Monday, August 6, 2012

Parrots Galore

Eastern Rosella
Recently I spent a few days photographing eight species of parrot as they begin their breeding season. A local lakeside reserve and surrounding suburb has proved to be popular with the parrots, as it provides suitable nesting hollows and close proximity to feeding grounds. By far the biggest number of breeding parrots were Scaly-breasted Lorikeets, followed by Rainbow Lorikeets. The other species photographed either at nesting hollows or searching for them, included: Eastern Rosella, Little Lorikeet, Large-billed Corella, Small
Corella, Galah and Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. The Musk Lorikeet is one species I hoped to photograph that is missing from the list even though it does occur in this area.
Rainbow Lorikeet
Photographing these birds at hollows has been a learning experience. Even though I stayed back a good distance all these species are obviously conscious of your presence and therefore modify their behaviour. In particular I found the larger species such as the Corellas to be particularly reticent to approach a their hollows if you are in close proximity. On the other hand there are a couple of species that appear to allow a much closer approach at least while they are preoccupied with hollow investigation. The Eastern Rosella and Little Lorikeets appear to fit into this category.

Scaly-breasted Lorikeet
Photographing birds that have their hollows high in a tree is going to present a few technical challenges to photography. The challenges that need to be overcome are a steep shooting angle, avoiding a boring blue sky background, light direction, depth of field requirements for a pair of birds, avoiding burnt out highlights on the bright Eucalypt trunks and getting a decent head turn and eye contact from a pair of birds.

Little Lorikeet

Given that you will probably want to maintain a reasonable distance from the birds, it is the birds themselves
that provide the solution to the steep angle. What you are hoping to achieve is a pose that has the bird/s leaning towards you. This creates the impression that the birds are closer to eye level. This is not as difficult to achieve when you consider most parrots are curious and will peer towards you. The other bonus in this situation is that if the bird is leaning towards the photographer the chances are the eye contact and head turn will also be acceptable.

To get a decent background involves moving around to line up a tree in the distance that can provide something other than sky in the background. The further away from the distant trees the creamier the background. Fortunately at this site, which is predominately open woodland there are plenty of large trees that can be used for the background. Personally I don't think you need a solid green background, but even a partially covered background works to break-up the one dimensional blue sky.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
For me one of the goals of photographing birds at a hollow is to capture a male and female to together. Again moving around the tree  to get the birds in the same plane will help. Also choosing a smaller aperture and shooting distance need to be considered. Getting the light direction and avoiding hot highlights is solved by knowing how sunlight behaves on the site. This will involve some planning, however in the end it means shooting when the light is not too harsh, which usually involves shooting in the first couple of hours after sunrise and the last couple of hours before sunset.
To get what I regard as decent images of these species I've made four different visits to the site, either in the early morning or late in the afternoon. To get all the elements to work together required a lot of time and images.

Little Corella

Please take into account that birds should not be unnecessarily disturbed during their breeding and nesting cycles. Be prepared to back away if a bird appears to be alarmed in any way.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Beach Stone-curlews

Over the last couple of months I've had the pleasure of photographing the southern-most breeding pair of Beach Stone-curlews and their chick. These birds have taken up residence in the Port Stephens area of NSW.

Beach Stone-curlew with a Soldier Crab

During my last visit in June the adults and adolescent were still present. The young bird is almost as big as the adults and appears capable of feeding itself, though I observed one of the adult birds dropping crabs at its feet. 

Soldier Crab Greeting

Given the large number of Soldier crabs these birds consume I was a little concerned that it would not be too long before they exhausted the supply and had to move on. Fortunately I was put at ease when on my last visit I was able to observe thousands of Soldier crabs emerge from their holes.

Given that these birds have taken up residence in close proximity to a populated area, they are relatively easy to approach. Normally an approach to within twenty metres is reasonably easy. There have however been occasions when the birds are feeding that they can be approached to within 10 metres. 

Brahminy Kite

When the birds feel threatened they tend to fly across to the nearby island. Apart from the occasional dog the birds get most nervous when one of the resident birds of prey fly over. In particular the White-bellied Sea Eagles cause a bit of panic.
Hopefully these birds will remain in the area and breed again next season.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Western NSW & VIC - May 2012 - Part 1

Nankeen Kestrel
After visiting family in Griffith my wife and I headed to Tibooburra in the far North West of NSW. We had planned to spend a few days camped in Sturt NP and then head north to Thargomindah and Bowra before heading home. Unfortunately the weather had other ideas and prematurely cut our visit to one day. The forecast heavy rain forced a change of plan, so we headed south to Hattah-Kulkyne NP in Victoria.
On our way to our first stop at Lake Cargelligo we were amazed at the number of birds of prey seen. These included big numbers of Black shouldered Kites and Nankeen Kestrels. Also seen were Black Kites, Swamp Harriers, Whistling Kites and Wedge-tailed Eagles.

Major Mitchell's Cockatoos
Traveling out west always brings the delight of seeing a number of parrot species with Blue Bonnets, Australian Ringnecks, Red Rumps, Cockatiels and Mulga Parrots all seen. We were however pleasantly surprised to see two small feeding groups of the normally elusive Major Mitchell's Cockatoos. At a morning tea stop in Rankin Springs we saw Spiny-cheeked, Blue-faced and Singing Honeyeaters having fun in flowering eucalypt.
We made Lake Cargelligo in time to check out the Sewage Treatment works.  My last visit had been very productive, so I was a little disappointed at the lack of crakes and other birds seen, then again it was a quick visit in winter. Some of the birds that did make an appearance included:
White-winged Fairy-wren, Variegated Fairy-wren, Zebra Finch, Pink-eared Duck, Grey Teal, Australian Shelduck, Australasian Grebe, Hoary-Grebe, Brown Goshawk, Little Eagle and Whistling Kite.
The next morning it was an early start and a visit to Round Hill NR., in particular the old wheat field area. Not surprisingly for this time of year there wasn't a lot about although White-fronted Honeyeaters  and Southern Scrub-robins  made an appearance. Also seen were Australian Ringneck and Common Bronzewing.
Off on the road again  for a long drive to White Cliffs. Not much to report other than the big number of water birds and the accompanying birds of prey on the flood plains around Wilcannia.

Little Eagle
We stayed at the surprisingly well  appointed White Cliffs camping ground where a number of Singing Honeyeaters kept us entertained. If the light wasn't failing I would have gone after a Hooded Robin that I'd seen over the fence.
The next day after a long and dusty drive we arrived at Dead Horse Gully camping ground in Sturt NP. On prior visits we had neglected the fantastic scenery of the granites, so it was off for a sunset walk around these wonderful rock formations. The next morning we headed off towards Olive Downs on the Silver city highway. From past visits I knew this was a great road from which to photograph Wedge-tailed Eagles. There are no are very few trees, so they perch on prominent rocks, Another plus is that there is a big number of  Wedge-tailed Eagle present always ready to take advantage of any fresh road kill.

White-fronted Honeyeater
After spending an hour or so photographing the Wedge-tails we continued on to Olive Downs and then onto the Jump-up Loop Track. Not much bird life about on the plateau, however this changed as we entered the plains below and in particular around the water courses and dams. There were good sized flocks of Masked Wood Swallows and Budgies about, along with plenty of birds of prey, in particular kestrels. One of my prime motivations for visiting this area was to improve my pitiful Gibberbird images, alas plenty of Pipits, but no Gibberbirds. Soon we reached one of my favourite sites in the park, South Myers Tank. We were immediately struck by the high water level. During our last visit there were islands in he middle of the dam and muddy margins, these were all now flooded.

Wedge-tailed Eagle
There were still birds about, however the numbers were down on the last time we visited. No Cinnamon Quail-thrush or Flock Pigeons, however the White-winged Fairy-wrens were still about.
Rain was threatening so we made a rapid retreat south to Broken Hill, with plans to head south into Victoria.

Part 2.  Hattah-Kulkyne National Park and the Murrumbidgee River.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Superb Parrot and others

Last week I made a quick trip to the Griffith area with my son, so I took the opportunity to check out the Willbriggee State Forest on the Murrumbidgee River.

Superb Parrot
There was still plenty of water running in the river after the recent rains, however thankfully not much surface flooding left.

Heading south from Griffith the most obvious birds were the  Black-shouldered Kites and Nankeen Ketrels perched on the power lines.
The first birds to be seen as I entered the State Forest from Darlington Point was a family group of White-browed Babblers. A little further on an even noisier family of White-wing Choughs made an appearance. It was soon apparent that there was not much flowering in the forest, so there were no obvious trees to stake out for honeyeaters. A quick drive along a sandy track to the river bank drew a blank, so I headed back to the birdiest spot I had seen, which was near the entrance. I didn't have to wait too long before a large number of Yellow Rosellas turned up. What I hadn't noticed on the way in was a small water hole just off the track that was attracting the birds. I didn't bother with a hide which probably explains why didn't get any worthwhile Rosella images. I did try bringing the birds in with playback. The Rosellas definitely responded, but not enough to come down low for a decent  shot. One species that did show a lot of interest was a group of Blue-faced Honeyeaters. These are a fantastic species to photograph with their boisterous behaviour and distinctive facial skin.

Blue-faced Honeyeater
Yellow Rosella
While photographing the Yellow Rosellas I noticed a pair of Superb parrots fly high into an adjacent tree. I quickly found an open area with a suitable perch (best that I could manage) and put on the call. To my great surprise one bird responded immediately landing exactly where I had hoped. The only problem was the bird was bigger than I thought, so I had to back off to fit it in the frame.

Other birds seen were: Eastern Rosella, Australian White Ibis, White-necked Heron, Great Egret, Galah and Noisy Miner.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Pelican Point

A quick trip this afternoon to check out the waders before they headed north. I was fortunate to be able to photograph two birds of prey in the same area.

Red-capped Plover

Red-necked Stint

White-bellied Sea-eagle
Grey-tailed Tattler
Ruddy Turnstone

Nankeen Kestrel Photographed at Soldiers Point
Double-banded Plover

Other birds seen were Great cormorants, Crested Terns and Golden Pacific Plovers. I didn't bother checking nearby Soldiers Point as there were too many fishermen about.