Mandurah Madness

The recent lock downs for the COVID 19 outbreak had a very strange effect. Living in York we don’t visit the coast very often, but as soon as the Western Australian government said we could leave our region all I wanted to do was go to the coast. I suppose it’s a bit like being on a diet and then spending all day obsessing over food. Well with the lockdown over we put the dog in kennels and headed down to Mandurah for a couple of days to get an oceanic fix.

 

 

Now the plan was to spend three days visiting some reserves around, but as Robert Burns once said “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.”. The first spot we went out to was Lake McLarty, but there was no water in the lake and no birds to be seen. To cap it all the weather was grim – a storm front was closing in. So we decided to cut our losses and head in land to Pinjarra and walk along the Murray River and visit the Edenvale Heritage Tearoom. Well the tearooms were still shut because of COVID so we settled for a walk along the the river.

 

Eastern Osprey by Paul Amyes on 500px.com

Eastern osprey (Pandion cristatus subs leucocephalus) at Lake McLarty Nature Reserve near Mandurah in Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 mk ii with Panasonic Leica 100-400mm lens. Exposure: 1/500, f7.1 ISO 320.

 

Nankeen Night Heron by Paul Amyes on 500px.com

Nankeen Night Heron, Nycticorax caledonicus subsp mannillenis. Pinjara, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM 1 mk ii with Panasonic Leica 100-400mm lens. Exposure: 1/500, f6.3, ISO 1600.

 

Australian Darter by Paul Amyes on 500px.com

A male Australian darter (Anhinga melanogaster subspecies novaehollandiae) aka as the snake bird. Pinjarra, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM 1 mk ii with Panasonic Leica 100-400mm lens. Exposure: 1/500 sec, f6.3 at ISO 3200.

 

Paul Amyes taking it easy from the rigours of bird watching on a concrete sofa on the banks of the Murray River in Pinjarra, Western Australia. The sofa is part of the “Take Your Seat Art Project by Fremantle Arts Centre and Alcoa.

 

The next day the weather was grimmer than the previous day’s. We were wearing enough clothes to make Captain Scott of the Antarctic fame look severely underdressed. The morning’s activities were to be based at the Creery Wetlands Reserve which was only a short way from where we were staying. Although wet and bitterly cold we had more success than the previous day. It is amazing how much wildlife can be packed into a small area just minutes from a city centre. If you are in the area it is well worth visiting, don’t let the fact that the entrance makes it look like an off-shore detention camp put you off. As you cross the bridge you get the feeling a couple of Border Force goons could jump out of the bushes and indefinitely detain you. Once in side you can commune with nature to your hearts content.

 

Creery Wetlands Nature Reserve by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
The entrance to Creery Wetlands Nature Reserve in Western Australia.

 

Creery Wetlands Nature Reserve by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
One of the two bird hides at Creery Wetlands Nature Reserve in Western Australia.

 

Helen bird watching at the Creery Wetlands Nature Reserve, Mandurah, Western Australia.

 

Pacific Black Duck by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Pacific black duck, Anas superciliosa. Creery Wetlands Nature Reserve, Western Australia.

 

Western Gerygone by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Western Gerygone, Gerygone fusca. Creery Wetland Reserve, Western Australia.

 

Great Egret In Flight by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A great egret (Ardea alba modesta) flying over the Creery Wetlands Nature Reserve in Western Australia.

 

Inland Thornbill by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Inland Thornbill, Acanthiza apicalis. Creery Wetlands Nature Reserve, Western Australia.

 

Black Swans by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Black swans (Cygnus atratus) feeding. Creery Wetlands Reserve, Western Australia.

 

1080 Poison Risk by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
An eastern osprey, Pandion cristatus subs leucocephalus, perched on a sign warning about 1080 baiting. Creery Wetalnds Nature Reserve, Mandurah, Western Australia.

 

Western Grey Kangaroo by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Western Grey Kangaroo, Macropus fuliginosus. Creery Wetlands Nature Reserve, Western Australia.

Olympus Has Fallen

Not the dreadful film, but the camera company. On the 24th June 2020 Olympus announced that they were in talks with Japan Industrial Partners to divest themselves of their camera business after three continuous years of losses despite numerous restructuring attempts. I’ve got no idea what all this means from a practical point of view, but from an emotional point of view it is quite a sad day. I’ve always considered myself to brand agnostic and have used over the years Praktika, Pentax, Minolta, Canon, Leica, Voigtländer, Sony, Panasonic and of course Olympus. But I’ve got to say that over the last 38 years I’ve always had at least one Olympus camera. More than just a few key moments in my life have been documented by an Olympus camera.

 

My first Olympus camera was an XA2. This is the XA4 I bought later to replace it, they look very similar, the major difference being that XA2 had a 35mm lens while the XA4 had a 28mm macro lens.

 

 

Portrait of me in Majorca taken in March 1986 by my father in law, Brooke Spencer. Probably taken with a Leica R4 with a Leica 135/2.8 Elmarit-R on Kodak colour negative film. I’m holding my OM1n with 35-105 lens.

 

I bought my first Olympus camera in 1982 after returning back home from an extended stay in Israel where I got into taking photos. Previously I had a Kodak 110 cartridge camera and when I got the films back from the processors I was dismayed with how crap they looked. I was determined that on the next trip I would take a much better camera. So after a trip to the newly opened Whibys camera shopping Chichester and a long and informative chat with the owner Derek Whitby I left with an Olympus XA2 – a unique 35mm clam shell compact camera. I kept going to Whitby’s until 1988 which was when I migrated to Australia. In that time Derek went on to sell me an OM20, OM1n, OM2n, OM4 and my partner an OM40. Along with those cameras was wheelbarrow load of lenses, some very specie flashguns for the time and a shed load of film. I’m glad their business is still going although Derek and his wife Jacqui no longer run it. The cameras kept marching on and were perfect for my travels being small, durable and highly featured for their time. The lenses were also compact and gave great image quality. I’ve still got most of the lenses and still use them, and I’ve written about them on this blog ( 21mm f3.5, 24mm f2.8, 35mm f2, 50mm f1.4,135mm f2.8, and 35-105mm f3.5-4.5).

 

Believe it or not that’s me in Red Square, Moscow in January 1987. The temperatures were -40ºC. You can just about see my camera bag slung over my shoulder. In it is an OM1n, an OM2n, a 35-105mm, a 50mm f1.4, a 200mm f4 lens a T32 flash and a T20 flash. We went to document the plight of Russians in Moscow and Leningrad (now St Petersberg for a human rights campaign that was to be launched later that year at the House of Commons in London). The cameras worked flawlessly in the cold. The photo was taken by my wife on an Olympus AF1.

 

 

My earliest selfie – taken in September 1987 while I was staying with my in-laws just prior to departing for India and Nepal. The camera is an Olympus OM4 with an Olympus OM Zuiko 35-105mm lens. Originally shot on Ektachrome 200 but converted to black and white because of fading.

 

Yours truly on a house boat on Lake Dal in Srinagar, Kashmir, India. I’m wearing a Camera Care Systems pouch with my Olympus OM4 in it. Taken by my partner with her OM40 and 35-105 lens.

 

In 2003 I shot a couple of weddings and my OM4s developed problems, one the shutter failed and the other the film advance jammed. I took them to the local camera whisperer but he broke the bad news to me – there were no new spare parts. He said I could by up some old models and use them as donor cameras but there was no guarantee as to the condition of the parts and how long they would last. To say I was gutted would be an understatement. This came a a particularly bad time for me, I was recovering after a bad accident and was pretty broke. I had enrolled at college to study photography as a form of therapy and now I was pretty well camera less. My late father-in-law (Brooke Spencer) in an act of supreme kindness stepped into the breach. He had just bought a Canon EOS D60 digital SLR and he sent me his old EOS3 film SLR and a couple of lenses. I now had a camera to complete college with and had inadvertently changed system. I went digital with Canon but I wasn’t really happy with it. I found the Canon EOS system to be large, heavy and cumbersome. About this time I fell into writing about and photographing outdoor activities and then was commissioned to write a walking guide. Well after a year lugging a Canon 5d and three lenses on over 1000Km of walks I knew I needed something lighter.

The Canon EOS system full monty. Three bodies, seven lenses, two flashes, flash meter, filters, cables, flash triggers, and reflectors. It is a hernia inducing load.

 

This is the camera kit I used on my first walking guide book. Less hernia inducing than the Full Monty, but still coming in at 7Kg including filters and batteries.

 

When I saw the Olympus Pen EP1 in 2009 I was smitten, but it didn’t have a viewfinder so I held off buying one. Less than a year later Olympus introduced the EP2 and I got one. The next guide book was done with an outfit based around that camera and a a few lenses and I was much happier.

 

Coming in at under 2Kg complete with batteries, filters, microphone and assorted cables for video. This kit still gives me coverage from 24emm to 300emm with 1:1 macro and a smallish prime. All that’s missing is flash.

 

Here I am pausing to take a photo with EP2 while walking up Frenchman Peak in Cape Le Grand National Park, Western Australia.

 

Over the last ten years I’ve heard a lot reasons from keyboard warriors on various photographic forums why the micro four thirds format that Olympus and Panasonic used was inferior to full frame sensors and that you couldn’t get work published if you used it. Well after three books, two exhibitions and loads of print sales no one has ever said the image quality was not up to snuff. Unfortunately photography is an activity dominated by very conservative men who see a small camera, no matter how capable, as being an affront to their masculinity. So Olympus was sandwiched by the small minded conservatives that wanted big cameras and at the other end the onslaught of the do anything mobile phones which now have very good photo and video capabilities.

 

The Canon EOS6d with Sigma 150-600mm lens compared to the Panasonic G85, which uses the same sensor format and lens mount as Olympus, with the Panasonic Leica 100-400mm lens. The Panasonic has great reach, better video, the same number of megapixels, weighs less and costs less.

 

The Canon EOS 6d camera with 100mm f2.8 macro lens that I used to use for photographing orchids alongside the Olympus EM 1 mk ii with 60mm f2.8 macro lens that I use now. Both produce amazing images, but the Olympus is a lot nicer to carry through the bush all day.

 

 

As I said at the beginning of this piece I have no way of knowing what will happen. Maybe JIP will turn the company around and make it it profitable and innovative. Maybe they’ll just asset strip and close it down. The company does both. I hope it is the former, but if it is the later I guess that this a eulogy for Olympus. But whatever may happen my current Olympus cameras have plenty of mileage left in them and if I can get another 10 years out of them, and at this stage I don’t see why not, then I’ll be very happy.

 

Røde Stereo VideoMic Pro

 

Røde Stereo VideoMic Pro.

 

I’ve had a Røde Stereo VideoMic Pro since December 2017. I’ve been absolutely delighted with it. This is not a microphone for interviews or blogging, no it’s forte is picking up ambient sound with “a wide stereo image with natural depth”. I use it when I’m out in the bush trying to get wildlife and scenic footage. So I was a little upset when it developed a problem and would only record sound on one channel. I decided to send it back to Røde, who are an Australian company, and see if it could be repaired. The customer service rep was straight onto the case and really helpful and because I’d registered for the ten year warranty they would take a look at it. After a few days I was sent an email saying that they’d fixed it and it was in the post. I was at this stage well impressed. But wait – more was to come. When the parcel from Røde turned up on my doorstep imagine my surprise when I opened it and found a brand new microphone. A great product backed with great service.

 

Røde Stereo VideoMic Pro mounted on a Panasonic Lumix G85 camera.

Dotty About Dotterels

Black-fronted Dotterel by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Black-fronted Dotterel (Elseyornis melanops), Avon River, Northam, Western Australia. Panasonic Lumix G85 with Panasonic Leica 100-400mm f4-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/500 sec, f6.3 at ISO 250.

 

What do you do when you’ve got 2 hours to kill while in the Wheatbelt metropolis of Northam? Go looking for Black-fronted Dotterels that’s what! These busy little birds can be found on the muddy shoreline looking for insects and small molluscs.

Black-fronted Dotterel by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Black-fronted Dotterel (Elseyornis melanops), Avon River, Northam, Western Australia. Panasonic Lumix G85 with Panasonic Leica 100-400mm f4-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/500 sec, f6.3 at ISO 250.

Wandering in Wongermine Reserve

 

OK that maybe a little bit melodramatic, but there was no doubt that getting out and about after a few weeks of lockdown was a bit of a rush! So where did I go? What did I do with this new found liberty? Well I went to Wongamine Reserve near Toodyay to look for two types of orchid and do the walk trail. Pretty sad eh?

 

The main entrance to Wongamine Nature Reserve, Toodyay, Western Australia.

 

 

 

The reserve isn’t really visited any more the gates are locked and many of the signs broken or over grown. In fact speaking of overgrown the walk trail is so overgrown in places that I  suggest that if you do want to visit and walk there that you take a GPS and download the walk track from Trails WA and follow that.

The reserve was closed a while ago and many of the trails and signs have fallen into a state of disrepair. Wongamine Nature Reserve, Toodyay, Western Australia.

 

Some of the vehicle tracks have not been used for a long time allowing termites to build mounds on them. Wongamine Nature Reserve, Toodyay, Western Australia.

 

This was one of only two trail markesr on the walk trail. Wongamine Nature Reserve, Toodyay, Western Australia.

 

Was there anything positive about the visit? Well yes there was actually. The woodland is home to quite a variety of bird life – I didn’t photograph any as I was not carrying a suitable lens as I had gone to photograph orchids. I would expect from walking through the bush that would be quite a display of wildflowers in spring which would make the journey well worth while. There were quite a few species of dragonflies as well which at the time surprised me for some reason.

 

Wongamine Nature Reserve by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Australian Emperor Dragonfly (Anax papuensis) Wongamine Nature Reserve, Toodyay, Western Australia.

 

Did I find the orchids? Well the Winter Spider Orchid is only 6cm tall with a 2cm flower and the Crinkle-leafed Bunny Orchid is 10cm tall with a 9mm flower  and considering that the reserve is 330 ha of bushland I think I did well to find anything at all. I didn’t find any Winter Spider Orchids, I have photographed them before at Babakin, but I found lots of the Bunny Orchids. In fact I never seen so many Crinkle-leafed Bunny Orchids before. So all in all it was a great day out.

 

Wongamine Nature Reserve by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Crinkle-leafed Bunny Orchid, Eriochilus dilatatus subsp undulatus. Wongamine Nature Reserve, Toodyay, Western Australia.

 

Birding On The Avon

 

Like many people at this time I’ve had my movements curtailed. Where I live we are allowed out locally for exercise so I’ve been going out for walks along the river to photograph and video the birds that can be found there. This is the third time I’ve tried to video wildlife and it is very hard.I don’t work from a hide so I have to set up quickly and quietly and often the birds will move on before I can get filming. Shooting mainly just after dawn or just before sunset has meant using high ISOs and made focusing difficult. But, the more you do it the better you get. The purpose of the video was to make something, learn something new and help keep me thinking positive thoughts during this time.

Just out of interest I’ll put the stills up below. They were shot on either a Canon EOS6d with the Sigma 150-600mm f4.5-6.3 Contemporary lens or the Olympus OMD EM1 mk ii with the Panasonic Leica 100-400mm f4-6.3 lens. I wonder if you can tell the difference at web size without enlarging to 100% or checking the EXIF data?

Rufous Whistler by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A male Rufous Whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris). York, Western Australia.

 

Laughing by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Laughing kookaburra, dacelo novaeguineae. York, Western Australia

 

Yellow Rumped Thornbill by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Yellow Rumped Thornbill, Acanthiza chrysorrhoa, York, Western Australia.

 

Yellow-billed Spoonbill by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes), Avon River, York, Western Australia.

 

Great Egret by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Great egret, Ardea alba, feeding on the Avon River. York Western Australia

 

Tatty Robin by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Tatty robin. Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii), York, Western Australia.

 

Brown Honeyeater by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Brown Honeyeater, Lichmera indistincta, York, Western Australia.

 

Yellow-billed Spoonbills by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A pair of Yellow-billed Spoonbill (Platalea flavipes) feeding on the Avon River in York, Western Australia.

 

Dawn Hunt by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A great egret (Ardea alba) and a white faced heron (Egretta novaeholladiae) hunting in the early morning light on the bank of the Avon River in York, Western Australia.

 

Great Egret by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A great egret (Ardea alba) hunting in the early morning light on the bank of the Avon River in York, Western Australia.

 

Red-cap Dawn by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii), York, Western Australia.

 

 

Keep Calm


This last few months have been particularly difficult in the light of climate change induced bushfires here in Australia and now the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID 19). It would in the light of compulsory lockdowns, quarantines and restrictions on social gatherings and travel easy to be filled with dread and let feelings of hopelessness pervade our lives. I myself have had further restrictions imposed as I’m in the process of recovering from spinal surgery and am fighting off the temptation of feeling sorry for myself and collapsing in a heap.

There is an antidote to this. Firstly instead of just being passive and feeding our psyches with all the negative news we can find in the media endeavour to do something creative. Creativity is important, it feeds the soul, gives a sense of achievement and allows you to express yourself. All of this has a positive effect on your psychological well being. It doesn’t matter what it is – paint, draw, knit, cook, write, photograph, sing. Although singing could be problematic depending upon your living arrangements and how well you can sing. My partner has issued me with an ultimatum; if I sing Bohemian Rhapsody at full volume in my usual tone deaf manner then lockdown or not I will be looking for alternative accommodation which I think is a little harsh. Secondly reconnect with nature. This one could be a bit hard depending on what the local authorities are imposing, but it can be done. If confined to the house take time out in the garden, encourage wildlife to come into the garden and watch them. Plant things and watch them grow. If possible go a walk in the park or woods (maintaining correct social distancing of course), go bird watching, fungi spotting it doesn’t really matter. Bonus points if you can combine this with doing some creative as this will allow you to enter a flow state. Sounds poncey but “it is the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time” (Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, 1975). The benefits of this are that intense and focused concentration on the present moment that you become so totally engrossed in the experience to the extent that other needs or concerns become negligible and this makes you feel in control over a situation. Do this a few times a week and your mood will lift.

I’ve taken my own advice this week. As I said I’ve been laid up at home and not doing much so I hauled my carcass down to the Avon River a couple of times to photograph some birds in the dawn light. It was well worth it. Stalking birds and photographing them required too much concentration and I was able to forget about my own circumstances and the worries of the world and just enjoy being in the moment. It was so enjoyable that I’m going to get out and do some more over the next week.

 

Red-cap Dawn by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Red-capped Robin (Petroica goodenovii) in the dawn light. York, Western Australia. Olympus OM-D E-M1 with Panasonic Leica DG 100-400/F4.0-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/500 sec, f6.3 at ISO 1600.

 

Great Egret by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A great egret (Ardea alba) hunting in the early morning light on the bank of the Avon River in York, Western Australia. Canon EOS 6d with Sigma 150-600mm f5-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/1000 sec, f7.1 at ISO 800.

 

Rufous Whistler by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A male Rufous Whistler (Pachycephala rufiventris). York, Western Australia. Canon EOS 6d with Sigma 150-600mm lens. Exposure: 1/1000 sec, f6.3 at ISO 2000.

 

Right that’s me done I’m off to try and bake a lumberjack cake.

New Victoria Dam

The ubiquitous New Holland Honeyeater (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae), New Victoria Dam, Korung National Park, Western Australia.

Over the last few days my FaceBook feed has been seeing some seriously tasty bird photos from one of the groups that I belong to. The photos all come from one area  – New Victoria Dam which is 30Km east of Perth on the Darling Range in Korung National Park. So when the Beloved Significant Other (BSO) announced she was competing in a croquet competition at a location just 20 minutes drive away I immediately volunteered myself as driver.

 

 

 

 

There are two starting points to the walk and which you choose will largely depend upon when you visit. If you visit outside of office hours Monday to Friday or anytime at the weekend then y ou have to use the upper carpark as your start point as the access road is shut. During office hours you can drive down to the lower carpark keeping in mind that if stay till after 5pm then you won’t be able to drive out. I started at the upper carpark which only adds 800m each way to the walk. The walk consists of a 7Km round trip down past the New Victoria Dam to the Old Victoria dam wall and the garden and picnic area. There used to be a path through the trees at the edge of the road but it has become quite overgrown and indistinct so you are best walking along the access road. As you walk down the road on your left is the  gravesite of Francis Weston who died in 1876 aged two days, his parents lived in the timber workers settlement at Bickley. When you get to the lower carpark walk through it and then follow the trail markers. After walking through the forest you come to New Victoria Dam. Walk down the steps and at the bottom turn right onto the road and walk down to the remains of the Old Victoria Dam.

 

The gravesite of Francis Westson who died in 1876 aged two days. His parents lived in the timber workers settlement at Bickley.

 

The steps down to the New Victoria Dam.

 

The original dam was built in 1891 and pumped water via pipelines to Kings Park and a reservoir there on Mount Eliza. The dam became the first permanent water source for Perth and was operated by the private City of Perth Waterworks Company. As the water catchment area took in agricultural land and timber settlements there were fears that it would be polluted by raw sewage and excrement from livestock. Between 1895 and 1900 typhoid broke out in Perth and 425 people died. The water was tested and found to be contaminated so the government took control and made changes to prevent re-occurrence. By 1988 the concrete structure was beginning to degrade to such an extent it could no longer be repaired so in 1990 work on the new dam commenced and because of the use of roller compacted concrete it was completed by the following year. It can hold 9.5 million kilo-litres and is used to supply drinking water to Kalamunda and Lesmurdie. 

 

The wall of the old Victoria dam and the garden beside it.

 

In the lee of the old dam there is a grassed picnic area and toilets. Thickets of ti-tree and one-sided bottlebrush or claw flower have been planted and the thick vegetation along the creek line provides dense cover for a number of bird species. On this trip I used the picnic gazebo as an impromptu bird hide and spent a couple of hours watching the various birds feed and drink. I saw  red-eared firetails, mistletoe birds, splendid fairy wrens, western spinebills, new holland honeyeaters, white faced herons and rosellas. The dam spillway feeds water to the pond and creek that provides a year round water supply which means that the birds are always active all here. If you are there at dawn or dusk then kangaroos can be seen feeding on the grass. It is a great little spot and doesn’t require too much effort to get there.

 

Red-eared Firetail (Stagonopleura oculata), New Victoria Dam, Korung National Park, Western Australia.

 

White Faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae), New Victoria Dam, Korung National Park, Western Australia.