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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.