Photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson is best known for his 1952 book, ‘The Decisive Moment’. Cartier-Bresson’s photography spanned more than seven decades of street life and political upheaval across the globe. His concept of a decisive moment is one that I believe applies to the lives of wildlife.
This autumn has been very quiet in terms of wildlife encounters. It’s a time of year when the local birds tend to aggregate into mixed species flocks, which means that you tend to see either nothing or lots. I’d managed to avoid all the lots and was starting to get a bit impatient for the arrival of the winter migrants. The autumn quiet changed abruptly with a late afternoon walk along the beach.
The first ‘decisive moment’ came as I reached the point where the beach meets the rock platform at Merries Reef. Scuttling over the sand were a dozen or so small waders. They were a little larger than the Red Necked Stints that frequent the reef, and on close inspection turned out to be a species of migratory wader known as Sanderling. Sanderling prefer long, shallow beaches, and are most common along the southern coasts of Australia. I’d never seen such a large group in Sydney, and suspect that they were simply stopping to feed before resuming their long migration north.
As I neared the flock a dog ran down the beach and put them to flight. They flew a wide arc over the bay before landing on the beach and to the west. This put them in front of the setting sun, the wrong side for a well exposed photograph. I’ve been experimenting with backlighting and high key images as part of my photographic course, and so made the appropriate adjustments and took the shots. A happy result as it turned out.
Double Banded Plover
A couple of moments the later the dog (or one of its friends) managed to chase a flock of Double Banded Plovers into the air. I tracked the plovers as they flew by, and continued to do so as they banked low over the sand and landed.
To the naked eye it looked as though their wing tips were skimming the beach, and sure enough when I reviewed the image there was a tiny ‘v’ where the tip of the wing had brushed the shallow water. Another magic moment.
A flock of Crested Terns were wheeling around over the seaward side of the reef. We found a dry(ish) boulder just above the surge and sat to watch. The strong winds were producing a messy chop, but even so it was obvious that something was going on just beneath the surface. Thin, sleek Sea garfish were erupting from the water. An occasional broader back was also breaking the surface, too large for Australian Salmon and probably Kingfish.
The Kingfish were chasing so vigorously that the garfish were following the waves onto the rock platform in an attempt to escape. The Crested Terns took full advantage of the situation. They didn’t really need to dive, so instead of their normal high plunges they simply hovered and snatched the garfish off the surface.
It never ceases to amaze me how much effort seabirds will put into trying to steal fish from one another. We watching the school of garfish boiling at the surface, yet whenever a term caught one the other terns and Silver Gulls would abandon fishing in favour of a wild chase across the wave tops. The garfish were so large that the birds found it difficult to juggle them into position to swallow. A garfish would often change owner several times before one managed to get far enough ahead of the pack to swallow its’ prize.
None of these instants represented decisive moments in world events or individual lives. Nonetheless, I experienced them as enchanting moments of clarity, fleeting instants where wildlife, their behaviour and environment came into decisive focus. Well worth the wait!
White Bellied Seaeagle
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