Interludes: Dragonfly-ing

Following on yesterday’s Interlude as the young Hobbys continue to develop their inflight hunting skills.

Presently the air is filled with big juicy plump dragonflies.  Among them thousands of Tau emerald.  They seem to enjoy working high in the air over the orchard near the Hobby’s domain.  Perfect for developing inflight skills.

At present it seem that the female, Seraphima, has taken a holiday, and the male, Bronte, is left to bring the young one’s hunting skills to the fore. What better way than to take them into the swarms of dragonflies.

I wish I could explain how it all works, but it usually is so high up, and so far out that I’m really watching tiny shapes streak across the sky, change direction in an instant, climb up, dive down and do it all at speeds that bend my mind, let along ponder what g-forces they somehow overcome.

Here are few rather than try and explain it all so inadequately.

What came next was practice on the main course

Pre-flight discussions.
Let’s hit the air.
A few minutes of warm-up chasing each other across the sky exercises. Bronte joined in this as well, but so much further out and up. He was able to fly in between and appear to distract them.

Serious tight turns must put a lot of strain on the wings and joints.
Into the fray. The dragonfly was no match for the speed and agility they have developed.

Small enough meal to learn to eat on the run

Interludes: Learning Curves

It has to be said that the learning curve for young Australian Hobbys would best be described with an exponential curve rather than a lazy sine curve wandering about aimlessly.

For a start, the speeds that all the activities take place is super-sonic.
Ask anyone who has tried to keep them in the viewfinder as they speed past.
“Oh, glad you asked!  It is next to impossible to keep them in the viewfinder as they speed past.”

Most of the shots below were taken at quite some distance out.  These little dudes have discovered that they can dig into the air and be a kilometre out of sight before you can say, “Now where are they going?”

It’s more likely, “There they went.”

Over the past few days they have been learning to hunt dragonflies. Interesting as the adult, no doubt its Bronte, the male, lets them run hard and fast and then seems to manoeuvre through their actions, helping, or at least guiding. A few times catching and then dropping the prey for the young bird to snatch away.

Early on, he was arriving with a fresh kill, and then allowing the youngster to snatch it away from the perch.  A day or so later and he developed a new strategy.
He would come in, and then ‘hover’ for a few seconds with the prey while the young came up and took it.  Now there are several actions going on here that I could determine.
First:  He has to swoop up, and stall, before falling backdown.  In those few seconds, (like a diver from a springboard) there is a delay between the going up, and the coming down.

Second: The young at first were a tad clumsy. Tad being a euphemism for very clumsy.  But a few attempts of crashing into Bronte really honed the skill and they both soon learned to get the timing right.

Third: He would roll over and follow them down to be sure that nothing untoward, such as dropping the prey occurred. If it did, he simply closed wings and sped past them to retrieve it and repeat the food pass.

I only saw one food drop.

And as they say: Therein endeth the lesson.
Moving on to dragonflies and other flying creatures tomorrow.


Wings folding up for supersonic speed
Waiting for the youngster
Got it. Worth looking at Bronte’s eyes as he watches to make sure it’s all secure
Folded up at Super-sonic. They learned to stoop from great heights. Perhaps to avoid any disasters.
Coming in for a meal
He’ll hold position for a few moments, but really can’t hover like a Kite
An overshoot, but somehow its persistence nailed the prey.
Dropping away successully
A bit like Goldilocks, nothing left for the late comer.
Closeup. Is that glee on the young one’s face?
Rolling into a stoop, Bronte follows the young one down

Saturday Evening Post #167: Togetherness

“You can do all sorts of things that are fiendishly clever, then fall in love with them because they’re fiendishly clever, while overlooking the fact that they take a great deal more work to obtain results that stupid people get in half the time. As someone who has created a lot of fiendishly clever but ultimately useless techniques in his day, I’d say this sounds like an example.”

Bruce Fraser

I published a similar photo on Flickr the other day, and of the same pair.

What is interesting is that they resting between remaking a nest and laying eggs.

Unless my calculations are off, this will be her ninth nesting in the past two years.  I think she changed mate, about 6 nests back. Perhaps they fell out, or perhaps he met with an accident.  The next male was probably a younger bird as he was much smaller than she, but over the past 18 months or so, he has bulked up and is now much better proportioned.
I think she is the largest across-the-chest Black-shouldered Kite we’ve worked with. When she stretches for take off it’s quite noticeable.

They are an interesting pair in that they have remained faithful to the little area that was once a main road, but now lies abandoned as the traffic rushes by on the new road about 500 metres away.  Yet the paddocks are essentially untouched and provide a ready source of food for these excellent hunters.

As Bruce Fraser pointed out, the basics just work.
Many will know of Bruce as the genius behind some very clever digital photography Sharpening techniques.  Adobe hired Bruce to work on the multi-pass sharpening techniques used in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). Unfortunately we lost Bruce long before he had a chance to complete  his work.
Those new to digital photography may not have heard of him, but each time they open Photoshop and work the Sharpening Slider, they are benefiting from Bruce’s dedication.

And his point remains valid.
A quick search of most hard drives will reveal megabytes of downloaded Photoshop actions or Presets to make this or that change. Sunset glows, or Mountain mists or Ancient-Bygone-Era feels.  Dark Moody Street, or the Glow of a New Bride.
We’ve downloaded them, paid for some of them, and after a few clicks, …. well it didn’t turn the proverbial sow’s ear into the prize winner we’d hoped for.

As the year draws to a close, I’ve been looking back at the few “Five Star” images in my library for this year, and wondering was the fiendishly clever technique worth all the effort.
Also beginning to spend a bit of time on some of the all time classic images from the world’s great photographers.   No no, not the one’s currently gleaning ‘Likes’ on Instagram.  But the truly great ones.

How about Frank Hurley’s famous “Endurance Trapped In Ice.”

or Imogene Cunningham  Portrait

Dorothea Lange, The Photographer of People

Eric Hosking, Heraldic barn owl

Or Dr. Julian Smith You Called Me Dog   and Micawber

But,  I’m sure you’ll have your own list.   What to put in, what to leave out.

I wonder what fiendishly clever technique I’ll fall in love with in 2022?

All the best for the season, hope that 2022 brings some cheer




Saturday Evening Post #166 :Immersed in Light

Last week I explored the magic of light.
In my early years, the local photographer handled everything from weddings, debs, insurance claims, business portraits and some commercial products.
They were all shot in studio.  With a few props that seemed to be included in the photo as mandatory.  A young lass could have the mirror, and sideboard in both her deb shots and then again in her wedding shots.  As the work was hand-coloured the wall was toned to match the necessary colour scheme needed for the client’s satisfaction.

I’ve written before of the new wedding photographer who stated up, not using studio, but rather outdoor environmental portrait setting.  It was a change that suited the era.  It set the bench mark and the old studio would eventually fade away.

Needless to say as a young photographer, the magic of working in the outdoors and following overseas styles I quickly accepted the use of light and outdoor settings and was constantly on the lookout for the right place to work.  Now I have to say that all this was before massive council restrictions, safety requirements and exorbitant insurance policies.

But light knows nothing of such things and still wraps me in its enchanting grasp.

So it’s not surprising as we were working with the young Hobbys the other day that the light through the watering of the gardens in the park should catch my attention.
Add to that the mystery of the shapes of the old ‘art in the park’ pieces and I was suddenly transported back so many years, and wishing I had at my disposal  a much shorter focal length lens.  The long lens just wouldn’t give me the angle of view that I might have explored.
The magic showed and I was drawn to press the shutter.

Light does that to me.

Saturday Evening Post #165: The Magic of Light

Light and Lighting has always fascinated me.

There is something primitive or primordial about sitting on the beach quietly watching the sun rise over the horizon. Some mornings it’s cold and misty, others warm and dusty. Sunsets have always posed a photo challenge that I’ve been ready to accept.
I once nearly fell of a bridge on to a railway line (as the train passed underneath, to add bonus points), just to get the right viewpoint of the sun setting behind a greater bridge—fortunately I had the sense of balance to save the long lens that I’d borrowed and instead of going over the railing, I managed to fall back on to the road behind.  No damage to the lens fortunately, and only a small dent in my pride.
Needess to say I didn’t make the image and contented myself with the safer option of photographing both bridge and sun separately and them combining the in a multi-slide montage. (This was way before the concept of digital photography was even dreamed of)

Over the centuries our theories of light have changed dramatically. Often shrouded in myth and legend, guess work and hypotheses, what light was and how it emanated.  Ibn al-Haytham in Arabia, around 950AD, to described the model of how light reflects from objects and it is recieved by the human eye.  At about the same time the Arab scientists invented the ‘pin-hole camera’.

Yet despite our basic understandings we tend to take light for granted.
However as photographers we need to do more than take it for granted. We have to perceive the many nuances of light.  More than just the rising and setting of the sun, the quality, the colour and the mood all play an important element of our work as photographers.

In all its incredible, complex and subtle variations.

Not only does it control shape, tone, texture, contrast and depth, it does, by its very gracing of our subject, add its own special Quality.

A quality that transcends the subject alone and has its own impact on the story-telling ability of the photograph.

Hard to describe in words, yet wonderful to behold when in a moment of sheer magic it happens.

That, I guess is what continues to fascinate me.
Studio controlled light has  its own special feel, as my early tutor said, “We keep on adding light until we’ve taken away all the shadow we need to.  Then we stop.”
Working outdoors, the universe sneaks up on me providing its own spectacular light-show. So much so that sometimes I’m so overawed that I forget to press the shutter.
A condition for which I’m confident there is no cure.  Each time brings its own magic



Little Visits: The Tale of Wagtails

Some things, as the credit card ad points out, Just can’t be purchased.

On our Kingfisher quest, we’ve crossed the paths of several Willie Wagtail pairs at nest.  Not all of them are successful.  But the agile and relentless little birds only try the harder. Most will, within a few days of loss, be hard at work on the next nest.

We found a pair that have survived with three happy little young—without any catastrophe.  I don’t normally publish nesting photos of Wagtails until I am sure that they have been successful. No point in raising hopes and then seeing the nest disappear.  The Wagtails take it as part of the cost of doing business, we humans seem to take the devastation personally.

A recent fledging of three out of four young Peregrine Falcons at 367 Collins Street is a case in point.  The fb page had thousands of words of anguish at the loss of one of the young that succumbed before flying.  Angry, “Why didn’t ‘they’ Do Something” posts seemed to miss the point that the parents had managed a magnificent feat in fledging three fat healthy young.  It was as if people had lost their favourite teddybear when young and now had a reason to express their own personal loss.
I digress.

It takes the Wagtails about a week to build the nest, about 14 days to hatch and about 14 days to bring them to wing.

This pair had a nest quite low down on a tree trunk that had only recently fallen in a previous storm. Some Wagtails seem to nest in quite secretive behind-the-leaves locations, and others take what seems to be the risk of exposing their work to the world. Such was this pair.

Several days back we’d seen the first of the young ‘branching’, so no doubt they would be on quite mobile when we checked again today.  To add to our difficulty a light rain persisted in falling.  However, the little tackers were quite dry and feisty safely under the leaves of a tree.

Well done, all round.

Sitting Pretty.
Just a couple of days old.
Not ready to fly, but the wings are starting to come away from the sheaths.
High Protein Rocket Fuel going in.
Filling them up keeps the adults busy all day
Testing the well developed wings. Not long to go now
Small nest. Growing birds. Time to take to the surrounding branches for a little extra space.
No doubt they all flew this day.
Out of the rain in the dry under a tree
Ready to explore the world.

Developing that Wagtail stare is a must
A neat little package. Ready for anything.

Saturday Evening Post #164 :Hide and Seek

We have, for the past few weeks been engaged in a game of Hide and Seek, with a pair of Sacred Kingfisher.

They come down along the Werribee River every year for the nesting season. It is not too hard to find a bird.  Their calls through the forest highlight the general direction.
They also tend to use the same branches as hunting perches.  So if we are prepared to sit in one location for a while, (translated into real time, anywhere between one or two hours), they are more than likely to turn up.

Being able to find where they might, will, or possibly could nest remains a bit of a game.  They make all the rules and it’s somewhat difficult to determine their intent.

So it’s not unusual to have seem them peeking into a hole in a tree here, being ejected from another by rather vocal, and aggressive Red-rumped Parrots who ‘own’ the nest. Harassed by Rainbow Lorikeets at another prospective hole, and chased by Willie Wagtails, just because they can.  And of course the WIllies have their own broods to protect.

However EE is not one to give up easily and at last, she is pretty sure she has found their location.  Of course nowhere near the areas we had been searching.
We found them working on a dead River Redgum.  A damaged section must be hollow on the inside and they had set about ‘drilling’ into the decayed branch.
It took several days before they had made sufficient headway as to have access to the inside of the trunk.

The two pictures are three days apart and the hard almost unyielding wood can be seen in the lefthand shot. However, they seem to have persisted and now have made an entrance into the chamber.  There are two holes they have been working on, and I’ve no idea which will be the chosen entrance.

TIme.  Will tell.