Female Golden Whistler (Pachycephala pectoralis)

FemaleGoldenWhistler-9910 I live in suburban Sydney close to the CBD and it’s usual that with monotonous regularity, aggressive birds dominate. Despite my proximity to bushland, it seems few species of birds are around. So, any change to this scene, such as a new visitor the Golden Whistler, I greet with joy.

I updated my Canon 5d Mark III this week with the new firmware which allows me to get an auto focus (AF) function with my 300mm and 2X extender along with clean HDMI out. I produce video.  The video capability is why I bought this camera and I am pleased with the clean HDMI, it is just that the stills capability has me more excited.

FemaleGoldenWhistler-9799This Golden Whistler has been around the patch of degraded urban bush below my house for a while. She seems to be a daily visitor, feeding on insects amongst a patch/thicket of Pittosporum (Pittosporum undulatum), Small Leaf Privet (Ligustrum sinense), Broad-leaf privet (Ligustrum lucidum) and Cheese tree (Glochidion ferdinandi) that has an understory of Fish-bone fern (Nephrolepis cordifolia).

I saw a flock of Grey Fantails there during the week and my neighbour says that small birds are more common since the death of his neighbour’s cat. One thing for sure is the importance that this degraded bushland represents as habitat for bird species that need a refuge from the more common, dominant and aggressive birds.

It was dark this morning and the (AF) function wasn’t really able to cope with the complexity of the scene and the low light. It is a joy to get the functionality of audio feedback for focus with the lens but I was disappointed with the technology. I am no expert, I am still learning how to use the 5D and perhaps it is the operator’s expectations rather than the firmware/camera.

Nonetheless, I got a few pictures I am pleased with of a bird that I haven’t been familiar with. The female Golden Whistler is a fairly plain bird particularly when compared to it’s male counterpart which I am yet to see. The sexual dimorphism that birds often exhibit is incredible. The sexual competition that makes males exhibit their fitness so wonderfully is one of the joys of life. I can’t wait to see and photograph the male, there has to be one around.




A history of where I live – (part 1)

Dramatic sunrise What can we know about something? Once we know something it opens up the world of what that we don’t know.

In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson explains that the inspiration for the book came from the concern he had about what he didn’t know. When taking off in a plane he looked down at the sea and thought of the things that he didn’t know, like where the salt in the sea came from. This blog seems to becoming more and more about the world that surrounds me and like Bill I don’t know a lot, but unlike Bill, I will remain ignorant of much. Still, I have made and continue to attempt to make sense of what is what. Like where I live.

Sandstone rocks, Sydney in the backgroundI live in Castlecrag, a suburb of Sydney, a few kilometres from the CBD and Opera House. I describe this distance as a few hills. The hills help me create a map of where I live now and where I grew up, in Killara another few hills north. It helps me to understand the flora that would have been here not so long ago and the topography, soils and geology that influenced it. But Sydney is flat. Rather than hills, I live on a vast sandstone plateau, into which have been carved valleys. 220 million years ago, this sandstone plateau was a braided river system on Gondwana, a delta of intersecting water courses on a scale seen no where else in the world today. The sand was delivered from an eroding mountain range somewhere to the south.

Sandstone cliffs and the oceanIn the past decade, I have studied with geologists and I may do them an injustice by trying to put some of what they have told me into a factual account. But in places, this sand was formed in a night of a deposition, these nights became a continuum of formation and collapse. This speculative history can be seen in road cuttings. Over millenia, once the sand had been deposited, it was overlain with material perhaps a couple of kilometres thick. This eventually exerted the amount of pressure and delivered the increased temperature required so that it would become the hardened stone we see today.

When the New Zealand continent broke off from Gondwana around 80 million years ago, it created cracks in the sandstone. The biggest cracks became the biggest rivers, like the Lane Cove and Parramatta. The sand that eroded in the formation of the valleys became the beaches of our coastline. I live in a valley where a small crack formed a creek that would drain into what would become Middle Harbour. Middle Harbour is a drowned valley, a short distance from open ocean. During the last ice age, within aboriginal history, it would have been a dry valley almost twenty kilometres from the ocean.

The history of where I live influences so much of what is around me. The flora, fauna and landscapes that this blog seems to be increasingly about.

New Holland Honeyeater

These photographs above are from a recent sunrise at North Head, Manly. The bird is a New Holland Honeyeater (Phylidonyris novaehollandiae).



Photographing birds – White-cheeked Honeyeater

White-Cheeked Honeyeater on perchPhotography is so pervasive on the internet and it is of such high quality, that having your own photographs judged by others can be daunting. Bird photography is no exception, though with these posts I can take photographs that may fall short of the standard because I can reflect on and learn about the subject I am photographing. Then by creating some kind of cohesive thread of pictures and words, the individual components will be hopefully judged by their contribution to the whole.

The White-cheeked Honeyeater (Phylidonyris niger) has a peculiarly disjunct distribution. It inhabits much of the east coast of Australia but also south-western Australia and not between. It is often found in moist heathlands. This particular heath is at Wreck Beach, Tomaree National Park, Shoal Bay and it is where I have photographed the bed  a few times over the past few days.

Wreck Beach with a dramatic skyThe White-cheeked Honeyeater is flighty and erratic. It nests in dense shrubs and is often heard and while remaining hidden. Photographing it poses challenges. However, it uses perches and isn’t completely timid, so you can get lucky and without too much difficulty get a picture.

One of the challenges is using a Canon 5D Mark III. The Canon 300mm doesn’t get close enough for most birds on the 5D, so I have 2x extender. This arrangement doesn’t seem to be able to focus with the usual alert that sounds when your subject is in focus. I understand this is being rectified in the next firmware upgrade. I have to admit, after one year of ownership, I am still coming to terms with the camera and all its controls. I use it completely manually and I use a spot focus, so I am not the quickest with it. Sometimes, by the time I have the shot ready, the bird has flown away. I don’t always take a tripod. When I don’t, the sharpness at an effective focal length of 600mm, isn’t perfect. I have come to realise that taking a photograph of a bird is a very deliberate act. Bird photographers have to obsessive and single-minded.

But, the efforts have a pay off. I didn’t know this species before. In fact, I know little about most things and very little about birds. I thought it was a New Holland Honeyeater with which it sometimes shares habitat and whose distribution overlaps. I have seen it competing with Eastern Spinebills (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris) on the fringes of this habitat and I have seen Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis) there also. It feeds on nectar eater and insects which it flies swiftly and acrobatically to capture. On the woodlands that fringe its heathland, Yellow-faced Honeyeaters, much more difficult to photograph, visit in large numbers. Little Wattlebirds (Anthochaera chrysoptera) are permanent neighbours.

White-Cheeked honeyeater begins flightIn the past few days, I have produced a picture (above) that I felt was not just a good picture, but a good bird photograph  I have joined a serious bird photography forum, Feathers and Photos and posted it. They like to encourage and critique. Members are interested, you get lots of views by people wo are excellent bird photographers. One comment was ‘Fantastic pose! would be great without the OOF [out of focus] foliage’. Now, I am actually not against out of focus foliage, but I can understand that for some this might be a distraction.

However, I have learnt from this exercise and their comments. In future, I need to concentrate enough photographic efforts on particular birds to get a result that is worthy of their comment and to be able to post.


I have posted previously on the plants of this part of Shoal Bay

A site which is invaluable for photographs and names of plants of Shoal Bay, Nelsons Bay and Tomaree National Park is, Philip Diemar’s, Nelson Bay Native Plants

Birds in Backyards – http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/species/Phylidonyris-niger

For distribution of White-cheeked honeyeaters and other species, these two sites are particularly useful.

Atlas of Living Australia – http://www.ala.org.au/

Eremaea Birds – http://www.eremaea.com/

This is a link to distribution of White-Cheeked Honeyeaters at Eremaea Birds.

Jan Wegener is a typically dedicated and exceptional bird photographer on the Feathers and Photos website. His tips and tricks, provide valuable information about the post photographic process and the extent to which people go to deliver unbelievably good photographs.