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Archive for August, 2010

Panorama stitching with Photoshop

August 31st, 2010

This is not so much a tutorial, but a quick post to show how easy it is to use the software. The image of Lawson Swamp (Lawson, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia) is of a site I have always wanted to visit. IT was made from four images exposed manually so I get a consistent exposure then auto-stitched in Photoshop CS4. It was as easy as that. I will not tell you how to shoot a panorama now, the internet is full of tutorials pertaining to that very subject.

On a sunny autumn afternoon my friend Graham “The Rock” Turner and I headed up here to look for the famous Southern Emu-wren (Stripiturus malachurus) one of the most beautiful little wrens in Australia. Of course we did not dip on the birds, having seen both males and females, but to be brutally honest, we did not have spectacular views at all just good enough to see what they were.

On the way in, near where we parked the car, we had a pair of Gang-gang Cockatoos (Callocephalum fimbriatum) with a fledged young. What a wonderful little family too. Soon thereafter, Graham alerted me to the call of a Chestnut-rumped Heathwren, a real skulker of a bird as he calls it due to its nature of staying hidden in the shrubbery, sticking its head out now and then. Much like our famous Pilotbirds, which we sw at Murphy’s Glen on the 21st of August. The Heathwrens were sure a treat with pretty dang good views.

When we headed into the area of the swamp, which is a dry swamp (we know as we walked through it at places following the wrens) we heard the distinct three time call of an Australian Owlet-nightjar. A bit like TRRRRR TRRRRRR TRRRRRR with the T a high note, then the RRRRRR quickly descending down the scale. We looked for its hollow to no avail. Have a look at the large panorama image of the swamp and see which tree you think it was roosting in. 🙂 LOL!!!

Late afternoon storm approaching.

As we headed along, we experienced a rather sudden weather change. The picture illustrates the sudden arrival of a brief storm. Luckily the rain wasn’t much, except a brief shower of very large drops, but the wind picked up and it had gotten very cold quickly. Enjoy the view of this gorgeous location in the mid-mountains.

Stay safe….

Nature Photography

Another reptile discovery adventure

August 31st, 2010

We headed to the Blue Mountains on Saturday afternoon on the 21st of August. I was still battling a dang virus, but the location we were searching had the dirt road pretty much next to it so I gave in to pressure. Why wouldn’t I if I knew that I picked a possibly great location to discover a Broad-headed Snake (Hoplocephalus bungaroides) or an Eastern Small-eyed Snake (Rhinoplocephalus nigrescens). Both are venomous and potentially of a dangerous disposition meaning that I am even more excited to be able to see and photograph them. Two weekends earlier we were at another Blue Mountains location where the walk in and out was an absolute killer, so had this day’s spot been similar I would rather have stayed home. On the track were Stephen and his partner Shirley and my other good friend Graham “The Rock” Turner, who is basically a walking encyclopaedia of local wildlife; feathered or not. It’s always a pleasure hanging out with Graham as I am constantly learning from an expert who shares the same passion about the animals that I have so much respect and admiration for. Stephen (Steve) and Shirley are both keen nature photographers who think along similar lines to myself and just want to get out there to enjoy mother nature and leave only footprints. A great way to be if you asked me.

Graham holding a Blind Snake

We arrived at the peak which faces west into the late afternoon sun. A good starting point for our adventure. Reptiles like the sun’s warmth especially during winter so finding them in locations with a sunny aspect is a little easier than areas where there are shaded spots and/or habitat. But that does not meant that the reptiles will only be here or there; we have found snakes etc in the least likely looking areas too. So it’s not all about the perfect spot. A bit like not all images have to have the perfect light. There are of course countless photographers who only want “perfect light”. Good for them, for on days when the atmospheric conditions are not quite perfect people like me can go and enjoy nature for what it is: nature. To me, being a true photographer has always been about representing the truth I have seen. When I learned there was no Photoshop, no clone or healing brush tool, no cleaning of unwanted obstruction. Of course, in this day and digital age the tools are making photographers become more interested in how to remove items from the image than to learn how to capture an authentic natural history shot. In any case, I like – or should I say prefer – to remain as close to the natural image as possible.

When released, the snake was heading home, under a large boulder.

Doing the background research into the species I wish to photograph is half the fun. I remember how much effort I put into reading about owls, their preferred habitats and foods, their life cycles and researched records of sightings and spent a lot of time basically before I have finally seen my first Masked Owl (Tyto novaehollandiae). It was hours of solo spotlighting the local forests, listening to calls, researching during the day for likely hollows and finally after close to six months of effort I had a 15-minute encounter with a female Masked Owl. Was I rapt? What do you think? Of course! I was over the moon for the entire time. Then about two months later when I was spotlighting with my lovely wife and Steve in the same patch of forest we saw two Masked Owls!

The apparent eyes are only good to detect light or dark surroundings.

Researching reptiles is also the same amount of work as it is with owls, but the consolation is that we work during the day in the light instead of walking blindly through forests littered with cobwebs and other scary surprises to scare the crap out of us; like a surprise Death Adder (Acanthophis antarcticus) that may be lurking under the leaf litter. Ouch! We look over topography maps, use it with weather forecasts and historical data as well as satellite images to arrive at a plan as to where to go and when.

The claw on the tip of its tail allows the snake to anchor itself into position.

On this afternoon we did not find any of the venomous snakes we so longed to observe, record and photograph, but instead, my friend Graham managed to discover a Blind Snake (Ramphotyphlops nigrescens) which in my opinion should be called the Stinky Blind Snake as it emits a horrible odour when handled. Yuck! It apparently feeds on ants and has a very large claw on its tail perhaps to aid it in hanging onto the substrate or wherever it chooses to anchor itself. It has two black spots where the eyes would be so my best guess is that it can tell night from day, it still cannot see. It was a very lively specimen and photographing it was nigh impossible, hence why there is a hand in some shots. Sorry, sometimes I cannot work miracles.

Until next time, stay safe and enjoy these adventures.

Nature Photography

A ducking good session.

August 27th, 2010

While I was on holidays in July, I had the privilege of spending some time at my favorite roadside pond (again) and not just once, but on many occasions. It is rather strange that totally wild waterbirds would pretty much disregard me even though I am well within their normal comfort zone. Chestnut Teals are arguably one of the more spectacular species of our ducks in the Sydney basin. Their rich brown plumage with the shiny, almost electric green, head and those magical red eyes make me shiver with excitement at every encounter. They indeed are ducks of the highest order as far as the beauty scale is concerned.

The female looks plain, yet she is still gorgeous.

I observed these stunning Chestnut Teals on this rather small pond quite a few times in successive sessions over the previous couple of weeks and as always, they were slowly working their way across the small waterhole from side to side, edge to edge. What they were looking for in particular were the aquatic plant matter that thrives in this little pool of water. As usual, I stayed quietly in the same spot on the east side to ensure I get as much sun shining from behind me as possible so that I get the nice morning light for the birds. The approach was pretty normal, a low, crouching stance was needed to not cause alarm and the rest is history. Soon, I had them less than 15m away from me.

A male; strangely this male does not have the brilliant green hood found on most other specimens.

An immature Chestnut Teal preening.

A truly wild, yet close encounter. As they fed and fed, their plumage was getting a little damp and a good preen was all they needed. One by one, they hopped on the far bank and began the preening process. A bit on the back, get the oil from the gland, then preen the wings, breast and belly feathers. A beautiful and serene sight I was privileged to witness first hand. Hope you enjoy these few images.

Don’t forget to click on the images to see them larger.

Nature Photography

Red-capped Robin update

August 18th, 2010

This morning I went to revisit the area near the property Nimmitta on Taylor Rd, Cranebrook (Londonderry), to see whether the Monday morning no-show means that the birds moved on and are just traveling through the woodland. See my Monday morning posting about what my thoughts were about how maybe the weather could have been the reason for me not seeing/hearing them that morning.

I could not visit yesterday as I had a physio appointment with my tennis elbow injury (of 15 years 🙁 ) so I went to the Baseball Fields along Andrews Road, another great birding location.

This morning was fabulous, it was warm(ish) and sunny, calm with no wind and it took no time in tracking down the first male in the same spot I initially observed on Saturday the 14th of August. Then I walked to the second location to see if the other one was there with his mate and I came up with a blank. Nothing. I tried some call playback to no avail. I walked along as to keep trying to find some more interesting birds, and I merely walked 100 meters or so when I noted a male atop a half dead paperbark tree. I played the call once and that was enough to bring him closer as well as his mate. So it appears that both males and the female are still there.

On my way back, I was lucky to see six Eastern Grey Kangaroos and a couple of Peaceful Doves among the normal bush birds like the Yellow and Buff-rumped Thornbills, Spotted Pardalotes and Grey Shrike-thrushes.

Nature Photography

Bird Club meeting and a new species too.

August 17th, 2010

On Saturday, the 14th I planned on attending the Blue Mountains Bird Observers Club meeting to catch up with some keen bird watchers and also to hear a particular speaker whom I hold in high regard for his work on the owls of NSW. He is none other than Dr. Rod Kavanagh, a research scientist who has probably forgotten more about owls than most mere mortals would ever even know.

Before the meeting I visited the area around Kings Tableland in the hope of finding something exciting. My friend Sue Thomson was there to see some cool stuff and the first thing I noted as I got out of the car was the Rockwarbler hopping about the cliff area. It made the little calls its known for and hopped close to view and photograph. I also noticed a Brown Thornbill being very vocal so I played its call and within about five seconds a little bird was less than two meters from where I stood. Amazing!

All up, there were two Rockwarblers, a lovely small bird that is endemic to the Sydney region pretty much. When we drove back, I noted a Currawong sitting on the wire. I said to Sue here is a Currawong for your list and as we got a little closer, she said it looked like a Grey Currawong, not a Pied. I got excited for I was yet to see a Grey. And Grey it was with the most spectacular tinkling call, which it emitted every thirty or so seconds for a few minutes with a longer stop. It’s a shame the bird was on a wire, but at least I got to see one. It was time to head back to the club and wait Rod Kavanagh ‘s arrival.

An adult Grey Currawong at Kings Tableland.

This guy called frequently with a high-pitched, almost chiming call. Just gorgeous.

Rod Kavanagh presented a good hour and a half long session called “The secret life of Sydney’s owls”, which was absolutely mind-blowing in content and very well presented. IT is amazing to know that there are countless records of these birds of the night from the Sydney basin, including Powerful Owl, Boobook Owl, Barking Owl, Masked Owl, Barn Owl and Sooty Owl. The club members were shown statistical data on where the sightings were, well some sightings as how would it be possible to ascertain the numbers of owls and their territories based on people’s observations and reporting? That would be difficult since perhaps 99.9% of the population wouldn’t even know an owl if they saw one, let alone be able to identify these by calls or other characteristics.

Dr. Rod Kavanagh presenting to the BMBO members.

I had learned that the majority of owl records stemmed from the area of the Royal National Park and also the northern suburbs from around Chatswood to Hornsby and west where there is still a lot of natural bushland and forests that provide suitable habitat. This of course does (did) not mean that owls didn’t exist anywhere, but perhaps again, a lot more people would be well aware of owls’ presence in these leafy suburbs and also a lot more people – such as bird watchers – would visit some of the areas where the observations were recorded.

To me the meeting was fascinating, Rod’s knowledge of our owls is astounding and I hope that one day I will be able to contribute to their studies in one way or another.

Nature Photography