That was 2017, part 2

We got back to the cold and wet in early July. While we were checking up on the Bridgetown house, I was lucky enough to see a Restless Flycatcher on the back patio – such a beautiful bird.  July also saw a mad dash to Canberra for my daughter’s graduation, sadly without my camera. Back in Perth, I did get to Herdsman Lake a few times as the house we are renting is not far away.

In August I flew to Adelaide for the awards night for the Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year competition. I was super excited to find out my “Windblown Egret” was the winner of the Animal Portrait category, at a great evening where I met many amazing nature photographers in person. It was a surreal experience seeing my image on banners in front of and inside the South Australian Museum.

After the awards I was lucky enough to have a day or two to explore the region, seeing the stunning little Diamond Firetails and some other great birds.

Perth had plenty of of rain this winter and Herdsman Lake has been lovely and full, providing many photo opportunities in spring.

School holidays in October gave me a bit of time to get out and capture more birds doing their reproductive thing, from Tree Martins collecting nesting material in Bridgetown to Moorhen chicks at Herdsman.

Going through all my images has made me realise I found time to take photographs – what I struggled with was time to sort and process the images. In November, I was out of action for a few weeks when I was in hospital and recovering; on my first outing with my camera I did feel lots of sympathy for this poor Willie Wagtail who had lost all its tail feathers, possibly in defending its nest from a family of Australian Ravens.

2017 finished in a lovely relaxed fashion, spending some time at our house in Bridgetown, enjoying all the birds who visit the bird baths and sprinklers, and watching a pair of Tree Martins very busily feeding their chicks who were somewhere in our roof space. Two of the Tree Martins fledged the day before we left; so adorable.

Thank you for reading. I’m really hoping to get a few more blog posts out in 2018, so you don’t have to wait until this time next year. In the meantime, wishing all my followers a wonderful year.

That was 2017, part 1

Way back at the beginning of January 2017 I was planning to be diligent about posting on my blog this year, envisioning at least one post a month. That idea fell by the wayside rather quickly. In my defence, we have had a bit of a crazy year, what with selling our house, moving, travelling and so on. I did manage to squeeze in a fair amount of photography along the way so have decided to share some highlights of 2017.

In January I spent a lovely morning watching the Fairy Tern colony at Rous Head, where these endangered birds raise their chicks on a small patch of fenced off land in the middle of Fremantle’s busy port (see here for more information).

We spent many weekends during 2017 in Bridgetown, working on our new house,  particularly the landscaping. In February I practised some macro photography on subjects found while gardening and moving soil. March was not a great month for photography as we decided to sell our Perth house and I spent most of my time painting, cleaning and de-cluttering. One thing I did manage was experimenting with taking bird’s-eye-view images of leaves and insects floating on the surface of the pool (probably when I was supposed to be keeping it clean). I was very happy with how an image of bleached bougainvillea flowers turned out (called “Floating Trio”). It has done well in a couple of competitions, netting a Silver Award with a score of 87 in the Revealing Nature category of the 2017 Better Photography competition.

Our Perth house sold in April, which was a great relief. I was lucky to get a week off from the chaos, visiting Far North Queensland with my daughter. We hired a campervan and explored the area near Cairns, managing to make it to the Daintree, one of my bucket list destinations. Although it wasn’t the ideal time of year for birding we saw heaps of interesting things, including a couple of very special birds on an amazing boat cruise with Ian “Sauce” Worcester on the Daintree River.

May was a mad rush of packing and moving, with some stuff going to Bridgetown and some to a rental in Perth. We did get a bit of time to enjoy autumn down south.

Once the moving was all done, we set off in our camper trailer for a long-awaited month of long-service leave, travelling north from Perth all the way to Broome and back (about 2400 km each way). We saw some amazing landscapes, met interesting people and saw lots of birds and other animals.

Highlights included some amazing station stays at Wooleen Station, in the Gascoyne, Hamelin Bay Station near Shark Bay, Quobba Station north of Carnarvon, Bullara Station on the way to Exmouth and Pardoo Station on the northern coast. In Broome we stayed at the awesome Broome Bird Observatory and on our way back south we detoured to Millstream-Chichester National Park in the Pilbara.

 

 

 

Australian “Blue Wrens”

Male Splendid Fairy-wren in full breeding plumage at Joondalup

Brightly-coloured male Fairy-wrens in their nuptial plumage can stop many an Australian birder in their tracks. The birds may be tiny but they more than make up for it with showiness. Most familiar are the two “Blue Wrens’ – the Superb Fairy-Wren (Malurus cyaneus) of the east coast and Tasmania, and the Splendid Fairy-wren (Malurus splendens) found across the south-western and more southern central areas.

The male blue wrens are easy to identify in their distinctive breeding plumage, but most male Fairy-wrens are only dressed in their beautiful breeding colours for spring and summer; in autumn they moult back into what is called eclipse plumage – similar to the females at first glance. Separating the females, youngsters and non-breeding males is a bit trickier, requiring a close look at the colour of bills, eye-rings and lores. First year males can be confusing as they show the tan eye ring of the females combined with the black bill of a male, while some of the older males will retain their bright colours for the whole year. Often it is thought that the family groups consist of one male with several females but closer inspection usually reveals some birds to be males in non-breeding plumage.

The blue feathers of the males are iridescent, caused by the particular structure of the barbules of their feathers. Its not hard to see where the Splendid Fairy-wren’s scientific name of splendens (shining) came from. I have often noticed this iridescence when photographing the breeding males – usually the images need the contrast and highlights toned down a bit to prevent the feathers looking plastic. The feature image for this article is a good example – not sure how successful I was. The ear-coverts are often the shiniest feather tract – they are used in face fan displays, which appear to be a territorial behaviour (sometimes seen in response to call playback; phishing is a better option).

Elusive Big Five

Leopard on the prowl
Leopard on the prowl

Good sightings of elephant and buffalo quickly knocked two of the Big Five off the list, but the other three proved a bit more elusive. It was mid-week before anyone saw a cat, in the form of a rather distant leopard on the sandbank across the river from Skukuza camp, only seen by some of us who stayed in camp for a break. The next morning three of our group were lucky enough to see the leopard in the main photograph, at much closer quarters. I’m thrilled to have managed some decent images of this cat, as the light was terrible – thank goodness my camera has reasonable high ISO performance. I do love the way she is so camouflaged in the long grass. She was hunting and bolted across the road (terrible pics through the front windscreen) and soon disappeared into the thicker bush on the river edge. I hope she found some breakfast.

We only realised how lucky we had been when we got back to camp for breakfast – we thought some of the others had also seen her but we’d misidentified the car in front of us! At least we all saw the white rhino the previous evening – I’m counting that as part of the Big Five even though strictly speaking I think it is meant to be a black rhino. The term Big Five refers to how dangerous the animals were to hunt on foot, so the black rhino would be more appropriate as they are much grumpier. This rhino didn’t seem very grouchy at all, having a moment with a starling on the road before drifting off into the bush. I just hope it gets to live peacefully and keep its horn – Kruger is not immune from the current rhino poaching epidemic.

Our last tick on the Big Five list was lion – not a very exciting sighting but at least we saw them, on a sandbank next to the river on the way from Skukuza to Lower Sabie. Lazing around as is usual for lions, for all the world as if they were on a summer holiday. If you look carefully at the one on the left, it has a radio-tracking collar around its neck.
Lions at the beach©Jennie Stock – Nature in focus

ANZANG and other competitions – 2013 review

Bee visiting Eucalyptus macrocarpa
Bee visiting Eucalyptus macrocarpa – Highly commended, Botanical section, ANZANG 2013

One of my goals for 2013 was to enter a few photographic competitions. My most exciting result so far has been to achieve a Highly Commended for this image in the 2013 ANZANG competition, organised by the South Australian museum and celebrating the diversity of nature in Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica and New Guinea. I received a beautiful book with all the finalists’ images in, and am looking forward to the exhibition coming to Perth some time next year.

Another result I was happy with was being selected as a finalist in the Mono (West Australian Architecture) section of Clickwest, a competition organised by the WA Photographic Federation. At the awards night, all the finalist’s images were shown on a big movie screen, which was pretty awesome. We also each received another lovely book of images. My image was taken in the chapel of St Michael the Archangel in Leederville – the surrounding buildings were a convent but are now the head office of the Catholic Education Office.

St Michael the Archangel Chapel, Leederville
St Michael the Archangel Chapel, Leederville

I entered a few images in two other competitions – the International Loupe Awards and the Better Photography Photograph of the Year 2013 – mainly for feedback, as if your image meets a certain standard you are awarded Bronze, Silver or Gold certificates. If you are lucky, you get a few comments from the judges about where you can improve. The monthly competitions at my camera club have been an awesome source of feedback and learning, as you get to hear the judge’s comments on all the images, not just your own. It makes you realise too how subjectively we view images, as each judge has a unique perspective. I was pretty happy with coming 6th overall in the club for the year, and getting two second placings in the end of year print competition.

Early morning on Rottnest

Herschel Lake at sunrise
Herschel Lake at sunrise

The first time I stayed over at Rottnest I was there to help with a bird banding project – banding almost always involves early starts. The first morning I rode past the beautiful scenery and shorebirds, wishing I had time to stop with my camera. The second morning I arranged a little bit of time off – I think it was worth it to get such lovely light. My plan is to find a way to spend a whole week over there just taking photos, as the birding and scenery is so wonderful.

Rock parrots on Rottnest

Rock parrot on Rottnest Island
Rock parrot on Rottnest Island

A little while ago I spent a weekend on Rottnest Island trying to get some decent images of these gorgeous little birds. There is a very small population of Rock Parrots (Neophema petrophila) left on the island, although there are more on the mainland. This first image gives a good idea of their small size, with the bird not much bigger than the tufts of grass.

So far, three of the Rottnest birds have been banded (or ringed). The plan is to monitor this group of birds and collect information to help determine the exact population size, whether they are breeding, which parts of the island they use and so on. The researchers wanted some images of banded birds to use for posters asking for sighting information from the public. We managed to find a group of four rock parrots, including the three banded birds, each of which has a metal band on its right leg and a coloured plastic band on the left leg. They were moderately cooperative, allowing me to get some images of them and their bands. They didn’t go so far as to fly into the nets that had been set up in the hope of catching the unbanded bird!


Anyone who visits Rottnest and is lucky enough to spot a banded Rock Parrot, please report date, time, location, number of birds and band colour to boldparkbirdbanding@hotmail.com For more information see http://www.rottnestisland.com/about/flora-fauna/birds

Crested Terns on Penguin Island

Catch of the day

Every time I’ve been to Penguin Island, I’ve been fascinated by the Crested Terns (Sterna bergii). The first time I visited with my camera, I watched for ages as a group of terns splashed about in the small waves on the more protected side of the island.

In late November last year, the terns were busy raising their families. They started out with the young hidden in the vegetation and the poor parents battling to get fish to the chicks without losing their catch to the very determined Silver Gulls.

Crested tern parents doing their best to feed their chick

Two weeks later, the colony had moved down onto the beach.

Crested tern colony

The gulls were still very much in evidence but not seeming as much of a threat, probably as the chicks were older. I’m not sure how the parents find their offspring in amongst all the chaos.

Hopefully those chicks are all grown up now, and in juvenile plumage like the bird on the left below.

© Jennie Stock – Nature in Focus, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any images or other material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Penguin Island

Bridled tern soaring
Bridled tern soaring

Penguin Island is one of my favourite places to visit near Perth. It’s a bit of a drive from home south to Rockingham but then just a short ferry ride to the island, which forms part of the Shoalwater Islands Marine Park. Bridled Terns breed here in summer – it is an awesome experience visiting when they are in residence as they are so close and flying all around you.
The birds and other animals are so much more relaxed than on the mainland making it easier to get close to them (sometime they get too close). I would love to be able to get over to Penguin Island early to get the soft light but as the first ferry is at 9 am I may have to learn how to kayak (and be brave enough to take my camera!).

If you’re lucky you’ll spot a wild Little Penguin – the smallest penguin species, found on the southern coast of Australia and around New Zealand. In summer, you sometimes see a couple of penguins hiding under the boardwalks but most of them disappear early in the morning to fish all day, returning at sunset. The island is closed to visitors in winter when the colony (about 1000 pairs) gets into breeding mode. The Little Penguin below is a late fledgling I spotted in the middle of the day – he probably tired of waiting for his parents to return and decided to try fishing for himself. Hopefully he made it to adulthood.

Another unusual sight I came across was this pair of Mute Swans in the sea near the jetty. Mute Swans are an introduced species in Australia; there is a breeding colony at Northam (about 100 km away) but this pair were seen in the Rockingham area for a while.

© Jennie Stock – Nature in Focus, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any images or other material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Denmark landscapes

One of our main reasons for visiting Denmark in January was to explore options for moving away from Perth some time in the future. Well, Denmark is very high on my list so far. Stunning scenery and a lovely variety – from beautiful inviting protected beaches…

Early morning at Madfish Bay.
Early morning at Madfish Bay.

…to the awesome power of the Southern Ocean.

Southern Ocean waves
Southern Ocean waves

Wilson Inlet provides views of the water in all directions – I think I could handle views like these every day:

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A little further afield and the scenery gets very interesting. These rocks had lots of potential but I think I need to be able to visit them often to do them justice!

Elephant Rocks in William Bay National Park
Elephant Rocks in William Bay National Park
© Jennie Stock – Nature in Focus, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any images or other material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.