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.
This week I read two articles that really made me stop and think not only about the looming climate crisis but my photography and what purpose it serves.
Whether you believe in climate change or not, as Bob Dylan once sang “The Times Are A Changin’”. The first article I’ll reference was by the celebrated Australian author Richard Flanagan and he speaks of the joy he receives from observing birds around his home on Brunny Island in Tasmania. He also expresses the sorrow that the birds bring because of their diminishing numbers. For one reason or another bird populations are declining rapidlyand it’s not just in Tasmania, it is a global phenomena. In Perth, the capital of the state in which I live, the Swan Estuary is a highly important nesting and breeding site for migratory birds such as plovers, sandpipers, knots, stints, and curlews that travel from Siberia and North Asia. In the 1980’s it was estimated that 36 species and more than two million birds came to Australia each summer. The number of migrating waders on the Swan Estuary was around the ten thousand mark, but, by 2000 there were fewer than five hundred. The causes for this alarming decline are many and include feral foxes and cats preying on the birds, domestic dogs being walked through nesting sites, prawning parties , people digging on the mudflats for fishing bait. Here in York we had a sizeable colony of Rainbow Bee Eaters that migrate here from New Guinea and the tropical north of Australia to avoid the wet season there. They dig their burrows in banks above the Avon River and breed. Last summer the Shire of York Council put in gravel roads along the riverside to allow access for emergency vehicles. In the process of doing that they bulldozed the nesting sites killing the adults and the young they were rearing and then permanently destroyed the site by covering the area with rocks to make a retaining wall. It wasn’t malicious, it was pure ignorance as the council has no environmental protection policy and had not done any form of survey into the wildlife along the river. They were very apologetic when informed but the damage has been done. There should be a thriving colony of Rainbow Bee Eaters digging burrows and and rearing young at this time of year – I’ve just seen one solitary bird.
The second article was also about Australia’s declining bird population and it talked about the phenomenaof ‘extinction of experience’ which is a phrase first coined by Robert M Pyle. Extinction experience has negative implications for people’s health and well being. The article referenced a research paper that basically says that if people are having less and less opportunities to interact with nature that will create an antipathy towards the natural world and consequently they will cease to care about it. So to get people to be more aware of environmental issues they must be encouraged to reconnect with nature. One of the reasons why I wrote my walking guide, and I articulate this in the introduction, is that I hope that the people who use it will develop a love for and an understanding of the environment.
So what’s all this got to do with photography? Simple really. One of the main ways that I interact with the environment is through photography. It doesn’t matter whether it is close ups of plants, photos of birds or other wild animals or landscapes. It all equates to being out in the environment and experiencing it in a first hand way. Bushwalking, cycling, dog walking all do this as well and I feel so much better for it.
I started this post referencing Bob Dylan and I’d like to end with Cat Stevens or Yusuf Islam as he is now known. In his hit song “Morning Has Broken” the lyricist Eleanor Farjeon talks of the joy of walking through the Sussex village of Alfriston on a fresh morning. She talks of the joys of seeing the dawn, hearing blackbirds singing and experiencing the dew on the grass. Yesterday as I walked the dog along the river we were greeted by a territorial goshawk sitting on the branch of a dead tree. As we passed it swooped us while making plaintive calls. It was a totally sublime experience. Go out. Take pictures, walk, cycle, play. Enjoy the environment and revel in its beauty.
There are quite a number of them along the Avon River here in York. They migrate from Indonesia, New Guinea and northern Australia to avoid the cyclone season and come to breed during our summer. They nest in burrows which they dig and I discovered them quite by chance. While walking the dog I noticed these brightly coloured birds literally nose diving into the ground. At first I thought that the bird must have been hurt and went over to look for it, but I found nothing. Over the next few weeks I watched several others repeat the behaviour so looking carefully at the embankment I found several holes which turned out to be their burrows. So ever since I’ve been trying to photograph them.
So far I’ve only managed to photograph them when they perch. They feed on flying insects and their acrobatic manoeuvring while chasing their prey are beyond my photographic abilities. Luckily I’ve noticed that they tend to favour a particular tree de jour as a lookout and they repeatedly return between sorties so it has just been a case of walking along the river finding that day’s favoured tree and waiting.
Just before Christmas my wife and I decided to mount a mission early one morning to observe them bringing food to the chicks that have hatched. We must have been a strange sight for any passers-by – my wife in her camp chair with binoculars aimed at an earth bank and me loitering in the foliage under a tree with a camera and very long lens. We spent a couple of delightful hours watching and photographing before heading off for morning tea.