MOOD OF THE DAY…..

It’s just after midday here in Melbourne and has rained heavily all morning (and half the night as far as I can tell).  We desperately need the rain so I can’t complain.

The rain’s just stopped……finally…… and all is deathly quiet, with it being a Public Holiday for The Melbourne Cup – the horse race that stops the nation.  It’ll be a hard surface for those poor horses and jockeys.

MY PATERNAL GRANDFATHER ROY ALFORD WITH HIS HORSE ‘Hurlingham’ IN 1916.

I was just doing a Google search to see if they ran the race in the rain – it appears they do.

Here’s a little more info…..if you’re into horse racing – I’m not, although my ancestors were.

Not only did some of them race horses, but one ancestor had livery stables in one of Melbourne’s southern suburbs.

GEORGE HENRY ALFORD (late 1930s)

The Melbourne Cup is Australia‘s annual Thoroughbred horse race. It is a 3,200 metre race for three-year-olds and over, conducted by the Victoria Racing Club on the Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Victoria as part of the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival. It is the richest “two-mile” handicap in the world, and one of the richest turf races. The event starts at 3pm on the first Tuesday in November and is known locally as “the race that stops a nation”.

The Melbourne Cup has a long tradition, with the first race held in 1861.  

The Race course is about a mile along the Maribyrnong river (located behind my apartment block)……… on the other side, although I daresay you wouldn’t see the race from my side of the river anyway.

Mr Uncle, Mervyn Douglas Alford (3) on his trusty steed.

*******************

It’s almost a bit spooky around my area as I can’t hear a single bird.  In fact, barely a car on the main road at the top of my hill, either.  Family BBQ’S, parties, luncheons and so on will be halted and the TV turned on to catch the big race.   So in the spirit of the atmosphere outdoors at the moment, I thought we’d have a random collection of subdued, mainly abstract images.

THE SHAPE OF WATER – DIGHT’S FALLS, ABBOTSFORD
CONTINUOUS RAIN DROPLETS ON MY LOUNGE WINDOWS
FADED RUSTY FENCE RAILINGS AND DECORATION – IN FRONT OF A TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY TERRACE HOUSE, TURNER ST, ABBOTSFORD
THE SHAPE OF WATER II – DIGHTS FALLS, ABBOTSFORD
SWIRLING WATER AROUND A HALF-SUBMERGED TREE STUMP – YARRA RIVER, ABBOTSFORD
SUPERB FAIRY-WREN faded  now WITH THE MISTS OF TIME (NOW THAT MY BALCONY GARDEN IS MUCH REDUCED IN SIZE).  Have only seen one Fairy-wren in the last week or so, although the House Sparrows still stop at the water bowl daily and take a brief hoppity-hop around the remaining plant pots in the hope of a finding some scattered bird seed.
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BLUE-FACED HONEYEATER (Entomyzon cyanotis)

When I first bought a camera in May 2010 and took up Photography as a hobby, I felt a bit like a fraud sharing images on my Nature Blog from the Zoo’s Great Aviary (located at Melbourne’s main Zoo in North Melbourne).  We have 3 zoos, the other 2 are much further away from the city centre in the nearby countryside.

Blue-faced Honeyeater (Entomyzon cyanotis),

A nature photographer should be sharing images from the wild I thought.

But then I asked myself the question…..why do I blog?  What is this blog about?  (and I think these are questions you need to ask yourself when you first start blogging on the internet).

The answer was pretty easy.  This particular blog is about my Photography hobby and specifically about Nature Photography.

It’s about the nature that surrounds where I live and where I go for walks.  Initially, it was about flowers, trees and occasionally insects, but then came birds, beaches, lakes, rivers, parks, gardens and nature reserves.

It’s not about The Wild or Wilderness regions of Australia.

It’s about my own urban ‘backyard’ and its immediate surrounding areas.  

It’s about sharing nature through my eyes.  The small details are what appeals to me, so you won’t see very much in the way of landscapes or seascapes on this blog.  Without a car these days, I can’t get to the unique blue/grey/green-toned mountainous regions which are truly breath-taking in Australia and as diverse as the deserts, rich tropical rainforests, temperate or unique coastal  regions.

Australia is one country you should put on your Bucket List I might add.

(e.g.” The Great Ocean Road, on the southern coast in my state of Victoria, is one of the most spectacular drives in the world, stretching 243 kilometers from Torquay to Allansford, just 10 minutes from Warrnambool.  It was built by returning soldiers from WW1 between the years of 1919 to 1932 and is the world’s biggest War Memorial”).

…..back to the bird featured in this post……

The Blue-faced Honeyeater (Entomyzon cyanosis), found in the northern and eastern states, is not really found as far south as Melbourne to my knowledge, so I’m happy to share these images from the Zoo’s Great Aviary.

Dinner of mealy worms in the Great Aviary

This Honeyeater is a large one and distinctly easy to spot due to the bright to dark blue face and cheeks.  It has a prominent white eye (amidst black crown and nape) with prominent black bib and white moustachial streaks joining the white breast.  Its back and longish white-tipped tail are a striking golden olive-green. Found in open woodland or any areas with trees in the wild and certainly easy to see up close in the Zoo’s Great Aviary, especially at feeding time.

So I’ve stopped feeling guilty about photographing Australian Birds in enclosed areas to share online, particularly as some of my favourite images in my 2 photo libraries were made at the Zoo.

PINEAPPLE LILY, PINEAPPLE FLOWER (Eucomis comosa)

Pineapple Lilies (Eucomis comosa), native to South Africa may look exotic but they’re quite easy to grow (apparently).

The common name, Pineapple lily, refers to the interesting topknot of foliage that sits atop the flowers, reminiscent of a pineapple in appearance.

While there are 15 species in this genus, new strains and cultivars appear regularly ensuring their continued popularity.  They last quite a long time as cut flowers and while I haven’t seen them in local residential gardens in my area, there’s alway a lovely patch (of them) in the Perennial Border  in the Royal Botanic Gardens here in Melbourne (where the images in this post were made).

By the way, the Perennial Border is planted by the Garden Staff to be at its best in mid January (if you’re visiting Melbourne as a tourist in the Summer months).

LEMON BALL, GOLDEN BALL, YELLOW TOWER CACTUS (Parodia leninghausii).

Following on from the previous post featuring Cacti, I finally decided to purchase a Cacti & Succulents Plant and Identification Guide book during the week, so I can finally put some more names on my Cacti and Succulent images.  I’m one of those old-fashioned people who find it easier and more enjoyable to look at a book, not the internet (for plants and flowers).

Having re-homed about 600 fiction and many non-fiction books over the last 4-5 years and moving to smaller apartments (twice), I really don’t want any more books, but I figured one more new book wouldn’t destroy the equilibrium of my down-sized furniture and decor 😀

I’ve already got 2 Australian Plant Encyclopaedias on my bookshelf, but they are more general, in both plant and tree species. I also have a wonderful Field Guide to Weeds in Australia I bought at a sale about 25 years ago and didn’t use at all for the first 20 years it lay on my bookshelf.

It can be tedious and very time-consuming trying to identify Cacti (and Succulents), which, on the surface, without flowers (in particular), can look very similar.  Especially as I don’t have the time or eyesight to spend copious amounts of time on the computer any more.

Earlier this year, I went to Melbourne’s largest bookstore to spend some time in their Gardening section.  I was surprised to find that of the 50-60 books on Gardening (in general), most were about planting/growing/landscaping or filled with rather ‘arty’ flower images that showed insufficient detail of the whole plant.  In hindsight, I wish that I’d spent more time photographing the Cacti and Arid section plants in the Royal Botanic Gardens in full detail when I lived so close to the area.

I wish I’d photographed (every plant) in every season too.

But of course, I started out in mid 2010 being an amateur photographer, not a Botanist or Gardener.  My primary hobby is still outdoor Photography even though chronic health symptoms keep me mostly indoors these days.

Back in 2012,13 and 2014 I had a 100mm f2.8 macro lens, so was more interested in experimenting in bokeh or DOF (Depth of Focus).  I still love a narrow depth of field or interesting bokeh on browsing other nature lover’s photography websites to this day.

I wanted to capture the small details of the flowers or spines/stems and for the most part, never realised that Common and Botanical names would become important to me.

Some plants in the Royal Botanic Garden’s main site – they have 3 – had name labels next to the them which I photographed at the time of shooting the flowers and plants.

But between computer crashes, reducing my photo library volume and changing from Windows to a Mac, somehow, some of those plant identification label images seem to have disappeared 🙂

I think I was a little over zealous in my image volume reduction task, but no point ‘crying over spilt milk’ now.

Anyway, my book has been despatched from Booktopia’s warehouse in New South Wales and should arrive in the coming week, so we’ll have a few more plant images between the Birds, Flowers and anything else Nature related that I’ve shared recently on my blog.

LACE CACTUS (Mammillaria elongata)

I’m not a fan of Cacti……..or…….Succulents.

Well, maybe I do like some of their flowers.  I’ve also had the experience of leaning too close to a Prickly pear and been pierced on both arms and stomach with dozens of hair-like prickles…….twice…..even through thick jeans.  Spending ages removing the prickles would make you think I’d learned my lesson not to lean too close, but it took 2 lessons to learn that.

I prefer soft dainty flowers (in general).

But ‘When in Rome’……..or Guilfoyle’s Volcano or the Arid Garden in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, one may as well take photos of them…..especially as they stand still and don’t wave around in the wind 🙂

LACE CACTUS (Mammillaria elongata)

These 2 plant areas are located in the south-east corner and close to where I used to live, so when I took up Photography, I walked past them every Garden excursion and got lots of practice with my, then, 100mm f2.8 Macro lens.  I traded this lens back in 2015 as I didn’t use it much and wanted to buy the lightweight Sony a6000 (which was way above my gear budget at that time).  I’ve also taken lots of images with my 18-200mm lens (which eventually died after 80,000+ images in 2015).

Needless to say, I seem to have an inordinate amount of Cacti images, many of them in unlabeled folders.  One of these days I must look them all up via Google images and put names on the folders instead of just……..CACTI.

The Lace Cactus (Mammillaria elongate) is one of the few which is identified.

 

SILVER GULL (Larus novaehollandiae)

Silver Gulls are a large seabird and the most familiar of Australian gulls.

THIS USED TO BE MY FAVOURITE PHOTO AS IT WAS ONE OF THE FIRST IMAGES I MADE OF A BIRD WITH SHARP FOCUS ON IT’S HEAD/EYE AREA.
ONE OF MY RARE IMAGES OF BIRDS FLYING………VERY, VERY SLOWLY AS THEY CAME IN TO LAND (WHICH IS HOW I GOT THE BIRDS IN FOCUS LOL).

THIS GULL WAS STANDING VERY FIRMLY IN THE SHALLOWS FACING THE STRONG WIND AND SEEMINGLY GLARING AT ME AS I SHOT THIS PHOTO.The adult has a white head, neck and body, pale grey wings with black primaries showing white tips at rest.

WHEN THE TIDE GOES OUT DOWN AT THE BEACH, SEAGULLS CAN BE SEEN ‘STIRRING’ THE SAND IN THE HOPE OF FINDING SOME TASTY MORSEL TO EAT.
IMAGE MADE AT BRIGHTON BEACH SOME TIME IN AUTUMN (GOING BY THE AUTUMN COLOURS OF THE LEAVES ON THE WET SAND).

The beak, eye-rings and legs are scarlet.

ONE OF MY FAVOURITE PHOTOS I’VE OFTEN SHARED ONLINE. THIS ONE WAS MADE AT PORT MELBOURNE BEACH WHEN I CAPTURED A LADY FEEDING THE GULLS ONE HOT SUMMER’S DAY.

Immature Silver Gulls are duller, with brown flecks on wings forming a conspicuous bar in flight.  Their beak is brownish and the legs blackish.

I see them everywhere, not just down at the beach.

On the old buildings at the Meat & Fish section of Queen Victoria Market in North Melbourne – waiting for the fish scraps to be thrown out at the end of market day…..

At Melbourne Zoo next to the pond in the Japanese Garden……

In the city square on the lawn area………

In my local area along the Maribyrnong River…….

You just never know when they’re going to take off……

or jump up and down at Port Melbourne beach…..

Or quietly sit down for a rest at St Kilda Beach (near South Melbourne) at dusk…..

RED-BROWED FINCH (Neochmia temporalis)

If you’re an amateur bird photographer like me, it is likely that at some time you’ll want to invest in a long telephoto lens to capture photos of birds in the wild.  Or even if you live in an urban environment (which I do), there’s always a lot of fun and more than a little challenge capturing birds in local parks, gardens and nature reserves.

I decided to buy a Sigma 150-500mm lens after reading lots of reviews and even trying out several long telephoto lenses, (several times),  in the camera store over a period of 12 months.  I even tried a Canon L series ‘professional’ quality lens to compare.   No doubt the salesmen, with whom I had formed a good relationship over many visits, had their patience tested on some of those visits.

The Canon ‘L’ series was way out of my price range, but never hurts to try out the best.

Finally, I decided the Sigma lens was the best and most reasonably priced option I could afford (at that time).  After a week of weird very noisy zooming in and out, I took it back and asked if it was supposed to make so much noise.  It wasn’t and the camera store replaced the lens with another one on the spot.  Apparently it was faulty (and not my hearing that was at  fault 🙂 ).

It also fitted quite easily into the tiny ‘suitcase’ I’d bought on sale at a luggage store.

THIS TINY ‘SUITCASE’ ON WHEELS WAS MY FIRST ‘CAMERA BAG’ AND COULD EASILY FIT MY 2 CANON EOS CAMERA BODIES AND 3 LENSES I HAD ACQUIRED. It was also waterproof and my lunch, bottle of water, folding umbrella and small travel tripod were easily transported around the nearby Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, bayside beaches or Melbourne Zoo. It was also light enough to carry over sand to the water’s edge down the beach.

I have to say this lens was excellent value and despite the weight, I found I could often steady it against a post (or fence) deleting the need for a strong tripod.  I’ve been using it a lot recently with my elbows resting on my desk (since I’ve been mainly housebound over recent months).  It’s marvellous at shooting birds on my balcony up close.

Some days I can hold this lens steady when outdoors and sometimes not.

On the 21st December, 2016, not long after I moved to the western suburbs, I had a good day.

I’d set off to walk down to the nearby Maribyrnong River and then explore as to whether I could find a path into Frogs Hollow Nature Reserve, located 100 feet from my ‘back gate’.

I hadn’t got far when I spied a Red-browed Finch  (Neochmia temporalis) on the chain wire fence between the gravel walking path and the nature reserve.  I’d seen these birds before and knew what it was immediately.

I managed to get 3 fairly good photos – the light was excellent at the time – and while I’ve made dozens of images of these tiny finches in the past,  these 3 remain the best I’ve captured so far.

They’re a very tiny bird.

Almost as small as the Fairy-wrens I’ve photographed on my balcony in recent months.

The crown and nape is a soft grey, the face rather paler, with a broad scarlet stripe extending from the deep red conical beak through the eye and above the ear-coverts.  The back and wings are olive-green: rump scarlet, contrasting with the pointed black tail.  The underparts are entirely pale grey.

The immature finch is duller and darker, lacking the eye-stripe.

It’s found on the whole eastern seaboard of Australia, primarily undergrowth at forest and woodland margins, grassy areas with scrub, farmland, gardens etc.

Generally fairly widespread and common.  I usually see them late afternoon grazing on seed heads in the open grassy space between my apartment building and the nature reserve, but rarely get close enough to get a good shot.  Or if I do, they move quickly, twisting and turning into what seems like a feeding frenzy sometimes.

The closest I’ve got to these tiny finches previously was ‘hiding’ behind some grass when I lived on the north-eastern side of Melbourne next to the Yarra River.  I actually managed to get about 12-15 feet away from the group.  It involved a lot of stealthy creeping forward inch by inch (like a tiger or cougar approaching its prey).  I also wear black and rubber-soled walking shoes when I go outdoors, so that might help me get a bit closer without startling the bird life.

The image below was actually made with a 18-200mm telephoto lens.  The beak, eye-stripe and tail look a darker red in this image, but that may have been just the light on the day.

I think I just spotted one on the hedge on the other side of my road (which is what made me think of doing a post featuring it).

INSECTS ON FLOWERS

When I lived (and worked) next to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, it was a sure bet that on buying a camera after I had to take early retirement, my main photography subject was going to be flowers.

(Bird photography came some time later).

I think I’d walked in, around, or through the gardens on the way to work something like 8,000-10,000 times and that is no exaggeration.

The Royal Botanic Gardens was my home-away-from-home OR, as I called it, My Backyard and I learned more about flowers in the first 5 years of photography than I had ever learned in my whole adult life.

I rarely notice small insects on flowers, being very short-sighted (and back to wearing thick glasses after some 40 years  of wearing contact lenses doesn’t help).  My ‘walkabout’ glasses  are ‘distance‘ glasses.  But I notice on cruising through my archives that I do actually have quite a number of flower images with insects on them.

Here’s a variety of both – large and small.  I guess you can easily tell which insects were the main focus of the image and which insects were just lucky additions to the main flower subject.  There are a couple of images which were made elsewhere, but that’s not important.

I won’t take the time to look up the insect names as that would take all day and I’d never get the post done 🙂 but most of the flower names should be correct.  Please don’t hesitate to let me know in the comments section if I’ve got one wrong.

Enjoy…..

EASTERN ROSELLA (Platycercus eximius)

With the sighting of a Crimson Rosella yesterday (see previous post), I decided it was timely to share my one and only shot of an Eastern Rosella (Platycercus eximius).

It was made from indoors at my brother’s house in country Victoria and looking down to the horse paddock fence late afternoon.  I know I’ll never see one of these Rosellas in my urban environment, so I’ll never get a better shot.

This medium-sized broad-tailed parrot is even more colourful (than the Crimson Rosella) and with that red head, you can’t miss it in the trees or grazing on grass seeds.

The adult has a crimson head and upper breast, white throat and cheeks, and bright greenish-yellow underparts.  It’s back is gold and heavily mottled with black, rump greenish-yellow and wings with blue and black shoulders.

The female is less colourful.

It too, is very common on the south-east side of Australia.

EASTERN ROSELLA (Platycercus eximius)

 

CRIMSON ROSELLA – race elegans (Platycercus elegans)

It was late in the day (6.30pm DST) when I went outdoors for some fresh air yesterday.

I walked to the end of the row of townhouses and back to my front door with my Mother’s old walking stick.  It had been one of those days when my back/hip/knee pain was absolutely excruciating and no amount of painkillers worked.  Having successfully achieved this short ‘stroll’ I decided to walk down to the nearby Maribyrnong River and back home.

(note: photos below were made at various times over the last 2 years since I moved to the area, not yesterday).

My Sony a6000 ‘mirrorless’ with its one (and only) lens – the 55-210mm –  was over my shoulder and I figured I’d probably not see any birds close enough to the walking path to do any bird photography and besides…….if I did, I would have needed my DSLR and long 150-500mm lens to capture them up close.

But what the heck – a walk with a camera is better than a walk without  🙂

Of course, as you can all imagine, I DID see a bird.

A new one I’d never seen before in this area.

Its stopped me in my tracks and I never did get to the river.

Despite the fast dwindling light, the bird’s brilliant red head stood out like a beacon in the pocket of dry grass next to Frogs Hollow Nature Reserve.

It was a Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans).

I’d seen this Rosella in the Dandenong Ranges National Park in the wild (and also at one of the bird feeding stations on my brother’s farm in the country), but NEVER in an urban area or near my current home, despite being a very common bird.

The Crimson Rosella is a large broad-tailed parrot, conspicuous and familiar in the east and southeast of the country.  The adult is predominantly deep crimson, heavily mottled black on back, with blue throat/cheek patch, blue shoulder to the wing and blue-green tail.

The Southeast race (Platycercus flaveolus) is strikingly different with a golden-olive body, crimson forehead, breast and under tail.

Despite the cold wind which pierced my thin jacket and made me shiver, I managed to hold the camera  quite still and captured 3-4 relatively well focused shots.  The last 6-8 months practice of photographing those fast-moving tiny Fairy-wrens on my balcony…… paid off.

And here’s a cropped version of the image on the left.  Sorry the grass is in the way, but you bird photographers know how it is.  The best camera is the one you’ve got with you and while I could hope for a better shot on another day, this nature blog is about what I see on my walk (not what I hope to see in the future).

I carefully used my walking stick to balance as I gingerly side-stepped down a steep 4 foot embankment (in the hope of getting closer to the parrot).

I couldn’t get closer than about 20 feet, but once again my shot was good enough to crop to show you the back of the parrot as it turned in the dry grass.

(for the zillionth time I wish I had my Canon DSLR and could pin point the bird’s head with one focal point).

Then it must have sensed my stealthy approach and flew away to the tree on the corner of the nature reserve.

…and once again, here’s a cropped version.

Then it hopped down to a lower branch….

AS YOU CAN SEE ITS JUST TOO FAR AWAY TO SEE MUCH DETAIL

For those new to my nature blog, the corner of Frogs Hollow Nature Reserve, which is so overgrown and has no pathways through it, is approximately 100 feet from my ‘back gate’ (the entrance to my building’s basement car park).  You can walk around the perimeter, but not through it.  In fact the area close to my home has a pond surrounded by 6-7 foot high reeds and various species of waist-high densely woven grass.  In the warmer weather the signs warning of snakes are not to be ignored.

Note: Australia has 9 out of 10 of the most poisonous snakes in the world.

Yesterday, just before dusk, the wind was bitterly cold and I probably should have gone outdoors earlier, but it was a last-minute decision.  I certainly wasn’t prepared for the chilly wind on this late Spring afternoon.