Australian Wildlife

Kangaroo  Mother and young – Kangaroos really are a joy to photograph in the wild – their gentle wondering eyes echo innocence, kinship and trust. they often show no sense of alarm. They rarely show signs of alarm and this is part of the kangaroo’s innocent and enigmatic charm. This may be also be as they are regionally nomadic creatures and rarely show territorial traits. I was lucky enough to have several encounters over a three hour period with this family and a larger adult male whilst traversing through some mountain valleys In the Adelaide Hills, just 5 minutes from home.

Australia is a continent of great diversity and rich contrasts. This very richness gives rise to many unique and majestic wildlife species, some like no other continents on Earth. Many animals we see today in Australia are the living remnants of a vast evolution or metamorphism of the greater species that have graced this great land. Tens of millions of years of evolution see’s our island continent develop flora and fauna that on many accounts are strikingly different to those from other parts of the globe. Striking contrasts exist from the more arid desert regions of central Australia to the tropical rainforests of the far north. A great variety of temperate and sub-tropical woodlands, grasslands and wetlands also exist, providing many unique habitats and terrains.

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Kangaroo Paws are endemic to the southwestern region of Western Australia. This one is in spring bloom.

The evolution and progression of native wildlife species in Australia is similar to other unique island continents like Madagascar, where isolation for great spans of time without contact with other large land masses ensures diverse species proliferation. Wildlife species like the kangaroo and unique monotreme species like the platypus are found nowhere else on earth and provide a unique wildlife signature . Evolution and adaptation to Australia’s wild and at times rugged terrain, creates a variety of plant and animal species that truly are a wonder to behold. From the innocent and magical nature of the kangaroo to the bold and majestic wedge tailed eagle, there is indeed a special celebration of life in this continent of ours.

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The Hooded Parrot is a medium-sized Australian parrot native to the Northern Territory. They are related to and considered a sub-species of the ‘golden shouldered parrot’. Their habitat encompasses grassland, plains, sparsely forested habitats and open woodland. They feed on seeds, berries and native vegetation. Over the past decades its distribution has declined from much of its original range. A unique quality of one of the existing species is their ability to breed in termite mounds.

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This baby Emu was a rare and memorable experience in all my years as a wildlife photographer. Quite young and only around 50cm tall, the bird was foraging with its mum in a secluded mountain range out the back of Parra Wirra National Park. Another location that is clearly more remote than the general Conservation parks. This allowed for a more natural and spontaneous interaction between animals and humans. The mother showed little sign of concern and just watched from a distance for about 2 to 3 minutes, where I documented several key terrain and habitat characteristics and then stepped back as it is very important not to cause any degree of agitation in your interaction with native species in the wild.

Unique Australian monotremes mammal species take the form of the ‘platypus’ and ‘echidna’. Marsupial species are even more diverse, such as koalas, possums, wombats, wallabies and kangaroos. There are also many native placental mammals within the rodent and bat species. Australia also has some of the oldest birds and song bird species on the planet, with many unique and interesting waterbirds, raptors, kingfishers, finches, parrots and cockatoo varieties. Reptiles and amphibians of Australia also provide some of the most interesting and formidable the world over and are great examples of evolution or adaptability of species through the ages.

Recent fossil record discoveries show even more unusual mammals had once inhabited Australia, including giant long-armed kangaroos and giant plant-eating marsupials as big as a hippopotamus. Fossils of meat-eating mammals the size of  lions have also been found. These were not related to current meat-eating marsupials, yet more closely to large plant-eating possums. The history of these animals could only be traced back in the fossil records a few million years or so and they became largely extinct at the end of the last ice age. With such a rich and diverse history, imagine what kind of land animals inhabited this great land in even earlier times.

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Goanna closeup – Kangaroo island. Although proximity may be somewhat limited with reptiles in general, on ‘KI’, chance encounters often allow for more capture time because it is a more remote location. I found reptiles to be more relaxed in general here and depending on their actions and time of day, they seem intent on going about their business. This image was shot around noon in full sun. It was metered for the highlights and underexposed 2 stops, which allowed for complete definition and captured all the great organic character in the goanna’s skin.

Rare Species Photography and Species Awareness in the Wild

Having spent over 15 years in the field of Nature and Wildlife photography, there are many key moments I treasure, with some of the best spent just ten minutes from my home and into the Adelaide Hills. Many mornings I woke at dawn and felt intuitively drawn up to a specific location, only to witness a group of kangaroos foraging on native grasses, or a lone echidna waddling across a rocky plateau. Most active in the night are the nocturnal marsupials like possums, yet on rare occasions I would come across a lone ringtail gently resting in the shade of a tree. Koalas are plentiful in the Adelaide Hills, being both challenging and rewarding subjects as they usually require climbing a mountain or tree to get close enough for intimate shots.

Starfinch

Star finch – Critically endangered and close to being extinct in the wild. One of my most treasured finches as it was a favorite of my father’s. I remember back to 7 years old, when dad bred many in large planted walk-through aviaries. Some were pseudomorphs or sporting colour variation in their plumage. Having seen first hand in large enclosed environments where the birds were totally happy and in the wild how sensitive finches are to environmental conditions and changes in the eco-system, I was heart-broken to see their initial demise in the wild. Limited to critical, with some reports classified as extinct, they are now seldom seen in the wild. Thankfully, their populations are alive and well with breeders, finch enthusiasts and collectors. It would be great to get some kind or re-population projects underway in the future.

 

Yellow Footed Antechinus – Not a mouse or rodent at all, the antechinus is a shrew-like marsupial, which is evident from is almost cat-like feet. I was lucky enough to share a 20 to 30 minute photo session with this little fella and it was one of the most animated and playful creatures I have photographed in the wild. It kept darting in and out its den in the hollow of a tree and mischievously glaring back again and again.

The whole eastern Adelaide Hills region provides great variety of flora and fauna species. I have been lucky enough to witness and photograph many great bird species of finches; doves; honeyeaters; parrots; cockatoos; kingfishers and waterbirds to name a few. Snakes and lizards are indeed alive in these hills, yet often careful observation and awareness of species knowledge is necessary to get close enough, or in view long enough to get good shots. Insects and small invertebrates often need different equipment as you venture into the world of macro photography, though they are none less rewarding subjects to spend time with in the wild.

Often it is best to concentrate on one subjects or kingdom for the day, like go out with the correct lenses for insects and flowers. Don’t be surprised though, if when just when you do, a kingfisher dives into the creek and you wish you have packed that 500mm zoom lens and the monopod. As this would happen to me many times out in the field, I found a way to comprise a small kit with closeup and telephoto lens, along with a medium to high output flash and a monopod, just to be prepared for rare or special occurences. If you can’t afford expensive telephoto lenses, there are still great quality zooms such as 100-400mm or 200-500mm for very reasonable prices these days. Also if you shoot with cameras with smaller sensors that are compatible with larger lenses a 400mm lens gains a zoom factor of 1.3x, which can come out to 640mm. Alternatively a 105mm macro lens equals out to close to 150mm.

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Dragonflies are some of the most difficult insects to photograph, especially when attempting to have their almost translucent wings standout against an un-avoidable background. A shot like this is near impossible to re-create as getting the background out of focus and the complete subject in sharp focus was demanding and over in about five seconds before it flew away. Fill flash was used to give catch-light eye highlights and to accentuate rim and character highlights on the wings. This image was achieved with a close to full magnification of a 105mm macro lens, which gave around 135mm zoom. The challenge which macro lenses is to achieve this degree of depth of field. If in doubt about which aspects of the subject to include in sharp focus when not all is achievable, then always go for the eyes. Next, go for eyes and upper body, or try and capture sharp wing detail in the case of the dragonfly. Some falloff into out-of-focus tail or outerbody aspects will look natural and is acceptable, especially with challenging macro or closeup shots like these.

Taking trips to Outback or Country locations is also quite rewarding as there are often more pristine or untouched habitats, where species have developed or adapted for some time. Wetlands and National Parks such as the Coorong are great to visit or some of the more humid forest or sub-tropical locations like Mount Warning or the Atherton Tablelands in North Queensland. Great diversity and uniqueness can also be had in Tasmania and Victoria’s countryside and forest locations, right through to New South Wales border, each sporting unique wildlife and bird species. Trips to these locations often require planning, yet if you have some time in relation to a place you already plan to visit, then it may be more a matter of some light research on your favourite flora, bird or mammal species in this location. This way you can take suitable equipment and be more prepared for what is otherwise the unpredictable and challenging world of wildlife photography.

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Kingfishers are fascinating birds and truly a bird photographer’s dream subject in the wild, as they are a challenge to locate and delight to capture on film. They often display assertive and bold characteristics in the wild, yet are often quiet and swift in flight. You can often get magical and dynamic lighting conditions when you get down close into rivers and brooks, as incidental and reflective light bounces and dances off the water. All natural lighting captured here with a polarising filter to preserve the delicate white cheek area of the kingfisher. This also allowed for bold contrast in the image and allowed for capturing the subtle variegated hues of the bird, especially the 3 shades of aqua, teal or electric blue-green hues.

Australian Birds in the Wild

If birds are your interest, be prepared to spend a good deal of time in the wild getting familiar with individual characteristics of the vast array of species. Alternatively, you may choose to focus specifically on one, like magpies, songbirds, parrots, waterbirds or cockatoos. Birds are one of my favorite specialty subjects. My first approach was to photograph anything and everything in the bird kingdom I could get close enough to frame and capture. I was lucky enough to have a close association and experience with bird species growing up and decided to build a deeper connection to the bird kingdom through photographic exploration. This allowed me to gather increasing amounts of knowledge about species and habitat and to know more intimately the interrelationships between certain species and habitats or terrains.

As I progressed as a bird photographer, the necessary equipment needed became apparent quite early on, as birds often need specific lens requirements, monopods, or tripods if shooting from a hide. A 300mm zoom lens may suffice to get you stated, yet I quickly learned that to get full frame shots with nice soft backgrounds,  a 400 to 500mm lens was indeed necessary. The extra distance  gained by magnification affords the photographer with closer contact with the subject, without actually being closer. This allows for greater intimacy and closer subject detail, which is always a delicate balancing act with birds in the wild. It also allows for bird characteristics and colours to render better, standout and contrast to background settings.

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Adelaide Rosella – Photographed in spring, this young male is just coming into full colour. Although reasonably common in the Adelaide Hills, the Adelaide Rosella is quite a private creature in the wild. Some of my best moments with parrots have been spent with these beauties native to my home state. Often rosella encounters will be solitary, or with their mates, yet they can often be seen in small flocks of 4 to 5, or with their young fledglings, or juveniles from the previous breeding season. They like to keep up to 50 feet distance in the wild and will take flight at the first sign of humans encroaching on this/their space or native terrain. Whilst content foraging and eating on the ground for seeds, they may allow closer contact, especially in parklands around the city where they are more domestically climatised. The ‘Adelaide Rosella’ is considered an off-shoot or sub-species of the ‘Eastern Rosella’.

A good rule of thumb with birds is often to shoot first and ask questions later, with due respect for the bird and environmental concerns. Zoom lenses allow for you to keep a respectable distance and creates a non-intrusive art form. Getting the best shots you can on the fly if often the best approach as spontaneity serves birds well as a photographic subject. You can then recap later that day by checking the exposures, depth of field and lighting requirements necessary to progress, hone or perfect your craft.

This was the approach I followed whilst progressing in the field- to be patient and prepared to spend many hours in the wild. It became highly inspirational frequenting a great variety of bird habitats and natural terrains necessary to encounter a wide variety of species. At first it was a passionate and self reflective pass time out in nature, with nature often responding accordingly. There could have been a sense of urgency to manifest photos like I seen in wildlife magazines, and there was, but I favored the process or receiving from nature what was there in the moment, what was more spontaneously alive, rather than to have expectations, take or make mine. Up to 7 years was spent with certain familiar yet elusive birds species before a magical moment was encountered or captured – with some moments still in the making some 15 years on.

Gallahs

This galah couple were affectionately grooming in the late-afternoon sun in the peak of summer. Galahs are full of character and very fun-loving and playful creatures. They can be quite loud and destructive to crops and vegetation in large flocks, yet when in smaller groups or as pairs they are quite gentle and often display a more peaceful and affectionate demeanor. This setting had almost perfect lighting conditions of the failing late-afternoon light merged with magic hour. It was a very chance encounter and proximity to the subject allowed for the beautifully naturally light scenery.

A Selection from the Greg C Grace Australian Wildlife Collection

A Selection from the Greg C Grace Australian Wildlife Collection