York and its surroundings have have taken on a definite yellow tinge of late. This is mainly due to the canola crops in the fields but soursob and yellow daisies are also to blame. It’s not a warm and inviting yellow but rather a green tinged acidic looking yellow. Nevertheless it sends the tourists wild and as you drive round you can see countless people standing in canola fields having their picture taken or taking a selfie even though many of the fields have signs up asking people not to. I don’t know when this became a trend – I can’t remember people doing this when I grew up in Kent and Sussex. Mind you back then it wasn’t canola it was oil seed rape. I think it’s probably got something to do with mobile phones and Instagram, but as somebody who has only just started an Instagram account I can’t be too certain of that so don’t quote me.
Oh did I mention I’ve now joined the 21st Century and got an Instagram account? I’m not really au fait with it yet. That’s probably because I don’t really like messing about with images on my phone – I’d rather do it my computer but Instagram won’t let you upload from a computer. If anyone knows of a way to load photos to instagram from a desktop please let me know.
The other night I had trouble getting off to sleep so I had a look at Australia’s National Broadcaster’s – the ABC – catch up TV service on the internet which is called iView. I was looking for something not too exciting, that would be soothing and comfortable. So I was trawling through the arts documentaries and I found a program called the Repair Shop and the one particular episode that appealed featured the restoration of a 1930’s portrait of Shihan Yukio Tani who is the man largely credited with introducing and establishing Japanese martial arts in England so I tuned in to watch. The history of the painting and its restoration was vaguely interesting but it was the location of the filming that was particularly engrossing. It was filmed at one of my favourite places – The Weald and Downland Museum in Singleton, West Sussex, England. The museum is comprised of a collection of fifty vernacular buildings from the south-east of England that were built between 950AD and the 19th century, along with gardens, farm animals, walks and a mill pond. I was last there in 1991 and so the the TV program was a huge nostalgia trip for me.
As a consequence I started thinking about the museum, the village it is based in and when I worked there in 1981. The next morning I scuttled off to look at my photo archive and find some pictures that I took on my last visit. It was really nice to revisit through those photos, it was almost like reliving the past. Gerry Badger the photographic curator and critic in his 2007 book “The Genius of Photography – how photography has changed our lives” said that there were “basically three photographic subjects – people, things and places” (page 131). So obviously my photos of the museum fall into the places category. However Badger goes onto quote from the American landscape photographer Robert Adams who said:
“Landscapes can offer us, I think, three verities – geography, autobiography and metaphor. Geography is, if taken alone, sometimes boring, autobiography is frequently trivial, and metaphor can be dubious. But taken together … the three kinds of representation strengthen each other and reinforce what we all work to keep intact – an affection for life” Robert Adams (p 154, Badger, G: 2007, The Genius of Photography)
The geography is simple the museum is located in Singleton which I’ve always regarded as the quintessential Sussex village. Well it was until the mega rich started buying rows of cottages and knocking them into one large house only then not to live in them but visit once in a blue moon. The village is roughly seven miles north of Chichester, the town where I lived from age 10 to 23, on the South Downs. The autobiography is that I went to work at the museum as a summer job in 1981 with my then girlfriend. She worked in the tearooms and I was a general dogsbody. It is the job I’ve enjoyed the most out of all the jobs I have done and I really enjoyed working with the people there. The dubious metaphor I suppose is that the museum presents an idealised view of what the ideal English village should be like – quaint old buildings nestled among bucolic rolling green hills inhabited by happy people. But all that doesn’t matter in many ways because to me it was and is a special place and the fact that 57 year old self still appreciates it as much as my 18 year old self is important.
Now it is fair to say that Australia is home to some pretty strange animals. One only has to look at the Platypus, the echidna and even the humble kangaroo. To my mind one of the strangest is the musk duck (Biziura lobata). They can be found on fresh water lakes in the southwest corner of Western Australia.
What makes them so strange? Well to start with they don’t quack like a duck. They emit a sound that is more akin to a demented sonar. They are rarely seen on land and are reluctant fliers. On the water they float very low in the water often giving the impression that just their head is above the waterline. They are prolific underwater swimmers staying under for as long as a minute and diving up to a depth of 6m and demonstrate incredible agility as they do so. In appearance they are a very dark grey to black, have a stiff tail and broad heavy bill. The males are considerably larger than the females and weigh over 3Kg while the females can weigh up to 1.5 Kg. This makes them the second heaviest diving duck in the world. The males also have a strange leathery lobe under the bill, and in the breeding season they have a very strong musk odour hence the name. The courting behaviour of the males is quite striking – they strike the surface of the water with their feet then immediately after make a couple of clucking sounds followed by a lot of whistles and a grunt. This is repeated very five seconds or so for as long as half an hour. The first time I encountered this was at Lake Seppings in Albany. I heard these odd splashes and weird sounds repeatedly coming from just beyond the reed beds but couldn’t see what was causing the commotion. As I continued walking the reeds parted sufficiently and with the help of standing on a nearby bench I was able to see what was going on. It really is quite a performance and once seen never forgotten. In Perth Musk Ducks can be seen on both lakes in the Yellagonga Regional Park and Herdsman Lake. Hard to see at first so listen for the strange noise and you’ll soon find them.
They are not hunted as they are not considered nice enough to eat and the only thing that threatens their status is the clearing and draining of wetlands.
That destination is Bold Park which is quite a unique place in the Perth Metropolitan Area. The park was established in 1936 and named after some bloke who had put in lots of time in the City of Perth local government – which is all a bitboring. Much more interesting is that it is 437 hectares of remnant bushland on the Swan Coastal Plain comprised of banksia and tuart woodland. Tuart forest (Eucalyptus gomphocephala) was once a major feature of the Swan Coastal Plain with trees of up to 40m in height and providing a unique ecosystem. On colonisation most of the tuart trees were cleared for farming and for it valuable timber which is dense, hard, water resistant and resists splintering. The last remaining tall tuarts are found in the Tuart Forest National Park. There a couple of remnants of smaller trees around the Perth Metro Area such as those found at Mindarie Dunes and Bold Park. The park is situated in City Beach just off Oceanic Drive and can be reached by public transport.To say that the park is popular is an understatement, I went on a Saturday morning and it was absolutely heaving – so this is not a wilderness experience, but an urban walk on the wild side.
Speaking of walking there are over 15Km of walking trails of varying distances – the longest one, which I just did, is the Zamia Trail which is 5.1Km long over rolling terrain on a crushed limestone base which means you can comfortably push a stroller or pusher. If you are going to do the walk I suggest parking at Reabold Hill car park. This is a good place to commence the trail, but also it enables you to make a side trip unto the summit of the hill where there is a viewing platform. This is the highest natural point on the Swan Coastal Plain at 85 metres above sea level. This means on a nice clear day you can see the Indian Ocean, Perth CBD, Rottnest Island, Kings Park, and the Swan River. While pedestrians and cyclists can access the park at all times vehicular access is limited as follows:
1 April to 31 October – 5.30 am to 7.00 pm
1 November to 31 March – 5.30 am to 8.00 pm.
The trail is well sign posted so there is no need of a mud-map which means you can just get out and enjoy it. I walked this in winter so there weren’t many flowers out – a few banksias, grevilleas and cockies tongue. I was more interested in the bird life and the Botanic Gardens and Park Authority put out an excellent brochure you can download detailing all 91 species that can be found. There are numerous other animals such as brush-tail possums, bats, loads of reptiles including snakes of varying descriptions. Considering how many people were about I was surprised at how many different species of birds I saw. I even literally stumbled over a very sleepy and grumpy bob tailed lizard (Tiliqua rugosa), trying to warm up on the path in the sun having woken up from brumation.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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?
As a fledgling photographer many years ago I used to look at copies of National Geographic and daydream about one day being a one of their photographers. Many years later that still hasn’t happened, but I have managed Australian Geographic. I happy to announce the launch of Australia’s Best 100 Walks published by Australian Geographic for which I was a contributing photographer, writer and researcher. It is available fro good bookshops such as Boffins Books for a smidge under $40 AUD.
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.