Photographing birds – Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo

Photographs are often a chance occurrence, being somewhere at the right time. Of course, being in the right place can also be deliberate, but conversely time and place may be have some degree of chance.

Birds typify this dilemma. Birds are abundant, I tend to think that it’s a bird’s world. Apart from plants, lots of birds actually seem to thrive no matter what the habitat. They have been around since they emerged from a dinosaur ancestor. In my neighbourhood, the bird species that occur here are abundant. But, I often want to photograph the birds that are rarely seen here. Also, birds usually don’t do what they are supposed to. They are most often aerial and we are on the ground. Many species are flighty and rarely seem to stand still. When they do become stationary, it is often in lousy light or concealed by foliage. It can be frustrating, any occurrence let alone a great occurrence seems unfairly rare.

It seems to me that bird photographers tend to wait and wait, they hang around at the periphery of their habitat waiting for their target to emerge briefly. They spend money on camouflage and equipment like flash to fill in any shadow. The internet abounds with undeniably great photographs of birds but often the habitat is reduced to a single perch. So, for me, there is a disconnection between the picture and reality. Chance is minimised, but it is artificial and it is more trophy than story.

This is a picture of a Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo. It is chewing on the follicle (dry fruit) of a shrub, Hakea gibbosa, trying to get to the seed, something I had never witnessed before. It is in bushland adjacent to my home. I moved in about ten years ago when it was a very weedy piece of remnant urban bushland. The Hakea I had grown from seed that I had collected in nearby bushland.

This picture was a fortuitous moment of chance. I am ever alert for a strange bird in my garden or the adjacent bushland. And here I was presented with a beautiful iconic bird, eating from a plant laden with flowers and seed. Direct sunlight was penetrating through gaps in the canopy creating pools of light. I don’t use flash and I love the contrast that dappled light provides.

It is simply a picture of a bird in dramatic light, but it also has a story behind it – the plant, what the bird is doing and the meaning it has for me.

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo


Information about Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos

The Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo occurs on the East Coast from Queensland to Victoria. It is not considered threatened. However, its habitat is fragmented and its survival in some areas is less assured than others. It seems to be doing well in Sydney. In the winter months it comes in to feed on the seeds and insects of our abundant trees.

They are sexually dimorphic,  the one photographed is a male. Males have a pink ring around their eyes, darker beaks and less prominent yellow patches than the females.


I am a bushcarer. I volunteer to help my local bushland by removing exotic and invasive species. An annual event in September, Buschare’s Major Day Out  provides opportunities for people to try out Bushcare with Local Councils and other Land Managers at locations all around Australia.

I have recently joined a bird photography forum, Feathers and Photos which I enjoy. People of differing skills in photography and varying interest in birds contribute their pictures and receive feedback.

More information about the Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo can be found at Birds in Backyards and Wikipedia’s entry is also excellent.

You can easily view Black Cockatoos in Sydney during the winter months at Centennial Park. Their blog has information about where in the Park you can see it.

The photographs were taken with Canon 5D MarkIII – with a Canon EF 300mm f4 lens. Exposure was 1/640 sec f11 ISO 2500. It was cropped and treated in Adobe Lightroom 5. This included using a radial filter to selectively blur and darken the background. Julieanne Kost from Adobe has a great video tutorial on Lightroom 5’s radial filter.




Grief - my brother's coffin is carried from the churchMy eldest brother Tony was 69 when he unexpectedly died a few weeks ago. The emotions associated with grief aren’t static, they evolve. When the death of someone close to us occurs, nothing appears black and white. I oscillate. I have described how I have felt since as cloudy. I am probably not one to compartmentalise, I like to wear my emotions. So, it seems I wear a fog and it lingers.

Perhaps this lack of clarity is the brain trying to process, understand and decode the emotions that are being worked through.

A family photo circa 1963

I am the youngest of 7 children. Already, two of them have died. My brother Mark died a in July, 2008, Mum in October 2012 and my father when I was in my early twenties.  My father’s death was the most painful. I was too young and not yet at ease in my relationship with him. I thought at the time, that it was impossible for someone to know what the feeling of intense pain and loss is like until it happens to them. But each time it is different. Each is a reaction based on my emotional journey with that person.

My mother’s death at 92, a release from her suffering, was almost a celebration. She was very loving. In her last years, I had spent what I considered a lot of time with her and a lot of that time was also with Tony. The three of us, and whoever else we were with, enjoyed chatting away, enjoying simple pleasures like basking in sunshine. We felt we were making hay.

My brother tony dies 2 days after this photo

A couple of days before he died, Tony and I walked around Centennial Park with one of our nieces. The last photos I took of him of him alive are naturally special. More than that it is a record that we had made the time, and appreciated the simple pleasure of being with each other. Too often these are too few.

All family are special, but many would attest to the importance of Tony in their lives. I was/am no different. Tony was going to be a very important part of the next stage of my life. We talked a lot, used Skype, facebook, emailed, phoned. We talked about lots of things like the mystery of life, sex, music, but mostly we talked about family, his family, my family, our family. For Tony, the families’ happiness was the foundation of his happiness. These conversations, this time spent has been an important part of my sense of well being and I had banked on this essential part of me being around for a while –  another decade I had thought. As his wife, Robbie said; we have been robbed. And there’s the sorrow, there’s the cloud.

Our last words to each other were I love you. We didn’t always say it but it wasn’t unusual either. That helps. It is the memories that help with grief. The little things, the snippets of conversations, the enjoyment and the understanding of what we had going that makes the loss,, while painful, bearable.

The 16th century saying is such a profoundly simple truth.

‘Whan the sunne shinth make hay. Whiche is to say. Take time whan time cometh, lest time steale away’

Tony and I lived and loved together, we made the most of it.

We are in the wettest June for six years, though it seems wetter. It has rained and rained and on this wet Sunday morning, the sun has appeared, the first time, it seems for days.

My remaining brothers at the wake

Castlecrag’s Walkways – conflicts of access and privacy

This article (below) first appeared in the CRAG a publication of the Castlecrag Progress Association. I have lived in Castlecrag for ten years. I am only beginning to understand the Griffins and the significance of their lives. I am sure I will return to them, but I hope some of my enthusiasm for them is demonstrated below. Please feel free to express your opinions whatever they may be about Castlecrag and its walkways by using the ‘leave a comment’  link at the bottom.

walkways-5706Walter and Marion Griffin’s Castlecrag is soon to be celebrated with two commemorative walks. These walks will be supported by a map, an app, the way finding posts that you may have noticed popping up around the place and the ongoing upgrade, maintenance and sometimes reclamation of public land. We are fortunate in Castlecrag that public land is plentiful. The abandonment of plans to make Castlecrag an expressway linkage to Seaforth and Griffin’s development regarded by some as arguably the most generous act of property development in Australian history have contributed to our very fortunate situation. 

The Griffins were schooled in the progressive architectural ideas of Chicago of the beginning of the last century. Theirs was a democratic architecture for people that was inspired by nature and philosophy. Walter trained not just as an architect but as a landscape architect and urban planner, so his plan for Castlecrag was mindful of the importance of the rocky contours and its native vegetation. Rather than the typical grid pattern of streets with red roofed houses and paling fences that ran from the shoreline to the ridge and obscured any sense of the sandstone beneath, his plan followed the contours. The walkways, that could also double as service corridors, provided the pedestrian linkages between streets and the shops, shoreline, outdoor theatre or the bushland reserves in between where neighbours could meet and nature could be enjoyed. Castlecrag became known as a cultural and spiritual hub. It thrived but the Griffins’ vision was derailed by the depression and Walter’s untimely death in India in 1937.

Today, after more than fifteen years of progressive improvements, many of the walkways are able to function in something like the way that Griffin envisaged. But, the walkways are sometimes considered to be an intrusion to residents’ privacy or to bring social problems to the backdoor.

As a person who lives on a walkway, I have a perspective that comes from experience. I live on a relatively busy walkway that connects Castlecrag with Warners Park, Northbridge and Sailors Bay. I have lived here for ten years. I view Castlecrag as a quiet place without population pressure. I have never considered the small number of people who walk by an imposition. I like hearing their chatter, women on workouts and young kids being taught by fathers and mothers about the bush. From time to time, they provide an opportunity for a conversation and even a friendship. But usually they simply walk by and the moment is as brief as when anyone passes your house. At times, I have tourists asking for directions. For example there was the Frank Lloyd Wright devotee from England whose interest in Griffin derived from the fact that he and Marion worked for Wright.

All in all, the walkway is a really positive part of my relationship with Castlecrag and our community. Many walkways are yet to be reclaimed and it is important that people view them for what they are, public assets that may provide amenity to the community. It is also important that any discussion about walkways or footpaths considers their benefit to a wider community’s need to access shops, shoreline or the occasional walk in the reserve.

Matthew Keighery, Castlecrag resident, is also a committee member of the Griffin Reserves Advisory Committee (GRAC). GRAC meets with Council representatives eight times a year to discuss and advise on plans and improvements for the Reserves. The Committee is currently looking for new members.


Resources – learn more about the Griffins and Castlecrag

There is currently a web app being developed that I have largely written and provided photographs for that can be used to navigate some of Castlecrag’s walkways. I will post a link when it becomes available. There will also be a link to a physical map. I suggest you do these walks and access the information. it is a fascinating and beautiful part of Sydney.

The Griffin’s story is incredible. They are well worth reading more about and Alasdair McGregor’s book is excellent.

Alasdair McGregor (2009), Grand Obsessions: The life and work of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin Penguin/Lantern, Camberwell, 2009

There is a great ABC radio program on the suburb, The idealists: creating Castlecrag (2012) which is informative and entertaining

The University of New South Wales, 2012 Utzon Lecture Series has one by Professor James Weirick entitled “100th Anniversary of Walter Burley Griffin: Griffin and Canberra” which is available online as a video.