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

Kruger elephants

Elephant swinging trunk in river bed
Elephant swinging trunk in river bed

This young elephant gave us a bit of an uneasy moment when it started shaking its head and trunk. They were quite close and moving towards where we were stopped on the causeway, level with the river bed. Luckily it was just having a bit of a shake. The small herd crossed just in front of the car; quite a memorable experience. I’m really happy to have captured the moment without missing a bit of foot or trunk. After this they were too close for my big lens – sometimes you just have to enjoy the scene and forget about taking photos for a bit. The images below were taken after they had passed the car and were heading back into the bush.

I have decided to abandon the ‘daily diary’ I was doing for my posts. Instead this post is all about the ellies. We were treated to quite a number of elephant sightings in our week in the park – not a problem as they are one of my favourite animals. Often they were at waterholes or in what seemed like dry river beds, digging below the surface to get at the water. They like to play too, chucking mud and water everywhere. This group had a couple of cute babies with them.


Elephants can be quite destructive eaters – not surprisingly, they have huge appetites to match their size. Watching this elephant demolish very unappetizing-looking branches was impressive. They also use their tusks to cause a fair amount of damage to the bark of many trees.

Misty morning in Kruger

Sleepy spotted hyena on a misty morning
Sleepy spotted hyena on a misty morning

We were all up bright and early on our first morning in the park – except it wasn’t really very bright at all, rather it was misty and quite gloomy for the first couple of hours. Undeterred we set off along a dirt road toward the N’wanetsi picnic site, and were rewarded with a few interesting sightings,such as a small group of sleepy Spotted hyena. Photography was a bit challenging in the light conditions, so I missed getting anything decent of the Ground hornbill group we came across. The spider webs in the mist were fun to capture, and by the time we saw the zebra it was a bit lighter.

A pair of Bateleur eagles made great subjects – such majestic birds (and so easy to identify, unlike many other raptors!). At N’wanetsi, we could get out and stretch our legs, and enjoy the view over a river and towards the Lebombo Mountains. I took the opportunity to stalk a few birds – I’m really happy with the bulbul on the aloe stalk as I could get a lovely soft background by virtue of being high up. Clean backgrounds were not always easy in the park as you are constrained by having to stay in your car most of the time. Of course, getting clean backgrounds behind a giraffe’s head is not so difficult as it is way above most of the vegetation.

The trip back to camp was not too fruitful – the lone wildebeest pretty much sums it up. I did capture one of the ubiquitous Lilac-breasted rollers, illustrating my struggles with busy backgrounds in the process.

Afternoon drive to Satara

Afternoon drink at the waterhole
Family drink at the waterhole

We were very lucky with elephant sightings throughout our trip. I could have spent ages watching this group drinking and splashing about at the waterhole, but we did have to keep going to make Satara before the gates closed.

Catching the hippo yawning at the waterhole was pretty cool, as was this mid-tree squabble between two Tawny eagles (I think?). Never did figure out what the issue was though.

Another ‘Big Five’ species we saw plenty of was buffalo, especially near Satara where the grass must be tasty. The late afternoon light was lovely to work with, as long as the animals were on the right side of the road. A Burchell’s coucal and a pair of male Waterbuck posed very cooperatively.

We made it the camp just in time for sunset.

Satara camp at sunset©Jennie Stock – Nature in focus
Rondavels in Satara at sunset