Monday, 29 March 2010

My Newest Painting - Fantail & Fob Watch

I picked my latest painting up from Jos's framing yesterday. Today it went on the courier to an Auckland Gallery who have lined up a prospective buyer. Strangely enough, while it was in the framers a real fantail flew in and spent a considerable amount of time flitting around the premises. According to Jos it perched on a chain the light hung from as if mimicking my painting. Hmmmm spooky!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

The Falcon face to face.

On Friday I finally got up close and personal with the falcon. Mum and I had gone over the fence onto the river edge to look for it as the doves were circling and the tui was making its alarm call. Suddenly it shot along below the stopbank then turned and headed straight for me. It saw me so did a sudden u-turn and landed back on top of the stopbank. After a few moments it flew back along in front of us then up to perch on Mum and Dads back fence. I was able to get to about twenty feet away to take these photos as falcons are naturally quite bold around humans. This bird is in lovely condition and I am guessing from its size that it is a female as they are quite a bit larger than the males. Of course its difficult to tell without having another to compare it with but I'm guessing she's a she.
When the falcon relaxed she closed up her right eye which made me suspect there was something wrong with it. The low sun was coming in from her left so she wasn't just squinting in the sun. And in the front on shot it looks a little different to the other... Perhaps thats why she's after the easy to catch doves.

Apart from the eye she looks in great condition. Her feathers have a lovely bloom. Such impressive tallons! She flew off after a while no doubt still after some dinner while we had fish and chips on the stopbank. A perfect end to the day.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Bills Dove - R.I.P.

After photographing the falcon eyeing up Bills doves yesterday I kept checking the norfollk pine today to see if he was back. Unfortunately he was a no -show however... Late this afternoon I peered over the back fence to see a white patch in the grass a little way along the stopbank. On closer inspection it turned out to be a scattering of white feathers! Dove feathers.
Oh Dear. This was bad on a number of levels. Firstly, that I had missed all the action. I'm not into blood and gore (despite what people may have thought after seeing my sculptures at the summer arts) but if you are a wildlife film-maker which would you prefer, filming a leopard relaxing in a tree or a leopard running down and catching a gazelle? Same principle. I want to capture the drama.
Secondly, I think Bill is getting a little low on doves and when he has none left there'll be nothing to attract the falcon. I'd better find out when his birthday is and buy him some more.

Raptor Raptures

I was painting the deck at Mum and Dads yesterday when the local tui started nutting off. I looked up to see a falcon land in the top of the neighbours Norfolk Pine Tree! I just love falcons but they are even less common than the kiwi so unfortunately you don't get to see wild ones very often. This one has a bit of a rep in the neighbourhood due to its sporadic raids on a flock of doves kept by Bill who lives two doors down. Fortunately Bill appreciates what an awesome bird the falcon is, in fact he's a bit of a fan like me.

My photos aren't the best quality but they are good enough to show the distinctive "tear stains" the dark marks below the eyes that make the falcon easy to identify if you are close enough. Our other common raptor, the Australasian Harrier (most of us know them simply as "hawks") are quite a bit larger than the Falcon and are more often seen soaring over grassland or cruising the side of the roads looking for roadkill.

The falcon has quite a different style of flight and hunting and I reccomend anyone that is interested in our birds of prey to visit the "Wingspan Birds of Prey Trust" in Rotorua. Once you have seen these birds in action you will appreciate how different they truly are. If you can't organise a visit just check out the next $20 note you pull out of your wallet cos thats the falcon on it.
And by a strange coincidence I took these shots (below) of a Harrier just this afternoon. I took Billy the WonderDog out for his run a little earlier than usual and as he was poking about under the woodpile sniffing out a bunny this harrier came over the shelterbelt, probably looking for the same rabbit.
I can't usually get decent pics of our local hawks as they have eyes like a... well... hawk and swerve away as soon as they see me. This one however circled twice above me before heading off over the paddocks.

The afternoon sun showed off his lovely rusty colour and just check out his yellow eyes in the last shot. In an older bird the plumage gets paler, some old birds look almost white. The young birds are dark by comparison.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Autumn morning.

This morning felt very autumnal or in other words a bit bloody cold on the bare feet while sneaking out onto the Apanui saltmarsh mudflats to photograph a spoonbill. Another sure sign that autumn is here - the spoonbills have been down in the South Island breeding and this one is the first to return to its winter feeding grounds here in Whakatane. There are lots of factors that go into making the perfect photo. Subject is one, lighting, focus, backgound, timing, etc etc etc. These things only very rarely combine to make the perfect shot. Todays photo of a heron alighting on its morning perch came pretty close except for one major factor. Obviously I didn't get the whole bird in the shot!!! It took me by surprise so I didn't have the time to zoom out enough. Thats one disadvantage of such a large heavy lens but only a poor photographer blames his/her gear so I admit it - I stuffed up a great shot. And I'm spitting tacks over it.
This shot is quite cool. I just love the little fish jumping out of the water to the right of the pic. I didn't see him when I was taking the shot and only noticed it later. Of course it would have been even better if I had taken it about ten minutes later after the sun had come up over the point as it had done in my last shot.

Then the light was lovely and I was just waiting for some more fish to come along so I could get an action shot. I waited & waited & waited..... & waited.... til I couldn't feel my toes. Ok I gotta get real and accept that it truly is Autumn now and I really do need to start wearing shoes again ha ha.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

New lens

I bought a new 18-75mm image stabilised lens last week. I have been putting it through its paces today and have been suitably impressed. Above is a photo of the kowhai moth caterpillar that the cuckoos have been feeding on.
Didn't want to get too close to these little nasties.
A praying mantis checks me out. This one was on the glass at the back door. I can't understand how it can get a grip on the glass with those feet?

New Studio

This is my new studio - a mix of science laboratory, artists studio, library and greenhouse for my carnivorous plant collection. I find that to surround myself with the things that interest me helps to stimulate my creativity. It's very small compared to my last studio, definitely a downsize but I can fit everything I need in this modest space. It may seem a little cluttered and in reality it can only get more cluttered as time goes on but more is better when it comes to my collections, skulls, insects, old cameras, shells, plants that eat things.....aaah heaven!

Pitcher plants are awesome!

This is Virgil, my venus flytrap. I feed him bugs now and then but yesterday he caught a fly all on his own!

Monday, 15 March 2010

Mt Putuaki

Here's a photo I took a few months ago from the road in front of my house looking south. This is Mt Putuaki (or Mt Edgecumbe although it's closest to the township of Kawerau rather than the township of Edgecumbe.) Its a classic volcano shape, very jurassic looking! I can just imagine a few terradactyls flying thru this shot. I entered this photo in the Canon Amateur Photographer of the Year Awards and it made it to the website. Its not likely to win any prizes tho...perhaps I should have photoshopped some terradactyls in.....

Shining cuckoos

Getting settled in to the new digs very slowly - lots of distractions. There is a large Kowhai tree in the back yard and while helping Mum out with some gardening we noticed it was being stripped by thousands of green black caterpillars. Mum was tempted to spray with insecticide until we noticed a charming little bird visiting one morning to feast on the insects. It was a shining cuckoo! I've photographed them a few times before but only dead ones that have flown into windows. I love the stripey pyjama pants and the bronzey green shiny coat reminiscent of a hummingbird. A migratory species, the cuckoo comes from the Solomon Islands.
They arrive here every spring, breed and lay one big fat egg into the nest of the tiny grey warbler which has already raised a brood of its own offspring by then. The warbler nest is like a hanging basket with a door too small for a cuckoo to fit through so its still a mystery how it gets its egg into the nest. Somehow it manages to then it just buggers off to leave the warbler to raise the monster child which grows to twice the size of its adopted parents. I wonder then how the cuckoo grows up knowing its a cuckoo and not a warbler, you'd suspect a bit of an identity crisis after all that. The Kowhai Moth caterpillar is one of the favourite foods of the cuckoo. Its interesting to watch them feed. The cuckoo grabs a caterpillar and whacks it on the nearest branch, it munches on it some then whacks it some more to tenderise it. When the caterpillars guts have turned to mush the cuckoo then sucks it dry and often discards the skin or swallows whats left. Within a week the population of caterpillars has been decimated and I've seen up to three cuckoos feeding at once in our one kowhai tree! Obviously the tree won't be sprayed in the future - we will be protecting this valuable food source for these guys who will be leaving to go back to the Solomons around the end of this month.
Fat and fit on a diet of juicy caterpillars, I hope they leave it a week or two before they go as I just see cyclone Thomas is doing its worst in that region of the pacific. Its a long way for a little bird to fly without having a cyclone to contend with.

Monday, 1 March 2010

100th post - a long time comin!

I haven't written a blog for two weeks now. I have been busy sorting out my new studio PLUS I have been waiting for something special to write about as this is my 100th post! Unfortunately it has been jinxed and the best shot I could come up with over the last two weeks has been that of a bloody seagull! GO FIGURE! So I thought I'd get number 100 out of the way and see what happens. I don't write a lot of posts, only when I have something I really want to share so the first 100 posts have taken me nearly two and a half years!

I got these two shots last Friday morning. Im including the two herons because they have featured the most on my blog. They are a couple and often perch together on the yachtclub railing to preen every morning. They are my favourite models and have become quite used to me aiming my lens in their direction.

Looking back to September 2007 to my very first photo I remember how excited I was to discover this colourful nudibranch (a type of seaslug) in a rockpool down in Te Kaha.
Interestingly enough I also took this photo (below) on the same day but the nudibranch took precedence! Shame on my defence, it is a blog about nature 'n stuff. Apologies to Willie. Both pretty easy on the eye, no disrespect intended.So thanks to all those who have read, followed and given feedback. I must admit I've been pleasantly surprised by the response as I really only started this to share my pics with my folks and my sister in Tauranga. Now I have followers in other countries! Who'da thought. : )