Georgina Steytler: Blog http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog en-us (C) Georgina Steytler wild&endangered@gmail.com (Georgina Steytler) Fri, 04 May 2018 05:40:00 GMT Fri, 04 May 2018 05:40:00 GMT http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/img/s/v-5/u220282804-o393254504-50.jpg Georgina Steytler: Blog http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog 80 120 Why and How to enter Photo Competitions http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog/2017/7/why-and-how-to-enter-photo-competitions The following is an article that was published in the Australian BirdLife magazine, Vol 6 No. 2 June 2017. 

 

I know that feeling. You are staring at photos on your computer screen and you have no idea if you should even enter the competition, let alone which photos to enter. You could turn to your better half for guidance, but you already know what they will say and, anyway, you suspect they are biased. 

So why enter photo competitions? Of course, we would all like to win the 'big' one, but let's assume you won't. The best reason to enter is because you want to be a better bird photographer. Just going through the selection process, outlined below, will improve your images (even if you don't enter them) by forcing you to be your own judge.

If you do enter and none of your images are short-listed, don't let it get you down. No-one pops out of the womb taking award-winning photos. Never give up. In the words of Samuel Beckett, "Fail, fail again. Fail Better."

So you are ready to put your top images to the test, now you have to decide which of them to enter? The best advice that I have read on photo competitions was to 'put yourself in the position of the judges'. It's time to pack away all your prejudices, delete your pet 'faves' and bring to the desk a heady dose of objectivity. It aint easy and yes, there will always be an element of the judges' subjectivity that can't be predicted, but there are some basic steps that will help you along the way.

First things first, READ THE RULES. Re-read them until you can recite them in your sleep.  Is there a time limit? What are the image size requirements? Is there any geographical limitation? Does my photo really match the theme?

Secondly, is the image sharp? A great composition may get you through the first round of judging, but if the judges have to make a choice between two good images, the sharp image will (almost) always win.

Thirdly, have I calibrated my monitor? I recently judged a nature photo competition and many good photos were let down by bad lighting. If your monitor is over bright, your images may appear underexposed on a different monitor. If in doubt, err on the bright side.

Fourthly, ask yourself: How does my photo stand out? You may have a tack-sharp photo of a red-capped robin on a pretty branch with a perfectly clear background. You like it, but ask yourself how many times have you seen such a photo? Do a Google search and check out the 'Images' pages. What makes your red-capped robin so special? Is it an interesting composition? Does it have, for instance, a yellow petal in its beak? A dragonfly tap-dancing on its head? Does the image tell a story? Assume the judges will see a hundred images of red-capped robins (or other pretty birds on branches). What sets my photo apart from the other 99?

Browse through the previous winners of similar competitions. Get a feel for what kinds of images are selected. Do the images inspire you and if so, why?

Fifthly, get a second opinion. Send your images to a few different people (not only bird photographers). Ask them to select which images they like the best and which they like the least. You will find that whilst opinions vary, there will be some commonalities. If an image turns up at the bottom of everyone's list, delete it. Correspondingly, if an image consistently appear at the top - mark it down as a definite. Seek sound criticism and take it on the chin.

Now it's time for the final test. Leave your images for a few days. Then, on a quiet evening, arrange your 'potentials' into a slideshow. Turn off all the lights. Grab a pen, munchies and some paper. Click play.

Be the judge.

 

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wild&endangered@gmail.com (Georgina Steytler) competition competitions enter nature photo photography why http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog/2017/7/why-and-how-to-enter-photo-competitions Fri, 21 Jul 2017 16:08:25 GMT
Lazy Days in Broome, Western Australia and the Broome Bird Observatory http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog/2017/6/lazy-days-in-broome-western-australia Another beautiful day passes in Broome. As the town bus returns pearl laden tourists to their respective holiday roosts, the tide recedes on Cable Beach to the collective chink of frosted wine glasses and another unforgettable sunset.

Yet there is more to this idyllic destination than beach towels, bathers and balmy evenings. To be in the heart of the Aussie outback and never see the rusty red coastal cliffs and mangrove tidal beaches, walk among Pindan woodland or bump your way along a corrugated dusty dirt road is akin to bypassing Paris on a grand ‘Tour de France’. As I lay peacefully by the poolside, I had a growing feeling that I could not call myself a ‘real’ West Aussie until I had also dipped my toes in that Australia of Crocodile Dundee fame.

Living up to my self-imposed ‘real Aussie adventurer’ image appeared as simple as casting aside the flip-flops and sarong, and calling a local car rental company.  One hour later, I was proudly cruising along Broome’s frangipani scented streets in my rented 4-wheel drive.

Excited by the prospect of freedom to travel beyond the boab'ed borders of town, I mapped out a rough itinerary for the next day.  Whilst my significant other was ensconced in a meeting among palm fronds and lily ponds, I would be 4-wheel driving down outback roads, trekking through wild spinifex grasses and wading along crocodile infested shorelines. Well, almost…

I booked a Shorebirds tour at the Broome Bird Observatory (BBO), estimated time of departure…. 0830 hours.  For a nature lover, a day of trying to identify a curious bird in the poolside palm did not compare to visiting what is regarded as one of the top four sites in the world, and the best site in Australia, for viewing shorebirds. Greater Sand Plover, Charadrius leschenaultii - (Broome, WA)Greater Sand Plover, Charadrius leschenaultii - (Broome, WA)

BBO is located 25 kms from Broome, at the end of Crabb Creek road in Roebuck Bay.  The turn off to Crabb Creek road is about 9kms east of Broome. "You can't miss it", were the famous last, cheerful, words of the BBO staffer over the phone.

Early the next day, and 20 kms down the highway later, I realised that I may have become the first person ever to miss the only turn off to the right for a long way. Thanks to a dose of adrenalin for adventure, I was up early enough to find a take away flat white coffee (thanks to Blooms café), buy plasters for my feet (just in case), get lost and still make it to the BBO with enough time to collect the binoculars. Outback road, Broome, WAOutback road, Broome, WA

BBO was established in 1988 as a research and education facility by Birds Australia ("Australia's peak scientific and recreational birding organisation"). Roebuck Bay is said to have more than 800,000 birds visit annually. Terek sandpiper, Xenus cinereus (Roebuck Bay, Broome, WA)Terek sandpiper, Xenus cinereus (Roebuck Bay, Broome, WA)

We jumped into the BBO van with our guide, Pete Collins, who was armed with a sense of humour, as well as an impressive pair of telescopes. Over the next two and a half hours we visited different spots on the nearby shoreline, such as Wader Beach and Richard's Point, characterised by striking red rocks, ochre mudflats and opaque waters.  Whilst we had missed the peak migration period, which is from late March to early April, we still saw hundreds of birds resting on the beach or doing a routine fly-past, including black-winged stilts, gull-billed terns, bar-tailed godwits and great knots.  Pete proved experienced, knowledgeable and ready to answer any question about the birds and their incredible annual journey. Broome Bird Observatory, Roebuck Bay, WABroome Bird Observatory, Roebuck Bay, WA

In these days of global warming fears, the work done by Pete and volunteers at the BBO will undoubtedly prove invaluable in helping us to understand the real effect of a changing climate on the world around us. If you want to support the BBO in its activities and become a FOBBO (friends of the BBO), you can send an email to bbo@birdsaustralia.com.au or phone on +61 (8) 9193 5600.  Roebuck Bay Migratory Waders (Broome, WA)Roebuck Bay Migratory Waders (Broome, WA)

Following the tour I negotiated more bumpy roads to Willie Creek Pearl Farm, stopping every now and then to watch the whistling kites perched on trees by the roadside or to take a short walk through the bush that reads like a scene from a Tim Winton novel.  'Pindan', the Aboriginal name given to this dry grassland with scattered wattle and eucalypt trees, dominates and characterises the West Kimberley.

In addition to a large selection of cultured pearls, Willie Creek Pearl Farm also has a great tour offering information about pearl farming, a beautiful waterfront location with cobalt waters and white sandy beaches and, according to the prominent warning signs, the occasional crocodile.

I decided to end my adventures at a place closer to town. Gantheaume Point, or 'Minyirr' as the Aboriginal people know it, is a sacred and spiritual area known for its protection and healing properties, according to a welcome message from the Rubibi Aboriginal Land, Heritage and Development Council. It is easy to see why. At sunset the striking layered rocks, shaped by the wind and time, glow in varying shades of orange and red against the steel blue waters of the ocean.

It is also a place of significant prehistoric interest. Incredibly, the Broome coastline is home to nine different types of dinosaur footprints, including sauropod (a dinosaur which reached up to 30 metres in length) footprints and stegosaur hand and footprints. Theropod (bipedal dinosaurs) tracks are said to be visible at Minyirr, though easily missed and invariably covered by the high tide. Gantheaume Point, Broome, WAGantheaume Point, Broome, WA

It is a magical place to end a day of Aussie adventure. Despite the promise of rough and rugged outback roads, I didn't actually need the 4-wheel drive mode. I did, however, travel 150 kms through the pindan, negotiate (potentially) crocodile infested swamps, twitch with the best and watch the sun setting from a rocky vantage point once walked by dinosaurs. For the moment I had appeased the 'inner Aussie', though admittedly in a style that may be more reminiscent of Russell Coight than Crocodile Dundee. Sunset, BroomeSunset, Broome

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wild&endangered@gmail.com (Georgina Steytler) Australia Australian Broome Broome Bird Observatory Roebuck Bay Terek Sandpiper Western Australia animals birding birds native nature photography top travel waders wildlife http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog/2017/6/lazy-days-in-broome-western-australia Tue, 13 Jun 2017 02:07:54 GMT
Top Three Tips for Photographing Waders http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog/2016/8/top-three-tips-for-photographing-waders My Top Three Tips for Photographing Waders

 

No 1: Get as Low as your crook knees and hips will let you go (and be able to get up again).

 

Waders spend 99% of their time foraging for food at water level. Bringing yourself to the eye level of the bird instantly makes the image more appealing to the viewer.

 

It also has advantages: you don't need a tripod (I rest my camera and lens under my hand which rests on the ground - usually in mud/sand); you can stay in one position for a long time - you can even take a nap if you want to; it throws the background out of focus as the focal plane narrows to cover just the bird - this is what gives photos such as the Bar-tailed Godwit (below) good 'bokeh'*; and lastly, but perhaps most importantly, it makes you appear less threatening to the bird. I have had situations where birds, such as Bar-tailed Godwits, Great Knots and Red-necked Stints have come so close that my lens wouldn't focus.

 

Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) Mandurah, WABar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica) Mandurah, WA

No 2: Do not approach them directly.

 

I try to pick a place where these kinds of birds are often found (see locations of photos submitted by members for possible locations near you). Once I see some birds I would like to photograph, I observe in what direction they are generally feeding. I then walk in a large arc around the birds and to a position some distance away, but in the direction I think they are heading. I lie down and hope they come closer. If I am still too far away, or would like to be closer, I will crawl (think commando style, but less attractive) closer, but under no circumstance should you stand up again. For every movement closer, you should wait for the birds to get used to your new position before attempting to go further. Only once they all seem settled do I think about moving again.

 

Note: you never want to cause the birds to fly away or interrupt their feeding. If you do this, you have gone too close. Give yourself (and the birds) time. Once I am in position, I will not move again until the birds have left themselves (usually when a raptor flies overhead) or moved on far enough so that I won't disturb them by standing.

 

Great knot, Calidris tenuirostris (Mandurah Estuary, Western Australia)Great knot, Calidris tenuirostris (Mandurah Estuary, Western Australia)

 

No 3: Pick the light

 

There is no doubting that the light of early morning (1-2 hours after sunrise) and sunset (1-2 hours before sundown) is beautiful. Try to position yourself with the light gently warming your back whilst falling softly onto the face of your oncoming bird (which will also give it that nice catch-light in the eye). Honestly, that light makes everything and everyone look better (and younger)!  It also makes images sharper. I don't know why, as I'm not a technical nut, but there is no doubting that the focus system on my lens/camera likes the early light much better than the harsh midday sun. So, make the effort and you will be rewarded (plus most birds are more active at this time anyway).

 

Little Egret, Egretta garzetta (Creery Wetlands, Mandurah, WA)Little Egret, Egretta garzetta (Creery Wetlands, Mandurah, WA)

 

My guarantee**

 

If you follow these three tips, you WILL get better, vote winning images with even the smallest, cheapest and simplest equipment.

 

* Nasim Mansurov of Photographylife defines 'bokeh' as "[T]he quality and feel of the background/foreground blur and reflected points of light".

**  Steak knives not included. 

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wild&endangered@gmail.com (Georgina Steytler) Australian Bar-tailed Egret Godwit Great Knot Little bird birds bokeh how photography photos tips to top waders http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog/2016/8/top-three-tips-for-photographing-waders Mon, 15 Aug 2016 12:18:00 GMT
A morning at Herdsman Lake http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog/2014/7/a-morning-at-herdsman-lake  

Its not a terribly exotic location and you probably wont find any rare or unique bird species, but Herdsman Lake is one of the best places in Perth to get up close and personal with a few fine feathered (mostly waterbird) friends.  As bird photographers, we tend to get carried away needing to find new birds to photograph, and in the process overlook the ones standing right in front of us munching on the grass.

 

I was at the lake for a little over an hour, mostly lying on my stomach to get a low angle or balancing my lens on my knee (not the best policy but helps if you are a bit lazy like me and detest tripods!). I went to the general area where I could see the birds gathering and then waited for them to come to me.  Here's what I came back with. 

 

On the right: Australian Wood Duck (500mm, ISO 400, f7.1, 1/1000)

 

 

 

 

Eastern Great Egret, Ardea modesta (Herdsman Lake, Perth WA)Eastern Great Egret, Ardea modesta (Herdsman Lake, Perth WA)ISO 640, f7.1, 1/640 sec Knee balance

 

Eastern Reef Egret (500mm, ISO 640, f7.1, 1/640) 

 

Purple Swamphen, Porphyrio porphyrio (Herdsman Lake, Perth, WA)Purple Swamphen, Porphyrio porphyrio (Herdsman Lake, Perth, WA)

 

 

 

Purple Swamphen (500mm, ISO 640, f6.3, 1/2000)

 

 

 

 

Willie Wagtail, Rhipidura leucophrys (Herdsman Lake, Perth, WA)Willie Wagtail, Rhipidura leucophrys (Herdsman Lake, Perth, WA)

 

 

 

 

 

            

 

  Willie Wagtail (500mm, ISO 640, f6.3, 1/2000)

 

 

 

 

Pacific Black Duck, Anas superciliosa (Herdsman Lake, Perth, WA)Pacific Black Duck, Anas superciliosa (Herdsman Lake, Perth, WA)

 

 

 

 

 

Pacific Black Duck (500mm, ISO1250, f6.3, 1/500)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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wild&endangered@gmail.com (Georgina Steytler) Australia Australian Eastern Pacific Reef Wood birding black duck egret wagtail willie http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog/2014/7/a-morning-at-herdsman-lake Thu, 03 Jul 2014 03:06:51 GMT
Birding in the Kimberley http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog/2014/5/birding-in-the-kimberley Many people dream of touring the Kimberley in North West Australia. For birders, the pleasure is manifold. The variety and beauty of the birds is intoxicating. Even species found elsewhere in Australia, such as Weebills and Rufous Whistlers, are brighter in the Kimberley. It is almost as though they have absorbed the rich colours of the earth.

Weebill, Smicrornis brevirostris(Manning Gorge, Kimberley, WA)Weebill

Not everyone has the time, resources or opportunity to take a specialised birding tour. Many, like me, will be reduced to catching glimpses and a quick snapshot, before scrambling to catch up to the ever moving tour group. With this kind of journey in mind, I will provide an overview of the birds that I encountered whilst on a (non-birding) tour of the Kimberley in July a few years back.

 

The first part of our tour (which started in Broome and ended in Darwin), followed the Gibb River Road, stopping to camp at Windjana and Manning Gorges.

 

At Windjana Gorge, I learned that some birds are less than elusive. You don’t find them, they find you. The Great Bowerbird is one of these. What it lacks in brightly coloured plumage (it is a large dull brown grey bird, with a lovely patch of pink on its nape), it more than makes up for in personality.

 

Before the tent pegs were in place, a few of these birds had positioned themselves in a tree nearby to study our food, and bower ‘enhancing’, potential. One even lured me from my lunch by posing for a photo. As soon as I rose from the picnic table with camera in hand, the crafty fellow swooped down and nabbed my sandwich. Black Kite, Milvus migrans (Windjana Gorge, Kimberley, WA)Black Kite

 

Circling overhead, meanwhile, were up to 10 Black Kites.  No wonder they are known locally as the ‘Kimberley Seagull’!

 

With dusk, came a cacophony of noise as a flock of Little Corellas descended to their roosts by the river’s edge. The Black Kites and a family of Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos settled into trees close to our tent. Nearby was a small group of Peaceful Doves, doing their best to imitate fruit on the limbs of a boab tree. It was a magical start to our Kimberley holiday.

 

On the first night I didn’t notice a gang of Blue-winged Kookaburras roosting in a tree above our tent. Well, not until 5 o’clock in the morning, when a maniacal chorus of noise exploded. Some sounds of the Kimberley are unforgettable!

Double-barred Finch, Taeniopygia bichenovii (Bell Gorge, Kimberley, WA)Double-barred Finch

On our way from Windjana Gorge to Manning Gorge, we stopped at Bell Gorge. The path to Bell Gorge follows (in part) a small creek lined with Pandanus (aquaticus) palms. Here, I caught my first glimpse of the adorable Double-barred Finch, stopping to watch as the perky little characters hopped and twittered about the palms.

Bar-breasted Honeyeater, Ramsayornis fasciatus(Kimberley, WA)Bar-breasted Honeyeater

Bar-breasted Honeyeater nests dangled from leaves over the water as a White-gaped Honeyeater peered at me while hanging upside down from the gum leaves. Even more surprising however, was the Black Bittern that skulked across the road in front of our car as we left Bell Gorge. This awkward looking bird, with its long neck determinedly out-stretched, looked so ridiculous that even the non-birders in the car looked at it in amazement.

 

The heavily treed campsite at Manning Gorge, and the nearby lagoon, are gorgeous. In addition to Silver-crowned and Little Friarbirds, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes and Torresian Crows (which are found at most campsites), I saw Crimson Finches (which were almost never crimson) and Bar-breasted Honeyeaters at the lagoon. A gang of Rainbow Lorikeets loitered near the shower/toilet block. Though these lorikeets are now common through much of Australia, the Kimberley race, rubritorquis, is arguably the most beautiful. White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike, Coracina papuensis (Windjana Gorge, Kimberley, WA)White-bellied Cuckoo-shrike It has a bright orange-red collar (unlike the Eastern race, moluccanus, which has a yellow-green collar) and deep, dark blue-black feathers on its chest.

 

We left Gibb River Road and bumped our way north along the road to Kalumburu and the Mitchell Plateau. Kalumburu mission is the northernmost permanent settlement in Western Australia. The camping area is well-equipped, with toilets, showers, a washing machine and an infestation of Rainbow Bee-eaters constantly hawking for insects above your head. I was told that a Collared Sparrowhawk also visits the camping area (though I didn’t see it). In the morning, Straw-necked Ibis and Masked Lapwings tottered about the tents. As always, the sewerage ponds (located behind the airstrip) offered the best birding opportunity, with regulars including Pied Herons, White-necked Herons and dozens of anxious-looking Plumed Whistling-Ducks. White-breasted Woodswallows, Artamus leucorynchus (Miner's Pool, Kimberley, WA)White-breasted Woodswallows

 

Along Kalumburu Road is the turnoff to Mitchell Plateau. Miners Pool is the first main campsite along the way. It is an unexpected birding paradise. What it lacks in glamour (the camp site is bare with facilities limited to 44 gallon drums masquerading as toilets), it more than makes up for in birdlife. In the trees around our tents, I saw Varied Lorikeets, Banded Honeyeaters, White-bellied Cuckoo-shrikes, Double-barred Finches, Rufous Whistlers, a Pied Butcherbird, Jacky Winters, Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters, Red-backed Fairy-wrens, Olive-backed Orioles, White-throated Honeyeaters, Black-chinned Honeyeaters and tiny lemon-coloured Weebills

 

But the fun really began at the river, near to the car park. Next to the swimming hole, there is a large dead tree that is the roosting site for over a dozen White-breasted Woodswallows. Both nights we stayed here, these irascible little birds arrived at the tree at around 4.30pm, with up to 10 crammed onto one short branch. When a Whistling Kite arrived and dislodged them from their favourite possie, outrage ensued. One by one, ‘kamikaze’ pilots were dispatched to harass the imposter until he left, and order was again restored in the woodswallow kingdom. Who couldn’t love a woodswallow?

Crimson Finch

The river bank to the right of the swimming hole is studded with pandanus, flowering gums and the occasional fallen down tree. I sat by the river edge. There, I found an endless procession of small birds willing to make my acquaintance, including the beautiful Purple-crowned Fairy-wrens, Crimson Finches, Double-barred Finches, Bar-breasted Honeyeaters, Rufous-throated Honeyeaters and a highly-strung Restless Flycatcher (who evidently thought I was ‘bad for business’). On the outlying branches of a dead tree sat a Little Pied Cormorant, colloquially called the “Kimberley Penguin”. Between the riverbank and the campsite there were a series of muddy puddles that proved ideal for bathing - for birds, that is. I watched for over 30 minutes as a succession of fluffed up birds dipped in and out of the water. The most common were juvenile and adult Yellow-tinted Honeyeaters and Banded Honeyeaters. The Purple-crowned Fairy-wren juvenile Banded Honeyeaters were remarkable in their colouring, which was completely different to the adults. Whilst the adults are entirely black and white, the juveniles are various shades of brown with bright yellow stripes behind the eyes. Unlike other honeyeaters, they go through up to 4 distinctive plumage phases before attaining full adult plumage.

 

Also bathing were Little Friarbirds and a Black-fronted Dotterel.

 

From Miners Pool we went to Mitchell Falls. This is the best place to spot the rare Black Grasswren. If you take the main trail from the car park, these birds are said to congregate in the area around Little Merten Falls. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to stop and look for them. But I did see a male Red-backed Fairy-wren and a pair of Variegated Fairy-wrens. The female Variegated Fairy-wren was of the race rogersi. She had a very distinctive light chestnut band around her eyes and her tail was noticeably bluer than the other races. Variegated Fairy-wren (F) The male Red-backed Fairy-wren was stunning. I saw many of these at various camping sites, but they were always pale brown in colour. This is the only one I saw in full breeding plumage. Michael Morcombe in his Field Guide to Australian Birds explains (at p224) that “…older, dominant males moult direct to their new colourful breeding plumage, completely missing the dull eclipse stage”.

 

Northern Rosellas are also said to be common around Mitchell Falls. Northern Rosella I did not see any here, but I did see them and a pair of Diamond Doves in the parking area close to the junction of Gibb River and Kalumburu roads. Being used to the brightly coloured Western Rosella of southern Western Australia, I was amazed to see how different its northern cousin was. With a black head, white cheeks and yellow and blue wing feathers, it is a strikingly beautiful bird, quite unlike any other rosella in Australia.

 

We rejoined the Gibb River Road after a quick stop at Drysdale River Service Station (where I saw a low flying Square-tailed Kite and Long-tailed and Masked Finches taking a bath under the sprinklers). Square-tailed Kite, Lophoictinia isura (Kimberley, WA)Square-tailed Kite Our last stop along this road, at El Questro, was the most glamorous. Our guide described it as a ‘4wd adventurer’s playground’. The luxury of it (at least compared to what we had previously experienced) extended to a bar, restaurant, washing machines and rows of toilet/shower huts. It is one of the most accessible places along the Gibb River road (being just 110 kilometres from Kununurra). As you can imagine, it is very popular. There are many 4wd and walking trails providing good opportunities for bird watching.

 

We stayed in the ‘tours’ campsite area. Frequent visitors to this area included a Leaden Flycatcher, Magpie Larks, Little Corellas, Blue-winged Kookaburras and a pair of bug-eyed Blue-faced Honeyeaters. The Kimberley race (albipennis) of these curious birds differs from the Eastern States races in that it has a distinctive white underwing patch (which you don’t always have time to notice when one swoops in to steal your bread roll). )Little Woodswallow

 

I also saw a posse of excitable Little Woodswallows diligently guarding Brancos Lookout.

 

After leaving the Gibb River Road, we travelled to Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungles), via Wyndham. Wyndham is not a town to inspire romantic poetry, but it does offer some value for the avid birder. In the trees opposite the Post Office I heard what sounded like the exuberant yapping of puppies. This could be only one species – a Grey-crowned Babbler!  The Kimberley race, rubeculus, boasts, as its name suggests, a warm chestnut coloured chest.

 

Birding’s piece de resistance in this area is about 20 kilometres south of Wyndham, along the Great Northern Highway. This is Parry Lagoons Nature Reserve, covering 36,000 hectares. This reserve is listed under the RAMSAR Convention as a Wetland of International Importance.  I could not name every species said to visit here, but in the 20 minutes the tour guide allotted to me, Magpie Goose, Anseranas semipalmata (Parry's Lagoon, Wyndham, WA)Magpie Goose I was able to see (without binoculars) Magpie Geese, Brolgas, Comb-crested Jacanas, Royal Spoonbills, Star Finches, Australasian Pipits, Nankeen Night-Herons (juvenile and adult), Wandering Whistling-Ducks, Plumed Whistling-Ducks, an Azure Kingfisher, a Red-backed Kingfisher, Green Pygmy-Geese, Radjah Shelducks, an Intermediate Egret, an Eastern Great Egret and a Black-necked Stork.

 

Restless Flycatcher, Myiagra inquieta (Miner's Pool, Kimberley, WA)Restless Flycatcher By the time we arrived at Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungles) I had seen many new and different birds, but I was far from satisfied. No trip to the Kimberley would be complete, I thought, without having seen Red-winged Parrots, Spinifex Pigeons and the beautiful Gouldian Finch.

 

As soon as our tents had been erected, I grabbed my camera and resumed the hunt. I was rewarded later that afternoon when at last I spied a flock of Red-winged Parrots gliding in to roost in the tall gum trees dotted around the ‘quiet’ end of the campsite. Here, too, I encountered some Black-chinned Honeyeaters, a Restless flycatcher, Long-tailed Finches and a very friendly, puffed up, Red-backed Fairy-wren. My husband came across about 30 Brown Quails loitering near a water tap, but they steadfastly refused to reappear for me.

 

The next morning we woke to the distant howling of dingos, which made a change from the kookaburras’ usual 5am wake up call.  We walked to the lookout, about 1 km from the camping area. Along the way we spied Varied Lorikeets feeding by the roadside and Black-faced Woodswallows perched grumpily on barren tree limbs (are they ever happy?) At the lookout, I saw my first Zebra Finches. A flock of the chirpy fellows flitted in and out of the shrubs enjoying the early morning sun. Behind them was the unmistakable outline of the domes of Purnululu. It was a magical sight.

Zebra Finch, Taeniopygia guttata (Purnululu, Kimberley, WA)Zebra Finch

Our last stop was Lake Argyle. To my delight, we were greeted on arrival by a small gathering of Spinifex Pigeons. To the non-birders on my tour, my reaction to these pigeons must have seemed incredible. I gasped and spluttered and tore from the vehicle at record speed.  Who could not love a masked bird with a spiked hairdo high enough to make Elvis blush? Spinifex Pigeon, Geophaps plumifera (Lake Argyle, Kimberley, WA)Spinifex Pigeon Unlike their cousins in the Pilbara (ferruginea), the Kimberley race (plumifera) has a white patch across their well-rounded tummies. 

 

At the southern end of the campsite, a Great Bowerbird laboured under a tree, fine-tuning his bower. As my husband erected the tent, I watched as a thorough inspection took place. It started at the ‘back’ entrance, where the Great Bowerbird stood and peered through the twin-walled bower. Tentatively, he stepped inside, and paused. He looked at the left wall, then at the right wall. Occasionally a piece of straw or stick required repositioning. He stepped forward again and inspected the next section of the walls just as carefully. At last he reached the ‘front’ entrance. He stopped and assessed the collection of white and grey stones under his feet. One was misplaced. A small white stone was picked up and moved two centimetres to the right. Great Bowerbird, Chlamydera nuchalis (Lake Argyle, Kimberley, WA)Great Bowerbird

 

Lake Argyle is said to be visited by over 270 species of birds, including Gouldian Finches (apparently common around the campsite), Long-toed Stints, Oriental Plovers, Yellow Chats, White-quilled Rock Pigeons, Sandstone Shrike-thrushes and Australian Painted Snipes. There is a full day birdwatching safari cruise that has sighted up to 113 species in one day. The tour operator, Greg Smith of Lake Argyle Cruises, has a wealth of knowledge on local birds.

 

Unfortunately, the birdwatching cruise was not on our itinerary so I never got to see the Yellow Chat or snipe. When we left Lake Argyle, and said goodbye to the Kimberley, I also had yet to see a Gouldian Finch. But I knew I would be back. Someday...

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wild&endangered@gmail.com (Georgina Steytler) Australia Bar-breasted Honeyeaters Kimberley Western birding birds native north-west safari tour http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog/2014/5/birding-in-the-kimberley Wed, 21 May 2014 08:39:51 GMT
How to become a Naturalist http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog/2014/5/how-to-become-a-naturalist 5F4E00575F4E0057  

Toodyay Naturalists's Club Newsletter, April 2014

Click here to read newsletter

HOW TO BECOME A NATURALIST

by Georgina Steytler

IMG_4602IMG_4602 Chris and I recently went to Sicily on an archaeological adventure. Amidst a spring garden of wild poppies and daisies lay the marbled ruins of a once great coastal city of Selinunte. At its peak, around 400BC, it was home to around 30,000 Greeks. Whilst our tour group gasped and spluttered in awe, Chris took a photo. In the background is the crowning glory of Selinunte - the magnificent Doric columns of the Temple of Hera, which tower over the ancient acropolis from their perch atop a hill like sentinels that refuse to abandon their post . In the foreground is me, slightly hunched over, with my back to the temple, desperately trying to photograph a bright green lizard sitting on a rock. 5F4E84835F4E8483

That's when I knew I had a problem, if you can call an overwhelming love of our natural world a problem, that is.

Where others saw intricately mosaic-ed floors and carved marble statues, I saw the bobbing heads of sun -baking dragons, hyraxes scampering along crumbling walls, frogs croaking from crusader moats and hoopoes flitting from pillar to rock.  

It wasn't always so. 15 years ago, I was a lawyer working in a private law firm where only two things mattered: billable hours and making a good impression with potential clients at Jazz and Shiraz evenings at the Kings Park Tennis Club. I was making good money and had a good job. I was, therefore 'a success' in the eyes of many. But I was not happy. 5F4E18915F4E1891 Around that time I was diagnosed with major depression and spent two weeks at the Perth Clinic reassessing, among other things, what it took to be happy.

The realisation that happiness could come from learning to appreciate the natural world did not come straight away. 5F4E22125F4E2212 It took a visit from a friend who did guided tours in the Amazon rainforest to open my eyes to the amazing world around us. He noticed everything and asked lots of questions. One day he asked, "What is that bird?" I looked over at a large bird on a flower. I took a guess. "It's a honeyeater". He said "it looks like a wattlebird to me". I looked again - and saw the two big red wattles dangling from the sides of its head. That's one to the Peruvian, zero to the Australian. Next came the trees. He would point to a tree and ask what is was called. I would look at it and take a guess. If it had red sap, I said it was a 'red gum', if it looked white-trunked, I said it was a 'white gum', if it looked pink, I said it was a salmon gum. It was the 'river gums' that proved to be the final straw. He accused me of making up the names. Though I may have been right about some of them, the reality is that I knew so little of my own country it shamed me.  5F4E17475F4E1747

 In order to make up for it, I enrolled us in some free local bird walks which were run by BirdLife Australia around Perth. Since then, I have never looked back. Like so many others, once you have your eyes opened, it's impossible to shut them again.

And it's seriously contagious. By the end of our tour, other members of the tour group were finding me turtles and frogs and birds as if they too had had their eyes opened to the world beyond the ruins.

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wild&endangered@gmail.com (Georgina Steytler) Australia naturalist nature selinunte http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog/2014/5/how-to-become-a-naturalist Sun, 11 May 2014 14:00:15 GMT
Saving from extinction - Why it matters http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog/2013/7/saving-from-extinction---why-it-matters Why it matters?

 

Every now and then you come across a person who asks what does it really matter if we lose a bird species or two?  On these occasions, the right words often fail me. I become about as articulate as a drunken lorikeet.

 

Recently I read an article by Samantha Vine titled "Orange-bellied Parrot - On a Wing and a Prayer".  It was published in the June 2010 edition of Wingspan (now called "Australian Birdlife"). She said (at pages 12-13):

 

"We are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis, and the available funds will do little to stem the flow of extinctions of species currently teetering on the brink. It is disappointing that in a developed, prosperous country such as Australia we should even have to contemplate abandoning a species to extinction when it is usually development for economic growth that has caused their decline in the first place...

 

Extinction is forever; there are no second chances. The disappearance of any species ... leaves us all the poorer and undermines our own survival. All species have their own unique role in maintaining ecosystems, and the diversity of the natural world is being damaged as a result of our activities. Giving up on our natural heritage because of cost would be tragic."

 

I would add to this that saving one species invariably will have a positive flow on effect for the survival of other species too. For instance, the cat baiting program currently being run in the Fitzgerald River and Cape Arid National Parks, whilst assisting the Western Ground Parrot,  will also go to ensuring the survival of the 22 mammal (including 7 declared rare), 41 reptile and 12 frog species that share its habitat.

 

The Western Ground Parrot is a beautiful, iconic bird and a precious natural resource. Recently Tourism Australian launched a campaign to promote the "'Great South West Edge", an area stretching from Busselton to Cape Arid National Park which it describes as follows:

 

"Nature has been flaunting her beauty here for millions of years with white beaches, wildflowers, wetlands, towering forests, limestone caves and the meeting of two oceans at one river. A wet winter and dry summer Mediterranean style climate, a dazzling array of flora and fauna and captivating contrasts between land and sea, make the Great South West a truly unique national landscape offering diversity at its finest."

 

The Western Ground Parrot is an integral part of the diversity found in the Great South West Edge. Biodiversity is our nation's natural wealth. That wealth is there for us, for our children and for their children. We have no right to squander it. Having created the problems that led to the threat of extinction, surely we have a duty to fix them.

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wild&endangered@gmail.com (Georgina Steytler) Australia biodiversity extinction ground parrot western http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog/2013/7/saving-from-extinction---why-it-matters Fri, 12 Jul 2013 09:41:52 GMT
Birding in Western Australia http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog/2013/3/birding-in-western-australia In another life, I was a sometime travel writer. What follows is an article I had published in The West Australian newspaper a while ago on birding in Western Australia

In Australia, birds are everywhere. Flitting in and out of the wattle trees, hopping across your lawn, hanging out in the eucalyptus trees or stealing your beachside chips.  Even the Queen couldn’t help but notice them. I heard that when she stayed in Canberra she commented on the tremendous ‘noise’ made by a nearby flock of corellas. Noisy they may be, but for us Aussies they represent the quintessential sound of the Australian bush.

Australia has over 810 species of birds, of which up to 45% are endemic (meaning that they are not found naturally anywhere else). That is more than almost any other country in the world. It is no wonder that Rainbow Bee-eater, Merops Ornatus (Lake Gwelup, Perth, WA) it is a popular destination for bird watchers from overseas. South-western Australia has its share of endemic species such as Carnaby’s black-cockatoo, red-winged fairy-wren, red-eared firetail and the appropriately named noisy scrub-bird.

We have all seen a galah and a splendid fairy-wren, but have you ever noticed the shimmering green and orange of a rainbow bee-eater, the spotted head of a spotted pardalote or the iridescent blue of a sacred kingfisher?  When you do, the excitement is addictive.

Unsurprisingly, more and more people are turning to birding (or ‘twitching’) as a recreational pastime that greatly enriches their travels around this great State of ours. After all, in how many places in the world are the birds in the north of the state completely different to those in the south?

Once you start looking for birds, it is difficult to stop. You will see shadows in every tree and investigate every new ‘tweet’ that you hear. Birding soon becomes a passion.  With such a unique and diverse range of avian delights on your doorstep, it would be a shame not to enjoy them. All you need is a watchful eye, a good bird book, some binoculars and a love of the outdoors.

There are infinite ways to ‘bird’ in WA.

In the metropolitan area we are blessed with beautiful walkways teeming with bird life. At Herdsman Lake a well-maintained track meanders along the lakeside through a paperbark forest and over swamp lands, offering a diversity of habitat and birdlife such as rufous whistlers, glossy ibis, little grassbirds, great crested grebes and nankeen night-herons. Picnic areas at parks such as Bold Park and Kings Park make it easy for a spot of twitching to become part of a family day out. Alternatively you can take a walk around Joondalup Lake. At sunset the sky is a spill of pink, purple and soft grey. Last time I was there I saw, sitting atop bare tree trunks in the lake, a swamp harrier, a troop of corellas, a white-faced heron and some swamphens. It was stunning.

To the north, those with an interest in shorebirds cannot miss Broome Bird Observatory (BBO). BBO, located in Roebuck Bay, 25 kms south ofRoebuck Bay Migratory Waders (Broome, WA) Broome, was established in 1988 as a research and education facility by Birds Australia, Australia's peak scientific and recreational birding organisation. Roebuck Bay and 80 Mile Beach are said to have more than 800,000 birds visit annually. They are the most important shorebird sites in Australia.

The peak migration period is from late March to late April. During this period you may be lucky enough to see C3. C3, the name given to it by researchers, is a bar-tailed godwit. In March 2008 she was tagged in Roebuck Bay and imbedded with a satellite tracking device. When C3 returned from her travels at the end of August, researches found that she had covered more than 20,000kms on her round trip to the northern summer breeding grounds in Siberia. This is a remarkable feat for an animal that weighs less than ½ kg.

Spinifex Pigeon, Geophaps plumifera plumifera (Lake Argyle, Kimberley, WA) Even outside the peak migration period you can see many thousands of shorebirds, including black-winged stilts, gull-billed terns, bar-tailed godwits and great knots.

In the east Kimberley, be sure to visit waterholes early in the morning. You may be lucky enough to come across a flock of gouldian finches, budgerigars, varied lorikeets, red-winged parrots or northern rosellas. You should also keep an eye out for the superb spinifex pigeon which, with its ochre-orange body and masked eyes, looks like a ‘pigeon superhero’.

To the south, the Stirling Ranges are a treasury of birding delights. Birders congregate in the Stirling Range Retreat, looking for western yellow robins, Australian owlet-nightjars, and crested shrike-tits.  Flocks of elegant parrots can often be seen feeding nervously on the road-side.

At Cheyne Beach in the Waychincup National Park (65km east of Albany) you may see what are known as the “Big 3” endemic birds of south-western Australia – the western bristlebird, noisy scrub-bird and the western Western Yellow Robin, Eopsaltria griseogularis (Stirling Range, WA) whipbird. The critically endangered western ground parrot has also been spotted here.

Further south east, hugging the coast 50km south of Cocklebiddy, is Eyre Bird Observatory. This observatory, established in 1978, is a sanctuary for up to 250 species of native birds in the area, including the elusive malleefowl, chestnut quail-thrush and Major Mitchell’s cockatoo. It is an invaluable resource for research and conservation. It is testament to the remarkable work done by Birds Australia, most of which is done by volunteers.

Information about the top birding sites in Western Australia is available through Birdlife Australia Western Australia (BAWA). At its local office in Perry Lakes, you will find a variety of pamphlets and bird books. In addition to being very approachable people who are passionate about their birds, the BAWA volunteers conduct bird identification workshops and take regular free bird walking tours around the city’s best birding sites.

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wild&endangered@gmail.com (Georgina Steytler) Australia Australian Broome Broome bird observatory Rainbow beeeater Spinifex pigeon Western Australia Western Yellow Robin animals birding birds endemic birds native http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog/2013/3/birding-in-western-australia Fri, 22 Mar 2013 13:54:20 GMT
Western Ground Parrot Survey at Fitzgerald River National Park http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog/2012/12/western-ground-parrot-survey-at-fitzgerald-river-national-park

This Survey trip report was recently published in the Friends of the Western Ground Parrot December 2012 Newsletter. To read it in full, click here.

 

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wild&endangered@gmail.com (Georgina Steytler) http://www.wildandendangered.com.au/blog/2012/12/western-ground-parrot-survey-at-fitzgerald-river-national-park Sat, 22 Dec 2012 04:40:56 GMT