Emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae)


I recently spent a couple of weeks out in far Western NSW. It is vast, mostly flat and arid. It feels so Australian, whatever that is.

I wanted to spend some of the time while there taking photos of a few different subjects, one of which was the emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae). They are reasonably common particularly near water, but they tend to run when they see you. So, it wasn’t until the last few days that I managed to figure out a way to get them to hang around.`


They’re one of the tallest birds second to its relative the Ostrich but taller than another cousin the Cassowary. They are Ratites a group of birds defined by a lack of a keel, making flight impossible. In the photos you can see their wings – little stumps which hang down.


They can run at great speed and can cover large distances, sometimes taking seasonal migrations to follow water and food.

The males incubate the eggs. It takes 56 days in which the male doesn’t leave the nest losing up to 20% of its body weight. The father raises the young which takes about 18 months. Their success is dependent on conditions. So their population across the continent varies widely from year to year.

They eat anything. Plant material, seeds and fruit are supplemented with grasshoppers and other insects.


They aren’t threatened and there is some evidence that with increased pastoral activities and supply of water they are doing better that in the past.

Coastal emus on the other hand have all but disappeared. In New South Wales (NSW) they are listed as threatened.

So, my trick to get the emus to hang around so I could get these photographs was to sit on the ground. They are curious and come to investigate.



More information

The Tree of Life project has an excellent page on Emus, with very good references.

The definitive book on Ratites by someone who has done a lot of the suprisingly small amount of research on Emus

Davies, S. J. J. F., et al., eds. Bird Families of the World. Vol. 8, Ratites and Tinamous: Tinamidae, Rheidae, Dromaiidae, Casuariidae, Apterygidae, Struthionidae. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 2002



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.



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.