Certain species of wildlife seem to attract universal antipathy. Centipedes and hairy spiders I can understand, but what’s the problem with Australian White Ibis? No one factor explains our aversion to ibis, but somewhere between the bald head, curved beak, untidy nests and habit of poking through our garbage many people find themselves as members of the anti-ibis league.
Australian White Ibis are a common shorebird around Sydney. Their long bill and bald head allows them to extract deeply buried invertebrates from mudflats and other wetland habitats. That bill also works well for pulling scraps out of a bin or off the local tip face. Their temperament changes dramatically in different situations, bold around a city garbage bin, but surprisingly timid in their natural foraging habitats amongst the mangroves or along the edge of a freshwater wetland.
The negative views about ibis contrasts markedly to the way people respond to species that share many of their traits. The three white egret species that occur in Sydney are similar in size to ibis and frequent the same wetland habitats. Yet where ibis attract derision the egrets are seen as elegant and even regal. Their slow deliberate stalking over the shallows, pure white plumage, intense gaze and sharp stabbing bill make for an attractive package. Egrets were once hunted for their breeding plumes, much sought after by the fashion industry as hat decorations.
Ibis and egrets both occur on just about every body of water in the Sydney Basin. This week I set myself the challenge of creating an appealing image of an Australian White Ibis. Wildlife photography is always easiest in a ‘target rich environment’, so I headed to Sydney’s biggest concentration of ibis. It is a breeding colony, located near Bankstown in a series of lagoons that run off the Georges River. The ponds contain large islands that provide perfect nesting conditions for ibis.
One way of producing attractive images is to use the golden light at either end of the day. Even a block of concrete can acquire a bit of mystique at sunset. Another strategy that usually works with wildlife is to focus on young animals. I chose the baby animal strategy. Young ibis have a couple of advantages beyond the standard juvenile drawcards of large eyes and a dopey expressions. They don’t have the completely bald head of the adults and are generally much whiter, not having acquired the discolouration that comes from feeding in mud and dirt.
I’m not sure that any of the shots meet the brief. Maybe combining juveniles and golden light might get closer to the mark.
A brief visit to Lake Illawarra featured the other end of the wildlife appeal spectrum, a trio of Little Egrets hunting along the lake edge. Little Egrets sport a pair of plumes from the back of their heads and well as a dense filigree of plumes over their backs.
Little Egrets have the most active hunting style of all the egrets, patient stalking bursting into a run through the shallows before bouncing up and flying to get ahead of their prey. This frantic activity keeps the plumes in a constant swirling around their heads and backs. An enchanting sight, and one easily captured with the camera.
Species of wildlife that don’t manage to hit the appeal button, including ibis, have every bit as much value as any other living creature. However it is equally true that some species do a far better job of charming us than ibis are ever likely to manage!
Odds and sods
This week’s odds and sods images were captured on a 38 degree day in Western Sydney. I figured that the smart wildlife would be hanging around water, and so the images are either from Pitt Town Lagoon or taken in the relative cool of a heavily incised creek at Scheyville.