I should have taken her in a camera.

So thanks to everyone for their kind words and support. We both really appreciate it all.

While #kneetoo was in ‘confinement’, I took the opportunity of a sunny morning for a quick run to the Western Treatment Plant. Mostly I wanted to see if the Flame Robins had turned up in any numbers.

As I rounded a corner, I saw a Brown Falcon on a tree ahead, slowed and although I knew the bird was too far away, I slipped around iAmGrey to get a better look.
To my surprise her mate, (bit of guess work there), was sitting on a stump, among the grasses and shrubs.  And the light was just about right. No doubt the birds was sitting out of the breeze warming up in the bright morning sunshine. The beautiful rich white chest was on good display.

This is not a bird that I have worked with before, so had no idea what it would do.   He(?) sat for awhile, but it was obvious that my presence made him uncomfortable and I wasn’t going to move any close or to a better angle. I’d worked out his flight path would be down and away from me, so I’d only get one chance at a flight shot. However, he beat me, dropping from the stump, and not wing spreading till he could glide behind one of the bushes.
So I retreated.  Happy to have made the acquaintance, and hoping that a return visit will be a closer experience.

A Little Visit: Stop Picking on Me!

At the Point Cook Coastal Park, there is pair of Black Swans that are always together, and almost always distinguishable from others in the area because of their behaviour together.

I was casually watching them, as they don’t do much really, just swan about together.
When on a sudden one of them arched up from the middle and sort of jumped up out of the water.  Curious, but it quickly settled down again.
A few seconds later it did the same thing, and then a Little Pied Cormorant popped up out of the water along side it. The swan took a swing at the cormorant and it quickly submerged.

Then, the swan arched up again, and I figured out the cormorant must have been hitting or poking it underneath.
This time it was a bit too much for the swan, and it gave chase to the cormorant.  And again it submerged and the swan gave another start, and the process repeated.

Perhaps the cormorant was gaining some underwater advantage from the bulk of the swan, or perhaps their movement stirred up the waters and the creatures.

Eventually tiring of it all the cormorant swam off, while the pair of swans went back to ‘swanning about’.


Saturday Evening Post #133 :Bell Like

I had the opportunity the other day to go to a presentation by an acquaintance, (not a close friend).  It was among her first out-in-the-open, in front of people, speaking assignments.

It has been said that if asked to speak in front of people, over 70% will say, “No, not me, I’d die if I had to  speak in public.”  I once saw that equated to the fact that at a funeral 7 out of 10 would rather be IN the coffin than, delivering the Eulogy. 🙂

With the inevitable, pauses, loss of thought chain, mixed up notes, nervous hair rearranging and the odd apology, she kept going and the ‘ordeal’ was over.
And do you know what? She’ll get better.
In a couple of years, should she have to speak to the same group, it will be a fully polished professional presentation. Full of confidence, because apart from the learning, she believes in the topic at hand. So much that the struggles will be forgotten—not erased, just no longer daunting.  The one thing we took away was her sincerity.

It has also been said, and attributed to several sources, that

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”,

Some sources wrongly attributing Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching add.

“When  the student is Fully ready, the teacher will disappear.’

And so for my new-speaking friend, the struggle to hold an audience will disappear and the message will be bright, clear and unhindered. How cool is that.

As I sat listening, I was drawn to the idea that no matter the art form, and photography is one such form, we want to uncover the techniques, the knowledge, and the craft, that will best resonate with our vision.
So we search.

And our experiences strike us, (as Deng Ming Dao says, “… like a stick hitting a bell and we learn about ourselves.”), like an experiment.  Education comes from the results of that experiment.

With so many creative photographic possibilities, it’s always an adventure behind the camera. Each experiment holds a chance to hear the clear ring of the bell.

Keep takin’ pictures.  We do.

From the Field Notes: So Near, Yet… So Far

No doubt we all have a few photo goals that always seem to be just out there beyond reach.

One for me, and it will never be achieved is to photograph the great white horses of the Camargue, in France

Another would be a week or more with the awesome richly coloured Brahminy Kites, from a high clifftop area.  I might yet make this one.

And yet another is to capture Great Crested Grebe and their ‘reed dance’.  We have at the Jawbone Reserve two pairs at present, and they have had several good nestings so far this season. However the luck of the dance, is it’s just a bit too far from home for me to spend more than an occasional visit, so the chances are somewhat diminished.
Mr An Onymous and I had taken #kneetoo for a visit there one early morning as  treat before she goes to visit Mr Slice-n-Dice next week.

I featured the young from their most recent hatching in the previous post, so we did have a good visit.
Time to go as #kneetoo was feeling the pain.

When on a sudden, from way down the lake one of the pair came swimming down to meet its mate. Both immediately dropped their heads to the water in a greeting and turned toward each other.
Then the head crest and facial mask outstretched, so it was more than a casual greeting they were a bit more than pleased to see each other.

The closer they approached the more the crest and masked displayed and finally they were alongside one another and swayed and turned in unison, like a pair of ballerinas.
I held my breath.
They may being going to dance!!

More head waving, calling and circling.
Then, to my dismay, the crests dropped, the facial mask retracted, they turned about, and slowly swam away together into the reeds.

Opportunity over.   Near.  But… So Far.
Perhaps next time.

If you are interested in the craft of photographing Great Crested Grebes, I normally don’t do video plugs for Youtube, but Mike Lane is an exception. (he is 89 years old for a starter), and he offers some fine techniques that can be applied to working with other water birds.

Saturday Evening Post #132 : The Great Romance

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.
Attributed to Albert Einstein

Writers rely on keeping a notebook.  It gets filled with story or article ideas, and scraps of ideas.  Artists keep a notebook filled with small detail sketches, ideas for design and musings. Musicians also have a book in which words for songs, riffs and other musical factoids wait to be turned into the next great composition.

Photographers that I trained with keep, “Day Books”. A detailed set of instructions of how to light a subject, names and addresses, snippets of an idea for the next shoot, calculations of various lens/aperture combos.

I used to have, (somehow lost in all the transitions) the last day book of one of my mentors, (Probably one of the best Black and White printers of his day—Well at least I thought so).

All sorts of goodies were in there, here’s one “Bellows Extension Factors” :-).  How much chemical to put in a certain developing solution.  Bring home 2 bananas, a loaf of bread and a jar of plum jam, etc.  You get the drift.

We also take a photo, move angle, subject, lighting, come back another day, all part of the collecting of visual notes. Sifting through those ideas surely has helped to prepare for the right moment.

A photographer who published 15 years of his day books is Edward Weston.  Too expensive to own, and I’ve only ever seen one volume, in a library.  Here is a site that shows some of his work.  Caution there are some quite explicit images among them. Edward Weston Gallery

These days as a blogger, I keep notes all over the place.  Some electronic, clipped from web pages, snapped out of books, handwritten in a note app. Also still use the old standard, Moleskine A5 book, and somewhere a Spirax  wire bound student book. And the odd stickit note or two.

Here’s a couple that struck me the past week or so.

Vision: As photographers we are image seekers, and taking that view, life becomes one great romance, an amazing opportunity and journey to see marvellous things all the time.

Expectation: I go out expecting to see greater things, find new opportunities for visuals and experience fortuitous moments. It should bring a freshness and zest to my times behind the camera.

And so it was that #kneetoo and I found ourselves in the sunshine with a family of recently arrived Flame Robins at the Point Cook Coastal Park.

This busy young lady was hunting off the fence line.  The birds at Point Cook, as at the Office, use the fence lines as there is little available perching space otherwise.  This is open grasslands. Shrubs and bushes are non-existent. And the good people of  Parks Vic have kindly mown the grassy verges around the fences providing an ideal hunting area for the robins.  Not wonder they love it.

She jumped onto the post, and it struck me to move a little further along the fence and use a distant pine tree as a rich dark backdrop, and then I spotted the highlight of sky between the branches.

Looking for such visual occurrences, is indeed a great romance.