Saturday Evening Post: #176 No Man is an Island

John Donne’s famous line, is quoted in Australian Magpie by Gisela Kaplan.
It’s in a chapter about,”Social Rules and Daily Life”

I shared a link on Flickr to a post regarding Magpie behaviour. Here it is.
Magpies and Tracking Devices,
Seems our erstwhile scientists in need of a research project for the old PhD decided that Australian Magpies needed some help to deal with climate change. Had they taken a few moments to read a few pages from Gisela’s book —subtitled, “Biology and Behaviour of an Unusual Songbird”, they might have saved themselves a wasted theory.
Gisela tells many interesting stories of personal interactions with Maggies and each one helps gain a little understanding of the ‘smarts’ these bird inherently possess.

Perhaps one of the more interesting lines of thought is in the opening story of the First Nations Legend of the Magpie. I’ve shared the story before, so briefly, Once in the Dreamtime the sky was very close to the earth and everything was dark and gloomy. The Magpies got together and with small sticks propped up the sky until some light got through. Encouraged by their success, they worked together to get larger sticks and open it up more… and so on, until the Sun-mother was able to shine through on the first real Sunrise. Excited by their success the Magpies still sing in the sunrise each day to celebrate, I guess, both the warmth, and their cleverness.
So attaching ‘radio’ trackers to a Maggie seemed to me to be doomed for failure, from the getgo.

Here are a couple of links to the Morning story
Peter Hancock Sydney Morning Herald
Uncle Dave Tournier with the Northern Victorian version

For a lighthearted look at the failed science attempt you can’t go past
First Dog On the Moon: Magpies: Courageous heros or little feathery b…..ds

In the final chapter, Gisela, says, ” There is no doubt that the Australian magpie is a very successful bird at many levels. … The magpie’s impressive range of social activities, its willingness to interact with people, and its propensity to invent even leisure-time activities have made the magpie almost accessible company.”
…”They have shown a remarkable ability to adapt to different climate zones. (Across the Country).

And just to show that the First Nations stories were more than just fairy-tales, but rather used as teaching tools at a number of levels here is one that shows how Magpies and Currawongs worked to make it rain on the parched earth.
And how a Magpie’s Special Song brings rains.
The Earth sang a song of happiness as the rain fell, and the Peoples of the Raven danced in the falling rain.

Magpies love to Sunhaze.
To stretch out in the warm sunshine and allow the rich warmth to penetrate their bodies. Passersby may think that the bird is ill, but rather, it seems to be in a trance. I am sure they always do it when there is a partner or family member that can warn of any danger.

A small transmitter didn’t stand a chance. 🙂

Latham’s Snipe Wing Action

Because it was such a fine sunny morning we thought we’d meander over to Heathdale Glen Orden and have a ‘trail run’ for a bird survey we are going to do in a week.

Some kind folk turned up, David Nice and Andrew T from the Altona area and it was good to see friendly faces.
I’d concocted a plan that would hopefully give the photographers a good view should the birds break out that way, and also to give a maximum of coverage of the ponds without zig-zagging about.

We managed a good tally of birds and it augers well for the real count next week

When I looked at the shots, I found I’d managed to get a short burst of a bird moderately close and it shows the amazing wing action, so thought I’d share it for interest.

If I can get WordPress to do a Slideshow, I’ll put that at the end so you can get an idea of the changes in action

Click on Arrows to move through images.

Saturday Evening Post #175 : Like Nectar

Deng Ming-Doa writes:

Sleek sky of cobalt blue;
Water like nectar satisfies deeply;
Air sweeter than the best perfume;
Sunlight warms a grateful cat

He then goes on to point out that we should take happiness when it comes.

The world comes into us via our tv news or doom scrolling on the internet.  The conversation at the coffee shop quickly deteriorates to this or that trivial woe.
My Ballarat connexion daughter once pulled that sort of talk up by exclaiming, “It’s not that important to people in Africa suffering from Covid!”

No matter how much we’d prefer it another way, we get the weather that  is coming to us. Standing outside in sunshorts, suncream and a beach umbrella will not stop the momentous storm coming on the horizon.   Similarly putting on a Drizabone and waiting for rain won’t bring it any faster.

Sometimes a trip to a birding area is like that.  We turn up with all the ‘right’ equipment and the birds are no where to be seen.  Or we take a minimum of gear and wish for that ‘magic’ piece that is at home in the camera cupboard.

EE and I were sitting quietly on a picnic table at Point Cook just recently, the tide was in, the birds were gone, and all we had was the music of the wavelets on the sand, the gentle sigh of a breeze in the pines and the warmth of the sunshine.
Sometimes it’s good to be a grateful cat.

The Welcome Swallows were feeding among the tall grasses on the roadside.  Everyso often it was time for a rest.  Some perches were more preferred than others.


The Main Event

There is a little wetlands not far from home.  It is also very close to a major shopping plaza, and surrounded by both houses and walking tracks.
It has large flat areas that are regularly inundated with water, the overflow of drains during heavy rains.

At present it is drying out, and has wonderful rich muddy areas.
Each year a group of Latham’s Snipe, migrate down from Japan and I suspect because of the predictability of the mudflats and the safety and security of the fenced-off areas, they settle in for our summer before the long-haul back to Japan to breed.  Latham’s used to be called Japanese Snipe at one time.

There might be as many as 40+ in residence at the moment.   Hard to count as the area is criss-crossed with trees and lignum stands.  So it is easy for them to slip away should danger, or a photographer approach.

Challenging photography, and a lot of wasted frames getting focus.  My weapon of choice is the 300mm PF f/4 lens. I set it to continuous focus, and vibration reduction turned off.  I also have my focus set for the Shutter release, (Not Back-button) and on the D500 I set it single frame rather than multi-burst.  That way it will reengage the focus for each press of the shutter (The old ‘focus-bumping’ technique so beloved of early Canon cameras}.
Then it’s just a case of waiting till they break cover.   The old dude is getting slower at picking them up early I confess, so perhaps I might turn to other photo  pursuits where the subjex are much more sedate. 🙂

Saturday Evening Post #174: Connectedness

Was talking with my highly-creative writing, daughter the other day, about the complexities of story development and the attention span of the  current reading population.  Those in particular who are connected to each other through TikTok.  None of the old ‘Facebook’ for them.  So old fashioned, how did anybody ever spend the time to read all that stuff?

We also discussed what is really a post-covid-lockdown phenomenon.  People now live in a ‘bubble’, of their own making.  Physically, emotionally, community—just about every aspect of our  lives. Each bubble has its own moveable boundaries.  Do I want to go shopping. I’ll have to wear a mask, do I want to wear a mask. I’ll have to log-in, do I want to log-in.  Each answer depends on where the bubble edges exist on any given day.  Will I read, or do I want to chill out.  etc, etc.

The conversation got a bit hairy from there, but I suspect at some levels we all are making adjustments regularly to ‘our’ bubble.

I rambled a bit last week about the Zone System, and regrettably mistakenly mis-named Fred Archer as one of the designers of the system.
Sorry Fred!

I also spoke of contrasts as a tool to establish relationships. (Which is where my conversation with said daughter comes into this).

Contrast is not just about the value of tones in the photo, but also the elements.

Following on, Relationships between those elements in our photos help to give clues to the viewer about the story within the frame.

An object larger than another, the space between or around then or a change of viewpoint, or camera angle, or even lens can change the connectedness or the implied connectedness.It places the main character of the photo into its setting. It can even imply things that are not seen in the frame.

Sometimes reducing the photo to humble monochrome brings out a relationship between tone, shapes and texture.

The young Collared Sparrowhawk was playing chasing games with its siblings.  To mine, and its surprise it landed on a log quite close, but behind a small clump of boxthorn.  It stood its ground long enough to realise the boxthorn was not enough of a comfort barrier and a moment later it was gone.

I looked at it in colour and it lacked the seperation I wanted, but the connectedness between the bird and the bush was an important element of the story, so over to Silver Efex Pro it went.
SFX has a very clever ‘Zone System’ visualiser and I turned to it to help me to see how the shadows and the highlights support the story, but not overpower it.
The SFX visualiser does not make changes, it simply shows what happens as the tones are moved up or down.

Photography is like that, as with creative writing, sometimes its the experiments that allow the photographer to become a bit more conscious of how to make the story more intentional, and perhaps compelling.


The Circus Came to Town

Fresh from enjoying an interlude with some very creative Galahs, we had an encounter with a family of Long-billed Corella.

We were on the way out to spend some time photographing birds.
As we turned out of the driveway, across the road we saw a flock of Long-bills.
The house opposite has a number of pencil pines in the front garden and the pinenuts must have just reached that precise moment of sweetness for the birds.

We had a choice, of course, to smile and drive on to our intended destination, or.

EE was already out of iAmGrey, well I had stopped to check for traffic.  So I had to park the car and join her in the middle of the roundabout.  Funny thing about being in the middle of a roundabout with a camera.  Cars all slow down as they negotiate the roundabout.

Not that EE is any stranger to cars on roundabouts.  Once some years back when we shot car clubs for magazines, she was sitting on a deckchair in the huge roundabout at Porepunkah in the state’s north.  About 25 cars were going, round and round the roundabout as she photographed them.  With much tooting and calling, as only car enthusiasts do.

But back to the present.

It was a challenge to try and photograph each bird, or to just concentrate on one or two as they enjoyed the feast.
The roof of the colorbond garden shed rang with the disposed seed pods, must have been enough to wake up the inhabitants. The Long-bills made quick work of the pine nuts and there was much cackling and calling, perhaps discussing the merits of each nut?

In the end, enough, was enough and with a few calls, they were gone. And we continued, somewhat belatedly to our previous journey destination.

Saturday Evening Post #173: Nature Doesn’t Make Long Speeches

So says Lao Tzi. Tao Te Ching Chapter 23

Photos tell a story. One frame at time.  We don’t get the backstory.  We might never grasp the ongoing drama. There is no character development in a single photo.

Photographers and their photos are sold into a slavey of having to make the point of the subject, decisively and distinctly.

Henri-Cartier Bresson (HCB) spoke and taught the concept of “The Decisive Moment”.  And thousand of acres of trees have been cut down to  turn into paper, countless websites have come and gone explaining the author’s concept of HCB’s small statement.  So much so that photographers have pondered when is the right time to press the shutter, what should and shouldn’t be included, and how does that all support the vision I had of the scene at that moment.

Fred Archer and Ansel Adams, created  “Pre-visualization” (sic) and although it applied to their ‘Zone System”, it too has gone into the photo-psyche as a necessary tool to learn to make good photos.

Many current photographs, the ones made on handfones bound for Instagram (so 2020ish), or TikTok, are made with no knowledge of the Decisive Moment or Pre-visualisation, the audience doesn’t care.

The Zone System was at its base, and this is not the blog to explore all that in some detail, was to understand or predict in the final print how dark the dark areas would be, how light the light areas and where the mid-tones might fall.  Not a panacea for “Will I or will I not press the shutter.” Nor the countless articles and lectures given to explain it

The single image offers us some visual challenges. One way to imply the story for our viewers is contrast.
Oh yes, I’ve got one of those sliders in my Photoshop program, push it one way and it all goes murky grey, push the other and it washes out the whites and clogs up the blacks.
Contrast is a bit more than just a slider solution.

Dark tones create a sombre mood. Light tones give us bright excitement, and the mid-tones carry the bulk of the detail and content.

With colour, we can also contrast one colour against another. Blue on yellow perhaps. Those who’ve seen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List will know the significance of a red coat.

A different type of contrast is ideas, or points of difference.  Large round shape against small rectangular. Wet against dry. Moving verses stationary. It provides visual pull that lets the viewer explore the frame. Scale or juxtaposition are part of the visual contrast.

Perhaps  dead trees in a wilderness with some soft green shoots poking through the parched ground?

I’d seen this Black-shouldered Kite approaching, and as it flew by the dark trees, its light shape and form became more than just the bird in flight.  Once back in the digital space on the computer I loaded up the trusty “Nik Silver FX Pro” and just like in the old days of choosing a filter to modify a colour tone, I worked the darkness back into the trees and also picked out the lighter area with a different filter.  Time to add a little extra density and contrast by matching a film type and adding a little grain to give some texture.

Whether pre-visualised or at the decisive moment, the contrast helps to infer—if not enhance —the shape and form of the bird.