A year after starting this website a little reflection is unavoidable. Looking back over the topics and images in the last 67 posts I’m delighted that most have been about common species of Sydney wildlife. My objective was always to show that there is a lot of remarkable in the ordinary, and hopefully this collection goes somewhere towards making that argument. I know that many people don’t have the time to wander around the bush as often as I do or the training to go scuba diving, but the truth is that there is nothing in these pages that just about any able body could encounter.
There is another reason why the last week prompted thoughts of reflections. The highlight of my Easter break was a photography session that only lasted about 15 minutes. I’d stopped at a favourite site on Lake Illawarra, arriving at one of those wonderful moments when calm combines with light of just the right intensity and direction to turn the water into a mirror. They are conditions that rarely last long, but if the wildlife chooses to play in these conditions the results can be magic. Sometimes its all about the twinned shapes and forms, especially when it’s hard to tell the original from the reflected. My very favourite conditions are when the surface literally disappears from sight, isolating your subject suspended in the glowing light.
The first wildlife I spotted was a group of Royal Spoonbills. The slightest puff of breeze was playing over the water, creating a shimmer in the reflected forms. Soon enough the breeze disappeared, leaving perfect reflections of a complex tangle of legs and bills. The best moment was when two of the spoonbills stopped feeding for a moment’s mutual preening, broad bills caressing one another’s necks.
Two Little Egrets strode past in pursuit of the small fish that dominate their diet. I followed them along the shore. The larger species of egret, Intermediate and Great, both stalk their prey in slow motion, right up to the point their long bills dart forward with blinding speed. Little Egrets are much more energetic, running, prancing and leaping into the air in the chase. Cranking the shutter speed up to a thousandth of a second captured the droplets of water as they ran about, helping to give a sense of their movement and drama.
As I followed the egrets the mirror shifted from the golden tones of reflected cloud to the sapphire of sky. The egrets were a little further away and so I concentrated on their hunting technique.
A few days earlier I’d taken an unproductive late afternoon walk out of the coast of Royal National Park. The only place where there was any activity was around a small pool of freshwater on an exposed rock shelf. Sitting a few metres away I was treated to a passing parade of woodland birds, starting with a flock of Red Browed Finches, then Brown Thornbills and White Browed Scrubwrens. The pool was even visited by an Eastern Whipbird, which are normally very wary of humans. All of the birds landed on the far side of the pond, keeping the water between them and the hulking (and excessively sweaty) human. The result was more mirror images.
I finished the break with a couple of days in Goulburn River National Park. In the late afternoon I found a group of Short Necked Turtles basking on a sunny rock in the middle of the river. Short Necked Turtles are much more dependent on permanent water than the more common Long Necked Turtles, the species that walks across fields to colonise farm dams. It was great to see so many in one spot, their varying sizes suggesting several successful breeding seasons.
My trip to Merriwa delivered another memorable wildlife moment. Walking along the rough dirt road I could hear the grating call of a young cockatoo. I crept closer but couldn’t see anything in the trees above. Suddenly red and black forms erupted from a low shrub a couple of metres away, a trio of Glossy Black Cockatoos.
Glossy Black Cockatoos have the most specialised diet of all cockatoos. They eat the seeds in casuarina cones, nothing else. Some species of casuarinas are tall trees, however the most abundant is the forest oak, a spindly shrub that rarely gets beyond a few metres in height. The three cockatoos flew up to a tall ironbark for a couple of minutes, then descended a hundred metres away. Normally this would be enough to make them very difficult to find. Not so with that whiny youngster. It acted as an aural lighthouse, allowing me to creep through the thick vegetation to within a few metres of the feeding adults.
Watching Glossy Black Cockatoos feeding is a lesson in the relationship between anatomy and technique. The lower bill provides a broad and stable platform which holds the cone steady as the upper bill and tongue spin it to lever the out the seeds. It’s hard to believe that such a large bird subsists on seeds a couple of millimetres in length.
Photographing this species can be a bit frustrating, as they are either flying away or sitting amongst a dense tangle of branches. It is one of those times that you have to override the autofocus, otherwise all you’ll have is sharp sticks and blurry birds.
After a while the youngster decided to join its parents, landing near the base of the tree and climbing up towards the male. The adult screeched, spread its wings wide and upended with beak gaping to express its displeasure. For just an instant they formed an imperfect reflection, then the youngster fell back with a flurry and flew away to watch and whine.
Odds and sods