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.
Right that’s me done I’m off to try and bake a lumberjack cake.
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 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.
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 sawred-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.
Anastasis – from Ancient Greek ἀνάστασις (anástasis, “resurrection”).
A funny name for a blog post about Lake Seppings in Albany, Western Australia, but it does describe what happened.
Way back in the Nyittiny (creation times) the spirit Djrat walked on the earth and created south coast of Western Australia and as he walked he left a footprint which filled with water and created a freshwater lake 1.1 Km long and 400m wide. The Minang group of the Nyoongar called this place Tjuirtgellong or “place of the long necked turtle” which was an important food source for them in the summer months. The lake was surrounded by a variety of vegetation. Fringing the lake are bullrushes, sedges, and reeds reeds. Further back were Western Australian peppermint trees, spearwoods, paperbarks, native willows, wattles, banksias and melaleuca. All this provided habitatfor over 100 different bird species including Australian white ibis, yellow-billed spoonbil,white-faced heron, blue-billed duck, musk duck, black swan, hoary-headed grebe, Australian pelican, Eurasian coot, spotless crake, masked lapwing, dusky moorhen, purple swamphen and buff-banded rail.
All was fine and dandy until 1790 when the British explorer George Vancouver arrived. While he was mapping King George Sound he didn’t see any Minang but saw plenty of evidence that they were around and he later wrote that he found a ‘native village; fresh food remains near a well-constructed hut; a kangaroo that had apparently been killed with a blow to the head; a fish weir across what is now called the Kalgan River; and what appeared to be systematic firing of the land.’ (R. Appleyard. ‘ Vancouver’s Discovery and Exploration of King George’s Sound’ in Early Days, Journal and Proceedings of the Western Australian Historical Society, 1986, pp.86-97). That was the start of colonial settlement. As far as the lake is concerned well initially the settlers tried to do the right thing and in 1887 the Albany Municipal Council applied to the state government for permission to make the Lake and some of its surrounding bushland a botanical park. This lasted up until 1900 when it became a rubbish dump for the city of Albany. This sad state continued until 1972 when it was decided by the department of fisheries and fauna to turn the lake into a water fowl reserve.Very quickly the community got on board with initially a bird-walk being established by the Apex club of Albany in 1980. By 2004 a walk around the lake had been completed and the lake was given protected status. In 2018 there was a ‘community planting’ of some 22,000 trees and understory plants to provide a ‘biodiversity corridor’ and habitat for endangered wildlife such as the western ring tailed possum.
Every time we go to Albany I always visit Lake Seppings. I love walking around the edge of the lake and observing all the wildlife. I see it in many ways as a beacon of hope. The local community came together and have made a serious and worthwhile attempt to restore the lake to what it once was it still has a long way to go before it reaches its former status but it is a very good start. For the Nyoongar I hope that the recent claim for compensation for the loss of their traditional lands succeeds and can bring them some way of moving forward.
I’ve got to say of the bird types raptors, or birds of prey, are my favourite. The way they hover above the landscape looking for prey or ride the thermals brings a quickening to my heart. Probably a corny thing to say but I really enthralled by their power and majesty – they are the epitome of an apex predator. It’s not just the large raptors like wedge tailed eagles that do this but the smaller species such as falcons and kites as well. I’m lucky that where I live I often see birds of prey hunting and I’ve shared some photos on the blog of collared sparrowhawks, nankeen kestrels, and brown goshawks over the years.
When we started making plans to spend Christmas in Albany I was excited because it would mean that I’d be able to photograph Eastern Ospreys at a nest site near where we staying. So when we set out I made sure I had the necessary kit to take advantage of the opportunity. I spent a very happy Christmas Day filming these wonderful animals.
Walking down by the Avon this morning there was a lot of commotion. A steady “prrrp-prrrp” sound followed by a flash of bright colour. Scanning the trees I found what I was looking for in the branches of a big old dead gum tree. A male rainbow bee eater bashing a large insect on the branch till it was dead so it could take it to its young brood. On further inspection I noticed that there was a holding pattern going on with mum and dad taking it in turns to take food to their ever demanding young.
A further shufti and I find the burrow and settle myself in to watch the parents fly in the food supplies. It was non stop, no let up at all. First off we see dad make a trip.
As soon as he is clear it’s mum turn.
All pictures taken with a Panasonic Lumix G85 with Panasonic Leica Vario Elmar 100-400mm f4-6.3 lens.
Below is a short video clip containing footage of the birds and some more stills.
The last few mornings dog walks have been spiced up by some very territorial brown goshawks. As we walk along the river and then down onto the river bed we can hear them calling and chattering. It then goes quiet for a second or so and then there is a loud whoosh as you are buzzed from behind. As the bird passes overhead you can feel the air current generated by its wings. At first I thought the birds were objecting to the dog but I and this pattern persisted for about a week. But then something happened that disabused me of that notion – my hat suddenly became the victim of a bird of prey. The last time it happened they managed to knock it off my head. I’m beginning to think my bicycle helmet may be more appropriate headwear.
I find it hard to do the Christmas thing – firstly because now the decorations and the food appears so early (our local supermarket started at the end of September), and secondly because it is generally so hot here. Lately its been unseasonably hot here for the last ten days or so with temperatures hitting 40º C. Santa and his reindeer would just melt into a large red and white puddle. So when I went to get the car serviced the other day I went for a wander around Perth CBD and noticed that the City of Perth Council had been going around putting up the Chrimbo decorations. It seems that they’ve chosen a gold theme this year, not surprising really given that Western Australia produces 6% of the worlds production with 195 tonnes per annum, or 6.27 million troy ounces, or roughly $10 Billion AUD.There were some of the old favourites such as the Murray Street Mall Christmas Tree and the Santa’s Grotto but I wasn’t sure what was going on at the Perth Cultural Centre with the Christmas Tentacles of Doom, but hey it was colourful.
The video is the short version of this article with a slide show of the best of this year’s orchids at the end.
It’s not for nothing that Western Australia is referred to as the “Wildflower State”. There are over 13,000 species of plant to be found, with new discoveries added every year. If we narrow it down to my particular area of interest – orchids – there are 394 species of terrestrial orchids in the South West Corner of the state. Some of these species are so specialised that are confined to very small areas and found nowhere else. Some species will not bloom unless there has been a bush fire the summer before, others if the winter rains are delayed or are insufficient will not put a show on either. This means that no two years are the same. An example of this is my favourite spot near where I live is prolific with the number of orchid species found there. When I first went I was simply amazed by the number of fringed mantis and white spider orchids that were flowering. Over the ensuing ten years I’ve seen such a display of those species since. This year there was a carpet of purple and pink enamels like I’ve never seen before. So this not knowing quite what you are going to find adds to the whole experience. On a few occasions I may be lucky enough to be able to access the flowers by car and a short walk, but most of the time I end up walking through the bush for anything up to four hours.
I approach photographing orchids as I would shooting a person’s portrait – using off camera flash and reflectors to fill shadows, separate from the background, bring out the shape and textures. Too many botanic studies show indistinct photos where the subject does not fill the frame and the background is intrusive. To that end I use a macro lens of around 100 -120mm (35mm equivalent). It’s not because I’m necessarily shooting at a 1:1 ratio, it’s just because I’ve found there are very few zoom lens that focus close enough and have a fast aperture to allow control of depth of field.I used to use a Canon DSLR with a Canon EF 100mm f2.8 IS L lens and carry around a Manfrotto 143 Magic Arm Kit to support the lights. I made a video about using that setup some 7 years ago and that can be seen just below. Since making that video I added a full frame 6d, the Canon macro lens, and extra light and a set of TTL wireless flash triggers and consequently found myself schlepping 10-12Kg of kit into the bush on longer and longer forays. Something had to give – and my back did! So fast forward 7 years and I’m now using an Olympus OMD EM1 mk ii with Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro lens. I’ve not given anything up in terms of image quality with this change because I’m generally working at a base ISO of 200 with lighting which means all the usual objections to m4/3 about excessive noise and poor dynamic range have been taken out of the equation. The Olympus 60mm f2.8 is easily the optical equal of Canon’s EF 100mm f2.8 IS macro L lens at less than 1/2 the price and about 1/3 of the weight. The Manfrotto Magic Arm got binned as it was very heavy at 2.7 Kg and replaced with a Manfrotto Table Top Tripod Kit 209, 492 Long which weighs 454g. As far as lighting goes I’m using a Metz 64AF – 1 and an Olympus FL-600R flash with small soft box, snoot and honeycomb grid. The only thing that I have given up is radio TTL triggers for the flash, I’m using a TTL flash sync cable at the moment. I prefer to use the Metz unit when doing a lot of high speed sync work as it is the more powerful of the two. This may change in the New Year, it may not.
Other things in the bag include an 80cm 5 in 1 reflector – I only use the white reflector as the silver is too strong, the gold too garish. Some times I use the diffuser over a plant to cut down on ambient light levels. A Vittorinox CyberTool L is there. It has a good selection of small screwdriver bits that can most screws on a camera body, a set of pliers, wood saw, metal saw and file and a host of other doodads. I once re-assembled my Voigtländer 35mm f2.5 Color-Skopar with it while in on holiday in Beijing. Water – this can be in a 1L bottle for shorter expeditions or a 3L water bladder for longer ones. Extra clothing if needed, sunscreen and insect repellent to avoid nasty encounters. Batteries for camera and flash. Wallet of memory cards. That’s it. The whole process is very simple.
We have at present three bob tailed lizards (Tiliqua rugosa) living in the back garden. There’s Big Bob – he’s big male who must be very old judging from the size of him. He’s been here the longest and when he got sick with bobtail lizard flu one winter a couple of years ago we had him inside the house to help him get over it and then tucked him up under a pile of leaves for the remainder of the winter. Just a couple of weeks ago I heard this thrashing about under the sofa on our back patio and when I went and looked it was Big Bob mating with a smaller sleeker female who I called Mrs Bob (hey I can’t be stunningly original all the time!). They are unlike other lizards monogamous and give birth to live young so we’re looking forward to the new arrivals. Little Bob made an appearance on the patio this morning, he’s significantly smaller than the other two so I guess he’s not very old. They are omnivores and very partial to fruit – strawberries being a favourite – so I sliced up a cherry tomato and he/she scoffed the lot very quickly. As they also eat snails and insects I’m hoping that having three of them will mean that they keep the garden pests down. There’s also a bit of an old wives tale that says if you have one in your garden it’ll keep snakes away. I dunno if it’s actually true or not, but having three has got to be good.